From a Place of Unity
Series Through Philippians: Where Are You From?
Sunday Morning, February 21, 2021
Text: Philippians 1:27-30
I really admire experts. I know we have a lot of issues with people who claim to be experts, and there are a whole lot of them now, aren't they. I mean, it's amazing how many experts we have on so many topics. Just look at social media and they are easy to find. I'm not talking about this kind of expert, but I mean real experts with real expertise in their specific areas.
Think about mechanics. Matt and I have been working on a car, on and off, for quite a while now. We usually end up scratching our heads and bouncing ideas off of each other with little success at this point. It seems like there's somebody that knows just what to do, and it's probably something relatively simple. There are folks that could look at this issue that we have and know exactly what to do to fix it. I admire that. Have you ever been in a situation like that?
Tech people are another group that I admire. I just barely can call and text on my phone and can navigate a computer enough to get by. But when there's a problem, there are folks, and we have some of them here, that know what needs to be done and how to accomplish it.
I admire builders. We have some right here. They can take an idea and know exactly what it will take to make it happen. They know exactly what they are doing and it almost seems automatic. Many of us might wrestle around and try to figure out what needs to be done and probably end up having to redo things that these folks would know how to handle automatically. The list could go on and on.
How about medical professionals? Doctors and nurses make up another group that have great expertise. I'm sure we've encountered ones that we may feel leave a lot to be desired, but all in all we really respect their know how when it comes to diagnosing and dealing with an issue. They seem to know exactly what to prescribe to fix what is troubling us. Of all the multiple options they have at their disposal, they know just what to pull out of their medicine bag to start us on the road to recovery. I admire experts; those who are so immersed in their respective profession that they know exactly what is needed and what needs to be done.
When we take a look at the letters of the New Testament, we need to know that each one is what scholars refer to as "occasional." Not that Paul, or John, or Peter, or Jude would just occasionally write. It means that there is an issue or an occasion that prompted these folks to write these letters to the churches. Romans, there is a Jew-Gentile conflict. 1 Corinthians, there are numerous problems there, one being division. Galatians, there are those wanting Christians to be Jews to be Christians. Ephesians, most likely a letter to be circulated in the churches, there seems to be some Jew-Gentile tension. Colossians, there is some type of new teaching that seems to want to combine Christianity with many other religions. We get the idea. What could be the reason that Paul writes this letter to the church in Philippi?
If we look at the letter we can find several big themes that run through it. Maybe one of those could be the reason. For instance joy is mentioned over and over. Joy or rejoice is mentioned 14 times in this letter. Maybe the Christians there lacked joy. That would certainly be understandable. They are a small minority of people committed to Christ in the middle of a thoroughly Roman colony. It is certainly a possibility.
Maybe there's a problem with their thinking. Words related to that possibility such as I think, or I consider are repeated 16 times in this letter. Again, new Christians in hostile environment trying to live out the call to follow Jesus, maybe their thinking is a little out of whack.
The more I read this letter, however, I am more convinced that these are only symptoms of the real problem going on in Philippi. It seems they are suffering from disunity. They may be on the verge of dividing. There are several places in this letter where this seems to be the case. The first is what we read just a minute ago.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, 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, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 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, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Phil. 1:27-30)
Then we have what Randall spoke about last week from chapter 2 verses 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.
Then there is chapter 2 verses 12-18:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
And then there is the beginning of chapter 4: 4:1-3
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Paul is urging the church in general and these two ladies in particular to be united. He urges them to operate from a place of unity. But, why? Why bother with this? Wouldn't it have been much easier on Paul just to say, "Listen, I know you all aren't getting along with one another. Euodia, Syntyche, why don't you two just stay apart from one another. The church needs to grow there anyway. Why don't each of you start your own little group and then we'll have two churches in Philippi and look like we're really growing." Wouldn't that have been much easier for Paul and, frankly on the church as a whole? They wouldn't have to deal with the messiness of trying to get along with one another.
Is that the advice we would have given the church? Now, we may be sitting here this morning saying, "That's the craziest thing I've ever heard! Of course Paul needs to get involved with this. Of course those folks in Philippi need to get along with one another and work together as followers of Jesus. They can't just divide because they see things differently or have different opinions, or (you know, the reason for the argument is never given in this letter)." But aren't we tempted to do just that? Aren't we tempted just to go somewhere else when we don't see eye to eye with a brother or sister, or with the way a certain program or ministry is going, or when there's some who see Scripture differently than we do? Don't we get the feeling or aren't we tempted to feel like this town, this church isn't big enough for the both of us?
