Spiritual Unity in the Church                                                            click here for audio

Philippians 2:1-4

 

I want to begin this morning by saying it’s a sad day for many of our fellow Americans in Texas who have lost their loved ones in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.  FEMA Director says this may be one of the worst natural disasters in American history.  Sources say the cost is perhaps over 190 billion dollars affecting directly over 13 million people.  There have been fatalities, and even deaths of those who put others first by attempting to rescue flood victims.  One very emotional scene was of a three- year old girl clinging to the floating body of her dead mother.  The girl was rescued before she and her deceased mother was about to be swept under a trestle.

Last Friday (9/1/17) President Trump was surrounded by Christian leaders in the Oval Office as the president signed a declaration announcing today to be a National Day of Prayer for the flood victims. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, led the prayer and prayed for the flood victims, the President, and for all Americans.  Tragedy brings people together that is, people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. People who differ in many ways, yet united in this one common purpose to help and pray for their fellow Americans who are hurting.

This is an opportunity to express our love for others; to give help to others and to share the gospel. That’s why for the month of September we are promoting a mission offering for Disaster Relief.   Natural disasters and national tragedies call for all to be united.

The greatest tragedy, however, is the untold numbers of people in the entire world who will enter a Christ-less eternity.  That is the ultimate disaster, and we are called to partner with the body of Christ to proclaim Jesus Christ as the only hope for this life and beyond the grave. The Bible has the only answer for sinners and for a world that’s divided and falling apart.

We’ve been studying the book of Philippians – the epistle of joy.   Paul is the Apostle of joy who declares a message of joy and the key to joy is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.   We’ve already seen in the first chapter of how the gospel had spread to many in Rome.  This brought joy to Paul, and certainly joy to all who had received the Lord Jesus Christ.   The Philippian believers lived about 800 miles from Paul who was in a Roman prison.  They worried about Paul, and in this letter Paul confirms his loyalty to the gospel, and his rejoicing in the gospel.  The church at Philippi was a good church. Paul had great affections for them, and they likewise had great affections for Paul.   This church was a loving church, a giving church, a Christ-centered church, a gospel preaching church, a laboring church, a fruitful church, a God-honoring church.  It was a true Gospel preaching church.    Yet, in the shadows of that church were hungry, ferocious wolves.   You say, I didn’t read anything about wolves.    You don’t see them at first.   Paul did speak about wolves when writing to the Ephesians. Here’s what he said when he was about to leave them.

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Acts 20:28-31

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

This wolf is a predator that seeks to destroy the unity of the church. It separates the flock, divides, and brings great discord in a congregation.  In our study of Philippians, Paul already spoke of those who preached Christ from envy and rivalry. (see Phil. 1:15)   That can bring disunity in a church.

Then Paul spoke of how each person must let their manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. (see Phil. 1:27)   The reason is given in that same verse “…I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”    Our conduct, our behavior is key to keeping unity in the church.  You might say there’s a wolf in each one of us.  We have remaining sin, the flesh is hostile toward the things of God.  Our behavior can bring disunity in a church.

As we come to the 2nd chapter of Philippians, Paul writes to the Philippians for the need of being united together with the common purpose to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Let’s read the challenge he gives in Philippians 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  ESV

The key words are in v.2  “….being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

We may not have the same mind, or be on the same page about other things such as what foods to eat; what kind of pets are best to have;  or what color is best to paint a room in a house.

But we must be of the same mind, have the same love, be in full accord when it comes to the gospel.  When it comes to honoring Christ, having concern for others, and being a church that truly proclaims the life changing gospel of Christ, we must be on the same page spiritually.

Not talking about petty stuff.   It’s the main part,  the main thing which is…..

  • Glorifying the Lord Jesus
  • Praising His Name, giving worship only to Him
  • Proclaiming the Bible, the Word of God
  • Be on mission for God by being ready to always give an answer for the hope we have in Christ
  • Our aim and purpose is to work together in the body of Christ to deliver the saving gospel to the lost; and to equip the church to be a powerful witness for the glory of God.

