We are in a brief series on unity in the church from Philippians chapter 1. And if you would like to turn in your Bible to Philippians 1, I want to read the portion of Scripture that we’ll be looking at. And I want to mention to you that I feel it’s important for me in these messages to make sure that I make the case as fully as I possibly can. That doesn’t mean I’m going to make the sermon any longer, so you can rest assured that’s not going to happen. But I do want to load it with all the Scripture that applies to these subjects, because I know these messages get listened to a lot after they’re preached here, and I just want to make sure that everything is in there so that people don’t assume that something was left out of that the full argument or full text of Scripture wasn’t being considered. So it’s important to do a kind of complete picture on these subjects.
Talking about unity is critically important because the church of Jesus Christ on the larger sense is divided almost in seemingly possible fragments so that it seems unlikely that anything could bring it together; and that, of course, is a tragedy and a dishonor to our Lord. Let me read Philippians 1, verse 27 down through chapter 2, verse 4.
“Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me. Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” So that is the word of the Lord to us, and indeed it is a clear word.
The Lord commands us to be one: one spirit, one mind in verse 27; again in chapter 2, verse 2, “maintaining the same love, the same mind, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” So this is a call to unity. This is not an unfamiliar theme to the New Testament; rather, it is everywhere in the New Testament, called upon the church to pursue this kind of unity.
Now over the last number of months we have looked at some of Paul’s epistles and we have looked at the epistle of Galatians. I would draw you back there, Galatians chapter 3, and a very important portion of Scripture in which Paul basically drives at the very same point of unity. Galatians chapter 3, verse 26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ, immersed into Christ” – that is into His death and resurrection spiritually – “have clothes yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
Here the apostle Paul again is denying that within the spiritual family of God there is any distinction such as Jew, Greek; slave, free; male, female. We’re all one in Christ Jesus. This is talking about our actual real unity. This exists, this is true; we are one in Christ if we are true believers.
Back in chapter 3, verse 21, Paul said prior to coming to Christ, we were also united, but united in a different way. We were all under the bondage of the law. From verses 21 to 25 he talks about the fact that, “We were all” – verse 23 – “kept in custody under the law.” So we were all in bondage to the law; and as such, we were violators of the law; and because we violated the law, we were headed for divine judgment.
So all of humanity without Christ is united, united in common bondage under the condemnation of God for violation of His law. People think they are independent operators, they think they’re unique. The truth of the matter is that whatever may be the choices they make within the framework of their bondage, the whole human race is in bondage to the law of God; having violated the law of God, they are in bondage, headed for a sentence from God, which is eternal damnation. We have been delivered from that unifying reality into a new unifying reality. We are all in Christ. We are all in Christ. We have been justified by faith, we are all sons of God. We’ve all been joined to Christ in His death and resurrection, and clothed with Christ is how Paul describes us. We have been literally covered with His person, covered with His righteousness.
Down in chapter 4, verse 6, “Because we are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, ‘crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” That’s intimate words that we can speak to God as if we said, “Papa,” to Him. We have that reconciliation with God that allows us to speak to God as a loving Father, because, “We are” – as verse 7 says – “no longer slaves, but sons. And as sons, we are heirs through God.”
So we have been literally delivered from the family of Satan in to the family of God. We are all sons of God. We all possess the Spirit of God. We are all in union with Jesus Christ. His righteousness covers us. All prior distinctions disappear. We are no longer in bondage to the law, we are no longer distinguished by our race. We are no longer distinguished by our social status. We are no longer distinguished by gender. All of us are in Christ. That is what Paul is saying in Galatians 3, and he’s saying it to call for a practical sort of manifestation of this spiritual reality. We are to behave ourselves in a way that’s consistent with our true unity.
We also looked for a few weeks at Colossians chapter 3 – and I would encourage you to go back to that. We were there not too long ago, and we read in chapter 3 that, “We have been raised up with Christ, we have been seated with Christ at the right hand of God. We are to set our minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth. All the earthly connections, all the earthly relationships, all the earthly realities disappear in favor of heavenly ones. You have died in Christ, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” So as a result of that, we have really no interest in what is part of this earthly life.
