The Foundation and Definition of Church Unity
July 19, 2020
Please turn in your Bibles to Philippians 2. A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a brother in the church and we were talking about our frustrations with everything going on in society right now. But we were also productively asking the questions about what we were learning because of this whole COVID crisis and all the craziness we are witnessing in the culture around us. We mentioned some of the things we’ve discussed from up here over the last couple of months—the priority of love for one another, the precious privilege we have learned we have to gather. And then he mentioned something I think is absolutely true, but maybe we aren’t thinking enough about. He said, “And I’ve really been noticing just how precious and fragile the unity in the church is.”
If you remember way back at the beginning of February, when the world was a completely different place, Pastor Don Green was here for the Seek the Lord Conference. He ended up changing his last message from what we were asking him to preach to the topic of church unity. He began that message by telling us he had observed in the unity of our church something he described as “exceedingly precious and rare.” He used that message to implore our church to guard and protect that unity with all of our hearts. And he doubled down and emphasized after spending time with us that he believed the final message he preached that day was the reason God had brought him to our church. He told us it is the duty of every member of the church to fight with all his might to protect that unity. He warned us that everything we have come to love and appreciate so much about what we have seen this church become could be absolutely destroyed if we as a church do not remain diligent in this battle. It is not enough to just enjoy the unity that we have, but we must be diligent to fight for it, eager to maintain it. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:1 through 3:
Seek the Lord Conference
*I therefore, a prisoner of the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with 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.*
We cannot be passive about church unity and just take it for granted. We must be active. When Pastor Don Green presented us with that message on the first day of February, we could have never imagined where we would be not even six months from that day—how a virus, how the scream of social justice, the rioting, the media, the politics—all of that could so fracture and divide Christians across the county and even begin to sow seeds of bitterness, arrogance, critical spirits, fear and distrust even into a church as doctrinally unified as our church is. And while I don’t think any of us see the type of widespread division in our church that is common in some, I do believe each of us needs to be looking in our hearts all the time and testing the comments in our conversations to make sure they demonstrate the priority of the gift of church unity.
Again, I don’t think we are seeing anything patently divisive, but I do think it is appropriate in this day to borrow Don Green’s metaphor of being those who are at the point of witnessing those first smoldering embers that are landing in a dry patch of grass in the forest. There may be no fires yet, but the sparks that could ignite the fire that could bring down everything that we have come to love and enjoy so much in our church—they are present.
It is so easy for me to see God’s providential hand in bringing us today and next week to these four verses in Philippians 2. At this time in the history of our culture and in the history of our church, these verses are desperately needed. It is my prayer that over these next two weeks, God will use his own Word contained in these four verses as the cold water in the face we may need to wake us up to our duty of vigilantly fighting for the precious gift of church unity that our Lord prayed would be ours in that passage we just read from John 17.
Today, we will be looking at the first two verses of Philippians Chapter 2 and in it we will see Paul lay out the foundation of church unity. In verse 1, we are going to see the foundation of church unity, and in verse 2, we are going to see the description of church unity. He is going to remind us of what we have in Christ and then appeal for the type of unified church living that should be expected from those who understand that reality. So I thought about a few different ways you can organize your notes through an outline, and it might be most simple for you to just label point one, “If” and point two, “Then.” But if that is too simple, point one is going to be The Benefits We Have Experienced, and point two is going to be The Behaviors We Must Be Marked By. These are the two main points, and obviously they are each going to be filled in with subpoints. In fact, as we read these verses together, you will be able to easily and quickly see the subpoints. Just so you know, now, the final subpoints in point two will go much more quickly. But not too quickly.
Let’s read these two verses together, but let’s start in verse 27 of Chapter 1 to get an idea of the context. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 1, verse 27:
*Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, and participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, compete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. *
If you remember all the way back when we covered those first verses in 1:27 through 30, you will remember that entire paragraph in your English Bible is one sentence in Greek. It is a sentence that revolves around the theme of letting your life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ. These four verses that we are going to be looking at over the next two weeks also represent one sentence in the Greek. As you look at the very first word, “So,” which can also be translated as, “Therefore,” you can see Paul intends to connect the thought of living a life worthy of the Gospel with the teaching on the necessity of church unity we see in these verses.
