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United We Stand - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Philippians 2:1-5

  • 2004-03-21 AM
  • Sermons


Well, we return this morning to the book of Philippians, and in God's providence the passage that is before us this morning in the flow of our study of the book is well suited to our celebration of the Lord's table. So, I want us to look at it together.

There is perhaps nothing in the world more dangerous than a church business meeting. Some of you have been a part of ones that make that statement a reality. I remember one in particular when I was growing up in south Alabama. My father was the music minister in a Southern Baptist church, and they have business meetings once a month on Wednesday night. And my father made the mistake on this one particular Wednesday night of bringing up the issue of the placement of the piano. Now, if you've been in a traditional Southern Baptist church you know that usually there is a pit on this side for the piano, and there's a pit on this side for the organ, which makes it very difficult for the musicians to participate, which makes it hard for them to see and for the sound of the instruments to spread.

And so, my father brought up the issue of the placement of the piano. But he didn't know it, he was a bit unsuspecting, but there were two parties already in this discussion. There was the pianist and her husband, and there was the chairman of the deacons who were on opposing sides of this issue which soon became very evident. I was a teenager, and I was sitting over on the side and sort of taking all of this in. It started out as a fairly lively discussion from two different places there in in the sanctuary, but as things began to heat up, the two men … the pianist's husband who felt that it was important for the for the piano to be on the platform and the head of the deacons who said you know it's just never been done that way, and it's not going to be done that way on my watch. And they met straight down in front of the platform face to face, honestly, almost yelling at each other like platoon sergeants when one of them raised his arm, I almost covered my eyes afraid that any moment they were going to come to genuine fisticuffs. But instead, what the husband of the pianist said to his family in front of the entire congregation was "You guys come with me." And sure enough, his family came down the center aisle, and the husband and his family with his entire brood walked out of the business meeting.

Who would have ever imagined that the issue of where the piano was located could have become a flashpoint for disunity. The truth is, the issue isn't the matter, isn't the question. There are any number of issues, there are an infinite number of issues, that can become a flashpoint for disunity in the church. Anything that destroys the unity of the church is to be feared as a deadly cancer that will consume the congregation. Disunity was one of the apostle Paul's greatest fears for the churches that he ministered to. In 2 Corinthians 12:20 he says this to the church in Corinth, "… I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish;" [In other words, I'm afraid I'm going to find what I don't want to find, and you're not going to be happy with my response.] that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances;" [Paul was deeply concerned about the situation in Corinth that it would degenerate into a division and disunity.]

You see division is always a deadly danger to the church. Let me show this to you in a graphic way. Turn to 1 Corinthians, 1 Corinthians 1. Let me just remind you of the situation of the church in Corinth. It was a church that many ways was filled with God's blessing. Paul tells them in verse 7 of chapter 1 that they are not lacking in any gift. Awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ. In many ways, they were a great church, but there were deep seated problems in Corinth.

They were actually tolerating incest, and were not dealing with it as they should have been dealing with it. Also, there were drunken brawls at the Lord's table. There was utter selfishness in bringing a feast for the love feast for one's self and neglecting the poor of the congregation and almost holding it over their heads. This was a church with many problems, and yet when the apostle Paul decides to address the church in Corinth, where does he begin? He doesn't begin with incest, although, he'll get there. He doesn't begin with the issue of tongues, although, he'll get there, that was dividing the church. He doesn't begin with the issue of drunkenness at the Lord's Table. He begins with the issue of disunity. Notice 1 Corinthians 1 after some introductory matters, verse 10, he comes to the point.

Now I exhort you brethren by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you all agree and … there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgement. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," or "I of … [Peter,"] and [then the really pious one] "I [am] of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?

