A Call to Unity & Humility
Our Lord Jesus Christ has left us with a mission. Early in His ministry, Jesus exhorted His disciples, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven"(Matt. 5:16).
After His resurrection, Jesus gave an even more explicit instruction to His disciples, "Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you"(Matt. 28:19, 20).
My dear friends, we are the fruit of the first apostles labour. We have benefited from their commitment to make disciples in every nation. And now, we have been entrusted with the gospel message. It is not God's will that we be a 'holy huddle' in Beeton and Tottenham. It is the will of Christ that our church would let our light shine in such a way that people outside this church would begin to glorify our Father who is in heaven.
This is our mission. And the apostle Paul recognizes that before a church can make headway on the mission they need to be agreed on what the mission is. Before a church can grow and move forward, there needs to be agreement on what the purpose is. And the purpose of the church, as revealed in the New Testament, is to glorify God by sharing the gospel and by making disciples for our Father's heavenly kingdom.
A church, motivated by any other purpose, is missing the point. A church that is satisfied with 50 members because they do not want to get 'too big' is missing the point. A church that desires growth in order to meet the budget is missing the point. A church that desires growth in order to gain helpers for running programs is missing the point. The church exists to shine a light in this darkened world, that others might glorify our Father in heaven.
To do this, Paul recognizes that a church must be united. And, for a church to be united, Paul recognizes that humility must prevail.
Without humility there can be no unity, and where there is no unity, there can be no successful advancement of the gospel by a local church.
Knowing this, Paul begins chapter two by writing, "If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose"(2:1,2).
Notice, first of all, the transitional word "therefore". "Therefore", of course, points to what comes before. We need only scroll back to verse 27 of chapter one to see that Paul has already spoke of "standing firm in one spirit, with one mind". The idea of being one in spirit and in mind isn't so we will all hold hands and promise to get along with each other. No, Paul says that our standing firm in one spirit and having one mind is for the purpose of carrying out the mission. Paul does not want unity for unity's sake, but rather for "striving together for the faith of the gospel".
Paul's message then, in chapter 2, is that since we are striving together for the faith of the gospel, and since our exhortation for this mission comes from Christ, and since we have a basis for unity through the Holy Spirit, we should therefore have the same mind, the same love, the same spirit, and the same purpose.
Now here is the trouble: having the same mind on matters of church ministry does not come easily. When you consider that a church is made up of people of all ages; people of disparate backgrounds, people with varying experiences, and people with different temperaments, it should not surprise us to find that unity does not come easily in the church.
Why then, would Paul insist on unity? Paul insists on unity for 2 reasons: #1 because it is necessary and #2 because it is possible.
Unity is necessary because our mission to spread the gospel cannot succeed without us "striving together" with one mind(1:27). And unity is possible, because every Christian shares the same Holy Spirit--and that Spirit will not contradict itself.
Yet, even with the same Holy Spirit, Christians struggle to be of one mind. Why is that? Very simple: sin. Though we have been saved from the penalty of sin, the presence of sin remains, and wages war against us(Rom. 7:14-25).
So even though unity is necessary, and even though unity is possible, unity is not automatic. Christian churches do not drift towards unity on their own. On the one hand, unity is a gift of the Spirit, but on the other hand, unity requires that we work towards being humble.
If working towards humility is the key to unity, what does humility look like? Paul's answer begins in verse 3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own interests, but also for the interests of others"(2:3,4).
O how many church divisions could have been avoided if only one person had regarded the other as more important than himself! Anyone who has ever attempted to put the interests of another above himself can attest how difficult this is. We are naturally self-centred. This is why someone can write a book called "Looking Out For #1" and have it become a best seller. The apostle Paul, however, is saying just the opposite. And I wonder how well a book titled "Looking Out For #2" would sell.
If we are to be shining lights for the gospel we must be united. And for us to be united we must first be humble. And in striving to be humble we must attempt to always regard others as more important than ourselves(v.3).
This will take some mental re-training. Our society has taught us that it is ok to be consumed with our own well being. In our society, it is a badge of honour to commit our resources towards self-care. Yet, this is not the way of our Lord.
Paul tells us, if we want to be humble we must have the attitude which was in Christ Jesus. What attitude was that Paul? "Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"(2:5-8).
Christ had all the comforts of existing in the form of God. And if Christ did what was in His best interests, He might have--to our detriment--remained in the Divine form for all eternity. But, not wanting us to perish, Christ became one of us in order to redeem us.
Christ was not obligated to become man. He could have allowed all of mankind to perish and it would not have blemished His holiness one bit. But as Paul writes, "(Christ) did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped". The Greek word literally means "to seize" or "to snatch". Christ, though He had every right to remain in the form of God did not cling to that right. That is humility.
And since Christ had every right to exist in the form of God, He could have taken that form back at any time He chose to. But He didn't, and that is why Paul goes on to say "(Christ) humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross"(2:8).
And notice that, even after submitting to death, Christ did not seize back His Divine form. Christ did not exalt Himself, but as Paul writes, "God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"(2:9-11).
This is our example of humility. Christ's demonstration of humility should be enough incentive for every Christian in the church to "do nothing from selfishness" and to "regard one another as more important than himself".
And as we strive for this Christ-like humility, and as we strive for unity in the church, let us not forget why we are doing this.
This is not a case of "be humble" because Paul says so, or, "be united" because Paul says so. The reason we strive for humility is because it is the way we accomplish unity. And the reason we strive for unity, is because it enables us to carry out our mission. And our mission is to shine the light of the gospel so that others may begin to glorify our God who is in heaven.
This is why we are here. Everything we do must move us toward this goal. So, with Christ as our example, let us humbly unite ourselves and commit ourselves to labour for the gospel in this community. To Him be all glory honour and praise. Amen.