Paul’s Partnership with the Church

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Last time, we discussed the power of the Holy Spirit, and how He worked on the Day of Pentecost.  This third member of the Trinity worked directly in and through Peter to deliver a powerful sermon and in the hearts of 3,000 men and women who heard Peter’s message, enabling them to respond in repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  These new believers, joined with the early church in the power of this same Holy Spirit and strengthened by biblical teaching and fellowship, effectively spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, which includes the places where you and I are residing right now.

Let me reflect on God’s partnership with Paul and the church in the proclamation of the gospel, which illustrates well the concept of Immanuel Labor, God’s presence in our work.

In Acts 14:21-28, we read that at the end of their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to continue their ministry.  Verse 26 says they were committed to God’s grace “for the work they had now completed.”  However, in verse 27, we see that they “reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”  Luke emphasizes that Paul gave credit where it was due, stating that it was God who truly did the work.  But not all by Himself.  God had worked through Paul and his associates as His co-workers to spread the good news.  Paul refers to himself and his team of ministers as “God’s fellow workers” (2 Cor. 6:1).  This dual partnership was both vertical (God and Paul) and horizontal (Paul and the church).

On the vertical side, God working in Paul, Paul readily acknowledges that his competence to fulfill his calling as an apostle came not from himself, but his competence was given directly by the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 3:5-6).  Later in this same letter, we read that in Paul’s weakness, God gave His all-sufficient grace and strength (2 Cor. 12:9).  Paul was fully confident that God, who began a good work to recreate Him in Christ, would continue to sanctify him to complete that work until Jesus returned (Phil. 1:6).  (See also Phil. 2:13).  God must first do a work in us so that we are fully prepared for Him to work through us.

Looking now at the horizontal level, we see a clear picture of Paul’s partnership with the church in his epistles.  He was thankful, prayerful, and joyful for his “partnership in the gospel” with the church in Philippi (Phil. 1:5).  In Phil. 2:22 and 25, Paul mentions two of his co-workers – Timothy, who served with him “in the work of the gospel”, and Epaphroditus, his “fellow worker”.  (See also 1 Thes. 3:2, where Paul refers to Timothy as “God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ.”)  At the end of the book, he lists a few other “fellow workers”, such as Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement (Phil. 4:2-3).  These were mutually beneficial relationships.  Paul needed them and they needed him.

In a similar manner, in 1 Thes. 1:2-3, we read that Paul thanks God for the church in Thessalonica, specifically remembering their faithful work and loving labor, which he described in verse 8: “The Lord’s message rang out from you . . . your faith in God has become known everywhere.”  His relationship is so tight with this local Body of Christ that he gets a little emotional, as a father would his own children: “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you?  Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thes. 3:9-10).

What I want to leave you with is that Paul illustrated well the concept of God’s presence in his work.  God worked in and through Paul individually, but did not leave him there.  Paul worked with others, who also had that same relationship with God, Who worked in and through them as well.  Horizontal divine work combined with vertical human work.

This ties in well with God’s plan of redemption to work in and through His covenant people:

  • As articulated in the Creation Mandate to Adam to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it in Gen. 1:26-28
  • As found in the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant to bless all the families of the earth in Gen. 12:1-3
  • As given by Jesus to His disciples prior to His ascension in the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations in Matt. 28:19-20

Just like Peter, Paul, and the early church, God has chosen to work powerfully in us and through us to accomplish His work, the expansion of His Kingdom.  We are a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:9).  When we work with God individually as His co-workers, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we make a powerful team!

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The Work of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

This past Sunday, my wife and I attended church at Redeemer Fellowship in downtown Kansas City with our son and daughter-in-law.  We always hear great preaching every time we go; this was no exception.  Here’s a link to the sermon.

The message was on Acts 1:6-8, where Jesus tells His disciples of the upcoming outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  This narrative about the power that the Holy Spirit would bring to these early Christ-followers clearly demonstrates the idea of Immanuel Labor, God’s presence in our work.  It also shows that work has intrinsic value, since God Himself is one who works.

Pastor Key reminded us what the Prophets and Jesus had said about the promised Holy Spirit and what He would bring to God’s people.  He mentioned Ezekiel 37, where we read in context of the account of the valley of dry bones that the Lord would put His Spirit “in you” (v. 14) and that His dwelling place would be “with them” (v. 27).  In John 14, Jesus told His disciples that the Father would give the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, who “lives with you and will be in you” (v. 17).  His constant voice would teach and remind them of what Jesus said (v. 26).  He would guide them in the truth (Jn. 16:13).  Since Jesus was physically about to leave His disciples, both in John 14-16 and in Acts 1:8, He wanted to assure them they would have the very presence of His Father and Himself with them at all times so that they could know Him, follow Him, and remain faithful to fulfill their calling.

I forgot the preacher’s exact words, but in effect, he reminded us that the mission of the early church at that time was too great in terms of magnitude and extent for them to accomplish in their own strength.  It was too high and too far.  The Roman Empire offered much resistance to the gospel, and even today, the flesh, the devil, and the world are still too strong for us to take on alone.  Also, it was absolutely unthinkable that Christians in that Jewish anti-diverse culture would be able to take the gospel message of life in Jesus outside the relatively safe confines of Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

The kicker was when the preacher pointed out that it was only due to the Spirit-empowered efforts of the church over the centuries that we were able to hear and respond to the gospel right there in Kansas City, which to the early church was “the ends of the earth”.  I was blown away when he said that.

This profound sermon on this powerful passage highlighted to me again that God is a worker, which implies that work has value.  Sometimes, the Triune God works by Himself; often He will work through His children, the church, as His co-workers.  Those who were created in God’s image and subsequently re-created in the image of His Son by the power of His Spirit were called to work with Him, in His presence, and with His power to expand His Kingdom.  This is indeed Immanuel Labor.

This partnership between the Holy Spirit and the church is just one phase of the operation.  The next phase I want to address next is between Paul and the church, as they partnered together in the power of the Spirit to spread the gospel.