Sermon: United with Christ. United in Christ – Philippians 2:1-4

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:1-4

Prayer 

Our heavenly father, 

These continue to be trying times for our nation. This was another ugly week. We’ve been through so much as a society in the past year. There is so much division and disunity. There is so much hatred in our world and society. 

Lord. Let us be people who pray for our community and for our nation. Lord, in a society that’s increasingly divided, may we be uniters. In a nation that’s increasingly combative, may we be peacemakers. Lord, we pray that you would use this text to point us to the unity that you desire from us. May we practice that in our church but may it also influence the attitude that we have with our spouses, with our children, with our co-workers, and with total strangers. 

Lord, may we be a people who do shine the light of the gospel in all of our relationships and interactions we have with others. Lord, in a world where there is so much hatred, we pray for this church and that we would be a people who are noticeably different from that. May we be a church who point people to Christ through our words, actions, and love for our neighbor. 

Lord, we pray that you would use us to be your hands and feet in our community. We pray for opportunities to show and share the love of Christ. Lord, in these tumultuous times, may we not be weighed down by the problems of the world. But may we look up to our great God. Lord, for anyone today who is feeling especially discouraged, I pray for comfort for them, I pray for peace for them. Lord, we pray that you bless our time in your word. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Introduction 

Music. 

It’s a beautiful thing. 

It’s something that brings joy. 

We just celebrated Christmas. The classic songs take us back to other times. 

Same thing with songs that were meaningful at different times in our lives. It has a way of transporting are thoughts to when we were teenagers. 

Music builds community. It moves us. It inspires us. 

We don’t always even notice the music, but it’s so often in the background of our lives. The restaurants we go to, the stores where we shop. 

Throughout the Bible, we see how important music is in our worship of God. 

Part of the beauty of music comes from the unity that’s needed in performing a song or a piece of music. 

If the different instruments were playing different songs, that would not be an enjoyable listening experience. 

If someone was singing the lyrics to a different song, that would make no sense. 

For music, we need people playing the same song. 

We need unity.  We’re continuing in our new years series. 

Last week, we talked about the importance of personal holiness. 

Today, we are talking about unity. And the plan next week, Lord willing, is to talk about evangelism. 

And the idea is that we started with individuals, we’re expanding that to the church, and next week, expanding that outward to our community and the world. 

So today we focus on unity as we look at the beginning of Philippians 2. 

Just to give a couple of brief notes on Philippians. 

Philippians is written by Paul. He wrote it from jail, but despite being imprisoned when writing Philippians, it’s a very joyful and upbeat letter. 

But one of the areas that he did need to address with the Philippian church was the subject of unity. We see that in more than one place in this book, but we’ll really just be focusing on one section today. 

And so what we’re going to do this morning is look at this section in three parts. 

And the main idea of this passage is this. Be the you in unity. 

The basis for unity 

Verses 1-2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

This first verse is actually pretty loaded. Paul makes four statements in this opening verse. And all of the statements are meant to be directed to the same type of person. A person who is a Christian and who has trusted in Christ. 

We’ll be brief on these. 

Four ways that the gospel impacts us. 

First, Paul talks about encouragement in Christ. 

That seems to best be understood as the encouragement and comfort which comes from knowing Christ and having your salvation found in him. 

Second, Paul talks of comfort form love which seems to refer to the comfort that comes from the love of God. 

Third, Paul talks about participation in the Spirit which refers to a shared unity within the church. In the church, we are all born again by the same Spirit. We are all sanctified by the same Spirit. 

Many scholars see this passage as being Trinitarian. That it’s getting at the works of all three persons of the Trinity in the Christian life and in our salvation. 

Fourthly, Paul talks about any affection and sympathy Paul is talking about the changed life and emotions that should come from a person who does know the Lord. it’s the fruit of our salvation. It’s a care and concern that we’re called to have for one another. 

Take all of that together. 

Paul is saying that this is what salvation looks like in verse 1. 

And that brings us to our second point in verse 2. 

The call for unity 

For the person who is a Christian, who knows Christ, who knows God’s love, who’s active in a body of Christian believers by means of the Spirit, Paul gives the command: complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Be the you in unity. 

Where Paul talks about being of the same mind, he’s not saying people should lose their individuality or uniqueness. He’s not saying we should all become robots and yes men. 

