August 16, 2020

Unity Through Humility

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Passage: Philippians 2:1-4
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How can you and I as Christians demonstrate the reality and the power of the gospel to those who are closest to us? How can you and I as Christians demonstrate the reality and the power of the gospel to those who are watching us from afar? If we could ask the Apostle Paul that question he might say, well, one way that you can show the reality in the power of the gospel is by living in unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ. And that’s the case that the Apostle Paul is making here as he opens his letter to his friends in Philippi. And in this particular portion of his letter he begins to narrow his focus, he begins to zero in on a key element of unity. And what is the key element for us in order for us to experience unity? Boiled down to one word it’s the word humility. Humility. And when we hear that we should immediately have some idea of why we struggle to live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ, because what is the opposite of humility? It’s pride, it’s pride. We all struggle with pride. And because our pride causes us so much trouble, the Bible, as you might expect, says a great deal about it.

And we could go to many passages in the Scriptures, but let me just give you two of them from the book of Proverbs. For instance, Proverbs 16 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. It’s better to be able to lowly spirit with the poor than to then to divide the spoil with the proud.” Then Proverbs 11, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” So the quicker that we acknowledge our struggle with pride. The quicker that we acknowledge that we have this ongoing struggle, we have this desire, this tendency to always want to put ourselves first. We will always struggle in fulfilling Paul’s command here, to put the needs and the interests of others before our own. And the reason that we struggle this way is very simple. It’s pride. It’s pride. So what’s the antidote? What is the cure for pride? Well, Paul, again gives it to us. It’s humility. The foundation for our unity that flows from our humility are the four realities that Paul outlined in verse one. Look at verse one again, “So if there’s any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the spirit, any affection and sympathy,” he goes on to say, “complete my joy.”

So our unity, which comes from our humility, is rooted, is based upon these realities that Paul has already shown to them. So these four realities create responsibilities for us. In other words, if these things are true then these other things should naturally follow. If we’ve received all these blessings in Christ and from Christ, then we are responsible to live to Christ and for Christ. And based upon those realities that he has shown them in verse one, he makes a simple request of them, and that is simply that they would complete his joy. That term “complete my joy” means to make his joy full. It doesn’t mean that Paul didn’t have any joy in his life, and that they were solely responsible for creating joy in his life. No, he already has joy, we know that. But what he’s saying to them is, you can fill up my joy you can enlarge my joy, if you will do these following things. Paul says, since you have experienced these wonderful realities in your union with Christ than you should and you could and you will be able to make my joy complete.

Now you may think that he has his words out of place. After all, he’s about to tell them that they need to put the needs of others first and that they need to count others more significant than themselves. But here he begins by asking them to make his joy complete. So what’s happening? Is he putting his joy above their interests? Or to be blunt about it, is Paul acting hypocritically here? Is he telling us to do one thing but he’s actually doing another? No, absolutely not. Perish the thought. What he’s trying to do, he’s trying to help them understand that there is a better joy, there is a more satisfying joy than the joy they falsely believe they might experience when they put themselves first. What is the philosophy of our world? Put yourself first and then you’ll be happy. Take care of your own needs first and then you’ll be happy. Take care of you, look out for number one, and then you will experience joy. But Paul says just the opposite. No, true joy, lasting joy comes when you as a Christian begin to put the needs of others first. The greater joy, the true joy is the experience of seeking the welfare of others. The true joy, the lasting joy comes from helping others grow and mature and become like Jesus Christ.

And Paul says complete my joy. In other words, he’s not ashamed to ask them to do something on on his behalf. And we see in the New Testament that there are several places where the scriptures instruct us to make sure that we live and conduct ourselves in such a way that the leaders that God has put over us can experience joy. That they serve you with joy. For instance, in 1 Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” And then he says, “Be at peace among yourselves.” One way that you show your respect for those God has put in a position of authority over you is simply by living in peace with each other. In other words, having unity. Likewise, the writer of Hebrews said, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

So your actions, and I really don’t know if the average church member thinks about this. Your actions have a direct impact on your pastor. We grieve at your sin. We can be discouraged at the slowness of your growth. We are discouraged when we see you act in a way contrary to the things that you’ve been taught. But the average church member again puts their own needs ahead of anybody else’s, including the pastor’s, and they become once again they take on that American spirit. I’m going to do it my way, I’ll do what I want to do with little or no regard as to how it affects other people. But Paul says complete my joy. And he doesn’t ask this in a selfish way. He knows that his joy will be enlarge. And they will also experience joy at the same time as they do what? As they put the needs of others first.