“We even consider” – verse 5 says – “the members of our earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Those are the things that brought about the wrath of God on the sons of disobedience. “We once walked in them when we were living in them. But we are no longer living in them, so we put aside all anger, wrath, malice, slander, abusive speech from our mouth. We do not lie to one another. We’ve laid aside the old self with its practice, its evil practices, and put on the new self.” So this is the picture of our transformation, of our salvation.
And because of that renewal, verse 11 says, “There is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.” So again, the point here is we have a new family, a new father, a new brotherhood and sisterhood. We are related to Jesus Christ, we are covered by His righteousness. We are to set our affections on things above and not on things on the earth.
So this is reality: we are one in Christ. But that reality needs to show up in how we live. So verse 12 of Colossians 3 says, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,” – here’s how you behave – “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”
Now look, we are all united spiritually and it needs to be made manifest that we are united practically. That is the call here. We are to be marked by love, which reveals itself in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness. This is how we put on the bond of unity, perfect bond of unity, which is defined by love. So we should be known by our love, by the shalom. “They know that you’re My disciples” – John 13, Jesus said – “that you have love for one another.” So the church, which is one, the true church is one in Christ; God is all and in all, and all are in Christ, should be manifestly, visibly one. There should be a pervasive dominating unity that gives testimony to the validity of the gospel because of our unity.
Now I want to show you Ephesians 4. Again, this is very familiar revelation for anyone who reads the apostle Paul’s writings, because he speaks of it so often. Now chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul is imploring us to, “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” It sounds a lot like Philippians 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a worthy way.” Here he says, “Walk in a worthy way.”
Now what is the way he wants us to walk? “With all humility and gentleness,” – very much like we just read in Colossians – “with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Again, it’s the same instruction. We should be known by our unity, and that’s because everything about our salvation speaks of unity. “There is one body,” – the church – “one Spirit,” – the Holy Spirit – “one hope of your calling,” – and that is the call to eternal glory. “There is one Lord,” – the Lord Jesus Christ – “one faith,” – the gospel – “one baptism,” – that baptism which is the public confession of faith in Jesus Christ and union with Him symbolized in the water. “There is one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Marvelous statement about God. He is overall: sovereign. He is through all: omnipotent. He is in all: omnipresent. So we have one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. We should not be anything other than one church. “We are as one,” – 1 Corinthians 3 says – “the temple of God. We are the temple of God.” God is one, God is three-in-one, and yet God is undivided; we should manifest that same unity. Because of such spiritual realities, we are to live in unity – and that means live in humility, and live in forgiveness, and live in compassion and kindness and love, and pursue the bond of peace. Now let’s go back to Philippians 1.
Paul here is doing essentially what he does in those other places. He is speaking to the church about the basic foundation of Christian living, which is unity. If you’re going to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, or in the language of Ephesians, if you’re going to walk worthy, it’s going to demand unity. He says, “Whether I come and see you or remain absent, I desire to hear about you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Down in chapter 2, verse 2, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Again, this is a call for unity that is parallel to the other ones that I just read. And this action is against the reality, the sad reality that believers have to pursue this with the full power of the Holy Spirit and all the means of grace. The sad truth is that Paul continues to bring this up because believes very often do not pursue this kind of unity.
In Galatians chapter 5, Paul talks about the fact that, “You bite and devour one another. Take care that you are not consumed by one another.” The whole law is fulfilled in this. “Love your neighbor as yourself. Walk by the Spirit and you won’t carry out the desires of the flesh that rip and tear and bite and devour.” I don’t know that in my lifetime I’ve ever seen so much internal biting and devouring going on in the church, not our church, but the church at large. Constant bickering and fighting. Verse 27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That means to pursue unity.
Now There are four features of this unity, okay. So we looked at two of them the last time, and I’m going to rehearse them just a little bit. There are four features of this unity right here in verse 27. Number one is standing firm. “I want to hear that you’re standing firm.” We looked at that. We looked at 1 Corinthians 16:13 and 14, “Act like men, be strong, be courageous.” We looked at Galatians 5, “Stand firm in the freedom with which Christ has made you free.” We looked at 1 Thessalonians 3:8 and then Philippians 4:1, “Stand firm.” We looked at Ephesians 6, the armor of the believer, which says, “Having done all, to stand, stand firm, putting your armor on,” and then the armor describes both righteousness and truth. So we have not only the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of the hope of salvation and the loins girded with truth, but the sword of the Spirit. So it’s about righteousness and truth. Those two things come together in the believer’s armor as the believer pursues unity.