In verse 1, we see Paul essentially asking a four-part rhetorical question. There are four conditional clauses where the reader should have an understood answer of, “Yes, of course these things are true.” That should be what is in their heads as their reading verse one. By saying, “If there is any,” rather than just making the statement that these things are true, Paul is calling the reader to affirm these truths in their own heart and in their own personal experience. Paul is essentially saying, “Listen to this list of unbelievable benefits that all who have been made partakers in the grace that comes through the Gospel have received. Listen to this list—and have you not experienced these?”
As he makes his appeal for unity in verse 2, which as we think about the connection to the conclusion of Chapter 1, it should be a primary way to live a life worthy of the Gospel. He wants them to have all these benefits of the Gospel that God has made real to them—he wants them in their heads as he gets into verse 2. He wants them thinking about those things because what we are going to see is that the argument from Paul is going to be something like, “In light of these things that are true from verse 1, how on earth could you not be making every effort to strive for unity? If these things are true—if these are things you have actually experienced, then it makes no sense that you would not be actively devoting yourselves to those things that mark church unity.” All he is really doing in this first verse is reminding them about what is true, what they have already experienced. The language he uses makes it apparent that he is inferring that not striving for church unity is an indication that you have either forgotten what God has accomplished for you in Christ, or those things don’t actually mean that much to you.
So under the first point in your outline, we are going to look at this list of four objective realities that are true of each person whom God has done a regenerating work on in their heart. They are four things we are not trying to obtain—four things we are not hoping to obtain—they are realities for everyone who is Christ.
First one, subpoint A, Encouragement in Christ. “If there is any encouragement in Christ.” Remember this is coming right on the heels of those last few verses that talk about the benefit of suffering for the sake of Christ. So we think back to that passage, and we remember the that reason we can count it a privilege to share in the suffering of Christ is most profoundly because it is a reminder of the glorious truth about our union with him. We are in Christ. And to be in Christ is the most wonderful and amazing thing we could ever ask for. To be “in Christ” means to share in all the blessings he secured for us through the righteous life and the substitutionary death.
In this little phrase, Paul is calling them to get in their minds a high Christology—an understanding of what he has done for them through the Gospel. So what are these blessings we have because of union with Christ? Just flip back a few pages to Ephesians Chapter 1 and look at these verses as an encouragement to you. Ephesians Chapter 1, verse 3 through 14:
*Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. *
Any encouragement or comfort from that? Beloved, to be reminded again after Bret’s sermons that to be in our eternal perfected bodies with minds that have been freed forever from the curse of sin that diseases flesh—that hardly allows us to read a passage like this without trembling with exhilaration through clouded tears of joy because of that unbelievable truth. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, before the creation of the world, before Genesis 1:1—the omnipotent, omniscient, Holy God who created a universe that is billions of light years in every direction—God chose to set his saving purposes on you. He chose to make you a created being who would choose to serve yourself and rebel against him. He chose you to make you holy and blameless. A holy and just God chose to make a wicked and rebellious sinner blameless through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. And not only did he choose to set his grace upon you long before there was time, but he also predestined you for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ. It was the will of God to make you into a holy and blameless—not just individual, but a holy and blameless son or daughter of God.
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” How does a just God accomplish his purpose of making us holy and blameless sons? The Son of God lived the perfect life we never could. And that life is credited to us, not our sinful, rebellious life. And what about the eternal wrath of God that our sins and trespasses deserve? That same perfect Son takes the punishment in full for those sins on the cross in our place. Is there any encouragement in that? He has lavished on us the riches of his grace. That is all you will ever know. All you will ever know, Christian, is the grace of God being lavished upon you. That is all you’re ever going to experience. Even the worst trials you are going to experience in this life are conforming you to be more like him. In this life and throughout all eternity, every believer in Christ will only ever know the experience of having the grace of God lavished on them.
You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of your incomprehensible inheritance—something you do not deserve but that is now yours as a child of God and coheir with Christ. Bret spent the last three weeks helping us to unpack the tiniest little taste of that eternal inheritance. Brothers and sisters in Christ, fellow holy and blameless children of the living God, coheirs of Christ, fellow recipients of an eternal inheritance—tell me, is there any encouragement for those who are in Christ? Not only is there encouragement, but is there anything that could ever offer more encouragement, more comfort than your union with Christ?
