Text: Philippians 2:1-2; Luke 2:25-32
“Consolation of love” – what a powerful, evocative phrase! Just days ago a group of Muslims was gunned down in New Zealand. Is there any consolation for their families and community? We’ve read of a whole class of planes grounded because two of that type have gone down without explanation. Is there any consolation for their families and friends? Some of you have lost loved ones in the past days and weeks, or are reminded of loved ones even though years have passed. Is there any consolation of love? Some of us – many of us – continue to be discouraged and disillusioned by politics, by systemic racism, by divisions and hate and hopelessness. Is there any consolation? any love?
Today we continue in a series called “Full Alignment.” We are taking a number of weeks to look at part of Philippians, a letter from the Apostle Paul to the early church in the Greek city of Philippi. The heart of that chapter is a plea to line up our lives with Jesus – to align ourselves with his character and his actions. And today we focus on this full statement taken from verses 1b and 2b:
If there is any consolation of love… make my joy complete by maintaining the same love.
Paul is assuming all these “ifs” to be true, but I want to take a moment and ask, “Is there any consolation of love” for us? If so, then we’ll look at what it means for us to maintain that same love.
The Consolation of Israel
To help us understand what “consolation of love” means with respect to Jesus I was reminded of the story of Mary and Joseph taking the eight day old Jesus to the Temple to be circumcised. There they encountered two old people who had been waiting to see the Messiah. One was Simeon, to whom God had revealed he would see the Messiah before he died. He was old; he had been waiting a long time! When he saw Jesus, he exclaimed that now he could die in peace… he had seen God’s salvation, a “light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)
Now why did I think of this story? It’s there in verse 25, where it describes Simeon. He was “righteous and devout” and was “looking for the consolation of Israel.” That was how the Messiah, Jesus, was described. It’s one of the only other places the word “consolation” is used, particularly with respect to Jesus. So I point us to that to help us understand what the kind of consolation Jesus does is like. Here, it is in reference specifically to the work of the Messiah to save God’s people and show God to the world. Specifically, of course, that work would be Jesus’ saving death on the cross.
How exactly would that console Israel? It would precisely because it would reconcile Israel – and all who believe – to God. Separated by sin and weighed down by the consequences of spiritual unfaithfulness, the Messiah would reconcile the world to God and restore the relationship with and blessing of God.
In short, the consolation of Jesus is the consolation of the cross. And that is a consolation of love because Jesus demonstrates God’s love toward us to reconcile, rescue, and redeem us from sin and death for life and service.
Consolation of Love
So back to Philippians, what is “consolation of love?” Particularly because the whole passage is about attitudes and behaviors that align with those of Jesus, consolation of love is the love Christ demonstrated in his life, teaching, and death on the cross. That love is the gracious and welcoming love he showed towards outsiders: women, lepers, Samaritans, tax collectors, outcasts, and others. That love is the tough love he showed to the religious to call them to a compassionate and inward faithfulness beyond the letter of the Law which they idolized and used to elevate themselves. That love is the sacrificial love he showed on the cross in offering his life “as a ransom for many.”
Have you ever experienced any form of that consolation of love from Jesus Christ? If you are a Christian then you believe God has forgiven your sins and continues to show you mercy because of Christ’s love on the cross. We confess our sins because we believe God forgives them. Today we will not only do that in words, but in song. And our assurance of God’s grace will come, appropriately, from the “love chapter” in 1 Corinthians 13.
What about consolation of love from Christ’s life or teaching? Have you ever felt alone or cast out or cast down? Has God’s promise to never leave you and never forsake you brought you encouragement and hope? Have you ever been at the end of your rope and remembered God is the “God who sees” us in every circumstance? Have you seen people in more desperate and dire circumstances than yours be helped by the presence, love, and mercy of God? As I see the outpouring of love towards people of another country, another religion, and another race in New Zealand, I am reminded of the consolation of love in Christ. As I see members here giving time and resources to help folks in our community who struggle with housing, basic needs, and education, I see the consolation of love in Christ. As I see some of you receiving the comfort and peace of God in times of struggle and loss, I see the consolation of love in Christ. Paul writes “if there is any consolation of love” and I can bear witness – I hope you can too! – that there IS consolation of love in Jesus Christ.
Last week we talked about “encouragement in Christ.” In many ways this is the same topic. The word for ‘consolation’ is a synonymy for ‘encouragement’ and is, in fact, sometimes translated that way. That’s the Hebrew way of communicating. If saying something once is good, saying it twice is better. So “consolation of love” is the “encouragement of Christ” but it is more focused and Paul is doubling down on the exhortation. Don’t just experience and offer general encouragement because of Jesus, but recognize the extravagant, unexpected, upside-down, and sacrificial love with which Jesus loved others. Receive it for yourself as true consolation and encouragement where you are struggling, outcast or downcast, or in need of reconciliation or restoration. And ALSO give as you receive.
That’s the essence of this whole passage in Philippians and in this series. Be reminded of how God sees you and loves you in Jesus Christ and share that perspective and love with those around you. And so, Paul says that if there is any “consolation of love” – and THERE IS IN CHRIST – then “maintain the same love.”
Maintain the Same Love
How then do we “maintain the same love?”
Well think of all those ways that we have experienced and witnessed the consolation of love in Christ. And go and do likewise! Are there those who need to hear the Good News that their sins, their mistakes, their pasts, their presents, and their futures are not beyond God’s love and mercy? Share that news! Are there those who are shut out, shut down, or struggling? Reach out with the expansive love of Christ. Are there those who are discouraged, despondent, and without hope? Speak and enact words of presence and care because of Christ.
Maintain the same love! Maintain the same love you have known and maintain the same love you have seen. And let’s not think of ‘maintain’ in terms of barely working, like as long as the kitchen sink doesn’t blow up it is maintained. Let’s understand it in terms of stewardship as something to care for so that it works in the best possible way. Let’s steward the same love we have known and seen so that the people around us – people we know and love as well as people we don’t know and wonder about – that they may know the full measure of the love of God in Jesus Christ.
The disciple John wrote something similar in the passage we heard today as our call to worship:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are (v.1)… Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God (v.7)… We love because God first loved us. (v.19)
I’ll say that to you: beloved, let us love one another and love others, for love is from God. Amen.