David Jeremiah - The Joy of Unity
Our attitudes are important. In fact, they are more important than our actions. We're to work on our attitudes. How many of you know we could all work a little bit on our attitudes? Maybe you came to church today and you got a bad attitude. You came for the right sermon. I'm gonna talk to you about that. From his incarceration in the city of Rome, he actually writes to the church in Philippi and he says, "What you do with your attitudes is either a source of joy or discouragement to me as I'm here in prison. If you have the right attitude, it brings joy to my heart". And then he begins to tell them in his letter, first of all, some reasons that they should work on their attitude of unity with one another.
Secondly, he gives them some requirements for doing that; and third, and this is the main part of the message today, he introduces them to a role model who illustrates what all of this really looks like. Let's take a few moments with these first few verses and try to get Paul's introduction under our belt. In the first verse, he says, "If there is any consolation in Christ, if there is any comfort of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy".
Now, without getting too technical, let me just tell you if you insert the word "since," where the word "if" is, you will have more of the meaning of the verse. What Paul is saying is simply this: "Since there is consolation in Christ, since there is comfort in love, since there is fellowship of the Spirit, and since there is affection and mercy". In other words, here are the reasons why we should care about the chemistry that Paul writes about. The word "consolation" here comes from a word which means to draw alongside of somebody. The mental picture that you get with this word is you walk up to somebody who's hurting and you put your arm around them and you encourage them and you talk with them and you bless them with your words. The testimony of our Lord's life was continually that of helping and encouraging others.
I remember reading the Scripture that says: "He went everywhere doing good". What a testimony for anyone, even the Lord Jesus. How would it be to have someone say about you, "Janey went everywhere doing good. Jack went everywhere doing good". That was the testimony of Jesus. He was always encouraging people. So the writer of Philippians says, "Since there is this encouragement that Jesus gives to us, we should be giving that same encouragement to others. Secondly," he said, "since there's the example of Christ's love, therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love".
The love that he mentions here is, first of all, the love that God has for us, but it is also the love that we receive from God that is shed abroad in our hearts toward others. The best way to describe that is this. When God loves you, he sets up in your life a reservoir of his love, and out of that reservoir of God's love for you, you love other people. You can say, "I don't have enough love for that". Of course you don't, but God's given you his love. Dip into his love and love others with the love he provides. His third reason is the encouragement of Christ's body. Listen to the last part of it. "If any fellowship of the Spirit". Paul is saying, "Here are some reasons why we should be encouraged to work on our chemistry. First of all, because we have this example of Christ and this encouragement of Christ". But now he comes to the body of Christ and that's who we are.
Did you know that when you became a Christian, you became a part of Christ's body, a part of his family? And when you became a part of his family, you were given an initial gift and that gift is the Holy Spirit. I hear people say once in a while, "Well, I got Jesus when I was saved, but I haven't gotten the Holy Spirit yet". Well, that's not true. When you got saved, you got the whole package. You got Jesus and you got the Holy Spirit. If you don't have the Holy Spirit, you don't have Jesus because when it comes to salvation, they come together. You may learn more about the Holy Spirit later, but you don't get more of him. He may get more of you, but you don't get more of him. When you become a Christian, the initial gift of salvation is the gift of the Holy Spirit, so stop for a moment and think. You have the Holy Spirit, and I have the Holy Spirit. Your DNA is the Holy Spirit.
And Paul is saying to us, "Since we all have the Holy Spirit, let's cooperate together. Realizing that we all have the same Spirit, we shouldn't be quarreling with each other, we shouldn't be slandering each other. We should be encouraging one another because the Holy Spirit who lives in you, lives in me. And I might not look like you or talk like you or act like you, but I've got the same Spirit you have. And that's what binds us together. If there are any fellowship in the Spirit," he said. And then finally he says, "Any affection and mercy". He says, "Because God has had affection and mercy for you, now you go out and you become purveyors of that mercy and of that affection".
How can I love you when I don't feel like it? Because I understand how much God loved me. Interesting in the text, this word "affection" is from a word that refers to an inward organ. If we were to say this the way the text actually says it, we would say, "I love you with my kidneys". Now, we would never say that. That's not how we do it. We say, "I love you with all my heart". Why do we say that? It's not the heart pumping blood that we're talking about. The heart is a description of the most intimate, deepest part of who we are, and so the Bible tells us that when Christ loved us, he loved us with everything that was within him, with his great affection and with his mercy.
Did you know that grace is what God gives us that we don't deserve and mercy is what God withholds from us that we do deserve. I'm thankful for both, aren't you? I'm glad he's given me all this that I don't deserve. I'm also glad he's withheld from me what I did deserve. And he says, "Now that you've received that from God, now that you have that from the Father, don't hoard it. Share it. With the same affection and the same mercy that you've received from the Almighty, let that be the way you treat one another. Let that be the reason that you work on your chemistry and understand the oneness that you have in Christ".
