The International Day of Peace was established by the United Nations in November 1981. It has set September 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace. The resolution states, “…that the International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day...”
In March of this year the Mennonite World Conference decided to encourage churches that “The Sunday nearest to September 21 would be designated as a Peace Sunday to be observed in our churches around the world.”
In our study of Philippians, we come today to Philippians 2:1-4 which calls us to be peacemakers in the church. Please turn to this passage.
As you may recall, Philippians 1:27-2:18 is a passage in which the primary concern is the spread of the gospel. The importance this Scripture gives it encourages us to be a gospel proclaiming church. Therefore, I want to encourage us to be involved in Operation Andrew and to take the opportunities we have to make the name of Jesus known. It is our privilege and indeed our responsibility to let others know about Jesus.
As Paul speaks about this, he writes about how this task can be done well. He mentions that if we are going to make the name of Jesus known, we will face opposition and he encourages us to be strong and faithful in that opposition. We examined that two weeks ago. He also speaks about the importance of a life lived in a worthy way. If we are not living what God has done in us, we will not persuade others to embrace the faith, in fact we will confuse them. In a few weeks we will think about that. Then, in the section we are going to look at today, Paul recognizes the critical importance that if the church is going to be a light in the world, the people who are part of the church will have to live together in unity. When the world sees a divided church, it gets confused and misses seeing Jesus. Several times in the section we are looking at Paul makes mention of this call to unity. In 1:27 he says, “stand firm in one Spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.” In 2:14 he says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing…” and in 2:17,18 he writes, “I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” Each of these passages either directly or indirectly mentions the concept of unity in the body of Christ. Let us take a more careful look at Philippians 2:1-5
When our children were small, we had a tape of a children’s story. In the story, a brother and sister are fighting and their little sister admonishes them in a cute little voice by saying, “you got to love each other.” Why do we got to love each other? What is the basis of the unity we can and must have in the body of Christ?
Philippians 2:1 begins with a conditional clause. The word “if” appears four times in this verse. The Greek word can just as well be translated “since” and as such becomes an indication of the basis for the unity we have in the church.
Although the NIV does not show it, it is possible that there is a Trinitarian flavour in the passage. Christ and the Spirit are mentioned in the first and third item. Is it intended that the Father is associated with love in the second item? If so, it is in itself a powerful call to unity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in unity and their example is the encouragement to our unity as well.
The first conditional clause is, “since you have encouragement from Christ.” The previous section has already revealed that life is not easy. We face temptations, testing, persecution and all kinds of difficulties. But, in Christ, we also receive everything we need for life. We receive forgiveness, abundant life, comfort in suffering and eternal hope. Strife often comes when we lack something, but in Christ, we lack nothing. We are fully blessed in relationship to Him, so we have every reason to be one in Him.
Furthermore, we have also experienced, as one writer translates it, the “solace of love.” Whose love? As I suggested earlier, it could be a reference to God’s love. Romans 5:5 says, “…God has poured out his love into our hearts...”
Gordon Fee says, “if our common experience of comfort from God’s love has anything going for it at all…then we ought to live in unity with one another.”
Often disunity comes because we are insecure and not sure that we are accepted. We seek acceptance and when we don’t get it, we are tempted to attack others. But when we know that we are loved by God, and thus accepted by Him, there is every reason to live in unity.
We also have a good basis for peace because of the fellowship we have in the same Spirit. The Spirit is the basic foundation for all Christian unity. Ephesians 4:3,4 speaks about that unity when it says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit…” That is why we sing “We are one in the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who joins us together because if we are all indwelt by the same Spirit, and are all listening to that Spirit, then there is no reason to be disunited.
The last conditional clause speaks to the feelings we have toward one another. The words, “compassion and mercy” use the language of inner feeling. Sometimes when we experience deep emotions, we have actual physical feelings way down deep inside. We talk about a gut feeling. We talk about butterflies in our stomach. These are all images which are behind the word compassion in this verse. KJV actually translates it “bowels and mercies.” It sounds funny to our modern ear, but it communicates well the deep feelings we have towards one another in the body of Christ. Because we are loved by God, experience comfort in a relationship to Christ and are indwelt by the same Spirit, we have every reason to be filled with a deep feelings of care towards one another. This is the basis of the unity that can and should be ours in Christ.
