The crucial importance of Unity.
What are you pursuing to make yourself happy? Career trajectory? Dream of a family?
Look at the apostle Paul. We know from reading the letter that he is in prison in Rome, he is chained up and facing possible execution. But incredibly he says (v..) that his joy is almost complete. He is almost full of joy. How wonderful. And, there is someting, he says, that would make his joy complete.. this is his immediate priority, his main prayer, this is what will give him happiness, satisfaction, peace. Not release from prison, Not relief of his circumstances.. that’s not what will complete his joy. The thing Paul longs for is deep unity in the church.. in Philipi and presumably everywhere. That’s Paul’s passion.
When you read the whole letter it doesn’t seem like there were huge fall outs, factions or warfare in the Philippian church plant. A bit of grumbling and arguing 2v14 A few disagreements 4v1, But Paul isn’t just looking to merely stop negative behaviour he’s longing to see deep authentic comm-unity.
Look at what he says in v2 ‘make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.’ There’s a depth of relationship here that goes way beyond being part of the same club, or recognising a familiar face or knowing someone’s name. Paul is talking about a unity of minds and emotions and wills. Thinking together, loving one another deeply, pursuing a common purpose together..
We’ve been saying that this book Philippians constantly challenges us with the Question what is the life worth living? what’s primary? what’s best? what really counts? Well this is Paul’s absolute priority. His happiness hangs on this. It’s more important than his freedom.
What about you and I? If you are a christian. Is the deep relational unity of the church your supreme goal?
Why is it so important? Here’s why ..
[70th anniversary of DDay] Our daily news is scarred with the disunity of our world. At very scale, environmental, global, national, local, personal we encounter broken relationships.
But the message of Christianity is that through Jesus Christ God has put a plan in motion that will one day heal the disunity of the world completely. In his death on the cross, Jesus Christ bore the consequences of all our brokenness. Jesus resurrection is the absolute proof of a future hope for the entire world and the church is the beginnings of that future reality. The church - people who’ve been brought back into friendship with God. Imperfect as we are, we are the sign to the world of that future reality, unity. We are the advert, the sign post!
Look at how Paul seeks to persuade the Philippian church to be who they are.
v1 Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit then make my joy complete by being ONE
it’s wonderful to share common interest or common history with friends - shared love of a particular kind of music or sport; shared memories. But these things do not come close to what it means to be part of the church - if you are united with Christ and so am I, If you’ve experienced his love and so have I, If his Holy Spirit dwells in you as he does in me. The you and I are inextricably bound up with one another. We are brothers and sisters.
God has a good plan for this world. One day he will put it right. He will bring harmony, peace, life. Now we may question God’s wisdom on this but the church is the foretaste of that future.
It’s the show home for the estate that is yet to be built. This is why Paul is so concerned that the church lives up to her calling.
Well how are we doing here in Dalston?
Do we love each other deeply? Do we even know each other deeply?
We need help to do this don’t we?
God knows that. Paul knows it. And that’s why for the rest of the passage he will talk about the pride that stands in the way and the humility that comes from Jesus.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
It’s worth being aware at this point that our current cultural ethos of ‘expressive individualism’ is very negative about concepts of humility. low self esteem is the cause of all our social ills.
here is a place where the bible flys in the face of our culture by talking about the prison of pride and the freedom of humility..
The prison of Pride
let’s think first about pride. and we could talk for hours but we’ll limit ourselves to just a few ideas that arise out of the text.. rivalry, emptiness and self centredness.
Paul says ‘do nothing out of selfish ambition.’ The word carries the idea of rivalry or competitiveness and shows us how pride robs us of life. It is summed up in the brutal honesty of the american writer Gore Vidal who once said,
‘It is not enough to succeed, others must fail.
Whenever a friend succeeds a little something in me dies.’
Here’s CS Lewis: ‘Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person.’
Many of you know that I used to be an actor. And people sometimes ask me ‘oh so do you enjoy going to the theatre?’ and I sometimes say, I don’t really because i find it too painful because I’d love to be doing what they’re doing. It’s struck me.. Isn’t that sad? - that pride robs me of that pleasure! - Rivalry
what about emptiness?
Paul’s second phrase, ‘vain conceit’.. alludes perhaps to the source of our prideful strivings. In the greek its a conflation of two words keno (from kenosis: to empty) and doxia meaning glory. So in the KJV this is translated ‘vain-glory’ - it could mean bringing glory to yourself - that’s pride. But it actually points to our human condition. We are glory empty. We’re hungry.. for honour, respect, assurance because we sense deeply that we are people of importance and yet we don’t feel it. We feel lost. We’re hungry but we’re empty and so we’re striving..
