There is among many concerns in my heart one particular concern that I want to address tonight, and I want to be able to hopefully bring some clarity on the issue of unity. Not only are individual churches very often divided, cantankerous, full of factions, animosity and anger, but it seems to me that the entire evangelical church is like that, fragmented, split up, hostile, even angry. This is a far cry from what our Lord desired when He said the world would know us by our love. I would hope that the Word of God would speak to us of this issue of unity in ways that would be unforgettable.
So open your Bible to Philippians chapter 1, Philippians chapter 1, and I want to read verses 21 through 25. That’s just the start, but that’s where we’re going to begin. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.” That final phrase, “and joy in the faith.”
Paul says, “I’d really much rather go to heaven, much rather be with the Lord, but I will stay for your joy.” I don’t know if you ever think about that as the reason for your ministry, for joy. He says in verse 21, “I have no life apart from Christ.” He doesn’t say, “Christ is the source of my life,” though He is. He doesn’t say, “Christ is the goal of my life,” though He is. He doesn’t say, “Christ controls my life,” though He does. He doesn’t even mean that Christ is the object of his worship, though He is. He means He is everything, “He is my life.”
“All my existence, all my being is in Christ and Christ alone. He gives all definition, all motivation, all direction, all purpose to every part of my life.” I think another way to say it is, “I am utterly dominated by love and devotion to Christ.” This is as close as you’re going to get to loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. He is so totally lost in the love of Christ that to die is what? Why? Because then He would be with Christ.
Verse 23 says, “I’m hard-pressed from both direction, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.” There’s no question of which is the preferable option. He says in 2 Corinthians 5:8, “I prefer to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” He would say life is sweet with Christ, death is sweeter, because then there’s more of Christ; in fact, then there’s all of Christ. “But if the Lord wishes for me to remain, to stay on earth, I will fulfill my purpose. It’s not to fix the world or the culture around me or solve all the social problems, but rather” – verse 25 says – “for your progress and joy in the faith.” To Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 1:24, he said, “We are workers for your joy.”
I don’t know if I were an unbeliever looking at the evangelical church today that I would conclude that it’s marked by joy. Is that what characterizes your church? Is your church essentially characterized by unbounded joy? And oh, by the way, Paul is writing from a prison in Rome, probably in the year 61. He is familiar with joy because some form of the word “joy” – and there’s several Hebrew forms – but some form of the word “joy” appears about 163 times in the Old Testament and 58 times in the hymnbook the Psalms.
The apostle Paul also knows that the New Testament begins with joy, good news, great joy, and life really ends with joy: “Enter into the joy of your Lord.” And the seventy, when our Lord sent them out, according to Luke, returned with joy. And in the great fifteenth chapter of Luke you have the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son: joy, joy, joy. In John 15, our Lord speaks about, “My joy being in you and your joy being made full.” The Lord promises to give His own what they ask for, “that their joy may be full.” Paul, in Romans 14, says, “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy.” “If I’m going to stay, it’s for the joy of the church, it’s so that the church can progress in joy.”
If you look at chapter 1 for a moment as he greets them, verse 2, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” In chapter 2 and verse 17, “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Verse 18, “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Verse 29, “Receive him” – Epaphroditus, faithful messenger – “with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard.” Chapter 4, verse 1, “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown.” Verse 4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” I don’t know that we actually ever think about the purpose of ministry as the joy of the people of God. We, perhaps, have more grandiose ideas than that.
When our children were little we read around the breakfast table called Toward the Golden Shore, which was the biography of Adoniram Judson who was the first American missionary sent out, sent to Burma. He experienced prisons and conditions so wretched and disease so severe that he wrote, and I quote, “If I had not felt certain that every trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.” End quote. He wanted to go to glory. Many, many times he wanted to go to be with the Lord, which was very much better, but he said not until the needs of the people on his heart are met. And here was his grandiose desire, I’m quoting Adoniram Judson. He prayed that the Lord would let him live to translate the entire Bible into the native language and lead a church of at least a hundred believers. Translate the entire Bible and the church of a hundred believers.
Nothing mattered to the apostle Paul except the progress and joy of those who held the faith, the joy of his beloved churches. I don’t know that pastors ever think about that, the joy of the church. Paul says, verse 26, “so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” The word “confidence there is kauchēma. It means rejoicing. “I, I will stay if the Lord wants me to stay. I will stay for your progress and joy, so that your proud rejoicing in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again. I want you to think of me with joy, for progress and joy.”
