The Power of Partnership (Missions Celebration)

A Missions Celebration sermon,
Delivered October 28, 2001 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper.

Theme: Pauls relationship to the Philippian church teaches us much about what true partnership looks like between a church and its missionaries. We are also confronted by what it means to give ourselves completely to Christ and his purposes in the world.

Sermon Text:

I went to college about 2000 miles away from home. And I remember one of the highlights of my day was going to the post office in the middle of campus to see if there was any mail waiting for me. Some days there was mail. Some days there was not. But any mail was exciting for me, even junk mail. That may no longer be true, but when you’re 18 and far from home, anything that says “there is somebody living here” is important. Of course, a letter from home, from family or friends, or especially from the girlfriend, was particularly important, because letters let me know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t forgotten. You know, that’s been true for thousands of years. Letters have been tremendous encouragements.

This morning we are going to take a look at a letter of encouragement. The letter that Paul wrote to a church at Philippi. And we are going to look at that letter to learn some lessons about how we can be partners with our missionaries. Most of us think of the letter to the Philippians as a book of the Bible, but long before it was a book of the Bible it was a personal letter. A personal letter from a missionary on the field, Paul, back to his supporting church in Philippi. And so I want us to think of it this morning, first as a personal letter, then as a book of the Bible. And before we jump into actually reading it, why don’t you join me as we go before the Lord and ask him to give us wisdom as we look as his Word.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of this letter that you have included in your Word to us. Lord, we ask that you would give us insight; that your Holy Spirit would take these words of Paul, and that you would encourage us by them; that you would challenge us by them that we might be faithful partners – more faithful partners with you and with the missionaries that you have sent out from among us. For we ask it through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Let me begin by just reading the first few verses. You might want to open your Bibles to Philippians, Chapter 1. It’s on page 830 of your red pew Bibles. We are actually going to be looking at a whole host of different verses throughout this letter of Paul’s. I am just going to start by reading the first few verses, beginning at verse three. Listen to what Paul is saying to his friends at the church in Philippi.

“3I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you I always pray with joy, 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart. For whether I am in chains, or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Now as you hear those words, you can’t help but realize that Paul has a very close, personal, loving, emotional attachment and relationship with the Christians in Philippi. This is not just a formal letter to relay information or give them a little bit of good theology, that he expects some day Christians around the world are going to read. No, it’s a personal letter and he is letting them know how much he remembers them, how much he loves them, how much he misses them – all the things you would find in a letter from a good friend, especially a letter from a friend who is off doing things where he is sometimes in trouble or difficulty. And that’s what we have here. You see, any partnership, and especially a partnership that a church has with a missionary, begins with relationship.

That’s one of the reasons we instituted a policy a few years ago that any missionary going out from Central needs to develop a community of care. This is a group of people that gathers around that missionary or missionary couple and helps them prepare the way to the mission field. They develop a close relationship with them, and they support them logistically, emotionally, and spiritually and most of the time, even financially. It’s hard for a church of 700 or 800 people to have a close personal relationship with every missionary. But we want to make sure that the relationship is there and that it’s deep and strong before we send them out. So we want there to be a specific community that encourages and equips and, in a sense, is a representative of Central to send them out.

What are some of the other practical ways that we can be partnering with our missionaries in the same way that Paul had a partnership with the Philippians? Obviously, one is writing letters, right? We don’t have to go to a specific verse to see this, because the whole letter testifies of the importance of writing. Just as letters were important for me when I went away to college, communication is very important for our missionaries. In fact, today we are not even bound by simply letters. We have phones that Paul didn’t have. We have email and faxes, we have all sorts of different ways of communicating in this modern age. How many of those alternative modes of communication have you used recently to communicate with a missionary?

It is important to note that this is a letter of Paul to his supporting church. As far as missionaries communicating with us, we have a lot of letters from our missionaries to Central. In fact, you might not know this, but many of their letters are down in our library, catalogued and in folders, alphabetized. Easy access. If you would like to know what’s going on with a missionary, go down to the library, leaf through and find a missionary that you want to learn more about, and read their prayer letters.

That leads us to a second practical way that we can partner with missionaries. Prayer. Generally missionaries will list specific ways that you can be praying for them right in their letters. But as any relationship is both ways, so also prayer is both ways. Look again at Philippians 1. Verse nine begins the prayer that Paul prays for the Philippians. He says, “and this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best, and it would be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” I don’t know about you, but I would be more than happy for any of you to be praying this prayer for me. Any time you want. It’s a wonderful prayer by Paul for the church that supports him.

