Last week I shared some reflections on the gift of encouragement. Even Paul got down, and perhaps especially as he sat in a prison cell. But that’s when the Philippians came in, literally. The church at Philippi was one that brought him great joy. They were true partners in the gospel; and so when Paul was put in prison, the Philippians wanted to be there for him too. They sent him a man named Epaphroditus who came to his prison to encourage him – with money and supplies and friendship as Paul had so encouraged them with the gospel. That’s how one survived prison in the first century… on the gifts and support of friends. Paul was deeply moved. So he wrote a thank you note for their gift, and encouraged them to hold fast to their joy and oneness in Christ despite their own challenges.
Paul begins his letter by thanking them for their partnership: “I thank my God every time I remember you…because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.” The word “sharing” translates the Greek word koinonia, and evokes the idea of partnershipin a common task. Then he continues, “It is right for me to think this way about all of you because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” – Philippians 1: 3-7
I love the way Paul affirms and reaffirms his partners. It’s encouraging to be affirmed, as Paul does here, but then he says it again! He reaffirms them for sharing in God’s grace with him, for being his partners, his koinonia of practical support. Here is another principle of encouragement. It bears repeating, slowly and clearly.
Notice that Paul affirms in a thoughtful manner too. “It is right for me to think this way because ….” – because you hold me in your heart in prayer; because you’ve shared your resources with me in my imprisonment; because you’ve shared in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. His affirmation was not framed in generalities but in specifics. No one wants to be handed a list of criticisms … but words of affirmation feed the soul. In fact, when constructive criticism needs to be given, it’s essential that we balance it with genuine words of appreciation.
This may be obvious, but Paul’s encouragement was not just verbal, it was written. Paul could have verbalized his thanks to the Philippians through Epaphroditus. Instead, Paul took a great deal of time to carefully compose his thoughts on a sheet of paper – I mean, papyrus. Had he not done this 2000 years ago, we would not have his letter to read or his example to follow today. In this culture of digital communication there is nothing quite like receiving a physical letter or card. We underestimate the power of pen on paper. Indeed, if we still had to write down our thoughts before sending them, there would also be far less to say “I’m sorry” for. How many heated words have been broadcast with the click of the “send” button that can never be un-tweeted?
It’s amazing how words of encouragement stick with us – an affirming comment on a school paper; a wise word from a parent that kept us going when we were ready to quit; a hopeful word from one who recognized our struggle; a complementary word when we thought no one cared; a loving word when we felt unlovable; a gracious word when we stood condemned.
When someone sends me a nice card or letter, I put it in a special place in my office. Now and then I open that drawer and read one with a sense of deep gratitude. What do you do when you receive such a word? Saying “thank you,” is certainly a good start, but so is doing the same for someone else. The next time you think about someone you’ve wanted to encourage: say it, repeat it, be specific, and write it down, because chances are they need it just like you.Next week: The Bliss of Being Missed!
Next week: The Bliss of Being Missed!