Questions of the Soul

February 25, 2022

Questions of the Soul

Passage: Philippians 2:1: "Is there any encourage, comfort, fellowship, or compassion?"
Service Type:

Dr. Dwight A. Moody, preaching

Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Compassion.

Which of these do you need today?

They are in short supply.

Too much discouragement. Too often discomfort. Too little fellowship. Way too little compassion.

Paul the great apostle asks his Philippian friends four questions: is there any encouragement? …. any comfort? …. any fellowship? ….. any compassion?

He needed all of them, as do we. He was in jail, in Rome, with an uncertain future and few friends. He wrote: We are in this struggle together.

That’s the way we feel, isn’t it?

We are in this struggle together:  dodging the COVID, enduring the divisions in the country, praying that things don’t explode into another insurrection or even outright war.

We are trying to stay in touch with friends and family: some isolated and some on a political tangent that has separated them from us. We trying to pay bills, raise our children and grandchildren, and make a good life for ourselves and our children.

We are watching Russia invade Ukraine and wondering if all of Europe could slide into war. “The sun is going down,” John Prine sings in a song about his father’s sudden death, “and the moon is just holding its breath.” That speaks to me.

This little letter can speak to you and me today.

These four questions bring us this message: One way to keep us joyful and hopeful in the trying circumstances of life is to have a spiritual fellowship with people of faith.

Paul himself wants what we want:

encouragement in knowing and serving Jesus Christ,

comfort by living in the love of God,

fellowship with others through the joy of the Holy Spirit, and

compassion for others and from others who, like us, want to flourish as people, as a family, and as a community, as a country, as a global family.

This is what Paul wanted, this is what I want. Is this what you want?


Let’s look closely at these questions.

The Bible is full of questions: hundreds of questions, in the stories, in the psalms, in the gospels, in these letters.

Which of the questions in the Bible come to your mind?

Who can separate us from the love of God?

Where is he born king of the Jews?

Am I my brother’s keeper?

There are 2,550 questions in the Bible. I know. I counted. Here is my "Question Bible" with every question underlined or marked!

Think about the question. Your mind automatically stops to answer when a question is asked. Even random questions, irrelevant questions, insulting questions, serious questions. The question is one of the most interesting and compelling elements of human communication.

I am tempted to give a sampling of the questions from Seinfeld, or Prine, or Narnia. You could also from the worlds you live in, right?

Here in our letter to Philippi, we have four questions. They are the only questions in this short letter.

But the letter itself generates some questions. Was Paul released from jail? Did he ever return to Philippi? Why are the two Philippi episodes described in Acts of the Apostles not mentioned in this letter? Did the two women he urges to settle their differences even make amends? Who were the “enemies” Paul writes about? And who are those people he describes as “those in Caesar’s household”?

There are questions like:

How can we, like Paul, be content in all circumstances?

How can we, like Paul, do all things in Christ who strengthens us?

How, like Paul, can we rejoice in all circumstances?

These are good questions, don’t you think?


I have many questions of my own about life, and love, and loss? I am sure you do as well.

I wonder about mental illness: Where it comes from? What triggers it? How to treat it? How to endure it?

I wonder about our country: How people got so angry and what they want and why?

I wonder why they want to distribute guns and ban books? I wonder if democracy will survive, and why we tolerate gerrymandering, and how we can encourage people to vote, and why the political parties are so polarized? Isn’t there a great deal we agree on, can work together on, problems we must solve together?

I wonder if I can keep up with the technology! This week, I tried to learn a new program. My engineer said to me when I spoke of my frustration, “You need to get your grandson Sam to help you!”

What is coming down the technology pike to help us or hurt us, or that will make most of what we know obsolete. I’m just trying to learn how to change the channels on my smart TV.  I have YouTube TV, but I don’t know much about it. How much change or progress or disruption can we handle?

I wonder why I married the person I did, took the job I did, made the friends I did. I wonder how I got here! I wonder where next I will be.

What will happen to this church? Will we survive our struggle? What will happen to the church in America? It is declining so rapidly. People are jumping ship so often there can’t be much room left in the water!!

In another 20 years, will there be a church like ours, or organs like ours, or buildings like this, or full-time professional ministers like me, or people like you sitting in pews listening to sermons or lifting hands in prayer?

I wonder. In mulling these questions, I am in good company with God and Jesus and the Spirit.  Their book and his story are full of questions.

Does God know all the answers? Does God know all the questions?