But he’s saying that we should be united in goals and direction as a church. 

Because when we as a church are one in heart, we will become one in mind. 

If we are united in what we value, that fosters unity. 

And Paul is emphasizing the importance of being joined and united in verse 2 where he keeps adding further elaborating comments on what it looks like for Christians to be united. 

That’s how the church is supposed to function. 

It’s how a healthy church is supposed to function. 

We enjoy a show called Secrets of the Zoo. And in the first season, every episode was at the Columbus Zoo, and there was a phrase that the zookeepers used several times in the show. 

Let’s say the animal was a polar bear, they’d talk about the polar bear and say “she’s such a good bear.” 

Or let’s say it was a hippo, “he’s such a good hippo.” 

And in some ways, that phrase sounds almost silly. 

A good hippo. A good bear.

They do what hippos do, what bears do. 

What Christians are supposed to do is be unifiers. 

When I was applying to churches a couple of years ago, a lot of churches have questionnaires. 

Our church gave me a questionnaire. And I forget if our committee asked me this, but one of the common questions I would get in a questionnaire or in an interview would be about my preferences for worship music styles. 

That’s an important question. But I also think that if you’re committed to unity within the church, that’s not the most important issue. 

By the way, I really appreciate all of our people who do music for us. 

There should be principals that matter. We should care about music which is Biblically faithful, which points people to the Lord, which is not man-centered music. 

And music is just one example. 

I’ve talked before about crazy reasons people leave churches. 

Music is a major reason. Carpeting, paint, choir robes, on and on. There are all sorts of reasons why people leave churches where it’s clear that the priority was not unity and the love of the church. 

And I think it can be especially difficult in American churches. Because if you’re not happy with a church, if you decide you don’t like something about a church, it’s so easy just to uproot and go to the next church. It happens all the time. And there can be legitimate reasons to do that. But often times, the reasons why people uproot are not based on good theological reasons. 

In the first century, they didn’t have churches everywhere you looked, the way we have it in America. So you really needed to figure it out. 

But the command is just as Biblical for us today that we need to strive for unity as a church. 

And it’s also an area where there’s work that continually needs to be done in our own hearts and attitudes. 

A church can have very good unity in a season of its existence. But there’s no guarantee that it will always be that way. Which is why it must be continually pursued. 

2020 was a year where many churches were pushed to the brink in terms of unity. It was a challenging year. Different opinions about Covid and how to handle that. Different opinions over politics. Different opinions about social issues. 

All of these are important things. 

Again, unity is not a call to be mindless. 

But it is a call to make unity a priority. It’s our job as Christians to emphasize unity within this church and amongst each other. 

Unity is meant to be a reflection of the gospel. That we have a gracious savior who loves us and we are supposed to be gracious and loving to each other. 

Unity matters because we need each other. 

There’s this lie that’s spreading in America among people who identify as Christians which undermines the importance of church. You can do your own thing. Don’t need to be involved in church. You can just pick the pastor you really like and watch his sermons online. That’s just as good right? 

Wrong. 

Nothing wrong with watching a pastor on TV or listening to one on the radio. 

But it’s important to know that that person is not YOUR pastor. 

No matter how many great insights you’ve gained or what you’ve learned about the Bible. 

We’re called to actually be part of a church. It’s the body of believers. It’s important to be actually doing life. To be growing and struggling with people. 

Proverbs 27:17:

Iron sharpens iron and one man sharpens another. 

So we’ve explained what unity is and that we’re called to pursue unity as a church. 

The process of being a unifier 

But how do we pursue unity? 

Verses 3-4: 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul never says that this list is the exhaustive guide to unity, but it’s a pretty good start. 

And there are two primary areas of focus in this process. 

Beginning of verse 3 where Paul says to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit. 

He calls upon the people to instead be humble. 

Keep in mind that Paul is writing in the first century. He’s writing during the Roman Empire. The Greco-Roman world did not view humility as a virtue. If anything, it was a weakness. 

What is humility? 

Humility is not self-loathing. It’s not thinking that you’re really great but saying that you don’t think that and fainting humility. 

I like the C.S. Lewis definition of humility. Humility is not thinking less of yourself but it’s thinking of yourself less. 

It takes a focus off of ourselves, our wants, our needs. 