That’s a noble desire. And I honestly don’t think there would be any one of us who pastor and shepherd the people of God who wouldn’t understand how much more wonderful our ministry would be if our churches were characterized by joy. Congregations are basically commanded in Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” I don’t hear a lot about pastoral joy. I don’t hear a lot about congregational joy.
So how do we get to this joy? Verse 27 begins to open up the answer. What is most critical to the progress that produces joy? “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” “Conduct yourselves” is basically a word that includes the word polis. That is the word for a free state, to behave as a citizen of a free state, that’s what the verb means. Those who are members of a free state were citizens that took pride in their state.
Philippi was such a free state about 800 miles from Rome. And a polis, a free state, was not just a place to live, it was a proud partnership of people for the good of everyone. It was a lot of polis pride. And Paul is saying, “As believers, you are to live as citizens of the proud kingdom of Jesus Christ, and you are to demonstrate by the way you live how you value your King.”
The singular testimony of Christians is how they live before the world. “You need to conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That’s a broad kind of sweeping statement. It’s very much like chapter 2, look at verse 15: “Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I didn’t run in vain or toil in vain.” Sort of a general call to holy living, worthy conduct. And Paul does that as well Romans. We hear calls like that from the apostle John also.
But specifically, what is he asking of us? If we’re going to forgo heaven, which would be so very much better, and we’re going to have to stay here, and the reason we’re staying here is for the progress and joy of the church, how do we get there? Is it just as simple as some kind of general command to get your act together and live a life that’s worthy of the gospel? No, it's more specific than that. It’s quite a bit more specific than that.
Go back to verse 27: “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.” Specifically, he’s talking about unity. It seems that the pathway that worthy conduct has to take to arrive at joy is down the corridor of unity. This is all he talks about, and he doesn’t stop talking about it till far into chapter 2.
What does this worthy conduct require if a church is to experience joy? It is unity, one spirit, one mind. If you go down to chapter 2, verse 2, where we’ll arrive in a little bit, “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose,” this is what he’s driving this entire discourse after. Do I need to say the church is divided? Do I need to say the churches and the church in general is dysfunctional, that it is morbidly internally hostile to itself in so many cases? Do I need to say the churches are marked by anger, disappointment, discord, resentment? Do we need to say that evangelical Christianity is fractured into all kinds of identity groups that are all demanding their moment in the sun and that everybody pay attention to them and give them what they think they deserve? Do I need to remind you that there are more victim categories than there are victims? And everybody’s been abused, and everybody’s been offended, and the price you pay for that is no joy.
Nothing new really. Paul confronts all that divides the church here and all that steals its joy. I don’t need to remind you about all that the New Testament says about unity, you know all of that. But just because the Word of God is in itself sharp and powerful, I just want to read some familiar portions of Scripture to remind you about how critical unity is. Galatians 3:26, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus. You all are one in Christ Jesus.”
In Colossians chapter 3 as well, verse 11, he says that, “There’s no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, 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” – what? – “unity.”
And maybe we need to be reminded of these familiar words: “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord,” – Ephesians 4 – “implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” One, one, one, one. And the whole message of Paul here is unity for the sake of joy, unity for the sake of joy. It’s an obvious thing to say the church should be the most joyful assembly of human beings on the planet, right, because our eternity is settled.
Now let’s look at verse 27 of Philippians 1 and see some very important things that drive us in the direction of this unity that produces joy. First, it requires us to be standing together. Verse 27, middle of the verse: “Whether I come and see you or remain absent, my desire is to hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit,” – it’s the image of a soldier at his post – “standing firm.” Says essentially the same thing in chapter 4, verse 1. Paul writing in 1 Corinthians 16 says, “Stand firm.” Says it in Galatians 5:1, “Keep standing firm.” Says it in 1 Thessalonians 3:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “Stand firm. Stand firm in one spirit.”
Now this unity where we stand firm in one spirit has to be defined. It is not inclusive. There are people excluded from this, and you see it even later in Philippians in chapter 3, verse 17: “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” They’re not included in the unity. They’re not included in the standing firm group, not the enemies of the cross. How do you know an enemy of the cross? Their god is their appetite. They see some honor in their shameful behavior. Their minds are set on earthly things. These people are excluded. Verse 1 of chapter 4, “My beloved brethren, you my joy and crown, you stand firm in the Lord.” So the first thing to say about it is this: a church that is united is a church of the redeemed, where they are standing together firm in the Lord.
