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Strengthen! Advance! Increase!

September 15, 2020·Danielle McEntee

One thing I’ve heard ad nauseum over this past year are phrases like this: “let’s cancel 2020” or “can we forget 2020 ever even happened?” And while I certainly sympathize with this sentiment (trust me, I’ve had my fair share of quarantine-induced moments of crying into my ice cream, while wearing the same pair of sweatpants for multiple days in a row), I truly am convinced that the “cancel 2020” mentality is the furthest possible thing from a biblical response.

In our reading this week, we come to Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote this letter while he was a prisoner of Rome, and even in prison he’s rejoicing! Why is he rejoicing? The secret of his joy was the single mind. What exactly isthe “single mind”? It’s a mind that is set on living solely for Christ and the Gospel. It’s the attitude that says, “it makes no difference what happens to me, as long as Christ is glorified and the Gospel is shared with others.” In Philippians 1:21, he even writes, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul rejoices in spite of his circumstances, because he knew his circumstances were doing incredible things for the Kingdom of God. First of all, his circumstances strengthened the fellowship of the Gospel. Secondly, in Philippians 1:12, he states that his circumstances advanced the furtherance of the Gospel; in fact, the words used here at the heading of these verses (1:12-26) are, “Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel.” Lastly, his seemingly unfortunate circumstances increased the faith of the Gospel (1:27-30).

What does it mean to strengthen the fellowship of the Gospel? First of all, we need to understand that the word fellowship means to “have in common.” Christian fellowship is much more than simply hanging out and sharing a meal together. In true Christian fellowship, we have this vital thing in common: the possession of eternal life through Christ Jesus. We also have the “fellowship of the Spirit” (2:1) and the participation in Christ’s sufferings (3:10). For believers in Christ, the fellowship of the Gospel is a deep, personal shared commonality through our sufferings, our joys and our salvation. It is a connection that cannot be broken, no matter the physical separation. We see in Paul’s letter to the Philippians that it is possible to be close to people spiritually and far from them physically. Doesn’t that just about sum up the status of Christ’s Church in 2020?

Now thankfully, none of us in this country are imprisoned because of the Gospel, but surely, many of us have felt imprisoned and isolated in our homes from any real physical connection with others. Paul writes to his friends, “I have you in my mind” (1:3-6), “I have you in my heart” (1:7-8) and “I have you in my prayers” (1:9-11). I accept this as a challenge, not only as a pastor, but also simply as a follower of Christ, to be intentional about keeping fellow believers in my mind, in my heart and in my daily prayers. Personally, I find Paul’s words convicting. They remind us and challenge us that instead of living in a spirit of grumbling about current circumstances, we can choose to rejoice in the difficulty this season has presented. We can, as believers of Christ Jesus, choose to see 2020 not as a curse, but as a gift. If we remain of single mind, we get to use that gift to strengthen the fellowship of the Gospel between believers, advance the furtherance of the Gospel in a hurting world, and increase the faith of the Gospel within our own hearts.

Pastor Danielle McEntee

The Church on the Way