On the Lord’s Day we’ve begun a study in the Book of Philippians recently. Though I am not leading the study, I have been reading it a lot in my private devotional time so that I can better participate in discussions with the group. One particular verse in chapter one has intrigued me and so I have been meditating on it for the last few weeks. That verse is Philippians 1:7.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
When Paul mentions that the believers in Philippi are partakers with him “of grace,” he mentions a very particular context of their partaking it. It is in two things or as he says, “both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” How does one partake of the grace granted to another? First let’s note that the grace here is the special strength, energy, and calling that the Apostle Paul has been given to endure imprisonment and to speak effectively in the Gospels defense. Paul says he was, in the Gospel, “made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,” (Ephesians 3:7-8) And the other apostles recognized this gift of grace in him. He tells us in Galatians 2:9 that, “when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” Also Paul credits grace with making him “like a skilled master builder” (1 Corinthians 3:10) who lays a foundation for others to come along later to build a structure upon. So we are not only saved by grace but also equipped by grace and given the gifts, strength, and energy to fulfill the work that Christ calls us to accomplish. And because our work is done in a three dimensional world, others can partake of the grace given to us. This is not something reserved for apostles in the first century but something that can continue even today.
Recently, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic and other cultural factors, some high profile Christians have been forced to take stands regarding the Church’s call to publicly worship God in the world. John MacArthur in particular who pastors Grace Community Church in Gavin Newsome’s California is an example. Church’s in California were forbidden to worship publicly or privately. They also were forbidden to perform the means of grace or administer the sacraments. Grace Community Church’s elders were faced with a dilemma. Should we obey God or men? After a long period of giving the civil magistrate their due obedience it came to a point where they believed the magistrate, in this case Gavin Newsome, was over stepping his authority and treating the church with disdain as he allowed restaurants and casinos to open but kept churches closed. Vice was seen to be essential and virtue was denied. And so Grace Community Church opened their doors in defiance of the civil magistrates decree and they were prepared to bear the consequences for doing so. Pastor MacArthur now famously quipped when threatened with jail time, “If they want to tuck me into jail, I’m open for a jail ministry. I’ve done a lot of other ministries and haven’t had the opportunity to do that one, so, bring it on.” And in the same way that the believers at Philippi were partakers of Paul’s grace, many Christians and pastors have been made partakers of Pastor MacArthur’s grace, who himself was called to face imprisonment and to give a public defense of what the Gospel teaches in regards to the Church’s mission in the world. The special placement of Pastor MacArthur as a public figure, and the special grace given him to take this stand has emboldened others to follow suit. Because of his courage and example many churches around the country and in California began to open their doors. Grace Community Church’s courage also exposed others too who may be living more in the fear men than of God. Were all the pastors that followed Pastor Macarthur’s example sincere? Probably not. Are there some men who followed Pastor MacArthur’s example to a rebellious degree? Sure. Is there an element present in some that cause them to appear to be trying to garner clicks on social media… trying to ride MacArthur’s coat tails to social media fame? Of Course. This happened to Paul too. Not everyone partook honestly of the grace given to Paul as the Philippian Church did. Later Philippians 1:15-17 we read,
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
There are myriads of ways that people can partake of the grace given to you by God. What is it that you are called to do? What is it that God has gifted you to do by His grace? It can be as simple as a perpetually smiling face on the Lord’s Day, welcoming someone to worship and being that person who has a knack for taking a special interest in everyone. It can be the gift of prayer as you pray for others. It can be the gift of teaching and counsel, as you explain God’s Word publicly or privately to those who seek it from you. It can be a difficult public situation like the one the Apostle Paul, and sometimes other high profile Christian leaders have been called to endure for the Name. But grace is given to be exercised in three dimensions, in what Francis Schaeffer referred to as the space-time reality of the created world. The grace that God has given each one of us is meant to be a well from which others can dip.