English Service on November 16 Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison Title:“One in Spirit and Purpose” Scripture:Philippians 2:1-11
Do you remember a few of months ago, when we began a series of messages, “Rediscovering God’s Vision for Open Door”? If so, you may recall that in chapter one, Paul appealed to the brothers and sisters in the church in Philippi (Philippians 1:27-28a) as follows.
No matter what happens, live in a way that brings honor to the good news about Christ. Then I will know that you stand firm with one purpose. I may come and see you or only hear about you. But I will know that you work together as one person.
I want to focus with you today on that appeal for strong Christian fellowship. In today’s reading from chapter two, Paul tells us how we can learn to live in the kind of fellowship he called for in chapter one.
As we noted in the first message of this series, part of the vision for Open Door that we have felt God has for us is to be “a church where we are strong in fellowship, where regardless of how much membership increases, we maintain an ‘at-home’ atmosphere.” The unity Paul wants the Philippians to have is absolutely necessary for the strong fellowship that we at Open Door also want and need.
And Christian fellowship, or koinonia, is important to us because God intends for the church to be, along with our families, our primary social group. Others are often good, and many of us find it very helpful to have at least some friends who are not in our own church. But when commitments to other people and groups keep us away from the life of the church, in which He has placed us, we have to ask if we are really doing what God wants us to do.
These verses have been called the Mt. Everest of mountain peaks in the Bible’s theological teachings about Christ. But especially as we focus on forming and keeping strong fellowship, let’s remember one thing. This section about Christ apparently grew out of a very practical problem in the church—a quarrel between two ladies. In Philippians 4:2-3a, Paul writes, “Here is what I'm asking Euodia and Syntyche to do. I want them to agree with each other because they belong to the Lord. My true companion, here is what I ask you to do. Help those women.”
In general, the church in Philippi seems like a strong one. You do not see Paul in the book of Philippians giving the kind of warnings about dangerous teachings and immoral behavior inside the church that he gives to, for example, the Corinthians. But in Philippi, and probably every church at some time, there are stresses and strains between people. So Paul writes in part to lead them to closer, warmer fellowship in Christ. God also wants us, as part of His Church, to learn through practice to live in healthier relationships with each other and the other people in our lives.
1. First, why should we do that? Let’s look at the motive for Christian fellowship. We are linked as family members with others in Christ’s Church first because of our relationship with Him. He has brought us joy. You can be “cheerful because you belong to Christ,” Paul reminds us (v. 1). His love can comfort you. He has been gentle and loving toward you. Our fellowship with other believers also grows out of our relationship with the Holy Spirit. He is our companion (v. 1b). We are joined to God the Father in a love relationship, of course, as well.
When we bring disunity into Christ’s church, what happens? We deeply offend Him. We do not just go against an organization or tradition or set of rules. We take what is clearly of great value to Him and scar or break it. A willingness to do that with Christ’s church grows out of ingratitude. It comes from a failure to understand how much we belong to Christ, how much comfort we have received because of Him, and how gentle and loving He has been to us. It is turning our back on the Holy Spirit, who came to make His home in us when we gave our lives to God. It is forgetting how much of a companion He is to us. We believe in open communication here, so it’s OK to give honest opinions, whether positive or negative. But none of us has the right to break the unity and fellowship of Christ’s church.
If you turn that around, you can say it in a positive way. Our motivation for living in fellowship with each other comes from the fellowship God has kindly and graciously made between us and Himself. We have an incredibly strong base on which our fellowship can rest—not just our good intentions or efforts or whatever but the unshakable love of God Himself. When we keep our eyes on the way God treats us, we will want to act that way to other people. When we see how God has given us what we deeply wanted and needed—love, peace, life itself, all we need and more—then it is only natural for us to want to give Him what He treasures.
What is that? One of the things He feels is most precious is the unity of His Church, a strong bond of fellowship between His people. Jesus makes that clear. He wants us to live in strong fellowship with each other. In John 13:34-35, He says to His followers, “I give you a new command. Love one another. You must love one another, just as I have loved you. If you love one another, everyone will know you are my disciples.” Likewise, in John 17:21, He prays for His people, “Father, I pray that all of them will be one, just as you are in me and I am in you. I want them also to be in us. Then the world will believe that you have sent me.”