Now I want to introduce something here that may sound a little bit odd, but it has to be said, and you will realize the reality of it very soon. Unity is divisive. Did you get that? Unity is divisive, because based on the Word of God, true spiritual unity excludes some people. This unity demands exclusion. When we talk about unity we’re not talking about some kind of sentimental collection of people without regard to what they believe or how they behave. This unity is by definition exclusive, and it does exclude people. It excludes them on two levels: on the level of doctrine and on the level of behavior. Or you could say it the other way: it includes those whose doctrine is sound and whose behavior is virtuous. This is a true unity.
Now we’ve already seen this in chapter 3 – I commented on it last week – verse 17, “Brethren, join in following my example. Follow my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us,” those who follow apostolic conduct and apostolic doctrine. “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, they’re the enemies of the cross of Christ.” “You don’t want to follow those people. Follow my example, not the example of those who are the enemies of Christ.”
First Corinthians chapter 11, verses 18 and 19, is very instructive with regard to this. Listen to what Paul writes: “For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.” And then he says this most interesting, “For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” There have to be divisions. “There have to be factions, so that you are separating those who are approved from those who are not approved.”
So again, unity is divisive. Unity demands exclusion. And those who are to be excluded from our unity fall into two categories. Number one, those in error, those in error.
The end of the book of Romans chapter 16, verse 17, Paul, after this glorious epistle laying out gospel truth so consummately says this: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them.” Anybody with contrary doctrine. “Such men are slaves, not of the Lord Jesus Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” Keep your eye on those who cause dissension and hindrance by countering the biblical message with false teaching. Turn away from them.
That is one of the reasons a couple of weeks ago I preached the message on “What Does the Bible Say About Women Preachers?” and we talked about how blatant that disregard for Scripture is. You can’t embrace those people in this manifest unity that declares our oneness with Christ if they are propagators of something that is in defiance of Scripture.
In 2 Thessalonians chapter 3 and verse 6, listen to this: “Now we command you, brethren,” – these are not suggestions – “we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” – that is consistent with His will – “that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition” – or the doctrine, or the revelation – “ which you received from us,” – the apostles. But rather, verse 7, “Follow our example.” This is a command: “Keep away from every brother leading an unruly life and not according to the revealed apostolic doctrine.”
Titus chapter 3 adds to this clear revelation these words, verse 10: “Reject a factious person, a factious man, after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” What do you mean by a factious man? That’s in some ways kind of an odd translation of the Greek. The Greek word is hairetikon from which we get the English word “heretic.” It really is, “Reject a heretic.” And what does hairetikon mean? It basically has the meaning of – the basic meaning is to have the power of choice, or a self-chosen teaching or idea. You need to stay away from people who rather than submitting to the Word of God make up their own doctrine, make up their own theology.
Psalm 119:63, “I am a companion of all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts.” That’s the kind of people that I will be a companion with. People who make up their own theology, people who misinterpret Scripture, people who are defined by self-chosen teaching are simply manifesting a form of heresy. So these Scriptures in Romans and 2 Thessalonians and Titus indicate that our unity excludes those with false doctrine, and we are to stay away from them.
The second thing that is excluded is what was mentioned by Paul as the unruly life, and that is people who are sinful, people who are sinful. Back in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, the word of the Lord is very explicit. Listen to verse 9: “I wrote you in my letter” – previous letter – “not to associate with immoral people.” Oh. So they can’t be a part. So this unity does divide and it separates itself from people with false teaching and it separates itself from immoral people. “Immoral” is a very broad term, so let’s define it.
“I did not at all mean” – verse 10 – “with immoral people of this world,” – that is, the unconverted – “or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.” That’s not good because you need to reach them. “But actually,” – he says, verse 11 – “I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother f he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one.” Don’t even have a meal. You have to separate from them. So our unity, again, excludes those in doctrinal error and those in sin.
