August 14, 2016
We continue in Philippians today. And as I said last week, Philippians is a letter written by Saint Paul, who was in prison at the time. He was probably in prison in in Rome, awaiting his trial – and his execution! And it’s pretty apparent that he knew that! It is also a letter written to a beloved congregation, one of Paul’s favorite congregations!
So far in this letter, he’s told them that he’s thankful for them, and he’s thankful for the way they have shared in the work of the Gospel. And now he has begun to encourage them in their faith and conduct. “Let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” he wrote, “so that I may hear of you, that you stand firm in one spirit… striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.”
Those are great thoughts! We could stop right there and ask ourselves if we measure up to that! Is our manner of life worthy of the Gospel? Do we stand firm, striving side by side for the faith? We could stop right there, couldn’t we!
But let’s not! Because the part we read today is like that part on steroids! In other words, in this next part, Paul “ramps it up!” Here he “fleshes out” what it means to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel. And he does so by saying what we read today. “If there is any encouragement in Christ… complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…”
That’s one of the most important things that Paul sees in this business of “living life in a manner worthy of the Gospel.” He says the we need to look to the “encouragement we have in Christ.” Think about that! That’s so important! It’s all about living life in a positive, encouraged, forward thinking, upbuilding way.
Do we do that? Or, do we let the cares and concerns of this life drag us down and give us a negative, depressing, critical outlook on life? Which are you? We all know people who live life in a discouraging way, don’t we? They’re always negative in dealing with others. They tend to see the bad in others, rather than looking for the good in them. They “put others down” rather than “building others up.”
There are many degrees of that! Aren’t there? Even the best of us “have our moments,” don’t we? That’s why we Christians are so big on the idea of “confession.” Because “confession” is an acknowledgement of the fact that, strive though we may, we are not perfect, we are not always the best followers of Christ. Sometimes we “blow it!” You all do! I do! All of us do! But, we keep striving forward. We are not discouraged by our failures. We don’t “give up” and not bother any more, because of the “encouragement in Christ.” And, we strive to give the encouragement we have in Christ to others!
That’s important, too! And Paul says that here. He says, “If there is any encouragement in Christ,” meaning, “Yes, there is encouragement in Christ!” And if you want to live in that encouragement, we need to strive to be encouraging to each other. “And we do that,” he says, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…”
How we live this life is part of the encouragement we impart to others. We’re in this life together and we’re here for each other. And notice, that doesn’t mean we completely agreeing on everything! But we can have the kind of unity he’s talking about here, even though nobody ever agrees completely. In simple terms, this is like the old concept of being “agreeable, even though we may not agree.” But more than that, it’s about how we treat one another when we don’t agree!
If you think about it, anybody can love and support and upbuild others when they agree with them. But how do we do that when we disagree? We do it through what Paul calls the “encouragement in Christ.” We do it through having that encouraging attitude, that encouraging spirit. We do it through making the choice of encouragement! And we get the strength and the inspiration to do those things through the encouragement God gives us in Christ! Do you see how it all works together?
We need to remember all of that, because encouragement is not always easy! And, it doesn’t happen all by itself. In fact, in the everyday grind of life, in the midst of sorrows or difficulties we might have – like Paul’s being in prison! – we can easily fall back into a spirit of discouragement, can’t we? We can let our emotions rule. And when we let emotions rule, and our emotions are negative, (anger, upset, hurt) this is very hard! That’s because our emotions are very strong! Emotions always win out over “reason,” unless we consciously make the effort to go with “reason.” And as I said, that’s not easy!
We’re in an election year now. And unfortunately in our election process, too manypeople have lost the ability to do anything remotely resembling encouragement. They make very little effort even to show respect for someone they don’t agree with. In fact, in many cases they think they don’t have to! (Or they’re betraying something if they do!) For the most part, “politics” has given way to “partisanship.” “Our party is good, yours is bad.” “Our person is good, yours is bad!” The whole thing has become a “no holds barred” out and out destruction of the “other side.” And it makes me sad! I’ve seen it tear apart friendships, families, marriages. People have become so polarized, that there’s little hope for agreement, let alone “encouragement,” let alone unity! And I’m sure you know exactly what I’m saying!
Well, with that as the example, let us hear clearly that Paul is saying “No!” We are not to be like that! “In fact,” he says, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” I can’t begin to tell you how much of that is contrary to the ways of the world around us!
And then, if that wasn’t challenging enough, he brings Jesus into it! “Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” Have the mind of Christ! Is that easy? Anyone want to answer that for us? “Have this mind among you, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” And then he gives an example. “Christ Jesus… who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Do you think it’s hard to give up of your own opinions, your own understanding, your own position on things? Well how about Jesus, who for a time, gave up his deity!!! His equality with God!!! And it’s not so much “giving those things up,” as it is listening to and encouraging, the opinions, understandings, and positions of others. And that’s not easy, either. But that’s what we are called to do. We’re called to do that here in this body of believers, and we’re called to do that when we reach out to others outside of these walls.
So, let’s stop there! And let me end by reading these words again. Let them ring in your mind throughout the day. Be determined to seek the “Encouragement in Christ…” Let us strive to “know joy,” by “being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord…” Let us “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than ourselves.” “Let each of us look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Above all let us strive to “Have this mind among us, which is ours in Christ Jesus…”
Eternal God, we thank you for your example in Jesus Christ. It’s hard for us to be like him, but we know you want us to. And we know that, because we know you want the best for us, and the best life we can have is life in you! Help us to have the “Encouragement in Christ” Paul talked about. Help us to see beyond ourselves, and to be the light of your love to the world you love. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.