To do that requires spiritual unity.   In our text there are two main parts:

First, we see

The Call for Spiritual Unity  (v.1)     (or what is it that calls us, or motivates us to spiritual unity?)

Then   The Conduct for Spiritual Unity  ( vv.2-4)   How should we conduct ourselves to help promote spiritual unity in the church?

 

  1. THE CALL FOR UNITY,  or  what is it that motivates us to spiritual unity?

Here we see the urgent call for unity.  It’s the call to be of the same mind,  same love, being  in full accord and of one mind.   Wouldn’t it be a great thing to behold to see the church of the Lord Jesus Christ all on the same page;  working together to accomplish the common goal of reaching the lost with the gospel?    Every local church has its own unique location;  its own unique ministry, and unique set of circumstances,  but when it comes to why we are here on earth, it’s the same purpose.   And that purpose is to be a united force in proclaiming Christ to the world.

Paul calls for unity based on several things.

Look at the word  “if”

The word  “if”  is understood to be at the beginning of each of the phrases in v.1

IF   there is any encouragement (consolation) in Christ

IF  there is any comfort from love

If  any participation  (fellowship) in the Spirit

If any affection (bowels, or the seat of the emotions)  and  sympathy   (mercies)

 

The meaning of  IF –   is not a possibility….  Like    If this was possible, or if that was possible, then others things could happen.

We’re not talking about  “possibilities”.   We’re talking about  “certainties”.

IF –  states  a CERTAINTY…     probably a better word is  “since”  or    “because

Since there’s encouragement in Christ,

Because there’s encouragement, or consolation in Christ

Because there’s comfort from love

Because there’s fellowship (participation) in the Spirit

Because there’s affections (bowels) and sympathy (mercies)

 

Complete my joy…being of the same mind;  having the same love; being in full accord and of one mind

There’s The Call for Unity because of…

(1)        Because of Your Experience in Christ

The Greatest Encouragement;   the Greatest Consolation is our life in Christ.  The gift of salvation is our consolation.  When I think again of the hurricane in Texas,  I think of the uncertainties of life;   the vulnerabilities,  the shaky ground we all live upon,  there is, however, tremendous comfort and consolation knowing in Christ we have something no one can take from us.   The flood may wash away property, possessions, and even our own lives,  but we have GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT because our security is in Christ alone.

The gifts from the bountiful hand of God is rooted in His love.   We have the comfort of love from the Lord who has promised to never leave us, nor forsake us.    This does not mean we are isolated from suffering.

Jesus said,  “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.””  (John 16:33)    The world may seem to get the best of us whether it’s a hurricane,  illness, or personal conflicts.     Jesus said   “take heart;  I have overcome the world.”

Things that happen may seem to get the best of us, but Jesus has overcome everything you can think of…  We may be OVERWHELMED,  but Jesus has OVERCOME !!!

Jesus overcomes storms –   He showed his power  by stilling a stormy sea.

Jesus overcomes diseases –  He showed his power in healing the sick.

Jesus overcomes disabilities –  He showed his power in healing the cripple and paralytic.

Jesus overcomes demons –  He showed his power in casting out demons.

Jesus overcomes death – He showed his power by not only raising the dead, but he also rose from the dead.

we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.    (Romans 8:37-39)

And read again in Philippians 1:29

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake

Yes, there’s trouble,  but we are challenged to be of the same mind,  same love,  being in full accord because of our Experience in Christ.

All that we have in Christ, which is,  the comfort of love.  And that says it all.

2Cor. 5:14  “the love of Christ compels us”, or  controls us….  You can say it both ways.   It compels us to be Christlike in our conduct;    it controls us from being what we shouldn’t be,  or  saying things we shouldn’t say.