Subpoint B, Comfort from Love. Again, all these subpoints are right there in the text. You can see them there. I’m just trying to help you think through them. The word for “comfort” means something along the lines of “consolation or solace.” It is closely related to the word used for “encouragement,” but it is used only here in the New Testament. It has in mind the relationship of someone drawing close to someone else, providing comfort, especially in times of distress and discouragement. Oh, Christian, is your life not marked up and down with the comfort of the love of Christ? I mean just start with the way we just talked about—that he consoles needy sinners in their most desperate situation. I think we can easily take the comfort from the love of Christ for needy sinners like us for granted because when God truly opens our eyes to our desperate state as sinners and rebels in the hands of a holy and just God, he also in that moment opens our eyes to the salvation that has been provided to us in Jesus Christ.
Could you imagine the soul sickness, the inability to even move around in the world if you had your eyes opened to the truth of your total depravity? Could you imagine that you have no hope of paying the debt that you owe and the certain reality of facing the just wrath of God for all eternity in a hell that is worse than any pain you can possibly imagine? Could you imagine if your eyes were open to that truth—that there was no salvation available, no hope of reconciliation with God and only certain condemnation looming over your head every moment of your life? It would be impossible to come alongside someone who would have a greater need for comfort or consolation than that person. It is to this situation that the love of Christ comes and consoles us in an unimaginable way. It is not a comfort that just merely enters into our pain and hurts along with us, it is a comfort that provides a solution. He took that reality away and he gave us the reality we just read about in Ephesians 1. Is there any comfort from love? Of course there is. There could not be a more desperate situation and there could not be a greater comfort.
This is the primary way we have all seen and experienced the love of Christ, but in light of the context from the previous verses about the reality of the suffering God gives to us in this life, is it not the comfort of the love of God through Christ that ministers to your soul every day? It is the Gospel reality that no matter what happens in this life—because of what God has done for us in Christ—no matter how bad things might seem in this life, no matter what kind of trial he asks us to endure for his sake, no matter what, we will always be able to say along with Paul from 2 Corinthians 4, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” And why is that? Because of what Paul says just a few verses later in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Beloved, have we known gloriously, throughout our lives, known the experience—both foundationally in the Gospel and over and over and over again through every trial—of the comfort of the love of Christ?
Subpoint C, Fellowship with the Spirit. The ESV says, “participation in the Spirit,” but “Fellowship with the Spirit” is probably a more helpful translation. The Greek word for fellowship, “koinonia,” that we all have come accustomed to hearing—that is the word that is there. Again, Paul does not want them to merely acknowledge the theological truth that they have fellowship with the Spirit, Yes, that is true, but he wants them to remember how precious that truth is to them personally and corporately. He wants them to think through the reality that the same Spirit that inspired the inerrant Word of God now dwells within them as they read it. This is the same Spirit that intercedes for us in our prayers because we do not know how to pray as we should. This is the same Spirit that is the seal and the guarantee of our eternal inheritance. It is the Spirit that is the source of your spiritual gifts—those things that allow you to serve and to contribute to the needs of the body of Christ. He produces those. He produces the fruit of sanctification in you—that which allows you to see the miraculous work of regeneration in your life. The sins that once owned you are taken away as he sanctifies you. And instead, he replaces them with fruit. He brings out those things to put to death in life—the sin you want nothing to do with to become more like Jesus. It is the Spirit that gives you that strengthens you to do that.
Possibly one of the most important things the Corinthians need to remember—we need to remember—about the fellowship of the Spirit for this current admonition we are going through today is what we read in 1 Corinthians 12:13, where Paul says, “For in one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The fact that we have fellowship with the Spirit means we have been united to each other. There isn’t a single believer who has received only a personal fellowship with the Spirit. All fellowship with the Spirit is a shared fellowship with the body of Christ. So you can see how rightly understanding this truth makes any type of disunity absolutely foolish. Why on earth would you focus on any type of disagreement you might have with a fellow believer to the point where you forget or minimize the magnificent unity you have as a participant in the fellowship of the spirit that unites you?
Subpoint D, Affection and Sympathy. Now Paul reminds them of the affection and sympathy that they have experienced in Christ. The word for “affection” is that word that talks about a tender or emotional response from someone, something that is felt. It is the word that Paul uses in his description for how he yearns for the Philippians. Look at verse 8 of Chapter 1, “For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He says the “the affection of Christ Jesus,” meaning they have experienced this type of affection both from Christ and from Paul. The word relates to the idea of sympathy or pity or mercy—that God saw them in the state they were in and had compassion, had mercy on them. Have you not also felt the tender mercies of Jesus Christ?—more than just an intellectual understanding of his love and action in all he has done for us and the things we have talked about in the sermon up to this point—but his affection for you? Can you not hear it in his words from John 17?