Again, this is so backwards from what we hear. This is so backwards, this is so opposite of all the messages that we hear in our culture and our society. Sinclair Ferguson writes, “In the most gentle of ways, Paul is challenging them: which is more important your self indulgence are giving me, who brought the gospel to you, the joy of seeing you live mature and gracious Christian lives?” And then he says “At the lowest level, our failures bring sorrow to those who first pointed them to Christ.” Wise words from pastor Ferguson. You know, it’s apparent throughout Paul’s letter to the Philippians, throughout the entirety of the book, that he shared a unique relationship with this particular group of believers. You can see the obvious affection in his words and his attitude towards them. And you can see their obvious affection for him and how they wanted to take care of his needs. They had a unique and special relationship.

You know, he understood as he asked them to make his joy full again, they would be helping themselves. They would be helping themselves to experience joy as they learn to serve others and put others first. You know there’s one other thing that I see here, I’ll just hit this very quickly. And that is how we act as Christians impacts those around us. How we act as Christians has a direct impact on those around us. How we conduct ourselves as believers has a direct impact on those closest to us. Has a direct impact on our family and our friends. So we need to ask ourselves this question: is my conduct bringing those who I am closest to bringing them joy or pain? Just something to think about, isn’t it? So what’s Paul’s reasoning here as to how they could complete his joy? Well, Paul says, if you have experienced these things, then you should complete my joy. But the question is, how could they complete his joy? And we can boil it down to one word with several components.

That one word is like-minded. If they would be of the same mind and have the same love, that was the beginning of how they would be able to complete as joy. Paul says, be of the same mind. Literally he says to them, be thinking the same thing. We’ll see this again in verse five when Paul tells them to have the mind of Christ. So in order to maintain unity in the church, they must be like-minded. He draws a contrast later in his letter to those who think differently in 3:15, and those who set their minds on earthly things in 3:19. But Paul is asking them, he says, for the sake of the advancement of the gospel, and for the glory of God, please set aside your differences. Please set aside your quarreling, stop your quarreling and I need you to fix your minds on Christ. But let’s make sure that we understand exactly what Paul is saying here. Let’s make sure we understand what Paul’s asking us to do. He is not telling them that they have to agree 100% on absolutely everything. He’s not saying you all have to like vanilla ice cream and you can’t like chocolate. He’s not saying you have to agree the team that wears scarlet and gray is the best team in the land and not the team that wears burnt orange. Right? He’s not saying anything like that at all.

He’s not saying that we have to be clones of one another. Have you ever been to a church you felt like you were a member of this movie that was out years ago, Stepford Wives. Nobody knows what that is. Anyway, this was cloning before cloning was. In this little neighborhood you know, they had all these little clones of the housewife, you know, and they’re all just alike. Have you ever been to a church where you walk in you feel like wait a minute they’re all… something just don’t seem right here. Everybody’s all alike, they’re all dressed alike, look alike, smell alike, comb their hair alike you know. Whatever it may be, you know, you feel like you’re, you know, you’re just in another dimension someplace.

Paul’s not saying that at all. Paul’s not saying that you have to be clones of one another. What he is saying is this: when it comes when it came to the things of Christ, when it came to advancing the gospel as it pertained to the essentials of the gospel, they needed to have the same mindset. They couldn’t have any division or discord or lack of harmony in that area. So The question is how? How can any, regardless of the size, how can any diverse group of people live in unity? Take a group of people who come into church with different backgrounds, different experiences, different ages, different opinions about various things. How can a group of people like that, how can they live in unity with one another?

