Series on Philippians, III Oneness through Service, B Exhortation to Unity, Text: 2:1-4, Title: Union with Christ

Introduction

Paul’s message to the Ephesian Christians is the same as in our text. They are to keep the unity of the Spirit. He reminds them in Ephesians 4:4-6, There is one body and one Spirit-just as you were called to one hope when you were called-one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. On this Father’s Day I want to remind you that we are a family. We have been adopted into the family of God by His grace and he loves us the same way we love our 7 adopted grandchildren; the way their parents love, and their siblings love them. There is a misconception going around that those who have had bad fathers cannot appreciate the fatherhood of God. However both bad Fathers and good Fathers motivate us to trust the true Father in different ways. There are ample examples of this in the Christian community. Some kids don’t even know their biological Fathers at all, but they have learned from others what fatherhood is about. When Paul says that God is the Father of all in Ephesians 4 he does not mean the father of all men. However he is the Father of those who believe and he loves them all, thin and tall, short and fat, rich or poor, old or young, believing Catholics and believing Protestants, and people who separate because of minor doctrinal differences. They may not love one another, but God loves them. So Paul’s appeal to the Ephesians is that they recognize what it means to be in one family. It means unity. I am not talking about those who have denied the faith but those who affirm it in ways with which we disagree. I am not pleading for compromise but for an affirmation of unity and my text in Philippians emphasizes this because it begins with union with Christ.

I The Prerequisite

There can never be unity in the body if there is not union with Christ. This is where Paul starts,in verse 1, If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness or compassion, be like-minded. What does it mean to be in union with Christ? John Murray in his book Redemption Accomplished and Applied says that sanctification is a process that begins in regeneration, finds its basis in justification and derives its energizing grace from union with Christ. Later he says, union with Christ is spiritual and mysterious. It is spiritual because it requires a new birth. By your original birth you are linked to Adam, the sinful father of the human race. By the new birth through the Holy Spirit you are linked to Jesus as the last Adam who conquered sin and death. It is mysterious because the Apostle says in Colossians 1 that this is the mystery that had been hidden from the ages, but is now revealed to His saints which is Christ in you the hope of glory. So what is union with Christ? It is a relationship effected by the Holy Spirit that issues in a tie that binds. The old saying that blood is thicker than water is false. The water of baptism that ties us to Christ and to one another is thicker than bloodlines or genetics. I hope that my seven adopted grandchildren will rise up and say this one day. But the main point here is that unless we are united to Christ through His spirit and share that tenderness and compassion, no unity is possible.

II The Purpose

Now the purpose of this unity is to bring joy to all as Paul says in verse 2, Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. The author of the IVF commentary on Philippians, Walter Liefeld says that he has presided and a number of weddings where they had a unity candle. There are three candles and the couples are supposed to take the two outside candles, light the middle one, and blow theirs out. Out of these quite a few refused to blow out the outside candles because it would destroy their individuality. They do not know that joy comes from being likeminded, having the same love and being one in spirit and purpose. This is true in marriages and in the church. My wife and I do not have the same taste in music. I’d sing Bach and hymns and psalms every week. She has an appreciation for contemporary songs that are Scriptural and send a message. We compromise because this is not an essential thing. But, more importantly, we compromise because we are committed to one another. That is what Paul is talking about here. John Wesley and George Whitefield were good friends in their earlier years, Wesley having begun his outdoor preaching ministry at Whitefield's encouragement.  As time went on the men disagreed, with Whitefield leaning more heavily toward Calvinism than his younger friend's Arminianism.  When Whitefield died, Wesley was asked if he expected to see Dr. Whitefield in heaven. In exaggerated but honest respect he answered, "No, he'll be so near the throne of God that men like me will never even get a glimpse of him!"  Though differing, they did not lose their sense of oneness in Christ.

III The Plan

The plan is revealed in verses 3 and 4, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. OK! I want you to think of your worst adversary, your worst enemy, your worst disappointment; I’ll give you a moment. When it says consider others as better than yourselves, do you think that means them? Are they better than you? You do not think so, but the Scripture says consider them better. This whole thing is an issue between what you feel and what you think. You feel hurt, but what are you supposed to do? You feel they are inferior, but you must consider them better. This is the message of the cross of Christ. He was better, but he humiliated Himself because in his plan you were better than Him. He died for you in order to show you real humiliation. Can you follow?

Conclusion

We will never become a church that effectively reaches out to those who are missing out if we shoot our wounded and major on the minuses. Instead of being fishers of men, as Christ has called us, we will be keepers of an ever-shrinking aquarium. Next fall when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in V formation, you might be interested in knowing what science has discovered about why they fly that way. It has been learned that as each bird flaps its wings, it creates uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own. Christians who share a common direction and a sense of community can get where they are going quicker and easier, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another. Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are going. When the lead goose gets tired, he rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It pays to take turns doing hard jobs--with people at church or with geese flying south. The geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What do we say when we honk from behind? Finally, when a goose gets sick, or is wounded by a shot, and falls out, two geese fall out of formation and follow him down to help and protect him. They stay with him until he is either able to fly, or until he is dead, and then they launch out on their own or with another formation to catch up with their original group. If people knew we would stand by them like that in church, they would push down these walls to get in. You see, all we have to do in order to attract those who are missing back to church is to demonstrate to the world that we have as much sense as geese here at church. That seems little enough price to pay to win the lost and minister to one another. Even geese have sense enough to know it works every time. When I was pastoring a mission church, I visited one of our congregants, a widow who was ailing. One of our Deacons was over there trying to fix her lawn tractor. When I got there he had gone to get a part, but the home health care nurse from hospice was there. She said to me, you must have some church with a Deacon and a Pastor visiting the same morning. Actually our church was small, but we were trying to be like the geese.