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Participants vs Spectators

On most any average day I’d rather be a participant than a spectator. The Olympics have just ended, and some of these athletes are so good, so smooth, that I ignorantly think to myself, I might be able to do that too. That’s why I’ve always thought it’d be fun to have an “average man” contestant in each of the Olympic events – just to show us how incredibly talented the real athletes are as we laugh at the average man flailing along in the back. The Ski Jump event might not be included - not sure I want to see “average man” flying through the air on his way to massive injuries – but you get my point.

Partnership comes from the Greek word, “koinonia” and it means to share with someone in something, having something in common, close fellowship or relationship. You can’t be a partner in the NT sense and just be a spectator. Partnering in the gospel calls us up to be participants in and of the gospel.

The main theme of Philippians is partnership in the gospel. Some commentaries will say that the theme is joy or thanksgiving – but those are really by-products of partnership in the gospel.

  • God partnered with Jesus, at great cost, creating the gospel.

  • The Son partnered with Paul, who at great cost, spread the gospel.

  • Paul partnered with the Philippians, who, at great social cost, were called out of their spectating into partnering and participation as they lived out the gospel in a very Roman context.

I don’t have a close relationship with Tom Cruise (shocking, I know....). We don’t share the same values, and have very little mutual interests (motorcycles might be the only one). But I enjoy being a spectator in some of his movies. So, I have not partnered with Tom Cruise in a sense of close fellowship, I’m a spectator of Tom Cruise in a sense of entertainment.

Some people take that approach to the gospel. They hear about the gospel once a week, but as a spectator, not as something that generates close relationship or common interests. Certainly not as something that would motivate them to change their lifestyle or cause them to incur social disadvantage. That’s what Paul was pointing out to the Philippians. Their response to the gospel should motivate them to step up as partners or participants in the gospel specifically as it relates to the way they view themselves as Roman citizens.

Paul is challenging the believers in Philippi to join in partnering in the gospel, to think of themselves as citizens of heaven, not just citizens of Rome. That’s the idea behind his statement “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). That was hard for them due to the honor seeking and honor promoting Roman culture, and it’s hard for us because our culture tends towards the commodification of God. We use God for specific ends rather than worshiping him for who he is.

“The reduction of even sacred things into commodities also explains why we exhibit so little reverence for God. In a consumer worldview he has no intrinsic value apart from his usefulness to us. He is a tool we employ, a force we control, and a resource we plunder. We ascribe value to him (the literal meaning of the word “worship”) based not on who he is, but on what he can do for us” [Jethani, Skye. The Divine Commodity (p. 37). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.]

So, how are you responding to the gospel? Are you a partner in the gospel with a sense of close, even costly fellowship, or just a spectator of the gospel for entertainment?


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