Not only does Paul pray for them, he expects, even more, he counts on, he depends on the fact that the church is praying for him. Remember that Paul is in prison when he writes this. If we go to Verse 19 of this 1st chapter, Paul say, “For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out from my deliverance.” Paul is in prison and he is saying “Hey, I know your prayers, coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit, the partnership between you and the Holy Spirit, that is going to bring about my deliverance.” He is assuming the prayers of the church. Now sadly it’s often the case that our missionaries are more faithful in prayer for us, than we are for them. Almost without fail when I speak to missionaries they will ask me “How can I be praying for you, how can I be praying for the church?” And they are often very faithful, very consistent in their prayers for us. The question is how faithful are our prayers for them? Because they are depending on our prayers. Are we praying for them? Let me just give you a couple of prayer requests that I have received recently.

“Ellen” (not her real name), whom we sent to Syria. Now there is a young woman that needs our prayers. And her number one prayer request is very simple. “Could you pray that the Lord will bring me a good friend?” She is 5,000 miles away from home, in a new country, a new culture, she doesn’t speak the language, and she would like a friend. Are you willing to pray for that, for Ellen?

Hal Leaman. Hal is a missionary of ours working among the businessmen of Germany. This month he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer. He emailed me asking if Central would specifically pray for him on Tuesday, November 20, when he surgery is scheduled. Sunday, the 18th, he travels to a totally different city. He goes from Munich in the south of Germany to Hamburg in the north. Monday, he checks into the hospital. Tuesday, November 20 is the surgery. Will you pray for Hal and Liz, his wife, as they go through this together? By the way, I will put the specifics in News & Views for next week so you have it in writing.

Finally, “Garnat” (not his real name). Garnat is one of the leaders of the (deleted-group-name) Church, one of the key evangelists among our unreached people group. He consistently asks for prayer for protection during his trips through the hill country of the people. Travel is dangerous not only because of accidental physical injury, but he travels through the territory of a number of drug lords who are not generally very well disposed to the gospel, and who don’t want the people to be freed from their fear of spirits and oppression by the drug lords. They want people serving them and not Jesus Christ. Will you pray for Garnat as he travels, that he would be safe, and that the Lord would use him powerfully as his instrument?

Each of these folks is praying for us. We should be praying for them as well. In fact, they are counting on our prayers.

Another way we can support our missionaries, that we can be in partnership with them, is by visiting them. Now, we assume our missionaries should come visit us, don’t we? In fact, we wear missionaries out every 3 or 4 years when they come home, because we expect they are going to visit every one that has supported them. Once again, isn’t partnership supposed to work both ways? How often do we go visit our missionaries? About four years ago, we sent Ron Scates, the former Senior Pastor, and George Pattee, the elder who is leading today in worship, to Southeast Asia. We sent them to learn about the ministries there, but we also sent them to encourage our missionaries there. Every report I get after Central sends one of it’s folks to visit a missionary, includes how envious the other missionaries are since nobody from their church ever comes to see them. It is a felt need of every missionary. Now, we don’t visit ours very often, maybe once every several years, but when they do it is a tremendous blessing. It says, “We care enough to take the time and spend the money. You are valuable.” I mean, can you imagine being in a totally different place, you’re away from all your normal friends and family, and a face from home shows up? What a relief, a blessing, an encouragement.

Two weeks from today I’m not going to be here worshipping with you. I am going to be in Denver, Colorado visiting Neil and Wannee Thompson, our missionaries for 25 years to Thailand. Neil is now becoming the President of OMF, one of the great missionary organizations of the Western world over the last 150 years. He is becoming the US president and he has asked me to come out and give the “Charge to the New President” in the installation worship service. I am going to be representing all of you as an encouragement to him, saying, “we are behind you.” In fact, Wannee called Ingrid and asked if she and Joy would come out because Wannee and the boys really wanted to see them. So, as a family, we are all going out to be an encouragement and to just let them know that we love them and we really do care.

When you travel, I want to encourage you – think about whether there are any missionaries you could drop in on anywhere near where you are going. Not to be a drain, but to be a blessing. Go thinking “I want to be a blessing to them.” Maybe the Lord is going to lay on your heart that you just want to do a missionary visitation trip. Where you go with the sole purpose of being an encouragement and a blessing, to bring greetings and love from home.

There is one final way that we find partnership expressing itself in Paul’s letter. There are many other ways we may think of, but one more that we find in Paul. This is in the area of finances. In Chapter 4 of Philippians, starting at Verse 14, Paul writes this to the Philippians.

