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(011) Philippians 07: Moving Towards Unity

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Philippians VII: Moving Toward Unity

Philippians 2:1-4

December 9, 2007

I’m sorry, today I’m going to start with another history lesson.

·         You forgot to groan!

This isn’t about the Philippians, but about the early church.

A church divided

Q: What are the three main divisions of Christianity?

A: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant.

Q: Do you know why these groups split from each other?

Q: In other words, why do we have denominations?

By the end of the first century, the early church developed an authority structure of regional bishops who were over their area, but did not have authority over each other.

They met together for the occasional council to decide theological issues, but otherwise they were autonomous. At the same time, they all considered themselves one church.

·         Of these bishops, the bishop of Rome held an honored position.

·         He was called “the first among equals.”

The East-West Schism

By the end of the 5th century AD, this balance of power began to fall apart and the church began to have two separate groups:

The Western church, in Italy and to the west (which later became the Roman Catholics), and the Eastern Church, which came to be know as the Orthodox church.

They still considered themselves to be one church, but they became increasingly divided for a variety of reasons:

·         The Roman Empire began to fall apart, and the church no longer had a common government to hold them together.

·         They were separated by language (Latin in the West and Greek in the East).

·         Disagreements about church practices, such as whether or not communion bread should have yeast (That’s a big deal!).

·         They also disagreed about whether priest should marry – now that is a big deal!

·         The biggest theological fight was whether the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father, or the Father and Son.

·         There was a huge fight over who got to evangelize Bulgaria.

But the biggest difference came down to the chain of authority. The Catholic Church submitted to the bishop of Rome, now called the Pope, but Orthodox still saw him as “first among equals.”

The last straws

Tensions rose and fell for a good 500 years, until the 11th century. The Normans, who were part of the Catholic Church conquered some of the Greek territory and began to force the Orthodox churches to adopt Catholic practices.

In response, the primary bishop of the Orthodox Church, the Patriarch of Constantinople, told the Catholic churches in his territory to adopt Orthodox practices.

·         They refused, so he shut them down, and things went downhill from there.

The Pope, Leo the Ninth, sent a delegation to mend things, but the man he sent was arrogant and hot-headed. Unfortunately, the Patriarch of Constantinople was also arrogant and hot-headed. Not surprisingly, things did not go well.

·         Long story short: the meeting ended with them excommunicating each other.

This is considered the beginning of the “Great Schism” (“schism meaning “division”). Things might have still been repairable, except that during the Forth Crusade (150 years later), the Catholic army destroyed Constantinople. One ancient account:

For three days they murdered, raped, looted and destroyed on a scale which even the ancient Vandals...would have found unbelievable.[They] destroyed indiscriminately, halting to refresh themselves with wine, violation of nuns, and murder of Orthodox [priests].

·         And all this done in the name of God, brother against brother.

What was it that Jesus said – the world will know that we are his disciples by our love, right?

Sermon summery

In today’s passage, Paul makes a plea for unity in the body of Christ. Had it been heeded, all of that could have been avoided.

·         If Christians heeded it today, a lot of pain could be avoided.

Let turn to Philippians 2:1-5, page 831 in your pew Bibles. Today’s sermon we will talk about what unity is, what it isn’t, and how to get it.

·         By the way, you will be interested to know that the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church finally got around to lifting those excommunications – 42 years ago, last Friday (12/7/65).

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:1-4 NIV

Internal attacks

Last week, Paul talked about how Christians should respond to attacks from the outside, but the greatest damage to the church has always comes from the inside, not the outside. 

Q: Statistically speaking, do you if you are more likely to die from something internal or external?

You are at least 15 times more likely to die by internal causes than external.

·         I wonder how many more christians have been spiritually injured by events within the church than attacks without.

When I was back in college we were studying Colossians in my Greek class. We got to a passage that said:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5 MIV

The main emphasis is on “Greed” because Paul singles it out for further explanation. Our professor, Mark Duzik said that he though that “greed” was a reference to a lust for power.

We said it seemed strange that Paul put more emphasis on that then on sexual immorality. Then he said, “That because you’re not married and all you can think about is not having sex.

We laughed nervously, and he, “I‘m serious. Sexual immorality certainly is damaging, but it’s nothing compared to the damage caused by power struggles and disunity in the church.”

