“The Unity of the Church” (Expositon of Philippians 1:27-2:4)

In my first few weeks at Farmdale Baptist Church I have been preaching on what I believe the Bible teaches about the church. Yesterday morning I preached the following message, which was followed up on Sunday evening with a message on how to deal with disunity in the church (outline will be posted tomorrow).

Do we live like citizens of heaven or as citizens of this world?

The city of Philippi became a Roman colony through a series of events which included a war between Octavian and Anthony. After the war, a number of soldiers who had been favorable toward Anthony settled in Philippi; for that reason, it was declared a Roman colony, a miniature Rome. As such, it was given special privileges; although it was 800 miles from Rome, Philippi was considered Italian soil and the citizens of the city had their names on the rolls in Rome and considered themselves Romans. The Philippians were very proud of their Roman citizenship. They believed that they were Rome’s representatives to a culture that was predominantly Greek.

In verse 27, Paul writes “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”. The phrase “manner of life” comes from the Greek word πολιτευεσθε which has the idea of citizenship, the phrase “be worthy of” means to weigh the same (c.f. Eph. 4:1). See 3:20 for noun form. Paul is urging the Philippian Christians to conduct themselves in a manner that reflects their status as citizens of the Kingdom of God. So when Paul wrote to the Philippians that he wished them to conduct themselves as good citizens, he was using an aspect of their own culture to encourage them to be good citizens of another kingdom to which they also now belonged.

Now, as he wrote to them about their heavenly citizenship, he exhorted them to allow their allegiance to control their conduct. Just as they were to live by the laws of Rome though they lived in Philippi, so they were now expected to live by heaven’s laws and extend heaven’s influence into their pagan culture.

A church leader in the second century described the way early Christians followed these instructions:

While they dwell in Greek or barbarian cities according as each man’s lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the land in clothing and food, and other matters of daily life, yet the condition of citizenship which they exhibit is wonderful and admittedly strange. They live in countries of their own, but simply as sojourners . . . enduring the lot of foreigners…. They exist in the flesh, but they live not after the flesh. They spend their existence upon earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, and in their own lives they surpass the laws. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus, chapter V.

As Caesar may have instructed the citizens of Philippi to live up to their Roman citizenship, Paul also instructs the Philippian Christians to live up to their heavenly citizenship. This is a call to every believer.

How were the Philippians to fulfil this awesome responsibility? In a word, through Unity!

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, (28) and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (29) For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, (30) engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.  (1) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, (2) complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (3) Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. (4) Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 1:27-2:4 (ESV)

I. A Unified Stand, vv. 27-30

Paul desires the Philippians to be “Standing firm in one spirit”

“standing firm” one word, perfect tense “stand and keep standing”

This is a military term conveying the idea of firmness, steadfastness, or unflinching courage like that possessed by soldiers who refuse to leave their posts no matter how severely the battle rages.

A. Stand With Cooperation, v. 27

“in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side

“striving” not just to struggle, but to struggle along with someone

Paul moves from the image of soldiers at battle stations to athletes working as a team, side by side, playing the game not as several individuals but together as one person with one mind for one goal: “the faith of the gospel.”

Every year professional sport teams spend big money to lure superstar free agents in hopes of winning a championship. But it is often the team with lesser known players who work as a team who actually win the championship.

B. Stand With Courage, vv. 28-30

“frightened” In classical Gk. referred to timid horses that shy upon being startled by some unexpected object. Paul is saying “Don’t jump back from your adversaries.”

Sometimes our courage is like the man who bragged that he had cut off the tail of a man-eating lion with his pocket knife. Asked why he hadn’t cut off the lion’s head, the man replied: “Someone had already done that.” No, instead we are to be courageous in our stand for the gospel. Our courage is not just measured by our stand when everyone else is in agreement, but when we are willing to stand for the truth when it is under attack!

