Calvary Road Baptist Church


Philippians 2.1

This morning I want to take you to Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, that church the Apostle Paul undoubtedly had his very best relationship with. They comprised the first church Paul started in what we commonly refer to as Europe, were the most generous givers to Paul’s ministry over the years, and the congregation that sent real people to minister to his needs when he was imprisoned in Rome. You will remember Philippi as that Roman colony city the Apostle Paul went directly to after his Macedonian vision experience, where he found and brought to Christ a businesswoman named Lydia, and where he then cast the spirit of divination out of a young slave girl who had followed him around town.[1] Casting out that demon provoked an outrage that led to Paul’s arrest, a very public beating, and then being cast into prison with one of his partners in ministry, Silas. You will also remember that God miraculously intervened, first with an earthquake and then soon after the salvation of the Philippian jailor and his family.[2]

Despite being a Roman colony city, Philippi was located in an impoverished region in Macedonia, and the church members were very poor. Nevertheless, when Paul was raising money for the Christians in Judea facing starvation due to famine, the Philippian Christians were among those who pleaded with him to allow them to give to the offering despite their poverty.[3] Second Corinthians chapters eight and nine are given over to praising those in Philippi and its environs, Paul bragging to the Corinthians about God’s great grace bestowed upon them. They first gave themselves to the Lord, and then gave themselves to Paul as a prelude to giving to the special offering he was raising for those Jewish Christians.[4] They were a wonderful group of people. They were evangelistic. They were missions-minded. They were sacrificial. They had a pioneering spirit. And they passionately loved the man God used to bring them to Christ. It seems as though they were willing to do anything for the Apostle Paul, even dispatch one of their most cherished and important members to Rome to take care of him. His name was Epaphroditus, and he just about killed himself looking after Paul while he was in prison. Though Epaphroditus had been very homesick for Philippi while in Rome, he reflected his church’s commitment to the Apostle’s welfare, until he came so close to death that Paul had to send him back home.[5] You can imagine what kind of church they were; fervent, faithful, friendly, loving, determined to do something for God, and absolutely committed to returning blessing for blessing no matter the cost. In short, they were one of the very best congregations referred to in the New Testament.

That said, since no Christian is completely without sin[6], and since congregations are comprised of Christians, it should not surprise us that there was a matter of sin that the Holy Spirit of God led the Apostle Paul to deal with by means of his inspired letter to the Philippian church. It was a matter of undetermined origin that resulted in disunity in the congregation. How important is unity in a church congregation? My friends, unity is of paramount importance to God the Father, to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit of God, and also to Christians with any discernment. Listen to what the Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Father in His high priestly intercessory prayer the night before His crucifixion. In John 17.21, Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Is unity important? Ask a combat veteran if unity is important. If his squad of fighting men does not possess that unit cohesion in combat known as unity, lives might be lost. Is unity important? Ask some married people that you know, and they will confess to you that where spiritual unity in a marriage is missing, there can be nothing but loneliness and misery. Even more important is this matter of unity in our church. Without unity, the Spirit is grieved, the Savior’s purpose is impeded, and the Father’s love is muted. On top of that, our message that Jesus saves has a hollow ring to it. Without unity, a church member can fall by the wayside without any of us being alarmed by what has happened, because we do not know what has happened. Most importantly, without unity, our ability to reach the lost is severely compromised. Disunity is disheartening. Disunity is discouraging. Disunity is crippling. Disunity is confusing. Disunity is damaging. And for the lost God would have us to reach with the precious gospel, disunity is damning, since the lost simply will not believe that God the Father has truly sent His Son Jesus Christ, which is the message we proclaim, unless we display unity to the world around us.

