Sermon

Companion or Acquaintance?

by Jon Pippy

(PLAY FROM START)

A great composer of beautiful music was heard to say once that the hardest instrument in the orchestra to play was second fiddle. It kind of has a ring to it. And this is presumably so because the individual that is playing the second fiddle must work just as hard as the first violinist, yet be content with a seemingly subordinate role in the orchestra. Interesting, it kind of sparked a thought, because sometimes Christians may think that they are only playing a rather insignificant role in God's orchestra, if I can put it in those terms.

Let me be very quick to point something out to direct you to a very important point. To God there is no second fiddlers - none. Each person has a very valuable role to play and none is more or less important than the other. Over in I Corinthians 12, we won't turn there – we might look at some of them later, but it reminds us that as Christ's body, each of us functions both uniquely and interdependently. Some will be taking a lead role, while others will be given the task of encouragers and companions. And none are meant to function independently from the body, or in opposition within the body, because all are equally important and dependent on each other.

Many people start their Christian lives with the idea of being like the apostle Paul. He was strong, he was adventurous, an outstanding leader, a tremendous individual; and there are indeed many, many notable Christians that we have all come across who have had a tremendous impact on hundreds, perhaps in some cases thousands, of lives. But God assigns the vast majority of us in a more supportive role, much more supportive role working alongside those who have a prominent role.

Now, Mr Armstrong certainly had a tremendous impact, didn't he? Incredible impact, and we were called to support him, as we all did. In effect, having the role of a companion. It is an interesting word you find through the scriptures, not in too many places, but I was looking up the Greek meaning of the word. The word 'companion' (Strong's G4805) comes from the Greek that is translated 'yoke fellow'. You know how you see two oxen side by side, they've got the wooden yoke that keeps them together. So yoke fellow; people harnessed to others, complementing one another, and pulling with a common purpose and goal. That is how the Church is supposed to be.

The title of my sermon today is 'Companion or Acquaintance?' Which one are you? Perhaps this is nothing more really than a little heart-to-heart I want to have with you as my brothers and sisters in Christ. Companionship is something God uses and provides to accomplish His purpose, and we are no longer playing a supportive role and providing spiritual companionship to Mr Armstrong, are we? However, we have an outstanding opportunity to be just that with each other, and we have an incredible responsibility to do so.

We have to accept the fellow companions that God puts around us because God has placed them there. God has put us together, we are harnessed together, we are pulling together with a common purpose and we've got a common goal. Even Jesus, the ultimate leader, was assigned by God to have close companions, when you think about His life.

There were twelve individuals, twelve people who spent three years learning from Him, walking with Him, sleeping in the same area, eating with Him, learning from Him. He needed that help, He needed those companions as well. And serving as a true companion is not necessarily an easy role. It often requires stamina. It also requires sacrifice. A true companion is one who dedicates his or her life to helping others follow God. And he or she is there to affirm, and to encourage, and to help, and to support, and often at great personal cost.

God's Vital Purpose for Each of Us (PLAY FROM 04:57)

The apostle Paul's life is one we are going to have a look at here, and it really was a testimony to the reality of what I just mentioned here. Let's turn to Romans 16:3. {1} It says:

"Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles." (Romans 16:3-4)

Notice that; we are fellow workers in Christ and they risked their necks. They put themselves at great personal risk for me, to help me, he said. Alright? Philippians 2:25; a couple of things to look at here. I've never looked at Paul this way before. It is rather interesting what comes through here:

"Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. [Notice verse 30] because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his [own] life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me." (Philippians 2:25-27, 30)

These people, these individuals, you can see here the kind of character they had, the kind of people that they were. Each person, brethren, each one of us, each one of you listening, and those who may hear this tape at some point in time, plays a vital role in God's purpose from the least to the noticed. Or to the most prominent, if you want to put it that way, the most prominent individual.

We are going to look at the apostle Paul's life and see the important role that companions played in his life. It is interesting, the greater the assignments, the more significant the companions need to be. The numbers of them, the significance of their contribution, and whatever else it might be, especially the number of people that Paul, for example, needed around him.