Well, Paul spells it out in chapter four. If you look at chapter four real quick, let me give you just a couple verses. In 4:2 Paul says, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.” In other words, you know what he’s doing there? He’s urging them to be like-minded. He’s urging them to have the same mind. But then in verse eight of chapter four, he says, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. So here’s Paul’s logic at this point. His logic is this, if you’re thinking about these things.” The things that he’s just described, by the way, if you look at them, these are all things that describe the Lord Jesus. He says, if you’re focusing on these things then you won’t be focusing on the things that could potentially divide you. If you focus on all the things that you have in common, then you won’t have the time to be focusing on those things that could cause potential division in the church.

Paul gave similar advice to the members of the church at Colossia he told them to set your mind on things that are above not on things that are on earth. And what was their reason? What was their motivation for doing that? Well, he says for you have died– again, another one of these biblical realities– for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Two realities there: you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. That is your reality. So therefore set your mind on things that are above and that would help them to live in unity. See, it is our union with Christ that empowers us to live in unity. See, we all have the same common starting point. We are all in Christ. That is a major contributing factor to us being able to live in unity with one another. This is how we maintain the unity from our union with Christ, remembering who we are in Christ, going back to our identity in Christ. This is who I am. Like-minded comes from the fact that we have renewed minds. We talked a little bit about this last week. And because the Christian has a renewed mind we as Christians can have the same mind. We can be like-minded, we can think the same things when it comes to the essential truths, doctrines of the gospel.

So they will complete the joy of Paul and make his joy full if they would live in unity And they could live in unity by being of the same mind or being like-minded. Paul knows that in order for the congregation, that if the congregation is thinking right, they will act right. Whenever you see a congregation that’s at one another’s throats, who is not displaying unity, who has discord and division, you can be sure of one thing, they do not have the right kind of love for one another. The Bible is abundantly clear, particularly so in these passages. If we are abounding more and more in the love that Paul talks about here, we will live in unity. When a church is not unified, there is a lack of love, a lack of love. Someone is not willing to give on, give in on some minor detail, and so they blow the thing up.

Second, Paul exhorts them have the same love. Previously in 1:19 Paul prayed that their love would abound more and more, as we just said, with knowledge and discernment. And if they were abounding in love for each other, then they would have absolutely no problem in living in unity. In fact, if they were abounding in love for each other, they would have the natural desire to live in unity. Unity is the natural desire of those who love one another. You think of marriage, two people get married because they love one another they want to experience unity in their marriage. So why is this true about love? Because a shared love produces a shared unity. And a shared unity is a shared unity of purpose. And again, why is this true? Because the Bible says that the biblical love makes or creates in us a servant’s heart. Dennis Johnson writes, “It is not enough to agree with each other theologically. God actually calls you to care for each other deeply in a love that binds your souls together so strongly that differences of perspective cannot pull you apart.” Now there’s food for thought.

We should ask ourselves, do we as a church love each other to such a degree? Do we love each other so much that our souls are bound together so that minor differences or personal preferences cannot pull us apart? You know, I can’t imagine life without my wife. I’m not being gallant or macabre when I say I want to die first. Because I simply can’t imagine life without my wife. Because of the love that I share for her, because of the depth of the love that we share together. And as strange as this will sound coming from me, particularly for those of you who know me, our souls have been knit together. But let me ask you do you feel that way about your brothers and sisters in Christ? Our love for each other should be so strong that we can’t imagine life without each other. And I think it’s sad when we don’t think about our church family in those terms. I dare say very few people do. We see this in how quickly they’ll leave a church over something minor. You can’t tell me that they loved you. Because the carpet’s blue and they it black. What kind of love is that? That’s not love. That’s the opposite of love, it’s selfishness.

And one of the things that our church, as well as every church should be known for is our love. Jesus said, the world will know that you are my disciples if you what? If you have love for one another. And this is one of the struggles of this particular time that we’re going through. The very fact that we can’t be unified, that we can’t express our love in ways that we want to express our love. Just a horrible time. You know, I said in the first service. The overwhelming motivation for us to want to be together in one unified service is not the fact that we’re are Americans and by God, that’s our right. No. It should be that we love each other so much that we can’t stand to be apart. Do you love me that way? Do I love you that way? It’s a soul searching question. It’s an important question. And if the answer is no, we need to ask why. Perhaps you never thought of it in those terms, perhaps you’ve never been taught about it in those terms.

