Shrewd Strategies to Unity, Part 2
Why Unity Matters First
Let me start with a series of pointed questions: (1) Would anyone advise their grown son to marry a conflicted young woman whose life is in disarray? (2) Given the choice between two working environments, which would you choose—the one with a forward-thinking leadership and unified workforce, or a fractured group of employees who come only to make money? (3) Were a traveling salesman to knock on your door and pitch you a sale for a hair growth product, would you see its value if he were bald? (4) Why are there no all-inclusive resorts or retirement communities in Mogadishu, Somalia?
I ask all of these very pointed questions to illustrate the point Jesus made in his John 17 prayer for unity: “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.”
The great commission doesn’t begin out there. In other words, before the world may come to know Jesus and believe in him, they must first see something totally unique about this group. The great commision begins in here, within these closed doors, as we learn to love one another like a family. Our efforts in the world are for not if we appear disjointed, fractured, or hypocritical. For this reason, one pillar of our vision, for not only 2019 but always, is to be wholly unified in faith and in knowledge of the Son of God. Our greatest witness to those beyond these walls is oneness—being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than self (see Philippians 2:2ff).
Last week we detailed two of four rhetorical strategies employed by Paul in Philippians 1:3-8, all of which are bent toward cultivating greater unity in Philippi. For those who weren’t here, let me very briefly reiterate why I believe Paul wrote Philippians. (1) In chapter 4, Paul urged two woman to agree with one another in the Lord; (2) In chapter 2, Paul asked the church to complete his joy by being of the same mind, from which we infer, they weren’t of the same mind; (3) Paul was sending Timothy and Epaphroditus to go work with them and to report back to him. At the very least, this indicates a concern for them; (4) Paul calls the church to unity and reminds them of the meaning of fellowship in more than one way in every chapter of the letter.
For those reasons, I believe Paul wrote this letter to admonish a church on the verge of division. So, we’re asking Paul in verses 3-8, “What are you doing in these verses to work to that end?” This is the passage:
“I thank my God in every thought of you, always, in every prayer of mine on behalf of you all, working my prayer with joy because of your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, persuaded that he who began in you a good work will bring it to perfection at the Day of Christ Jesus. Accordingly, it is right for me to think this way of you all, because of my having you in heart, since both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are being partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how I long for you with the bowels of Christ” (Philippians 1:3-8, my translation).
Now, I see at least four intentional strategies in these verses to build unity. The two we discussed last week were (1) Paul brought the saints to ground zero by reminding them of the high stakes involved in their work. In other words, it wasn’t about Euodia and Syntyche—it was about Christ, the gospel, and being prepared for Christ’s return. When saints are reminded of what really matters, divisive preferences fall and unity rises. And (2) Paul looked on this church from afar and spent much time for them in prayer. He was always praying for them. Paul believed unity could be secured, in part, through prayer.
Today, we’ll see two further strategies I believe Paul was using to build unity. Before discussing them, however, I want to address two peripheral matters concerning this passage. So today we’re going to discuss two practical methods to build unity, but before doing so, there are some matters in the passage that I’d be remiss to ignore. In all there will be four points in today’s message, two of which are peripheral, and two of which are direct and practical.
Two Peripheral Matters
First, even great churches wrestle with unity. As I read through Philippians, I see a beautiful reflection of Christ. The saints in Philippi were defending the gospel before a hostile world; they were confirming the gospel through many proofs (1:7); they were expressing the generosity of Christ through their financial support of Paul (4:15ff). They were consistently obedient to Christ (2:12). They sent a member of their church to minister to the needs of Paul in prison (4:18). This is a great church.
And further, the effect they had on Paul was such that he was always joyful in reflection of them (1:3ff). This was clearly a great church! And yet, this very church needed an admonishment concerning unity. This tells me that even great churches wrestle with unity. Knowing this beforehand, we must strive after oneness with a more fervent spirit.
Second, the excellence of saints should be our delight. Paul said, “I thank my God in every thought of you, always, in every prayer of mine on behalf of you all, working my prayer with joy, because of your fellowship in the gospel” (1:3-5, my translation). In verse 7 he says, “it is right for me to think this way of you all, because of my having you in heart, since both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are being partakers with me of grace.”
As Paul considered the Philippians and the lengths to which they’d gone for Christ, he was filled with joy. Joy! As Christians grow, are we joyed by it? Or does it even affect us? It should affect us, and we should be overjoyed by the progress of saints.
Making Much of Each Other
If there’s ever a spiritual divide of sorts, between one man and another, the most natural move, I think, is to withdraw. To say it another way, when division exists, most don’t draw into one another, which would be healing; they draw further apart. I think that’s most natural, and therefore that’s what happens most often.
There’s another move used perhaps less often—confrontation. That is to say, perhaps one party sees the divide badly, and therefore they move in to correct it by confronting the other party’s faults, telling them everything they’ve done wrong.
What did Paul do? He made much of the Philippian Christians. “Grace to you,” he said; “peace from God,” he said. He detailed explicitly the kind of things they were doing right. He spoke of the fondness with which he had them in his heart (1:7-8). “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, because you are all partakers with me of grace…For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ.”
Throughout the letter, he specified the goodness of this church. He said, “I’m thankful for you—I thank God for you; I’m thankful for everything you’ve done in this partnership called the gospel” (paraphrased). This wasn’t flattery. It was so true to how he felt that he always remembered them and always thanked God for these qualities. Their excellence was Paul’s delight.
How do we normally handle unity problems? By telling the divided people everything about them for which we’re thankful? Paul is making much of these Christians with a view to bringing a much deeper fellowship in that church. In Galatians 4:18, Paul says, “It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose.” This is the antonym of flattery.
At the Kingfisher church, we’re asking ourselves in 2019, how can we be better unified? Christ’s will is that we all share one mind together. So how do we better do that? I think we need to make much of one another. Make much of the person next to you. Make much of the person in the back row. Make much of the west side audience members. Make much of the east side audience members. Make much of the middle-rowers.
Confidence in Christ’s Work
Finally, the fourth strategy I see Paul doing in Philippians 1:3-8 to build unity is revealed in verse 6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
I could preach ten messages on this passage, all of which are rooted in this idea that Paul held so closely—the work of the church is Christ’s work, and therefore it cannot fail (!).
Is bringing unity among a broad group of people challenging? Assuredly. When we see the challenge in front of us, do we realize Christ goes before us? Do we realize what Paul said in this very book (?), “I can do all things through Christ!” This work isn’t my work, nor is it yours. It is Christ’s. And therefore, he who began a good work among us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
Did God stop his work of creation on the third day? Did God stop his Messianic plan when Israel was deported to Babylon? Did God stop his work with Israel when repeatedly they went into idolatry during the Judges? Did God stop his work with Corinth when a man in the church was sleeping with just step-mother? Did God quit his work with the Romans when they arrogantly believed they could justify themselves before God? He began works, and he finished works. He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion.
As we strive toward greater unity in 2019, remember first who’s work this is. We are here because Christ began a good work in us.
This week, find a way to make much of one another. And keep doing it. When we make much of one another, we build unity, and we open doors to finding resolve in our disagreements.
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