First Corinthians chapter 11, just a couple of verses there, verse 18, “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. For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.” That’s interesting, isn’t it. There must be factions so you can see who’s real and who’s not.
There is a kind of unity in the church where people stand together that excludes two kinds of people. First, those in error, those in error. They can’t be included. Romans 16:17, “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. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” The standing together in the church excludes people who believe or propagate error.
In 2 Thessalonians, again chapter 3, 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 tradition which you received from us.” Someone whose bad theology has resulted in bad living. And just one other passage to think about, Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious person after a first and second warning, knowing such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.” So let’s make it very simple. People who are in error, propagating error, holding to error, believing error, are excluded from this unity. Factious is actually the word hairetikon, heretic, which basically is a word that means having the power of choice, thinking you can have your own truth. Psalm 119:63 says, “I am a companion of all those who fear You, and who keep Your precepts.
The second and obvious thing is this group that stands together in unity, excludes those in error and excludes those in sin. And that goes back to Matthew 18, doesn’t it? “If someone’s in sin, you go to them. If they don’t respond, you go two or three. If they don’t respond, you tell the church. The whole church goes; if they don’t respond, you put them out, as you would an alien invader trying to do damage, leaven, bringing a destructive influence in.”
Church discipline is absolutely critical to the true unity of a church. It is critical to the true unity of the church. It’s not optional because it’s the first thing the Lord said to the church. The first instruction given to the church is found in Matthew 18, and it’s to deal with that.
Listen to 1 Corinthians 5:9, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I didn’t mean at all the immoral people of the world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, covetous, an idolater, a reviler, a drunkard, or a swindler – no, not even to eat with such a one.” I wonder in mega churches with all the lights out who would ever know what anybody was. Those standing firm in doctrine stand firm also in conduct in one spirit.
Back to Philippians again. “We are standing together in one spirit,” – he also says – “with one mind,” all thinking the same way. It’s as if all of our powers are engaged in this firm stand for truth and virtue. This unity that we desire, this unity that produces joy is a unity that excludes error and excludes sin. It is exclusive.
And that leads to a second feature pursuing this unity, not only standing firm, but, “striving together” – verse 27 – “with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel,” sunathleō. Sun is a preposition that means together. It’s used, interesting enough, sixteen times in Philippians. There’s so much about unity here. This means to struggle alongside someone else; that’s what athletics is. To struggle together because you have – listen – a common goal and a common enemy. All the bickering and all the backbiting and all the internal fighting stops when the real enemy shows up.
I remember many years ago when I was playing football in university days, I was invited to the Red Skins training camp, and I was surprised, first time I’d ever been in a professional football training camp preseason, how the whole day was just a series of fights. They were all on the same team and just fought the whole day. And the coaches just stood back and watched it. That’s what happens if there’s no real enemy around, you fight each other. When serious enemies show up, and you understand that, you pull together because of the common threat.
I have to tell you, there’s a lot of in-fighting among Christians because they have failed to recognize where the real enemy is. When Christians wake up and realize they are in a battle for the truth, they are in a battle against demonic ideologies raised up against the knowledge of God – and they’re endless – when they begin to take seriously the absolutely aggressive, hyper-aggressive onslaught against virtue, against men, against women, against marriage, against the Bible, when they begin to recognize where the real battle is, they become indifferent to the bickering that has occupied them. When you look at evangelicalism fighting itself, you know it’s very superficial; they don’t know where the real enemy is. Churches not engaged in fighting for the faith of the gospel, churches not earnestly contending for the once for all delivered to the saints’ faith, as Jude put it, will just fight each other. So ridiculous for so-called Christians to be sinfully battling other Christians with their little petty offenses. The gospel is obviously distorted by a loveless church and people bickering, while at the same time there is a raging enemy attacking the Bible, God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, holiness, the Bible, life, at every level, and the church seems indifferent to the real battle while it squabbles.
Paul lives for the building up and joy of the church, and that calls for unity. The church will never know joy without unity, that’s what he’s saying here. That means standing together, striving together for the truth, for the faith of the gospel, the faith of the gospel, the objective revealed faith which contains the gospel. We have to know where our enemy is.
Verse 28, he says, “in no way alarmed by your opponents.” We battle faithfully to proclaim and protect the gospel, never flinching, never intimidated, never terrified, never compromising, never cowardly. We’re not alarmed. Maybe a historical illusion to Cassius who at the battle for Philippi committed suicide at the fear of defeat.