·         Based on our little history lesson, I think he was right.

Make my joy complete

In verse 2, Paul says, “Make my joy complete...” which is a very mild rebuke.

Things are going reasonably well in Philippi, but Paul’s biggest concern is a lack of unity. First, he reminds us of the benefits that we have as Christians:

1. If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ – both in the sense of being encouraged by Christ and being pushed, encouraged to grow.

2. If any comfort from his love – solace in the hard times.

3. If any fellowship with the Spirit – the indwelling of the Spirit that each of us received at salvation.

4. If any tenderness – God’s affection for us (“bowels”).

5. If any compassion – mercy, pity, not getting punishment we deserve. 

Shared benefits

These are all things that we have received from God, which we should in turn give to each other:

·         Since God is merciful to us, we must be merciful to others.

·         Since Christ has comforted us, we should comfort others.

·         Since we have fellowship with the Sprit, we should bring others into fellowship.

In the light of all God has done in us, Paul call us to unity, by saying “be like-minded.” And the passage gives us four changes we need to make to grow in unity.

1. Move from discord to harmony being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Philippians 2:2 NIV

Unity requires the shared love of God that we all hold in common and a shared purpose. When Paul says “be like-minded,” it could be translated as “be in harmony.”

·         Think of symphony, many different instruments, each with their own part, playing together under a conductor, in harmony.

Unity does not mean uniformity. Like-minded doesn’t mean we have to be the same. Paul uses the body as an analogy for the church – many different parts working together for the same goal.

·         It doesn’t mean we agree on everything or always get along.

Q: What’s the only conflict-free gathering of people?

A: A cemetery! That’s the only place you will find that many people that close together not fighting!

·         Where there is life, there is conflict – and that’s okay.

Where there are differences, there will be disagreements. We are better and stronger for our difference.

Q: What do we call a church were everyone thinks exactly alike?

A: A cult!

·         The key to unity is not “not disagreeing.”

·         The key is knowing when to comment and when to overlook.

Church on a bus

Several years ago I went to a wedding in LA. Because I am so cheap, I choose the cheapest rental car, which meant I had to take a shuttle to the rental agency.

I was the only passenger, so the diver and I started talking and quickly found we were both Christians. I will always remember that feeling of connectedness with a stranger, through the body of Christ on that bus in LA.

·         From something he said I knew I had some theological difference with him – but that did not matter.

·         Had I been his pastor, it might have mattered, and I might have pursued it.

Unity with out uniformity requires grace and the discernment to know when to comment and when to overlook.

Local and universal

That experience brings up another point: Unity occurs on two levels and crucial on both:

1. Unity between all believers – there is truly only one Church, and every Christian is a part of the church universal.

2. Unity in each congregation.

In both areas, unity means we recognize that we’re part of the same family, we’re on the same team, and we have the same objectives. The difference lies in the degree of harmony need.

·         Unity with Christians from other churches only requires agreement on the main points – Jesus being Lord and Savior.

·         Unity within a church requires some level of agreement on core theology, the church’s mission, core values, and methodology.

If someone thinks drums are from the devil, it might be hard for them to worship with us!

·         I know a drummer who was told that, and he responded, “That can’t be lady; I beat the hell out of them every Sunday!”

The value of denominations

BTW: I believe that there is a real value to denominations. No one church can adequately serve the entire span of personalities and preferences in the Body of Christ.

·         There are a hundred different ways to do church – this is one.

·         If this doesn’t fit someone, that’s okay.

When I was at His Place, I would frequently direct people to other churches if His Place wasn’t a fit – to Christ the King, Emmanuel Baptist, or here.

And I will continue to do that here. I have no interest in simply building this church; I want to see God’s church grow.

In harmony?

As we look at our harmony in the church, here’s question to ask yourself:

Q: Am I in harmony with the church’s core elements?

Granted, those elements are in flux a little bit with a new pastor, but the central things are staying the same.

·         If you find yourself at odds with any of TG core components, I encourage you to discuss them things with me or another elder.

Many disagreements spring from misunderstandings or innocent mistakes. It is crucial to go the source as soon as possible.

·         So Paul calls us to move from discord to harmony.

