Philippians 2:1 “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion”
That verse although an incomplete sentence is exactly where I to focus on today. But as we delve deep into that one verse it is important to read further and get some context of what Paul was talking about. In verses 2-5 Paul goes on to say that if we have any of those things, then we should be like minded, having the same love, be one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, to think of others before our own interests and to have an attitude that should be the same as that of Jesus.
Paul talks about unity, love and humility among the believers. In verse 1 Paul asks four rhetorical questions. Let’s look at those four questions;
Q.1 If you have any encouragement from being United with Christ?
What does ‘united with Christ’ mean?
When we are saved, we become one with Christ, that personal union is the basic reality of our salvation and continues on through fellowship with Him in our spiritual journey. Being united with Him changes our perspective of who we are, as our identity is tied to Him. It shifts our approach to sin and our view on things that are displeasing to God. Being united with Him although personal is not individualistic as we are a part of the body of Christ and therefore there is a corporate unity in that sense. When we are wholly one with Christ, His mission and His purpose become ours too.
Being united with HIM does not always automatically translate to us walking closely to HIM. If we are truly united with Him, we are headed in the same direction with Christ towards our final destination with HIM, but depending on how near we draw to Him in our daily walk, the experience of our journeys can vary.
God always wants to be close to us but we can have a tendency to wander. Every believer experience times when our walk goes through some highs and lows in relation to our closeness to God. I try to understand it like being on a double bicycle with Jesus when I am walking close to the Lord – where He sits in the front, takes the lead in direction and pedalling and I follow suit. His strength carries me forward when I am weak. I can sense His presence close to me. I am trusting in His leading, pace of how fast He carries me forward and His direction. Even though I do not have a clear view of the road ahead of me I am trusting in Him to lead me safely on the path ahead.
In contrast, when I am not walking so closely to God, when I am not spending time with him as I should be, being stubborn and not as obedient to His voice and leading as I ideally should be feels like although I am heading in the same direction along with Him, I am not on the same bike as Him but am on my own ride connected with a long rope to Jesus’s bike. I struggle to pedal all on my own, the bumpy road and strong wind makes me wobble and fall over at times and I do not always feel His presence close to me. He is very much on that journey with me but I am not in the position I should be in in relation to my Lord. Although both people are heading in the same direction with Jesus, the experience in their individual journeys are far different.
His free gift of grace makes it possible for us to become one with Him through faith. In Philippians verse 1 Paul talks about having encouragement because of this union with Christ. Encouraged to walk through difficult seasons knowing that the God of all creation is walking right there with me. Encouraged knowing that even if I don’t have the strength, He will carry me through. Encouraged knowing that He is my provider, protector and comforter and all things work together for the good of all those who love God. Every believer should know and experience encouragement from being united with Christ. We can draw a more rooted and deeper sense of encouragement from our union with Him, when our walk is as close as possible to Jesus.
Q.2 If any comfort from His Love?
God is the ‘God of all comfort’. God is love, His greatest expression of love was the work on the cross, so that we while we were still sinners, we are justified through faith. Love is who He is, it is an embodiment of His character. And that gives me comfort to know that all that He does is rooted and established in His love for us. God’s love strengthens us and there is no person, situation or circumstance that is beyond the reach of His love and comfort.
May God be our source of comfort and may we not look for comfort from other sources besides the love of God.
Q.3 If any fellowship with the Spirit?
The spirit resides within us and we can have fellowship with the spirit because of the grace and love of God. It means communing with, partnering with and participating with the Spirit. Actively engaged with the Spirit is one way of looking at it. Fellowshipping with the spirit is a daily, ongoing relationship that we should actively pursue. The spirit within us leads, guides and directs us.
We can only be spirit-led if we are spirit-fed.
Francis Chan said “Living by the spirit implies a habitual, continual and active interaction with the Holy Spirit.”
We are to glorify Christ in all that we do. John 16:14 says “The Holy Spirit works to glorify God.”
May we value the need and necessity of actively engaging with the spirit so we are more attuned to the spirits prompting and guidance and glorify God in all that we do.
Q.4 If any tenderness and compassion?
Being united with God, experiencing His love, and communing with the Spirit should bring forth in us a tenderness and compassion that comes from Him and extends to those around us.
Paul writes about encouragement in Christ, comfort from His love, fellowship with the Spirit, tenderness and compassion as a given, which should be a believer’s present reality. They are all something we experience not only directly from God but also through the body of Christ.
‘If’ and ‘any’
Each of these four benefits that we have as being followers of God has an ‘if’ and an ‘any’ in it. The ‘if’ and ‘any’ implying that we can go about our Christian life without truly experiencing these benefits of His presence in our lives and even if we do, we can live missing out on the full extent and the abundant nature of these benefits.
Why? Shouldn’t we have it with certainty and in abundance.
‘If’ is an interesting and important word in the bible. We see it often and usually associated with God’s promises. We can be very quick with reading promises in the word yet very easily can glaze over the stipulation of the ‘if’ that usually sits with the responsibility of man toward God that determines our receiving of those promises. Yes, there is a certainty and abundance to the availability of those benefits that Paul talks about in verse 1, but that depends on our response to the knowledge of and actions of what is required of us to unlock the full extent of those blessings on us.
Being united with Christ is a free and wonderful gift, let us not take that for granted and ensure that in our daily walk we continue to stay close to God and not drift and end up being tethered to Him only from a distance.
Let us only turn to HIM as our source of comfort in all areas of our life. Comfort in knowing that the God of the universe is our Father, our King, our Lord and our provider.
Let us be Spirit-fed and Spirit-led. May we not relegate to acknowledging the Spirit’s presence in our lives to selective days and times but let His presence be our ever-present companion, guide and counsellor through and in all of our days.
As we draw closer to Him, may we embody more of His nature and character. Let us not only be one sided in experiencing God’s tenderness and compassion but extend that intense care to others that need to feel the love of Christ.