We all have times when we feel discouraged. Paul’s second missionary journey had a discouraging start. We read in Acts 15-16 that there was a sharp disagreement between Paul and Barnabas about whether to take young John Mark with them again. Apparently Mark got homesick and left them, so Paul refused to take him again. Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement” wanted to give him a second chance, so he parted ways with Paul and took John Mark to Cyprus. So Paul took Silas and Timothy and headed west through Asia Minor. John Mark needed someone to give him a second chance, to encourage him; and soon Paul would learn that he needed that too. A number of roadblocks soon brought them to Troas, on the shore of the Aegean Sea where they were unsure of their next step. It’s very possible that Paul got sick in Troas, and that this is the reason he met Dr. Luke, a man from Europe.
If Dr. Luke was sent to encourage Paul, it was confirmed one night in a vision of a man from Macedonia, saying “Come over here and help us.” Paul was being called to encourage people across the sea, in Europe. So, the three men boarded a ship and crossed the Aegean Sea in record time, coming to the province of Macedonia in northern Greece. Once there, they headed to the Roman colony of Philippi.
Of all the churches Paul founded, the Philippians brought him the most joy. Years after he visited them, when Paul was put in prison, the Philippians wanted to be there for him too. So they sent a man named Epaphroditus – to encourage him with money and supplies and friendship as he had so encouraged them with the gospel. Paul was deeply moved. In a first century Roman prison one survived on the kindness of friends. So Paul wrote a letter to thank them for their gift, and to encouragethem to hold fast to their joy and oneness in Christ despite their own challenges.
Encouragement – Mark needed it, Paul needed it, the Philippians needed it, and we need it. Over the next few weeks, I’d like to focus on what we can learn about the art of encouragement from Paul’s prayer of thanksgiving in Philippians, ch. 1.
Paul writes,“I thank my God every time I remember you…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.”– Philippians 1: 3-5. One thing is certain, we are encouraged by partners, when we know we’re not alone. Paul was thankful for the Philippians’ sharing or ‘partnership’ (NIV) in the gospel. The familiar Greek word is koinonia, or ‘fellowship’. It means, literally ‘having something in common.’ Koinonia refers to a deep bond of friendship and shared responsibility. There is nothing more encouraging than knowing we have partners; a community backing us up in our journey with Christ. “From the first day until now” the Philippians were partners in the gospel, Paul says. That was literally true.
It was during Paul’s first week in Philippi that he shared the gospel with a woman named Lydia…a dealer in purple dye, a lucrative business in the Roman Empire. “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” The result was that she and her entire household were baptized. Afterward, she invited Paul and his friends to stay in her home while they served the Lord there.
Today, we talk about marriage partners, tennis partners and business partners. But the word koinonia means so much more. It’s a gospel partnership, a spiritual community that shares the responsibility of mission for the sake of Christ. Paul loved his new gospel partners in Philippi. “I thank my God every timeI remember you” he said. Do you have people like that to encourage you? I do! You are my partners…in every way. We need partners if we plan to serve Jesus this year. We can’t do it alone... and partnership is what Christ promises as we follow him. Hope to see you soon…
Next week: The Power of Affirming Words…