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Apr 28, 2019

Soil-Building for Joy

Passage: Philippians 2:1-4

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Philippians--Roots of Joy

Keywords: comfort, encouragement, fellowship, joy, love of christ, partnership, soil

Summary:

This message looks at the experiences God offers to us as his children that form the soul-soil in which joy can abound for every one of us.

Detail:

Soil-Building of Joy

Philippians 2:1-4

April 28, 2019

STORY:  Squatters I got to know in Makati/Manila.  Lived over the sewer that you walked a narrow plank over to get to their little hovel. It was a young man and his wife along with 1 little child.  Their home consisted of a piece of corrugated tin roof held up by 4 poles lashed together with rope and spare boards.  It was about 5’ by 10’, had a bed, no crib for the baby, no electricity or running water, a few shelves with some food and clothes on them.  Every time I would show up, they would have something to give me—a cookie, a Coke or Fanta, a piece of sweet bread.  And they were happier than many, many wealthy people I’ve known through the years…as were the other absolutely poverty-stricken children playing barefoot in the street all day long.    

            That’s sort of what I think was going on in the Apostle Paul’s heart when he was writing the words we will read in just a moment.  He was poor, at least outwardly.  He was living under house arrest, in paying for his own “cell”, with only the kindness of Christians he had invested his life in to support him. 

      Without money or cloths or any material goods, what would you want to give to people who meant the world to you? 

Paul wanted to give joy.  Surprisingly enough, he had a lot of it in the middle of what would have made most people miserable.  He’d already discovered what some people never figure out in a lifetime:  joy doesn’t depend upon the house you live or don’t live in.  It doesn’t depend upon the food you eat or don’t have, the clothes you wear or don’t wear, or even the freedoms you have or don’t have.

      Joy in this life and the next depends upon great relationships, and great relationships start with discovering that life’s most essential and important relationship is with God himself.  Get that one wrong, and most, if not all, human relationships will be empty or deficient.  Get that one right and you will find that most human relationships just sort of fill up with joy

      Have you ever known someone like the Apostle Paul who has such a positive, upbeat, even joyful disposition in the midst of very stressful experiences?  Those folks seem truly hard to find, even in our historically astonishingly wealthy culture of America.

      But you can read daily in the news about other people who, in the midst of incredible wealth, privilege and unprecedented opportunity, cannot seem to find a ray of light or joy…and often end up taking their own lives? 

ILL: This week it was revealed that another Hollywood actress and model, Stephanie Sherk, living in Sherman Oaks, CA with her actor husband, committed suicide at age 43 by weighing herself down and drowning herself in their private pool. Though having experienced a life full of success and unparalleled opportunity, it wasn’t enough. 

      Perhaps one of the reasons we see so many wealthy, beautiful and famous people choosing to kill themselves is because the illusion that money or fame or beauty will fill your soul is totally shattered by the reality that, once you’ve achieved all that, it still leaves the human soul empty and alone.

      Today’s passage gives us some answers to why people living in miserable circumstances can still live lives of unbounded joy. We’ll find those answers in today’s text in Philippians 2:1-4.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

So, what is the central and single command in this paragraph? From the NIV, it looks like there are multiple commands, no? 

  • 2 – “…make my joy complete….”
  • 3 – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…but value others better than yourselves.”
  • 4 – “…look to the interests of others.”

But the surprising thing is that there is, in the Greek grammar, only one command.  It’s modified and fleshed out by several statements that follow, but there is really only one direct command here.  And it’s frankly a command that surprises me.  It’s there at the beginning of vs. 2“…make my joy complete….”

      That strikes me a bit strange, since Paul doesn’t seem to be a man who ties his joy to anyone or anything but God.  Is he now claiming that, if the Philippian church doesn’t learn to live a certain way, his joy is going into the tank?

      When Paul calls on people to “make [his] joy complete”, he’s certainly letting us know that, in some way, whatever was happening with the Philippian believers did, in fact, impact his joy factor.  That’s usually true in our lives as well, right?

  • Marriage: “Happy wife—Happy life!”
  • Family: “If Mama isn’t happy, aint nobody happy!”
  • Lovers: Old Debbie Boone song, “YOU light up my life, you give me hope to carry on.” 

Our relationships DO make a difference to the joy-factor of our lives.  They shouldn’t determine it.  But they do impact it. 

      Paul is simply recognizing the fact that the joy or lack thereof of those closest to us can affect, to some degree, the fullness of our joy.

