There is no higher desire in a human heart than the longing to be free, and in this case I mean literally.
So when I think about Paul writing four of his thirteen letters from prison, I marvel at his ability to be clear of mind, direct, and full of hope and gratitude. Read Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, or Philemon, and you’ll see what I mean. We don’t find a pity party in these pages. We find strength, confidence, and an enviable experience of the presence of God.
But what is even more notable, perhaps, is Paul’s overt cheering. Not only was he not bitter toward those outside the prison walls, but he constantly encouraged them, offering prayers of grace and peace, and reminding them that God was for them and so was he. With loving words penned from prison, he served them.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. — Philippians 1:3-11
This letter to the believers at Philippi wasn’t an isolated event. Paul’s signature style became one of constant lifting up, even while facing dire circumstances. In every way that mattered, Paul saw himself as a free man.
Did he want the freedoms enjoyed by those he was encouraging? Undoubtedly. Being bound in prison must have been excruciating for someone so passionate about spreading the word about Jesus.
But did his natural human desire to be free prevent him from desiring the good of his brothers and sisters in Christ? Absolutely not. Paul’s lack didn’t stop him from pouring out his surplus of wisdom from the Lord to help the body of Christ, knowing their gain meant ultimate gain for all. Imprisonment did not quash his cheering. It did not keep him from rejoicing in the Lord with those on the other side. There are three important things we can learn from this.
1.Every win can become our win.
When we understand the corporate purpose for which Jesus died, every win for the Kingdom of God becomes our win. We see any gains in the gospel as our own, even when they aren’t credited to us on earth. What a powerful, unifying mentality!
2. Every loss should become our loss.
Competition in the Kingdom should become offensive and be seen as a loss. Breaking other believers down needs to be seen as a corporate mark. Paul modeled this mentality. It was learned through a burning love for Jesus — and the furthering of the gospel—and then funneled down to people, which is the way it will also work for us.
3. Love doesn’t come naturally to us.
This might be something we’ve not recognized before, but surely our volatile behavior on the internet and to strangers who disagree with our points of view has proven the point. Perhaps the biggest reason we struggle so much to cheer for others is because we have tried to first force people-love without the help of God. Cheering for others won’t happen without that core Jesus-love. We just aren’t that altruistic. We can rejoice with people in our lack only out of the abundance of love God has lavished on us, and when we find that, alone, to be enough.
We have it in us to cheer for another person—we have God in our bones. This is a beautiful thought. Let Him seep out of your mouth, your smile, your very pores when someone gets blessed or honored. You are fully loved by God, and out of that fullness you can feel joy in the gain of another.
Did you get that? Feel joy in the gain of another. This is next-level from simple acceptance of another’s gain. What if more of us came to this healthy place? How might it look in the Body of Christ? Perhaps we would be more aligned with the early church model we see in Acts 2 — the one we always look to emulate in the church.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. — Acts 2:42-4
Note the health and maturity of these early believers’ hearts.
- Talents and gifts were cheered by all.
- Abundance was shared by all.
- No one was jealous of what anyone else had.
The result was powerful Kingdom growth.
As you and I “encourage one another and build each other up,” we take on the tone of the early church (1 Thessalonians 5:11). And when we flip the script on our definition of church, we will watch the church change. Home church. Megachurch. Small, intimate congregation. These are all simply preferences. For too long we’ve focused on church structure. But issues of the heart aren’t solved by more square footage, better light fixtures, or worship style.
Jesus doesn’t care about the stats or the aesthetics. He cares about why we do what we do.
We can change. I want us to change — to be honest, grow, and deal with character issues like this with better discipleship, starting with our leaders. I want to change. I want to cheer louder for people in the coming years of my life than I ever have before, even when it’s hard. The hard good of this seemingly lesser hard of life cannot be missed because its impact on who you become is monumental.
The heart issues that die hardest in us are often the quieter, nagging places God has been speaking to us about the longest but we have ignored. How long have you been privately struggling to cheer for others? Take on that history and start a new one today.
Entitlement, jealousy, and bitterness can all be part of your past. Love, in which their win is your win, can be a part of your future. Cheering for others is possible:
It will change you for the better.
It will keep bitterness from breaking you down.
It will honor God, who will honor you back.
If this feels hard to you, today, please remember: the harder road leads to the better human.
Excerpted with permission from The Hard Good by Lisa Whittle, copyright Lisa Whittle.
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Who are you cheering today? Who are you sharing with? Let’s pattern our church lives after the early church and see what God does! ~ Devotionals Daily