What about Mr Armstrong? Look at the thousands, and tens of thousands of people that supported him, Mr Armstrong's life and ministry. We were companions of his, walking beside him, spiritually speaking, weren't we? And delighted to do so, supporting his efforts, praying for him and feeling that we were indeed harnessed together, yoked together. He was leading and we had the supportive role. And that supportive role is incredibly important, it is incredibly needful.

Not everyone can take the prominent role. The apostle Paul, it is interesting, he had a very sordid past didn't he? The kind of man that he was; self righteous, a tormentor of the Christians, a tireless persecutor of the Christians before he was struck down. But when he was struck down he became a chosen vessel. Let's notice that over in Acts 9:15. An interesting thing that came out here in putting this information down:

"But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine [this is God talking to Ananias here] to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (Acts 9:15-16)

When Paul was struck down and converted, it established a pattern for his dependency on others. From that very moment, he was dependent on other people. Before that, a tireless persecutor, a tough guy, and no-one's going to get in my way. Really interesting. And he was led away by the hand. Notice Acts 9:8:

"Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus." (Acts 9:8)

How humiliating for the great persecutor. All of a sudden now there is a level of dependency. And he was led away by the hand because he was blind, completely in the dark and depending on others. And he had to wait for three days for Ananias to come. Notice Acts 9:9:

"And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank." (Acts 9:9)

That was a pretty tough thing for him to deal with as he started off his life here. And I would not doubt for one moment, since Ananias was a leader, he was a leader in the Church, I'm sure that he was on Paul's hit list. "I've heard about this guy, Ananias. I'm going to take care of him when I get to Damascus." I'm sure he was. And now Ananias was called upon to free Paul from his blindness. Acts 9:17:

"And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17)

That must have taken something on his part as well; to obey God and to look at – here's this wretched tormentor of the Christians, this persecutor, the man they fear. And now he was called upon to lay his hands upon him and restore his sight. Really interesting, I thought.

God was teaching Paul something here, something about the nature of His people as well. Because what Paul had learned in school, and what had been demonstrated by the religious people of his day, was not what God intended at all. Love, compassion and interdependency would replace what Paul had learned and what he practised. Hatred, bigotry, self-righteousness – all those wonderful characteristics of the human being! Paul's life would become one of the great encouragers to the Churches. That was his mission to a degree. He was a tremendous encourager, and he took that at great personal risk to his life as well, things that happened to him as you all know. Barnabas was an interesting fellow as well. He would genuinely see Paul as a brother. Notice Acts 9:26:

"And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him [yes, I guess they were. What's going on with this guy?], and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him [took the lead here] and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus." (Acts 9:26-27 )

So he came and helped out, saw him as a brother. Paul's companions were indispensable fellow labourers to him, absolutely indispensable. They were not casual acquaintances, "Yeah, I'll help him out I guess for a day; then I'm going to go do something else." No, they were people willing to die with him if necessary. Notice over in the Book of Philemon. Notice the words he used here to describe his companions. Philemon 1:2:

"To the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: [Verse 23] Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers." (Philemon 1:2, 23-24)

Do you see the words that jump out at you there in those verses? Fellow soldiers, fellow prisoners, fellow labourers. Not me big, you little, not me great, you nothing. No, we are in this together, fellow soldiers, fellow labourers, yoked together.

Acquaintances or True Spiritual Companions? (PLAY FROM 14:31)

So back to my question, are we acquaintances toward one another, brethren, or are we true spiritual companions? How far would you be prepared to go for one another? How far would you go? None of the way? Part of the way? Or all the way? That's a question we might be faced with some day, and myself as well. We are going to have to let it be known when the time comes. Over in John 15:13 Christ mentions something here, referring of course to Himself, but it has an unbelievable implication for you and me:

"Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends." (John 15:13)

He said, you are My friends if you do what I command you. But that's a message for us as well. How far would we go? How far would I go? Would I abandon you in your time of need? I hope not. But God knew that Paul needed companions and He provided. And He also provides for us brethren. He also provides for you and me, those that he puts around us, those that He has called and placed together here as we all are. Those who are listening in in America, in the UK, and Africa. And we support and we encourage one another because God has brought us together for a special purpose.