      That little word “complete” is important here.  It has the sense of “topping it off”…filling something to overflowing…like your gas tank…or your water glass.  In essence, he’s challenging his spiritual family, the church, to bring his joy to the brim.  His ongoing, daily relationship with Jesus Christ has already given him plenty of joy at the deepest levels of his soul, regardless of what others around him or people important to him are doing.  But he isn’t ashamed to admit that how the people of God live with each other does impact the fullness of God-given joy in the Spirit.

ILL:  The best years of marriage with Sandy have been those years when both of us are walking faithfully with Christ.  The most difficult years have been when one or both of us are struggling with God.  If either of us is off-kilter with God, if we’re weak in our relationship with Him, all the other difficulties of work or raising children or health just get magnified.  

ILL:  If the cake tastes bad, the frosting probably will too.  But even mediocre frosting tastes good when the cake is amazing.  Christ is the cake; other relationships are the frosting.

APP: Our relationships with other Christ-followers will only bring joy when our relationship with Christ is right. 

ILL:  What season is it?  For gardeners, it’s “soil season.”  This is the time of year you have to work on the soil.  I’ve been working my back yard soil for 17 years! I started before we even moved in.  Year after year I rototill in leaves and compost and manure and more good dirt.  

      I know that soil, water and sunshine are THE 3 most important elements to a great garden.  I can’t do much about the sunshine except position the garden in a sunny spot. I can’t change the weather to insure that I have the right amount of water. (But thankfully I have automatic sprinklers!).  But the SOIL is something I can do a lot with to influence how productive the garden is. 

      It’s the same with the “soil” of our souls.  You and I can neglect them and then be surprised why there isn’t a good crop of joy in our lives…OR we can enrich them with the very things Paul mentions here. So let’s see what we can till into the soil of our souls today from God’s word that will eventually lead to an abundance of joy.

Verse 1 reads:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,

 then make my joy complete….”

      The English “if” that leads off that verse really leaves us with the wrong impression.  It sounds like it might not be their experience. While that “if” is literally the word the original Greek uses, it is like saying in English…

  • “IF you get any nourishment from food…” Who doesn’t?
  • “IF you enjoy the oxygen in fresh air…” Enjoy? I crave it!
  • “IF you appreciate having clothes to wear to work…”

Look at the different spiritual realities Paul tags as things that definitely change the soil of our souls:

  1. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ….”

Greek word for “encouragement” is paraklesis = compound word para (“with” or “alongside”) and klesis (to call) = “to come…or call alongside.”  It has the sense of someone’s presence being what really brings blessing and help.

ILL:  Remember the first time you held hands with your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse?  I remember when and where it was with Sandy.  It was spring (of course!).  We had gone off campus to Lewis & Clark State Park where the Sandy River meets the Columbia in Troutdale, just east of Portland in the Columbia Gorge.  We were walking along the river when I reached out and grabbed her hand.  And ever since then, the thousands of times we’ve been walking along together and one of us reaches out and grabs the other’s hand, we’re calling the other alongside of us. And it always speaks love to me. 

APP: If you are “in Christ,” then God has been reaching out to grab your hand every day of life and by doing that He’s saying, “I’m calling you alongside of ME!”  God…calling YOU…alongside of HIMSELF!  If you don’t find that encouraging, you’re either so wounded that you need to work through those wounds with a counselor…or you’ve hit the “kill” button on your emotions. 

      If you have come to know Christ in a truly life-changing way, then you know that His presence in your life, His “calling you alongside”, has brought amazing “encouragement.”  Just like Sandy’s presence in my life is simply a great encouragement, so with Christ.  All of us who are experiencing Christ afresh can give specific ways and reasons why His presence encourages us.  It can some when we are hurting, empty and needy.  And that encouragement can come when we are on top of the world reveling in His goodness.   

ILL:  The story is told of Queen Victoria of England that, upon hearing the story of a nearby wife of a common laborer who had lost her baby, Queen Victoria instructed her staff to take her to this woman’s humble home. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, she felt moved to express her empathy to this other woman. She called unexpectedly on the bereaved woman one day and just spent some time with her.

      After she left, the neighbors asked this woman what the Queen had said. “Nothing,” replied the grieving mother. “She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together.”

      The truth of any genuine relationship with Jesus is that he meets you where you are.  He “comes alongside”, pulls up next to you wherever you are, and promises never to leave or abandon you.  Every child of God knows there is incredible encouragement in walking with Jesus through anything in life. 