My message from God’s Word this morning is not a message about unity. Unity is important, and every church needs to be united. However, this morning’s message is about something even more foundational than unity, something more basic than unity. My message is about the bedrock certainties upon which unity in a church like ours rests. Turn to Philippians 2.1, and stand for the reading of God’s Word: “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies.” Verse two begins with the phrase, “Fulfil ye my joy. . . .” The whole of this letter to the Philippians is about unity. However, what we see from what we have just read is the basis of Paul’s appeal for unity. Verse one contains the bedrock certainties that are true in every Christian’s life, what Paul was inspired to appeal to them about concerning unity in their church. Wherein lay these bedrock certainties we will take note of? According to Paul, they are to be found in the lives of those who are “in Christ.” Found 75 times in the New Testament, “in Christ” and “in Christ Jesus” speaks both of the believer being in life-giving union with Jesus Christ, and also the person who is in life-giving union with Jesus Christ being a believer.

Notice, if you will, what these bedrock certainties that are found in every Christian’s life happen to be. There are four of them:

The Verse Begins, “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ”

Being on the front end of a first class conditional sentence, the little Greek word that is translated “if” throughout this verse therefore carries the idea of “since.” Thus, the Apostle Paul is, in each of these four instances, asserting these certainties rather than merely suggesting their possibilities. In other words, there is consolation in Christ.

The question, of course, is what is meant by Paul with this phrase “consolation in Christ”? The Greek word is paraklhsiV. It means comfort, consolations, exhortation, and encouragement.[7] Think about this in light of what we know about the Philippians. Facing hardship, deep poverty, and even persecution, they were still so very thrilled about their relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing their sins are forgiven and that they have a place waiting for them in heaven no matter how rough it becomes this side of eternity.

These were people who were overcomers in Christ. They knew they had victory in the Lord Jesus, regardless how they might have felt at the time. As Paul and Silas had rejoiced and sang hymns of worship, adoration, and praise while suffering affliction in the dungeon that night in Philippi, so those Philippian Christians had a song in their hearts that could not be quenched by circumstances. Thus, we see that Christians endure afflictions and suffering. However, what are our afflictions in comparison to our Savior’s? And are not our sufferings a gateway to enter into the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings? Sure they are, as Paul will point out in the next chapter.[8] Therefore, the believer’s relationship with Jesus Christ actually means something, and moves him to actions no lost man would take, no infidel would engage in. Why? Because the Christian is blood-bought and blood-washed, and that means something in terms of how a person will behave.

Next, “if any comfort of love”

There is comfort of love. Be mindful that throughout the verse Paul’s context is still “in Christ.” And not a hypothetical, but a bedrock certainty. The word comfort translates paramuqion, which means encouragement, especially as consolation or alleviation.[9] Found only here in the Greek New Testament, the word has as its fundamental idea “to speak to someone,” or “speak to someone by coming close to his side,” and always in a friendly way.[10] The idea expressed by this phrase is not at all difficult to imagine, though it is tragic that most people cannot imagine any comfort of love from anyone besides close family members. Sometimes not even from them. However, Paul expresses the idea that this relationship with Christ, and the consolations that arise from it, are deeply experienced by those genuinely born again and in a church relationship with other Christians.

There seems, then, to be little room for this modern day notion of church members living their lives so privately that others in the church have little awareness of their ups and downs, dreams and discouragements, hopes and hurts. Did Bill miss church today? What happened? Is he sick? Did he tell anyone? Has anyone felt free to call him without invading his aura of privacy? My goodness, no one even knows when he is out of the country. How can I love you when I know nothing about you, have no knowledge of your whereabouts, and am unable to come to your side to speak kindly and lovingly to you in your hour of need when you have avoided any kind of interactions such as this in the past? I am sorry, but people whose lives are unknown to church members are people who seem to be missing what Paul asserts is possessed by every believer, the basis for any comfort that derives from genuine love.

Where does the love come from? Real love comes from God. John 3.16 begins, “For God so love the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.” First John 4.19 reads, “We love him, because he first loved us.” First John 4.16 reads, “God is love.” Thus, God is love, God loves us, God’s love for us prompted Him to send His own Son. Therefore, in the lives of those who respond to the gospel, there is comfort from God prompted by His love for His own.