It didn't just happen. There was an absolute uniqueness to Paul's calling, bringing a message of Christ across cultures, across languages, across geography, across the religion of the day, and the magnitude of his assignment, I think, dictated the significance of those that God placed around him. We can look at a few of them in a few minutes. It kind of reminded me of Mr Armstrong, thinking about what I just mentioned about Paul's calling and the things that he did, and bringing that message across cultures and so forth. Mr Armstrong also crossed all sorts of boundaries in exactly the same way. He had some very faithful companions supporting him along the way. And he crossed over all those boundaries of culture and language and geography all across the world.

People have said things like, "Well, he only made protocol visits." I've got the pictures to prove he didn't. I've seen them in the Worldwide News. I've got them. He was standing before leaders and kings. Do you just happen to get an audience with the Premier of China because you are in town, haven't time to see him, we'll have a coffee at the airport? It doesn't work like that. Those are tremendously significant things that happened.

He had great close companions helping him, they were very close to Him and he needed them. And he had the rest of us, the tens of thousands of us out there, we were supporting him spiritually. We had a spiritually supportive role. We prayed about his trip, anxious to hear, wanted God to be with him. Of course He was. And you know brethren, Jesus Himself had some very close companions.

The Bible records that Peter and James and John were the only ones with Him on three very special occasions: When He brought Jairius' daughter back to life, on the Mount of Transfiguration, and when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just those three occasions, just these three people with Him, very close to Him, very supportive of Him, and He needed them.

Jesus also had a very deep friendship with a family in Bethany. While we are in John let us just look at it, John 11:5. You think Paul was a big tough guy still on his own? Didn't need anybody, had his training? Oh no, he needed people alright, and he learned that from the very moment he was struck down on the road to Damascus. Very interesting how that developed. Imagine that, being led away by the hand like a little child. A very special family here in Bethany:

"Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus." (John 11:5)

They were very close to him, probably encouraged him, He probably stayed with them. They were there for Him and He needed that, He really did. You might not think that He did, you might not think of Christ in that regard, but it's true, with His human side and His Godly side. There were some people that Jesus could always count on for support and for encouragement when everyone else around Him, what were they doing? Well, they sought to trap Him, they sought to refute Him, they sought to slander Him. That would wear anybody down. How much of that can a person take? You need support, you need encouragement, you need help.

Paul's Companions (PLAY FROM 19:50)

Brethren, each companion has a unique characteristic to bring to your life. Everyone God brought to Paul was equipped with very special characteristic traits and abilities. Sometimes we look at the skills a person has rather than the character behind them. You can look at a person's skills, "Wow, look what he can do, look what she can do." But what's the character, what's really behind it?

The list of people that came Paul's way is very interesting; we're just going to look at a few of them. God sent Barnabas. His name means 'patient encourager'. That's quite a name to have: "Oh, here comes Mr Patient Encourager, everyone, Barnabas." And the apostles called him the 'Son of Encouragement'.

Now why did God send him, a man like Barnabas with that name, to Paul? Because he needed him. He needed that help and that encouragement just after being stoned. "Oh, I guess that was okay, I'll get on with life." No, he needed help, he needed encouragement, he needed someone to put their arm around him, spiritually speaking, and help carry him away and give him the help he needs. The apostles called him the 'Son of Encouragement', and his service to Paul was indispensable in helping and encouraging Paul to fulfill his role that God had given to him.

And brethren, we can be fulfilling a very important role as companions for each other, and toward each other because there is a critical shortage of dedicated companions within the Churches of God. Very short. I don't care if it is a letter, an email, phone call, whatever it might be, it goes such a long way. And when we are so scattered, it means so much to be tied that way, it really does. Luke was a man placed before Paul as well. Luke was more than a physician, he was a documenter of the activities of Paul and he was an eyewitness of what God did through him.

He also provided medical attention. Can you think of all the occasions he needed to have his own personal physician? He got stoned and knocked around and dropped about and all the things that happened to him during the many trials that he had. I think also that he provided incredible encouragement and friendship to him as well, which he needed. After being stoned and kicked around and abused you say, "Well, that's great but I don't need this any more." But with the encouragers there and helping him and giving him the strength that he needs, he moved on.

Titus – do you know what the word Titus means? 'Honourable'. Can you imagine having your name that means something like that? You are a great encourager and you are honourable, and he was a trusted emissary sent by Paul on various missions. Tremendous man. Paul knew he could trust him, depend on him and was not afraid to send him out to the Churches.