And the primary way you see and feel the compassion and mercy of God is what Paul just alluded to in Philippians 1:8 when he is talking about God’s love—not through some ethereal feeling of warmth that comes over you when you pray or when you think good thoughts about God. When you look back at your life, you see the tender love of your kind, heavenly Father and your Lord and Savior as the body of Christ ministers to you—when a Christian brother or sister goes out of their way to help you to minister to your soul in the darkest times. Have you felt the tender love of God for you through the loving arms of his body the Church, your brothers and sisters here as they embrace you and help you back up and then walk side by side with you? They walk side by side with you through some trial that would have had nothing to do with them were it not for the fact that God, in his mercy and pity on you and your helpless state, has united that person to you through the blood of Jesus Christ.
Christian, have you also not had that sanctifying, holy experience of a brother or sister in Christ coming alongside you and opening your eyes to a sinful habit? Maybe it’s even a controlling sinful characteristic that has marked you for years and that you have been blind to. Have you felt the pity, the mercy of God as that brother or sister did not fail to bring it to your attention? And with the love of Christ, that brother or sister continued to press in on the wound, even as you lashed out with accusations and pride. Have we not all felt that tender compassion of God as he uses the body, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to open the wounds that need to be opened in order for us to be truly healed, to remove barriers that we were unable to see so we can be conformed more and more to the image of Christ? Do you not look back now and see the compassion of God on your undeserving state as another member of the precious body of Christ gave their time, their energy, possibly their emotional well-being, and sleepless nights in prayer to help you with an issue that at the time, you not only did not appreciate, but you rebelled against and pushed back against? Can’t you see God’s tender love and care for you? What about being a part of a body where you know that at any given moment in the day, one or more of those whom God has mercifully united to you through Christ could be in that moment lifting your name before the throne of God, asking our omnipotent heavenly Father to work for your good, to deal kindly and compassionately with you and your family and to draw you closer to himself. When you think about that, don’t you feel the affection of Christ for you?
Last Sunday, I had a question about a medical issue our family is dealing with, and I was maybe a little frustrated because it was the weekend, so we couldn’t get ahold of our doctor. So I did the next best thing and I called Gary Brotherton. He is the next best thing. His understanding of biology and sports medicine—that background, plus his willingness to speak frankly—have made him an infinitely more valuable resource than WebMD. Gary first helped answer my question. And then he did something I would have never gotten from a doctor. He stopped what he was doing, and he prayed for me and my wife and our family. This man, whom I would have absolutely no relationship with whatsoever were it not for the blood of Christ that unites us and makes us closer than physical brothers—took my family before the throne of God and asked for his mercy and kindness on our behalf. He took full advantage of the access he has to the Sovereign God of the universe through the blood of Jesus Christ on my account. And he did it out of love for me and for my family. I hung up the phone feeling the tender affection of Jesus Christ for me as he used one of his servants whom he has redeemed for himself to minister to me. Grace Church, I ask you, in your life, is there any affection and sympathy?
So you can hopefully see what Paul has been doing here as he has stated theological truth in the form of these conditional clauses. It causes you to reflect on each one and to think deeply about how it has been manifested in your own life. He is asking his readers, and he is asking us by extension, to think through what they know to be true, but then remember how they have seen these great truths at work in their lives and to avoid the temptation of just speaking about these things as theological terms that are detached from their own lives. As we have spent this time together up until this point, I pray that going through these truths the way we just did had the same effect on you that it had on me this week. How easily can Ephesians 1 become nothing more than a text we use to defend Reformed Theology, forgetting it is there to cause us to be overwhelmed by what we have in Christ? How easy does it become for the love of Christ for sinners like us—we have seen through the Gospel—become something we take for granted—to read it in our Bibles, to hear it preached from the pulpit, and then within an hour become consumed with anger, fear or frustration over something we see on Facebook or hear on the news.