That’s what the Bible teaches. Talking about love and action, love and deeds, love that responds to the needs of others. Love that sees the need of another and responds if it can and if it can’t respond, because it lacks the resources, it goes to God in prayer and begs God to meet the need from his infinite resources. That’s the kind of love that we should have for one another. Yes, we should be known for our doctrinal integrity but we should also be known for our love. Our doctrinal integrity should be shrouded, covered by, surrounded by love. The Bible says speak the truth in love. Because of these ongoing influences that Paul described there in verse one, those realities should cause us to be loyal to Christ, they should cause us to be loyal to his church, they should cause us to be loyal to one another. So the gist of what Paul is saying is this: since there these things are true, then you can complete my joy by being like-minded and living lives marked by humility and putting others first. They could complete, they could enlarge, they could fill up the joy of Paul, if they would be single-minded.

That’s what he says here in verse two. He wants them to have the same mind, he wants them to be of same love, which results in them being in full accord. Being in full accord. What does that mean? Well to be in full accord comes from a word which means to experience harmony. To be united in spirit. It literally means to be soul brothers and soul sisters. Think about that. Being in full accord. To be in full accord goes far beyond just surface pleasantries and surface emotions. Being in full accord means to live and live with a harmony that the world envies but frankly will never achieve. And of course we are in election season. And in election season the message is always the same. Party A is going to unite the country. No, party B is going to unite the country. And neither party unites the country. Why? Because you cannot have true unity apart from Christ. Our spiritual oneness, our spiritual unity properly understood and practiced removes all discord and disunity within the church.

And so as Paul closes verse two, he repeats his plea there. And the reason I believe he repeats his plea is simply to emphasize the fact of how important unity is for the church. But still, we’re back to this question. How can such a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, different ages, different preferences and perspectives, how can a group of people like that live in unity? How can they be like-minded? How can they have the same love? How can they be soul brothers and soul sisters? How can this actually become a reality? Well, here’s why it’s so difficult even for us as Christians to achieve this. What is the dominant attitude that you and I as believers must hold if we are going to live in Christ-pleasing, unity? Well, it’s right there in our text. Paul doesn’t try and hide it. In fact, it’s the big idea of the text. It’s that word humility. If we have any hope at all of living in unity as brothers and sisters in Christ, the overwhelming dominant attitude of our lives must be one of humility.

What is the opposite of unity? It’s discord, it’s conflict. It’s a lack of harmony. Conflict almost always comes from our pride. Conflict is a product of our self-seeking motives. If pride is the problem, then what’s the solution? Whatever the opposite of pride is. And what’s the opposite of pride? The opposite of pride is humility. So, how do we know what it means to live with humility? Well, Paul spells that out for us very clearly. First of all, he says to live in humility we must make sure that we do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. Now pay particular attention to the first two words of the verse: “do nothing.” Paul leaves absolutely no exceptions available for us. I’s a comprehensive term. It covers all. You can’t say yeah, but what about this? Do nothing. Yeah, but what about this? Do nothing. Yeah, but this? Do nothing. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. Those two words “do nothing” keeps our pride in check. Do nothing from selfish ambition. Selfish ambition produces strife. And Paul says that there should never, we should never allow ourselves if we are part of Christ’s Church to display an attitude of self-promoting attitude. Why? Because it will always create division and conflict in the church.

And the one who promotes self is only seeking to elevate themselves above others in the church. And this is what I’ve discovered over the years about the self-promoter. Normally, they are unteachable. They are unteachable. They truly believe that they know better, they know more than anyone else in the church. And their supposed knowledge has puffed them up to such a degree that they have an overinflated estimation of their own self-importance. And when you have that kind of opinion of yourself, what are the odds that you are going to be able to count others more significant than yourselves? Slim to none and slim left town right? It’s just not going to happen. A person who displays these attitudes knows absolutely nothing of humility. So that’s the negative do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.