What about Aquila and Priscilla? Other people we know a little bit about. They were fellow tent makers, but they were faithful companions to Paul and very important to him as well. They had to be very important because he mentions them in his letters to the Churches. He talked about Aquila and Priscilla on a few occasions, so obviously he had great confidence in them, and they were faithful to him. He loved them and they cared for him as well.

How about the word 'Timothy', his friend Timothy? His name means 'honoring God', and he was Paul's son in the faith, wasn't he? And a very, very faithful companion. But think about these men that God placed in front of him: patient encourager, honorable, things like that, these names that these people meant. Honoring God and so forth. Was that just happenstance? No. He needed people like that to carry forth and to do the work that God had set before him and God had given him a mandate to do.

And God said when He called him, He said to Ananias that he is going to find out exactly what he has to suffer for My name sake. And he suffered. But from that moment on when he was converted, God placed around him companions and helpers, encouragers and people that lift him up. Incredibly important.

We are to be Knit Together (PLAY FROM 24:42)

God places people in our lives for a reason and a purpose and we are knit together, spiritually speaking, brethren. We are co-labourers, we are partners and we share in the mystery of God. Don't ever think that we don't; it's incredibly important. And we are fellow heirs and we are so very important to each other, or at least we should be.

Satan has many people at odds today, doesn't he? You know, brethren, it is nearly impossible to have strong companions unless you are willing to be one. Okay? Paul demonstrated his ability to be one first over in Luke 6:38, here. This is quite a man this Paul, but also very human. He had lots of emotions, lots of needs just like you and me:

"Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you." (Luke 6:38)

Now he knew, Paul knew that he had to also be the one to give first, not to hold back. He showed people through his life he was a willing companion, willing to be with them, encourage them, help them. He wasn't waiting for them to come to him first as the man, as the leader. No, he knew it was incredibly important.

I think Paul was really haunted by his past life when you think about it. His early opposition to the Christian Church really motivated him to do whatever he could to encourage believers and to strengthen the body, because that's how he operated from that point onward. He showed what true companionship is like, as he invested in other lives and in the Churches. And he did invest in other lives, incredibly so, at great cost to himself. He wasn't looking for anything in return. He lived his own instruction.

I was thinking about that when looking up this scripture here last night. Let's turn to Philippians 2:3. Paul lived his own instruction. How many people have we met over the years who were incredibly talented, speaking wise and writers, They did not heed their own instruction, because they are no longer with us. Paul heeded his own instruction:

"Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." (Philippians 2:3)

It's okay to read this and say, "Yes, that's what you should be doing, you sitting out there." What about me? What about the guy who is speaking? It is just as incredibly important. Philippians 2:4.

"Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:4)

Paul lived his own instruction. When we receive prayer requests, when we get them over the internet. Do we take them really seriously? I mean really seriously. I ask myself the same question, because those people requesting our help brethren, they are our fellow companions in Christ. We've never met many of them. I don't see them as a casual acquaintance. In my mind's eye when I hear and see the name, I see them as fellow companions, yoked together with a purpose and with a goal; and we are yoked together.

Regarding our brethren in Africa, some struggling with malaria, other difficult trials, well we are fellow labourers with them, knit together. We are co-labourers, and if you are listening today brethren down there, we love you and we honor your steadfastness and your loyalty to God. We beseech God to heal and protect you because you are very important to us. You are very important to me personally. Although I've never met you. I might never meet the African brethren. I'd like to some day.

But we are fellow companions, and those of you in the United States, in the UK and other areas, we are fellow companions, yoked together, tied together for a purpose with a tremendous goal in mind. And God has a purpose for everything that He does and for everyone He brings into your life. Alone we are nothing, but yoked together in love with purpose God can accomplish tremendous things, great things.