How easy it is for us to take the Spirit for granted, to become physically shaken by things going on in a temporal world and to minimize the fact that God himself dwells within us? How often do we take for granted the supernatural life of the body of Christ in the church, the tender love and compassion of Christ that is demonstrated through his redeemed people in our lives and in so many unbelievable, sacrificial ways? And it happens for us so often that it just becomes part of life. This is what Paul is doing here. When you are rightly thinking about all these things, when your heart is overflowing as you remember all of these glorious blessings and benefits and Paul’s plea for church unity, it will fall on the ears of those to whom it has become plain that any response, other than fighting for and treasuring church unity would be utter foolishness.
So with our hearts overflowing with gratefulness for all the Gospel realities that have been manifested in our lives, blessing us beyond anything we could ever think and imagine, Paul now transitions into the actual imperative in these two verses. The command here isn’t actually, “Be unified.” He’s not saying that. The imperative is, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” The imperative is to make Paul’s joy complete. He is saying, “If all these things are really true of you, if you have really experienced all these things, then make my joy complete.” Our first point in the sermon was about the benefits we have received that lay the foundation for church unity. That was the “If” statement. The “Then” statement that marks our second point is: Then we must be marked by these behaviors.
So point number two: Behaviors We Must be Marked by. Again, you can just look at it and easily see the subpoints there. But I want to spend a good amount of our time talking about that actual imperative they all fall under, and you could mark this is a subpoint A, Prioritizing the Joy of Our Church Leadership. Why on earth would Paul bring himself and his joy into this? This passage could have easily succeeded in convicting us of the need to pursue church unity by first making us reflect upon all of those Gospel benefits we just looked at, then point us to the natural response to these benefits to the diligent pursuit of church unity. There is kind of the sense that I could have just ended the sermon after that first point by saying, “Therefore, pursuit church unity.” And it would have been appropriate. But Paul wants them to know that his joy is at stake here. And he expects that fact will make these verses more powerful and more convicting than they would have been otherwise. The reason for that is that he has such a high view of these Philippian believers and their maturity in the Lord, as has been made manifest throughout the book.
If this were the Corinthian church or the Galatian church, he might have left their concern for his joy out of this. But remind yourself again what he believes about the Philippians. Look in Philippians Chapter 1 verse 3:
*I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 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. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. *
You can just keep reading. He has this high view of them and their maturity. It is no wonder Paul believes these believers truly love and truly appreciate him. The leadership he has exercised on their behalf and their desire to make his ministry as joyful as possible is evident to him. He believes it because that is how true Christians regard godly leadership—they show love and appreciation for those who give their hearts and their lives—and in Paul’s case, their freedom—for their good and for the glory of God. We do this because we take the Word of God seriously when it speaks of godly leadership. The Philippians no doubt heard Paul say things to them like what he said to the church in Thessalonica, “For what is our hope or joy or crown or boasting before our Lord Jesus as his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). There is no doubt these Philippians knew Paul well enough to know this was true of him, just as it is of all who are true shepherds of God’s flock.
There is nothing that brings more joy to any elder than to see those under their care becoming more like Christ. Nothing. It brings joy to watch them throw off their sin and work for their own holiness and for the holiness of others by accepting and applying even the most difficult of teaching and confrontation. And above all else, seeing the church love one another and fighting for unity brings joy to the elders. I have no problem speaking on behalf of all the elders here on that. Grace Church, you need to know that this is how the leadership here sees you—partners and partakers in ministry who have a sincere desire to please and honor God. So in verses like Hebrews 13:17, which says, “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.”
By and large, we have seen and heard from this church a desire to live out that verse. Your expressions of love are so encouraging and so frequent. There is no doubt in my heart and in the heart of any of the elders here that this is a church that wants to bring joy to those men whom God has chosen to lead the church. That is why I have no problem including this as a subpoint and expecting it to have an effect on you. Because I know your heart’s desire is the same as the Philippians’—that you want to know of any additional way you can bring joy to those who diligently labor among you. Therefore, let me, again, just say on behalf of the elders that nothing brings us more joy than authentic, intimate church unity and to see a church that prizes and fights for it. And it is something the leadership of this church desperately needs the church to be striving for because the earliest cracks in the sweet unity we have here—they’re going to be seen and felt by you first.