In Philippians 2:2, Paul goes on to say, since these things are yours, “make my joy complete by being like minded.” He doesn’t simply say be united. He says, make my joy complete. That is the imperative, but the way that they would give him joy was if they would be united with one another. This is the call to unity that he extended to the church in Philippi and also to all Christian believers. What does this mean? How do we have unity in the church? How do we live in unity in the body of Christ? Paul goes on to talk about what unity looks like.
Although he says that they should be like minded, he does not mean by this that they should all have the same opinions about everything. If robotic uniformity is what God intended, he would not have made us so different. There are churches which try to force everyone to think the same way. They may think that they are obeying this command, but if that is what unity means, why did God create us with minds? Why did God create us with different stories? Why are we all so unique? If God wanted all of us to have the same opinions about everything, why did He create everything in such a unique and varied way? In fact, it is absolutely essential that we think deeply about what we believe, hold tightly to what we learn about God and His truth and not be easily swayed from it. Yet all the while we must listen to others and think about God’s truth further. I have heard someone say that if two people think the same thing, one of them is redundant.
Yes, God wants us to be like minded, that is clear, but uniform thinking is not what being like minded is all about. What then does it mean to be like minded? The next words in verse two help us understand.
Being like minded means that we have “the same love.”
What happens when we disagree with another person? I have seen what happens to fans of another team that are watching their team play against the Bombers in Winnipeg. They are booed and everyone sitting around them hates them. We are tempted to the same feelings against people who disagree with us about some theological or Biblical or church issue.
This is where we have the opportunity to be very different than the rest of the world. We are called to unity, to “the same love” even with people we don’t agree with.
I have a close family member who was part of a Pentecostal church. They believed that it was necessary to have a second experience of the Spirit marked by speaking in tongues. I did not see it that way and felt strongly about it. Although we discussed it and it wasn’t an easy discussion, it was more important to both of us to have a good relationship than to be right. We were not thinking the same things, but a desire to have one heart allowed us to be like minded.
In our church ministerial, we often discuss things and don’t always see things the same way. But, I always feel that we have worked together long enough and well enough that we are of one heart. Our one heart is the work of God in this church and we care for and respect each other. If we are like minded, it means that we can have a love for one another that transcends needing to have the same opinion as everyone else.
Sometimes we are tempted to become angry with those we don’t agree with. When that happens it is an occasion to remind ourselves that because we both love God, we ought to have the same love for one another.
The other day, I was at the Franklin Graham office and was involved in helping choose counsellors for the Festival. We received the yellow applications that a number of you have handed in. By the way, I would encourage more of you to apply to be a counsellor. It will be a great opportunity to share your faith at a time when someone is ready to listen. What better way to learn to share the gospel. Well, we were sorting these applications according to whether they would be a counsellor, children’s counsellor, supervisor and so on. One of the instructions we were given was that if, on the application, someone expressed strong opinions related to how their particular church or denomination did things, we should reject that application. The reason was that those comments revealed that that person was not there to focus on sharing the gospel, but on stating their opinions.
That is the point of the last phrase here. Unity means that we are united at the centre. We are focussed on the same purpose. If Jesus Christ, knowing Him and making Him known is the central purpose of our life, then we will have a common purpose and we will be united.
Earlier in the year when I attended the Billy Graham School of Evangelism, we were taught that unity happens when we keep the main thing the main thing. Once again, that does not mean that we don’t have and hold strong opinions about things, but we cannot let those opinions supersede the primary task we have on this earth and that is making Jesus name known and being a light and in a dark world.
So, if that is what unity looks like in the body of Christ, how do we live such unity? The answer to that question is given in Philippians 2:3-5 and involves two things.
You may recall that I have previously spoken about a Biblical literary device called a chiasm. A chiasm is a way of writing in which one thought is given, then a second thought, then the second thought is repeated and then the first thought is repeated, in the pattern ABBA. That is what we have happening here.
A (3)(negative) – do nothing out of selfish ambition
B(3)(negative) – or vain conceit
B (3)(positive) – in humility consider others better than yourselves
A (3,4)(positive) – you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.
So you can see that in these two verses, he is really talking about only two things, selflessness and humility.
The “A” thought of Paul is, “do nothing out of selfish ambition,” rather, “you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.”