We’re never alarmed by our opponents. The fact that they are our opponents is a sign of destruction for them, and the fact that they are our opponents is a sign of salvation for us; and both are from God. In other words, the battle is very defining. In fact, it is the battle against Satan and his foes and all of his corruptions that draws the clear lines about what side you’re on. Passive, cowardly, kind of feminized church leaders, pastors and churches that don’t fight don’t know where the line is drawn. They don’t know what team people are on, you only find out when you get the battle moving at a high pace. Your doctrine ought to be so crystal clear that the enemies know exactly who they are and that the believers know exactly who they are.
There are places where you could be a Christian sitting there and you would never know because nothing is definitive enough. Fight the right battle, the battle against the enemy. Pull your strength together and go after the enemy so that the enemy knows the enemy is the enemy. When people say they hate what we say when we talk from the Word of God, they don’t like what the Bible says about their particular sin or behavior, turn up the volume, turn it up so loud that they can’t get away from it. They need to know whose team they are on; and so do your people.
So unity is going to require standing firm in one spirit, and then with one mind as well, which goes also forward, striving together for the faith of the gospel and not alarmed. It also will involve a third reality: suffering together. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” – then verse 30 is pretty shocking – “experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” Whoa.
When Paul went to a town, he didn’t ask about the hotel, he asked about the jail; that’s where he knew he was going to be staying. You can read the litany of all the things that he suffered. What he is saying here is, “Something’s wrong with you if you’re not suffering the same level of conflict that I’m suffering. You’re not going to get off with less, you’re preaching the same message, you’re living the same truth.” You want joy in your church? Stand firm in one spirit on sound doctrine, fight the battle with clarity, and take the suffering; don’t try to avoid the offense of the gospel, and don’t complain unless you’ve suffered to the level Paul has.
Now there’s a fourth reality here – takes us into chapter 2. Standing firm together, striving together, suffering together; how about submitting together. Does that work? And this is going to get personal.
For this week, hours if you add it all up, we have been singing our commitment to Christ, have we not? And we’ve sung at the top of our voices. We’ve proclaimed our love to Him. So here’s a test. Ask yourself this, verse 1: “Have you received enough encouragement in Christ? Have you received enough consolation of love, have you received enough of the blessing of the fellowship of the Spirit, have you received enough affection and compassion to be grateful?” Surely the question here, it’s a first-class conditional, it assumes reality. Could be translated, “Therefore because there is encouragement in Christ, because there is consolation of love, because there is fellowship of the Spirit, because there is affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind.”
It’s calling us to unity based on gratitude, encouragement in Christ, paraklēsis, to call to one’s side. He starts with our union with Christ. “Have you received enough blessing from Christ coming alongside you from being in Christ? Have you received enough blessing in that union to feel some level of obligation out of gratitude to be obedient? Or are you just a taker, or a consolation of love?” This is only here, paramuthion. It’s a word that apparently means to come alongside someone, not just like paraklēsis, not just coming alongside, but it’s more intimate: coming alongside for the purpose of offering cheer, comfort. Some lexicons would say solace, the solace of agapē.
Are you grateful for Christ and your union with Him and the amazing encouragement that comes constantly flowing from Him to you? Do you have any gratitude for the fact that the Lord Himself has come close to you to do nothing but put His arm around you and be your constant companion in love? He’s driving deep at our union with Christ. Does it mean anything to you that Christ has taken up His residence in your life?
What about this: Does it mean anything to you that the Holy Spirit has come and established a partnership with you, koinōnia, that all the benefits of the Holy Spirit graciously bestows on the believer have been bestowed on you, that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, that you have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that you are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that you are being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, that you are being edified by the Holy Spirit, that you’re being comforted by the Holy Spirit, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit is pouring into your life love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control? Does that mean anything to you? Does it matter to you that you’ve been gifted by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit? Grace upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, upon grace, you taken it all; so have I. I didn’t give any back. Are we so ugly as to have no conviction? The true gratitude would be to say, “On behalf of me, let me say this: ‘For all You’ve given me, I give You back all I am.’” Anything less than that is ugly in gratitude. Worthy conduct means that having received everything that God could give, all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, all that pertains to life and godliness, I am bound out of my love and affection for the giver to give back everything to Him, and to say with Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ.” Wholehearted devotion.
