The first European Church that Paul helped to establish was at Philippi. In the early years of Paul's second missionary journey he reaped a fruitful harvest of souls in the city of Philippi. The church at Philippi was counted by Paul and Luke to be perhaps the purest assembly of believers of all the early New Testament Churches. Luke actually served as its pastor for six years, and was probably one of Paul's first converts in the city. COME UNTO ME
About ten years after helping to start the church at Philippi, Paul found himself imprisoned by Rome, for the crime of preaching the Gospel. The fellow servants at Philippi, hearing of their beloved friends plight and persecution in a Roman prison began a vigil of prayer for Paul, and sent a fellow-servant named Epaphroditus to visit Paul in prison and to give him some money to help sustain and encourage him. They undoubtedly recalled that Paul never accepted any payment of money for his work in the ministry. Paul was more concerned about false preachers creeping into the churches for the sake of enrichment. Thus Paul preached for free. He actually sustained himself in life by working as a tentmaker, and stubbornly refused to accept payment for sharing the Gospel. Upon receiving his friend from Philippi, Paul was deeply moved and touched by their kindness and remembrance, and sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi with a letter. That letter is the Biblical book of Philippians.
But Paul was also made aware of the intense persecutions that the Philippians were subjected to because of the “Fellowship of the Furtherance of the Gospel”, that they had engaged themselves in with Paul. So, as Paul instructs Timothy to record his words of gratitude to the fellow-servants back in Philippi, he waxes long on the virtues of being a true yoke-man of Christ. In chapter four of his epistle, Paul uses the word, 'yoke-fellow” to describe the godly relationship and unique partnership that they shared together because of the love of Christ.
Philippians 4:3-4 And I intreat thee also, true “yokefellow”, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellow labourers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.
I had never in my life heard of the word yokefellow before reading this verse. I had never even heard it mentioned in all the many years of my Christian walk, nor had I ever heard it in thousands upon thousands of sermons. Upon reading this verse, that word quite literally leapt off the page and grabbed me. Yokefellow! The Greek word “suzugos” means to be co-yoked. The word implies one who is yoked in harness with another, the two working as a team. Then I recalled that Jesus mentioned that where two or more are gathered together in his name, that he would be in their midst, and also when sending forth the Disciples to witness, he sent them in groups of two. Jesus established the spirit of yoke-fellows.
Far too often for a Christian in this world, it can seem that we have been left all alone.
Paul probably felt alone and completely forgotten while wasting away in that Roman prison. But he was overwhelmed with joyous emotion by the reliability of his yokefellows in Philippi. Paul, who had for more than thirty years been beaten, robbed, stoned, reviled, threatened and castigated so much that it made the very angels take note, was humbled by the feelings of spiritual comradery which was bestowed upon him. In his old age, while in prison, he reminisced about the wonderful days when many of them had come to know the Lord. Paul reflects upon the yoke-fellowship they enjoyed because they had Jesus in their hearts, with him they were bound in the fellowship of labor, and jointly were steadfast in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. (Phil. 1:7) In verse twelve he relates that the misfortune of suffering that had befallen him had actually worked together for the furtherance of the Gospel. He says that because of his own situation that many others had become brave enough to preach the truth without fear.
Under the banner of faith and fellowship, Paul exhorts his yoke-fellows to remain blameless and fearless in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, wherein you shine like lights in a dark world. Yokefellows help one another by providing the fellowship of like-mindedness in Christ.(Phil. 2:20) On the contrary, Paul was very critical of those Christian leaders who seek their own status and do not the will of the Lord, always retaining themselves from any elements of the Fellowship of Christ's suffering.
Yoke-fellows are keenly aware of the eternal relationship they have in each other. They glory in the thought of persisting faithfully in this earthly race together and rejoining in the heavenly majesty of their Lord and Savior, contenting themselves while on the earth that they are assisting one another in fighting the good fight, to finish the course that is set before them. Their one hearts desire is to join as many people as possible to the kingdom of the Lord, by dying to the desires of the world, and thereby yoking themselves together as a team to perpetuate the purity of God's love.
In the first century, Yoke-fellows were compelled upon by the Holy Spirit to help one another in the fellowship of baring the cross of Jesus. Many times that burden led them into harms way. Paul would eventually offer his head to the sword of Nero, because he refused to renounce his preaching about the love of Christ. Yet in spite of the risk of persecution and death, yoke-fellows stood firmly in support of one another. Epaphroditus nearly succumbed to death by sickness and persecution as he labored to uphold Paul in his hour of distress. Paul called his brethren at Philippi, true yoke-fellows. They were one another's joy and crown! And that is the message of the yoke of the cross, that ye love one another as Jesus first loved us, and therefore all yoke-fellows exulted in the crowning moment when another sinner was crowned with the eternal crown of life, attained only in Jesus Christ! Just as Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to bare the cross of Christ up Golgotha's hill, yoke-fellows sense the urgency of being pressed into service to further the message of the cross, and to bare one another's burdens in that endeavor.
