We often associate the epistle to the Philippians with the theme of joy and rejoicing, and rightly so. But there is another topic that weaves its way through Paul’s letter – and that is predominance of the gospel and the ecclesia’s partnership in preaching and defending it.

Hence in Philippians 1:3-5 Paul informs the Philippians the he is thankful to God in his pryers for their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now”. They were an active ecclesia in the proclamation of the gospel. It had begun right from day one when Lydia first accepted the Truth and it was continuing uninterrupted a decade and a half later.

But their love and zeal for the truth was not just seen in preaching. Their labour was described by Paul as a “fellowship in the gospel”. They were active sharers; eager partners in all aspects of the gospel. They fellowshipped Paul’s sufferings by sending Epaphroditus to Rome and they stood for “the defence and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7).

What was their involvement in defending and confirming the gospel? Defending something implies it is worth preserving. Defending the gospel means taking action when it is challenged, maintaining or supporting it in the face of hostile criticism and argument, and keeping it secure from danger when it is under attack. This is what Paul commended the ecclesia for doing. The gospel was under threat from both within and without. In fact, Paul later, with weeping, had to warn the ecclesia to beware of the enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18). The assaults were sometimes subtle but they had to be resisted.

In addition to defending the gospel from attack, Paul noted that they were set for the “confirmation” of the gospel. The Greek word is bebaiosis (from bebaios – “sure, fixed, secure”) meaning to make firm or reliable. In the secular world it was a business term used for guaranteeing security. The Philippians were actively providing the verification and proof required to confirm the gospel, guaranteeing its genuineness and authority. This was an ongoing work that was consistently carried out, year after year.

It should be no different for us either. We, too, should be set for the defence and confirmation of the truth of the gospel. It is up to each generation of Christadelphians to “be ready always to give an answer [same word as “defence] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15). There should be a readiness for each ecclesia and individual to defend the faith – just like the Philippians.

The ecclesia itself was saddened by the apostle’s imprisonment, but Paul informs them in 1:12 “that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel”. He adds in verse 18 that “notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice”. He knew that this news about the advancement of the gospel would assist in allaying their fears for his safety. He knew that they were so involved in the fellowship of the gospel that they would rejoice with him in its furtherance.

Paul’s concern is not with himself or his heath or his frustration at being under house arrest. It is the gospel he cares about, and he knew that the Philippians shared this viewpoint. This, to them both, was the paramount thing! If the gospel progressed, nothing else mattered. Instead of the truth being shackled and inhibited, it forged ahead in a way no one could have foreseen.

Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament informs us that the metaphor behind the word “furtherance”, although somewhat uncertain, is probably a military term based on the work of engineering pioneers cutting a way before an army, and so furthering its march. It’s therefore not just a word that means progress in the sense the something moves along. Inherently it conveys the idea that something is moving along despite obstacles, danger and distraction. It is moving by overcoming that resistance.

Times do not change much. There are many obstacles we face in fellowshipping the gospel today. Its unique and distinctive doctrines are being questioned. Additionally, we face a world of complacency about God’s Word and a society that puts more trust in science and technology the in the Creator of all things. Contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints in a brotherly way is portrayed as schismatic and negative. Instead of teaching “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), some dissect the gospel into different components and remove teachings that they consider are incompatible with modern trends. This was not Paul’s attitude, nor the Philippians. Paul was defending the truth of the gospel against all comers and promulgating it to all he encountered (Acts 28:31), even to his captors (Phil 4:22). He left us an example to follow: to “stand fast in the faith” (1 Cor 16:13).

He went on to exhort the Philippians to live a life consinsistent with the Truth. “Let your conversation [or citizenship] be as it becometh the gospel of Christ” he wrote in 1:27. And he dded, “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”. Notice the language he uses. It is a call to constancy and unity, not of “the faith” nor of “the gospel” but of “the faith of the gospel”. He was emphatic about this. The gospel contains “the faith”, “the truth” and “the hope” (Gal 2:5, 14; Phil 1:27; Col 1:5, 23). This was to be the focus and basis of their life and citizenship, anything less was a counterfeit (Gal 1:7-9).

Their attitude towards the faith of the gospel was to strive together with one mind (1:27). The Greek word, sunathleo denotes the idea of “wrestling in company with”. They were not to compete with each other; instead they were to band together as a team with one goal in mind: to secure the purity and power of “the faith” revealed in the gospel.

Are we doing the same? Are we defending it? Are we continuing “in the faith” “grounded and settled” or have we “moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23)? Paul continued to exhort the ecclesia at Philippi to shine as lights in the midst of a crooked and perverse world. His counsel was for them to “[hold] forth the word of life” (2:15-16). What gives this “word” the authority to offer life, is its teachings. Remove these and it no longer can offer life (cp 2 Tim 1:10). Our privilege is to retain its life-giving properties and hold it out for people to take hold.

Paul goes on to commend Timothy because he “served with me in [the work of] the gospel” (2:22). Euodias and Syntyche shared with Paul and others the honour of labouring “in the gospel’ (4:3). Towards the end of the epistle, Paul refers to the time when the gospel was first preached to them (4:15). All of these references reveal that the faith of the Gospel weighed heavily on Paul’s heart as he penned this letter. We have seen that he uses a number of words and phrases in connection with the gospel: “defence” (1:7), “confirmation”(1:7), “furtherance” (1:12), “speak…without fear” (1:14), “preach” (1:15, 18), “striving together for” (1:27), “holding forth” (2:16), “served” (2:22), and “laboured [in the cause of ]” (4:3). All of these terms only serve to confirm the importance of retaining “the form of sound words” (2 Tim 1:13). Let us “[hold] fast the faithful word” as we have been taught that we “may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9).