The Gospel: Spectator or Participant?

Philippians 1:1-3


Today is Super Bowl Sunday.  Super Bowl 50 will take place later today in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.  Two teams, the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers, will do battle for the right to claim the title of Super Bowl champions.

An estimated 184 million Americans are expected to watch.

43 million people plan to host Super Bowl parties.

Approximately $14.3 billion will be spent on Super Bowl related activities.

$4.2 billion will be wagered.

As of Thursday, the lowest price for a Super Bowl ticket on the official NFL website was $10,375.

Super Bowl Sunday is a bad day for chickens.  Today Americans will devour 1.3 billion chicken wings.

And holy guacamole!  139.4 million pounds of avocados and 14 and ½ tons of chips will be consumed.

All of this revolving around the question of who can get a 15 oz. ball past the opponents’ goal line (or over their goal posts) more times than the other team.  Whichever team can do that will be crowned Super Bowl champions and will forever more hold their place in history as the Super Bowl 50 NFL Champions.

It’s a big deal.  And a lot of people are going to participate.  I’ll probably watch some of the game myself, though I don’t really care much who wins the game.

A lot of people—players, coaches, assistants, executives, referees, broadcasters, advertisers, entertainers, commentators, spectators, merchandisers, restaurant owners, etc. etc.—will participate in the event in one way or another.

But as important as the event is—there is a participation that matters far more than that.  Participation in this matter matters not for a day and not merely in the earthly realm.  Participation in this matter is a participation sourced in God Himself.  It is a participation having eternal consequences.  And it is a participation that happens not once a year, but every single day.  It is the “participation in the gospel” of which Paul speaks of in Philippians 1:5.

I would draw your attention to the heart of the Apostle Paul in this as he writes from a prison cell.  Note how he speaks: “I have you in my heart” (1:7).  He thinks of them: “In all my remembrance of you” (1:3).  And as he thinks of them he thanks God and rejoices in prayer (1:3-4).

These folks mattered to Paul.  Nothing mattered more to the Apostle Paul than sharing the gospel with folks and seeing them grow up in Christ.  Colossians 1:28-29 speaks to this: “And we proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

So, as he writes from his prison cell, he writes with joy in his heart and thanksgiving to God as he thinks about how God has worked to both bring these people to saving knowledge of Christ, and then, to grow them in Christlike maturity.

And as he thinks of them and writes of the specific reason for his remembering and thanking God and rejoicing: “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5).

From the “first day until now” they had participated in the gospel with Paul.  And we’ve looked to Acts chapter 16 and have seen how God worked to bring the gospel to Philippi.  Remember the stated purpose of the mission team in going there.  Acts 16:10, “And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

And so they went there and preached the gospel.  And the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to the gospel and she and her household were saved.  And then the Lord saved the slave-girl, fortune-teller.  And then through a God-orchestrated chain of events, the Lord worked through the gospel to save the Philippian jailer and his household.  And a church was born in Philippi through the preaching of the gospel.

And now, 10 years later, as Paul is again in prison, and has been led by the Spirit to write to these dear friends, he writes of their ongoing participation in the gospel.

The word translated “participation” is the Greek “koinonia,” which means “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.”  Some translations translate it that way.  KJV says “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”  But the word “participation” is a suitable translation in this context.

One of the definitions of our English word “participate” is simply “to have a part or share in something.”  So a participation speaks of a shared interest of a group of people in a common thing.  In this case they were (we are, as believers) partipants in the gospel.  Philippians 1:27 speaks to this spirit of this phrase: “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

So note that we are not spectators with respect to the gospel.  It is not as if we are fans in the stands watching.  We are participants in the gospel.  God has privileged us to have a participation in the gospel.  We were made participants by Him when we believed in the gospel and placed our faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.  We are participants by definition.  We might not be very good participants.  We might not be giving much devotion or attention to the cause, but we are nevertheless participants because God has made us so.

What’s involved in this participation?  That’s an important question.  If we are participants—which we are—it is important for us to understand what’s involved.