“14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. 15Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out for Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only. 16For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”

The Philippians sent him physical, material, financial aid when he was in need, which allowed him to continue in often very difficult circumstances. You know, it’s easy to write a check. But one of the greatest judgments on the Church of Jesus Christ in America is the fact that it takes the average missionary 2 years to raise their support to go on to the mission field. That’s the case whether they are local or international. Two years taken out raising money. That’s two years that they are not on the mission field, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with others. Two years when men and women, boys and girls are dying without knowing the love of their Creator, without knowing their Savior, Jesus Christ. And you and I know without a shadow of a doubt that we have the resources, it just takes us two years to give them up. Why? It’s because we don’t have – and I am in the same boat as all of us – we don’t have the right perspective on what it is that we are here in this world to do – what our real purpose is. God has placed us here to be partners with him in his mission. And for you and I who are sitting here, if we are not on the mission field it means that our call is to be supporting those who are. Reports say that it takes 10 army support personnel to have one soldier on the front line in a battle. The same thing is true in the church. We are not all called to be full time missionaries somewhere else, but we are all called to be in partnership with them. The question is “how is the Lord calling you to be in partnership with missionaries?”

To help us think about that, I am going to ask Marty Hansell if he would come forward now and share with us about a tool that many of you already have in your homes – the Missions Directory – and how we can use that to be partners with our missionaries.

I would like to strongly encourage you to pick up a Missions Directory when you leave today, if you haven’t already. As Jerry said, this is a tool. This is a means by which God can use you to be an influence, both here in Baltimore, in the United States, and around the world. God calls us to partnership and fortunately we are not just out there on our own, but it’s with the God of this Universe that we are partnering with, and other missionaries, other believers here in the states and overseas. And this is a means by which to be more effective, to unlock that potential we have of influencing this world for Jesus Christ.

In James, Chapter 5 it talks about the prayer of a righteous man is effective and powerful. God wants to use those prayers to further his kingdom with power and effectiveness. And this Missions Directory can allow us to be more effective. When you get it, look inside the front cover. It says, “How to Pray for Missionaries: Pray knowledgeably, consistently, intimately, and using scripture.” This has been designed to allow that to take place. If you look at it, it gives you a background for each missionary: who their family members are; their primary ministry objective; what God has laid on their heart; the big picture of what they are trying to achieve; a brief description of their ministry; intermediate prayer requests that are relevant for the next year or few years; and then some of these actually have verses, life verses that they are claiming God for. These are ways that you can pray more intimately, more knowledgeably. I know for myself, I don’t get too excited if I am going to sit down there and only say “God bless this person, God bless that person.” But when you have a chance to have specifics to bring before God, that helps us to be more motivated, and God can use this to allow us to be more effective.

Jerry talked about communications. Also in here are the mailing addresses, and for some of the missionaries, their email addresses. So it gives you a means by which to communicate with them. We may not have the resources to go and visit them all, but we can, with minimal expense (but usually it’s more effort than expense) jot a note and send it to them via email or via regular mail. We talk a lot about prayer. But we don’t do as much action as we do talk. Again, that can change. James Chapter 1 talks about being not just hearers of the word, but doers. God wants us to be doers. Nike had the slogan a few years ago, a number of you may remember, it said, “Just Do It.” What we need to do is “Just Do It.” To start praying. We have talked about it, now let’s rely upon God’s grace and his strength to actually start praying for the missionaries and the other things which God is doing around the world.

(JERRY) Amen. Thanks, Marty.

You know, Paul wasn’t just a missionary, although he was a missionary through and through. But even more foundationally Paul was a Christian. A Christian sold out to Jesus Christ, wanting to use his whole life in service of God. In fact, for him, as we see through this letter, the circumstance of life wasn’t that important. Significance was found only in the potential to serve Christ and advance the gospel. In fact, in Philippians 1, verse 12-15, Paul says,

“12Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. 13As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard, and to everyone else, that I am in chains for Christ. 14And because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. 15It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will.” And then Verse 18, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. and for this I rejoice.”

For Paul, circumstance of life just wasn’t that important. There was only one thing that was truly important. And that is, are God’s purposes being lived out and worked out in the world? Is the love of God going forth? Is the gospel being advanced? That’s what Paul cared about. Think about the person who held Paul’s life in his hand – the one who openly would decide Paul’s fate – the Roman Emperor, Nero. Compare Nero and Paul today. Back then, Paul was a nobody. Nero was an everybody. It is interesting, Paul didn’t want fame, Nero did. Paul wanted to just serve the Lord, Nero served himself. Nero actually wrote many different manuscripts and documents, but none of you have read a single one of them, because they don’t exist today. We only know about them because of other writers. What about Paul? Paul is the most published author in all of history. His writings have been translated into literally thousands of languages. His name is known in most cultures of the world. Nero is known mostly through his relationship to the Christians and how he persecuted them, not for who he was himself. Somebody once remarked that nowadays people name their dogs, Nero, and their sons, Paul. Why is that? You see, this wasn’t just chance. It wasn’t fate. It happened because this man, Paul, was willing to give his life completely to Jesus Christ, to be used solely as God’s instrument, no matter what the consequences were for the rest of his life – and God honored that – and today we still hear the words of Paul and they are an encouragement to us and a challenge to us.

