It is becoming increasingly apparent to Americans that we are on the brink of another civil war. Enduring a year of violence and riots tends to make people pessimistic. Both liberals and conservatives are recognizing the signs. Most Americans do not trust the government or the media. And most polls reveal that a growing percentage of people are stockpiling for the inevitable war.
One article suggested that three factors lead to civil wars and that all of them are present in our nation.
1. Previous conflict
2. Deepening cleavage of national identities (race, faith, class)
3. Tribalism (doubts of other groups) > Sectarianism (other groups are evil)
I wish I had good news for you regarding the state of our nation, but according to the polls, none of you would believe me anyways, if I said that I did. Settling for the political tension and polarization in the US may be inevitable, but that should never be the case for the Church. We cannot allow our national pessimism to bleed into our pessimism regarding church conflicts.
In this morning’s passage, Paul continues developing the theme of unity that began in Phil 1:27 and finishes at Phil 2:18. Having warned his readers about the need to stand firm in the face of a hostile culture, he transitions to the need to pursue unity among one another. Unity not only strengthens believers to withstand attacks from those outside the church, it also heals conflict among those inside the church.
The harsh reality is that even in a community experiencing gospel blessings, there still resides a prideful tendency to divide. The fullness of joy is realized where edified saints are unified in humble service.
Read Philippians 2:1-4.
The Joy of Gospel Sympathy (1)
The motivation for unity is the encouragement, comfort, fellowship, affection, and sympathy that we receive from Christ and the Spirit. This list emphasizes God’s purpose in redemption and its effect upon believers. All of these blessings reveal God’s care for our greatest spiritual and emotional burdens.
Paul’s direct reference to the blessings that flow from Christ and the Spirit indicate that they are the fruit of the gospel. He is not questioning if these qualities exist among the Philippians, but suggesting that their presence is evidence that God is at work, and therefore unity and humility should also be represented.
Your union with Christ is exemplified through your experience of his sympathy. Because you have been the beneficiary of such support, you are called to bear the marks of that reality in your interactions with others.
Before Paul exhorts his readers, he reminds them of the sympathy they have received from God. Before he addresses the tension and division that is present in Philippi, he wants them to reflect upon the rich blessings they have received. This is an important principle for us to learn. Unity among fellow saints begins with gratitude for the work that God has begun.
We ought to enjoy routine reflection upon our covenant blessings. Remind yourself often of the benefits you have received as a child of God. Beyond the future inheritance he has promised in the future, God has enriched your life in the present. Reflect upon the sympathy you have received from your loving Lord.
This is your opportunity to thank God for providing a community in which you experience support and encouragement every week. Our loving fellowship is a reflection of God’s sovereign care. And, as Paul makes clear in the next verse, all of these benefits contribute to the fullness of our joy.
Most TVs have a number of different inputs. You need a spot to plug in your Cable/satellite antennae, your Roku/Apple TV box, your Nintendo Switch/PS5/Xbox X gaming console, etc. etc. Many homes have a massive outlet strip in order to accommodate all of the electronic devices that need to be plugged in. Then you need a plant or a piece of furniture to hide the hideous collection of tangled cords.
We fill our minds with so much distraction, that we have forgotten how to rest in the enjoyment of prayerful reflection.
This is precisely what Paul is reminding the Philippian Church to do. Reflection upon the benefits of our union with Christ precedes exhortation for union with one another. All too often we jump to the imperatives of Scripture without appreciating the indicatives.
In The Sympathy of Christ, Octavius Winslow refers to teachers who think that Jesus was merely an historical being or a sentimental ideal. It’s true that Jesus was an important historical figure who provided an example of human perfection.
“But our nature craves for more than this. We need fellowship, not with a sentiment, not with a tradition, nor with an idea, but with a real, living, personal being. We seek communion with, and sympathy from, a Savior in alliance with our veritable nature, endowed with real, deep, holy sensibility, disciplined by personal sorrow like our own, and moved with a quick response to every note of ‘The still, sad music of humanity.’”
Our grateful response to the commands of God follows the gracious redemption accomplished by Christ.
› One significant aspect of our response is…
The Joy of Gospel Unity (2)
This exhortation to complete Paul’s joy, by unifying their thoughts and affections, is the result of the fellowship they have enjoyed in the Spirit (v.1). This is the natural progression; the effects of the gospel. But unity is not achieved effortlessly.
Make my joy complete. If unity fulfills Paul’s joy, division robs it. We should ask ourselves if our actions increase/decrease the joy those who care for us spiritually. Children, do you think about the joy your actions might bring to your parents? Members, do you think about the joy your actions might bring to your spiritual oversight?
We could also turn it around upon those in positions of oversight. Do the actions of those in your care bring you joy? Are you actively affirming the good in your children/flock as Paul has done throughout this letter?