In modern American churches today, it has been sadly stated that the Church is the only institution today that kills its own wounded. Most armies take care of their injured and fallen soldiers, but too often it seems that the church abandons its veterans on the battlefield. Many Christian leaders today that fall by the wayside, or become a burden by mere association are simply put into religious solitary confinement. That is the opposite spirit of true yoke-men of the Gospel.
True yoke-fellows abounded in producing fruit, and in helping one another to reap an abundant harvest of souls for the Lord. Paul was able to count all things of the earth but refuse because he was consumed by a spiritual zeal for harvesting lost souls. Paul described himself as being abased in his quest to bring more fruit into the church. Abased (tapeinoo) means to humble, or lower oneself, or to depress ones own status in order to further the progress a higher mission. Yokefellows rejoice in helping to enhance the fruitful account on each other's behalf. Everything they did and everything they accumulated, or were blessed with went to further the gospel of the Lord.
Matthew 9:37-38 Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.
John 15:15-17 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.
Yoke-fellows are sensitized with a heavy burden for the furtherance of the Gospel. To this end, the Philippians diligently upheld their fellow laborer Paul in prayer and supplication. Furthermore they stood by him in the defense of the Gospel, and sought every available means to multiply his mission to spread the message of salvation.
Yoke-fellows are also sensitive to the reality of being an heir of God, and thus each yoke-man a joint heir with Christ. This spiritual sensitivity unites them in the affirmation that the Lord is heir of all things. If we suffer on this account, we can take consolation in the fact that we shall be glorified when he receives his glory. For this reason, yoke-fellows count all but loss except for the grand excellency of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Romans 8:16-17 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
Philippians 3:8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.
A yoke-fellow is faithful to bring to remembrance to his comrades that in the latter days many will depart from the faith. As Timothy exhorted to his fellow servants to be on the lookout for deceivers and seducing spirits, so all yoke-fellows maintain a careful watch on the fellowship. Being a good minister of the Lord necessitates nourishing up the words of faith and good doctrine, so that it can flourish throughout the land, by giving attendance to reading, and studying doctrine, and exposing those with but a mere form of godliness. ( 1 Timothy 4:6 If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.)
In these Last Days of the Church Age, it is all too apparent that the church has moved away from not only its first love, but it has also become divested of true yoke-fellows.
An array of Theological degrees are an absolute priority for any servant to even attempt to express an affinity for membership in the fellowship of Christian leadership. Gone completely is the reliance on the Holy Spirit to guide and instruct anybody along the pathways to the wisdom of God's inspired word. Today's religious elite are ever learning and always failing to come to the knowledge of the truth that was so prevalent in the church at Philippi, and protected by the yoke-fellows of the fellowship. Ecumenicalism and tolerance are the motto of today's modern progressive church. With all of its programs, committees, lavish buildings, stylish praise and worship services, interfaith concepts, and doctrinal compromises, today's church has evolved into an institution ripe for the unification of religions. Religious wolves in sheep's clothing regularly receive the adulation and praises of a church membership that has become accommodating to a new gospel, a gospel that will one day soon become the vehicle of False Prophets during the Apostasy, and will ultimately be utilized of them to crown the Antichrist.
Instead of miracle workers, promise keepers, faith healers, Christian celebrities, contemporary music, money-making schemes, trafficking in religious paraphernalia,
interfaith dialogue and religious tolerance motivational seminars, the church simply needs to get back to the spirit of the Fellowship of Christ Suffering and take up the old rugged cross of Jesus Christ, and submit themselves to the “Yoke” of Jesus Christ!
The spirit of yokemanship is the task of learning more about him, and sharing more about him, and tending to the sanctity of his Holy Word. True yoke-fellows forsake their own well being for the sake of the cross. That is the ultimate litmus test for shepherding the faith. I can only imagine the vacancies that would suddenly arise in modern church pulpits if Paul's example of being abased ( depriving oneself for the cause of the furtherance of the Gospel) for the fellowship of the yoked were to prevail again.
Yokefellows are the backbone of the church. Jesus yoke is easy and his burden is light because, it is the bond between Christ and those who do his will. His yoke is a delight and brings rest to the soul, and purpose to our continued existence in a world that knows not the Lord!
Matthew 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Come Unto me, I will Give You Rest;
Take My Yoke Upon You, Hear Me and be Blessed
I am meek and lowly, Come and Trust my Might;
Come, my Yoke is Easy, and my Burden's Light
Author: Darrell G. Young