In Philippians 3:4, Paul says, “if anyone thinks he has reason to put confidence in the flesh,” meaning, “if anyone thinks they have cause to be prideful because of their life,” Paul declares, “I have more.” After enumerating his pedigree, he continues in Verse 7 and following, “but whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish (‘dung’ would be closer to the translation), that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” When Paul looked at the world, everything in life paled in comparison to knowing Jesus Christ. For Paul, everything paled in comparison to sharing God’s love that others might also know him. Even life and death weren’t important. They were only important as they honored God and furthered the gospel.

We see this clearly in Chapter 1, Verses 20 through 22. Hear again the words of Paul as he shares his heart with his friends in the Philippian church.

“20I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, that will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know.”

For Paul – life, death … it’s all the same fabric. The point is, whether in life or death, he wanted to bring glory to God and exalt the name of Jesus Christ. And he knew if he were to stay alive, it simply meant continued fruitful labor through his life for the Lord. He knew why he was alive. He knew why God had given him life.

It has been said that there are only two things Christians can do in this world that they cannot do in heaven. One is sin. The other is share God’s love with those who do not know him. Which of those two reasons do you think is the purpose for our still being here? Sin? Sharing God’s love? I admit we all do a lot of the first, but that’s not the real reason. We are here to continue to share God’s love with the world. That is what he desires for us. That’s why we are still here. More people still need to know about the love of God. Paul knew that truth. He lived that truth.

Many of you have seen the movie, “Schindler’s List.” It’s about a Nazi, Oscar Schindler, who owned a munitions factory in Germany. And he used that as a way of saving Jews from the gas chambers. He even got some directly out of trains on their way to concentration camps, bringing them in to work at his factory. He saved 1100 Jewish people in that way. But at the end of the movie, Germany has surrendered and the Russians are coming. They are about to overrun his factory so he has to leave, because if he is caught he will most likely be killed, at the very least arrested. As he is leaving, the movie shows him walking to his car through the midst of the 1100 people that he had saved. As he prepares to leave, the people give him gifts of love and appreciation. Then he begins to think. He looks at his car and says, “This car, why did I keep this car? I could have sold it. I could have gotten 10 more people with the money from this car!” He takes a pen out of his pocket, a gold pen. “Two people,” he says, “two more lives.” He tells one of the Jewish leaders, “I could have made more money.” He begins to weep. “I have wasted so much money, you wouldn’t believe how much I have wasted. I could have done more.”

You and I are going to be in a similar place to Oscar Schindler some day. We will be looking back on our life and saying, “Why? Why did I keep that thing? Why did I hold on to that thing which seemed so precious to me at the time, but really was of no value at all.” When we look back, what are we going to be ashamed of? Don’t wait. Let’s look back now. Let’s take a look at our lives now, rather than later. And ask “Lord, what is it in my life that I need to give to you, that a life might be saved?” Maybe it is something monetary. Maybe it’s giving to a missionary that comes to you in need of finances, so that they don’t have to wait two years to go share the love of Christ. They can do it quickly. Maybe it’s a way that you are spending time right now that really has very little value – where you could be spending that time developing relationships with others, or volunteering at one of the ministries that has a booth outside in the concourse this morning.

The reality is: when we look back and we see our thoughtlessness, our lack of knowledge, our lack of generosity, our selfishness even, it won’t just be unfortunate, it will be tragic. Lives literally hang in the balance as to whether you and I are willing to truly commit ourselves to God and to his purposes. Lives hang in the balance. There are eternal consequences we cannot always see clearly now.

At this time, I would like to ask you to take out the little piece of paper in your bulletin that simply says, “In response to God’s call to advance the gospel, I give him…” I would like for you now in the next two minutes to just pray and ask the Lord, “what is it in my life that I am spending time on that really is of secondary significance. What can I give to you that I might use that resource, time, energy, talent, possession, finances, whatever it might be, that I might use that for your purposes, for things of eternal value.” Use this time now, while God’s Word has your heart open, and while you are seeing eternal things more clearly. Speak with him. Ask the Lord to speak to you. Then write down what is in your heart, and give it to him. Let’s pray.

Lord, we pray that your Holy Spirit would speak to each of us right now as to how we might enter into greater partnership with you so that the world might know your love. Speak to us now. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.