We often think about the relationship between the Apostle Paul and the New Testament churches as a one-way street. Paul’s impact on the churches is obvious, as his letters instruct them about God’s truths. But we don’t think the other way round, about how the churches impacted Paul’s life and ministry.
Recently, I had an opportunity to study Philippians. As I studied the core message and the context of this letter, I realized how much Paul’s success in ministry was dependent on the churches that he wrote to. I can see that these churches impacted his ministry greatly. That’s why, in all his letters, he commended them for such great support. In Philippians, he called that a partnership in the gospel. What does a true partnership look like? There are two elements— material support and prayer—and they go both ways.
Paul wrote the letter to the church in Philippi while he was in prison in Rome. He started by saying, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:3-5). This partnership they had with Paul was “both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7-8).
He appreciated them so much that at the end of his letter he repeated with an emphasis, “And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” By the way, the core message of Philippians is about partnership, not joy as I used to think.
This church not only partnered with him by sending gifts to meet his need but also in prayer. When they knew that Paul was in prison for the sake of the gospel, they prayed earnestly for his deliverance. Paul knew about this through Epaphroditus, whom they sent to help Paul (4:18). And now Paul sent him back with the letter (2:25). In verse 19 of chapter 2, he said, “Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.”
Often, we think that material support is more important than prayer. We are happy to cut a check every month for a ministry, but spending time to pray for them is more difficult for us. We can see immediate result of our material support, while prayer takes time. Often we are not patient enough, so we focus on the first one.
In all Paul’s mission trips, everywhere he went, he faced a lot of hardship and persecution, especially from the Jews, even believing Jews. Paul knew the importance of prayer, as he urged believers to pray for his deliverance, acceptance, and fruitful result. “I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. May the God of peace be with you all. Amen” (Romans 15:30-32). Interestingly, he used the word strive to describe prayer, which means struggle or fight vigorously. Partnership through prayer requires hard work and humility.
The call for prayer and intercession for ministry is so clear in Paul’s letters. To the Corinthians, who had problems with Paul because they listened to false teachers, he said, “Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and He will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that, He will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many” (2 Corinthians 1:10-11). Prayer heals relationships and brings hope; it shows our dependence on God’s power.
To the Hebrews, Paul wrote, “Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon” (Hebrews 13:18-19). Prayer is one way for us to connect with God and be cleansed.
And there are many more verses like these throughout the New Testament.
Our organization is working in many countries with unique challenges and needs, and they are not often material. In those circumstances, your prayers are what we need, more than anything else. I believe that our faith will increase as we see God’s power and glory revealed through your prayers in tough situations. I believe whether we are in the mission field or staying at home, we are all together for the Kingdom of God and that we can partner in the way God showed us in His Word.