      The Bible even tells us that God the Holy Spirit goes by the name of “Comforter” which in Greek is the same root word, parakletos (Jn. 14-16). 

APP:  How have you felt or experienced that kind of “encouragement from Christ” lately? It can be subtle, simple and quiet or it might be powerful, clear and loud.  HOW has your being “united” or “grabbed” by Christ been a source of encouragement lately?  [Open responses.]

Freely you have received from Him; freely give that same “coming alongside” encouragement to others!

  1. “…if any comfort from his love….”

The Greek word here is also a compound word (paramuthion).  It’s taken from one word which means “near” (para) and another which means “speech” (muthos).  It has the idea of whispering tenderly to someone, of giving words of comfort to someone who is feeling fainthearted

      Whereas the previous statement had to do with God’s presence, this one has to do with God’s pronouncements…His speech to us.  Speech, especially positive speech, is powerful

ILL:  Marion Gilbert tells of opening her front door one morning to get the newspaper.  She was surprised to see a strange little dog with her morning paper in his mouth. Delighted with this unexpected “delivery service,” she fed him some treats and went on her way. The following morning when she went to get the paper, she was horrified to see the same dog sitting in front of our door, wagging his tail, but this time surrounded by eight newspapers.  She spent the rest of that morning returning the papers to their owners.  [Marion Gilbert in Reminisce, Reader’s Digest, February, 1994, p. 12]  Positive words of affirmation can change the soil of any soul… even a dog’s!  

How about this for God whispering of His love to you:

  • Isaiah 43:4 – “Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life.”
  • Isaiah 54:10 – “Though the mountains be shaken and he hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.”
  • John 15:9 – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.”
  • John 15:16 –“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.”
  • I John 3:1 – “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”

APP:  When are you able to hear best God whispering to you about His love for you?  If you’re having difficulty hearing Him affirm his love for you, maybe you need to spend more time in His word?  Maybe you need to read more about how Jesus dealt with people?  Maybe you need to be still and try listening more to the Holy Spirit.  God likes to speak lovingly to His children.  We just may need to get in places where we can hear Him. 

  • What little thing might God be inviting you to do that will allow Him to speak loving encouragement more often/loudly?
  1. “…fellowship with [produced by] the Spirit….” KoinoniaThe Greek word for fellowship comes from a root meaning common or shared. So fellowship means common participation in something either by giving what you have to the other person or receiving what he or she has. Give and take is the essence of fellowship.

APP:  That’s why we make time every Sunday from 10:00-10:45 between services…and sometimes IN services…for you to give your attention, your love, your listening ear to someone else as well as to receive from them something—a kind prayer, a gift of genuine interest in you, a loving hug, a meaningful question.

ILL:  Chuck Colson who started Prison Fellowship all over our nation, told the story of his visit to the Indiana State Prison one day.  “I was speaking at the Indiana State Prison.  Only weeks earlier, Stephen Judy had been electrocuted there.  An execution always creates a special tension in a prison, and I could sense it that day. 

      After my talk [with the inmates], the warden walked us through the maze of cell blocks to tat most dreaded of places – an isolated wing where five men awaited their final decree and death.  We were ushered through two massive steel gates into the secure area.  The inmates were allowed out of their cells, and we joined in a circle in the walkway while [one member of our group] strummed the guitar and sang.  It was a beautiful moment for those condemned men…and for us…as we closed by singing together ‘Amazing Grace.’

      Two of the men, I knew from their [previous] correspondence with me, were believers.  One [of the two], James Brewer, had the most radiant expression during our visit, and he sang at the top of his lungs.

      As we were shaking hands and saying good-bye, I noticed that Brewer walked back into his cell with one of our volunteers.  The others began filing out, but this volunteer remained in Brewer’s cell; the two were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, together reading the Bible. 

      I was expected in two hours in Indianapolis for a meeting with the governor, so I walked back into the cell.  “We’ve got to go,” I called out, beckoning to our volunteer.

      “Just a minute, please,” he replied.  I shook my head and repeated, “Sorry, time’s up, the plane is waiting.” 

      “Please, please this is very important,” the volunteer replied.  “You see, I am Judge Clement.  I sentenced this man to die.  But now he is born again.  He is my brother and we want a minute to pray together.”

      I stood in the entrance to that solitary, dimly lit cell, frozen in place.  Here were two men—one black, one white; one powerful, one powerless; one who had sentenced the other to die.  Yet there they stood grasping a Bible together, Brewer smiling so genuinely, the judge so filled with love for the prisoner at his side.