The term “gospel” appears repeatedly in this little epistle.  9X.  It is here in the beginning of the book (1:5) and appears again at the end (4:15).  In between Paul speaks much of gospel truths.  This is a “Together for the Gospel” book.

The term “gospel” translates the Greek “euangelion,” which means literally “good news” or “good message.”  Vine’s Expository Dictionary explains how it refers in the NT to the “good tidings of the kingdom of God and of salvation through Christ, to be received by faith, on the basis of His expiatory death, His burial, resurrection, and ascension.”

That’s the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  The gospel is a matter of first importance.  It is the message through which a person is saved.  It is the message “that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Note that there is some bad news in that good news.  Christ died for OUR SINS.  The bad news is that we are all born sinners (Romans 3:23; 5:12).  The bad news is that the wages of sin is death.  The worse news is that if something isn’t done about a person’s sins, that person will spend eternity “away from the presence of the Lord” and pay the penalty of eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

But then there is the good news.  The good news is the truth about Jesus Christ had what He has done.  Jesus Christ, the Divine Son of God purposefully died for our sins.  Then, having defeated sin and death and the devil himself, He rose from the dead.  Salvation by grace through faith is availed to all who receive this message of the gospel.

This gospel message is not merely a message.  It is not a set of facts to which we merely assent as some kind of mental exercise.  According to Romans 1:16, “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  The power of God lies behind the message.  And the salvation spoken of involves more than just the forgiveness of sins.  The one who believes “is born of the Spirit with life from above into God’s family divine.”

There is a Divine alteration of things that takes place at the moment of saving faith.  The rebellious child of the devil is not just forgiven, he is brought into a real and eternal fellowship with God through Christ.  He is born again and made to be a new creature in Christ.  His affections and interests are changed.  He is delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Now we want to make something clear.  When it comes to the Super Bowl you can be a spectator.  You don’t have to choose sides.  You don’t have to decide whether you are for the Denver Broncos or for the Carolina Panthers.  You can be for one or both or neither.  It doesn’t matter.  But it doesn’t work that way with the gospel.  You are either on one side of the other.  1 John 3:10 speaks to two different groups of people—the children of God and the children of the devil.  Those are the only two categories.  We are all children of the devil by birth.  The only way we can be made children of God is through receiving the gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation.  But no one can remain ambivalent.  You can’t be a spectator.

And if you’ve believed, you’ve been made a participant.  A participant with God, with Christ, with the Holy Spirit, with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.  A participation in the good news, the “glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Timothy 1:11).


When is it okay for a believer in Christ to stop caring about the gospel?  Never.

Look again at 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.  Look at the verbs that are used with respect to the gospel:

  • Paul preached it.
  • They received it.
  • They stood in it.
  • They were being saved by it (ESV translates this phrase “being saved”). The verb is in the present tense.
  • They needed to hold fast to it.

The gospel is not just a message to be received, it is a message to be lived out.

We find the same thing in Philippians 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”  So here we have it.  Participation in the gospel involves more than just believing the message, it has something to do with the way we live our lives.

There is a kind of conduct that is in a “manner worthy” of the gospel.  The Greek term translated “worthy” means literally “that which balances the scales.”  So the picture is like this.  You have one of those double-sided balance scales.  On the one side you have the gospel.  This message of how Christ has worked to save us from our sins.  On the other side of the scales there is our conduct.  The nature of the walk needs to be consistent to the content of the message.

The gospel is not just something we believe, it is something that we live.  Romans 6:1-4.  The person who has genuinely believed in Christ is a person who has been baptized into Christ Jesus.  They have been completely identified with Him and in His death and resurrection.  The Risen Christ now lives in them, so that “they might walk in newness of life.”  And it is that “Christ in us” kind of walk that is in a manner worthy.

Philippians 2:14-16 speaks to the kind of conduct that is worthy of the gospel.  No grumbling.  No disputing.  Proven to be blameless children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.  Holding forth the word of life.  We’ve been called to this kind of conduct.  This is the kind of conduct that is worthy of the gospel.