But in contrast, there’s the positive. The positive is, but in humility, count others more significant than yourselves. And the key word again is humility means to have a lowly mind. It was used to describe a person who thought of them selves as a servant to all of those who were around them. It means to adopt the mindset of a servant. And a servant is one who count others more significant than themselves. A servant sees a need and does what? Tries to meet the need. A servant sees a person who needs help and they try and help that person. They don’t say, well, I’ll be praying for you, brother, no, they get involved, they get their hands dirty, they do whatever they can do. That’s the mindset of humility. They count that other person at that moment with their need more significant than themselves They choose to put the needs of that other in front of their own.

Steve Lawson says, “When Paul tells his readers to regard others with a lowly mindset, he uses a word taken from the ancient world of mathematics, meaning to calculate. They must add up the needs of others at the same time subtracting their personal interest. They must arrive at a bottom line summary of what would benefit others and then act upon the result of that calculation.” Do the math, in other words. We are always constantly on the lookout for those whom we can help. In other words, we’re intentional about this. We actively seek out opportunities for us to serve others. What this means in a practical sense is that in our interactions with each other, we consider them more important than ourselves. And again, I keep stressing this word, you intentionally seek to serve them, rather than trying to use them. But we need to understand exactly what Paul says here because it could easily be misunderstood and it could easily be abused. Paul is not saying that we have to look down on ourselves. Paul’s not saying that we don’t care for ourselves. Paul is not saying that we have to hate ourselves. It means that you love and serve others, again with that word, intention. You’re intentional about serving others. It’s just a way of life for you.

God’s point is this, the people around us are to get the lion’s share of our attention. Now, of course, that includes our immediate family. And of course, it includes our church family. But it also includes those outside of our church family. Okay. There’s no limit set here. There’s no restriction set here. There’s no qualification here. If they fall into the category of “others”, they are to be served. The interests of others, of course, includes their spiritua and physical needs but includes their entire life circumstances. You know, what Paul says here is completely consistent with what he said to the church to the believers at Corinth. He told them that love is never self-seeking. And he also said that love always has the goal of helping others. Isn’t this a radical way of living? Doesn’t this run contrary to the grain of our world? If we as a church want to be known for being different, here’s where we need to be different. Not the length of our skirts or the shortness of our hair or the fact that we wear a tie in a white shirt and a black suit every Sunday.

No, now this is how we want to be different. We put others first, we consider others more significant than ourselves. We actively intentionally seek to serve the needs of others. To look out for others means that we keep an eye out for their needs. It means to live with regard for each other. As one commentator said, if we believers are primarily focused on God and His glory, we will automatically be concerned for serving the needs of others, especially in his family. See, if we follow the command of Scripture that whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, whatever we do, we do it to the glory of God, then it will naturally follow that we will seek the good of others. Okay? The good of others is not the end. The good of others is the means to an end. So what’s the end? It’s the glory of God. We do these things not for our own glory. We do them for the glory of God. We do this, in other words, to make God glorified.

As we were singing here this go around, this thought came to my mind. What Paul’s saying here is this is how, now listen carefully, this is how we display God’s glory to others. We get all flummoxed when we talk about glory. And we use the terms that, you know, well, it’s a weightiness and that’s true there is a weightiness. Many times in the Bible glory is connected with an overwhelming light, the glory of the Lord shown round about them. But glory can also be shown by how we treat others, how we serve others. And if we do it with the right motivation, we what? We bring glory to God, we show the glory of God. We say to the unbelieving world, it’s because of God’s glory and how it has impacted my life, that’s why I serve you. That’s why I serve others. That’s why I put the needs of others first. That’s how we can show the glory of God every day of our lives. Not just at Christmastime when we talk about the shepherds.

Unity. Much needed but seldom achieved. And why is it seldom achieved? Because the only way to achieve unity is through humility. The path to unity requires us as Christians to have the same mind, to be like-minded, to have the same love, to have a love that unites us at the deepest level so that our souls are knit together. The path to unity requires us to put the needs of others before our own, to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. The path of unity requires us to count others more significant than ourselves. And unity brings us joy. But it also brings joy to those to whom we serve. But most importantly, our unity advances the gospel and glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ.