Paul and His Unlikely Partners
Recently I gained a new BFF. (Surely, I’m not the only one with multiple BFF’s?)
We are very different. She grew up in the multicultural city of New York in a vibrant Puerto Rican heritage. I grew up in the restrained American South, in the state that proudly housed the capital of the Civil War Confederacy. She is fully fluent in Spanish and English. I still struggle on when to use “lay” or “lie.” Her skin is brown. Mine is white. We have spent tens of thousands of work hours in different locations. She has worked in our local government for almost four decades. I grew up in a ministry family and have served the local church for nearly thirty years.
We should have nothing in common. Except that we do. The Son created us both. And on top of that, the Son has called us both to partner together for the Gospel. And we both love each other and love working together in the local church. I am so thankful for my partnership with Carolyn.
As we try to address the Church in Crisis we have seen the importance of placing your identity in the Gospel story. With that foundation in place, we looked at how you can address your challenges as an architect, the builder of a local church. Now that we know who we are, and what we have been empowered to build, a couple of questions naturally arise: How do we build the church? And what materials do we build with? Again, we can count on Paul to help us think through this problem. Paul expanded the Kingdom, not with a program but with the pinnacle of God’s creation: People.
“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. … So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:3-5, 7-8).
Paul never took his fellowship partners (κοινωνίᾳ in Phil. 1:5) for granted. They were sacred relationships. I’d argue the single greatest joy of Paul’s life, after his union with Jesus, was in unearthing and developing his partnerships for the Gospel. Though we may think of Paul’s contrarian nature, there is no doubt he had thousands of admirers and perhaps hundreds of partners who were actively sharing their time, money, strategy, and/or exposing themselves to great risk for the cause.
F. F. Bruce says the New Testament records over 70 names in what he dubs the Pauline Circle, the cadre of Paul’s associations/partners for the Gospel. In a pre-modern world, with no means of mass communication, no way of rapid travel, battling life and death, trans-regional obstacles, the accumulating of dozens and dozens of Gospel coworkers, hosts and financial supporters, who spanned the different cultures of the Mediterranean, is an astounding and unlikely accomplishment for a Jew and Pharisee. And of course the New Testament does not come close to naming all of Paul’s partners.
Paul, the Israelite scholar and gospel herald extraordinaire, had partners that no man of his breeding should have had. The entire Gentile mission and sponsors he developed from it are beyond unlikely; they were spiritually illegal. The number of women Paul worked with is so unlikely. Acts and the Epistles refer to at least 19 women who took part in advancing the Gospel. Paul lived with, dined with, and spiritually defended (Galatians 2:2-14) Gentiles, so much so he called himself "the apostle to the Gentiles" (Romans 11:13). Despite the differences and challenges, for Paul, developing these relationships was at the center of not only the strategy of the Gospel but also the very message of the Gospel.
Who are your unlikely partners for the Gospel in your local ministry context?
The Gospel should be collecting for us all kinds of people, with all kinds of different life stories. The Gospel is not just for some of us. It is for all of us - and it is especially needed by Christendom.
At Kairos Church Planting, where we see the Gospel story advancing and where we see new people being baptized in faith, we are seeing unlikely partnerships. We are seeing burgeoning international partnerships. We are seeing partnerships between churches and public schools and partnerships where ministers are embedded in police and fire departments. We are seeing where politics and political taboos are gladly back-seated for a grander story. We see unbelievers fighting domestic violence and are partnering with those in Christ because it is no longer about “them and us.” It’s just about us. We are seeing traditional Christians having food delivered to LGBTQ houses of compassion, because if the Gospel is the Gospel, we may come from different experiences. but what we have in common is greater than that which is different. Because the Gospel of Jesus destroys all walls of hostility and mistrust. It creates unlikely partners.
Unlikely partners were the means of the advance of the Gospel in the ancient world. Unlikely partners will be our means too.
Who are your unlikely partners? If you have few then ask, seek, and knock on the door of heaven and on the doors of your local community leaders. And the God of grace will give us an opportunity to be the means and the messengers of the mission we all so long to see accomplished.
Next time--Part 4, Living for the Lost