Pillars of Christian Character: Unity
One of the signs of a troubled church is a spirit of bickering that leads to disunity. Unfortunately it is a pox that plagues many churches today. Fifteen-hundred years ago, a very wise Church Father named Augustine said: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love. This is good advise for the Body of Christ. There are some things Christians must agree on, such as the Divinity of Jesus, the accuracy and authority of the Bible, and that Jesus is the only way to salvation. If we don’t agree on those then we’ve got big problems. Unity is not more important than doctrine. But we should be as charitable as possible when disagreeing.
There are honest debates, for example, about how to interpret the Book of Revelation, and one can hold one of several views and still be an orthodox Christian. There are many worship preferences (music, style, etc.) that we don’t need to agree on. There is remarkably little guidance in the New Testament on how to conduct worship services, so a little flexibility should be in order. The main thing is to never alter the message of the Gospel.
When we are united on the essentials, Christianity is incredible.
One of the things I’ve so appreciated about this congregation over the years is a real sense of unity among the brethren. It hasn’t always been so. ILLUS. Conversation with Jewel Thomas.
For some weeks now, I’ve been preaching on the Pillars of Christian Character. We’ve already examined four of those pillars: Faith, Obedience, Humility, and Love. Unity is the fifth and there are five more to go. The text I’ve chosen to develop this theme of unity as foundational to Christian character, comes from Philippians 2:5-11. This passage give us one of the most exalted views of Christ in all the Scriptures. It's theological scope is breathtaking. What I find so interesting is that it was written because of a squabble between two women in the church at Philippi. The incident that prompted Paul's writing of this letter and this passage in particular was a hostile rivalry that started as a private matter but soon affected an entire congregation.
“I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3, NIV)
The church in Philippi was evidently taking sides behind these two contentious women. Pride and stubbornness kept Eudoria and Syntyche from resolving their problems. The result was that Jesus Christ, and His Lordship over that church, was eclipsed by the conflict. Any sin, whether it be individual or corporate, that overshadows the glory of Christ in his church must be dealt with.
I. PAUL'S PLEA FOR UNITY AMONG THE BRETHREN
- let me take a few moments to share with you the basics of Christian unity
- unity in the local church is fundamental to the health of any local congregation
- in verses 1-5 Paul lists four incentives for spiritual unity
A. THE FIRST INCENTIVE FOR UNITY IS OUR STATUS IN CHRIST
- v. 1a "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,"
- we are united with Christ
- we are not strangers united around a common purpose
- we are family united around a common love interest the Lord Jesus Christ
- our first incentive for unity is a vital and spiritual kinship, not just a common label
B. THE SECOND INCENTIVE FOR UNITY IS A BOND OF LOVE
- v. 1b "If any comfort from his love,"
- God loves us and if He loves us we ought to love each other
- the world will know that we are the children of God not . . .
- when we perform great signs and wonders . . .
- when we preach in the power of the Spirit . . .
- when we have theological unity . . .
- when we have doctrinal conformity . . .
- when we reach political congruity . . .
- no, the world will know that we are the children of God when we love each other
C. THE THIRD INCENTIVE FOR UNITY IS A FELLOWSHIP OF THE SPIRIT
- v. 1c "if any fellowship with the Spirit"
- when each believer in a local New Testament church is filled with the Spirit, there will be unity
- the Holy Spirit is never a party to shady deals, insincerity, haughtiness, arrogant and condescension
- our fellowship with the Spirit is proved by our fellowship with others in whom the Spirit dwells
D. THE FOURTH INCENTIVE FOR UNITY IS SPIRITUAL EMPATHY
- v. 1d "if any tenderness and compassion,"
- Paul is essentially saying, "Do you have a heart? If so, listen to me."
- those who name the name of Christ are the recipients of compassion and tenderness
- the recipient of the grace of God should be able to express compassion and tenderness to others
- Paul wants these two ladies as well as the church to "complete my joy by being of the same mind."
- this unity that Paul refers to does not mean that Euodia and Syntyche must see eye-to-eye on all points
- to be of the same mind does not mean to agree completely on everything
- it does mean adopting these four spiritual laws as the foundation of Christian fellowship
- these two ladies were at each other's jugular vein
- selfish ambition and vain conceit were posing a serious threat to the fellowship and ministry of this congregation
- to counter these attitudes, Paul insists that their demeanor toward each other be grounded in the attitude and humility of Christ himself
II. PAUL'S CORNERSTONE FOR UNITY AMONG THE BRETHREN
- what is Paul's solution to this problem?
- “not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.” (Philippians 2:4, ASV)
- the Apostle does not mean that we are to covet or look desirously upon the things owned by those around us
- he means that we are to look after the lives of those around us and desire the best for them
A. OUR ATTITUDES DETERMINE OUR BEHAVIORS
- Paul knew that the believer's mind is a battle ground of our life where we either win or loose the fight for practical Christian living in this world
- what you view with your eyes . . .
- what you hear with your ears . . .
- what you perceive with your other senses . . .
- are all indelibly imprinted upon that great storehouse of information called the human brain
- all this information finds expression through what social scientists call attitudinal formation
- attitudes are a culmination of our thoughts, perceptions, beliefs and feelings we hold toward our culture, events and even people
- the sum total of our attitudes forms our world-view
- our world-view ultimately affect our behavior
- now, if all that seems confusing to you, listen to the way the writer of the Book of Proverbs puts it: "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he."