How about this: Have you received enough affection and compassion? I think because the little word tis is only there once. It’s probably saying affectionate mercy. It’s getting even closer. First, he says, “You’re in Christ, Christ comes alongside.” And then, “Christ is your personal private encourager and cheerleader.” And now we find that He’s dispensing to you in a regular basis affectionate mercy. And, oh, by the way, that word is pretty rare in the New Testament, oiktirmoi, mercy; but it’s used twice to refer to the tender mercies of God, tender mercies of God, once in Romans and once in 2 Corinthians.
So what are we seeing here? “Christ has come to you, the Spirit has come to you, and the Father has come to you.” The whole Trinity has taken up residence in your life: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. And They’ve come full of love, that pours out all encouragement, all tender care, all communion, partnership and fellowship, all compassionate mercy. The only response should be grateful love, right? And grateful love would be this, verse 2, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Throwing it at you backwards, if you’re not pursuing unity with your whole heart, you’re ungrateful, and your ingratitude is just plain ugly. You’ve taken the Trinity and all that the Trinity, the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can pour into your life. And you know that the desire of the Trinity is that the church display its unity in joy; and you’re claiming your square inch of space, and you’re going to fight.
A divisive Christian is ungrateful and defiant against the Lord and His will for the church. And a divisive Christian not only destroys unity, but joy. So Paul says, “Make my joy complete.” That’s an aorist imperative command: “Make my joy complete.” And again, I remind you of Hebrews 13:17 that I read a little earlier. We want to do this with joy, don’t we?
So much sadness. I think even in Paul’s words here, I think there’s pathos here. He’s a prisoner. He doesn’t really know what’s coming. What he wants is worthy conduct for the joy of the church. He wants the church to be manifestly full of joy. He knows that worthy conduct has to go down the path of unity that produces that joy. And so here he gets very specific: “Make my joy complete,” and he basically mentions four very important issues.
The first one is the main verb, “being of the same mind.” Literally, “Think the same,” phroneō. Ten of the twenty-three uses of that word are in Philippians. Unanimity of thought, biblical thinking. This is very objective, folks. You want unity in a church, they have to think the same thing, they have to be of the same mind. What that means is obviously the mind of whom? Of Christ, 1 Corinthians 2:16.
You cannot unify a church on any other foundation than agreement on sound doctrine. No doctrine, no possibility of being of the same mind. And if they’re not of the same mind, everything else is beyond reach. But where they are of the same mind – that’s the main verb, you have some participles – maintaining the same love, agapē, loving everyone the same: no partiality, no respecter of persons – did you hear that? – not fracturing the church into all kinds of identity groups. Where we are all gathered around the same sound doctrine, we maintain the same love.
The reason there is so much chaos and tension and division between men and women and various groups of people is because they have no starting point in sound doctrine. But we have to go beyond that and maintain the same love. It should be to the point – the third line is that we are, another one of those single uses in the New Testament, one word: one soul – soul brothers, soul sisters, no division. Same truth, same convictions, same affections, same passions; we love everybody the same. And then, finally in verse 2, “intent on one purpose.” Literally it says, “Thinking as one.” It’s phroneō again. Thinking toward one purpose. And what’s the one purpose? Unity for the purpose of joy.
What does the unity the Lord is desiring look like? It’s one mind where we all think the same, because we all embrace divine truth, sound doctrine, where we cherish each other the same, where we embrace brother and sister with the same passion and acceptance, and we all move in one direction to advance the gospel through the unity and joy of the church. Now at this point, we ought to be saying an overwhelming amen. But be careful, because the Word of God is going to get real personal, very personal.
How do you do this? Here it comes, verses 3 and 4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit. 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.”
There’s an absoluteness in these words, and that absoluteness is inescapable. The unity that produces joy in the church is only possible if you are the least important person in your life. That’s his point. If you think you have a right to demand everything that you want and expect everybody to give you what you want, you’re doing the devil’s work in the church.
“Do nothing from selfishness.” By the way, there’s no verb in the Greek. It carries the force of a negative command. Some translations would say a selfish ambition. Do nothing from that which Paul in Galatians 5 calls a work of the flesh, selfishness. Do that advances you. This destroys the unity of the Spirit.
He goes on to say, “or empty conceit,” kenodoxia, another one of those hapax legomena, another word – and Paul uses a number of them that appear only here. It’s just one word. Doxa is sort of the word we associate with glory, and rightly so. Kenos has the idea of an error. Don’t give yourself undeserved glory. Don’t assert claims that you think you have a right to. Don’t demand anything ever. Such a person is conceited, without reason, deluded, ambitious, and sinful. Personal vanity must be eliminated from the church. Personal demands must be eliminated.
