Text: Philippians 2:1-2; Isaiah 35:1-4a; Romans 15:4-6
What is your attitude right now?
Maybe you are interested… distracted… bored… enthusiastic… confused… happy… distressed…
What if you were piloting a plane and I asked you that. You would give a very different answer. Pilots have to be aware of and give account for the orientation of their plane in three different dimensions. The words used to describe the plane’s orientation are pitch, yaw, and roll. Pitch has to do with whether the nose of the plane is heading up or down with respect to level. Yaw has to do with whether the plane is skewed to the left or right – the nose and tail don’t line up when the plane is coming toward you. And roll has to do with whether one wing tip is higher than the other. All three variables can change the direction of the plane off of the desired path.
For the next eight weeks, through the Sunday after Easter, we will be in Philippians 2:1-18, which begins with a “therefore” tied to how we “conduct ourselves” in the end of chapter one. Chapter two then keys off of verse 5, “Have this ATTITUDE in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” These verses provide a rich picture of what the attitude of Jesus was, and all in terms of actions and emotions like you might expect. But I believe the challenge to “have this attitude” maps a course for us as followers much like a flight plan for a plane. If we don’t pay attention to our emotional and behavioral pitch, yaw, and roll, we can veer off course – that is, off Christ – and find ourselves lost or in trouble. The good news is that we aren’t on our own to figure out which way to go, but have a “flight plan” which this passage maps out in detail.
Said another way, if we are going to FOLLOW Jesus, we need to follow Jesus! It’s the logical next step after encountering Jesus and responding to his love with “Here I am!” If we are going to follow where he leads us – and that’s what we’ve been talking about for months now! – we need to fix our eyes and hearts and paths directly on him. This series will help chart that course for us so that we can be in FULL ALIGNMENT with Christ.
We’ll be in verses 1-2 for four weeks because there are four pairs of “attitudes” there. Here’s how that lines up:
If there is ______ (and there is in Christ!), then make my joy complete by _______________.
week 1 – encouragement in Christ
– – – being of the same mind
week 2 – consolation of love
– – – maintaining the same love
week 3 – fellowship of the Spirit
– – – being united in spirit
week 4 – any affection and compassion
– – – being intent on one purpose
So today we will be talking about “encouragement in Christ.” We’ll talk about what it is, how we experience it and how we are to stay on course by “being of the same mind” (as Christ). Each week I will also pull in some other scripture to help us understand the particular course heading for the day. Today, it’s ENCOURAGEMENT.
Course Heading: ENCOURAGEMENT (Isaiah 35:1-4a)
I chose two supplemental texts this morning to help explain encouragement. The first is from Isaiah 35 and you heard it as our call to worship:
1 The wilderness and the desert will be glad, And the desert will rejoice and blossom; Like the crocus 2 It will blossom profusely And rejoice with rejoicing and shout of joy. The glory of Lebanon will be given to it, The majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of the Lord, The majesty of our God. 3 Encourage the exhausted, and strengthen the feeble. 4 Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage, fear not. Behold, your God… will save you.” (Isaiah 35:1-4a)
The imagery helps describe what encouragement is. It’s like a dry desert blossoming with flowering life. True encouragement brings joy and rejoicing, and brings glory to God. Stepping out of the word picture, Isaiah gives some practical examples: encourage the exhausted and strengthen the feeble (weak). Say to those with anxious heart, “Take courage and fear not.” God will save you!
Can you relate to the word picture? Have you been or are you in a desert emotionally or spiritually? God’s promise to save you is not just for eternity, but to bring life and blossoming in those dry desert places. I have shared before one of the few times I believe God ministered to me in a dream. I had been in a spiritual and emotional desert for about a year and a half after graduating from college. I was going to church – I knew enough to put myself in the right place to hear from God, but I was all blocked up. And after that long period one night I had a dream where Jesus met me on a rolling hillside set in Nashville where I was living. He didn’t look like Jesus; he looked like one of the pastors at the church I was attending. But I understood it to be him; and really, that doesn’t matter. He came over and hugged me joyfully and the tears of joy just flowed in my dream and then in waking. That’s the encouragement of Christ.
Or can you relate to Isaiah’s more literal example? Are you exhausted, weak, or anxious? Isaiah describes God’s help as encouragement and strength in time of need. It’s one thing to say that God offers us encouragement in the dry, exhausting, weak, or anxious times. But we (naturally!) want to know HOW God does so.
Experiencing the Encouragement of Christ (Romans 15:4-6)
It’s interesting timing to be on this topic during Lent, which is often tied to the forty days in which Jesus was tempted in the desert. He was exhausted and weak from fasting, but when Satan came to try to lead him away from God’s plan, he relied on God’s Word to sustain him. He himself experienced the encouragement of God which he now extends to us. And that’s a good transition to look at our second passage, Romans 15:4-6, which describes in more depth how God’s Word helps us experience the encouragement of God through Jesus Christ:
4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:4-6)
God’s Word – the Scriptures – are for instruction; that’s probably pretty obvious to us. But did you hear what we are supposed to learn from this instruction? It’s not just head knowledge… no just how many cubits long God told Noah to build the Ark. God’s Word was written to teach us how to PERSEVERE, be ENCOURAGED, and experience HOPE. Persevere through what? Well how about through the desert, and exhaustion, the weakness, or the anxiety. In God’s Word we can read about people who endured the same. We can read songs and prayers by people crying out to God for help in those times. As I said, we can even read about Jesus enduring those things! And we can read of God’s help and provision, God’s faithfulness, God’s sustenance, and goodness. Reading the Scripture is one tangible way to experience encouragement. And the outcome of persevering and receiving encouragement through God’s Word is hope. We hope in God and in God’s faithfulness, witnessed again and again in the pages of Scripture.
And now Romans takes the same turn that Philippians does. In Romans, Paul says, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.” Remember our outline from the beginning?
Being of the Same Mind as Christ (Philippians 2:1-2)
v. 1a If there is ______ (and there is in Christ!),
v.2a then make my joy complete by _______________.
If there is any encouragement in Christ… make my joy complete by being of the same mind…
Paul is consistent in Romans and Philippians. If you have known any encouragement because of Jesus Christ, then line up your mind with that of Christ. What will that do? That will mean you offer that same encouragement to others in times of desert, exhaustion, weakness, or fear. This may be the most obvious thing in the world to you, but I know how often I veer off-course and don’t encourage others. In fact, these days it is far more common to tear down and discourage others… or just remain withdrawn and silent.
It is interesting to me that the thing paired with encouragement is “being of the same mind.” Perhaps that’s because being encouraging is a choice. It takes concentration, discipline, and practice. And it is interesting to me that encouragement is paired in Isaiah and in Romans with scripture, which is something we first take in with our mind.
Later on in this same letter to the Philippians, Paul writes this:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:7-9)
We have to read or hear it, understand it, and receive it. It’s not something like music that you can sometimes just ‘feel’ or art that can make an impression on you. Scripture is words and we receive those with our mind. But Isaiah and Paul in both Romans and Philippians makes the connection: words, scripture, mind, encouragement, joy.
This is the course Jesus has laid out for us. We all need encouragement and we all need to be encouraging. If you are in Christ, you will be part of Christ’s ministry of encouragement. You may be able to draw on your own experience – and personal testimony is a powerful thing to share. But God’s Word is stronger still. On the course of encouragement, God’s Word will be your guide, tool, and best resource. Check your pitch, yaw, and roll; are you on course? In this case there is literally a manual to help keep you on course. Read it, soak in it, memorize it, share it; so that through perseverance and encouragement you and those to whom you minister may have hope in God through Jesus Christ. Amen.