by Paul Tautges | August 24, 2020 6:46 am
Psalm 133 testifies, Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! When believers live together in unity it is an experience that brings blessing to them and glory to God. According to the Scriptures, there is unity that exists among genuine Christians that is founded upon a mutual love for Christ which results in love for one another. Therefore, Scripture also contains warnings against disunity, most pointed are those which warn against pride and love-less-ness. When warning us about conflict between believers, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the most common causes are the presence of pride and the absence of love. For example, where there is strife, there has first been pride and hatred.
If pride, anger, and hatred produce conflict then what it needed is humility and love. Consequently, Ephesians 4:1-3 compels us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God in Christ, which includes all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Without humility and love, it is impossible to know the bond of peace. Let me illustrate.
When I want to repair something that is broken, I often go to the hardware store to buy 2-part epoxy. The two resins do nothing when they remain separate, but when you snip the tip of the dispenser and mix the chemical agents you have a glue that quickly cures and forms a permanent bond. Like that 2-part epoxy, which produces an unbreakable bond, so humility and love combine to form a unity that cannot be easily destroyed. Divisions among believes thrive in an environment where spiritual pride is rampant and love is absent. Therefore, God repeatedly calls us to a life of humility and love, which maintains biblical unity. One such call is found in Philippians 2:1-2.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
The Experience in Christ
In verse one, Paul repeatedly uses the little word “if.” However, he does not use it in order to present a condition they must fulfill but to encourage his reader to remember what is already true of their experience. It is an intensive “if” which means “since.” In other words, verse one describes mutual experiences of those who know Christ in a saving way.
Tenderness and compassion are found in Christ. The Gospel of Luke provides an example when it tells us of a time when Jesus came into the town of Nain. “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
In verse one, the apostle’s logic is this: If you have experienced the riches that come with the experience of knowing Christ as Lord and Savior then there is a certain kind of conduct that is now expected from you.
The Expectation for Unity
Before we go any further in thinking about what this kind of unity looks like, we need to understand that unity does not equal uniformity. Unity flows from within, but uniformity is imposed upon people from the outside.
Unity says, “Since you know and love the same Savior, and are seeking to submit your life to the authority of His Word, we can and should live in unity—and I will lovingly pursue it.” Uniformity says, “If you do things exactly the way I do them then we can be close, but if not then we cannot have fellowship. Unless you are like me, we cannot have a relationship. Unless you listen to the same music, or dress in the same clothes, or school your children in exactly the same way I do then we cannot live in unity with one another.”
In unity there is grace, but uniformity reveals the absence of grace. Unity says, “I love you in Christ and appreciate what God is doing in your life.” Uniformity says, “I will not love you or appreciate you unless you conform to my mold.”
The apostle is not calling us to uniformity (like the Pharisees demanded), but to biblical unity. As he did earlier, he calls us to stand “firm with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). The gospel is the center around which biblical unity revolves. Paul is saying, “Since you have experienced this kind of love and compassion and encouragement and comfort in Christ, and the Holy Spirit has knit you together into one family…then make my joy complete.”
Satan uses conflict to attack and destroy the joy of the believer. As a pastor this was significant in Paul’s mind. When believers are living in unity with one another, under the leadership of their shepherds, it produces joy. Hebrews 13:17 teaches this, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Nothing destroys a pastor’s joy like hidden or open divisions in the church.
Since the Philippian believers had had the mutual experience of love and grace in Christ there were expectations they were to pursue and practice, habitually. This call is to us, too, and includes:
This is what God expects from us and it begins with humility (verses 3-4).
One of the devil’s most powerful weapons in his effort to destroy churches which faithfully hold forth the truth of Scripture is disunity. And the means by which he empowers his weapon includes pride, anger, hatred, unresolved conflict, bitterness, destructive speech, and a lack of like-mindedness. As believers, we need to listen up. We need to listen to God’s exhortations, repent, and always be in pursuit of peace and unity among one another (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 14:19). Pride wears different faces, but surely each of us needs to repent of some form. More than anything else, we need the humility of Christ (Phil. 2:5).
You may listen to last Sunday’s sermon, Foundations for Unity.
[Originally posted April 19, 2016.]
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