These next four subpoints really describe what unity looks like. Those places within the church where these things are not being lived out and not being practiced are going to be noticed by you first. You will notice them in little comments and little actions or inaction, in barely noticeable shifts among individuals in the congregation and their priorities or in their lifestyles. You all will see these little things first and you will have the opportunity in that moment to stamp out those sparks before they become a fire. I have personally heard so many of you express so much love, thankfulness and appreciation for the elders here—your thankfulness for all they sacrifice to help make this church and the people you are so thankful to now be a part of. Some of those men who have been here for a while, those elders who have been here the longest and stood through some of the toughest times—they rejoice when they think of you right now. Now, would you make their joy complete by working to preserve and nurture the unity they have given their lives to making it possible? Would you do that by giving yourself to these last four subpoints?
Again, these last four subpoints kind of stack on top of each other. They are similarly describing slightly different aspects of what the unity we are to be striving for looks like. Subpoint B, Being of the Same Mind. This means that a mark of true unity is to be like-minded. But this is not about necessarily thinking the same in all our opinions or every single thing, like fashion or sports or any other of those trivial things. It’s best to think of this, as Paul has spoken of before, as those who have the mind of Christ. Like-minded in the mind of Christ. In just a few verses—in verse 5—he is going to spell this out as the tells them, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” We are to have our minds set on the things of the Spirit, not on the things of the flesh. Remember what Paul said in Romans 8:5 through 8:
*For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. *
We must be diligent to ensure that in a world that is constantly attempting to draw our minds back to the things of the flesh, our minds are filled with things of the Spirit. Disunity happens when fleshly thinking begins to creep its way back into the believer’s mind—when the things that govern the world’s thinking begin to govern the believer’s thinking. So in our current cultural climate, if you are going to protect church unity, you need to step back and take an honest assessment of yourself and sincerely ask, “How much are the things that are currently dominating the minds of those who are of the world impacting my thinking and my decision-making?” These are things like fear—fear of the virus, fear of your mortality, fear of never going back to life as normal. Freedom—not your freedom in Christ—the type of freedom we think is so necessary as Americans. Politics—political agendas. Issues of social justice—all these things. You can fill in the gaps. If you are regularly giving your mind over to all of these same things that control the decision-making of an unbelieving world right now and you begin to experience some sort of bitterness or disunity with your brothers and sisters in Christ, it is almost certainly related to the areas in which your mind is prioritizing fleshly things.
Subpoint C, Having the Same Love—the love that flows out of all the Gospel benefits we just read about in verse 1. The love of 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” The love believers have for one another comes from the shared understanding of the love Christ had for us—namely, a love that did not concern itself with how easy or hard we might be to love. Christ loved us though we were enemies of God. He brings glory to himself in his decision to love those who are wholly unworthy of it. Having the same love means we are to love one another without distinction. The fact that some people might be easier for you to love than others should mean absolutely nothing to you when it comes to your interactions with your brothers and sisters in Christ—other than possibly demonstrating to you that you don’t understand the richness of the love of Christ toward you—at least not in that moment.
We can have the same love because the love of Christ we have experienced when we understand it rightly keeps us from keeping a record of wrongs. It keeps us from remembering and filtering everything through past offenses when it comes to anyone in the church. It covers over a multitude of sins. It allows us to continue to have a forgiving attitude over every single offense because we know what we have been forgiven of in Christ. There is no offense against you that could even be placed on the same measuring rod as just one of your sins against a holy infinite God. Having the same love.
Subpoint D, Being of Full Accord. Quickly, this literally means being of one soul, a unity in spirit that is so close that it is as if we share a soul. It means there is no place for any type of selfishness or self-serving attitudes. It describes this total agreement of attitude and feelings. This is flowing out of having the same mind, flowing out of having the same love of Christ. This doesn’t happen as we look at each other and try to be united in the Spirit, try to be united with one another. It’s not us looking at our brothers and sisters in Christ and thinking, “How can I unite to that person better?” It happens when brothers and sisters—when everyone in the church—strives for the mind of Christ and to be controlled by the love of Christ. As we each do that, what happens is that we find ourselves united in spirit—being of full accord.
Subpoint E, One Purpose. I put “one purpose.” It is translated in the ESV as “one mind” because it is really a different form of the same word from earlier in the verse. In the first clause, we are called to be of the same mind, but here we are called on to be thinking in the same direction. The first clause is a little more general, and this use is a little stronger and more specific. It is very close to what was said first, but in this participle form, it can have the meaning of a unified goal or a unified purpose. That is what you see in the HCSB translation or in the NAS translation. It is the idea of being of one mind—even just thinking of that phrase in English implies a unified purpose, a unified goal. Our purpose—you all know this by now, right? The reason why we are here is to glorify God through evangelism and discipleship. Disunity begins to slip in through the cracks when Christians get distracted from that purpose.
