unity

To This You Were Called (1 Peter 3:8–3:16)

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I have often heard people ask, “What has God called me to do?” It’s a great question. We want to know if we were made for something; if there is something we can do that really, really matters to God and can have an impact on the world. When I was teaching high school, this was a common dilemma of seniors, but it can apply to any of us who wonder if we are really being the person God intends for us to be. So, I have good news: I am going to tell you this morning what your calling is. But let’s back up first.

The latest section we have been covering began this way:

“Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”(1 Peter 2:12)

Then Peter highlighted three groups of people to honor:

  1. Rulers
  2. Masters
  3. Spouse

 

In 1 Peter 3:8, we get to the “finally” - the last admonition in this section on how to live honorably so that our good works will glorify God in the midst of a hostile world. This “finally” is now addressed to “all of you.”[1]

Finally, all of you, be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing. It was this you were called to do, so that you might inherit a blessing. It is written in the psalms: “If you love life and want to live a good, long time, then be careful what you say. Don’t tell lies or spread gossip or talk about improper things. Walk away from the evil things in the world—just leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. For the Lord watches over the righteous, and His ears are attuned to their prayers. But His face is set against His enemies; He will punish evildoers.”

Maybe not what you were expecting, but there is your calling:

“Be like-minded and show sympathy, love, compassion, and a humble mind to and for each other— not paying back evil with evil or insult with insult, but repaying the bad with a blessing.

This letter has been relentlessly reminding us that God’s transformation of our hearts must result in a transformation of our lives. Specifically, it is molding us into the kind of people who will (or at least should) model righteous relationships: honest, faithful, loving, and sacrificial.

Sometimes when I am prepping I think, “We are going to talk about how to move deeper into the holiness which God gave us yet again? And we are going to focus on how this impacts how crucial our relationships are as an expression of this?” Yep. And we are going to keep covering it until Peter moves on.

[2]Be ye all of one mind (divinely inspired harmony) -  It’s about inner outlook that manifests in outward behavior. Having the heart and mind of Christ changes how we live with each other. It coordinates us. We are in sync with Christ and each other for our good and God’s glory. This does not mean we agree on every secondary issue. This means we unite around the nature of Jesus and the salvation He brings, and then lock arms and work together as a testimony to how the Holy Spirit’s divine inspiration unites in a way that defies human explanation. We can argue, disagree, even wound each other – and then we kneel together at the foot of the cross, repent to God and each other, and extend the forgiveness to others that Jesus gave to us.

  • Politics does not separate us. Even obnoxious people who talk obnoxiously about politics do not separate us, because Jesus is bigger than politics.
  • Social class or IQ or Personality Types don’t separate us, because Jesus is stronger than these differences. We should be able to say, “Wow, we are so different - but Christ is enough.”
  • There are good social issues that we think ought to be prioritized in a Christian’s life – abortion, immigrants and refugees, sex trafficking. There are good ‘in house’ issues that we think are important: singing vs. preaching on a Sunday, where and how and how often to do missions, prioritizing evangelism vs. discipleship. How we prioritize these issues ought not destroy our unity, because if we have the heart and mind of Christ, we are already united in the idea that these issues are important, even if the where we place them on a scale of importance differs.
  • Anger at those who let us down in some way or wound us should not separate us. Now, if it’s actual physical, emotional or spiritual abuse, safe boundaries are necessary, and that includes physical, emotional and spiritual space. But in relationships that have unavoidable and appropriate conflict, anger or frustration at someone else should unite us even more because we walk into it, which means we walk toward the people who are part of the problem and not away from them. (Ideally, there is reconciliation and healing in ALL the scenarios).

Have compassion -  This is being tender-hearted; the biblical language carries the idea of letting our bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.

I spent a while being really annoyed at people saying I had “white privilege.” I have never thought of myself as living with privilege. My parents lived below the poverty line from the time I was 10. But I must “let my bowels yearn over the distressed and afflicted.” So I spent time reading and listening to what people who are not white had to say.

It took a while, but eventually the frustration and pain that I had not previously understood began to make sense to me. As a result, a more tender heart formed. I might not have fully understood, but I was certainly better equipped to understand, to feel compassion, to want to draw close rather than distance myself and offer dismissal and judgment.

My calling, as a Christian, is to be tender-hearted in these moments. If people around me are distressed, if they are afflicted, if they are being harmed or dishonored or dismissed – my calling is to have the heart and mind of Christ for them. Purposeful investment (listening, reading) can builc compassion – a tenderness that helped me long for wrongs to be made right.

Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean I will agree with the validity of everything someone else says or feels. But even if I don’t, I have still taken the time to honor them by investing in their lives.

People in pain don’t have to be right or justified in order for me to care.

My calling is to know and seek to understand them, because they are people created in the image of God, and whatever I do to anyone, it’s as if I did it unto Jesus. So I genuinely enter into their world to honor them and bring the transformative truth and grace of Jesus.

Love -  this is philadelphos; brotherly love. Agape love has to do with purposeful sacrifice for the good of the other. It’s a term of commitment and priority. This word is more emotional. Be ‘affectionate friends’ of your brothers and sisters in Christ as if they were beloved family members. If you have been in a family where you have had a good relationship with at least one family member, you know it’s simultaneously beautiful and really difficult. Not every day (or week or month) is a good one, but they are family. You know at the end of the day you are not letting go of each other, and so you figure it out. And on the other side of ‘figuring it out’ you (ideally) know and understand each other better. There is unity.

Humble-minded -   acquire and cultivate a friendly disposition. It’s from a word that means God-reliant rather than self-reliant, and so it never self-exalts. I use to go to a gym with a guy who would say, “Did the room just get smaller?” every time he would walk in (he was joking, btw).

This is so important. If the room gets relationally smaller when we walk in, if we go into conversations or relationships thinking we are all that, it’s not going to go well. If we constantly think, “I’ve got this. I am the smartest person in the room right now,” odds are really good we don’t got this, and we are not.

And in situations like this, walls go up in the people around us. They know when we are so full of ourselves there is no room for anyone else. Even God resists the proud – but He gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

Not paying back evil for evil/insult for insult - Purposing, saying, doing nothing but good; and invariably returning good for evil. There’s a movie with a scene where a bouncer is training a group of other bouncers how to de-escalate and resolve tense situations. His advice: “Be nice.” If someone calls you an idiot? Be nice. If someone suggests your mom participates in the world’s oldest profession? Be nice. “When can we stop being nice?” I’ll tell you, he says.