We are CALLED to UNITY  by Christ who has saved us,  encouraged us,  loved us

Since there is this encouragement in Christ and  Since there is this comfort of love,   should we not strive after that which is  dear to His heart?    What is it that is dear to the heart of God?   Paul knew what it was.   It’s in v.2   “complete my joy by being of the same mind,  same love,  in full accord,  one mind.   Unity in the church brought joy to Paul.

That’s the dearest, most treasured thing in the mind of Christ –  the unity in the church.

Psalm 133

Behold, how good and pleasant it is     when brothers dwell in unity![a] It is like the precious oil on the head,     running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron,     running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon,     which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing,     life forevermore

There is where you find the blessings of the Lord.

Our experience in Christ  CALLS us… or motivates us  to seek the unity of the church.

This is the dearest thing to the Lord.   In  John 17  Jesus prays for our unity.

John 17:11   that they may be one, even as we are one.

John 17:21  21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you,

John 17:22   that they may be one even as we are one

John 17:23    I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one,

NOT ONLY is the CALL for UNITY  coming from our Experience in Christ….

 

(2)        Because of Your Experience in the Holy Spirit

Because of your participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy

As Believers we have the indwelling Holy Spirit….  We participate in the Spirit.

The word  “participation” is also  “fellowship”.   It’s the Greek word  koinonia  and it’s the same word in 1:5  “partnership in the gospel”

We are partners in the gospel because we have the same “fellowship”  or “participation” in the Spirit.   It’s the Holy Spirit that unites us together as brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity.   Look back to Ephesians 4:1-3   “…..to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace…”

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity…  and …. Our participation places us in ONE BODY.

1Cor. 12:13    13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

From our fellowship of the Spirit comes….

#1 affection   (bowels-  some translations…the seat of the emotions)  (tenderness)

The Lord Jesus has showered us with affection….  His tenderness…  We love Him because He first loved us.      These  HOLY AFFECTIONS are gifts from the Spirit.  They are by products of regeneration.

Old Time Religion

Give me that Old time religion,  give me that old time religion

Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.

It was good for Paul and Silas,   It was good for the Hebrew children,

It was good for our mothers and fathers,  It makes me love everybody

Since we have been given these precious affections;  these holy affections;  not of the flesh, but of the Spirit… should we not work for that which is the dearest thing to the heart of God?     Spiritual unity?

#2  sympathy   (mercies) (compassion)

From the Lord we have His tender mercies, compassion.   His sympathy toward us is incredible.  Sympathy and compassion that we don’t deserve.

His mercy toward us is unending.   It never runs out.   Psalm 136 speaks of this enduring mercy, or it could be called  His steadfast love.

Psalm 136:1-6

O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever.

O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.

To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever.

To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever.

To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever.

 

That’s just 6 verses…   all 26 verses have that repetitive phrase “his mercy endures forever”.

What Christ has  BOUGHT for us;   and  what the Spirit has WROUGHT in us,

This should motivate us to seek and promote that which is dear to the Lord Jesus –  unity in the body of Christ.  The  CALL for UNITY is motivated by what Christ has done for us;  and for what the Holy Spirit has done in us.    We have been gifted by the Holy Spirit;  empowered by the Spirit,  led by the Spirit,  taught by the Spirit, anointed by the Spirit, filled by the Spirit,   and we have been sealed by the Spirit.

This calls us to unity;   it motivates us to work for that which the Spirit desires;  the unity of the church.   The Spirit-filled Apostle Paul longed for unity.    That’s why he said in v.2  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Spiritual Unity brings joy to all who love Christ.    There’s joy, but there’s   incompleteness of joy until you know true spiritual unity in the church.

 

  1. THE CONDUCT FOR UNITY vv.2-4

How should a Christian conduct themselves,  or  behave themselves to promote unity?