Paul Receives Encouragement (PLAY FROM 30:00)

Paul, our friend Paul, found great encouragement from his friends and co-workers as they remained faithful to God. Let's go to Acts 20:35. We've got a very, very moving scene here, very emotional. When you think about Paul with his needs, with those that were put in front of him, we just went through the encouragers, the honourable and all the faithful people that worked with him and helped him. Notice:

"I have shown you in every way, by labouring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would [never see his face again]. And they accompanied him to the ship." (Acts 20:35-38)

Very real emotion being shown here, you can imagine how they felt. Arrogance, pride and selfish ambition have no place within the hearts of a true companion, no place. Are we companions with each other? Or are we just acquaintances?

It is interesting to note as well that Paul never used his education or his experiences as a weapon against his detractors. I found that really interesting. He could have, he was incredibly talented. What tremendous knowledge, he could chew you up and spit you out verbally with all his knowledge and background and confuse you if he wanted to. He didn't do that. He maintained a degree of humility that is not necessarily seen around us in abundance in the Churches today. Ephesians 3:8:

"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ," (Ephesians 3:8)

He knew what it meant to have received God's unmerited pardon and he presented it so clearly, and he knew he was absolutely nothing on his own, nothing. Ephesian 2:8:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)

You draw people to God in love, brethren. You draw people to God in love rather than drive them with authority: "You will do as I say. You will be under government." Wait a minute. I want to draw you to God and here's how we are going to do it. We are going to encourage and help and all the rest of it.

An acquaintance usually has a superficial knowledge of another person. I mean you know them but you don't know much about them. Maybe you really haven't had time to get to know them, or whatever it might be. Companions, on the other hand brethren, companions have key components in common. Deep affection, a real partnership, fellowship and a willingness to sacrifice for one another. Like I said earlier, how far are you going to go some day if you are needed for somebody? Just part of the way? None of the way? "I'm busy right now." Or all the way? Would you go right to the wall? Would I? I don't know - I hope so. A companion bond of love and commitment can be life long and very significant at different points in our lives.

Paul Forsaken By All (PLAY FROM 34:25)

But I think one of the lowest times in Paul's life was during his trial in Rome. After all the time and all the energy and all the tears and all the prayers that he spent for years with so many people, no one came to his defense. They either fled, got out of town, hopped on the nearest camel or they just couldn't be with him. Let's notice that over in II Timothy 1:15:

"This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes." (II Timothy 1:15)

And let's go over to II Timothy 4:14:

"Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them." (II Timothy 4:14-16)

Not just a few but all. No one came to his defense. "Where's all my friends? Where's all those I spent time with, shed tears with, had supper with, encouraged, helped, preached, all the rest of it? What happened?" After all he had been through, that again to me is a very emotional statement. Maybe that's just because how I feel about this topic. But very emotional: "They forsook me."

You know brethren, that is a very strong statement. He was a very emotional man in many ways, Paul was. I'm sure he felt very low at that time but then he fell back on the one true companion that promised never to leave him and never to forsake him. II Timothy 4:17:

"But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom..." (II Timothy 4:17-18)

In spite of the fact that everyone forsook him, knew what he was heading for, he said, "But the Lord stood with me..." (II Timothy 4:17). The one true companion, the very same companion that stands with us today in the midst of our trials and our loneliness, all the things that we have to deal with; and when we stand alone, we don't really stand alone.

Maybe there is no physical person around us, but then as Paul said, "There is no one here with me, they all forsook me." Then he said, "But the Lord was with me." That is exactly the same for you and me, exactly the same. God wants, and God expects us to work together in unity and harmony.

He never intended His people to compete with each other, but to compliment one another. "We've got more members than they've got. We've got this television program, we've got all these books going out. Yeah, you don't have that. We have this and we have that." That's competition, that's competition. That does not bring unity. We must honor brethren as well, the companions that God sends to us because God knows who and what we need at any given time in our lives. Acts 20:4. I'm going to have fun with some of these names but I'll try and fight my way through them:

"And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia - also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia." (Acts 20:4 )

Why am I reading that verse? Notice the variety of names and places mentioned here. These men, with a diversity of background and skills, accompanied Paul for some very specific reasons. It wasn't just happenstance; he had men from all over the place, all of the areas where he needed them. And Paul needed a very special companion with him that he would need when he served time in prison.

He needed a particular type of companion that he could trust to stay with the Churches and to help them grow. And he needed a specific companion to tend his many wounds and to guide him through the sickness that he encountered. He needed companions who were able to teach and to preach in the many cities where he proclaimed the gospel.