If we have selfish ambition, what will be the motivating factor in the decisions we make? It will be that which helps us and supports our causes. We see selfish ambition between churches - when one church is out to build its kingdom at the expense of other churches. We see it in ministries when SS is recruiting for its program and AWANA is recruiting for its program and they compete for the same people. When we are self centred in this way, we forget that it is God’s work, not our work; it is about what God wants to do and not about our program. I know that there are opinions and feelings between people of the different churches in Rosenort. I want you to know that John and Darren and I get together every week to talk and pray because we believe that we need to be selfless and not selfishly protecting our ministry. We believe that God is at work in our community in each of the churches and as we work together. Gordon Fee says, “it is only as a people of God together that God’s people fulfill his divine purposes.”
The other characteristic that will make it possible for us to have unity is humility. Before Christian times, the Greek word for humility always had a bad meaning, it always referred to grovelling. In Christ, we find in humility a new and powerful, indeed an important concept which characterizes Christian living.
Humility begins as we recognize who we are in the presence of God. He is the creator and we are dependent on Him. He is the only one who knows everything and we need to place ourselves under His powerful authority and wisdom. As we place ourselves under God, we begin to learn what humility means.
The next step in learning humility is to have a proper estimation of ourselves. There is a false humility and a true humility. If we know that we are creatures, we know that we are weak and dependent – on God and on others. However, if we understand that we are made in the image of God, we also know that we are creatures of glory. Once there was a band of believers in Russia who roamed all over the country, going, they said, in search of truth. Believing strongly in humility, they were at first called "The Holy Wanderers." In an effort to get people to scorn them, the band of believers pretended to be insane. Soon men called them "The Holy Fools.” We do not have to be mistreated to prove that we are humble. False humility is a device of pride. True humility means that we do not think so highly of ourselves that we think we know everything and can do it all ourselves, nor do we think so lowly of ourselves that we believe we have nothing to contribute.
True humility will allow us to build unity. If we think too lowly of ourselves, we will not contribute to the work of God. If we think too highly of ourselves, we will take away from the ability of others to contribute to God’s work. Humility allows us to be peacemakers. The attitude of “I’ve got it right” does not help. Humility recognizes that I might not have it right. This kind of an attitude does not undermine our convictions, nor make us wishy-washy, it respects the mind and opinion of others and acknowledges that we have things to learn. If that is our attitude, we will have a peace building humility.
In the final verse, Paul points to the example of Jesus. Philippians 2:5 says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” If we want to learn to be one by being selfless and humble, then Jesus is the greatest example of all. He was willing to leave heaven and to come to earth. He was willing to give up His life in order to become a sacrifice for us. If that isn’t humility from the person who was the greatest ever, I don’t know who is humble. If that isn’t selflessness, I don’t know what example would be greater. Next week, we will examine this in more detail. Jesus is a paradigm of how unity works.
Why was Jesus able to humble himself? He did not grasp position, even though he had a right to it, but rather, He made himself nothing. He made a choice to submit for the sake of the purpose of bringing people to God. That is the example we must follow.
The United Nations identified last Thursday as a day to think about being peacemakers. The Mennonite World Conference has encouraged us to mark today as a day to think about being peacemakers.
We certainly need peace in our world. With what is happening in Lebanon and Israel, Thailand, Iraq and Afghanistan, we know that we need peace.
We desire peace in our country. Political conflicts abound - from the issue of smoking on native casinos to the debate on the issue of gay marriages. We need peace in some of these difficult conflicts in Canada.
We desire peace in our families. We hear about marriages that are breaking up, emotional and physical abuse destroying family relationships and about parents and children who never speak to each other. We need to pray and learn how to be peacemakers in our families.
The principles of peacemaking pertain in all of these situations and we need to learn and apply them. We also need peace in the church. This is the one we have focussed on today and it is critical. How can we expect to be a light to the world if we do not have peace here?
We are people who are in Christ, loved by God and indwelt by the same Spirit. The ground of peace is strong and so we are encouraged to be like minded by having one heart and one purpose. We can do this as we are selfless and humble.
This morning, I would like to invite you to make some decisions about what it will mean for you to live in unity with the people of God in this congregation, in other churches, with the people of God elsewhere and even in your family.
What will you need to do in order to obey this part of Scripture. Do you have to change your attitude about someone? Do you have to forgive someone? Do you have to ask someone’s forgiveness? If we are really serious about the purpose for which we exist as a church as described on that banner – “We proclaim, follow and serve Jesus to the glory of God - then let us seek unity in this church.