By Pastor Glenn Pease
Admiral Richard Byrd, the famous polar explorer, had adventures of being lost and then found that are amazing. In his book Alone, he tells of being alone for six months in his little shack in 1934 living through a long Antartic winter. Every day he would take a walk, but he would take a bundle of sticks with him which he would push into the snow every 30 yards so he would have a guide to get back to his shack. He would then pick them up as he returned. One day he was out for a long walk and did not notice the drifting that was taking place behind him. When he finally decided to return he looked back and could not see his line of sticks. He knew immediately he was in big trouble. He knew his life depended on finding one of those bamboo sticks. He put up a pile of crusted snow chunks to give him a point of reference. As he backtracked he kept his flashlight on his reference point. But he cam to a point where he could no longer see it. If he lost that and did not find a stick he was doomed. He decided to take 30 more steps in the direction he was going. On the 29th he found his first stick and his line. He was all alone, but he was filled with joy and encouragement, for that discovery meant he would live and not die.
Most of us do not experience that kind of dramatic rescue and feel overwhelming joy at being spared a tragic death. But the fact is, when we trust Christ we go from being lost and dying with no direction to being found of God and saved with a destiny of heaven. This ought to be the most joyous and encouraging fact in our lives as Christians, and so Paul begins this second chapter of Philippians by appealing to that encouraging reality of being united to Christ. He writes, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ...." Paul's if here is not the if of doubt, as if they might not be encouraged at all by their being saved in Christ. It is an if-then sentence he is writing. If such and such is so, then it follows that such and such shall also be so. For example: If you love your country, then you should vote. If you love your mate, then you should be kind. Paul has a series of 4 if phrases here that set the tone for Christians to have the right attitude that leads them to be truly Christlike.
The if phrases are equivalent to, if there is any water in the sea, or if there is any light in the sun. In other words, it is obvious that each of these things are true. Paul is simply reminding Christians as to why they are to make an effort to be Christians in their attitudes. It is because of these values which we can easily take for granted, but when we think of them, compel us to move toward Christlike goals. When a Christian is being self-centered, demanding his own way, and not contributing to the unity of the body, it is because he is neglecting to consider these values that Paul says are the foundation for a Christian attitude. Lets look at them and learn to think about them so we can develop a Christian spirit.
This word, paraklesis, is used 29 times in the New Testament. What we learn from a study of this word is that an encouraged Christian is a positive functioning member of the body, but that a discouraged Christian is a malfunctioning member of the body. Encouragement is like oil. It makes things run smoothly. The encouraged Christian is the one who can give of self and foster unity and harmony in the body. The discouraged Christian is looking to take and not give. The one running on empty and needing the flow to come from others to them is not bad. This is a part of the purpose of the body. But they are takers in that state of mind and not able to look beyond themselves to the interest of others. When self-need is high one becomes a care-receiver and not a care-giver. This will be a part of everyone's experience at some point, but the goal is to be a healthy care-giver. This can only be when we are encouraged about who we are in Christ.
Paul likes to use this word in a context of unity. Encouraged Christians are united, but discouraged Christians tend to be divided. From the frequent references in the New Testament, we know that one of the hardest tasks of the church is to keep Christians united. They have so many different personalities and perspectives that division is the constant tendency, and Paul is fighting it everywhere. This gift of encouragement is a big factor in unity. In Rom. 15:5-6 Paul uses this word in the same way he does here. "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Encouragement is a gift of God, and when you have it you are a blessing to the rest of the body, for this gift leads you to be a force for unity. We cannot go through all 29 uses of this word, which is a vast study in itself, but let me share on more strong passage of Paul. In IITim. 2:16-17 Paul writes, "May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word." Again we see encouragement as a gift of God and when we have it we are more useful tools to do his will.
We could study another whole aspect of this subject which is the encouragement we get from one another, but this is not the issue that Paul is dealing with here. He is dealing with a source of encouragement that comes from God and what he has done for us in Christ, and what he continues to do for us in Christ. The reason Paul is specializing in this aspect of encouragement is that it is certain, and what we get from man is uncertain. If we are going to be Christlike, we cannot depend on what we get from men-even Christian men. This source can dry up just as it did for Jesus. His people rejected him, and his disciples forsook him. If all he had was that one well, Jesus would have been running on empty, but he was able to do the will of God and lay down his life for lthe very people who rejected him because he had another well of encouragement. Paul's focus is on that heavenly well because he knows all other wells can go dry. He has been there more than once himself.