You see, Paul is deeply concerned about the issue of disunity in the church. Where does this kind of division and conflict come from? Well, obviously, Satan is the source because he would love nothing better than to thwart the first purpose of God in the church. But on the human side, disunity grows in the soil of fleshly hearts. Notice what he says in 1 Corinthians 3. He comes back to the issue of unity. First Corinthians 3:1,

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as of spiritual men but as of men of flesh, as infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not able to receive it. Indeed even now you are not … able. For you're still fleshly, [you're still behaving like you're in the flesh. You shouldn't be. This isn't a legitimate place for a Christian to be or to live. But you're acting like you're in the flesh, like you've never been regenerated at all.] For since there is jealousy and strife among you are you not acting like men of flesh? … are you not walking like mere men? [Unregenerate men?]

But it's not merely the fleshly untaught church that's in danger of disunity. Listen to what one writer says.

The one danger which threatened the Philippian church was that of disunity. There is a sense in which that is the danger of every healthy church. It is when people are really in earnest, when their beliefs really matter to them that they are apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide. It is against that danger that Paul wished to safeguard his friends.

You see folks, the bottom line is that those who love Christ, and those who love His church are always concerned that their actions not create disunity. In fact, God says that He will absolutely not tolerate those who seek to divide brethren.

One of the most frightening passages in my mind on this front is Proverbs 6:16-19. You don't need to turn there. You'll remember the passage. The writer of Proverbs, the collector Solomon puts this in, "There are six things the Lord hates; yes, seven are an abomination to Him." That's a sort of short hand way of saying 'this isn't an extensive list, I could add more but here are seven.' And number seven is the one who spreads strife among brothers, God hates. He finds it an abomination, the one who spreads who spreads strife among his brothers. Now, understand me. I'm not saying that in the interest of preserving unity we should ignore sin or we should ignore serious doctrinal disagreements on significant major issues. But that's not the issue in Philippi, and, honestly, it's not the issue in most churches.

Listen to what John MacArthur writes in his commentary on this passage.

Paul's concern here is not about doctrines, ideas or practices that are clearly unbiblical. It's about interpretations, standards, interests, preferences and the like that are largely matters of personal choice. Such issues should never be allowed to foment controversy within the body of Christ. To insist on one's own way in such things is sinful because it senselessly divides believers. It reflects a prideful desire to promote one's personal views, style, or agenda. [He goes on to say,] "Obviously, we can't compromise on clear doctrinal biblical issues, but to humbly defer to one another on secondary issues, he writes, is a matter not of weakness but of maturity.

Understand this. When there are people in the church who are either for something or against something … and let me tell you, in my experience, people on both sides can be equally a problem … either for or against something whether it's a doctrinal issue, or whether it's a personal issue, an issue of personal preference; it doesn't matter. If those people set out on a subtle course to gain a following or to turn others against fellow believers in the church, they are not, according to Paul, spiritual people. They are fleshly. You see the way spiritual people handle disagreement over secondary doctrinal issues or over personal preference is always in a way that protects the unity of the church. They're always concerned not to be a source of division because division destroys the church. Jesus illustrated it this way; the tragic end of division in Matthew 12:25, He says, "… any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand." You didn't know Abraham Lincoln wasn't the first to say that, did you? Christ said it. And that's true of the church as well. A house divided against itself cannot stand; that's the tragic end of division.

The issue of disunity and the desire for unity is the point of the first five verses of Philippians 2. Turn there, and let me read those verses for you. You follow along as I read beginning in verse 1 of Philippians 2.

Therefore if there's any encouragement in Christ, if there's any consolation of love, if there's any fellowship of the spirit, if any affection and compassion …" "make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.

The theme of this passage is as obvious as spiritual unity. In fact, these verses, I believe, are the most concise, the most direct, and the most practical instruction about unity in the church anywhere in all the New Testament. You'll remember that Paul introduced the theme of unity in verse 27, as he talks about living in a way that reflects well on your heavenly citizenship, he says part of that is to be in one spirit with one mind.