Third, “if any fellowship of the Spirit”

Fellowship, of course, is koinwnia, and has to do with being a joint participant with someone. We find the word in Second Peter 1.4, translated as partaker: “partakers of the divine nature.” We also frequently see the word translated as communion in the New Testament. What do Christians have in common with the Spirit of God? We are all indwelt by Him.[11] We are all led by Him.[12] We are all regenerated by Him.[13] He intercedes for each of us in our prayer life.[14] We bear His fruit in our lives; love, joy, peace, and so on.[15] We are all prompted by Him to exalt the Savior.[16]

Notice these three initial phrases of Philippians 2.1 in comparison to Second Corinthians 13.14, where Paul writes: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” The verse before us, like Second Corinthians 13.14, seems to be something of a Trinitarian formula, referring to the Son, the Father, and the Spirit of God. It could very well be that Paul is here appealing to his readers on the basis of the distinguished workings of the Triune God in their lives, in our lives. Christ’s consolation, the Father’s love, and the Spirit’s communion. If you are saved, God does these things in your life. Amen? How could you be a Christian and God not deal with you in these ways?

Finally, “if any bowels and mercies”

One commentator writes that “It is probable that Paul has in mind God’s or Christ’s warmth of affection and tenderness toward the Philippians” here.[17] It might also be that Paul is making reference to the Philippian’s own emotions concerning their Christian lives and their associated feelings toward God and toward each other. Bowels and mercies refer to gut level emotions. The point that is made here, whichever way you are inclined to interpret the phrase, is that God has no intention of the Christian’s life being sterile and antiseptic. Guided by truth, but charged full of emotion, energy, and compassion, the Christian’s life should not be one of pragmatism that is characterized by emotion-led Christians whose lives are governed by “flexible” doctrines. The Christian’s life is a life of doctrinal integrity that is also a glowing life, a radiant life, a purposeful life, a consecrated life, an overcoming life, a smiling life, a participating life, a mingled-with-other-Christians life, a devoted-to-the-cause-of-Christ life, and what you would expect of those whose sins are-forgiven-and-who-have-a-place-waiting-for-them-in-heaven kind of life.

If you take a step back and consider this verse carefully, you will see that a pattern emerges. Paul makes an appeal to the Philippians that is based upon four bedrock certainties in the Christian’s life at the beginning of a first class conditional sentence that carries over into verse 2. These are certainties Paul was confident could be found in any Christian’s life, in every Christian’s life. Consider the verse carefully and you will observe that of the four grounds upon which he bases his appeal for unity, these four certainties, two of them are objective and two of them are subjective.[18]

To put it another way, the first and the third of them, consolation and fellowship, are facts that are basically outside of the believer and not directly experienced (though they are appreciated), with the second and last, comfort and bowels and mercies, being inward and very much felt. Therefore, it seems Paul understands that a balance must exist between objective truths and each Christian’s feelings. Cold orthodoxy in itself is not sufficient for the child of God. It hardly satisfies. On the other hand, neither is emotionalism satisfying in the long run. However, the thriving Christian has the proper balance between doctrinal truth and his emotional response to God’s work in and for him, which is to say his delight, his joy, and his peace of mind and heart.

As well, we can see that Christian’s lives are supposed to be intertwined, so we can love each other, so we can comfort each other, so we can encourage each other, and so we can serve God and exalt Christ in close communion with each other to seek the salvation of the lost. “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies.” Are these four bedrock certainties that Paul takes for granted in the lives of the Christians he is appealing to in your life? If not, you have a very serious problem to address, my friend. It is a problem that can only be addressed by a real and faith-based relationship with Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God.

[1] Acts 16.9-18

[2] Acts 16.19-34

[3] Second Corinthians 8.1-4

[4] Second Corinthians 8.5

[5] Philippians 2.25-30

[6] 1 John 1.8

[7] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 549.

[8] Philippians 3.10

[9] Rienecker, page 549.

[10] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Word Biblical Commentary: Philippians, Volume 43, (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1983), page 65.

[11] Romans 8.9

[12] Romans 8.14

[13] John 3.5-6, 8

[14] Romans 8.26

[15] Galatians 5.22-23

[16] John 15.26; 16.13-14

[17] Ibid., page 67.

[18] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle To The Philippians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1953), page 107.

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.