      Only in Christ could this happen.  Only by the Spirit of God could this kind of real “fellowship” occur. 

[James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), pp. 212-213.]

The Spirit of God really does bonds us together as fellow family

ILL:  I got a taste of that again yesterday. 6 guys, standing in Robert’s new apartment, having just moved him in after months of being homeless, holding hands and praying for him, his new place and the blessing we know he will be to that building—talk about “sharing life in common!”  My heart was overflowing with joy because of that simple, profound experience we got to share “in common.” 

The last “soil-building” activity of the soul that Paul points us to is this:

  1. “…if any tenderness and compassions….”

One of the most wonderful things about being human is that we actually feel emotion…well, most of us. 

      In the Greek, translated literally it reads “bowels of mercy.” To the Greeks, the seat of deepest emotions wasn’t the heart; it was your bowels.  (That’s still where many of us feel it most when were nervous…or scared…or under pressure.

      What Paul is asking his readers to do is to do a heart-check.  Has being united with Christ by faith, being filled with the Spirit of God, being loved and completely accepted unconditionally by God through Jesus produced any feelings of compassion or mercy towards others? 

      If you truly know Jesus, of course it has!  You can’t be the object of someone else’s mercy and grace and not have it change you one way or another (soften you or harden you).  We can’t have Jesus residing in us and not, at least at times, be feeling the same thing Jesus feels when He someone cries out to him for help.

ILL:  Sandy and I have been watching the new Masterpiece Theater rendition of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables that just came out.  (BTW, it’s powerful!).  The story revolves around a man named Jean val Jean who was an abused prisoner during the Napoleonic period in France.  He is finally released but finds a society in which he continues to be abused, rejected and have to pay for his simple past youthful crime of stealing a loaf of bread so as not to starve.

      He is taken in by a godly Catholic priest who, when taken advantage of by Juan val Juan through theft of his silverware, doesn’t report him to the authorities.  Instead, when the authorities later capture him and find the silverware in his possession, the priest says that the silverware was a gift from him to Juan val Juan… and promptly grabs the silver candlesticks on the mantelpiece and says, “Here, you forgot to take these with you.”

      As the story unfolds, that kind of grace in the face of val Juan’s thievery totally “wrecks” Juan val Juan and leads him in a completely different direction in life.  He isn’t perfect, as his treatment of a peasant girl, Fonteen, demonstrates.  But he is a man who learns from his mistakes…and does all in his power to correct them. 

ILL:    This is the same kind of grace, mercy and compassion of God that “wrecked” the church in Jerusalem after Pentecost.  Just look at Acts 2:44-45“All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”  That’s compassion and mercy at work.  It isn’t required; it’s just voluntary.  It flows from the heart.

      You know your heart has been changed when your wallet & wealth has been affected!  People don’t just do that naturally.  But when Jesus is reigning in a heart…or a church…compassion and mercy towards others abounds.

ILL:  I met Ralph Neighbor, a sort of “cell-church” guru of days gone by, while a missionary in Madrid over 25 years ago.  He’s a brother who is convinced that people grow most in Jesus when they are personally involved in living out the life of Christ with a small group of people rather than some amorphous institution called “a church” where you just go in an out on weekends.

      Ralph shared with us the story of a fellow named Jack who had been president of a large corporation.  When he was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer, the company ruthlessly dumped him.  He went through his insurance, used his life savings, and had practically nothing left.

      Ralph visited him with one of the other men from their small house-church.  After listening to Jack’s preoccupation with his illness, the other man said, “Jack, you speak so openly about the brief life you have left.  I wonder if you’re prepared for your life after death?”

      At that, Jack stood up, livid with rage.  “You blankety-blank-Christians!  All you ever think about is what’s going to happen to me after I die.  If your God is so great, why doesn’t he do something about the real problems of life?” 

      He went on to tell them that his illness was leaving his wife penniless and his daughter without money for college.  Then he ordered them out of the house.

      Later this other brother insisted that he and Ralph go back to Jack’s home.  As they once again stood in Jack’s house, the other man apologized and said this:

      “Jack, I know I offended you last time we were here.  I humbly apologize.  But I want you to know I’ve been working since then. 

      “Your first problem is where will your family live after you die.  A realtor in our church has agreed to sell your house and give your wife his commission.  I guarantee you that, if you’ll permit us, some other men and I will make the house payments until it’s sold. 

