Anthony is a pastoral resident in his church. Recently, he started attending leadership meetings with his elders as a fly on the wall. Based on past experiences, he expected tension, dissension, and drama. What he encountered instead took him aback.
“Our elder meetings are boring, and I love it,” Anthony remarked to me.
When I inquired further, he explained how he was struck by the sheer ordinariness of the proceedings—prayer, meditation on Scripture, discussion of budgets. The debating, jockeying for position, and one-upping common among ambitious leaders were conspicuously absent.
Humility, mutual respect, and deep, fraternal unity can be frighteningly rare in some corners of the Christian community. That is why the Apostle Paul, incarcerated and engaged in gospel witness, longed to see these marks of love among the believers in Philippi.
Having called his readers to join him in enduring gospel suffering, Paul turns a corner in Philippians 2:1-2. He begins by grounding his exhortation: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy . . .” (v. 1). Rather than brandish his full authority as an apostle, Paul chooses instead to entreat the Philippians gently.
His fourfold appeal—(1) encouragement in Christ, (2) comfort derived from Christian love, (3) participation in the Holy Spirit, and (4) affection and sympathy—points to the benefits of knowing Christ and experiencing Christian community. “Encouragement” is a noun (paraklēsis) related to the title elsewhere given both to the Holy Spirit and to Christ as our “Comforter,” “Helper,” or “Athlete” (Paraclete), meaning to “call beside” in the sense of an advocate who speaks for someone. Similarly, Paul’s word translated “comfort” literally refers to speaking words of assurance beside someone. The Christian is encouraged both by the love of Christ directly and by the love of Christ received in fellowship of the saints. “Fellowship” is also what is meant by “participation in the Spirit”—better understood as the fellowship resulting from the Spirit’s indwelling of believers. Mutual affection and compassion are the natural outflow of such a bond in the church.
Paul’s “if” statement at the beginning of verse 1 is an implied “since”; since you have surely tasted the goodness of Christ and his people on some level, then do as follows. He does not really entertain the possibility that the Philippians have not tasted any of these benefits in Christ but assumes they have. This too is instructive: we are expected to gladly partake in Christian community with all its benefits. Yes, we will undoubtedly experience hurt and disappointment in relationship with fellow sinners. Yet the consolations we draw from pursuing and knowing Christ together are inestimably worthwhile.
On this basis, Paul warmly requests: “complete my joy” (v. 2a). His contentment was directly connected to the accomplishment of his missionary task. Chained for Christ and wrestling inwardly over the state of the church, Paul is satisfied simply to know that his faraway disciples are “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v. 2b).
The repetition “same mind . . . same love” indicates the depth of unity Paul desires. For a congregation, elder board, or team of missionaries to all vote in a particular manner—agreeing in principle, on paper—is one thing. But to have the same love is quite another. Hence, Paul adds: “full accord . . . one mind.” Superficial uniformity in a church body is no substitute for believers taking a self-sacrificial abiding interest in one another. Only in this manner—arm in arm—can the gospel advance through the church.
As an elder in my church, I can relate to the pleasure my friend Anthony takes in his “boring” church meetings. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). True, healthy conflict has a critical role to play in the progress of any church, ministry, or organization. Yet for pastors and missionaries, there is no comfort quite like seeing the fruit of the Spirit manifest among those over whose souls you have been called to keep watch (cf. Hebrews 13:17). When disciples walk in love for one another, they are proving to the world that they are Christ’s (John 13:35)—and in this result the minister can richly rejoice.
We often forget to encourage pastors, missionaries, and others who labor over our souls. Paul reminds us that the greatest reassurance to a tired or struggling ministry leader might simply be to walk in loving fellowship with the rest of the flock. Even if it makes church meetings a bit more boring—in a good way.
I praise you for all the benefits that are mine in Christ—encouragement, comfort, fellowship with your children, and love. I confess the times I’ve neglected you and the communion of your saints and sought satisfaction elsewhere. Thank you for placing me in Christ and making me a partaker of all your abundant spiritual blessings. Grant that my life would be marked by unity with your people. Give us the same mind and same love committed to your mission and your truth. Help me to complete the joy of those who labor over my soul in this way.
In Jesus’ name,
- Pray for your fellow church members to experience encouragement in Christ, comfort from Christian love, fellowship in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy. Ask God to supply these graces in your local body of believers.
- Pray that the pastors and missionaries you know would seek fulfillment not in status or position but in Christ and in the spiritual state of those to whom they minister.
- Pray for churches being planted in places where ministry is especially difficult. Ask the Lord to work love, mutual affection, and unity grounded in shared mission and commitment to the truth. (Also, consider joining the Day of Prayer for Church Planting.)
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