2. Second, what is the meaning of Christian fellowship? Or what are the marks of it, things that we can see to know when it’s there? Our cultures may tell us that fellowship is based on compromise. Each one giving up part of what is important to us makes strong communities, we may hear. Open communication, keeping quiet when we feel like complaining, pretending things are OK—these are necessary to keep good relationships, we may learn. They may be helpful at times to us, but Paul tells us that Christian fellowship goes far deeper. He says in vv. 2-b-5 that it is (a) agreeing with each other, (b) having
the same love, (c) being one in spirit and purpose, (d) not do anything only to get ahead, (e) not doing things because we are proud, (f) being free of pride, (g) thinking of others as better than ourselves, (h) not looking out just for our own good but looking out for the good of others, and (i) thinking in the same way Christ Jesus does. When we do these things, we are living in fellowship. When we not, the name Christian (Christ-like, or little Christs) does not match us.
3. Third is the model of Christian fellowship. No surprise, we see it clearest in Christ’s relationships. God, the Father, Son, and Spirit, give us the perfect example of living in harmony with each other. Christ was one person of the Trinity, that is, God’s way of being. He had the truest, deepest, purest fellowship possible in that relationship. He had had it from eternity, and He remains in that relationship today. Inside that unbreakable bond, He found the acceptance and understanding and support and guidance and courage and all that He needed.
That enabled Him to enter our broken, sinful world and focus not on getting His own needs met but the needs of the people around Him. It make Him able to take the rejection and abuse and all the bad treatment He received in this world on the cross and at other times. Besides living in a community of faith with His disciples, He bonded Himself to His people in a permanent way by dying to save us.
How could Jesus do something so amazingly difficult as living and even dying for others? How can He expect us to do the same type of thing, freely choosing to live with and for others, even when it is difficult? It starts right here, in our relationship with God. When we also come into fellowship with the God who exists in the Trinity, we come to know the truest and deepest fellowship. When that fellowship is alive and thriving and strong, real fellowship with other people is possible. When it is not, nothing else is enough to hold us together very well in the long run.
As an example, if I have a collection of marbles in this “church” and trouble comes to the group, there is not very much to keep them together as one. But if the “members” are like these magnets, even when trouble comes to the organization of the “church,” they are OK. It’s because they are firmly attached to Christ, the light. When our fellowship with Christ is firm and strong, our church life is like this.
When people have already made a firm decision to submit their own wills to the will of God, then finding direction for the way ahead will not lead to power struggles. God will not lead opposite, competing directions people whose true desire is to discover and follow His will. He will not lead them into conflict and struggles for power when they are sincerely ready to submit to Him first and each other second. As someone said, it is amazing what you can get done when no one cares who gets credit for it.
But when we are not willing to set aside our personal opinions and preferences and plans, trouble will sooner or later come. Different individuals or groups inside the church will have competing agendas. Or we may agree on a goal, but if members have different levels of enthusiasm about it and commitment to it, stress can appear. Then stress can become division, and when divisions in a group form, we lose our fellowship. God help us be more like Christ, our example.
4. Fourth is the means to fellowship, or methods of making and maintaining Christian fellowship. It is choosing to think as Christ thinks (v. 5). What is that? God does not tell us, “Create the thinking of Christ in yourself” or “Study until your thinking becomes the same as Christ’s.” No, if you have accepted Him into your heart, He is there. And His normal way of acting is to guide our hearts and minds. That does not mean we are zombies. It does not mean we get a holy computer chip implanted in our brains. It does mean we have a Teacher, Someone who helps us learn to see the world and react to people and events the way He would if He were living in our bodies (which of course He is).
Is learning to think like Christ, for example, having no bad feelings when people treat us badly? No, the Bible does not tell us that that is wrong. So we don’t need to beat ourselves up for feeling bad when people do bad things to us. But after those feelings come, we have a choice to make. We have to choose to give in to them, to let them get in the driver’s seat, to put them on the throne, or to have the mind of Christ, the suffering servant.
“Think in the same way Jesus does.” Does that mean “try to be like Christ in this way” or “make Christ your example”? No. It is those things, but if you stop there, you really miss the main point of God’s sending Christ into this world for us. If Christ had only come “to show us the way,” we would have a perfect example of how to live but be not one step closer to actually becoming the people God wants us to be. I can listen to Pavarotti and be impressed at his great skill as a singer. If the goal is just for me to be impressed, that is fine. But if the goal is for me to become like him and actually learn to sing as he does, just having a great model to follow is not nearly enough.
God knew that. Christ knew that. That is the reason for Christmas, which we are going to be celebrating before long. God sent His Son into our world, from eternity into time, not just to point us in the right direction but to actually help us go where we need to go. Learning to think as Christ thinks means coming to love the things He loves, want the things He wants, commit your time to the kinds of things that are important to Him. It’s not just a head trip but arranging your life as He would if He were you.