Christians need an unfailing source of encouragement, and so Paul's focus here is on the encouragement that comes from being united to Christ. You can be robbed of all other encouragements, but the only way you can be robbed of this is by your own neglect to consider it. At the end of this sentence Paul deals with the encouragement we give each other in the body by tenderness and compassion, but here at the start it is the encouragement which is ours by being united to Christ. The next two are also values that come directly from our relationship to God, and they are the comfort of His love, and the fellowship with the Spirit.
The implication is clear that Christians often try to get more out of the human level than it can provide. Our greatest resources come from God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. But because we focus on the human level, which is good, but not not the best, we have a hard time living up to the level that Paul describes as God's will for us. The only way you and I are going to be able to be more Christlike is to have more of a focus on the encouragement of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The focus of the vast majority of literature for the Christian is on the encouragement to be gained from the body. This is a valid and vital subject to be sure, but it is not the priority of Paul. That is second place to the resources that come directly from our relationship to Christ.
The result is that Christians are not united. They do operate out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, and they do not consider others better than themselves, and they do not have the attitude of Christ who humbled Himself to lift others. If you do not have the right foundation, you cannot build the right building. If you build on a purely human foundation, you will have what humans can produce. If you build on a divine foundation you can have what God can produce. Thus, we see why Paul's focus is on the values gained by direct relation to God. If I am focused on the encouragement I have by being united with Christ, and the comfort I have in His love, and the fellowship I have with the spirit of God, I have a degree of satisfaction in life that enables me to let go of selfish interest, and take on the interests of others.
When you feel empty and deprived of love, encouragement, and fellowship, you are like a starving man, and nobody else's needs mean a thing to you. It's every man for himself, and you are totally self-centered. But when you are content and full of encouragement because of what is yours in Christ, you feel generous and have a sharing spirit, and are ready to give to others in tenderness and compassion. The most encouraging people are those who have been most encouraged by Christ. They see the value of little things they can do to encourage others.
The late Frank Crane said: "It takes so little to make people happy. Just a touch if we know how to give it; just a word fitly spoken; just a trick, a knack, a slight readjustment of some bolt or pin or bearing in the delicate machinery of the soul-it takes little, so little, to make people happy." Stopford Brooke wrote:
A little sun, a little rain,
A soft wind blowing from the West-
And woods and fields are sweet again,
And warmth within the mountain's breast.
A little love, a little trust,
A soft impulse, a sudden dream-
And life as dry as desert dust
Is fresher than a mountain stream.
Our own cup has to be full if we are to fill the cup of others. That is the point of Paul in his focus on the personal spiritual life. Ivan Panin said, "The art of living consists in keeping earthly step to heavenly music." This is Paul's point. Listen to the beautiful tunes of your heavenly relationship, and you will then be able to take earthly steps in harmony with those tunes. The great comforters of history were people who were passing on the comfort they had received from God.
"One day in the winter of 1864 an old Quaker lady visited Lincoln at the White House and took the hand of that harassed man. "Friend Abraham," she said, "Thee must not think thee stands alone. Back where I live we are all praying for thee. The hearts of all the people are behind thee, and thee cannot fail. The Lord has appointed thee; the Lord will sustain thee and the people love thee. Yea, as no other man was ever loved before, does this people love thee. Take comfort, friend Abraham. God is with thee. The people are behind thee." Those who were present and witnessed the scene remembered for long years afterward the relief and glad radiance that came to Lincoln's face. The great man straigthened his body, and with tears in his voice, as well as in his eyes, he said, "You have given a cup of water to a very thirsty and grateful man. You have done me a great kindness."
Even a cup of cold water given in his name will not go unrewarded Jesus said, for the gift of encouragement is one of the most needed gifts in life. But sometimes we do not get if from the body as we ought, and that is why we need to get it directly fro our relationship to Christ. Jesus went through this lack of encouragement from men and found it in his Father. He then called his disciples to look to him for encouragement in a world of trouble. Jesus said in John 16:32-33, "But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
Jesus had the gift of encouragement from God, and He passed it on to His disciples, for He knew it would be the key to survival and ministry in a hostile world. It always has been, and it is amazing to see how God's people fail or succeed depending on whether they listen to encouragers or discouragers. Something can be clearly the will of God, but if the majority is lacking in the gift of encouragement, God's will is not done. Poor Joshua and Caleb, they were the encouragers of God's people. Caleb said in Num. 13:30, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it." But the majority rules, even if they are fools, and in spite of the fact that it was clearly God's will, we read in the next two verses, "But the men who had gone up with him said, we can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are, and they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored."