And then he deals briefly in verses 28 to 30 with the issue of persecution. But then when he gets back to chapter 2:1 he begins it with the word "Therefore." You see in 1:27 he said that if you want to live in a way that reflects well on your heavenly citizenship, then you should seek for spiritual unity. And now he's not done with that issue. He says, "Therefore…." In other words, let me develop this whole matter of unity a little more. And that's what he sets out to do. These verses are so rich and practical instruction for us as a church; it's going to take us a few weeks to make our way through them, although that's probably no great surprise to you. Let me give you an overview, a kind of road map in where we're headed in these five verses, a brief outline.

In verse 1, you'll see the basis for unity. What are the realities that draw us together, that unite us?

In verse 2 you see the essence of unity. Here Paul is going to define exactly what unity is.

The first half of verse 3 we see the enemies of unity. There are some very specific attitudes that are always the enemies of unity.

And then in the second half of verse 3 through verse 5 we come across the mindset of unity.

Just as there are negative attitudes that are the enemies of unity, there are some very specific attitudes that will foster, promote, and encourage unity.

So, the basis of unity verse 1, the essence of unity verse 2, the enemies of unity the first half of verse 3, and then the mindset of unity, the second half of verse 3 through verse 5.

That's an overview of where we're headed the next few messages together on Sunday morning.

But today in preparation for communion, I just want us to examine the first of those points; the basis of our unity.

In this first verse of chapter 2, Paul lists four spiritual realities that serve as the basis for our unity as brothers and sisters in Christ. These are the things that unite us. Let me read it for you again, verse 1. "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 then make my joy complete by being of the same mind."

Notice that each of those phrases in verse 1 begins with "if." Now, in English that sounds like Paul's may be a bit uncertain whether these things are true. But in the Greek text there are different kinds of conditional sentences. This particular construction in verse 1 could better be translated "since." "Since" these things are reality I want you to fill up my joy to the brim, and the way you can do that is by being of this same mind. So, the four statements in verse 1 are supernatural objective realities that every Christian has already experienced. Paul is arguing on the basis of your experience. If you're in Christ, you have come to enjoy these 4 realities contained in verse 1. And because we are united in those things, then we should strive for unity. Because we share these things we can and must be united. What are these four spiritual realities that serve as the basis for our unity?

The first one is found in the first phrase, "If there is any encouragement in Christ…." Let me put it this way. We have experienced eternal comfort in Christ. That's the first spiritual reality. We have experienced eternal comfort in Christ. The word "encouragement" is used most frequently in the Scripture, both in the Septuagint that is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament in Paul and in all the New Testament, it's used most frequently of "comfort." In fact, Christ uses this word when He describes the coming Holy Spirit, and He calls Him "the Comforter," it's a related word to this. It speaks of comfort. Each of us has come to experience comfort by being in Christ. That's what Paul is saying. We experience this comfort by being in Christ, but what is that? When? When did this happen? Well, Paul is referring to our salvation. Notice 2 Thessalonians 2. Paul uses this same expression in a way that's clearer. Second Thessalonians 2:16, "Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father who has loved us" [watch this] "and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace." [What an amazing reality. We have been comforted eternally by God's grace.]

What's Paul saying? He's taking us back to the time when we first trusted in Christ, and each of us experienced such amazing comfort of heart when we heard the gospel, and we responded. Do you remember that? Do you remember this overwhelming sense of comfort and peace that flooded over your soul? In Christ, we found comfort for our souls that reminds me of Isaiah 12:1 where Isaiah says to Israel there's going to be a day when you look back, and you're going to be able to say this, "I will give thanks to You, O LORD; For although You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, And You comfort me."

You remember when you trusted in Christ? Perhaps you heard the gospel many times before, but that day on that day it was different. The Holy Spirit removed the blinders from your eyes, and you saw the glory of Christ, and you saw the amazing grace that was offered to you and the forgiveness of sins. And when you responded; your heart was comforted. It was flooded with peace and joy. All of us who have repented of our sins and have embraced Jesus as Lord and Savior have come to enjoy the comfort for our souls that's only found in Him. Augustine put it this way, "We were made for You …" he says to God "… and our souls are restless until they find their rest in You." We were comforted, and the fact that we all share in that, that's a common experience for all of us who are in Christ, the fact that we all share in that experience should serve as a serious incentive to unity. We've all experienced that. The first spiritual reality that makes our unity possible and serves as an incentive to pursuing unity is that we have experienced eternal comfort in Christ.