Note how we are called in this salvation to strive together in this common cause—to live out the gospel.  Philippians 1:27. “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”  The Lord’s Supper is in there.  It reminds us of our common belief in our common Lord and the common sacrifice through which we have been saved and our common identity and our common purpose.  That’s one of the reasons why it is so important for us to observe it in community.

That’s what this divine participation in the gospel looks like.  It looks like teamwork.  It looks like cooperation.  It looks like be led by the Spirit according to the mind of Christ.  It looks like the pursuit of Christ-likeness and Christ-like love.  It looks like doing that together.

Those two Superbowl teams have gotten to where they are today because of teamwork.  Their coaches have preached teamwork. They’ve adopted that mentality.  They are all, as individuals, willing to put aside and sacrifice of personal prerogatives for the sake of the team.  And when we look at the church today, we don’t find enough of that.  There is far too much divisiveness and strife and competition and that sort of thing.  God has called us to a divine participation in the gospel, but instead we fight amongst each other.  There are far too many casualties that are the result of friendly fire.  But God has called us to love one another and to work as a team in the divine participation of the cause of Christ.


And finally, this gospel is a message which we share.  We are participants together in belief in the gospel, in living out the gospel, and in sharing the gospel.

Paul’s life was devoted to the cause of sharing the gospel.  That’s why he went to Philippi in the first place.  And now, as he writes from a prison cell, that is still his utmost concern.  Notice what he says.  Philippians 1:12-14.  Though he writes from prison, that hasn’t deterred his ability to reach others with the gospel.  Some of the praetorian guard were reached.  Others were emboldened by Paul’s example to share the gospel.  All of these things were working “for the greater progress of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).

This was not just Paul’s concern, it is God’s concern.  1 Timothy 2:4, “Who desires all men to be saved.”

And God’s concern expressed through the Lord Jesus when He told His disciples: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

“The greater progress of the gospel.”  That is God’s concern.  That is Christ’s concern.  That was Paul’s concern.  That was the concern of the folks in that Philippian church.  That is to be our concern.

We are participants together in this glorious God-given cause.  And this participation applies to all that we do.

As participants we share the gospel.  Now we need to correct a subtle but wrong way of thinking.  The church is not primarily a place where lost people go to be saved.  The church is a place where saved people are encouraged and instructed and sent out to take the gospel to lost people.  The church gathers for edification and scatters for evangelism.  And you take the gospel with you wherever you go.  And that’s one thing that participants in the gospel do.

As participants we work together with others in gospel outreach.  We are not that big of a church, but you might be surprised by how much goes on by way of outreach in our community:

  • Care Center Ministry.
  • Clatsop Care Memory Community.
  • Gideon’s.
  • Astoria Rescue Mission.
  • CEF and Good News Clubs.
  • Warrenton Senior Center.
  • Coast Pregnancy Clinic.

People go and serve.  And other people pray for those going.  We participate together in the gospel.

As participants we work together in supporting missionary endeavors around the world.

And that’s at the heart of all that we do in worshipping the Lord Jesus.


If you are a believer in Christ, you’ve been called to a participation in the gospel.

Your participation began when you first trusted in Jesus Christ.  You believed in Christ, confessing Him to be Lord.  You were baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ and enjoined to a host of other folks who’ve likewise been called and have been engaged in the cause of the gospel since the beginning of the church.

You are not a spectator.  God has not called you to sit in the stands and cheer and boo.  You are on the field.  You’ve been called to “fight the good fight.”  The gospel message is not just something you believe, it is a walk that God called you to.  There is such a thing as “adorning the gospel.”  We do that as we conduct ourselves and the affairs of our lives in a manner consistent with the message.  What is the message?  That Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead to save us from our sins.  It will do us little good to share the gospel if our walk is




Author: looking2jesus13

Having served as pastor at Lewis and Clark Bible Church, in Astoria, Oregon, for almost three decades, my wife’s cancer diagnosis led to my retirement and subsequent move to Heppner to be near our two grandchildren. I divide my time between caring for Laura and working as a part time hospice chaplain and spending time with family and spoiling my chocolate lab.

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