Within society there are various ways in which people unite together. There are political parties, sports clubs, hobby groups. It is possible for Christians to be members of these various bodies, although the reason for membership involves more than their Christianity. What is basic to all such groups is a common interest. The common interest of the church is Jesus Christ, and this common interest overrides all differences, be they distinctions of class, age, gender, or interests.
Here Paul mentions four ways of common interest by which Christian progress can be developed. Of course, he is not suggesting that the Philippians select which of the four they are good at and focus on it. Instead he is detailing four aspects of Christian living that should be present at all times in the life of the members of a church.
The first means is encouragement in Christ. Christian encouragement occurs when we share the blessings that we have received from God. Sharing is evidence of brotherly concern and interest. Paul, who had invested so much in the Philippians, wanted to receive encouragement from them as they made further progress in the faith.
The second blessing that Paul mentions is comfort arising from love. He does not say that he is referring to either God’s love or the love of his readers, so probably he is referring to both. The church in Philippi had already expressed love for Paul by sending him a gift. Yet that gift could not be used to cover up that there was a serious problem in the church, which was lack of unity. No matter how much Eoudia and Syntyche put into the collection plate, it could not remove their lack of love to one another.
The third means was participation in the Spirit. Every Christian shares in the Spirit (Rom. 8:9). The Spirit performs many activities within a believer and a church. He mortifies their sins, he witnesses to their salvation, and he strengthens their prayers. Yet Paul is aware that it is possible to grieve the Spirit by sinning and hindering the unity they should have.
The fourth means is any affection and sympathy. Paul is referring to graces that reveal fellow-feeling between believers. Obviously, he is not doubting that they have shown such feelings towards him in the past. Elsewhere in this letter he mentions their concern for him that had been expressed in practical ways more than once. Yet he is saying that unity among themselves was more important than sacrifice on behalf of him, and he would rather that they were united. They same degree of affection and sympathy that they had shown to him should also be shown to one another. It is often the case that a church can find it easy to help those at a distance and at the same time be disagreeing with those that are nearby.
Hopefully the Philippians felt the powerful effect of these appeals of Paul. These four blessings are reminders to us why we should have brotherly love in the church. Seen against them, the appearance of disunity is shown to be the ugly sin that it is.