I'm sure as well, after having gone through some of the stuff here, I'm sure he needed companions just to sit with him, just to listen to him during times of loneliness. I can't help but see the comparison with Mr Armstrong. Not in everything obviously, I'm not making that statement, but in comparing their responsibilities and their need for close companions. Those close to him, then all of us in that supportive, incredibly important role.

I can remember periodically Mr Armstrong would talk about those wonderful cards he received from brethren in different parts of the world. He was thrilled, he was thrilled. That was tremendous support he received. But you know, brethren, when you look at Paul's life, we see a variety of ways people related to him as a companion. And just as many ways Paul related back to them as a companion. He didn't take it lightly, their friendship and their encouragement and their love. Knowing it is God you are serving is the key to being a good companion and serving others.

Greatness in Service (PLAY FROM 40:52)

The better you are a servant, the more influence your life will have. Paul was very successful because of his ability to be a servant to the Churches. GREATNESS IN SERVICE, I put that in capitals in my notes here. Greatness in service. That should be, or could be, our individual motto at the Feast this year. Greatness in service, not greatness because I am here. Paul was a great encourager of those he worked with and they needed it. Look at what he said to the Churches. Romans 15:14:

"Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another. Nevertheless, brethren, I have written more boldly to you on some points, as reminding you, because of the grace given to me by God," (Romans 15:14-15)

Now II Corinthians 12:15. Let me just read a couple of things here for you:

"And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls [for your lives]; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved." (II Corinthians 12:15)

The point is that Paul did not wait for others to love him, and to respect him, and to honour him before he gave his love to them. It was a back and forth situation here in his life. II Corinthians 13:9:

"For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. And this also we pray, that you may be made complete. Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction. Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you." (II Corinthians 13:9-11)

Become complete. We are not complete yet. But he says, be of good comfort, be of one mind and live in unity, peace and love. II Corinthians 12:18 says:

"I urged Titus, and sent our brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not walk in the same spirit? Did we not walk in the same steps?" (II Corinthians 12:18)

Was he not with you as an encourager and as a help and as a companion? And the answer of course is yes he was. Paul lived his life so that if anyone followed him, there would be nothing in his life that would cause others to fall and stumble, nothing. That's an incredible statement as well. In Philippians 4:9 he says:

"The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you." (Philippians 4:9)

So he obviously lived a very, very fine, righteous life from his calling, because he said, "Do the things I've done." Well, if they weren't right? But they were right. He would not treat anyone with less regard than Christ would, if you think about it. Romans 15:7. There are so many verses you could look at with regard to this particular topic. Let's look at a few more here:

"Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God." (Romans 15:7)

Remember what I said earlier? Those that God puts in front of us, those that God puts around us – "I'm not so sure about him, about her, or whatever." No, God put them there and receive them. Paul said the same thing. Receive them, be a companion to them, encourage them, help them and so forth. There are a number of things that we could pray for regarding the Feast of Tabernacles this year, obviously. But there are two things we could specifically pray for before the Feast.

Number one: ask God to give you the heart of a true companion to encourage and to help others because there is a tremendous need out there, brethren. Yes, ask God to give you the heart of a true companion to encourage and to help.

Number two: ask God to give you a sensitive heart to listen to others. Sometimes just listening, just letting someone talk can have an incredible impact and is so helpful, it can be.

Do you think that Mr and Mrs Bowles don't need encouragement from time to time? Is it their job just to encourage us? No, they need it as well. Do you think I don't appreciate it? Do you think I don't need it? Am I so tough and strong? No, far from it. You see, brethren, we are all just as human as the next person and we are, together, spiritually knit together, and we are co-labourers with a common goal. We are not distant acquaintances.

