This weekly topic is an effort to recap the Wednesday night Bible study I teach at Sola5, my youth group. I hope it serves to help us all in contemplating the ceaseless riches of God’s grace as revealed through the Scriptures.
Last night, we continued our summer Q&A series “You Asked For It” with a very important question. The question submitted was, “What do you do when you feel like everyone is against you – even in the church?” Obviously, feelings of rejection and disconnection can be difficult to deal with, but these feelings are all the more tragic when even the body of Christ is failing to function properly. Rather than dealing with the surface problem and talking about how to cope with those feelings, we spent the majority of our time last night trying to get to the root by asking the question, “How do we foster a deeper sense of unity among our church and our youth group? To answer that question, we turned to Philippians 2:1-11. In this passage, Paul appeals for unity among the Christians at Philippi, and then proceeds to show them how this is practically worked out.
Paul begins in verse 1 by emphasizing the reason for unity. Plainly put, why does it matter? Is unity among believers just the “icing on the cake” of the Christian experience? After rejoicing extensively in chapter 1 over the Philippians fervent newfound faith and their partnership in the gospel, Paul tells them of the urgency of that faith producing unity. In fact, Paul says that if the Philippians’ faith does anything for them, then it should produce unity. Paul sees this as a foundational truth for any group of Christians to grasp. Unity is not superficial, and it’s not an option.
In verse two, Paul shows us the appearance of unity. What does it look like? We see that the first thing that characterizes Christian unity is having the same goals. Paul admonishes the Philippians to be of the same mind with one another. What do we mean when we say that two people are “of the same mind?” We mean that they think alike, that they’re going in the same direction mentally. Thus Paul is telling the people to get on the same page in their thought process and strive toward the same thing – the glory of God. One we’re united in mind, Paul says to have the same love. We should all be seeking to imitate the love of Christ – a love that is selfless, forgiving, and redemptive. The love Scripture calls us to all share isn’t a love that we can switch off when it’s convenient. People in the church, myself included, will wrong one another – it’s the sad reality of the sinful nature that is within each of us. However, a case can be made that our Christian love can be most clearly be seen in how we respond in exactly those situations. We need to have the love of Christ for one another, no matter what someone might have done to us.
In verses 3-4, Paul talks about the attitude of unity. What attitudes do we need to cultivate in ourselves to bring this unity about? The first is humility, seen clearly in Paul’s command to “consider others more significant than yourselves.” This is a hard thing to do. Think about it – think about all the people in your church, especially those who rub you the wrong way from time to time. Can you honestly say about them in the depths of your heart, “I am more concerned with your happiness than I am with my own.” This is our calling. This humility is put into action through the second part of an attitude of unity – service. Service takes the idea, “I am more concerned with your happiness than I am with my own,” and it adds, “And I’m willing to work to make it happen.” Service seeks to build others up (and by implication, to avoid at all costs tearing others down) even when it’s difficult and there’s no conceivable reward awaiting us at the end. These two attitudes are inseparable, and they must be present in order to produce the unity God calls us to.
Finally, in verses 5-11, Paul shows us the attitude of unity demonstrated in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ was humbled by definition. The eternal second person of the Godhead, the creator of heaven and earth, enshrined in glory from eternity past, took on humanity, became a human fetus and was born a man. By laying aside his exalted existence and entering into his own creation, Christ humbled himself in a deeper sense that we can even begin to imagine. And having been humbled in his humanity, Christ humbled himself in practice. If God was going to become a man, surely he’d at least make the most of it and arrive as an exalted king, worshipped and adored by millions, right? Not hardly. Jesus lived for 30 years as a carpenter’s apprentice for his stepdad, spent 3 and a half years as a homeless traveling preacher, and spent his final days being beaten to a pulp, mocked incessantly, and nailed to a post to die. Though he had no obligation to anyone, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” After all this, Christ was exalted by God, enjoying the reward to which he had been called. Are we willing to follow? Are we willing to humble ourselves by definition – claiming nothing as our own and letting go of our own glory? Are we willing to humble ourselves in practice, becoming servants even to those who at best are indifferent and at worst react violently to us? And are we willing to find our exaltation and reward as joint heirs of Christ rather than in temporal glory on earth? Only when we’re living in this way can we enjoy the unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ that God intended.
This Sunday, our group leaves for M-Fuge mission camp in Philadelphia. Pray for us, that we might all strive for this spirit of unity as a youth group both while we’re gone and when we return. Pray that we’ll extend that effort not just to our youth group, but to all of our church. And pray for God’s grace as you strive for unity with your brothers and sisters in your own little corner of Christendom. And as you undertake this difficult, gritty task, keep 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 in mind.