Second Thessalonians chapter 3, verses 14 and 15: “If anyone doesn’t obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” If he doesn’t follow the instruction in this letter, that is, as to its doctrinal truth and its demand for behavior; and it’s particularly the behavior mentioned back in verse 6. “We command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the doctrine and revelation of the apostles.” So, that’s standing firm. We stand firm in unity with those of sound doctrine and righteous life.
Now let’s go back to Philippians chapter 1. That was just a little review from last time with a few bonus points. But back to chapter 1. The first point of our unity is we have to stand firm on doctrine and virtue. The second point is be single-minded – and we looked at this last time. Verse 27 again: “Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind,” in one spirit, with one mind. What does that mean? That means, as we pointed out last time, exactly what it says down in chapter 2, verse 2, “Same mind, same love, loving everyone the same, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” And that happens when you, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not look out for your own personal interests, but for the interests of others.” It’s when you are humble and selfless. So pursue, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, with love and humility.
And that brings us to the third feature of this unity. This is very important: “Striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Striving together. So the third word is “striving.” Standing, single-minded, and striving. “Striving together for the faith of the gospel,” – then encompasses verse 28 – “in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”
What do you mean “striving”? Well, it’s a very interesting verb. It’s basically the verb sunathleō, the verb athleō from which we get “athletics.” It speaks of struggling. Athleō is a verb that means to struggle. When you add the preposition sun at the front of it, it means together. Struggling together. It’s a magnificent word. You struggle along with others. It’s a composite word.
So our unity is basically dependent on standing firm in doctrine and conduct, being united in heart because we are humble and loving, and striving together for the faith of the gospel. Struggling along with everybody else. The idea is of an athletic team in competition because they have a common objective. Could be used of soldiers in a group, a squad, that have a common enemy.
Now I didn’t fight any battles in war, but I fought my battles on the football field years ago. And there’s something about football that obviously brings out the deepest and basest reactions in people because it’s so physically destructive, so that fights broke out in practice all the time. I remember being at the Red Skins training camp when I was a college student who was invited to visit the Red Skins training camp, and I never saw – this was NFL-level football – I never saw so many fights. They were fighting each other the whole day; and they’re all on the same team. And I noticed that the coaches didn’t break the fights up. That’s how it works, if all you do is just hang around with each other. All the bickering, however, and all the backbiting and all the internal fighting stops when you show up in the stadium on Saturday and you all have a common enemy, and you now know you have to set aside all those internal issues for the sake of the greater good, which is to defeat the enemy. And if you escalate that to a war, you magnify the seriousness of it.
Somebody said to me last week that they think one of the greatest problems in America is we’re not fighting a war; so when we’re not fighting a war we just fight each other all the time. As stupid as it is, it’s what people do. But all of a sudden when there’s a war and there’s the threat of defeat or the threat of death, everybody starts turning away from the bickering and focuses on the greater enemy.
This is missing in evangelical Christianity. Every once in a while you get a feeling that it’s going to start. So organizations start kind of built around the gospel – and several of them in the last decade or so – and they define themselves by the gospel. But it seems it’s not very long before they’re no longer fighting as a team collectively unified for the faith of the gospel because they can’t stop fighting each other, because they’ve lost sight of the real war: the war against God, the war against the Bible, the war against the gospel, the war against the church, the war against the family, the war against children, the war against women, the war against men, the war against marriage. Only when Christians realize that they are in a war, “not wrestling against flesh and blood, but principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in heavenly places.”
Only when we understand that will we stop bickering with each other, gather around biblical truth, humble ourselves, love each other, and go to battle for what really matters. It’s a war on holiness. It’s a war on virtue. It’s a war on character. It’s a war on your children. It’s a war on God. Satanic assaults coming out of the profoundly corrupted culture and aided by pragmatism and cowardice, the church falls prey to internal bickering and sets aside the war for the honor and glory and faith of the gospel. It’s amazing how they can start out fighting for that and end up biting and devouring each other. That’s when I back out.