We’re like this, the Bible says because we were made to live forever but we have turned away from God and therefore we’re fading. We were made never to be forgotten, to stand in the presence of God and to get his favour. We were made to last. But turned away from God we know we’re, fading, dying, we’re going to be forgotten. And so we desperately look to everyone we can to get them to say ‘you’re good, you’re worthwhile, you’re important, you’re significant.’ There’s emptiness so We use people to bolster our fragile sense of self.
and that’s the last of our threefold characteristics - self centredness
The essence of pride is the self. self absorption, self importance even self pity. It’s a crucial insight that the pride that stands in the way of community can manifest itself in inferiority as much as superiority in low self esteem, fear and self pity as much as in arrogance and haughtiness. Because at the heart of pride is love of self. And the fearful person is just as absorbed in themselves as the self righteous person!
You know when you’re going about your daily life you’re not constantly aware of your body are you..? You don’t keep thinking - hey my elbow is so cool. or hey check out my knees the way they bend like that! You only become conscious of your body when something’s broken; not right. When you’ve broken your toe - you’re suddenly regularly aware, in a way that you were not before, of your toe. You’re painfully aware of it. That’s how it is with our bodies. The parts of our bodies only draw attention to themselves when there is something is wrong. What about our egos? Our sense of self? I’m constantly thinking about myself. Aren’t you? ‘How am i doing? How am i looking? I really like myself.. I really hate myself.. what does he think of me? I really wish I had that. why did she say that.? She hurt my feelings.’ The ego is constanly drawing attention to itself because there is something unbelievably wrong with it! the prison of pride
rivalry, emptiness, self importance
what’s the cure?
the freedom of humility
v3 in humility consider others better than yourselves, 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.
what is humility according to the Bible?
and how do you get it?
Well here’s what it isn’t?
Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself.. -‘everyone’s better than me.’ that’s not humility that’s just another form of pride.. self concern, self pity.
No - Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself less.. Humility is the freedom of self forgetfulness.
[wouldn’t you want to know the freedom of humility? pp34-5 keller]
Wouldn’t you want to be a person who considered others better than yourself, looked to the interests of others, with honour and love?
How do you get that? How do you get Humility?
Here’s Paul’s answer. vv5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. And then Paul breaks into song. It’s a hymn - a hymn of praise to Jesus Christ..
Here’s what I think Paul is not doing here:
He’s not just telling us to follow Jesus example of humility. He’s not telling us to work on our humility. Because … You can’t! You can’t work on humility directly. If true humility is self forgetfulness as soon as you start thinking.. ‘now am i humble? i’d really like to be humble. Was i humble just then. yeah i think i was.. Doh!’ Humility is the shyest of virtues. You can’t talk to humility without it going away..
No, You can’t work on humility. It has to be a bi-product of something else.
The answer is you look away from yourself at another: Jesus Christ. And not to analyse and compare. This is not a list of Jesus’ qualities to imitate. Paul gives us a hymn of Jesus’ love to sing to our souls. It’s music to capture your heart. See that’s what we need - to have the emptiness of our hearts filled with true glory. The glory of Jesus Christ. We need to see him!
And there’s a word in v7 that captures Jesus glory. It’s that little phrase ‘he made himself nothing’ for us! You know what that word is? Kenosis. Sounds familiar “He emptied himself.’ That you and I might be filled.
I don’t know the tune - and i’d feel a bit embarassed singing a solo anyway so i’ll read it: Notice the into 3 great movements
Movement 1 vv6-7 The incarnation Jesus the eternal glorious God chose to become human
Movement 2 The atonenment v8 Jesus came to serve by suffering and dying on a cross
Movement 3 The exaltation vv9-11 In response to this glorious act of loving service God the father raised Jesus and exalted him to the highest place!
Here is the glory of Jesus you see. The glory of God - is in humility.
He emptied himself so we could be full.
He did this because incredibly in humility he considers us more important than himself.
He says of us ‘you to me are more valuable than all the jewells in the earth.’
When his love fills our hearts. We are set free from the desperate self centred search to fill our own emptiness. We are able to discover the freedom of humilty
the way up is down
the way to be truly rich is to become pure.
the way to become inflintely happy is to pursue the happiness of others