THE FELLOWSHIP UNTO
THE FURTHERANCE OF THE GOSPEL
Scripture Reading: Phil. 1:5-6, 12, 18-20, 27
In the books written by the apostle Paul, only Philippians speaks in a particular way concerning the preaching of the gospel. Philippians 1:5 says, “For your fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now.” Paul opens this book with his prayer in which he joyfully thanks the Lord that the Philippians are in the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel. Here the apostle uses the word fellowship instead of preaching. This is very meaningful. To speak merely of the preaching of the gospel is a little shallow, but to speak of the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel is very deep. We Christians today may not know clearly what it means to have the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel.
Many Bible students recognize that the church in Philippi was a church that preached the gospel. The apostle Paul prayed for them that their fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel might be carried on to work out God’s purpose. In verse 6 he continues, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun in you a good work will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Through this prayer we can realize that God’s intention is that a local church would have the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel, not only for one period of time but continually, until the day of the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, until He comes back. In reading this word we can also realize that the apostle was burdened that this fellowship would not be interrupted. Therefore, he said he was confident that He who had begun in them a good work would complete it until the day of His coming back. By this we can see that there is a real battle. God’s intention is to have the local churches in the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel, but there is the possibility that this fellowship, which is a good work begun by the Lord Himself, might be interrupted. I have the sense and the burden that it is right to apply this word to us. A good work has begun among us, but there is the possibility that it will be interrupted; it may be stopped. Therefore, we have to pray that the Lord will keep this work going on and on until the day of His coming back.
Paul told the Philippians that his imprisonment would also work to the advancement of the gospel. Verses 12 and 18 say, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that the things concerning me have turned out rather to the advancement of the gospel...What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truthfulness, Christ is announced; and in this I rejoice; yes, and I will rejoice.” Even his being in prison was a kind of furtherance of the gospel.
He also said that while he was imprisoned, he had the desire, the burden, to magnify Christ. Verse 20 says, “According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I will be put to shame, but with all boldness, as always, even now Christ will be magnified in my body, whether through life or through death.” This tells us that the genuine preaching of the gospel is not merely the preaching of the word but a life of magnifying Christ.
Then at the end of this chapter, he tells us that we must have a kind of conduct, a daily walk and living, that becomes the gospel of Christ. Verse 27a says, “Only, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, that whether coming and seeing you or being absent, I may hear of the things concerning you.” We must have a life, a conversation, a walk, which corresponds with our gospel. Then verse 27b says, “That you stand firm in one spirit, with one soul striving together along with the faith of the gospel.” The word strive here means to labor, to fight. We have to labor, fight, and strive together. The word together is also very meaningful, having the sense of “as one man, shoulder to shoulder in absolute cooperation.” This requires that we be in one spirit and with one mind.
THE GENUINE PREACHING OF THE GOSPEL
BEING A FELLOWSHIP
There are a number of matters in these verses that I am burdened to pass on to you so that you may put them into practice. First, we must learn that the preaching of the gospel is a matter not merely of individuals. It is a matter of the Body. In verse 5 the apostle Paul uses the word fellowship, speaking of the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel. If this were a matter of individuals only, there would be no need for fellowship. The move of the preaching of the gospel must be a matter in fellowship, because it is a matter of the Body.
John 15 tells us that all the branches should bear fruit (vv. 1-5). A tree has not only one branch; it has many branches, and all the branches bear fruit in a way of fellowship. This is why later in that chapter the Lord Jesus tells us that we have to love one another (vv. 12, 17). If we love one another, the people of the world will see that we are the disciples of Christ (13:34-35). If we preach Christ yet do not have fellowship and do not love one another, our fruit will be very limited; we will not be very fruitful. In order to be fruitful, we have to love one another. This is the strongest testimony to the unbelievers.
All people deep within are seeking a life and love in real mutuality. This desire for mutuality is in the human nature as something created by God. Not one human being truly wants to live by himself or herself individually. However, because of the damage done by the evil one, there is no real mutuality among humanity and in human society. There is no mutuality in life, in love, in truth, and in sincerity. If we Christian brothers, however, live together in pure love and sincerity, this will become a strong testimony. This sincere, pure love lived out by us is the very life of Christ. This love is Christ expressed through us. When we live by Christ, in Christ, with Christ, and for Christ, we have love for one another, and this mutual love becomes a strong testimony. This is the outworking of the inner life and the power to bear fruit.
In order to be prevailing and fruitful in the preaching of the gospel, we must pay our full attention to the Body life. The more we live in the Body life and have the reality of the Body life, the more we will be fruitful. Such a life will be a strong testimony to our relatives, friends, schoolmates, and neighbors. When all these people see the kind of mutual love we have among us as Christian brothers, they will be very impressed and influenced. This will pave the way and open the door for the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts. To have the real Body life helps us to be prevailing. I believe that this is the very reason why the apostle Paul uses the word fellowship in Philippians 1:5. All the branches bear fruit together, one with another. Not one branch bears fruit individually.
In preaching the gospel, we have to learn the Body life. By this kind of preaching we will be built up together more and more. If we are burdened for a neighbor, we will ask some brothers to help us bring this neighbor to the Lord. If we are burdened for a classmate, we will ask some others to help us bring this classmate to the Lord. We will work not just by ourselves, but we will invite the brothers to work together with us in a way of coordination. I say again, if we have the spirit of the Body life, people will sense it. If we have love among us, people around us will sense what we have, and that love and living will be a very strong factor to convince the unbelievers—our neighbors and friends—to open their spirits to the Lord. We need the Body life, and the best way to be built up together is for us to have the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel.
It may be hard to bring a certain relative to the Lord, but we can invite him to our home and on the same night also invite three or four brothers and sisters. Then we can work together on this relative. However, this must not be merely an outward activity. If we do not have the mutual love and the reality of the Body life, even if we invite three or four to come, they will bring only coldness. They will not bring warmth, and there will be no reality. If on the other hand, we are in the Body life and we have the reality, nothing will be able to conceal that reality. When three or four brothers and sisters come to our home, there will be the influence; there will be something that warms people. People will realize that among these Christians there is something very special, something quite attractive. We must have this kind of love.
The more we go on to have the preaching of the gospel, the more we will be built up together. We will be thoroughly joined and knit together. This will be a strong testimony, not only to man but also to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies. This will be a shame to them. We need to learn how to preach the gospel in the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel in the Body life. This too is neglected by today’s Christianity. Many Christians today think that to preach the gospel is a matter of the individual. Someone may say, “Since I love the Lord, I preach the gospel. That is good enough.” This kind of preaching can be prevailing to some extent, but the most prevailing and fruitful way to work in the gospel is to have the fellowship unto the furtherance of the gospel, to preach the gospel by the Body life and in the Body life.
All the souls of the unbelievers are still usurped by the rulers and the authorities in the heavenlies. Those powers would not give up anyone, so we must fight a battle, not by ourselves individually but by keeping the fellowship in the Body life. How fruitful we are in our preaching depends on how much of the reality of the Body we have. According to Philippians, the genuine, fruitful, and prevailing preaching of the gospel is a kind of fellowship. We have to do the preaching in the Body. If we are out of the Body, we cannot fight the battle, because we are disarmed. We must have the Body. Try it; then you will prove that this is the case.
(Preaching the Gospel in the Way of Life, Chapter 9, by Witness Lee)