This unity doesn’t work in a static, comfortable situation. If a church just tries to maintain unity by fussing with its own people, the motive is not strong enough. If it seeks unity for the sake of victory over a deadly and powerful enemy, that changes the motive. So we’re fighting for the truth, are we not? Jude 3, “Earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Earnestly contend, go to battle, fight with all your might, because certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand crept into the church, marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” We’ve got people inside the church tearing up the gospel, denying the lordship of Christ, and we’re fighting each other.
Paul uses the prefix pronoun sun sixteen times in Philippians because it’s so critical that we be together. The church has to seek unity in order they can fight the common destructive enemy. And if we think the world is our friend and we’re just supposed to entertain it and we’re just supposed to roll out sentimental platitudes and make people feel good, the church will become victim to its own insipid weakness. This unity is the unity that comes to those who are in a common battle against a deadly enemy, and all the petty conflicts fade away.
What are we fighting for? Back to verse 27. We’re fighting for the faith of the gospel. We’re fighting for the faith of the gospel. Read 1 Timothy and 2 Timothy. Paul is pleading with Timothy to do that, to deal with the people who are tampering with the gospel, to guard the treasure, to fight the good fight. Paul says that at the end: “I have fought the good fight.”
We’re in a conflict to protect and proclaim the faith of the gospel; that’s our priority. And when we get sidetracked on any other priority we start biting and devouring each other. So there must be a striving for the truth to bring about true unity. Only by total cooperation of believers striving together with each other in this fierce contest for the minds of men that are captive to lies and deception, understanding the eternality of the souls of these sinners, only when we grasp that are we pressed in our compassion and passion to fight.
Paul says this, verse 28; it’s going to take courage: “In no way alarmed by your opponents.” Guess what; you’re going to have opposition. Surprised? No. You’re fighting against the kingdom of darkness. You’re fighting against spiritual wickedness in high places. You’re fighting against sinners who would do everything to defend themselves. You’re fighting against the proud in the church, those with bad theology and those with sinful practices. You’re fighting all of that. And obviously they know it, if you’re faithful in the fight; and so you’re going to have opponents. But don’t be alarmed. Don’t be alarmed. This should not surprise you, because you are basically in the fight on the attack. There’s no other way to look at it.
As the church courageously struggles to protect the faith of the gospel, to propagate the faith of the gospel, it is never to be intimidated, it is never to be frightened, it is never to be terrified. And by the way, the verb here is very interesting where it says, “alarmed, in no way alarmed.” That is a verb used only here in the New Testament. We find it in secular Greek used of frightened horses. “Don’t be like a spooked horse. Don’t be frightened by what’s going on around you by the opposition.” And perhaps this is an illusion to Cassius, who at the battle of Philippi committed suicide out of the fear of defeat. This according to the Cambridge ancient history.
Don’t be afraid, be courageous. Take the hits and the shots. Your opponents, your enemies, really, your adversaries – the first part of that word is anti, those people who are against you, those who attack, those who reject you, who reject what you’re saying, who don’t like it, are more conciliating, more compromising, those in the world who hate the things you say. Don’t be alarmed by any of that, because in reality, verse 28 says, “It is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” So what’s happening is, you’re literally putting on display the proof that sets apart those who are headed for destruction and those who are headed for salvation. When the battle is fought the way it should be fought, with the truth, with boldness, with courage, with biblical conviction, it divides, it separates those headed for destruction from those headed for salvation. We find out who the enemies are. We find out who those are who are headed for divine judgment.
The word “sign” there is actually a word that means evidence. How people react to the truth when I preach the truth, how people react to that truth separates them into the categories of those who are headed for judgement and those who are headed for salvation. Where there is hostility and hatred and anger, confirmation is that that person is headed for destruction. And where there is affirmation and support, that is proof that those people are headed for salvation. And then at the end of the verse, both are from God, both judgment and salvation. Both destruction and salvation are God’s work.
So listen to me. When you have courage, when you have boldness, when you preach the truth, when you fight the battle, you are doing God’s work. You are laying down proof of those who are headed for destruction and proof of those who are headed for salvation. Those who fight against the truth are headed to destruction, those who fight for the truth are headed to salvation. So this striving is not only the right thing to do, it’s a very definitive thing to do, because it immediately separates. And again, I say what I said at the beginning: this is unity that divides.