Those are the negatives, and here’s the positives, “but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s the antidote, isn’t it? Humility of mind. You might have an issue. You might have a complaint. You might have been abused. You might have a gripe. So what. You’re the last person that matters to you. Everybody else matters, you don’t matter to you. It actually describes – the term in the Greek describes the mentality of a slave, conveys the idea of being base or shabby, unfit, no value. Think of yourself that way. That doesn’t work real well in a self-esteem culture, does it.
You get a little help from Paul who said, “I’m the chief sinner,” didn’t he? You have no desire to be admired, no desire to be respected, no desire to be pandered, no desire to be heard, no desire to be elevated, because with humility of mind you’re just too busy making sure everybody else is more important than you are. Do you know how much and how fast that would put a screeching halt to division in the church? Consider others more important than yourselves. I don’t need to belabor the point, they’re obvious to you.
Verse 4, “Do not look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” I mean, this is just so black and white: “Do nothing from selfishness. Do nothing from empty conceit. Regard one another as more important. Do not look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Preoccupied with everybody else, you give your life away.
Now there’s just one final point to be made and we’ve been making it all day, and it’s a wonderful to end because it’s really where we all began. Who set the standard for this kind of behavior? When you have something as monumental as the kenosis, when you have something as monumental as the incarnation of Jesus Christ – which you’ve been hearing about all day from Nathan, from Steve, from Mike – when you have something so massive and so unparalleled and so monumental as the incarnation of the Son of God used as an illustration, there must be a very big point to make if you’re using Jesus Christ and His humiliation as the standard. But that’s exactly what Paul does: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the morphē of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself.” What does it mean? Well, he tells you what it means. “Took the form of a slave, made in likeness of a man. Appeared as a man, humbling Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,” – and not just death, but the most ignominious death – “death on a cross.”
So, what does it mean to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves? What does it mean to not look on your own personal interests, but the interests of others? It means this: act like Christ, act like Christ. That simple.
We talk about this all the time here at Grace. The whole goal of sanctification is to be Christlike, right? Second Corinthians 3:18, “We’re gazing at the glory of the Lord, being changed into His image from one level of glory to the next by the Lord who is the Spirit.” So the work of sanctification is conformity to Christ.
If you are anything like Christ at all you care totally for everybody else and not at all for yourself. You’re the last person to be concerned about. You say, “Well, somebody’s got to be concerned about me.” I’ll tell you who will concerned about you: the Lord. And you know what’ll happen? Same thing that happened to Jesus, verse 9: “Because of what He did, God highly exalted Him, bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” God abases the proud, and God elevates the humble.
I’ve had all the cantankerous, ugly, angry, hostile, self-centered, selfish, sinful so-called Christians screaming for their own desires to be fulfilled that I can take. I would rather depart and be with the Lord. But I think He wants me to stay a while; and if I’m going to stay, it’s going to be for the progress and the joy of the church. I’ll leave whatever happens to me to Him; I don’t care. In this life, far better to depart and be with Him. This is not an announcement that that’s arriving soon, at least not to my knowledge. But it’s in His hands, right?
A reminder maybe just to close; a lot of things on my heart, but time is gone. James 4:6, “He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says,” – way back in Isaiah – ‘God is opposed to the’ – what? – ‘proud, gives grace to the humble.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil, he’ll flee from you. Draw near to God, He’ll draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” Be realistic, be a sorrowful person. “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and” – you say it – “He will exalt you,” for the joy of the church, for the joy, for the joy, for the joy of the church.
Father, we thank You for our time tonight. It’s unmistakable what you have said. It’s very personal; it’s very clear. So, Lord, we want to be for the joy of the church, and that means unity, and that means humility and unselfishness. And what kind of ingratitude would we exhibit if having received everything that You give us: Father, Son, Holy Spirit living in us. We can’t return to You an honest declaration that, “For to me, to live is Christ,” which would mark our devotion, our love, and our obedience. Humble us, that one day we may stand in Your presence and receive that exaltation, whatever it is, and then cast it at Your feet in grateful praise.
I pray for all these men. I pray for each of us individually that You would humble us. Only then are we of any use to You. Only then will there be unity, and only then will there be joy. And when there is joy in the church, the power of the gospel is on display, because it’s a joyless, sad world. May they see the joy of the Lord in those who name His name. We ask these things for the glory of our Savior. Amen.
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