What does it mean to be a missionary-supporting church? What’s involved, as we seek to support our missionaries? Paul’s letter to Philippi says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5). In the letter that the missionary Paul sends to his supporting church Philippi, the first thing that he wants this church to know is that they are partners in the Gospel. It’s true that the missionary and the members of this church were both born again, they had come to God through faith in Lord Jesus Christ. They had heard and believed and received the Gospel but that’s not what Paul is thinking about when he says, we are partners in the Gospel. He is thinking about the ministry of the Gospel, the outreach of the Gospel, the taking of the Gospel to new places. Paul is the missionary, but he says the church in Philippi has an important role as a partner, they are together, the church and the missionary together are engaged in the propagation of the Gospel. And it is something glorious and it is something to thank God.
So, what did this church in Philippi do in it’s partnership with their missionary Apostle Paul and what can we learn from this missionary-supporting church as we seek to support our missionaries today. There was a strong bond between the church of Philippi and their supported missionary apostle Paul. The first link which was keeping that bond strong was prayer, the second link is called personal or pastoral care and the third link involves of sharing of finances. The link that was true between Paul and Philippi church was made up of prayer (we will see this in chapter 1), pastoral care (chapter 2) and the sharing of the financial resources (chapter 4).
“For I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” (Philippians 1:19-20).
When Paul wrote this, he was under house arrest in Rome. He is not in prison, he will be later in his ministry but at this point he is under house arrest. He couldn’t leave that place, but he had a measure of freedom to move around and people could come and visit him, but he was confined, and he was waiting for his trial before the Roman Emperor on some charges that religious zealots in Israel were bringing against him. And this case had worked its way up through Roman judicial system to now before the Emperor, it was Pauls’ right as the Roman citizen. And he wasn’t sure how it would turn out. So, he is waiting, and he is wondering, and he doesn’t know if he will walk out of that court room or they will carry him out. But he does know this, that 800 miles to the east, in the Roman colony of Philippi (today’s northern Greece), years ago, he and Barnabas planted a church (it’s recorded in Acts chapter 16). Now many years later, he knows that this church, even though they are separated by a great distance, is aware of the mess he is in, is aware that he is uncertain how it all going to turn out, but he is absolutely certain that this church has not forgot about him and they pray for him.
Knowing that the church in Philippi is praying for him gives him the hope, gives him the confidence that God is in control and no matter what happens God is going to be with him.
Paul asks the Church in Rome to pray for him, in Romans 15:30-31, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favorably received by the Lord’s people there.” Paul asks the Church in Rome to pray for him; First, he asks to pray for him, remembering who the Lord Jesus Christ is, and second, he asks to pray for him not forgetting the pervasive work of the love of the Holy Spirit in the body of Christ. On those two foundations; to remember to pray for him that he would be protected from evil men and that his ministry to God’s people would be acceptable to God’s people. That prayer request of one of the greatest missionaries of all time, Apostle Paul, is what missionaries need today. They need to know that there is a church who will be faithful to praying for their protection, physically, emotionally, spiritually and that their ministry in cross cultural context would have the blessing of God. This protection and blessing can only come to missionaries when churches are faithful in praying for them.
The second part of what it means to be a missionary-supporting church is found in Philippians 2:25-30. When Paul ended up in house arrest in Rome, word got to Philippi about 800 miles to the east. When the church heard this, they said, we got to do something for Apostle Paul, so, the church in Philippi sent Epaphroditus to Rome to inquire; where Apostle is, how Apostle Paul is doing and what he needs, they asked Epaphroditus to bring a report back to them. So, Epaphroditus, as the representative of whole church, made his way, by land and by sea, 800 miles, days upon days of travelling, from Philippi to Rome, and when he got to Rome, he asked around until he found the house where a man who planted their church years before, was under house arrest. And when Epaphroditus got there, Paul was so happy, that someone from home, from Philippi, come to see how he was doing. Eventually, Epaphroditus get sick in Rome, and now Paul is got to send him back to Philippi. And when he sends him back to Philippi, he sends him with a letter, with this thank you letter which he writes to the church, “But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed, he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore, I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad, and I may have less anxiety. So then, welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me.” (Philippians 2:25-30).
Epaphroditus wasn’t the missionary but Paul says, he is at the top of my list of guys that I appreciate. He is a brother, he is a worker, he is a fellow soldier, he should be honored, he should be valued, he almost died serving Paul. As a missionary supporting church, you don’t wait for your missionary to come to you, you go to your missionary. This church wasn’t big, it wasn’t rich, it wasn’t particularly influential but in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 it’s a model church on how to do sister church relationship. And now, in this time, it is exemplary in how it delegates and dispatches its own members to risk their lives to go and check the well being of their missionaries.
So, this missionary-supporting church was praying for him and it was sending someone to visit him and check on him that how is he doing.
And the third thing they were doing was supporting Paul financially. Paul mentions about financial support here, “Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:14-18). Paul realizes that, as much as the gift from the church, that they sent through the hands of Epaphroditus, meant to him, it was also going to bare much spiritual fruit in the life of the church. It might have been a sacrifice for the church to take an offering (because it wasn’t a rich church), to cover the travel expense of Epaphroditus. But Paul said, this is an acceptable sacrifice, and this pleases the heart of God, when church does this sort of thing for one of it’s mission partners. So, the Paul is glad that the church has sent the gift, it met his need but more than that it opened the church up to please God and to receive blessing from God because they treated their supported missionary, Apostle Paul in a manner that was worthy of the Gospel. And then we come to the most famous verse in Philippians, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19).
I want to thank all of you who are supporting Soul Winners India’s missionaries, I think you all are doing a good job as a missionary-supporting church. Keep it up! Because it will qualify you for blessing from God and I want you to know it’s paying dividends and extending the kingdom of God around the world.