The United Way (Philippians 2:1-4) Small group, MBC, 8/31/14
How do we create unity among Christians?
I’m sure you have noticed that there is a great deal of disunity in the world today. Since 9/11, we have been so polarized from different groups that we are now experiencing both global and domestic isolation. Presently, there is tremendous polarity between democrats and republicans. We face a group of Islamic radicals that want us economically crippled so they can move in for the kill. The United Nations community that was founded upon the principle of global unity has split into either supporters of the USA or haters of the USA. The idea of unity seems like a farfetched fantasy. There has never been a time in our country when company loyalty and unity has been so poor. Corporations blatantly lie about their earnings to keep business afloat; employees sue their employers because they are suffering fatigue for working eight hours a day. The bookstore shelves are littered with “how to” tips for managers to unify their departments.
Worse yet, the home and the church are no better than the world. Our homes have all but lost their once impenetrable defenses. Forty percent of children will go to sleep tonight without a father around. The divorce rate for couples is up to 56% with almost no difference in the church or out of the church. The idea of unity in the home is almost a joke. We are also facing massive division within the churches of America. There are over 6,000 factions and branches of denominational separation in the “Christian Church.” Where we once stood as an example of unity, we now are ridiculed and mocked because we can’t even agree on the most basic assumptions the Bible makes. Do you have to believe in God to be a Christian? Does it have to be the God of the Bible? Can you be a Christian without believing in Christ? Does the only book that teaches us about God have to be believed or can I just come up with whatever I want?
Along with denominational differences, local churches are facing increased polarization from those that attend their church. Pastors are openly mocked and ridiculed. Gossip reigns supreme. Men and women who call themselves Christians don’t see the need to be unified with other believers because they feel they have their own “personal” relationship with Jesus and that’s good enough. Infighting, bickering, impatience, immorality, and a total disregard for the lost is common and unity, kindness, patience, and a zeal for those outside of the family of God is uncommon.
But instead of bemoaning these tragic realities, we must welcome the challenge of uniting as brothers and sisters in Christ. This seems like an impossible and overwhelming endeavor…and it is! But that is where the supernatural strength of the Lord enters in. In Philippians 2:1–4, Paul uses an “if-then” logical argument. He says: “If certain things are true, then we are obligated to do certain things.” So in these few short verses you will come to understand why you should be unified with other Christians and how to fulfill this great goal.
1. Express what God has created in you (READ Philippians 2:1–2). In these two verses, Paul reveals that true unity can occur when the body of Christ recognizes and appropriates her identity in Christ. Paul begins this section with the word “therefore” (oun). This marks a shift from the subject of the church’s struggle with its external enemies (1:27–30) to the equally threatening problem of internal division. In other words, Paul’s focus has moved from without to within. He understands that it is of little value to be unified against opposition from without and then fail to be unified within. Unity is critical to the mission of the church. Unity also expresses the theme of Philippians to live as heavenly citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27).
In 2:1, Paul shares why you and I should be unified with the body of Christ. His approach is not to tell you what you should do, but rather what has already been done to you by God. Paul writes, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion…” Each of these phrases begins with the word “if” (ei), but this is not an expression of doubt. Instead, Paul is assuming the certainty of each of these descriptions. He is saying, “If this is true—and I know it is…” If I address the high school graduates in our church by saying: “If you have been encouraged by the preaching here, if you have appreciated the worship, if you have grown in the Lord through youth group, then when you go off to college this fall, don’t forget to find a home church. I am optimistic enough to assume that the young people of our church have been blessed by God’s work. Since this is true, I expect that they will continue to worship and serve the Lord.
Paul begins his discussion on unity by appealing to the Philippians’ relationship “in Christ.” He does not focus on their relationships toward one another. Biblical unity is not dependent upon natural oneness but upon supernatural bonding. Paul identifies four blessings that stem from being in Christ. Each of these blessings stem from the immediately preceding paragraph (1:27–30) on suffering.
1. Encouragement. Our union with Christ gives us encouragement. In the midst of suffering, we need encouragement. The word translated “encouragement” (paraklesis) refers to one who comes along side us, directs us, and encourages us to press on. This is the same word that Jesus used when He spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter (John 14:16). Have you ever wanted give up spiritually? Of course! I have too! The reason you haven’t given up and given in is because God refuses to give up on you. He gives you “staying power” and preserves you through His encouragement. When you don’t think you can carry on, you need to recognize the Lord is your encouragement.
