In the context of God’s broad vision for his church, Paul reaffirms his justification for “feeling this way” about them. The Philippian church apparently deserved Paul’s commendation. He was not flattering them, but truly felt confident of their constant participation in the Gospel work. This church would be standing beside Paul no matter the circumstances. Many churches have since let Paul down because they have abandoned their mission in the Gospel, grown cold in their joy, and forgotten their doctrine. A church can return to God’s work but she has to again assume the mantle of “fellow partaker” in the grace of the Gospel.
A “fellow partaker” is he who shares in drawing from the community pool, the co-owned purse, or the division of labor. The church shares in the grace of God through its unified mission. Paul and the church shared a mutual mission that continues to this day. When the apostle suffers for Christ, the church must also share in this suffering. It is a tragic misunderstanding to fail our missionaries in prayer support, empathy, or support. The grace they receive by way of spiritual blessing and mission is the blessing and mission the church itself is called to.
God’s grace provides for the needs of those who do God’s work. God’s grace bares his church through the hardships of the Gospel work. The Gospel message may bring imprisonment or trial, but God’s grace sustains his people to salvation. It is God’s grace that began a good work and that will sustain a good work. Grace should be better defined. Paul speaks of grace as he would a canoe set afloat on a river. It is not merely a matter of God’s attitude toward people but his means of saving them from all the trials of this life. Grace is unsinkable vessel by which one comes into port on the shores of God’s realized kingdom. God’s grace vessel will bear the believer through the judgment God meets out on this world, through the eternal fires of God’s wrath we will roe until we make peace. Then, once on those blessed shores, God’s grace will carry us into the very presence of God. It will shelter us from his unapproachable light and allow us to speak with him face to face, as a man to his friend.