These discouragers led God's people into a judgment of God, and they had to wander for 40 years in the wilderness until all the discouragers were dead. Joshua and Caleb alone survived of their generation, and eventually these encouragers led God's people to victory. But a tragedy when the majority of God's people lacked the gift of encouragement. That is why Paul is always urging Christians to focus on their gift and build on it, for it is the only way Christians can live the Christian life in a way that is truly Christlike.
It is contrary to our nature to consider others better than ourselves, and to be so selfless that we put the interest of others before our own. There is not a lot of this going around, and the reason is, Christians do not often reflect enough on the encouragement and comfort they have in Christ, even though they are so unworthy of it. We are loved by Christ and united with Him as part of the family of God. It is not by any merit or works of our own, but solely because of His love and sacrifice. As soon as we take our eyes off this truth we revert back to people of pride who feel better than others, and so we are unwilling to stoop as Jesus did to lift the lowly.
It hard to be Christlike if your eyes are not always on Christ. Get your eyes off Him and His encouragement and you will soon cease to be a channel of encouragement to others. But keep your eyes on Him, and be aware of the encouraging reality of being united with Christ, and you can be a channel of encouragement to everyone in your life. Listen to this testimony of William Lyon Phelps, the famous Christian professor of Yale.
"I never go into a hotel or a barbershop or a store without saying something agreeable to everyone I meet. I try to say something that treats each one as an individual, not merely a cog in the machine. I will ask a barber how he came to take up barbering, how long he has been at it and how many heads of hair he has cut. I frequently shake hands with a redcap who has carried my grip.
"One extremely hot summer day, I went into a railroad dining car to have lunch. The crowed car was almost like a furnace and the service was slow. When the steward finally got around to handing me the menu, I said, 'The boys back there cooking in that hot kitchen certainly must be suffering today!' The steward began to curse, 'Good God Almighty!' he exclaimed. 'People come in here and complain about the food. They kick about the slow service and growl about the heat and the prices. I have listened to their criticisms for 19 years, and you are the first person that has every expressed any sympathy for the cooks back there in the broiling kitchen. I wish we had more passengers like you.' "He was astounded because I had thought of the cooks not merely as cogs in the organization of a great railway. What people want is a little attention as human beings."
This testimony convicted me, for I have done this on occasion and felt good about it, but I usually get so caught up in my own agenda that I do not consider others better than myself and take on their interests. The reason is the very thing I am pointing out in this text. I have taken my eyes off Christ and the encouragement of being accepted and loved by Him, and the result is I am not a channel of that love and acceptance to others. It is hard to be a Christian all the time, but the more we are the more we will be encouragers to all who come across our path, both within and without the body of Christ.
Now, what about this phrase, "If any fellowship with the Spirit." We think of this even less than we do the encouragement we have in Christ. The word for fellowship is koinonia, and is a basic New Testament word for relationships where two or more persons have something in common. Business partners have fellowship; friends have fellowship; mates have fellowship, and the more people have in common the deeper the fellowship. To have fellowship with the Spirit of God is the same idea as, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." Be of one mind with the Spirit, and you have fellowship with the Spirit and with Christ.
It is amazing, but we, as fallen creatures with all our weaknesses and sins, can have much in common with the Holy Spirit. We can love what He loves and hate what He hates, and feel great peace and comfort in His presence. Like a friend who accepts us just as we are, so we do not need to be fake and hypocritical, but can be real, for we know we have the same basic values and goals. So we can be comforted by the Comforter, and be encouraged by our fellowship. Someone wrote, "Oh, the comfort-the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts or measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take an sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
This is what we have in the fellowship of the Spirit, and having that is to compel us to be that kind of friend to others, and help them experience the same level of love and acceptance. The essense of Paul's message here is this: If you would think more about what you have in Christ and the Holy Spirit, you would be better tools by which they could communicate the same blessings to others. If you would get all the encouragement they offer you, you would be a greater encourager of them. Encouragement encourages encouragers.