- the Scriptures affirm that the Christian’s attitudes determine our behavior in the church and in the world
- this is why the Apostle Paul says in Phil. 2:5, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."
- the NIV says it this way: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."
B. THE DISCIPLE'S MIND MUST BE CHRIST-CENTERED AND SPIRIT CONTROLLED
- our goal is to imitate the incarnation
- whoa-boy! BIG challenge!
- let this mind be in you Paul tells the Philippian believers
- literally the phrase is, keep on thinking this in you
- the implication is that the mind of Christ is something we are to regularly, consistently, daily strive to achieve
- in verses 5-8 Jesus Christ is introduced as the exemplary illustration of the sort of mind we are to assume in our interpersonal relationships
- we imitate the incarnation through a life of humility
- at the incarnation, Christ gave up His environment of glory to be born in a stable
- the KJV says, "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:”
- the preincarnate Christ did not regard the advantage of his position of glory as something to be held on to at all costs, greedily grasped as a robber seizes his plunder
- he regarded it as something to be readily relinquished for the higher gain and the greater glory which would become his through obedience
- and so God the Son took on flesh and blood
- He set aside His right to glory and honor to be despised and rejected of men
- a man can counterfeit love, he can counterfeit faith, he can counterfeit hope and all the other graces, but it is very difficult to counterfeit humility
- we imitate the incarnation through a life of humility
- we imitate the incarnation through development of a servant's heart
- Jesus temporarily stripped Himself of the insignia of majesty to become a servant
- this role was not forced upon him
- Jesus willingly took servanthood upon himself that He might glorify the Father, and save men lost in sin
- though He was God in the flesh, our Lord did not exalt Himself nor demand to be honored or served
- instead, he chose to be a servant
- you and I will never have the mind of Christ until we are willing to be servants who constantly ask ourselves the question, "Who can I serve today?"
- ILLUS. President Woodrow Wilson said: “If you think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself.”
- how far do we go with this humility and servitude attitude stuff?
- Jesus was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross
- but perhaps the more difficult death is the death to self
- ILLUS. Before Jesus ever died on the cross, he died to his own desires and his right to himself. Now where else is his death to self more apparent then when we see him face down in the dirt in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.'" (Mat. 26:39)
III. PAUL’S LESSON: WE MUST STRIVE TOWARD UNITY AMONG THE BRETHREN
- "May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus," (Romans 15:5, NIv)
- the apostle Paul writes these words to the believers at Rome while working among the Christians at Corinth
- no wonder he speaks of unity to the Roman believers!
- if there was one thing the believers at Corinth did not have it was a spirit of unity
- in the midst of a polarized church, full of cantankerous and obstinate believers, Paul reminds the believers at Rome of the virtues of unity
- Paul's prayer-wish is that these believers at Rome live in harmony with each other
A. OUR UNITY WITH EACH OTHER IS BASED ON OUR FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST
- somehow we've gotten the idea that unity among the brethren in a local church means everybody has to think alike on all subjects
- not so
- Christian unity among the early believers was not based ondoctrinal conformity or worship-style patterns or mission-support philosophy
- unity among those early Christians was based on a common experience with a risen Lord
- "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ." (1 John 1:3, NIV)
- notice that John does not say, "We proclaim to you that we believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures, so that you also may have fellowship with us . . ."
- notice that he does not say, “We believe in using worship choruses instead of the hymnal, so that you also may have fellowship with us . . ."
- notice that John does not insist, “We believe in the associational approach to missions support instead of the societal approach, so that you also may have fellowship with us. . ."
- but none of those things are the basis of our fellowship within this local church
B. THOSE THINGS WHICH DIVIDE US SHOULD NOT BE AS POWERFUL AS THAT WHICH UNITES US
- why is it so hard for us to get along?
- ILLUS. Some years ago I heard John MacArthur tell a story which illustrates what is happening among Baptists. It seems six men were marooned on a desert island. Two were Jewish, two were Catholic and two were Baptist. The two Jews got together and founded "Temple Immanuel." The two Catholics organized "The Church of the Sacred Heart." The two Baptists also broke ground: One for the "First Baptist Church" and the other for the "New Hope Baptist Church," across the island.
- endurance . . .
- the word can also be translated as steadfastness, or constancy
- in the NT it is the characteristic of a man who does not swerve from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings
- let's face it, sometimes we can get on each others nerves and we need endurance—patient steadfastness—to maintain unity
- encouragement . . .
- the word can, among a number of translations, mean persuasive discourse, stirring address
- ILLUS. One of the great tennis matches of all time was played on Center Court at Wimbledon in 1981. I was a semi-final match between Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors. Borg held a slight edge over Jimmy Connors, and the crowd was actively involved. Some yelled, "Come on, Borg!" While others yelled, "Come on, Connors!" The noise became so great that the umpire stopped the action on several occasions and demanded silence. The crowd continued their partisan cheering, and again the umpire interceded and stopped the match until it quieted down. As Borg prepared to serve, the silence was broken by a single voice that cried out, "Come one, everybody!"
We will never become a church that effectively reaches out to those who are missing out if we shoot our wounded and major on the minuses. Instead of being fishers of men, as Christ has called us, we will be keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium. The great need in local churches today is a spirit of unity in the bond of peace.
In just a few weeks, you’ll see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in V formation. Do you why they fly that way. Ornithologists have learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.
Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the formation and another goose flies point. The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
What we need in the Body of Christ is the sense God gave a goose!