Sermon series: God's New Covenant People
Connection to unit theme
While unity is not the ultimate goal of the church, it is essential for the church to accomplish its mission of proclaiming the gospel to the world.
In Matthew 16 Jesus promises that He will build His church (Matt. 16:18). He said this nearly 2,000 years ago, and the church continues to grow and advance today. However, in John 17 Jesus prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one" (Jn. 17:11). He promised church growth but prayed for church unity. The book of Acts illustrates these two points. The church advanced numerically wherever they proclaimed the gospel. Yet disunity, disagreements, and divisions quickly sprang up among the believers.
What should we make of this? At the least we should understand that reaching non-Christians with the gospel and growing numerically is only half the battle. Bringing them under a unified doctrine, vision, and ethic is the other half.
In Philippians 2 we see a beautiful picture of unity. We see the practice of unity, the power for unity, and the purpose of unity.
I. The practice of unity (vv.1-4)
Paul began his discussion on unity by asserting that if they were in communion with the Trinity they should pursue unity. If they had any encouragement in Christ (God the Son), any comfort from love (likely God the Father's love), and any participation in the Spirit (God the Spirit), unity should be present (vv.1-2). Then he explained how they should practice this. They would have the same mind and love, and remain in full accord and one mind. Essentially, they would love the same things, think the same things, and share a common purpose.
Then in verses 3-4 Paul attacked the greatest enemy of unity: pride. Believers were to be other-centered in all things, humbly counting others more significant than themselves. Humility is the glue that holds a church together. The more humble Christians are, the more unified the church can be. C. S. Lewis remarked that pride is by nature competitive: "Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others" (Mere Christianity, 122). Pride destroys unity.
Application: How does pride rob your love and compassion for others? How might you consider others more important than yourself?
II. The power for unity (vv.5-9)
To eradicate pride and disunity in the church, Paul goes straight to the heart of the gospel. He quotes what appears to be an early confession about the person and work of Jesus Christ, who displayed the ultimate example of humility and other-centeredness. Despite having all power and authority and being equal with God, He poured Himself out on the cross. Paul wants this truth to motivate the church to remain humble and unified.
In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Return of the King, the men of Rohan fight against the evil forces of Mordor. Eowyn, the king's niece, though forbidden from battle, enters the fight secretly. She faces a Nazgul - one of the deadliest foes of Mordor. With her is the hobbit Merry who is mortified at the mere thought of this creature. But when he recognizes that it is Eowyn fighting with him, Tolkien writes, "Pity filled his heart and great wonder, and suddenly the slow-kindled courage of his face awoke. He clenched his hand. She should not die, so fair, so desperate! At least she should not die alone, unaided." Merry then goes to her aid and helps her defeat the deadly creature. One so beautiful and fair should not be fighting in a war. Her presence moved Merry to action.
Jesus Christ, the righteous One, did not deserve the cross. We deserved what He received. But He willingly laid down His life. Our meditation on this should humble us and move us to the same way of thinking (v. 5).
Application: The sufferings and sacrifice of Jesus should move us to humility. What is your motivation toward humility? Will you look at Christ hanging there, offering Himself for you? Will you let that image humble and empower you to offer yourself to others?
III. The purpose of unity (vv.10-11)
The sufferings of Christ prepared the way for the exaltation of Christ over all things. His humiliation led to His vindication. Now all creation must submit to His Lordship and authority. Paul wrote in Colossians, "He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent" (Col. 1:18). Christ died and rose to be supreme over all things.
The glory of Christ is the reason the church should be unified. A unified and humble church is best prepared to recognize and proclaim the beauty and value of Christ over all things. A church full of pride and dissension cannot devote itself to Jesus Christ and His glory.
Application: The church does not exist for itself, but to magnify Christ. What can you do to stay focused on the glory of Christ? Will you push aside your preferences for the church and pursue this vision?
A man walked into a jewelry store in Australia and purchased the store's most expensive diamond. As he checked out, the computer at the register froze. The embarrassed clerk apologized as she searched for a solution. The man gently leaned over, tapped a few keys, and the computer unlocked. The woman responded, "You must know computers." He said, "Yeah. A little." He signed the ticket, thanked her, and walked out. The signature on the receipt read: "Bill Gates". Greatness need not be prideful. Because Jesus Christ humbled Himself, we must humble ourselves, lay down our lives for one another, and be the unified church that magnifies the Savior.