Being Worthy of Our Calling (PLAY FROM 46:48)

Ephesians 4:1 says:

"I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:1-3)

How often have we read those scriptures? I have read them hundreds of times, yet when you look at Paul's life and what he went through, what he suffered, what he struggled with, his needs, he was just a human as we are, yet he kept pointing back to where the answers are and encouraging us to live the right kind of life, be worthy of the calling. God has called us into a relationship with Himself, and the call is to servant-hood, it's to servant-hood. In Ephesians 2:10:

"For we are [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand [for us to do]." (Ephesians 2:10)

And he reinforced that over in I Corinthians 3:9. Let's just notice it:

"For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, you are God's building." (I Corinthians 3:9)

Fellow workers, workers with emphasis on together. It is not an option and there is no room for spiritual mavericks. There is no room for spiritual loners or isolationists, because we have to function as a unit. The body of Christ has to function as a unit in harmony. Co-labourers yoked together. You know brethren, there are no royal princes, singular here, there are no royal princes here. No, just a royal priesthood consisting of many members.

Paul learned how utterly foolish it was to try and function as an independent. He knew very well that he would never have survived had he tried to go it alone, never. His companions, the Churches, his fellow workers, yoke fellows, his fellow prisoners and so forth, they were there and he treasured every one of them. Just like as a car needs refuelling on a long journey, so he visits the Churches and they were times of spiritual refuelling for him. Incredible life, absolutely incredible, and he had so much to offer and they needed that encouragement, and there are no better passages on interdependence in Paul's writings than in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12, concerning the body of Christ. You can look them up for yourself.

Togetherness, dependence on each other, not independence of what God wants. It is what He is going to insist upon. He does not play favourites with His people, they can all share equally and experience His love and His blessings, and the joy we can have of being part of the body. I Peter 2:9:

"But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood [there it is, a royal priesthood, not a royal prince], a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy." (I Peter 2:9-10)

And we continue to serve Him as a royal priesthood brethren, and a chosen generation called out of darkness. God sees us both as individuals and as people united in love, serving God together with different faces, different cultures, different nationalities, that does not matter.

Moses did not lead the children of Israel through the wilderness alone, did he? Not at all. And Joshua did not defeat the city of Jericho by himself. And Peter did not spread the good news alone, and Paul never started a Church alone, each of those people working in community if you will, to achieve what God wanted them to do. Jeremiah the prophet was an example of a prophet with a very faithful companion named Baruch. Jeremiah lived his entire Christian life with what? Opposition, persecution, all that he had to go through. Most of his days were spent in that particular situation. But his faithful companion Baruch walked with him through it all, all the way.

When Mr Armstrong went before world leaders he was not alone. We went with him, spiritually speaking, and that was an army that he needed. He needed to know that tens of thousands of brethren were praying and asking God to be there. Incredibly important. And when the Bowles' make their trips to Africa and other countries, they are not alone. God is there, and spiritually speaking, so are we, supportive and yoked together. It is not independence, it is interdependence.

There is no question that much of Paul's success during his ministry was due to teamwork with those that were around him. Paul was not the only one who preached in the cities or baptized new converts, it was a team effort. But his companions were indispensable. Without a group of fellow workers, without a group of fellow labourers supporting him, Paul would have been in a lot of trouble. He really would have.

It Cannot Be Done Alone (PLAY FROM 53:12)

I think it is very interesting to speculate something about King Saul. He was a leader but without any companions, at least none that I could find, so far as we know. Though David was a faithful servant, he was a faithful soldier, dedicated man towards Saul, yet Saul constantly rejected him and threatened him and challenged him, rather than allowing God to use David to help him. "Let's work together, let's do it together." No, he was totally independent, had no understanding of what God was doing.

Each one of us has a special purpose brethren and task to carry out in God's family. You might not believe that but it is true. Each is designed as a unique part of the body of Christ. You are unique to the body of Christ and you are necessary and God wants you there. He's got a purpose for you and a plan for you. You are a body part. I never thought of that. I'm part of the body, I'm a body part that's been designed to fit perfectly in the complete body, is what I am getting at. You know what I am referring to.