The second is found in the second phrase, "If there's any consolation of love…." Let me put it this way. The second reality is we have experienced consolation in God's love. We have experienced consolation in God's love. The word for "consolation" means to speak to someone in a friendly way, and it came to refer to speaking to someone in a friendly way about something bad that had happened to them. And so, it came to mean "to console." The same sense that is used here, the sense of consoling, occurs in John 11:19 and 31. It's used at the friends of Mary and Martha. You remember that Lazarus their brother had died and friends gathered to console Mary and Martha about the loss of their brother. It means to console someone in the midst of trouble. It's putting your arm around someone and telling them everything is going to be ok, it's alright.

Now notice in verse 1 that the phrase before this speaks of Christ, and the phrase after it speaks of the Spirit. So, it's probably best to see this "love" that's being displayed as the Father's love for us. There's a similar construction in 2 Corinthians 13:13 "… the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, … the love of God, and the fellowship of the … Spirit, be with you all." That's probably the idea he has here. He's talking about the Father's love for us. So, what does Paul mean? Paul means that we who are in Christ have been consoled in the midst of life's troubles and sufferings by God's love for us. You've experienced that if you're in Christ. You enter into trouble, and the difficulty in what you find is the one constant, the one north star in the midst of a storm of life is the reality of God's eternal love for you. Paul makes this same point in a different way in Romans 8; I'd like you to turn there, Romans 8. I love this chapter on our security in the Spirit; our security in Christ. But notice what he says in verse 35 of Romans 8. Paul writes, "Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?" [Those are awful things, and yet he is saying the one constant that takes us through those things is this knowledge that God's love never changes.] In fact, verse 37,

… in all those things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Verse 38, For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth" [and in case you didn't get it] "nor any other created thing. [Nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You see what comforted Paul, what put its arm around Paul in the midst of trouble and difficulty and all the things that he encountered was the reality that God loved him. The knowledge that God's love was eternal and that even in the midst of trouble and difficulty God's love was there. You and I who are in Christ have experienced that in the midst of our darkest moments, the Spirit has come as it were and put His arm around us and consoled us with the knowledge that God's love is absolutely unchanged by our trial. And if we come to benefit and enjoy from God's love, if we've been consoled by God's love, then we must show that same love for and be united to others that God loves as well. That's his point.

Notice how John puts it in 1 John. First John 3:16, he says,

We know love by this; that He laid down [Christ laid down] His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. [Notice how, all of a sudden, the fact that Christ died for us makes us brethren. We're united by the reality of the love that God showed for us in Christ.] Verse 17, [therefore] … whoever has the world's goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?

It doesn't, is the answer. It can't, because if God has shown us love, then He's united us in that same love with others whom He loves as well. If we have come to benefit from God's love, if we've been comforted and consoled by it, then we have a responsibility to love and to be united to others whom God loves as well.

So, the basis of our unity is 1) that we've experienced eternal comfort in Christ, 2) that we've experienced consolation in God's love, and thirdly we have experienced the fellowship of the Spirit.

Notice that third phrase "if there is any fellowship of the Spirit." The word "fellowship "is the Greek word "koinonia." Paul loves this word, and he uses it here in Philippians six times. It refers to people who share in something in common, who participate in something. It means they're partners. It includes the concepts of both "association" and "participation."

As I mentioned before, the best way I can illustrate it is think in terms of J.R. Tolkien's work, The Fellowship of the Ring. It's the way he uses the word fellowship that is intended here in the writings of Paul. You remember those of you who have read the work will remember that small group who bound themselves with Frodo Baggins to destroy the reign of power, they were partners. They were in the fellowship of the ring. Even so we are in the fellowship of the Spirit.

