Paul makes it clear that we need the encouragement from being united with Christ and the comfort from his love and the fellowship or sharing in His Spirit and to know God’s tenderness and compassion before we can reach out to others. He goes on to tell the Philippians that his joy will be made complete if they are ‘like-minded’, if they have the same love, if they are one in spirit and of one mind. (Phil 2:2) They – and we – are called to live in a radically different way to the rest of the world, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but living in humility and valuing others above themselves, putting the interests of other people before their own interests. (Phil 2:3-4) He goes on to show us how Jesus himself did this and how this is the model for our lives in Christ. But it all starts with an understanding of how much God has done for us and from an encouragement which becomes a fuel.
Encouragement means to give courage to, to instil courage in. Most of us don’t think we are particularly brave, nor do we think that it takes courage simply to live, never mind to live well and to live by faith. But I think that courage is needed for life and that’s not simply talking about physical courage or even physical strength, admirable though those things are. For us to be encouraged, to have the actual courage we need to live for God in a world that generally dismisses God and in many areas is actively hostile towards Him and His followers, we have to meditate on spiritual truths because it’s through this meditation and pondering that we actually receive the strength and courage we need. I believe that as we dwell on the things Paul mentions in Philippians 2:1 – the knowledge that we’re united in Christ, that we are loved totally and unconditionally by God, that we share in the life of God Himself through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and that we serve a God of tenderness and compassion – we are actually given the courage to live like this ourselves, serving others and putting them before our own interests, loving others even when that love is not returned and reflecting God’s character to a world that will only see Him through us. Our strength comes not from ourselves, but from God, a God whose weakness is stronger than our strength. 2 Cor 13:4 tells us that Christ was crucified in weakness, yet lives by God’s power, and goes on to say, ‘Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.’ Ultimately, it’s when we are weak but dependent on God that we are strong, when we are reliant on Him that we can become the people He wants us to be.