Now there’s a final word, just briefly, verses 29 and 30. There’s one other component in this unity that comes out of that third striving. Verse 29, “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Standing, single-minded, striving will inevitably lead to suffering. It will inevitably lead to suffering.
I love how this is framed up, verse 29: “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Twice it says, “for Christ’s sake, for His sake,” to let you know that you’re taking His place. You’re doing this on His behalf. You’re doing this in His place. If you have been granted for Christ’s sake to believe in Him, you’ve also been granted to suffer for His sake.
“For unto you has been granted,” – this is an amazing verb. “It has been granted.” It’s basically charis, it’s grace, it’s the word for “grace.” The same grace that came to you to believe in Him also has granted you to suffer. Well, I get the part about grace enabling me to believe, but what do you mean grace to suffer? Do you understand what a privilege it is to believe in Him? You do, don’t you? Do you equally understand what a privilege it is to suffer for Him?
You say, “Well, I’m trying to avoid that.” Really? You’re trying to avoid that? Then you’re trying to avoid a grace. You say, “Well, where’s the grace in suffering?” One, it assures you of your salvation to suffer for His sake. Two, it produces a brighter hope of heaven. Three, it perfects us in usefulness. It brings joy due to privilege. It leads to eternal reward. It strengthens you. It weans you away from the world. It helps you to glorify the Lord. Peter was told he was going to die, and that was the way he would glorify God.
Suffering is no punishment, suffering for the sake of the truth, being abused and brutalized and vilified. Suffering is a grace gift. Just as believing was a grace gift, suffering is a grace gift. Who wouldn’t want that gift; because in the suffering comes the assurance of our salvation, the brighter hope of heaven, the perfection that makes us useful, the richness of our union with Christ. It drives us to Him in prayer. It brings joy due to its privilege, leads to eternal reward, glorifies the Lord. So why would a believer say, “I don’t want to get in this fight because I don’t want to suffer any hostility. I don’t want people not to like me. I don’t want to be unpopular.”
I don’t care about being popular. I really don’t find myself motivated by what people are going to say. But I do find myself motivated by what the Lord would say, and I am motivated by the fact that suffering for righteousness’ sake causes the spirit of grace and glory to rest on a believer. So it is as much a grace gift to suffer for Christ as it was a grace gift for you to believe in Him.
And, oh, by the way, to finish: You’re not alone. You’re not alone. In fact, you’re in some good company. Look at verse 30: “experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Where was Paul when he wrote this? Prison, suffering, for Christ’s sake. He was bearing in his body the marks that were intended for Christ. Christ wasn’t there, so they gave them to Paul.
Paul says, “Look, if you’re suffering, you’re in the long line of noble believers,” right? “You’re doing what I’ve done. You’re experiencing the very same conflict which you saw in me.” This is the grace of suffering; it puts you in the long line of the most courageous, the most faithful, the most noble, the most useful, and the most blessed of all believers.
Our Father, we are so grateful again that Your Word gives us truth, truth that is so clear and unmistakable that we cannot avoid it. May we continue to experience the rich joys of unity built around standing firm and being single-minded and striving together for the faith of the gospel and enjoying the rich benedictions that come out of the grace of suffering. We want to be the recipients of all that You have for those who are faithful.
O Lord, we pray that You’ll continue to keep us on that path. Don’t let anything ever destroy that unity. We pray for the larger church, which is so torn up bickering and fighting in front of the world – such chaos, such dishonor to Your name. We pray, Lord, that You would work a work that would address that in ways that we can’t. Bring Your truth to bear. Make manifest those who are the enemy of the truth, even though they profess Christ, they’re so-called brothers. Reveal them so that the church can be protected from them.
We know that our Lord said if someone sins this is the first instruction He gave, Matthew 18, go to him, call them to repentance. If they don’t repent, take two or three, call them to repentance. If they don’t repent, tell the whole church. If they still don’t repent, put them out, because this unity is excluded – has excluded those who will not fear You, love You, worship You, and obey You. May that true unity be made manifest in the world. May it be seen to counter the false associations and superficial connections of those who profess Christ but don’t really know Him. We say these things to You from the bottom of our hearts for the sake of Your glory and Your honor in the church. Amen.
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