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  • Writer's pictureMark Bocanegra

Called to Send and Suffer: Learning how to support missionaries from the Philippians

What does 'partnership' mean?

I believe the Philippian Church is the best example of what supporting missionaries look like. Paul’s intention of this epistle is thanking the Philippian church for their financial, physical, and spiritual support. It’s actually a “missionary newsletter” where Paul is thanking his supporters, the Philippians, for their faithful care. That is why, in order to learn about the Church’s call to send missionaries, we need to learn from Paul’s most faithful supporter, the Philippian church. Philippians 1:1-10 and 4:10-20 can teach us three things: 1) what is the nature of 'partnership'? 2) what is the purpose of 'partnership'? and 3) what is required of partnership? 1) The Nature of Partnership is to Co-suffer with Missionaries The start and end of the letter shows clearly his primary (but not his only) intention for writing to the Philippians. In Phil 1:5 and Phil 4:10, Paul is first thankful for their koinonia (translated as 'partnership'). Christians usually think of organic, heartwarming, relational fellowship when they hear koinonia. However, it is also used to describe business contracts, formal agreements, and marriage contracts. It was a formal, many times a financial partnership. For Paul, partnership involved three things:

a) Financial Contribution - It's pretty clear that Paul was happy about the Philippians' financial contributions (Phil 1:3-5 and 4:15ff). However, it wasn't the amount that made him happy but their willingness. The Philippian church is the same church that Paul talks about in 2 Cor 8-9. The Philippians were new converts and dead broke; however, they begged Paul to take their money for mission. And ever since then, the Philippians gave and continued to gave.

b) Fervent Concern - The Philippians didn't just blindly send a check. They were passionately concerned for the advancement of the Gospel in their local church, even to the point of physical persecution (Phil 1). But also, they were concerned for the physical and spiritual well-being of Paul--that's why they sent money and Epaphroditus (Phil 3).

c) Sacrifical Co-Suffering - The most powerful point of partnership for Paul is the Philippians willingness to "share with me in my affliction" (4:10 NASB). The best modern example of this is Andrew Fuller. Andrew Fuller was the Founder of Baptist Missionary Society in 1792. When a missionary presented the spiritual needs of India, the secretary of the meeting remarked: "There is a gold mine in India, but it seems almost as deep as the center of the earth. Who will venture to explore it?" "I will venture to go down," said Carey, "but remember that you must hold the ropes." Andrew Fuller held the rope for Carey. Suffering the loss of his first wife, and eight of their eleven children, Fuller persevered in the midst of severe affliction and overwhelming responsibilities in order to partake in the labor and suffering of mission.​

2) Paul viewed financial support of missions as part of God's work of sanctification

It is important to realize that Paul support-raises for sanctification, not a salary.

One of the most quoted "Reformed" verses is Philippians 1:6: "And I am sure of this, that he who began ha good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Many use this verse to comfort Christians that God ensures the perseverance and sanctification of his people--and rightly so! God's "good work" of sanctification is completely a grace of God and not a work produced by man. However, what is often neglected is that the financial support of the Philippians causes Paul to say this! The 'good work' is referring to the koinonia (v5)--or the financial partnership--of the Philippians. This means that Paul sees the giving of the Philippians as part of God's work of sanctification. Paul's prayer for further sanctification of the Philippians (1:9-10) ends with a petition that they may be "filled with the fruit of righteousness" (v11). What is interesting is that the only other reference to fruit in Philippians is in 4:17: Paul desires the fruit of sanctification that is borne through the financial gift. Furthermore, he saw this financial gift as a "fragrant offering" or an act of worship to God as well. Essentially, Paul wants the Philippians to give to the mission not merely because he wants to be supported, but because he believes that God sanctifies his people through the act of sending missionaries! This was absolutely paradigm shifting to me. Fundraising is not a sales pitch, but providing opportunities for the Church to grow in holiness. After being reminded of this, I immediately recalled my encounter with Nobu. Nobu was a working Japanese Christian man who randomly approached me before going to seminary and said he wanted to support me. Thankful, I accepted his support and went off to the US. A year later, I returned to Tokyo and contacted Nobu for coffee to thank him for his support. He agreed and we met at a little coffee shop. As soon as I sat down, he immediately said, "Mark, I want to thank you for giving me the privilege to support me." I was confused. He continued, "There was so many times during this past year where I wanted to stop giving because I was in a financial pinch, but I gave anyway, then God provided for me in a different way. There so many times where I wanted to quit my job and choose a more comfortable life. But whenever I saw my support for you be taken out of my account, I was reminded that I wasn't working merely for my own comfort. I was working to advance the Church. God taught me so much during this past year through my financial support." You can probably imagine my jaw drop after hearing that. This is one of many examples of how God uses 'sending missionaries' as a tool for sanctification. 3) What is required? Count the cost and recall your call. Let me end with this little story that Pastor Dan, MTW Japan Country Director, recently shared with me. When he was a seminarian, a MTW recruiter gave a little chapel message to encourage missions. At the time, Dan had no inkling to do any missions. Then the recruiter said this, “If you are not willing to go, then you’re not qualified to stay.” Pastor Dan was initially shocked by the statement thinking that he had said that all were called to go, but then he noticed the key word--"willing." P. Dan explained that it was a litmus test to our servanthood under the Lordship of Christ. Are we willing to suffer for the advancement of the Church? The “goers” don’t have a monopoly on suffering. Senders are called to suffer as well. We should not send because it is more comfortable or because we feel inadequate. Senders must be willing to go, but are called by God to stay. God calls us to be radical goers and radical senders. Nothing in between.

​What is even more intriguing is that Paul thinks the suffering of senders is more significant than the suffering of missionaries. To be honest, I would not have ever thought of that until I read Philippians. Paul was waiting to be executed by Roman authorities for the mission. You could say that he was almost going to be martyred for the faith. If I were him, I’d be tempted to say, my martyrdom is the centerpiece of the missionary endeavor, but the Philippian contributions add a nice decoration to it.

But Paul says the complete opposite in Philippians 2:17, "Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all." The drink offering was the “modest” offering. The poor man’s offering. Paul says that the reason why he rejoices in giving my life to missions, is because I am able to partake in the more significant Philippian sacrificial offering; I am able to be the “cherry on top” of the sender's greater sacrifice. Paul is recognizes that if the Philippians hadn’t sent him to do missions, he wouldn’t be able to be a martyr. Therefore, Paul's martyrdom is merely a poor man's drink offering added to the rich man's “sacrificial offering of your faith.”

My dear friends who are called to the ministry of sending. Do you realize your sacrificial offering will be much bigger than mine? Have you counted the cost? Do you understand that it takes greater suffering and sacrifice to send missionaries? Do you understand the ministry of sending is the epitome of selfless humility. It is essentially emptying and giving yourself to a people that will most likely never give back to you.​

Although we may despair in our lack of generosity and selflessness, we rejoice ultimately in the perfect "sender" and "goer": the Trinitarian God. Because Father God was radically generous and the Son of God radically obedient, we were given the opportunity to not only partake in their finished mission but also receive the eternal benefits and privileges of the Kingdom of God! Oh what amazing grace!

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