Now, nice isn’t really a biblical word, but kindness - “actions which are eternally and ultimately beneficial for others - is. Here’s what the Bible tells us: be kind. Do not pay back evil and insults with evil and insults. Never stop doing that which is eternally and ultimately beneficial for others, and this can include a boldness and bluntness that we don't think of as ‘nice’.

But it will always be done out of and with love, humility and compassion, and never out of anger, frustration, pride or revenge. It will never overcome evil with evil, but with good.

It was this you were called to do

“This is your calling - your business in life, to do good, and to do good for evil, and to implore God's blessing even on your worst enemies. And this is not only your duty, but your interest; for in so doing you shall obtain God's blessing, even life for evermore.” Adam Clarke

Peter wraps up this section with the following conclusion:

13 Why would anyone harm you if you eagerly do good? 14 Even if you should suffer for doing what is right, you will receive a blessing.[3] Don’t let them frighten you.[4] Don’t be intimidated, 15-16 but exalt Him as Lord in your heart.[5] Always be ready to offer a defense, humbly and respectfully, when someone asks why you live in hope. Keep your conscience clear so that those who ridicule your good conduct in the Anointed and say bad things about you will be put to shame.”

“When someone asks you why you live in hope.” In context, this question apparently comes from people who are astonished at our behavior.

  • Why don’t you take the bait?
  • They started it, why don’t you give them what they’ve got coming?
  • Why didn’t you move in for the sarcastic ‘kill’?
  • How do you absorb all those verbal and emotional punches without lashing out?
  • How is it that you stay so calm when people come at you?
  • How do you stay so gentle with such obnoxious people?
  • I’m pretty sure you love everyone. How is that possible?
  • How is it that you live with such honor for everyone? How is it possible that you do not repay evil for evil?

 

Be ready to talk about Jesus :)

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[1] As you read, note what Paul wrote in Romans 12:9-21:“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

[2] My definitions and explanations for these are heavily indebted to Adam Clarke’s commentary and the definitions at biblehub.com.

[3] “This seems to refer to  Matthew 5:10, etc. Blessed or happy, are ye when men persecute you, etc. It is a happiness to suffer for Christ; and it is a happiness, because if a man were not holy and righteous the world would not persecute him, so he is happy in the very cause of his sufferings.” - Adam Clarke

[4] “The exhortation may mean, ‘Fear not their gods, they can do you no hurt; and supposing that they curse you by them, yet be not troubled; "He who fears God need have no other fear.’" – Adam Clarke

[5] But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts -  “Entertain just notions of God; of his nature, power, will, justice, goodness, and truth… separate him in your hearts from every thing earthly, human, fickle, rigidly severe, or capriciously merciful… Do not confine him in your conceptions to place, space… heaven, or earth; endeavor to think worthily of the immensity and eternity of his nature, of his omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence… conceive of him as infinitely free to act or not act, as he pleases. Consider the goodness of his nature; for goodness, in every possible state of perfection and infinitude, belongs to him. Ascribe no malevolence to him; nor any work, purpose, or decree that implies it… Do not suppose that he can do evil, or that he can destroy when he might save; that he ever did… pass them by without affording them the means of salvation. Thus endeavor to conceive of him; and, by so doing, you separate him from all that is imperfect, human, evil, capricious, changeable, and unkind. Ever remember that he has wisdom without error, power without limits, truth without falsity, love without hatred, holiness without evil, and justice without severity on the one hand or capricious tenderness on the other. In a word, that he neither can be, say, purpose, or do, any thing that is not infinitely just, holy, wise, true, and gracious; that he… has so loved the world, the whole human race, as to give his only-begotten Son to die for them, that they might not perish, but have everlasting life. Thus sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and you will ever be ready to give a reason of the hope that is in you to every serious and candid inquirer after truth.” – Adam Clarke’s Commentary

 

True and Worthy Citizens of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-29)

So here is what I want you to do: conduct yourselves as true and worthy citizens of the Anointed’s gospel, so that whether I make it or don’t make it to see you, I will at least hear that you continue to stand, united in one spirit, single-minded in purpose as you struggle together for the faith in the gospel. Don’t be alarmed in any way by what your opponents are doing. Your steadfast faith in the face of opposition is a sign that they are doomed and that you have been graced with God’s salvation. And now, you have been given the privilege of not only believing in Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, but being chosen to suffer for Him as well." (Philippians 1:27-29) Being a true and worthy citizen of the gospel sounds daunting to me. Why? Because I know me. “Worthy” is not a word that comes to mind in describing myself in relation to the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven. There are plenty of days in which unworthy seems like the best fit. Yet Paul calls on the Christians in Philippi to conduct themselves as worthy citizens of the gospel, so this must be something we can accomplish with God’s help. God won’t ask us to do what His Spirit won’t empower us to do.

I realized that one reason this sounded daunting was that I was thinking I had to be worthy enough to become a citizen, but that is clearly not what Paul is saying. My righteousness – my self-earned worthiness – has been and always will be garbage (Isaiah 64:6; Ephesians 2:8-9). I am a citizen of the gospel because Jesus is worthy and He has covered my unworthiness on the cross. Paul is talking about what it looks like for a citizen to live in a way that ascribes worth to the one who granted us this citizenship. So this is not a question of salvation. It’s a question of discipleship, of following Jesus in an honoring way.

Last week we talked about how Paul did not just say, “to live is Christ” and then leave a vague phrase hanging in the air. He made it specific: serving Jesus through fruitful labor (1:22) for the growth and joy of others in their life with Christ (1:25). Fortunately, Paul does the same thing again when describing what it means to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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THE GOSPEL

By the time Paul had arrived, the cult of Caesar had become the state religion. The good news (euaggelion – what we call evangelism) for the Romans was about Caesar as a god, a savior and redeemer of the world. (You see on the screen a statue of Statue of the Emperor Octavian Augustus as Jupiter, from the time of Jesus and Paul. The coin that Jesus told people to “Give to Caesar” had Caesar represented as divine).

This announcement was specifically ‘good tidings’. If that phrase sounds familiar, it’s what the angels brought to the shepherds in Luke 2. Though it’s the same word, with Jesus it’s for all people, not just Romans, and it’s about a Savior who is Christ the Lord. It won’t just bring the Pax Romana (the Roman peace through conquest), it will bring peace on the entire earth for those on whom God’s favor rests. It won’t come through a sword that kills others, but through a cross on which Christ dies so that we might live.

