In spite of all the other elements in the story, The Lord of the Rings is perhaps a story more about fellowship than anything else. In fact, the second volume of the trilogy is even called The Fellowship of the Ring.
In that story, great fellowship takes place among many different kinds of creatures. If you know the story, you know that a good wizard, men of old, elves, dwarves – and of course, the stay at home Hobbits – are all drawn together into one great fellowship.
This fellowship is based on a common good – which is the salvation of Middle Earth from the forces of Sauron’s darkness. Together they must fight the evil wizards, the goblins and orcs, Nazguls, and a host of other evil creatures, in their quest to destroy the one Ring. Even the most unlikely of creatures finds friendship and fellowship because this one common good has bound them together forever – and that common good transcends all of their differences.
But there is an even greater fellowship that takes place in God’s kingdom, one which could therefore be called – not the “Fellowship of the Ring,” but “The Fellowship of the King.”
It is this fellowship that St. Paul shows us this morning in Philippians 1.
As Christians, we are supposed to have fellowship in unity of spirit and the bond of peace that is so strong that others might say as they said of the early Christians “How they love one another!” The world should marvel at our unity, in spite of our differences in personality: sometimes we are creatures as different from one another as dwarves and elves. Our fellowship, however, comes not from ourselves but flows from the fellowship we have with God our King.
We have this fellowship with God our King in 3 ways: with His Person, in His purpose, and in His power.
First, we have fellowship with God’s Person. We are bondservants of Christ Jesus (verse 1) and are to have the affection of Jesus Christ towards each other (verse 8). We are, in fact, partakers of His grace (verse 7), so that He fills us with the fruits of His righteousness (verse 11).
This fellowship in God’s person leads to a fellowship in His purpose. Being filled with Christ, we have fellowship in His gospel (verse 5), so that all together we strive for His gospel (verse 27). Together, we participate in God’s will that we would complete His good work in us until the day of Jesus Christ (verse 6). The ultimate purpose of this grace and gospel, in which we participate, is for the glory and praise of God (verse 11).
This purpose, this great work that we undertake, is God’s work and His purpose (verse 6), and He is the one who will do it. What a joy and privilege to be made participants in this plan with this Person! We therefore also have fellowship in God’s power, for it is His good work that He has begun and which, by the grace of His Son He will complete in us.
Ultimately, we have fellowship with God only because He first loved us and sought to restore us to fellowship with Him. Our response should be to seek fellowship with Him. In other words, we must love God with all our heart, and all our soul, and all our mind. Our lives should be all about seeking fellowship with the God who graciously first loved us and who shares His Person, plan, and power with us.
But the second greatest commandment is like the first: love your neighbor as yourself. From our love of God, from our fellowship with God Himself, comes our love and fellowship for one another: in serving God, we are made one. As we each have fellowship with God in His person, He unites us together into one body, the Body of Christ. As we have fellowship with God in His purpose and by His power of grace, we labor together, and this creates a deep fellowship.
It’s like the fellowship soldiers in combat find together; like the fellowship that is only found in a family. It’s like the fellowship that Frodo the Hobbit found with Legolas the Elf and Gimli the Dwarf.
Paul was keenly aware of the oneness, the fellowship, that he has with the individuals and churches committed to his care. All throughout his letters, there is a sense that he considers that he and the recipients of his letters are laboring together for one glorious end – for the gospel of Jesus Christ. He sees the Philippians as partaking in his work – even in his chains; and he sees himself as being with them in spirit. They are so obviously in his thoughts and prayers, and it is certain that the people he oversaw made constant prayer for him.
There are so many things to love about St. Paul and his letters: the sentences that go on for a page . . . the in-your-face theology that tells it like it is. But what I think I love most . . . is the love. The love of Christ that so clearly goes through Paul and to the Philippians. In verse 3 he prays for them, he remembers them, and he thanks God for them. In verse 7 he tells them, “I have you in my heart,” and he sees them as partakers with him of God’s grace. And Paul sees them as a part of himself.
What better way to fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself than to see your neighbor as part of yourself, as part of the Body of Christ!
In verse 8, Paul knows that God sees his love for the Philippians. How greatly he longs for them: with the affection or love of Jesus Christ Himself. In the King James, this “affection” is “bowel.” “Bowels” might not quite capture it for us today! After all, it wouldn’t be very endearing today for a lover to say to his loved one: “I yearn for you with all my bowels!” And yet in that day the “bowels,” basically the internal organs – intestines but also the liver, the lungs, and the heart – were considered to be the center of a person’s emotions and desire and affection.
This is the same word used in the feeding of the 5000 when Jesus saw the hungry multitude: his bowels were filled with compassion. Paul, like Jesus, had such love for his fellow laborers in God’s kingdom, that he had a physical, visceral, gut reaction of love toward them. This isn’t the kind of love you can manufacture: it is one that comes from a life that genuinely loves with the love of God.
But the Philippians have their part to play as well: it’s not only Paul’s ministry but theirs as well, for it is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and they all belong to Jesus Christ. Though the Philippians are mute to us – there is no record of what they might have said to Paul – their actions and lives still speak to us today. Their actions speak of a love for God and a love for Paul, their pastor, and they make themselves a love offering to God.
The Philippians, though not perfect, embody every pastor’s dream, for they made Paul rejoice for the progress they had made in becoming more like Jesus Christ in all things. In verses 3 and following Paul is able to thank God for the Philippians because of their fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; in verse 5 he has confidence that Christ is in them; and in verse 9 he assumes that they have love when he prays that this love will abound still more.
Paul – and presumably the Philippians too – will not rest until the Philippians are filled with fruits of righteousness (verse 11), which is the common goal of both Paul and the Philippians. This is a goal that can only be accomplished through Jesus Christ, but one that will lead to the glory and praise of God – which is our highest purpose in life.
It’s exciting to me that Paul’s letter to the Philippians could describe so well the fellowship I hope will be at Good Shepherd Reformed Episcopal Church in Tyler, TX – and in every other church! It’s exciting that we are re-enacting the very things St. Paul and the Philippians did – their fellowship; their laboring together for the sake of Jesus Christ their Lord; their common goal of living in love until the day of Christ.
Many are familiar with the following words from Shakespeare’s Henry V regarding the fellowship around the King of England, on the eve of the historic battle of Agincourt in 1415:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so lowly,
This day shall enoble his rank.
And gentlemen in England, now abed,
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here;
And hold their manhoods cheap while any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
Shakespeare had Henry V say these stirring words to represent the kind of fellowship that war can create. But how much greater fellowship can we expect from the Prince of Peace – in the Kingdom of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
You and I – and all Christians – are bound together by the love of God, in fellowship with Him and with one another in the Body of Christ. For we are chained together by love, in the Fellowship of the King.
Resolution: I resolve to find one way today that I can more fully participate in the fellowship of the King by working with brothers or sisters in His Kingdom in one task He has entrusted to me.
Prayer: Father, I thank You that You have made me a partaker of Your kingdom and Your grace through Your Son, Jesus Christ my King. I thank You for the fellowship of the gospel of which you have made me a part and ask that You will complete the good work You have begun in me by making me a more willing participant. Through Jesus Christ, our King. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. What tasks has God especially entrusted to you?
2. What are some ways that God has been calling you to His fellowship and in which you have been hesitant (as perhaps a Hobbit might be)?
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day