Those are the reasons for this passage. Then he gives us some requirements. He says there's three things you've got to have if you're gonna have chemistry, if you're gonna have unity. First of all, let me just tell you, there's a difference here that needs to be explained. How many of you know the difference between uniformity, unanimity, and unity? Let me explain to you what that means. Some people think unity in the body of Christ is uniformity, so they all dress alike. But I wanna tell you, unity's not uniformity. Unity is not everybody looking the same. Has nothing to do with that. And then there's unanimity, and that means everybody says the same, speaks the same. Wouldn't that be a boring world?
Unity is not because we all look alike or we all talk alike. Unity is because we believe alike. To have unity, you have to have core doctrines that you're committed to. Our unity is based on the fact that we believe in creation, we believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross and three days later came out of the tomb victorious over death. We believe that he offers salvation to anyone who will come and ask for it. We believe that when we get saved, we get the Holy Spirit. We believe that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. We believe that one day Jesus Christ is coming back to take to heaven those who put their trust in him. We believe all of this stuff. We believe it together, and we are one in Christ because of what we believe. And this is a very, very important lesson because today what we're being told is that it doesn't matter what you believe. Just everybody be good to everybody else. Just try to get along. How's that working?
Now, we're gonna have differences and little issues with what we think about, but our core cardinal doctrines are the same. You believe what you believe and that's what brings you together. I always have loved what C.S. Lewis used to say with a smile on his face that, "No clever arrangement of rotten eggs will ever make a good omelet," and he was right about that. So unity's not how we look. Uniformity. It's not even what we say. Unanimity. Unity's what we believe. When you believe what the Bible teaches, you become a part of the oneness of Christ. Do you know that most disunity in Christian organizations is over disagreement over basic doctrines about which there is no issue? I'm so thankful that you believe what you believe 'cause we have one source and it's this book. And that's why I don't stray from it very much 'cause it's really important that we continue to be reminded that our unity in Christ is based upon what we believe.
Now, Paul goes on to say that the building blocks of this unity are three. First of all, harmony. He says, "Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, one accord, one mind". We're to be like-minded. That means we're to have the same attitude, the same mind. We not only need harmony, we need humility. Listen to what he says in verse 3: "Don't let anything be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself". Paul challenged each one of those who would read this letter not to be doing anything out of selfish ambition or conceit. This is a warning against a competitive selfish spirit that looks only for what you can get out of it. Nothing is more distasteful to God, I am convinced, than self-conceit.
Did you know that pride is the original sin? Pride is what caused Satan to rebel and leave heaven and this whole mess we're in right now got started. How many of you know the closer you get to Christ, the more you see the imperfections in your own life? When we first get started, we might think we're something. We got this all wired. But when you walk with the Lord, you grow in knowledge and you grow in understanding. You also grow in self-awareness. That's just the way it is. That's how the body of Christ works. So you gotta have harmony and you gotta have humility and you gotta have helpfulness. He said, "Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but for the interests of others".
What does this say? Don't look out for your own stuff. Look out for other people. And the real core of unity in Christianity is not just doing the best we can for ourselves, but getting out of our proud selves and looking around to find ways we can help others. And you know what happens when we do that? While we're helping others, the help that they're doing for others touches us. In order to feel the strength of it, I wanna give you six steps that he took.
So this is where the story begins. It begins with Jesus in heaven with his Father, and step one of his coming to this earth was he relinquished his place. Here are the words of the apostle: "Who, being in the form of God," verse 6, "did not consider it robbery to be equal with God". In other words, when Jesus Christ was in heaven, he was God, he was equal with God. He didn't consider that to be anything that he should grasp, but he was equal with God. He is God, he was God. If we're to understand the greatness of Christ's sacrifice, we have to try to comprehend how lofty was his position before he came here.
I mean, coming to this earth didn't do anything for Jesus. He was at the height of his glory. He was in the most incredible position that could ever be dreamed of. He was the very God, a very God. He had existed for eternity. What in the world would he want to do by coming to this messed up world that we live in? But the Bible says he took the first step, and that first step was away from his place. Number two, he refused his prerogative. It says: "Who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God".
In other words, even though he was God and had always been God and would always continue to be God, he didn't consider it robbery, he didn't think that it was something that he should hold on to. Instead of focusing on his relationship with the Father, he focused on the need that all of us had for the problem of sin to be resolved. He had so much going up there. Why would he leave all of that to come here? I certainly don't consider myself worthy of such a sacrifice and I'm sure you don't either. He left his place. He left his prerogative and he renounced his privileges.
Listen, this is a little bit theological; but if you'll listen carefully, you'll understand it; and it's incredibly marvelous as a truth. The Bible says: "He made himself of no reputation". He what? "He made himself of no reputation". Here was the Almighty God who was omnipotent, omniscient, nothing was too hard for him. But the Bible says that when he came to this earth, he put aside all of those privileges that he had while he walked among us for 30-some years. The theological way to say this, I had to memorize this in seminary, goes like this: "He voluntarily divested himself of the independent use of his attributes". And what that means is that one day he said, "If I go down there to be one of them, if I go down to live among them, to taste flesh, to be incarnated, I can't go down there and bring all of my privileges with me or I won't even be considered to be one of them".