Or as chapter 1:5 calls it, "the fellowship of the gospel."

In 1 Corinthians 12:13 Paul writes, "… by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." Listen folks, if you're in Christ by the work of the Spirit, you have been joined to the fellowship. With whom are we linked in this fellowship? With whom are we partners? Turn to 1 John 1. First John 1:3. John writes, "what we've seen and [what we've] heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ."

Listen, if you're in the fellowship, guess who you're partners with? You're partners with and you enjoy company with and you enjoy rich communion with God and His Son Jesus Christ. And because of that, we can have fellowship with each other. Notice that same verse. He says, "we have fellowship." There's us, and we want you to respond to the message and have fellowship with us. The fact that we have a vertical relationship with God, that we have joined in the fellowship of the Spirit, and we're connected to God means, we are now connected to everybody else who's connected to God who's in the fellowship. Paul expresses this same truth in Ephesians 4. Ephesians 4:1, he writes,

[I want] you to walk worthy of the calling with which you've been called with all humility and gentleness with patience showing tolerance for one another in love, [Notice what he says in verse 3,] being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit the bond of peace. [Because there's just] one body and [there's just] one Spirit and [there's just] one hope of your calling; [there's just] one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father … [who's] over [us] all.

So, we're united. Like it or not folks, look around. Those around you, who are in Christ are in the fellowship. And we should work hard to preserve the unity that the Spirit wants to exist in the fellowship. That's what Paul is saying in Ephesians 4:3.

The final spiritual reality Paul identifies that serves as the basis of our unity is in that final phrase, "if any affection and compassion." Let me put it this way. We have experienced forgiveness in God's affection and compassion. We have experienced forgiveness in God's "affection" and "compassion." We've looked at both of these words before, so I won't labor it.

The word "affection" was used, another word for the heart, in New Testament times, and it was commonly used even to describe a mother's love for her child. It's also used to describe the attitude that God has toward men. In fact, Christ used this word affection to describe God's response to repenting sinners in the story of the prodigal son. You remember the father who sees his son coming, and he responds to him with compassion. That's the word "affection." His heart was moved. It's used commonly in the context of forgiveness as well as relationship.

The second word "compassion" that's translated compassion in chapter 2:1 is also used almost exclusively of God. It refers to God's "mercy." It's used in Romans 12:1, that familiar verse we all know when it says, "I beseech you [or I urge you] brethren by the mercies of God…." In other words, the mercy God showed in saving you. He's referring to everything he talked about in the first 11 chapters of Romans, God's saving mercy. So, together these two words "affection" and "compassion" focus on the divine mercy and compassion we enjoyed at the moment of our salvation and as a constant stream ever since, especially in the mercy of forgiveness. Paul's saying, if you've ever experienced God's affection and compassion, especially demonstrated in forgiveness, then you need to be united with others who have experienced the same thing.

You see, here's Paul's point. You and I enjoy some incredible spiritual realities: the comfort that comes from being in Christ, the consolation that comes from knowing God loves us even as we endure trouble and trials in this life, the fellowship of the Spirit. And we enjoy full forgiveness because of God's affection and His compassion. But to be eager to receive it and enjoy those blessings, and then to turn around and refuse to pursue unity with all the others to whom He's shown these blessings is the worst kind of ingratitude. Imagine, God inviting you by His grace alone to a great feast, and then you're mistreating the other guests. It's unthinkable. That's what Paul says. If all these things are true, then I want you to be united.

Notice that all four of those spiritual realities in verse 1 were made possible by one event: the death of Christ on the cross. You see in the end what unites us, the basis of our unity, is the reality of what Christ accomplished on our behalf at Calvary.

Let's be honest. We're different, we're different in many different ways, but the powerful magnet that holds us together is the cross. It's what Christ did for each of us there. It's not an accident that the Lord's table, the memorial of His death, is celebrated not individually, but together. 1 Corinthians 10:17 says, "Since there was one bread we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." We're united. Let's behave like it.