And I come again to these questions:

Does belonging to Christ provide any encouragement?

Does knowing the love of God provide any comfort in this life?

Does living in the fullness of the Spirit bring any fellowship to me, to you, to us, to them?

Is there among us, in this church, in this congregation, enough tenderness and compassion to help us navigate life and celebrate life, to help us forgive each other and serve each other and show compassion to those we meet?

These are the questions Paul penned in this little letter. They are the questions that confront us today? Can we find answers?

Can the search for answers itself be a journey to wholeness and holiness, to happiness, to redemption?

Can asking the questions of our soul be the way of salvation?


The gospel has a few answers: not to everything and not always to the questions we have.

But one great answer is the community of joy and hope:

singing our souls into harmony with God and one another,

praying our way through trials and tribulations,

reading our way into the grand story of God and Jesus and the renewal of all things,

forgiving anyone and everyone as God in Christ has forgiven us,

seeing in each other our common humanity and our shared salvation,

so that we can say with the great imprisoned apostle, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, but … but that depends upon a lot of help from you!!”

That is our aspiration as a congregation.

I am so glad the choir is meeting again. What is better than a choir?  What is better than singing? The gospel commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Did you notice that? Speaking to one another as you sing! Yes, we sing for ourselves; and yes, we sing in praise to God; but yes, we sing for our neighbor.

I remember sitting next to my father in church and listening to him sing. He could not read music or carry a tune. But the words and the sprit were coming from his soul, his heart, his innermost being. It made a real impression on me.

When you are discouraged, we sing for you. When you are defeated, we sing for you. When you are down and out… somebody needs to sing, Bridge Over Troubled Waters!

You know the best part of the church week?  Not the choir, not the prayer, not the sermon, but the food!  Each Sunday we go out to eat together. Last week there were 18 of us in the sanctuary and 12 went out to eat. Four others were still a little nervous about the COVID. But 2/3 of the congregation gathered around a long table, lifted our bread in praise, and laughed and talked and carried on. That is the Lord’s Supper!

Jesus was the man who ate with saints and sinners, and there were plenty of both gathered around that public table last week. I don’t know who was a saint, and who was a sinner. And I don’t care. But nothing binds our souls and lives together like the communion that follows the worship service. Where are we going today??

Later today, some of you will gather at the Providence House to distribute food and comfort, drink and conversation with those who need it. You dispense the supplies we all have contributed: socks and blankets, soup and sandwiches, toothpaste and soap, and gifts of the spirit. And in the background, I hear the sound of that old gospel song:

Mercy there is great, and grace is free. Pardon there is multiplied to me. There my burdened soul finds liberty.

I say the worship meal at Providence House is as close to Calvary as we will ever get. For a decade and more, it has been the place for answering the questions: Is there any encouragement for anybody? Is there any comfort for those whose lives are uncomfortable? Is there any fellowship across racial lines, ideological divides, or social stratification? Yes, in the fellowship of Jesus.

This week, I have the distinct honor of speaking to the monthly gathering of PFLAG. It is the local chapter of the national organization: Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. It was birthed here in our church and for many years this was their home. One of their members, when he heard I am the scheduled speaker, wrote me this week, and I quote:

There are 180 Baptist churches in Henderson County. 179 of them are either Southern Baptist or independent fundamentalist, and the nicest thing that I can say about 179 of them is "bless your heart".  


Providence is different. It is that one Baptist out of 180 that sings a different song. You sing a song that says queer folks are loved and accepted by God. You sing a song that one can be Baptist and call out Christian Nationalism. 


I stopped reading and bowed my head and prayed. He continued:


Every other year, PFLAG HENDERSONVILLE conducts a study about LGBTQ youth homelessness. In the most recent survey, 50 young adults participated, and 30 of them indicated that they experienced faith-based homelessness. 22 of these folks were kicked out of non-affirming Baptist churches. 


I want my community to hear your Baptist hymn. I want my community to know that there is a Baptist church that is singing a song of joy where people who are different can sing together.  


That is just another way of answering the questions:


Does belonging to Christ provide any encouragement?

Does knowing the love of God provide any comfort in this life?

Does living in the fullness of the Spirit bring any fellowship to me, to you, to us, to them?

Is there among us, in this church, in this congregation, enough tenderness and compassion to help us navigate life, to help us forgive each other, and to help us show compassion to those we meet?

I say yes, hell yes, and thanks be to God!

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