When we talk about the True Gospel, we are talking about the truly good news if a saving and redeeming God revealed in Jesus Christ.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL

Paul is referencing the dual citizenship that the Philippian Christians have. The Philippians were both citizens of Rome and citizens of Heaven. In Philippi, it was just assumed that they were to conduct themselves according to the laws and customs of the state. That’s how you honored the emperor.

Paul is not introducing a foreign concept. They knew how to honor the emperor by observing their duties, and they experience the ‘good news’ of Caesar’s reign by taking part in the privileges that went with being Roman. Now they needed to apply what they knew to their citizenship in Heaven.

"Roman colonies were little bits of Rome planted throughout the world, where the citizens never forgot that they were Romans, spoke the Latin language, wore the Latin dress, called their magistrates by the Latin names, however far they might be from Rome. So what Paul is saying is, “You and I know full well the privileges and the responsibilities of being a Roman citizen. You know full well how even in Philippi, so many miles from Rome, you must still live and act as a Roman does. Well then, remember that you have an even higher duty than that. Wherever you are you must live as befits a citizen of the Kingdom of God.” (Barclay, W: The Daily Study Bible)

The Philippian people used to say, “Caesar is Lord,” and they took for granted that their lives would reflect their lord. The principle had not changed. The lordship had. Now they would say, “Jesus is Lord,” and their life would still reflect their Lord.

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CITIZENS WORTHY OF THE GOSPEL THROUGH UNITY, PERSEVERANCE, BOLDNESS, AND SUFFERING.

UNITY: Standing united in one Spirit

As the Holy Spirit unites our spirits in the service of Christ, we “stand firm,” a word that described a Roman military formation in which the soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder and back to back with their shields up and their spears outward. It was the strongest possible defensive position. There are at least two important clarifications concerning Christian unity:

We are united by the Holy Spirit of God, not by our spirit or our effort. I promise you, if you stay here at CLG long enough, things will get tense. You will be offended by what someone says or does. You will “butt heads” instead of “rub elbows.” You will find there are people who are sooooo different from you that you have trouble making small talk, or people whose personalities just clash with yours.

This will happen at any church. But the Holy Spirit works within us to unify us around the person and work of Jesus Christ and result in something that goes beyond merely liking other people. It’s genuine Christian love – the agape, selfless service for and honoring of others. When this type of community happens, it showcases the power of God at work. “Really? You all go to church together? I wouldn't have expected that…” Right. We are united by the Holy Spirit in the cause of Christ.

This isn’t unity for the sake of unity, because people can unite around false or evil things. It is clear throughout Philippians and Paul’s other writings that false teaching and hypocritical people undermine the gospel, shipwreck the faith of many, and destroy unity within the church. So this isn’t a feel good, “why can’t we all just get along” kind of avoidance that looks like unity but actually undermines it. Paul is talking about the unity we experience while struggling together for the message and the cause of Christ. This brings us to…

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 PERSEVERANCE: Striving Together for the Faith in the Gospel

 The word for "striving" is another army word. (Remember, Philippi was largely populated by ex-military, and this language would have resonated with them.) ‘If united’ describes their purposeful formation, striving describes the activity. Soldiers fought as this unit. Maybe today, when we think of ‘together in a united front,’ we think of the iconic pictures from the civil rights movement when people linked arms are marched in the face of opposition, or (on Superbowl Sunday) we think of teams united in a common cause in the face of great difficulty.

As Christians, we are part of a team that perseveres to defend, proclaim, and live out the “glad tidings” that Jesus is the Savior of the world.

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BOLDNESS: Faithfulness through Opposition

The word translated “alarmed” (ptyresthai) is not found elsewhere in the entire Greek Bible. In Classical Greek, it referred to timid horses startled by something unexpected, perhaps even to the point of stampeding. Paul tells the Philippians not to get spooked. Be bold!

Note why boldness is required. When biblical writers say, “Don’t be discouraged or scared,” they are not saying that there is nothing discouraging or frightening in the Christian life. They’re saying the exact opposite. We are apparently going to experience times that will draw us toward these things, but we are to resist. God promises presence and comfort to His people during these times - and that’s exactly what Paul is passing on here.

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SUFFERING: Privileged to Suffer for Christ

The word ‘privileged’ or “granted” (echaristhe) is from the Greek word for “grace” (charis). We get our term Eucharist from this word. Its use other places in the New Testament gives us an idea of the tone or the mood associated with the word.

  • Luke 7:21, Jesus gave sight to the blind
  • Romans 8:32, God will freely give us all things
  • Philippians 2:9, where God gives Jesus a name above all names
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12, where the Holy Spirit helps us know the things given by God

With all those wonderful things in mind - we have been granted (or graced) the privilege of suffering for Christ. This is not about suffering for being obnoxious or suffering because of sin. This is suffering because our commitment to faithfully following Christ has put us in situations that we could have avoided had we turned out back on our faith –but we didn’t, and we suffered for it.

. . . for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed… rejoice that you participate/share in the sufferings of Christ so that you will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. ( 1 Peter 1:6-7; 1 Peter 4:12ff)

Around the world, Christians are giving their lives. In more and more countries in the Western world, Christians are losing businesses and facing fines and jail time for standing on the truth of God’s Word. What would Paul and Peter say to us? Don’t be surprised. As hard as it seems, rejoice. This is an opportunity for your faith to be refined, and in that refinement “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) will be revealed.

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So what does it mean to be a true and worthy citizen of the gospel?

  • It doesn’t mean you need to be perfect.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to never offend (though we try not to), or always says the right thing at the right time (though we try to do that too)or never overlook anyone (though it would be nice to always get that right too).
  • It doesn’t mean you need to meet everyone’s expectations, or never have a bad day, or have no regrets, or have skills our culture values.
  • It doesn’t mean you need to be a Christian superhero.

A true and worthy citizen of the gospel stands firmly united by the Holy Spirit with other Christians while persevering and even suffering for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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[i]

I owe a lot in this entire series to Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians, by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Keith Krell’s “The Bottom Line” at bible.org; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….

 

Life Together To The Glory Of God (Philippians 1:1-11)

Philippi was established as a ‘gold rush’ city. It was named after Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. Some historians described it as a gate between Europe and Asia.