2. Comfort. Our union with Christ gives us comfort or “consolation of love.” Since we have received the work of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, then unity should follow. Since we all share God’s love, that love should produce unity. No one has earned a share in the kingdom. We are all recipients of God’s redeeming love. When you are hurting and discouraged, God will bring you comfort. The Trinity understands suffering. God the Father gave up His Son to die on the cross for the sins of humankind. Jesus’ own family didn’t believe in Him until after His resurrection. He was betrayed by His disciples. The Jewish people that He came to save rejected Him and called to have Him crucified. The Holy Spirit experiences continual suffering from believers who grieve and quench Him through sin. The Godhead can empathize with you in the midst of your suffering like no one can READ 2 Cor 1:3–7.
3. Fellowship. READ Acts 2:42. Our union with Christ gives us fellowship. This phrase should be understood in the sense of unity and oneness (see 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:3–4), which results from the Spirit indwelling all believers, individually (1 Cor 6:19) and corporately (1 Cor 3:16). When you feel alone, God wants you to know that He is present with you at all times. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5b). He continues to cultivate His very life in you. He grants you not only eternal fellowship, but offers you temporal fellowship in your Christian experience.
4. Affection and compassion. Our union with Christ gives us affection and compassion. God is the one who has modeled for us perfect affection and compassion. He never disappoints. He always meets our deepest needs. He knows just how to express His great love for us. I will fail you, I will disappoint you. There will be times where I am not even aware of the suffering and persecution that you are going through. Fortunately, God is that friend that sticks closer than a bother (Prov 18:24.) God knows everything that you have endured and will endure. He is there to show you the affection and compassion that you need.
On the basis of Paul’s appeal in 2:1, he makes four more statements that relate to our unity as members of the body of Christ. Paul is essentially saying, ‘If you love me, make me happy by showing the inner beauty which God has created in you since you were converted. Live together in harmony.’ In 2:2, Paul issues the lone command in this section: “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” The command translated “make complete” (pleroo) means literally “to make full or to fill.” In 1:3–4, Paul states that he already has joy because of the Philippians, but now he asks that this joy be filled to the brim. Paul doesn’t get excited about money, possessions, acclaim, or ministry success; he receives joy from the unity of God’s people! I have to ask if this is true for me as well. What bring me joy and a sense of ultimate fulfillment? Have you ever ordered a soft drink at an amusement park and when the drink came it was filled with three-quarters ice? That is maddening, especially since it cost $4.00! The cup gave the impression of being filled to the brim, but it was filled with a cheap substitute—ice. Similarly, you may seek joy in things that don’t really matter in this life or in the next. Yet, God urges you to seek your fulfillment and chief joy in that which matters in time and in eternity—the unity of the body of Christ. Paul follows up his command with four responses to our identity in Christ.
o Be of the same mind. The phrase “be of the same mind” doesn’t mean we should have the same opinions or agree about everything. Paul’s desire is for unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is gained by pressure from without. The English word uniformity has within it the word uniform. We dress alike, look alike, sound alike, think alike, act alike. But that is neither healthy nor biblical. Unity comes from deep within. It is the inner desire to conduct oneself in a cooperative manner…to be on the same team, to go for the same objectives, for the benefit of one another.
o Maintain the same love. Let’s be honest. There may be some Christians that you don’t like. Christians are like porcupines. They have many good points, but they are hard to get close to. The main reason is their prickly personalities keep needling each other. That’s okay. The Bible doesn’t command you to “like” believers; the Bible commands you to “love” believers. As you learn to maintain love (agape) for other believers, in time, you may find feelings of fondness follow. Regardless, true biblical love deals with incompatibility. This is the test of biblical love. After all, it is fairly easy to follow these expectations when the body is functioning well, but what about when the body is behaving badly? This is where agape loves takes over and wins.
o Unite in spirit. This is a most unusual phrase that Paul has chosen here for it really conveys the idea of having “joint souls” (sumpsuchos). We are to be soul brothers and sisters, in harmony with all of God’s people. E. Stanley Jones (1884–1973), missionary to India, once said, “Talk about what you believe and you have disunity. Talk about Who you believe in and you have unity.” Christians will always disagree on doctrine; however, we should unite around Jesus. There are two primary dangers in the Christian church: majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors. We need to ensure that we are majoring on the major doctrines that center around the Lord Jesus (e.g., the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation by faith alone, and the personal return of Christ). These things are non-negotiable because they have joined true Christians across the centuries.