Every Generation Ministries received a grant from one of the largest Christian institutional givers in the United States.
I was flying back from Eastern Europe to report on how we’d been using the grant money. When planning my travel—I realized too late—that I’d lost track of geography.
I landed in Washington DC the evening before my meeting the next morning. The meeting was a nine-hour drive away. So much for sleeping.
I drove almost all night, caught a nap, showered at the Sunshine Motel, and bounced into the executive director’s office at 9:00 a.m. I was full of energy, fidgety, and all fired up about our ministry work. And that was before the coffee.
Always very direct in his communications, the executive director greeted me and asked me why I had come all the way from Poland. I jauntily replied, “To report on our ministry partnership.”
Once an attorney, he replied with his deep gravelly voice in a rather salty manner, “We don’t have partnerships; we invest in ministries.”
To which I energetically replied, “Well, whether you think we’re partners or not, Paul thinks we are.”
At that point, I could see that things were not going well. He inquired, “Paul who?”
Digging a deeper hole, I said, “Paul of Tarsus” and then quoted Philippians 1:3-5. He asked me to sit down, and I gave my report. I did survive the meeting, and over the years he became a mentor and valued Christian counselor.
Apparently, he felt like investing in me, and I thought we had a great partnership. And the partnership was on Paul’s mind in that Philippians passage I quoted:
"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." (1:3-5 NIV)
The NIV translates the Greek koinonia (koinwni,a) as partnership, and the King James translates it as fellowship.
Koinonia is found nineteen times in seventeen New Testament verses, and thirteen of those times are in Paul’s writings (Acts 2:42; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Galatians 2:9; etc.).
This word refers usually to “fellowship, partnership, participation or communion (“The Analytical Lexicon”, Mounce pg. 286), but in Romans, it refers to contributions of material aid:
"Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution (κοινωνίαν τινὰ ποιήσασθαι) for the poor among the Lord's people in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings." (Romans 15:26-27 NIV)
In Philippians, the rich meanings of koinonia seem to converge into the NIV translation partnership. The church in Philippi was partnering with Paul in the gospel (Philippians 1:5).
In other words, Paul considered the church in Philippi his partner in ministry. The apostle and the Philippians enjoyed fellowship, communion, and partnership in their preaching of the gospel.
When we read the entire letter, we can identify—especially in the letter’s closing (Philippians 4:10-20)—some characteristics of their partnership:
- Giving and Receiving
Paul began many of his letters with a prayer. In Philippians 1:4, rather than the more common Greek word for prayer (προσεύχομαι), Paul used another Greek word: (δεήσει).
In fact, the word appears twice in the verse. With its connotations of need or lack, this word often refers to prayers concerning specific situations where only God can provide what is needed or supply what is lacking (Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3; C. Brown, 860-861).
In this verse Paul was asking God to meet all the Philippians’ needs as, in turn, God used them to meet Paul’s needs.
Prayer definitely strengthens a partnership in the gospel, and God blessed me early in my missionary life with two gifted intercessors. These rock-solid Christians often prayed for me according to how God led them to pray—and sometimes when they were nudged by a mere mortal. In one instance the nudge was fairly dramatic.
In the mid-1990s I was returning to Poland on a night flight after a whirlwind trip to the US. Taking off from Washington Dulles, we had only been airborne a few minutes when several passengers—including me—looked out the window to see one of our plane’s engines on fire.
Some people didn’t hide their fear, and the agitation began spreading beyond our section of the plane. Almost simultaneously, the speaker crackled, and the pilot announced he was shutting down that engine. He would dump most of the fuel, and we would return to Dulles for an emergency landing.
I remember the German couple in front of me repeating over and over in English with a German accent, “We should have flown Lufthansa.”
We landed on the runway, were welcomed by fire trucks and emergency vehicles at the ready, and immediately got off the plane. It was morning in Poland, so I called my wife. She had just gotten off the phone with one of the two intercessors who had called her from California.
God had woken that prayer warrior with the idea that I was in danger and needed prayer, and she specifically sensed that my danger had something to do with fire.
Moments like this one have happened to me many times. Far from rare in a ministry partnership, these experiences bind the hearts of people together.
Paul’s partnership with the Philippians was also strengthened and grown through the communication of at least two kinds.
First, handwritten letters from Paul were carried to the church—and we still read one of those letters today.
Communication also involved sending emissaries. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul (Philippians 2:25), and Paul intended to send Timothy to them (v. 19).
Today handwritten letters and emissaries are not the communication methods of choice or efficiency. We have telephones, email, texting, video calling, and other advanced technologies, but the purpose remains the same: communication is a crucial aspect of a ministry partnership. And sometimes—even today—God sends an emissary….
A call on my mobile phone woke me at five o’clock in the morning. It was Grzegorz (Greg) Gigol, a former EGM-Poland staff member and board member. To my surprise he simply greeted me and asked how I was doing. After a few minutes of pleasantries, he asked if I knew where he was. I answered, “In Warsaw, I imagine.”
