Participant or Spectator?
Bible Reading: Philippians 1:1-6
Philippians 1:3-5, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
There’s a big difference between spectating and participating! Bud Wilkinson, the former football coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, who later served in the President’s Physical Fitness Program, was once asked, “What contribution does professional sports make to the physical fitness of Americans?” To the surprise of no one, he answered, “Very little. A professional football game is a happening where thousands of spectators, desperately needing exercise, sit in the stands watching 22 men on the field desperately needing rest.” That could well describe the dynamic in too many churches. A host of spectators and relatively few participants. But that’s not how God wants things to work.
The word translated “participation” is the Greek “koinonia,” which means “communion, fellowship, sharing in common.” Some translations translate it that way, as with the KJV, “For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now.”
One definition of our English word “participate” is simply “to have a part or share in something.” A participation speaks of a shared interest of a group of people in a common thing. 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.”
We are not spectators with respect to the gospel. It is not as if we are fans in the stands watching. God has privileged us to have a part in the work, having been made to be participants by Him when we believed in the gospel and were born again. 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.
We were born again through the glorious gospel to a participation in the gospel—the gospel message we heard and believed in, and by which we are being saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We have been gifted, each one, to serve in the building up of the body that it might be brought to maturity in Christ. Every part must do its part if the gospel ministry is to prosper. There’s a good fight to fight. A race to run with endurance. It demands that we engage ourselves and do our part. There’s a role for everyone to play. And just as a team’s success demands teamwork, so the furtherance of the gospel requires your participation. God has a role for you to play. And there is no more noble cause on this planet than the cause of making the gospel known.
Though he was not speaking of the ministry of the gospel per se, Theodore Roosevelt’s great quote speaks to how we need to wholeheartedly engage ourselves in this noble cause: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
A CHARGE TO KEEP I HAVE
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill:
Oh, may it all my pow’rs engage
To do my Master’s will!