2. Move from building my kingdom to building God’s kingdom

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit...  Philippians 2:3 NIV

Ambition is not wrong. God has given each of us gifts and talents, and failing to use them to the fullest is an insult to the gift. We should be ambitious, pushing ourselves.

Q: The question, who are we trying to glorify?

The word translated “vain conceit” is made up of the words “empty” and “glory.” The only proper object of glory is God. Whenever we try to bring glory to ourselves, it will only be an empty and hollow glory.

·         The Great Schism was a direct result of self-seeking men worrying more about their kingdoms than God’s.

Anytime we seek to build our kingdom at the expense of God’s, anytime we seek to be glorified rather than bringing glory to God, we will destroy the unity of the church.

Q: At work, at home, and in the church, whose kingdom am I building?

·         So unity means moving from discord to harmony, from building our kingdom to God’s.

3. Move from pride to humility

A good definition of pride is the need to compare oneself to others. Pride shouts “Look at me, I’m really something!”

Humility is the freedom to be ourselves without comparison. It means being confident in God’s love and acceptance. Paul’s antidote to pride:

...but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Philippians 2:3 NIV

It’s not that we have to believe ourselves to be worthless, but if we treat others as if they were better, it strikes a death blow to our need to be the greatest.

Pride is perhaps the most destructive force to unity:

·         Pride is self-reliant. Humility acknowledges that I need you.

·         Pride focus on me, humility focuses on others.

·         Pride covets the success of others, humility celebrates their accomplishments.

·         Pride says serve me, humility says let me serve you.

In short, pride hates everything about unity and community. Unity is impossible without humility.

Delusional Arrogance

Price has been one of my biggest struggles. As a young man, my arrogance bordered on delusional. It prevented me from learning anything from my peers because I knew I was better.

·         So if you went to youth group with me and you wondered why I was so aloof, now you know.

God had to break me and show me that it did not matter how I compared to everyone else, only that he loved and valued me. Rather than building a false security, I learned to let go.

I say as a pastoral plea: We must be a church of humility, both on a personal level and as a congregation.

·         God cannot and will not bless us if we harbor any feeling superiority as a church.

Q: Do I compare myself to other in the body of Christ, hoping to look better?

·         So we move from discord to harmony, from building our kingdom to God’s, from pride to humility.

4. Move from self-focused to others focused.

Finally, unity requires that we be looking out for each other. It’s built on interdependence – we all need each other.

·         Pride is so deadly to unity because it doesn’t need others and doesn’t want to serve

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:4 NIV

In “Intro to Psych” I remember learning that, below a certain age, children literally cannot see something for someone else’s perspective. You can show them a picture of a mountain from two angles and they won’t be able to believe it’s the same mountain.

·         I’m not sure we ever out grow that!

·         Most of the time, we’re not trying to be self-centered, we just forgot not to!

It takes effort to shift our focus from ourselves to others. It’s not in our nature. It takes a lot of work, time, and practice to look to the interest of others.

·         It takes a significant investment into someone’s life just to learn their concerns, let alone look to them!

To build the unity of this church, we must follow the example of our Lord, who came to serve us. We must choose to look beyond ourselves.

Q: Looking around this room, can I name other people’s top concerns?


To conclude, God has done great things to build unity in this church. Many of you have said that this church is more unified and inclusive than it has ever been.

But this is a work in progress, a continuing journey. If we are to truly be a church built on community, we must be a church committed to unity.

·         We must be moving from discord to harmony.

·         We must be moving from building our kingdom to building God’s.

·         We must be moving from pride to humility.

·         We must be moving from being self-focused to others focused.


Father, you know which one of these is the greatest challenge to each of us personally. During our worship, help us reflect and see what changes we need to make.


No communion until after Christmas, because we feel we should be focusing on Christ’s birth. Like communion, the advent wreath is a tangible reminder of an ancient truth. (Invite Brian & Alexis)

Benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14 NIV)

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  Amen.

The following sources were used in preparing this sermon:

“The Rebel’s Guide to Joy in Humility,” a sermon preached by Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church ( on 10/21/07

The New American Commentary (Vol. 32): Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by R. R. Melick.

Word Biblical Commentary (Vol. 43): Philippians by R. P. Martin.

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