      “Then, I’ve contacted the owner of an apartment house down the street.  He’s offered your wife a three bedroom apartment plus free utilities and a $850-a-month salary in return for her collecting rents and supervising repairs.  The income from your house should pay for your daughter’s college.  I just wanted you to know your family will be cared for.” 

      How did Jack respond?  He cried like a baby.  He died shortly thereafter…still not a Christ-follower.  But he died experiencing God’s love…even while rejecting Christ.  And his widow, touched by the genuine care of Christians, did respond to Christ and joined that spiritual family.  [Reported by Ralph Neighbor in Death and the Caring Community, by Larry Richards & Paul Johnson.]

Contrast that with a sign that was tacked on a tree near a convent.  It read, "No trespassing; violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law—(signed) Sisters of Mercy."  

What happens to people who have their souls sunk deeply into this rich soil of relationship with Christ?  What kind of life can we experience together? 

      Paul is essentially saying, “Since you have, in fact, experienced all this – compassion, mercy, encouragement from Christ, sharing and fellowship because of the Spirit’s work in you…since you have been the recipients of all this amazing experience, NOW take all that and put those blessings to work producing fruit that will “top off your tank” with joy. 

Verses 2-4 tell us what that fruit is that eventually comes from the soil we’ve been looking at. 

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

      I don’t care how “spiritualsomeone thinks they are. If it doesn’t produce the fruit of real heart-felt harmony, communion and unity with God’s people, something is deeply wrong.

      I don’t care how “spirituala church thinks it is, if it doesn’t result in a body of people who are deeply committed to a growing attachment and heart-connection with others in that body, it’s not a spiritual church. 

ILL:  Playing in a symphony

100+ very different instruments of differing shapes, sizes, materials, sounds, ALL tune to one instrument, right?  It’s the oboe.  The oboe gives the concert master (the leading violinist) the “A” note to which the rest of the orchestra all tune their instrument.  Then they ALL work together, playing off the same score and led by 1 person—the conductor. 

      How would it work if everyone tried to tune their instrument to the 5 people closest to them instead of the oboe?  You’d never have an orchestra that was in tune.

      How would it work if there was no common musical score and everyone just brought their favorite piece of music?  Even with a conductor, that wouldn’t work! 

Here’s what it sounds like with just 3 instruments who aren’t playing together, aren’t following common music and aren’t even trying to really work together:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HhQpMRVQ_o

On the other hand, here is how it can sound when you have some 100 different musicians… tuned to the same pitch…following a unified score…under the leadership of a good conductor:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChygZLpJDNE (at 14:22)

So carrying this metaphor over to our shared life in Jesus…

  • What’s the “A-note” to which we should all tune our own individual lives/instruments? [Jesus Christ]
  • What’s the “score” we should all play from? [The Bible and God’s plan for life today.]
  • Who’s the conductor with whom we should all be keeping time? [The Holy Spirit]

ILL:  Ever bought an epoxy glue that requires you to mix two or three different substances together to actually activate the bonding power of the glue?

      Well this passage is telling us what those resins/bonding agents are that will create an unbreakable bond between us as God’s people.  Here’s what they are:

  1. being like-mindedhaving the same mind-set, thinking patterns about self, life, God and others. Like-minded:  5ff are going to expand on just what characteristic of the “mind of Christ” we need to adopt.
  2. having the same love, having the same commitment to self-sacrificing, other-bettering love.
  3. being one in spirit/[soul] and of one mind. Having the same values, purpose, priorities that bond us together.

Next week we will look at these phrases and the life of Christ that undergirds them.  For today, let’s just end asking the question, “What would it look like to live in a church/spiritual family that experiences…

  • The “encouragement/coming alongside” found in Christ’s presence with us? Is God nudging you to “come alongside” someone and encourage them as Christ encourages you? Children in S.S.?  Youth at YFC?  Discipling a sister or brother in Christ? 
  • The “comfort of his love/speech” to you found in God’s word? Is Jesus inviting you to let Him whisper His love to you more and more often?
  • The “fellowship/koinonia of the Spirit” that leads us to shared living that bonds us together? Is God asking you to reach out to someone else to find that commonness you have together in the Holy Spirit no matter how different you may be in other areas?
  • The “tenderness and compassion” of heart found in personal giving of some kind. WHO is God nudging you to live more compassionately and grace-filled with? HOW is God asking you to do that?

CLOSING PRAYER:

  • The Holy Spirit spoken to your heart today about how he wants to increase your experience in one of these arenas?