Your uniqueness should be celebrated because you are so incredibly important to the body for it to function properly. The unique characteristics of each of Paul's companions helped to shape his life and his ministry and to complement the weaknesses that he had. He had lots of weaknesses, he wasn't ashamed to talk about it, it's here for us to read. II Corinthians 12:10:

"Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Corinthians 12:10)

I take pleasure in all these things that happened to him, persecutions and all the rest of it "...For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Corinthians 12:10). He acknowledged Christ at work in his life, but often it can happen that additional strength comes in the form of a companion or a group of companions that are with him. Let me just say this: don't ever be casual about companionship and how important it is. Romans 15:1:

"We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good [not for my good, it's for him, it's for her], leading to [building up] edification." (Romans 15:1-2)

That's our job, building up, encouraging each other, and although we are separated by thousands of miles brethren, in many cases, thousands of miles, we are spiritual companions, we are co-labourers, we are knit together and cared for and remembered. In Galatians 6:2, there is a command here:

"Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)

That's very beautiful. We sometimes help to carry the other person's burdens, take it off their shoulders just a little bit, and so you fulfill the Law of Christ. It cannot be done alone. The life of Paul gives evidence that companionship can literally mean life or death to some people.

I remember, going back into Worldwide, this is many years ago, in Worldwide, a young man, probably about 20 or 21, he was shy, mild mannered, didn't have any friends in the Church that I am aware of, lacking in many social skills, obviously very troubled, he shot himself. Did he just slip through the cracks? What happened here in this big Church area? Was he ignored by others? I don't know, can't speculate, but it is so sad. You see brethren, it tells me that we need to care for each other, and really care. That's what that story reminds me of anyway.

And remembering that God has brought us together as spiritual companions. Every one is very important to the body, co-labourers knit together as equals as we support each other. I am no better than you, I've said that a hundred times, and you know what I mean. Mr Bowles looks at it the same way. We have a different job to do, I've got a different responsibility and I've got great accountability, but we're in this together, we all are. God doesn't show favourites, we're all in this together. And companions, brethren, can help carry the load and help when it seems too much to bear.

You may never know how much your life can mean to others when you walk with them through life's challenges. You might never know. The right word, the right act of kindness, the right tear shed at the right time, that can be all that is needed just to lift the person up and just to help a weary brother or sister in Christ. It is so incredibly important that we think like that. It is like the Good Samaritan. We do not have the option, we do not have the right to cross to the other side of the road. We can't. We don't have the right to do that. Matthew 25:40 Christ said:

"And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)

To ignore those in need is to ignore Christ. I am not saying anybody is, I'm just pointing this fact out, I'm just pointing it out, that's all. But more is accomplished faster together than is accomplished alone because of the tremendous need there is. Today there is unprecedented ability that we have to impact the lives of our fellow Christians and be encouragers like never before. There is such an incredible, incredible need.

I was talking to a gentleman in another organization this past week and I said, "You know, it is getting tougher, isn't it?" He said, "I can't believe it. You would think that things would settle down, it would be a little bit easier, but it is becoming more difficult, more pressure on all of us." I said, "I know, we need each other." He is in another group but I need his encouragement and he needs to hear from me on occasion as well. It's incredibly important. We can never be casual about this. The technology at our disposal is unbelievable, it's so far reaching. Email, mobile phone, satellite networks and chat lines and Yahoo messenger, talking to people all over the world. It's amazing, and we can send and receive documents in mere seconds. Amazing!

Prayer requests are instantly sent to hundreds of people, or it could be sent to thousands if that was the case. God's prayer warriors are called into action to support the crises, or a trial in a remote part of the world. All those prayers and concerns from so many people coming before God. This is possibly the greatest moment in the larger context of companionship. What an inspiring and encouraging resource for God's people to access. Paul offered this word of advice over in Hebrews 13:1, because he knew how important strong relationships would be to them in the days of persecution that was just ahead, and it is no different today, brethren. I watched the news last night, the world is coming apart at the seams:

"Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them [now there is companionship for you] - those who are mistreated - since you yourselves are in the body also." (Hebrews 13:1-3)

There were several people to whom I could have been a better companion to over the years. I know that. Maybe I can do a better job in the future. In conclusion, let's turn to I Samuel 14:6. There is a great line here spoken by a young man who carried the armour of Jonathan:

"Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, Come, let us go over to the garrison [let's get these guys]...For nothing restrains the [Eternal] from saving by many or by few. So his armorbearer said to him, Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart." (I Samuel 14:6-7)

What a great picture of companionship: "...I am with you, according to your heart." (I Samuel 14:7). I think it is the theme of every companion God surrounds us with. Kindred spirits, hearts knitted together, harnessed together and complementing one another with a shared objective and a common goal.


Footnote:

{1} All scriptures are taken from the New King James Version.