This is exactly what we’re seeing in the Reformed circles around the issues of social justice right now. Again, you can just see the obvious connection between all these points, all these things—you can see how easily we can become vulnerable to disunity when we start to let our minds focus on the flesh and then allow our purpose to become confused. This then causes us to look with suspicion at our brothers and sisters in Christ whom we have been united with just because they might not be lining up with what we don’t realize has become a new driving purpose in our life.
In this culture, we are seeing so many Christians who do not realize that in allowing themselves to entertain certain new goals and purposes and giving way too much of their time to thinking about those things rather than the things of God, they are no longer of one accord with the rest of the body. Sure, you still may mentally and verbally adhere to all these same things we have talked about today, but now another goal, now, another purpose—one that has no eternal value—has snuck in and become a tool for disunity without your even knowing. You can see it as the smallest little thought of bitterness or critical spirit enters your mind as this person doesn’t seem to see the importance of whatever—the way in which you have been offended, the importance of getting a certain candidate in office or out of office. Or they perhaps disagree with your well-researched position on the whole mask thing.
Whatever the case may be—whatever the news or social media, Facebook, Twitter has you so passionate about right now—when you hear your so-called brothers or sisters in Christ not matching your concern on this new belief, you are on the path to creating disunity, to destroying the church. Because you have begun to live for—at least in some little way—something that does not matter, something that is distracting you and poisoning the one mind, the one love, the one spirit, the one purpose of the unified body of Christ. Beloved, we must see this. Right now the world is offering up a buffet of issues and topics that are finding roots in the minds and in the hearts of even the most faithful Christians, and the world is successfully getting them to turn their heads from our purpose, from our goal. You need to see that and understand that every screen you look at, every voice from the culture you hear that is telling you, “Look at this. Care about this. Give your time, give your energy to this. Fear this. Be angry about this”—you need to see it all as potential church-dividing poison that is being dumped in your soul.
You need to be evermore aware that as you see yourself becoming more passionate about those things—if Trump gets reelected, if Trump doesn’t get reelected, if we are forced to wear masks into every store we go into for the rest of our lives, if the government starts taking away our guns, if the government moves so aggressively toward socialism that the United States dissolves, if our country becomes the territory of China—what has changed about your calling to persevere in church unity at all costs? In what ways would you now be permitted to think differently about your brother or sister in Christ who wasn’t as passionate about those things as you were?
In what ways has the purpose of the church been affected? None at all. Because even though CNN and FOX News and every social media outlet is screaming about the things you “need” to get excited about—just remember the sermons from the last three weeks. You will not spend a single second in your room in the New Jerusalem in all of eternity contemplating any type of significance about those things—not a second. But what will have eternal significance, what will matter, then, is all the ways you used your time here in loving service to God and tenderly caring for his church that he graciously, mercifully united you to.
Beloved, things are going to get worse. They are going to get much worse. Much more turmoil will be coming to our culture. Things we cannot even comprehend right now are coming. Things that will capture the minds and the hearts of the entire world. They must not capture our minds, our hearts, our energy, our passion. Whenever you begin to see in you the slightest hint of bitterness, critical spirit toward a brother or sister in Christ over some outside issue, when they don’t recognize your offense—if you notice anything starting to work its way into the cracks of your heart that represents any type of threat to church unity as we’ve talked about today, anything that dulls our love and joy for those benefits we have received in the Gospel or anything that tarnishes the distinguishing marks of a unified church that we just talked about—if you see that worming its way into your life, you need to see yourself in that moment as someone playing with a lighter next to a pile of dry leaves on the edge of our building—and you need to act appropriately.
Grace Church, I ask you, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete [our] joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for your Word, and we thank you for the appropriate timing of a passage like this as we are in a culture like ours. There is a testing going on in the church in our culture right now that is new. It is different than it has ever been before. There is so much in this culture, that while it is even important in a lot of instances, it is not eternal. Will you guard us, will you protect us, will you use us in each other’s lives to keep us from making much about those things that do not matter—that we would stay laser-focused on why we are here, rejoicing every day in what you have done for us in Christ, experiencing the grace lavished upon us? We pray we will not take those things for granted and that we will strive for church unity with one mind, one soul, one love, one purpose. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who has united us together, amen.