Monday, October 22, 2012

Revealing the Fellowship of the Spirit

Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Paul continues his appeal for unity among the Jesus believers at Philippi. His “if” statements are rhetorical, of course. He already knows the answers and it is Yes on all four counts. God has begun a good work in them and Paul has every confidence that He will bring them on to maturity in Jesus the Messiah. So he gently reminds them of who they are in Jesus and what that means.
  • Consolation in Christ. The Greek word for “consolation” also carries the idea of encouragement and exhortation. Paul wants to encourage and exhort them “in Christ,” that is, on the basis of who they are in the Messiah. Because it is about His purpose, and His body, the church, and it will be His ability that accomplishes whatever needs to be done.
  • Comfort of love. The Greek word for “comfort” has an aspect of both gentleness and persuasiveness. Wuest calls it “tender persuasion” (The New Testament: An Expanded Translation). Paul says of his own ministry, “for the love of Christ compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
  • Fellowship of the Spirit. Every believer receives the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14), who works in us not just as individuals but together as the people of God. He is not many but one, so He joins us all together as one body, the body of Messiah. Paul is always eager for the church to manifest the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Affection and mercy. This “affection” is not superficial. The Greek word used here literally refers to the bowels. Figuratively, and in this context, it is about deep, heart-felt emotion. The word for “mercy” speaks of compassion or sympathy. Paul’s request takes a personal turn here. “If you have any affection for me …”
Weymouth translates the four “if” statements this way: “If then I can appeal to you as the followers of Christ, if there is any persuasive power in love and any common sharing of the Spirit, or if you have any tender-heartedness and compassion …” (The New Testament in Modern Speech).

All of this is preliminary to Paul’s plea, which he now presents: “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

“Fulfill my joy.” Paul has already expressed the thanks he gives to God, “with joy,” because of their partnership with him in the good news about King Jesus (Philippians 1:3-5). And he rejoices that Jesus is being preached, even by those who do not do it with the best motives (Philippians 1:15-18). His joy is not yet complete, however, because they are lacking in unity.

Here, then, is the meat of Paul’s appeal, the thing that will fill his joy up to the brim: That they will live and function in such a way that will reveal the true unity that they have together in King Jesus, through the Holy Spirit. That they will be “like-minded,” or of one mind. This does not mean that there will not be any diversity of thinking or even that there will not be any disagreements. But it does mean having the same purpose and the same focus. Paul also wants them to show the same love for one another, not making distinction between those with whom they agree and those with whom they disagree, but loving all equally. He wants them to be of “one accord,” literally, of one soul, so that they share the same heartbeat, the same desire, the same motivation.

Paul further elaborates on what all this means: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

Earlier, Paul mentioned some (though not by name) who were preaching the good news about King Jesus out of envy, strife, selfish ambition, and in pretense, making an outward show of it (Philippians 1:15-16). How very ironic! But Paul was thankful that, either way, “whether in pretense or in truth,” Messiah was being preached (Philippians 1:18).

Paul was being gentle then, and still is now even as he exhorts them firmly and directly. Selfish ambition, rivalry and a partisan spirit have no place among them. Nor is there any room for the outward show and empty glory of conceit. Let those be gone for good!

However, there is something that must take their place: Humility (“lowliness of mind”). Each esteeming the other better than, or ahead of, himself. Or as Paul says elsewhere with very similar words, “In honor, giving preference to one another” (Romans 12:10).

Now, this does not mean beating yourself down. And it is not about becoming a doormat and allowing others to run roughshod over you. Nor does it mean that you must ignore your own needs and concerns. But it means becoming a servant, putting others first and looking out for each other as well as for yourself. This will reveal the unity and fellowship we have in the Spirit and show that King Jesus is very real in us.

Focus Questions
  1. How do you explain the “persuasive power of love”?
  2. What is the difference between humility and being humiliated?
  3. How easy, or difficult, is it for you to put others ahead of yourself? Why do you suppose that is?



There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Sized Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

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