So the Bible says that when he left his throne and he left heaven, he left the independent use of his attributes, he left those in heaven. Now, some people say that means when he came down here, he became less God than he was before. Let me tell you how silly that is. You cannot diminish deity. You're either God or you're not. As soon as you diminish deity, it's not deity anymore. So he didn't become less God, he didn't just give away some of it. Listen, here's what happened. You follow the life of Jesus as much as you can both through the Scripture and secular documents, from the time he was born till the time he was 30, there's no evidence that he ever did any miracles.
If you'd have seen him walking around the streets of Nazareth, you'd have just maybe looked at his hands and said, "This guy works in a carpenter's shop". And when he was baptized, he began to do some miracles to authenticate his message, but here's what we notice that happened when he became one of us. He voluntarily decided to live like we live. In the Crucifixion narrative, we're told that if he wanted to, he could have called 10,000 angels to rescue him from the brutality that he experienced. Did he do that? No. Could have. Are you getting the story?
He left his Father, he left his heaven, he left his privileges, he left his prerogatives. Here's one that you don't ever think about. He restricted his presence. I cannot imagine what it was like for the Lord Jesus Christ before his incarnation except that as the Triune God he was omnipresent. Do you know what omnipresent means? Always present everywhere. He was omniscient, he knew everything both possible and actual. He was omnipotent, he could do anything he wanted, but the Scripture says he came to this earth and he restricted his presence.
You say, "Pastor, what do you mean"? Well, first of all, he restricted his presence to the womb of a woman. How's that for a contrast? From the glorious unbounded heaven to the small womb of a Jewish girl. And then when he was born into humanity, he became a man, a man who never left Israel. From the glories of heaven and the unbounded reaches of omnipresence, to the womb of a woman, the body of a man, and a little country called Israel, wow. He did that for you. He did that for me. And the Bible says he realized his purpose.
What was his purpose? Of any person who ever walked on this earth, there never was a clearer purpose for the birth of an individual than there was for Jesus. He was born to die. That was his purpose. Jesus Christ came down from the glories of heaven, born through a woman, born into humanity, and his real purpose was simply to die. Without his death, we have no hope. That's not just my statement; that's his statement. That's the statement of the Lord Jesus Christ. He says, "I didn't come here to be served, but to serve, and to give my life a ransom for many". He left heaven, he left his Father, he left his privileges, he restricted his presence, and actually came to do what he did. He humbled himself unto death and the Bible says: "Even the death of the cross".
Did you know the death of the cross, crucifixion, was for non-Romans or criminals? It was such a brutal death that people died 100 times before they died once. And that's the death he died for you and for me. And that's not the end of the story. He received his promotion. One day after his death he was put into a tomb, and three days later he came out of that grave victorious over death. And a few days after that, he was ascended to heaven.
Listen to these words: "Therefore God also has highly exalted him and given him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father". What a round trip our Savior had. He ended up back where he started, but not until he'd taken this long journey and suffered for you and for me.
Now, let me just put this in context. Paul wrote to the Philippians about unity and humility. And he used Jesus as his illustration. After he gets done giving them all the instruction about being one-minded and all that, he says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus," and then he tells this whole story that I just told. And he says, "If you wanna know how to make unity and humility work, there's a place where you can go to get your answers. Just watch what Jesus did and let this mind be in you which was also in him".
In other words, have the same attitude yourself as you see Jesus had. And what does that mean? There can never be anything beneath the dignity of a truly humble Christian if it's for the cause of Christ and the reality of salvation. This is the plan of a believer who cares about chemistry. My role in creating chemistry is to do what Jesus did, to live in humility, not always trying to get the best deal for myself, but looking out at the needs of others, being willing to do menial tasks that others would think would be beneath your dignity. And the Bible says when we do that and humble ourselves before God, God lifts us up.
Did you know that the way up is the way down? The way up is the way down. And if the church of Jesus Christ could ever get ahold of that, if we could ever really believe that, where you believe things in your kidneys, if we could get that right, what chemistry we would have. I've been around the church for a long time. I've seen lots of different things, and I'm telling you whenever you see that little sin of pride starting to creep in, you need to kill it with everything. You need to nuke it and get it out of your life 'cause if you don't, it'll destroy you. It'll keep you from knowing the true blessing of the Lord on your life.
So this word is from God to us. To all of us who serve, to all of us who work in the ministry, to all of us who are a part of a business or a team, who work in some organization. It's to all of us, but it's also to all of us individually. The Bible says if we will not humble ourselves and become as little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. What does that mean? That means you have to acknowledge that you have sinned. You haven't just made mistakes. You have sinned. You have violated the holiness of God. You have to acknowledge that and admit that. You have to humble yourself before God and say, "Lord God, please forgive me. I am a sinner". When you do that, the mercy and grace of God floods over your life like somebody turned on a fire hose and you will never be the same.