(1)                Have same spiritual outlook –    v.2    same mind, same love, being in full accord and of one mind..   This does not mean we will have the same opinion, share the same view on everything.   We might have a different outlook on what to drive;  and different outlook on what to eat;    different perspective on what color to use on the church walls,   different perspective on the color of carpet for the floors…  we may be different in our outlook on many things….  But when it comes to WHO WE SERVE;  WHO WE LOVE SUPREMELY:   WHO WE HONOR AND GLORIFY:  THERE WE MUST HAVE THE SAME SPIRITUAL OUTLOOK…

 

(2)                Have Christlike humility

v.3  do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves

avoid anything that seeks to promote self;  anything that has a selfish ambition behind it.

The word  “conceit”  means  “vain glory”  which is “empty glory”.  It’s amazing how a person can be so caught up in themselves;  they think so highly of themselves; they glory in who they are;  what they have; what they have accomplished….

Jesus is different.   He had glory;  He had ALL GLORY,  but he didn’t have  “vain glory”.   He didn’t promote himself.  He made himself of no reputation;  he emptied himself by taking the form of a servant.  We’ll speak more about that when we get into the text that’s coming up.    Jesus is our example of true humility.

Romans 12:16

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight.

The opposite of humility is pride.   Pride kills unity and it will kill the joy in a church. The world promotes “pride” of the individual.   Look out for yourself.   You deserve a break. You owe yourself one.  Go for it!     It’s a dog-eat-dog world.  It’s all about your individual rights!   People push and manipulate others to get what they want.

Self-promoting by stepping on others is the way of our current world, and the way of history.   Even back to the Greeks and the Romans;  the two great empires of the past that boasted of wisdom and power.

Here’s how Chuck Swindoll puts it together….I quote..

Greece said,  “Be wise, know yourself.”

Rome said, “Be strong, discipline yourself.”

Religion says,  “Be good, conform yourself.”

Education says,  “Be resourceful, expand yourself.”

Psychology says,  “Be confident, assert yourself.”

Materialism says,  “Be possessive,  please yourself.”

Pride says,  “Be superior, promote yourself.”

Christ says,  “Be unselfish, humble yourself.”

Also, to have unity….

(3)                Have sensitivity for other people   

  1. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

After verse 4  I think I could write one word-  ouch!     How easy it is to be absorbed in our own world with little, or no thought of others.     Paul is not saying to forget about yourself and your own interest.  Just don’t let your own interest be all that you think about.

It really takes Christian humility to be sensitive to others.   To be like that Good Samaritan Jesus told about in Luke 10.

He gave an example of what a true neighbor is like.

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

Are we like that priest, or Levite with too much thoughts of our own concerns?  Do we make lame excuses for not getting involved?  It’s risky business.  It’s can be costly to go out of our way to show sincere concern.

Pride must be crushed.   Self-promotion must be laid aside.    We must humble ourselves like we see in 1Peter 5.

1Peter 5:5-7

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

To have spiritual unity in the church  we must dethrone selfish pride; walk humbly before the Lord, and in humility count others more significant than ourselves.

To have spiritual unity in the church and be a powerful witness in reaching others for Christ, we must be humble in our conduct with others.  God gives grace to the humble.

Listen to this example of humility in the life of a Christian Chinese.

“Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, tells of a Christian he once knew in China. He was a poor rice farmer, and his fields lay high on a mountain.  Every day he pumped water into the paddies of new rice, and every morning he returned to find that a neighbor who lived down the hill had opened the dikes surrounding the Christian’s field to let the water fill his own. For a while the Christian ignored the injustice, but at last he became desperate. He met and prayed with other Christians and came up with this solution.  The next day the Christian farmer rose early in the morning and first filled his neighbor’s fields; then he attended to his own.  Watchman Nee tells how the neighbor subsequently became a Christian, his unbelief overcome by a genuine demonstration of a Christian’s humility and Christlike character.”[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Philippians,  James Montgomery Boice, pg.107