“This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation,”

“This” refers not to our not being frightened, but to our striving together for the faith of the gospel. When we stand firm and strive for the gospel, two things happen:

First, the world is convinced of their own destruction. Secondly, the world is convinced of the reality of our salvation by our willingness to suffer.

“For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,” v. 29

Paul’s Example v. 30
“conflict” agon
Imprisonment? Paul uses his own courage under persecution as a model for the Philippians.

Not only does Paul tell the Philippians that in order to conduct themselves as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, they must have a unified stand, they also need . . .

II. A Unified Mindset, vv. 1-4.

But before we get to Paul’s call for a unified mind. In the middle of this tremendous appeal by the Apostle Paul for Christian unity, Paul gives four reasons for this unity in verse 1.

“If” not something that may not be true, more certain, since you have . . .

1. Encouragement in Christ received encouragement from Christ

2. Comfort from Love experienced Christ’s love

3. Participation in the Spirit have the common presence of the Holy Spirit

4. Affection and Sympathy inward and outward compassion

A. With Harmony, v. 2

Thinking the same way, i.e., the same beliefs. There is no spiritual unity without doctrinal harmony. As Baptists we are united, not in spite of what we believe, but because of what we believe.

same mind, same love, in full accord, and of one mind

B. With Humility, v. 3
No attitude or action should be done out of pride.

Count others more significant than yourselves. If we do this, we will not have much conflict or disunity. Our love for one another is one of the key evidences of our salvation.

But, not only is this an evidence for us (assurance), it is an evidence to the world (testimony). John 13:35 “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” Someone has paraphrased Jesus’ words as:

From this time forward, this mutual and disinterested love shall become the essential and distinctive mark of all my disciples. When they love one another with pure hearts, fervently, even unto death, then shall it fully appear that they are disciples of that person who laid down his life for his sheep.

This was the testimony of the early church: Tertullian wrote in the second century that in the early days the report about the Christians was, “See how these Christians love one another.”

G. Campbell Morgan wrote these very convicting words:

The measure in which Christian people fail in love to each other is the measure in which the world does not believe them, or their Christianity. It is the final test of discipleship according to Jesus.

You may say, “I can’t love so and so. We don’t get along, etc.”

The love that Jesus talks about – the love which the Bible calls agape or unconditional love- is a love that is rooted in the will, not in our emotions. We are to have a mindset with humility.

C. With Helpfulness, v. 4

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Instead of “What’s in this for me?” we should ask, “What are the needs of others?” God has placed us together in this body for a reason.

For the Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another!” The friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others. C. S. Lewis

Is this your mindset? “To live above with the saints I love; oh that will be glory. But to live below with the saints I know, now that’s another story.” Most of us like to sing about how happy and united we will be when we all get to heaven, but we are called as citizens of the kingdom of God to act now as we think that we will act when we all get to heaven. Dennis Johnson points us to having a heavenly perspective on the church in his commentary on the book of Revelation.

Do you love the church of which Christ has called you to be a member? For all its flaws and frictions, do you have hope that you and your brothers and sisters will one day shine brightly in the beauty of holiness? When your congregation or denomination seems to suffer one spiritual setback after another–‘by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distress’–are you tempted to give up on the organizational church and go it on your own? Do the so-called saints you rub elbows with on Sunday seem to be obstacles rather than aids to your friendship with Christ and your growth in his grace? Then look again at the church through Jesus’ eyes, and in the bright light of her final destination. Jesus’ eyes see all the churches’ blemishes and bruises, yet our defects do not diminish his love for us or dim his eager expectation for the day when he will present the church to himself ‘in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing’ but rather being ‘holy and blameless’ (Eph. 5:27). When we glimpse the bride through the eyes of her Groom, it lifts our head in hope and calms our frustrated hearts for persevering love for one another. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation, 343.

I’m not called to be a babysitter of adult Christians, or a referee for fighting Baptists. I’m a preacher of the Word of God and I expect that as Christians we will seek to live in unity in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. By having a unified stand and mindset we will demonstrate that we are not citizens of this world, but of the kingdom of God.

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