And there is one particular way He shows us how to think. Paul says about Jesus (v. 7), “. . . He made himself nothing.” Being a church with strong Christian fellowship is a wonderful idea, but as you have probably felt already, when you actually try to build it, it is remarkably difficult. What we build can fall flat in the first strong wind that comes along. When that happens, we need to step back, take a look at Christ, then look again at ourselves in comparison. We might read vv. 6-9 as follows:
I, in my very nature, was not God. But I thought that being equal with God was something I could take hold of. So I did not follow Christ when He called me to serve my brothers and sisters. I went my own way. I tried to make myself something. I decided I would be somebody. I took on the position of a leader. I made myself in the form of a great person. I appeared as an authority. I lifted myself up to the highest level. I followed my own feelings and thoughts completely, even though it led to weak and broken relationships with God and people. So God had to put me down to the lowest place.
He did it so that I could start again to learn to know and serve the One whose name is above every name.
If you take everything I just said and put it in reverse, you can see what Jesus did for us in making Himself nothing so that we could be something.
What does it mean to humble ourselves, make ourselves nothing, to live with humility as Christ did? Jesus did not stop having rights. Rights are God-given and cannot be changed. He did not stop being the Son of God. That is who He was, and that never changed. But He gave up His claim on those rights. He gave up His right to enjoy His easy life as God. He said that enjoying heaven would not be the most important thing to Him. He chose to make His relationship with people more important than enjoying His rights. To do that or not do that was His free choice, as it is ours in situations of conflict.
Pastor Tim Keller said in a recent book, The Reason for God, that humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less. As we learn to live lives centered and focused on Christ, getting our way and making ourselves number one stop being such important things to us.
God does not tell us to have no rights. We cannot give them up if we don’t have them in the first place. He did not tell us to be people who have lost ourselves, have no self, have no sense of self, don’t know ourselves, don’t value ourselves. I cannot freely choose to submit myself, invest myself, give myself if I don’t have a self. God is not asking us to become people with no identity. He is teaching us to turn our hearts and minds to Him. We do need to learn to fill our hearts and minds and with Him. As we practice and form the habits of living in Christ, we become so aware of His love and beauty and goodness that we don’t have the space in our minds and schedules to be thinking dark, negative thoughts about our problems all the time.
So that’s it. That’s the good news I have to bring to you today. In being linked with Christ in faith, we have the motivation for, marks of, model of, and means to Christian fellowship. That’s the message God gave the Philippians and gives us today. Another church with strong fellowship shows us how important it is for us to keep these teachings in our hearts and apply them to our daily life of faith. We see it in Acts 4:32-33, which describes the church that formed in Jerusalem soon after Jesus returned to heaven.
All the believers were agreed in heart and mind. They didn't claim that anything they had was their own. They shared everything they owned. With great power the apostles continued their teaching. They gave witness that the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead. And they were greatly blessed by God.
Did you notice that the first words of that description told of their unity in fellowship, and the last words said that God blessed the believers? Those two things are not unrelated. For us, too, if we want to have God’s blessing, we need to live in strong unity and fellowship. The future of Open Door and God’s Church around the world will depend in large part how well we live out the word of God that we have received today. Let’s pray that we will honor Him in being a church of strong Christian fellowship.
God, we praise you for the model of true community and fellowship that you give us in your life as Father, Son, and Spirit. Thank you for the incredibly generous gift of your Son, who came to show us how to live together, as one. Help us to show our love for you by loving your family, this family of faith that you have planted and grown into Open Door Chapel. Lord, make us able to know more and more fully what it means to live as members of your family of faith. In Christ’s name, amen.
Keller, T. (July 2, 1995). “Imitating the Incarnation.” Redeemer Presbyterian Church. Retrieved November 7, 2014 from http://sermons2.redeemer.
Keller, T. (2009). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Riverhead Trade. Penguin Random House.
MacArthur, J. (October 9, 1988). “The Motives for Spiritual Unity.” Grace to You. Retrieved November 11, 2014 from http://www.gty.org/resour ces/sermons/scripture/philippians
MacArthur, J. (October 16, 1988). “The Marks of Spiritual Maturity.” Grace to You. Retrieved November 11, 2014 from http://www.gty.org/resour ces/sermons/scripture/philippians
MacArthur, J. (October 23, 1988). “The Means to Spiritual Maturity.” Grace to You. Retrieved November 11, 2014 from http://www.gty.org/resour ces/sermons/scripture/philippians
MacArthur, J. (October 30, 1988). “The Model of Spiritual Maturity. Grace to You. Retrieved November 11, 2014 from http://www.gty.org/resour ces/sermons/scripture/philippians
Steadman, R. (July 28, 1963). “The Secret of Humility.” Peninsula Bible Church. “Studies in Philippians.” https://www.pbc.org/authors/ray- stedman. Retrieved November 5, 2014 from https://www.pbc.org/ system/message_files/14316/14315_2007.mp3