He replied, “Actually, I’m standing in front of your door!” Greg had flown to California for a work conference and decided to surprise me. He was standing in front of my house… in California. Unfortunately, I had to tell him that the door he was looking at was currently not my door… because I was in Cairo, Egypt.
I called my wife and told her that Grzegorz was standing at our door and hoping to spend the night. He had driven up from San Diego and wanted to surprise us. I returned from Cairo the next day, so Greg and I were able to talk and get caught up at my house.
However, another one of my ministry colleagues was staying with my wife that night. I’m sure that, to this day, she thinks Polish people may just pop up at your front door wherever you are in the world.
It was great to see Greg: fellowship, even surprise fellowship, characterizes our partnership in the gospel.
Sometimes we too easily miss the obvious, and in this case, the obvious is that Paul and the Philippians liked each other.
Most, if not all, commentators see Philippians as one of Paul’s warmest letters. It is often called the gospel of joy because joy is mentioned so often.
Paul wrote I have you in my heart (1:7 NIV); I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (1:8 NIV); you whom I love and long for (4:1 NIV); and he explicitly referred to the Philippians as dear friends (4:1 niv). Partnership in the gospel is about relationship and friendship, and sometimes friendship involves adventure….
Jonathan Gundlach has been a faithful part of EGM’s work for years. He leads an innovative chiropractic practice in Southern California and has served on the board of directors for Every Generation Ministries. We were visiting the work in Egypt in its earliest stages and had spent some time with the leadership of the Presbyterian Church at their seminary in Cairo.
Afterward, two seminary students were walking with us back to our quarters several blocks away from the seminary. I was walking with my new friend, and Jonathan and the other Egyptian student were a few paces back.
We were walking, chatting, and enjoying ourselves until Jonathan closed the gap and nervously stated that someone was following us… with a shotgun. Not a common experience in my neighborhood!
The words were barely out of Jonathan’s mouth when the man reached down for the stock of the shotgun and, pulling it up to fire, pointed it in our general direction. My first thought was to hit the deck, but before any of us could do so, the man swung around and shot an old mangy dog standing directly across the street from us.
In a matter of seconds, a pickup truck careened around the corner. Two men jumped out and threw the dead dog into the truck. The shotgun-toting Egyptian jumped up into the truck bed, and the team drove away. Jonathan and I were standing there, shaking slightly, with our jaws hanging. One of the students looked at us and calmly said, “Egyptian dogcatcher.”
I’m not sure that being friends with the apostle Paul and traveling with him ever involved dog catching, but I’m sure the friendship included an occasional adventure.
Giving and Receiving
Finally—and crucial to our studies—is the issue of money, and money was an essential aspect of the partnership between Paul and the Philippians. In fact, the Philippians played a unique role in this regard.
Paul put it this way: 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 (Philippians 4:15 NIV).
Paul referred to the financial aspect of their partnership as the matter of giving and receiving. (Rob Martin—one of my mentors—refers to this as the “communion of giving and receiving” in his wonderful book When Money Goes on Mission.)
The Philippians were supplying Paul’s material needs through their giving, and that role was essential to their partnership in the gospel.
I learned about this aspect of partnership early in my missionary life. Marla and I were leaving Mariners Church in Southern California and moving to Krakow, Poland.
We needed monthly financial support and some one-time funds for our move, furnishings, and a vehicle once we arrived in Krakow. We had received commitments for all our monthly support. We had also received gifts for all the one-time expenses… except the vehicle. The vehicle budget was $10,000, and that seemed like an impossibly out-of-reach amount.
After the last Sunday morning service, a man came up to me, a man whom I had never met, a total stranger. He asked me, “Why aren’t you in Poland? I thought you were supposed to be off to serve.”
I hemmed and hawed and sputtered a bit before finally explaining to him that we were still waiting and praying for the remaining one-time funds we needed before we could begin serving. He asked me what the funds would be used for and then, cutting to the chase, asked me directly how much money we needed. I remember my throat going dry, and I could barely get out “$10,000.”
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a check, wrote it to me in the amount of $10,000, and handed it to me. I was shocked, amazed, and almost speechless. Almost. I still cannot believe I did this, but I said, “You don’t even know me!” (I do not recommend this as a fundraising best practice.)
To which he instantly replied, “I know Jesus Christ, and you know Jesus Christ. That’s all that matters.” The common relationship we have with Christ is the basis for the communion of giving and receiving. This was the kind of partnership Paul had with the Philippians.
When we give a gift to our church, support a missionary or a kingdom project, we are giving a gift to God. We enter into a partnership with our church, missionary of Christian organization. We experience the honor of being part of God’s work with them and the joy of giving and receiving.
Next week we will see how this idea of koinonia in the gospel paves the Road Less Traveled!