Pastoral Wisdom when Encouraging Others1
In the previous article we started our study of Philippians 4:1-3 and the question of how we are to address those difficult situations when Christians can’t get along. Continue reading . . .
In the previous article we started our study of Philippians 4:1-3 and the question of how we are to address those difficult situations when Christians can’t get along.
“Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true comrade, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:1-3).
I love Paul’s pastoral wisdom. He knows that people will always respond more readily to exhortations if they are preceded by encouragement. So he opens up in v. 1 with a series of five expressions of love and affection for them.
(1) “My brothers” (v. 1a). This is the same language he used earlier in Philippians 1:12; 3:1, 13, 17; and will use again in 4:8, 21. He wants them to know that even though he is an apostle who travels and doesn’t even live in Philippi, they are all family! It’s as if he says, “Before I say anything at all of a corrective nature, please remember that I’m not an outsider sticking my nose into someone else’s business. You are my spiritual brothers and sisters, and even if what I say sounds hard and you don’t respond as I hope you will, we will remain brothers and sisters in Christ!” It’s also likely that he’s saying to Euodia and Syntyche: “Don’t forget ladies: you are sisters in Jesus. So act like it!”
(2) “Whom I love” or more literally, “my beloved” (v. 1b). Although God certainly loves them, Paul is here talking about his love for them. They are “his” beloved. This points to his motivation for the exhortation to follow. He doesn’t speak from a position of superiority or arrogance or because he wants to hurt them. He loves them too much to remain silent and to allow their division to infect the church.
(3) “Whom . . . I long for” (v. 1c). This reminds us of the pain of separation caused by Paul’s imprisonment. But it also instructs us on how we should feel about one another when we go long without experiencing fellowship together. Do you “long for” the believers in your local church, such that a week or two or three away from them becomes painful and distressing? Paul is saying in these words, “Philippians, you are important to me. I need you! I can’t get along without you!”
(4) “My joy” (v. 1d). Of course, Paul’s preeminent joy is in Jesus, but he doesn’t hesitate to tell the Philippians that they too are his joy. His greatest delight isn’t in being released from prison or amassing earthly wealth and fame. His joy is in not only knowing and loving the Philippians but in watching them grow in grace and truth. The Apostle John said something similar in his third epistle: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 3).
(5) “My crown” (v. 1e). This isn’t the diadem of a king but the victor’s wreath presented by judges to the winner of the ancient Olympic Games. You are my prize! You are the great reward I seek.
Why do you think Paul takes time to encourage these people before he exhorts them?
My guess is that Paul knew more about human nature than you or I do. He knew the fundamental human longing for community, to be included as part of a family. He was keenly aware of the damage to the human soul inflicted by rejection. He knew how powerful it is when a man or woman knows and feels the love of others. He also knew the incredible power in words. I’m not talking about shallow flattery or merely polite compliments, but sincere and substantive words of affirmation and acceptance. So before he calls these women and the others in Philippi to clean up their act, he reminds them of just how much they mean to him and how he loves them and how he longs for them and how he considers them family.
To be continued . . .