And that’s consistent with how Paul describes humility in this passage. 

Because it is in this spirit of humility that Paul instructs the Philippians to count others more significant than yourselves. 

The Bible has much to say about humility. 

Proverbs 3:34 says that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. That same idea is picked up in James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5. 

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus said: Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12). 

And here again, we have Paul exhorting the Philippian Church toward humility. 

And that has gospel impact. 

In the following section of Philiippians, Paul will point to the humility of Jesus. 

Philippians 2:6-7: though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

That is one of the most theologically dense verses in the New Testament, so we’re not going to fully unpack that here, but one important idea when Paul describes Jesus. 

Jesus is glorious. Jesus is God. 

But even Jesus was humble during his life in the world. He was fully submissive to the will of God. 

In his humility, this glorious Christ, who was in the beginning, who was the eternal Word, who was perfect and sinless went to the cross. 

Verse 8: And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus was humbly obedient to the father. 

Our society likes to glorify people. We like to glory talent, geniuses, prodigies. 

Jesus was the one in whom the fullness of deity was pleased to dwell, and yet he humbled himself before God. 

And that is to the glory of God, because it is because of Jesus’ humility, and his submission to God that we have the gospel and can be saved from our sins. 

And one of the ways that we can show humility is be humble to God’s word and his commands in scripture. 

It matters to God that we be unified as his church. 

That’s always true, but I think of the especially high level of disagreement and disunity that there is in our society right now. It should especially stand out to the world, to our neighbors, to our community that we have a commitment to unity. 

John 13:35, Jesus says: By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. 

That isn’t saying that we can’t have opinions. That isn’t saying that in the proper times, we shouldn’t make those opinions known. 

We have a church budget that we vote on. That’s a good time to speak up. 

We have a board that we vote on. That’s a good time to make your voice heard. 

We have an annual meeting. 

And certainly, we’re always willing to hear concerns. 

People do share concerns with me sometimes. I appreciate that. I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they can’t speak up. 

I think that’s perfectly good and reasonable. So please don’t misunderstand what I talk about unity. The point isn’t that it’s virtuous to never raise concerns, suggestions, or thoughts. 

But I think part of where humility comes through within the life of a church is being able to agree to disagree. 

I think all of that is worth bringing up because there are churches that can misuse and abuse verses like these and be very top down and authoritarian and controlling. 

The verse is not calling us to absolute submission. 

But it is important to have humility. To know that we’re fallen people. To pray for our church. To pray that the collective wisdom of our leaders and of our church will be what is honoring to Christ. 

But within the church, it’s important to have humility. 

And again, I think of the reasons why people so often leave churches. They’re so often not about major doctrinal differences. People leave because they didn’t get their way, and that is not Biblical. 

It’s important to major in the majors. 

The gospel is a major. The inerrancy of the Word of God is a major. The divinity of Christ is a major. 

But a lot of things are not major issues, and in those areas, there needs to be grace, and a love for the church and the unity of the church should supersede the minor issues. 

Verse 4 says: 

4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

That’s an important principal. 

I should also say that I’ve never seen anyone at this church just totally go against this idea. I have seen it in other churches. 

And I’ve heard stories from other churches. 

People trying to throw their weight around, impose their will on an idea of ministry. 

That’s why I previously said that unity is something that must be constantly pursued by churches. 

I think in America, where we have so many options with everything, where every business with which we interact lives and dies on our satisfaction, otherwise bad publicity and negative reviews will quite possibly ultimately result in lost sales. 

And so I think churches can fall into pandering, customer service, giving the people what they want. 

I think this is especially true in large churches, but churches of any size can fall into this thinking. 

Unity cannot exist in a Church with people who are only looking out for themselves. Where people are takers.

And so what this passage does is serves as a reminder of the attitudes that we have within the church. 

Again, I appreciate all of you. I appreciate this church. I think that unity is something that’s important to be reminded of from time to time because there are a lot of unhealthy and dysfunctional churches, unfortunately. 

Conclusion 

The great German preacher and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave 7 principles for unity which I think provide us with helpful observations in how we pursue unity as a church. 

1 Hold their tongues, refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother;

2 Cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in God’s sight by his grace;

3 Listen “long and patiently” so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need;

4 Refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial;

5 Bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom;

6 Declare God’s word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it;

7. Understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service.