Even though the Philippians had enjoyed such rich covenant blessings, they still struggled with pride and division. Paul’s exhortation implies the tension that was present. At this point in the letter, we can only speculate the extent of that tension, but it was enough for Paul to address it.
His solution was to exhort believers to seek spiritual, emotional, and intellectual unity. This is common in Scripture, which means it is frequently a problem for the covenant community (Rom 12:16; Eph 4:3).
On the other hand, there is the potential to think that we can achieve unity simply by placing all of our energy toward that goal. But unity for the sake of unity is not the goal. This past year proved that people can also unify for destructive purposes. Several communities have formed around hatred and anarchy.
We want to enjoy a unity in Christian doctrine and mission. In order for that to occur, our affections must be guided in the same direction. Our pursuit of Christ transforms our minds resulting in union with him and one another. And that increases the sympathy we experience from Christ.
This is something you can pursue this morning! You do not have to wait for unity to magically appear. You can do something about it now. Allow me to brag a bit about this church. We love to talk! Our service starts at 10:00 and ends at 11:30 [typically]. Many of us have been here since 9:00 for Sunday School [or prayer at 8:30!]. I am rarely locking the doors and heading out before 1:00.
Anyone who wants community can find it here. Praise God that we have our own place to enjoy extended fellowship. Some of you don’t realize our previous situation. We shared a building with another church that held their worship service shortly after ours. Within twenty minutes of the service ending we had to become the “Shush Police”.
If you are new here, or still feel like you are on the outside looking in, just stick around awhile longer after the service. And, if you feel like we’re a little too passionate about fellowship, just realize that locking down social interaction for too long results in a fire hose-like release of pressure!
I’m not pointing my finger at anyone who has to leave immediately after the service! I won’t monitor the exit to track who darts off right away. I realize not everyone can stay. And I know a few more bathroom stalls might help. But all of you realize that unity and connection takes time to develop.
Coming for the worship service is central—I never want to downplay its importance—but staying for the fellowship is critical for the unity we enjoy. So stick around for the potluck lunch whether or not you brought something!
But why does unity matter? Can’t we just enjoy our Christian blessings while also acknowledging our sinful tendency toward division? Should we simply throw our hands up and say there is nothing we can do about it? Maybe acknowledging the inevitability of the tension will help us to live with it. The problem is: Scripture doesn’t allow for that approach.
When Jesus was preparing to depart from his disciples, he prayed in Gethsemane that they would “be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Then he also prays for us:
John 17:20–21 ESV
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
According to the High Priestly prayer of Christ, one element of effective evangelism is witnessing the unity of the Church. If that is what Christ prayed for us, then it ought to be an important aspect of our purpose.
Any unity we experience in doctrine and mission springs from the work of God in our midst (v.1).
› In order for there to be unity, there must also be…
The Joy of Gospel Humility (3-4)
When Augustine was asked what the three greatest virtues were he responded, “Humility, humility, and humility.” Scripture speaks of pride and humility often. Obviously, it is a lesson we need to hear over and over again.
In his book, Humility, CJ Mahaney tells a story about the effect of pride in his life. His daughter was having car troubles so he went outside and tried to start the car. It made a loud shrieking sound. So CJ, who didn’t even know how to put air in his tires, decided to lift up the hood. He checked the windshield wiper fluid, “Yep! It’s half full. Should be good.” Then he closed the hood and tried to start the car again.
We must humble ourselves! We must value the paradox that the way up is down. As we decrease others increase.
Fight pride by considering others as surpassing yourselves. Paul isn’t referring to humility before those who are superior. He says we should count others more significant regardless of whether they are or not!
It’s not your job to evaluate whether someone is worthy to receive your humility. Comparing ourselves to others leads to thinking too much or ourselves or too little of ourselves.
Humility is primarily about getting ourselves out of the way of the work of Christ. We agree with John the Baptist, who said:
John 3:30 ESV
He must increase, but I must decrease.”
When Jesus recognized that his hour of departure had come, he showed his love for his disciples by washing their feet. Then he commanded them to follow his example (John 13:14-15).
Christ continued to exemplify his sacrificial love when “he humbled himself…to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8)! Encountering the joy of the gospel drives us to genuine and lasting humility.
“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.” – Isaac Watts
In a nation that is so divided by politics that it is on the brink of another civil war, the unity of the Church ought to shine all the brighter. Yet, we oftentimes find ourselves bickering over tertiary matters that will be forgotten in a few years. While we might anticipate tension to arise from time to time, we can never settle for it.
The fullness of joy is realized where edified saints are unified in humble service.
Although the primary command from this passage was regarding joy, it comes within this larger section bearing the theme of unity. Joy is the byproduct of unity (2). But unity has two prerequisites:
1. Sympathy from above (1)
2. Humility from within (3-4)
Next week, we will see the primary example of humility in the death of Christ (Phil 2:5-11).
We do not have our home fellowship groups this week, but I encourage you to utilize these “Take-Home Questions”. In my humble opinion, they’re great.