" In a series of battles there in 42 B.C.E., Mark Antony and Octavian ('Augustus') conquered the forces of the assassins of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus. In some ways this battle marked the turning point between the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire (which meant the emperor would now be deified)…  Augustus turned Philippi into a Roman colony… Here he planted veterans of the civil wars and the supporters of Mark Antony… Special privileges were allowed to these Roman colonists, such as exemption from taxes and the right to own and market property." (Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible)

By the time Paul got there, Philippi was highly Roman, highly militarized, wealthy, and because of where it was situated geographically, one of the hubs of the modern world intellectually, economically and spiritually. In Acts 16, we read an account of how the church started in Philippi.[1] (This version is The Voice. You can read it at biblegateway.com)

 11 We set sail from the port city of Troas, first stopping in Samothrace, then the next day in Neapolis, 12 finally arriving in Philippi, a Roman colony and one of Macedonia’s leading cities.We stayed in Philippi for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day, we went outside the city walls to the nearby river, assuming that some Jewish people might be gathering for prayer. We found a group of women there, so we sat down and spoke to them. 14 One of them, Lydia, was a business woman originally from Thyatira. She made a living buying and selling fine purple fabric. She was a true worshiper of God and listened to Paul with special interest. The Lord opened her heart to take in the message with enthusiasm. 15 She and her whole household were ceremonially washed through baptism.[

Lydia: If you believe I’m truly faithful to the Lord, please, you must come and stay at my home.

We couldn’t turn down her invitation. 16 One day, as we were going to the place set aside for prayer, we encountered a slave girl. She made a lot of money for her owners as a fortune-teller, assisted by some sort of occult spirit. 17 She began following us.

Slave Girl (shouting): These men are slaves like me, but slaves of the Most High God! They will proclaim to you the way of liberation!

18 The next day as we passed by, she did the same thing—and again on the following days. One day Paul was really annoyed, so he turned and spoke to the spirit that was enslaving her.

Paul: I order you in the name of Jesus, God’s Anointed: Come out of her!

It came right out. 19 But when her owners realized she would be worthless now as a fortune-teller, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the open market area, and presented them to the authorities.

Slave Owners: 20 These men are troublemakers, disturbing the peace of our great city. They are from some Jewish sect, 21 and they promote foreign customs that violate our Roman standards of conduct (codes of worship – all publicly worshipped gods had to be approved by the Roman Senate – and Caesar needed to be at the top).

22 The crowd joined in with insults and insinuations, prompting the city officials to strip them naked in the public square so they could be beaten with rods. 23 They were flogged mercilessly and then were thrown into a prison cell. The jailer was ordered to keep them under the strictest supervision. 24 The jailer complied, first restraining them in ankle chains, then locking them in the most secure cell in the center of the jail.

25 Picture this: It’s midnight. In the darkness of their cell, Paul and Silas—after surviving the severe beating—aren’t moaning and groaning; they’re praying and singing hymns to God. The prisoners in adjoining cells are wide awake, listening to them pray and sing. 26 Suddenly the ground begins to shake, and the prison foundations begin to crack. You can hear the sound of jangling chains and the squeak of cell doors opening. Every prisoner realizes that his chains have come unfastened. 27 The jailer wakes up and runs into the jail. His heart sinks as he sees the doors have all swung open. He is sure his prisoners have escaped, and he knows this will mean death for him, so he pulls out his sword to commit suicide.

28 At that moment, Paul sees what is happening and shouts out at the top of his lungs,

Paul: Wait, man! Don’t harm yourself! We’re all here! None of us has escaped.

29 The jailer sends his assistants to get some torches and rushes into the cell of Paul and Silas. He falls on his knees before them, trembling. 30 Then he brings them outside.

Jailer: Gentlemen, please tell me, what must I do to be saved?

Paul and Silas: 31 Just believe—believe in the ultimate King, Jesus, and not only will you be rescued, but your whole household will as well.

32-34 The jailer brings them to his home, and they have a long conversation with the man and his family. Paul and Silas explain the message of Jesus to them all. The man washes their wounds and feeds them, then they baptize the man and his family. The night ends with Paul and Silas in the jailer’s home, sharing a meal together, the whole family rejoicing that they have come to faith in God. 

So that’s the background to the young church Philippi. Now, here is the opening of the letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church several years later:

Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus the Anointed One, greet you, our friends in Philippi—those set apart by Jesus the Anointed—and we greet the elders and deacons who serve with you. Grace and peace be with you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus the Anointed. Whenever you cross my mind, I thank my God for you and for the gift of knowing you. My spirit is lightened with joy whenever I pray for you (and I do constantly) because you have partnered with me to spread the gospel since the first day I preached to you. 

I am confident that the Creator, who has begun such a great work among you, will not stop in mid-design but will keep perfecting you until the day Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, returns to redeem the world. It is only right that I should feel such admiration for you all—you hold me close to your hearts. And, since we are partners in this great work of grace, you have never failed to stand with me as I have defended and stood firm for the gospel—even from this prison cell. Before God I want you to know how much I long to see you and love you with the affection of the Anointed One, Jesus.

Here’s what I pray for you: Father, may their love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— 10 so they will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ, the day of His judgment, let them stand pure and blameless, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this I pray, so that God will be glorified and praised.

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 Let’s consider three main elements in this greeting in light of the background of Philippi and the origins of the church. In many ways, it’s going to set the table for the rest of this series.

1.Paul applauds and encourages their partnership, community and unity.

This must have been a daunting issue in this church. Look at the diversity in just the first three converts: a wealthy widow in the fashion industry; a demon-possessed slave, and a jailer.

Roman elite society was highly stratified… Elite males engaged in a relentless quest for personal and familial honor. These concerns generated a consuming passion to identify persons publicly according to social status… Based on their social status individuals wore different clothing, occupied different seats at public events, and experienced different treatment at the hands of Roman magistrates… Public banquets and food distribution in the provinces were administrated in such a way as to ensure that resources were given according to rank, not according to need. All such practices served to reinforce the values of the elite society.[2]

Different backgrounds, social class, different rank, different clothes, food and places to sit. Add to that different methods of entering into discipleship. Lydia appears to be a classic example of finding Jesus through education and intellect; the slave girl through the supernatural deliverance from demonic forces; the jailer through Paul’s selfless act of character, integrity and concern.

It’s often noted that what brings a person to Jesus is often the thing that continues to primarily nourish or build them.  That’s to be expected, right? The problem is that it is easy to assume that whatever brought you to Christ or builds you in Christ will have the same impact on others.  

  • If you became a Christian through a supernatural experience (like the slave girl), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you became a Christian through theology and reason (like Lydia), you are probably inclined to think that should be the heart of the church.
  • If you came to Jesus because somebody showed you God’s love through acts of kindness, you are probably inclined to think the church will flourish when that is at the heart.
  • If you grew up in a Christian community that encouraged you or even steered you toward a commitment to Christ, you are probably inclined to think that a tightly knit church community is very important.
  • If you grew up constantly asking questions and searching and ended up at the foot of the cross, you probably think an open environment where people are free to ask question and express doubts in important. If you grew up constantly getting answers, questions make you very uncomfortable and might even seem ungodly.

We have this range of experiences (and far more) here, in our church, right now. Is there ever tension as we try to do life together? You bet. That makes us normal. One of the earliest churches in existence felt this immediately. This is also one way in which God works through His church to bring transformation. Matt Chandler wrote in To Live Is Christ:

“We tend to prefer to do life with people who are similar to us. We live in neighborhoods and associate with people who look like us and act like us. Most of us go to church with people similar to us. This is the natural tendency of all people. But the gospel is not natural… the gospel creates a new reality that deepens our understanding of the world and our place in it.”

2. Paul prays for a love that overflows with knowledge and wisdom.

It’s worth noting he doesn’t just pray for love. That’s a pretty vague term on it’s own. He prays for a very specific kind of love.

  •  This knowledge is contact with others; first-hand, experiential knowledge. It’s a knowledge that comes from rubbing elbows and butting heads and walking together. Considering different personalities, gifts, backgrounds, expectations, priorities, and passions, this is hardly a surprise. If you really join a church and invest in it, you will spend a lot of time very close to people who make you uncomfortable and maybe a little angry at time. It's what life together looks like. It's messy, but it's good  - if it is characterized by wisdom. 
  •  This wisdom is a discernment from God that cuts through hazy moral and ethical matters. This is a the godly application of the knowledge of others and of God’s word. They aren’t asking the Romans what to do and they aren’t voting. They are praying that they are led by God’s Holy Spirit to properly understand His Word and His commands.
  •  Put together, this is a love that manifests in living holy lives close together, getting to know others, getting to know the mind of God for us and for the world, then blending those two things. This kind of love is crucial in supporting unity, partnership and community.

We got a game called Smash Up over Christmas. It’s called that because there are all these decks of cards with different powers and abilities, and in every game you pick two decks and ‘smash them up’ so they work together. That’s the idea about life together in the church. We have to ‘Smash Up’ very different followers of Christ for our good and the glory of God.

  • supernatural experience needs to partner with acts of kindness
  • theology and reason needs to work with Christian community
  • constantly asking questions needs to join with constantly getting answers
  • Extroverts join introverts
  • The artists join the social workers who join the builders and the homemakers.

 You can mix and match them all. We need each other to accomplish the work of the Kingdom. I don’t mean we all have to become “besties” (we will see later that there was clearly tension in a church that Paul applauds for unity). But we have to purposefully commit to godly interaction that acknowledges and honors the diversity in our church.

3.  Paul prays that they be filled with a ripening fruit of righteousness (a life approved by God) for God’s glory.  

 The Voice uses the phrase “the ripening fruit” of righteousness. Other translations use a verb tense that implies an ongoing process of being filled with righteousness. In other words, it’s not a one-and-done experience. An ongoing work of Jesus in their life was needed, I’m sure. I can only imagine the discussions that took place when that church started.

  • There’s a soldier, a slave, and one of the cultural elites.
  • There’s the tension of the roles of men and women in Roman culture.  
  • There’s a Roman who was raised to worship Rome and all it stood for, a slave raised to hate it, and a merchant who probably had gained an appreciation for all kinds of cultures.
  • There’s the constant fight for status in Philippi (people would inscribe their history on columns just to show how upwardly mobile and important they were).
  • There’s the separation by food, clothing, and seating.
  • There’s the incredibly different ways in which they encountered the gospel and committed their lives to Christ.
  • There's the problem of Paul: the church's founder had angered the entire town. They were likely under intense scrutiny – a lot of pressure to stand pure and blameless.

How on earth do you make that work? By being “filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed, with a view to God’s ultimate praise and glory." This is really the heart of the rest of this series in Philippians: Healthy church life – that is, a healthy representation of God on earth as seen in His body, the church – will be manifest through purposeful unity, love overflowing with knowledge and wisdom, and the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus and builds the praise for and glory of God.

So that’s what we are going to unpack in the weeks ahead. As we go through this series, I am recommending that we all pray this together: 

Father, may our love grow more and more in wisdom and insight— so we will be able to examine and determine the best from everything else. And on the day of the Christ’s return, let us stand pure and blameless, filled with the fruit of righteousness that ripens through Jesus the Anointed. All this we pray, so that God will be glorified and praised. Amen.

___________________________________________________________________________

[1] I owe a lot in this entire series to Adam Clarke’s commentary on Philippians; Matt Chandler’s book on Philippians (To Live Is Christ); a fantastic website called Precept Austin; an article entitled “The Theme and Structure of Philippians," by Robert C. Swift; N.T. Wright’s Bible study Philippians for Everyone; IVP’s Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; and plenty of other sources I have failed to record. Shoulders of giants….

[2] The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Joseph H. Hellermana

 

Walking in Light (Ephesians 5:1-19)

1 So imitate God. Follow Him like adored children, and live in love as Christ loved you—so much that He gave Himself as a fragrant sacrifice, pleasing God. Listen, don’t let there be a hint of sexual immorality among you. Any demoralizing behaviors (such as impurity and greed) are inappropriate topics of conversation for those set apart as God’s people. Don’t use abusive language (swearing, obscenity) or spurt nonsense. Don’t make harsh jokes or talk foolishly. Make proper use of your words, and offer them thankfully in praise. This is what we know for certain: no one who engages in loose sex, impure actions, and greed—which is just a form of idolatry—has any inheritance in the kingdom of God and His Anointed.

Don’t be fooled by people who try to excuse these things—they just use meaningless words to show empty souls. For, in His wrath, God will judge all the children of disobedience for these kinds of sins. So don’t be persuaded into their ignorance; and don’t cast your lot with them because, although you were once the personification of darkness, you are now light in the Lord. So act like children of the light. For the fruit of the light is all that is good, right, and true. 10 Make it your aim to learn what pleases our Lord. 11 Don’t get involved with the fruitless works of darkness; instead, expose them to the light of God. 12 You see, it’s a disgrace to speak of their secrets (so don’t even talk about what they do when no one is looking). 13-14 When the light shines, it exposes even the dark and shadowy things and turns them into pure reflections of light. This is why they sing, ‘Awake, you sleeper!
 Rise from your grave,
 And Christ will shine on you.’ (Some scholars think this verse may have been an early “baptismal hymn.)

15 So be careful how you live; be mindful of your steps. Don’t run around aimlessly as the rest of the world does. Instead, walk as the wise! 16 Make the most of every living and breathing moment because these are evil times. 17 So understand and be confident in God’s will, and don’t live thoughtlessly. 18 Don’t drink wine excessively. The drunken path is a reckless path. It leads nowhere. Instead, let God fill you with the Holy Spirit. 19 When you are filled with the Spirit, you are empowered to speak to each other in the soulful words of pious songs, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and make music with your hearts attuned to God; 20 and to give thanks to God the Father every day through the name of our Lord Jesus the Anointed for all He has done.”

 What do we need to bring into the light so that we can walk in the light and live in unity with others? (Note: Paul is not pointing out how they are to earn their salvation. He is showing them how to live out their salvation as they seek to conform to the image of Christ. So don’t see this as “This is how I get saved.” It’s, “This is what life in Christ is meant to look like. I honor the sacrifice of Jesus and I love my neighbor as I walk in the light of Christ.”)

1. Our sexuality. We are called to self-sacrificial, boundaried love, not selfish, unboundaried lust – specifically, God designed sex to be experienced by a man and a woman in marriage. The intimacy Christ shares with His Bride, the church, is shared with no other. It’s an analogy. There is a reason God puts borders around our sexuality. Chaos in some form comes when properly placed fences go down; life flourishes when they stay up. This is not to say that sexual sin is unforgivable – which is good news for all of us, I suspect. It is forgivable. It’s noting that sexual sin is outside of God’s design, and a life lived in the light of Christ does not embrace it or applaud it, but seeks to live out sexuality in a way that honors God, protects others, and allows us to live in purity.

2. Our words must be true and helpful vs. false and destructive. This is speaking truth in love. If we just speak truth without showing love, we are destructive. If we show love without speaking truth, then we are false, and we just enable. Our speech should be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we can provide answers to everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

3. Our circumstances. We are called to contentment and generosity, not greed.. Philippians 4:11-13: “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Contentment is such a gift. Do we have to have physical comfort and material things to be happy, or do we look to Christ to strengthen us in our times of need? And those who have plenty – do you look around to identify those in need? A greedy community will never last, because it is full of resentment, competitiveness, and selfishness. A generous community is full of applause, kindness, and self-sacrifice, and it will flourish as everyone looks out for the needs of others, and commits to contentment no matter what the circumstance.

 4. Our time (mindful and purposeful vs. lazy and unfocused). Mindful is not the same as obsessing, and purposeful is not the same as driven! It simply means be alert, aware, prepared, and engaged as you are able. Remember, David had men in his army who ‘understood the times, and knew what to do.’ (1 Chronicle 12:32).  There was a time in American history when Christians could coast (in the sense that culture largely agreed with them. Not anymore. We have our work cut out for us. We are now in a place where we need to be “ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us” more than ever. This might not be a bad wake-up call. We have to revisit our Bibles, engage in conversation with other Christians, study, read, listen not only to the church conversation but to the cultural one.

5. Our attitude. We are to be helpful and thankful vs. leeching and grumbling. Ever had a friend who always complained, always borrowed and never lent, and always wanted their life to be better but never helped anyone else’s life to be better? What about the friend who looked for the good, lived generously, and looked to improve the lives of those around them? One drains, the other fills. One divides, one unifies. 

  • Philippians 2:3-4: “Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” 
  • Matthew 20:25-28: “Do you want the Kingdom run like the Romans run their kingdom? Their rulers have great power over the people, but God the Father doesn’t play by the Romans’ rules. This is the Kingdom’s logic: whoever wants to become great must first make himself a servant; whoever wants to be first must bind himself as a slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as the ransom for many.”

6. Our focus. We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ vs. idols  “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:21, 25). Idolatry happens in any circumstance where there is something you feel you must have to be happy, that is more important to your heart than God himself. We would not lie, cheat, steal, gossip, lust, or abuse others unless first we had made something—human approval, reputation, power over others, financial advantage, sexual desire, fame, comfort—more important and valuable to our hearts than the grace and favor of God as experienced through the person and work of Jesus. (HT Tim Keller, “How To Find Your Rival Gods,” christianitytoday.com) We need to stay focused on God and the person of Christ

  • Psalm 34:5 “Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.”
  • Colossians 3:1-3  “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God's right hand. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.”
  • Hebrews 3:1 “Dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are partners with those called to heaven, think carefully about this Jesus whom we declare to be God's messenger and High Priest.”
  • Hebrews 12:2: “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

What Is Christian Unity (Build Up Part 2)

 I got a lot of really good questions about unity after last week’s sermon. Does unity mean we never confront sin? Do we just ignore false teaching?  Does unity mean we avoid any type of tension at any cost? So this Sunday I am going to offer four points to clarify what biblical Christian unity looks like.

 1) Christian Unity Is Between Christians

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you.  Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love.  Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)

We should show Christian love to everyone, but we simply can’t have the kind of unity that should happen between disciples of Christ with those who are not also disciples.  I have great friends who do not share my allegiance to Christ. We unite around other things - a love of philosophy, sports, books, social issues - but we don't unite around Christ.Unity must be with regard to something. Saying "we are unified" as Christians doesn't mean anything unless we have a common cause, allegiance, motivation – in this case, the unity the Holy Spirit brings through Christ.

2) Christian Unity Has Boundaries.     

There are plenty of “secondary issues” within the faith that Christians legitimately disagree about and should not break our unity.

  • Is the earth old or young? 
  • How will End Times unfold?
  • How is the Holy Spirit active today? 
  • What is the purpose of church services and how should they be done? 
  • Does God predestine who will be saved, or do our choices make a difference?
  • Is Song of Solomon about marriage and sex or is it an allegory for Christ and the church?

Yes. Sure. Different perspectives are found within the boundaries of united allegiance to Christ (Check out Romans 14:1-12 for a practical example). However, there are things that will either make Christian unity impossible or will destroy unity within the church if left unchecked. 

Theological Boundaries (the person and work of Christ)

 The Bible clearly shows that Jesus was God in the flesh (a member of the Trinity), who lived, died and rose again. Sin destroys peace within us and between God and others, and  punishment is our just reward. God (through Christ) provided a way out of that penalty of eternal death, and Christ alone has brought salvation and made peace between us and God. Once we give our allegiance to Christ, we can be “conformed” to increasingly reflect His image but we will never be Him.[i] One day we will stand before God to give an answer for our lives. Those who enter into reward instead of  punishment will do so only because they have accepted Jesus' offer to pay their debt.

Christian unity is not possible if we don’t agree on these things, because these points are all integral to the person and work of Jesus. I can think of at least five different phrases I have heard about Jesus from others who claim allegiance to Christ that give me a lot of concern.

  • “I am a Christian because I follow Jesus’ teachings. I don’t think he was God, but He showed us how to live.”[ii]
  • “Jesus is one of many ways to God.”[iii]
  • “Jesus is only about love, not anger. We have to lighten up on all this talk about sin and wrath and hell.”[iv]
  • “You can be just like Jesus! You can be a little god too!”[v]
  • “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are just names or titles for different ways God has shown himself.”[vi]

 We can’t be in Christian unity if we are fixing our eyes on a different kind of Christ.

  • If he was just a good man, Jesus is not divine and should not be worshipped.
  • If there are many ways to make peace with God, then Jesus is not the only way and is certainly not the necessary way, and his death and resurrection were unnecessary.
  • If sin and its eternal consequences aren’t important, then Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection aren’t important, and the day of judgment should not concern us.
  • If we can become just like Jesus, then the bar for what it means to be God is incredibly low, and there is no way Jesus should be worshipped.
  • If there is no Trinity, then Judaism and Islam have been right about the nature of God all along, and Christ was not who we thought he was. If thats true, then his life, death and resurrection did not accomplish what we claim they did.

When Paul is writing about the importance of unity, he’s not saying that anything goes as Christians when we look at Jesus. He clearly calls out false teachers numerous times in his letters (Galatians 5:7-12; 1 Timothy 1:3-11; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; 2 Timothy 2:14-19). Even if we attend church together, if we are not united about the most important thing, we may be respectful friends who genuinely like each other, but we are not united around the same Christ.

Moral Boundaries (Committed Discipleship)

Christian unity does not require perfection. Sinfulness will always be present within our Christian unity on this side of heaven. When that happens, we don't just step over our brothers and sisters when they fall down, and we certainly don’t kick them while they are down. We don’t enable sin, and we don’t berate and humiliate sinners. We help them back up like we have constantly been helped up, and we revisit the foot of the cross not to regain our salvation, but to ask for the forgiveness only Christ can give.

However, unity doesn’t mean we act like sin is no big deal. Paul writes numerous times about how to confront sin in the context of church (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13); (1 Corinthians 5:6-7; (2 Corinthians 2:5-8). Why? Because sin can begin to permeate the church, and that will destroy our unity. There’s a reason God says not to do these things that goes beyond our individual holiness. True unity cannot be sustained if these things are allowed to flourish in a church.

Unity does not require that we overlook sin.  If we are going to be unified around Christ, we have to have a healthy respect for the reality and devastation of sin. The more our personal sin hurts others or draws others in, the more crucial it becomes to confront for the purpose of the individual and the unity of the group. If we overlook or enable these things, they will take our eyes off of Christ, our walk as a disciple will erode, our unity with others will crumble, and our witness for Christ will be compromised. So the fact that we are sinners is not the thing that divides us; it should actually unite us at the foot of the cross. It’s what we do with or how we respond to the sin that cannot help but bring disunity. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together:

“Reproof is unavoidable.. Where defection from God’s Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the world of admonition and rebuke must be ventured. Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin. It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship…”

As a church community, we are in this together. Unity requires a community of grace, forgiveness and hope that always points us toward a Christ who offers all these things to us. But sin corrodes, and it must be addressed.               

3) Christian Unity Confronts Tension

Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 

Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

Unity is not the absence of tension.  If it were, we would never be unified. We would always hide our true self from others, or avoid people or situations that make us uncomfortable, or never have the hard conversations about protecting doctrine or living holy lives.We must confront it instead of retreat from it. The Bible does not say blessed are the peacekeepers, it says blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Keeping peace is easy, passive, and ultimately destructive. Making peace is uncomfortable, but necessary and always fruitful. The unified do not hide.

We must learn how to say, “I love you and I am for you, so we must have this conversation.” Then we pray for wisdom, we may seek godly counsel, and we turn to the Bible for our foundational truths because it is” profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”(2 Timothy 3:16)

 4) Christian Unity displays Christ-like love

“ Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of Jesus’  peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-16)

Love is the ultimate gift of the Spirit as seen in 1 Corinthians 13.[vii] It’s the glue that is meant to hold the church community together. The Bible is really specific about what Christ-like love looks like (and I am pulling this list from 1 Corinthians 13).

  • Patient (good things take time)
  • Kind (it’s a basic human quality)
  • Content (not jealous)
  • Humble (not boastful or proud)
  • Decent (never rude or crude)
  • Other-centered (not self-absorbed)
  • Composed (not easily provoked or resentful)
  • Forgiving (doesn’t keep tally of wrongs)
  • Rejoices in Truth (doesn’t avoid it)
  • Rejoices in Justice (is not content to let injustice unfold)
  • Bears all things (endures and protects insults, burdens, and hardships)
  • Never loses faith (does not become cynical or jaded)
  • Hopeful (never forgets that Jesus saves)
  • Persevering (keeps going even when it's tough

This kind of love is the greatest gift given us to preserve the unity that Christ brings, Is far more than emotional connection. It comes from fixing our eyes on Christ and walking with others in loving, faithful discipleship. Paul gives an example of how this looks in Romans 12:14-18.

If people mistreat or malign you, bless them. Always speak blessings, not curses. If some have cause to celebrate, join in the celebration. And if others are weeping, join in that as well. Work toward unity, and live in harmony with one another. Avoid thinking you are better than others or wiser than the rest; instead, embrace common people and ordinary tasks. Do not retaliate with evil, regardless of the evil brought against you. Try to do what is good and right and honorable as agreed upon by all people. If it is within your power, make peace with all people.” (Romans 12:14-18)

This kind of loving unity will never compromise truth or holiness, but it will always guide the attitude and presence we bring to any situation.

 

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[i]  Paul’s Creed (from 1 Corinthians 15:3-11) often considered the earliest creedal statement: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we proclaim and so you have come to believe.” Note the three key subjects: Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; the fact the Jesus died for our sins; and the reality of grace as the means of salvation.

The Apostles Creed(150 AD) reads: “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
 and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
[‘he descended to hell’ was added much later in response to doctrinal challenges].
The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit,
[‘the holy catholic (universal) church' was added in the 4th century], the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.” As a response to different doctrinal challenges, this creed is more broad (and more specific) than Paul’s.

 The Nicene Creed (325 AD) reads: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, Begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man; And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered and was buried; And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; And ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; And He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead, Whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the Prophets; And we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the Life of the age to come. Amen.” This was written in response to the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ. In 381, it was revised to address the Macedonian heresy, which denied the divinity of the Holy Spirit.   

[ii]  Google the term “moralistic therapeutic deism” to see this in action. Michael Horton provides a good overview of this position at http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=917

[iii] " I don't believe making disciples must equal making adherence to the Christian religion. It may be advisable in many (not all!) circumstances to help people become followers of Jesus and remain within their Buddhist, Hindu, or Jewish contexts.” (Brian McClaren)  For a good response, check out a book by Ravi Zacharias called Jesus Among Other Gods.

[iv] The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement: "God is love". If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil (Steve Chalke and Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus, pp. 182-183).”John Piper has a good response at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/defending-my-fathers-wrath

[v] “Man…was created on terms of equality with God, and he could stand in God’s presence without any consciousness of inferiority…. He made us the same class of being that He is Himself…. He lived on terms equal with God…. The believer is called Christ, that’s who we are; we’re Christ.” (Kenneth Hagin, Zoe: The God Kind of Life, pp. 35-36, 41).

“Why didn't Jesus openly proclaim Himself as God during His 33 years on earth? For one single reason. He hadn't come to earth as God, He'd come as man.”  Kenneth Copeland, Believer's Voice of Victory magazine, Aug. 8, 1988. p.8.

"The most remarkable "messiah" at (the time of the writing of this book) ... is to be found at camp Manujothi Ashram in the desert in South India. It is the extreme American evangelist, William Branham, whom Christians have to thank for this false messiah. His name is Paluser Lawrie Mathukrishna. When Branham was on (a) tour of India, Brother Lawrie became a disciple of his, and Branham described him as the "Son of God" and "Christ returned." (Kurt Koch, Occult ABC, 1978, p. 66) Read more at http://www.deceptioninthechurch.com/thirdwaveteachings.html

This is also a key teaching of Mormonism. Here is a short but good response from Hank Hannegraaff: http://www.equip.org/perspectives/little-gods-are-we-little-gods/

[vi] This is a position called Modalism, which has been considered heretical (so far from orthodox Christianity that it cannot be authentic Christian belief) since almost the beginning of the church. Two popular names associated with this movement are Tommy Tenney (because of his Oneness Pentecostal roots) and T.D. Jakes (who is a Oneness Pentecostal). Here’s a link to a great article that gives a very thorough discussion of this issue: http://thecripplegate.com/modalism_oneness_and_td_jakes/

In an unusual (and false) twist, Benny Hinn has been promoting Tri-theism, the idea that each member of the Trinity is its own Trinity. ”God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person; separate from the Son and the Holy Ghost. Say, what did you say? Hear it, hear it, hear it. See, God the Father is a person, God the Son is a person, God the Holy Ghost is a person. But each one of them is a triune being by Himself. If I can shock you - and maybe I should - there's nine of them. Huh, what did you say? Let me explain: God the Father, ladies and gentlemen, is a person with his own personal spirit, with his own personal soul, and his own personal spirit-body.” (Benny Hinn” program on TBN, 10/30/90) 

[vii]The apostle bookends his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13) with these two (perhaps surprising) charges: “earnestly desire the higher gifts” and “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 14:1). God means that we desire all of his gifts, not to glut our selfishness, but to selflessly strengthen others — “so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:5)… Desire all the spiritual gifts, knowing that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13; cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3). Compared to other “higher gifts” (such as tongues, healing, and prophecy† among others), love is “a still more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).” 

 Read the entire article at http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/10-reasons-to-desire-all-the-spiritual-gifts.

 

Tearing and Mending

There were at least ten temples to ten different gods in Corinth at the time the New Testament was written. If people had a particular need (money, harvest, fertility, power, hunting, wisdom) they went to a particular god. That temple had a particular group of people, a particular kind of feast, and a particular kind of worship ritual. If that god answered their supplication, they made sure everyone knew that they had the ability to earn that god's favor.

That was how they rose to the top - they earned the grace and favor a a god. That's how they knew they were somebody. That's what made them matter.

Perhaps this dynamic from the old way of life was the reason Paul had to address the first issue in his letter to the Corinthians:

     "I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.  My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?"
  
It’s obviously true that Christ is the one we as Christians are to ultimately follow.  Paul’s not disputing that. Paul's main point is that one can follow Christ and follow a representative, spokesperson, or ambassador for Christ too. They were all on the same team.
The people in the Corinthian church had too narrow a vision of the Kingdom of God.

Christianity was not like the pagan religions, whose gods were in competition with each other. God is One, and those who serve Him are on the same team. This claiming of allegiance to one person was not a sign of serious discipleship. It was a a lingering effect of the Corinthian search for power, reputation, and control.

Perhaps you've experienced something similar. You've been in a conversation about a passage of Scripture, and you hear, “Well, Mark Driscoll says this… Beth Moore says this….Billy Graham said…Ravi Zacharias…John Piper...James Dobson…Kay Arthur…Bill Hybels...” Finally someone says, I don’t listen to other people’s opinions, I just read the Bible.”   

Or you've been in a conversation where one person focuses on Israel, another on politics, another on end times prophecy, another on baptism, another on apologetics, another on the gifts of the Spirit, another on church models, another on marketplace ministry.... And they all think that the others are missing the boat because they don't have the same passion for this particular part of the Kingdom of God as they do.

Those kind of conversations can end badly. The problem is not the people or topics who are cited; there are many solid ambassadors for Christ who preach, teach, and live in a way that should be admired and emulated. The problem is that we can begin to build our personal worth and identity by the people or causes we follow – and question the worth (and wisdom) of others by the people they don't. If we are not careful, we will judge the character and content of another person’s heart because they don’t build their knowledge of and relationship with God and His Kingdom in the same way we do.

Paul says that mindset is divisive - schismata in Greek, which means “tear, or rend. ” This is what happens when someone tears a calf muscle or an ACL. I have done that twice playing softball (which is kind of sad, really), and let me tell you, it was no fun at all. It felt like someone hit me in the back of the leg as hard as they could with a bat. I could actually run my fingers through a ditch in my calf muscle.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “That’s what’s happening in your church when you divided your unity in Christ. That's what's happening when pride and sectarianism fragment the Kingdom of God.”

Instead, the church was to be united. The Greek word carries the idea of “joined together,” a medical word used to describe the mending of bones or joints that have been fractured. The variety of people, gifts, and skills in the body of Christ are meant to join us together, not tear us apart. The church may be full of broken people, but the grace of God enables us to find unity, peace and wholeness in the midst of our diversity.