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Author:Rev. Jeremy Segstro
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Congregation:Cloverdale Canadian Reformed Church
 Surrey, BC
 cloverdalecanrc.org
 
Title:I Will Rejoice In Unity!
Text:Philippians 1:27-2:18 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Added:2022-05-30
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: Philippians 1:27-2:18

Text: Philippians 2:1-18

 

I WILL REJOICE IN UNITY

  1. The Secret of Unity

  2. The Supreme Example of Unity

  3. The Seal of Unity

 

  1. Psalm 101:1-2

  2. Psalm 44: 1, 3

  3. Psalm 133:1-2

  4. Hymn 23:1-6

  5. Hymn 49: 1, 2, 4

 

Words to Listen For: detoxify, corrupt, sway, Paradise, bridged

 

Questions for Understanding:

  1. How many paradoxes are called out in this sermon?  Write each one of them down.

  2. What is the 5 part secret to unity?

  3. How is the ancient Christian hymn about unity?

  4. What does “beloved” mean? How does it apply?

  5. How do we shine like stars?

 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ our Lord,

Do you know what a paradox is?

A paradox can mean a few different things, but the general meaning is someone or something that is self-contradictory.  Two facts held in place that contradict each other, usually fictional.  Do you need an example here?

Let me give you an example of a paradox that I think about on a daily basis: 

It’s a paradox that is the central antagonist in the wonderfully absurd operetta Pirates of Penzance.  The main character is bound to serve the pirates until his 21st birthday.  When he turns 21, he is released from them, but then is bound once again into service when they discover that he was born on February 29, and so, even though he has been alive for 21 years, if you go by birthdays, he is only 5 and a quarter.  A man and a little boy at the same time.  They even sing a song called “Paradox” when this is discovered.

And there is a paradox that serves in our text this morning as the central challenge to the Philippian church.

Those unified in Christ, those bound together by their common salvation, are at risk of tearing themselves apart.  We will see this afternoon that this started being the case with the two women,

Euodia and Syntche, and in chapter 2, the Apostle Paul pleads with the church not to let this paradox continue.

It is a paradox to have a disunified body of Christ.  It is a paradox to have a body that fights against itself.  The entire purpose of the body is to build itself up.  This is our theme text for this year, isn’t it?  That there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

A house divided against itself will not stand.

A body divided against itself will be destroyed.  Medically, this is called cancer.  When a certain type of cell multiplies over and over, taking over other parts of the body.  These cells have no proper role in the body, but to destroy.

Whereas a liver cell’s function is to detoxify the body

And a stomach cell’s function is to digest food…

Cancer cells have no function but to rapidly multiply and take over the orderliness of these other cells, preventing them from doing their job.

And this is what disunity is like in the church.  Disunity is the cancer that spreads throughout the church, having no proper function, but just disrupting the functions of every other member.  Disunity disrupts evangelism.  Disunity disrupts the gospel going out.  Disunity disrupts love.

Where there is disunity, just as where there is cancer, it must be addressed immediately and uncompromisingly.

Ultimately, this is what SIN in the church produces.  When we follow our sinful desires instead of the Spirit, disunity is the result.  A body working against itself.

Unity is the lifeblood of the church.  But, due to our sinful nature, a sinful nature that, paradoxically, has already been crucified with Christ, and yet, has to be killed again each and every day...due to the sinful nature of the pure and holy Bride of Christ, unity is something that we must struggle for, even though it should be so natural.

Unity is the lifeblood of the church, and when it happens, it is something beautiful.  And so, with the Apostle Paul, we should long to have the opportunity to say:

I WILL REJOICE IN UNITY.  We will examine

  1. The Secret of Unity

  2. The Supreme Example of Unity

  3. The Seal of Unity

 

Even though the Apostle Paul has such a love for the church at Philippi, even though Paul does not write this letter to them rebuking them for particular sins, or reminding them that the heresies that came in through false teachers were indeed false...you can tell that there is a concern here in the Apostle’s encouragement.

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

Paul didn’t know if he would ever see his beloved congregation again.  And we know, from history, that he wouldn’t.  His imprisonment would lead to a trial, and his trial would lead to an execution.  Though he may have wished to die the same death as his Lord, crucified on a cross, Paul, as a Roman citizen, was beheaded.

And so Paul was wanting his beloved church to exhibit the qualities of a church.

You ARE unified...so act like it!

Standing firm in one spirit

With one mind

Striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

What a description.  Imagine a church like this.

What a joy and pleasure it would be to write this in the Church News, wouldn’t it?

          Our update this month is that, for the last 30 days, we have

          been standing firm in one spirit.  We have had one mind,

          consistory, council, C of A, and all our members.  We have

          all been striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

Imagine it.  All the other churches in the area would be pounding down our door, wanting to know our secret.  Wanting to have the unity that we have.

And even though we haven’t put this secret into practice perfectly...not us in ______, or our brothers and sisters in our neighbouring congregations, or ANY of the churches of Jesus Christ made up of sinful, struggling, saints...we do have the secret.

Imagine that you hear of this legendary “scroll of unity.”  It is hidden deep down in a cave, in darkest Peru.  If we heard this, maybe we would drop everything.  We would hire a team of explorers to recover this scroll and bring it back to us.  Carefully we would unroll it and read these words allowed from this scroll of truth.  

And we don’t have to imagine this, because almost literally, this is what we have.  We have the secret scroll of unity.  It was found, not in darkest Peru, but found in Israel.  Found on the other side of the world.  This scroll called The Letter to the Philippians.  And just because we have it in our hands, in modern day Bibles, it does not make it any less legendary, any less powerful.   It just makes it ACCESSIBLE.

It’s here, right in front of us.  Written down so clearly for us.  So let’s examine this scroll of truth.  This scroll of unity.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind.

Here, the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, reveals the secret of unity.

So...if there is any encouragement in Christ…

And we must pause here, because, on the surface, Paul seems to be doubting what Jesus Christ can (and has) done.  If there is any encouragement in Christ.

And here is where something gets a little lost in translation.

What the Apostle is saying is something like this

If there is any encouragement in Christ - and there is, there REALLY IS, there is the BEST ENCOURAGEMENT - 

If there is any comfort from love - and there is, there is amazing comfort here

And so on.

So, let’s unroll this scroll together, and examine this 5-part secret to achieving unity.

This scroll has on it, written in ancient Greek, 5 things.  5 secrets.  Things that are, paradoxically, something that should be so natural to us as Christians, and yet they are so lacking in our day to day life.

We unroll the scroll and read, at the top: If there is any encouragement in Christ

When we truly understand what we have in Jesus Christ, our bickering and disunity as His body becomes pointless.  Compared to the joys, the beauty, and the power of the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ...everything else begins to fade away.

For Paul, it was his chains that began to fade away.  It was the corrupt motivations of other evangelists.  The gospel overrides EVERYTHING ELSE.

If there is any encouragement in Christ

It is in Jesus Christ, the final sacrifice for sin

It is in Jesus Christ, the promised Saviour

It is in Jesus Christ, the one who conquered sin and death and Satan…

When THIS is our Saviour...when someone so strong and so loving is the one pulling for you...when we remember that He is the one in Heaven at the right hand of His Father, interceding for us...how can we NOT be encouraged?

From everything that He has done, to everything that He IS DOING, to everything that He has promised to one day do...there is no option but for us to fall on our knees in thanksgiving and be encouraged and strengthened for the day to come.

We are united in this incredible encouragement, because...we all have it!  It is the same for each and every one of us.  My incredible Saviour is YOUR incredible Saviour too.  He is not just interceding for me, but for each and every one of us!

It is in Him that we can be encouraged and strengthened for anything that could come.

Let’s unroll the scroll a little more now.

If there is any encouragement in Christ, [if there is] any comfort from love

Paul has a soft spot in his heart for love, as we know.  We all know Paul's amazing description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  But let’s not get this wrong, let’s not get this confused...the love that the Apostle Paul speaks of, that is so life-changing and powerful...this is not just love that stays in your heart.  This is not just love that is a warm feeling in your chest.

  • But rather, this is love that can be saddened to tears when it hears of a tragedy.

  • This is love that is angered over needless pain that is caused.

  • This is a love that generously supports those who struggle.

The love that Christians have for one another, the love that our Saviour has for us...this is a love that gathers around.  This is a love that encircles and protects.  This is a love that comforts.

Where there is this kind of love, differences of opinion do not have to escalate to disunity and brokenness.  This is a love that provides a rock solid foundation that can weather any storm. 

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, [if there is any] participation in the Spirit

Unity is something that comes from the Spirit.  It is so closely tied in with the idea of peace, one of the fruits of the Spirit.  Unity is spiritual, and disunity is sinful.

It’s rather simple actually...the aspect of yourself that you nurture, the aspect of yourself that you devote your time, your energy, and your heart to, this is the side that will grow stronger.  And that is what the Apostle is saying here.

And there is more on this scroll: If there is any participation in the Spirit.

We participate in the Spirit through prayer.  Prayer is our heart calling out to God’s heart.  Prayer is when we have the opportunity to speak most honestly.  The opportunity to have that personal connection to the One who can do more than we would ever think or ask.

We participate in the Spirit through listening to what God has to say to us in His Word.  In personal devotions and Bible studies.  On Sunday mornings and again on Sunday afternoons.  When you keep step with the Spirit, you will manifest the fruit of the Spirit in your life, each and every day of the week.  Church isn’t only on the weekend.  But on Monday you will manifest love.  Joy on Wednesday.  And peace on Friday.  Unity will begin to grow.

If there is any affection and sympathy

These are specifically qualities for members to show to other members.

Affection...after all that you have been through together

  • All the joys

  • All the sorrows

  • Celebrations and difficulties

If there is that deep-seated affection, underlying everything...then, though the tree may sway in the breeze, it will not break.

And sympathy…

When we try to understand where someone else is coming from, when we show compassion, when we have mercy on those who are suffering…

when the weak reach out to the strong, and find a loving support there, when they find open hearts and open minds...THIS PRODUCES UNITY.

Do you see?

Do you see?

Unity is not something that is vague and ethereal.  It is real.  It is within your grasp.  And, on the one hand, it’s not that hard.

We ARE united

We all have the same encouragement in Christ

We all have the same comfort from love

We all have been given access to the same spiritual realm by Jesus Christ…

We all have been graciously provided with all the tools we need to grow into the unity Christ has bought for us.  And yet, at the same time, it is the hardest thing in the world.  Because we are not perfect.  We are not wise and humble.  We are not loving and affectionate.  The sins of others are met by our own sins, so much of the time.

The secret has been revealed, and now the hard work begins.  The hard work of putting all of this into action.  And, because this is difficult, the Apostle Paul, a great teacher, does what all greatest teachers do to help their students understand.  He gives an illustration.  He gives an analogy.  He reminds us of our great example of unity.  Our second point.

The Apostle Paul’s final appeal to the Philippians is to look at Christ.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus

What should we make of this statement, beloved?  Is this not another paradox?  The Apostle Paul commanding the Philippians to have something that is already theirs?  To work to gain something that they have already been given?

And this is a paradox that we must hold.  It is ours...it has been given to us by Christ...and yet...we must work hard for it!  There is no such thing as a lazy Christian - there can’t be!

The truth that God is sovereign, and we are not, is not an excuse to work less hard, to slack off, because “it’s God’s job anyways.”  But rather, seeing how much God has done for us ENABLES us and MOTIVATES us to work hard in thankfulness.  Christ did all of this for YOU...how can you not respond by giving Him your life?  He died for you...now you must live for Him.

He gave up His heavenly glory...and you were His prize

You are called to give up a destructive sinful life...and He is your prize

It’s not a fair trade.  We receive so much more than we ever are called to give up.

So let’s see Christ’s example, and be motivated to follow it.

What follows here in our text is an ancient Christian hymn.  Perhaps one of the oldest songs in the New Testament.  I will read the entire thing before we examine it more closely.  Imagine the Philippian church singing these words, all together.

Though He was in the form of God,

Did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped

But emptied Himself,

    By taking the form of a servant

        Being born in the likeness of men

And being found in human form

    He humbled Himself by becoming obedient

        To the point of death

            Even death on a cross

 

Therefore God has highly exalted Him

And bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name

    That at the name of Jesus

Every knee should bow

            In heaven and on earth and under the earth

        And every tongue confess

            That Jesus Christ is Lord

                To the glory of God the Father

 

Here, in this song, we see the ultimate example of love.

Here we see the ultimate example of humility.

We see the ultimate example...of unity.

Now, unity might not be the first thing you think of when you read this text, but this is the purpose behind what Paul writes here.  This is what it is meant to illustrate.

The supreme example of unity through sacrifice is Jesus Christ.

Who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Before the second person of the Trinity came down to this earth, born as a man in Bethlehem, He reigned supreme with the Father and the Spirit, co-eternal, with equal glory and equal majesty.

And yet…

He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped

Our Lord did not hold His glory and majesty so close to His chest that He refused to give it up...but in fact, out of love, that is exactly what He did!

And here, I must correct a misconception that some of us may have.  Or, rather, two misconceptions.

Firstly, the idea that Heaven wasn’t heaven if we weren’t there.  The idea that even a place like Paradise was missing...something.  And THIS is why Christ came down.

But this is, fundamentally, inherently, and even DANGEROUSLY wrong.

WE do not complete GOD.  We weren’t created because He was bored.  We weren’t saved because He was lonely.

We do not complete God, but He completes us.  He created out of love.  He saved out of love.  Jesus gave up His glory and His majesty out of His own love for us.  A love that we didn’t deserve.  A love that we rejected and threw back in His face.  We are not some treasure that God longs to put on a pedestal in Heaven.  But He DOES love us, all the same.  Not because we are so great, but because He is.

And secondly, I must correct the idea of what it means that Christ EMPTIED HIMSELF.  And here, the ESV renders it very well.

He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant

Christ Jesus, in His incarnation, did not LOSE or change His divine nature.  Such a thought is just as wrong as God’s dependence upon us, if not more-so.  Christ Jesus retained everything that made Him God, but, in taking on the form of a servant, His glory and His majesty were hidden from the world for some 30 years.  There were those who recognized it, briefly.  There were times when it was displayed, such as on the Mount of Transfiguration, but the second person of the Trinity gave up the praise and glory that was rightly due Him for a time.

This is what He gave up for the sake of unity.

And what unity is this? you may ask.

Well, this is the greatest unity of all.  The horizontal unity between all people, and the vertical unity between the Church and God.

At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Don’t miss what Paul is saying here.  Paul is not just speaking of the church.  He is not saying that every single believer will confess Jesus Christ as Lord.  Of course they are included, but this statement is not limited to THEM.

EVERY KNEE

  • The knees in heaven

  • The knees on earth

  • The knees under the earth

Every single human being ever created will, one day, confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Christians will do so with love and admiration, and the rebellious will do so through their wailing and gnashing of teeth.

But this is the greatest unity to ever exist among humanity.  There will never be a time, before this, or after this, that humanity will be so united, with one purpose.  Not even when building the tower of Babel.  Not every single person said the same thing.  Not every single person had the exact same purpose.  But here...billions upon billions of people, all knees bowing.  All tongues confessing.

And then, there is a special unity enjoyed between God and His Church.  Between Christ and His Bride.

The whole purpose of giving up heavenly acknowledgement and glory and majesty for a time was to transform us from rebels into saints.  From sinners into sons.  Into heirs of all the riches of God.

Jesus Christ is the one who unites Heaven and Earth once more.  That great rift that opened up at the Fall is bridged by the cross of Christ.

And this is the greatest unity. This is the unity of reconciliation.  THIS is how the Father can welcome back the prodigal son.  This is how the Good Shepherd brings back the lost sheep.

Because each and every one of us was the prodigal son.  Living apart from God.  Living in our sins and our wretchedness.  In our filth and brokenness.

Each and every one of us was the lost sheep.  The sheep that ran away instead of running towards God.  Cold and alone.  Lost and in the dark.

But then love happened.  Then that self-sacrificial love happened, so that heaven and earth could have unity once more.

When comparing glory and unity, there was no question in the mind of our Saviour.  He gave it all up to re-unite heaven with humanity.

When we ask what the value of unity is…

And we wonder if it is too high a cost…

Look to Christ.  Look to Christ and then think again about how much you are really giving up for the sake of reconciliation.

Peace and unity of the body of Christ are always worthwhile.  After giving the secret of true unity, and the supreme example of unity, Paul concludes this section by describing how much the unity of the Philippian church means to him personally.  Our final point.

Therefore, my beloved,

Let’s pause here, just briefly.

Though this word, beloved,” is a word that is said frequently in Scripture, many times by Paul…

And though this is a word that is said frequently from this pulpit, many times by me…

Let it not lose its meaning.

This isn’t just a filler word in Paul’s letters.

This isn’t just an easy way to start my sermons.

But instead, this is a word that is chosen very intentionally by both of us.

The Philippian church are the ones that the Apostle Paul loves.  They are his loved ones.  Though they are in danger of disunity, this does not take away the Apostle’s love.  Disunity and love are there together and they give the Apostle concern.

And you, congregation, are the ones that I love.  You are my beloved congregation.  You are not beloved because you are perfect.  You are not beloved because you are sinless.  You are not beloved because for the last 30 days, we have all been standing firm in one spirit.  That’s just not the reality here.  This is not the reality in here, or in any other congregation on this side of glory.  And yet, you are still loved.  You are loved imperfectly, because I am imperfect.  My love may be messy and shown wrongly at times, but it is there.

You are loved.

And THIS is why unity is something that I preach to you so strongly.  This is why unity is what the Apostle Paul writes about so strongly.

His fellow partakers in the gospel, his coworkers, his beloved congregation...he wants what is best for them.  He wants them to continue to grow in maturity, and he wants to grow in his joy over them.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence, but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

This does not mean that the salvation of the Philippian church is dependant upon how hard they work, but rather, that they ARE SAVED, they ARE LOVED, by Paul and by Christ, and so now they need to act as dearly loved children.  Work out, or work WITH the salvation you have received!  Don’t waste it!  Don’t squander it!  But use it properly!

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

The church is called to be different.  The church is called to be radically different.  Our godliness must shine in the world like lights in the darkness.  Like stars in the universe.

And how do we do this, beloved?  How do we shine like stars?

We shine by being united with our brothers and sisters

We shine by being united with our Lord

We shine by doing what is right no matter the cost.

We shine by showing radical love to our friends as well as our enemies.

To shine, we must have our lamps be both bright and clear.

They must be bright - we must be unrepentant about the gospel.  We must be unashamed of its truth and love and power.

They must be clear - we must not distort the message with our own personal agendas.  With grumbling or disputing.  These are the things that come so naturally to us as fallen, sinful people.  These are things that come so naturally to us, even as redeemed people who have the Spirit.

Only through Jesus Christ can we be freed from this.  And when we are, then we will stand out.  We will shine as lights in the universe.  We will be like light in the darkness.  And this is what we are called to be.  We are called to be light in the darkness, not just a little less dark.  Christians should never simply ‘blend in’ to society.

And when the Philippian church would refuse to blend in...when instead they held fast to the word of life...then on that last day, they would truly be the seal on Paul’s joy.

Holding fast to the Word of life, so that in the day of Christ, I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain.

Paul, as he contemplates his upcoming death, as he reflects on his life, a life, formerly of rebellion and hatred, now a life of church planting, evangelism, and love, he hopes and longs that his work for the Lord was not in vain.

It will all be worthwhile, Paul says, it will all be worthwhile, it will be a beautiful thank-offering to the Lord if you, my crown, my joy, my prize, my beloved...if you are unified together, then that will be the seal on my work.

Unity is not just something working in the background.  Unity is not just the backdrop for all the other good that the church of Jesus Christ does, but rather unity is what ties it all together.  Unity is the throughline of everything else.  Unity is the ultimate act of love and thankfulness to our God.

And so, beloved, as those saved by Jesus Christ, as those bought by His blood and washed in His Spirit, let us follow His example.

Let us work to not lead paradoxical lives.  Lives of a disunified congregation.  Lives of those who are bound together but still so far apart.

But instead, let us follow the supreme example of our Lord and Saviour, who emptied Himself, that He might bring the church together, and give her all things.

AMEN.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Jeremy Segstro, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Jeremy Segstro

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