Paul is not going to let this go, and neither should we! Division is the result of something wrong in the body. Paul sees the potential for real sickness and even death of the church and he reaches into his medicine bag and offers the same prescription that Paul offers in every church that is struggling in one way or another, the Gospel. The Gospel, the good news of what God has done and continues to do in Jesus, is the message of hope. It is the message of rescue. It is the message of oneness in the Kingdom of God. Salvation and reconciliation are for all. They're not just for the pious Jew. They're not just for the wealthy. They're not just for the good, the normal, the middle class, the ones acceptable in polite society, the suburban, the American, the Republican, the Democrat, the men, the women, the English speaking…..The good news that we can be reconciled to God because of what he has done through Jesus; the good news that the Holy Spirit of God is available to live in and among humanity is for ALL.
God told Abram in Genesis 12 that through his seed ALL NATIONS would be blessed. We see this is in small ways throughout the Old Testament. Some of the most well-known being Rahab and Ruth, outsiders who were blessed to be called people of God. We hear this in the language of Isaiah (Isaiah 2:1-3). We see it come in full force as Jesus looks out from that mountain at the crowd who had various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics and said "Blessed are you. The Kingdom is open to you." We see it come in full force, open to all when Jesus answers the messengers set from John the Baptist when he said, "Go tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Luke 7:22-23 ESV). We have heard that same call as Jesus has looked at us in our absolute hopelessness, lost in sin, heading towards death, the outcast, the marginalized, the enemies of God and said, "The Kingdom is open to you. Salvation has come to this house." You see at just the right time, Jesus died for us. Not just so we can be individually saved, but to call together a community, a family, a Kingdom.
If that were not the case, our Bibles would be a lot thinner. When the Law is given in Exodus, 6 of the 10 commandments deal with how we treat one another – Honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, do not covet. After those ten, God expands on them so that for each of these commands there are other commands with how Israel was to live with one another. They needed to be a true community, looking out for the needs of one another. There are laws about stealing – not just because stealing is wrong – but because they needed to be able to trust one another as they lived together as God's people.
When we come to the Sermon on the Mount, the sections of the Law that Jesus expands on in Matthew 5 all have to do with how we treat one another, not to mention chapter 7 where a good portion of that chapter also deals with the relationships between disciples of Jesus. A good portion of the book of Acts shows the way in which the early church wrestled with who's in and who's out, coming to a head in Acts 15 with the Jerusalem council. If being one in Christ were not important, why would they have bothered? We mentioned the issues in the other New Testament letters and a good number of them have to do with churches struggling with division – Jew/Gentile, Gifted/non-gifted or gifted differently. This must be an important thing or else why bother with it?
Here in Philippi we see Paul appeal to the Gospel. In our reading this morning he challenges them to live a life worthy of the Gospel of Jesus. Then using an early Christian hymn, he tells them the story of the Gospel in chapter 2:6-11. The Gospel is a message of unity. They needed each other as they worked side by side in the Kingdom in a place where they were looked on as the odd people out.
Now, here we are, some 2000 years later, and with all the advancements that have been made, the need for unity has not diminished. We need each other as we continue to live as Kingdom people in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile or sees us as irrelevant. But that's not the only reason that unity is needed in the Kingdom. It is important to the King. We hear it as he prays on the night before his death. This is a deathbed wish. It is important. It is what he wants; so much that he begs the Father for it. Within the same time where the synoptics record his prayer that this suffering might pass by him, we hear it.
I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.
"I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Paul understood that it is vital because it is a big part of our witness to the world. Our ability to be united, working side by side, having the same mind, the same purpose as people who are incredibly diverse, as today we worship in conjunction with people who's worship looks different than ours, may be in a different language than ours, that may view portions of Scripture differently than we do, being able to do that tells the world that we are not in this for ourselves, but for the King who saved us. Though Paul does not make this explicit in the letter to Philippi, he certainly does in Ephesians 3. There he says that it is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God is declared. This wisdom includes one new humanity – no longer defined by our differences, but what we have in common who is the King, Jesus.
John gives us a glimpse at what this Kingdom looks like in its fullness in Revelation 7.
After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen."
We started this series by looking at where we are from. This is it, a place of unity. From a place of unity we can withstand the attacks of our opponent. We can be an effective witness to the world as we life out the call of the Gospel of King Jesus. After all, as citizens of heaven, citizens of God's kingdom, which we see as it comes to completion, that looks like this, shouldn't we look that way now? We do this by being humble. We do this by understanding that we too were once outside without hope and Jesus rescued us. We do this by being not just welcoming, but inviting as we look around at our world and the people we see every single day. We do this by living out the Gospel. Who's with me?