Summary: An expository sermon that instructs us how to achieve unity in our churches

Unity Comes Through Humility – Philippians 2.1-11

Meassage given by John Stensrud at Immanuel Baptist Church on Sunday, June 10, 2001

Tonto and the Lone Ranger were riding through a canyon together when all of a sudden both sides were filled with Indian warriors on horses, dressed for battle. The Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and asked, "What are we going to do?" Tonto replied, "What you mean ’we,’ Whiteman?"

I remember watching the Lone Ranger as a kid every Saturday. In reality this opening anecdote was not my childhood impression of the masked man and his faithful sidekick. They were my heroes and they made a highly effective team against the forces of evil. The Lone Ranger was not really alone—he had Tonto. There’s only one thing I don’t understand – why the script-writers of the Lone Ranger would name the Lone Ranger’s true blue companion “Tonto?” Did you know that Tonto means “stupid or foolish” in Spanish? In reality, the Lone Ranger was not alone and Tonto wasn’t stupid. They fought together against evil. The alliance between them leads us to a very important biblical principle—that our team as the body of Christ must work together—to be interdependent in a spiritual battle against evil and the works of the Devil. But if we choose to go it alone becoming Lone Rangers literally without our comrades, then that would be foolish.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."

Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People writes: "Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve the greatest success."

Our text this a.m. is in part a continuation of the last 3 vss. of chapter 1. Our text begins with the word “therefore.” Whenever we see the word “therefore” we need to ask “what is the therefore there for?”

Vss. 1&2 “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Let’s rewind the tape 3 vss. back to vs. 27 – Remember from last week that Paul exhorts the Philippian Church to “Conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” He has high expectations for them, and for us. In vs. 27 He longs to hear “that they are standing firm in one spirit, w/ one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” God hopes the same for us at Immanuel Baptist Church.

Unity in our church is essential for us to accomplish our mission. Like the Philippians, we also must have unity. But this begs the question: “What are we to be unified about?” “What is our rallying point?” Should we base our unity on the fact that we’re American Baptists? Is our foundation of unity our belief in believer’s baptism by immersion? How about this -- should our unity be based upon the heritage of this church--that our parents, uncles, aunts, in-laws, cousins, nephews or nieces or friends may have been members of this church? In part, yes. But what is the preeminent foundation for unity? The bedrock of Paul’s existence was that the gospel was advanced, that Christ was preached and proclaimed. That was his passion, and his purpose for living. Therefore, it must be our passion and purpose.

Now that we have established the biblical basis for our unity as a church, then we need to live out that unity, put shoe leather on our solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Christ at Immanuel Baptist Church.

Our text this morning in a nutshell, boiled down, teaches us How we can achieve that unity in our church and what we can expect as a result of unity – Again, How we can achieve unity at Immanuel Baptist Church and what we can expect as a result of unity.

Ill. Donkeys are rather stupid animals I am told. I don’t have much experience with these stubborn beasts of burden. I am told that donkeys are a particularly dense species of animal. Especially when it comes to self-defense. When in danger, donkeys will form a circle with their long faces outward, kicking their rear legs inward. That’s just the opposite of what they should do, don’t you agree? So, they end up kicking their fellow donkeys in the backsides instead of kicking outward toward their enemies. Isn’t that what some churches do in the face of change, in the face of perceived danger. There is “Donkey Churches” spread out all over our land. A dime a dozen. They are so busy kicking themselves in their backsides that everyone gets hurt, everyone gets mad, everyone gets offended, and they have as much harmony as the bray of a donkey.

In the 1st 2 vss. of chapter 2, Paul appeals to the Philippians. Like a lawyer presenting his case before a jury in a courtroom, he continues his exhortations from the preceding 3 vss. of chapter 1: “Therefore, (or having already told you Philippians the importance of unity in the previous chapter) if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent one purpose.”

Unity was in the forefront of Paul’s mind. We all agree that people that lack good sense are like foolish “donkeys.” The million-dollar question is, “How do we avoid becoming a “donkey church?” If we choose to ignore the words of the bible, then we have the chance of a one-legged man in a punt and kick contest of achieving unity based upon our purpose and mission as a church. As Francis Schaffer has said, in view of what the bible says (in this case, Philippians 2.1-11), “How then shall we live?” In other words, how is unity achieved?

Unity in the local church is achieved as we take a Christ-like servant attitude toward one another. Let me put that another way: Church unity comes by means of humility. The way up for our church is down. Harmony is achieved through taking a servant-like attitude toward each other in our church.

1. This Unity demands that we be like-minded (that we get along).

2. This Unity is based on a common love (our love for Jesus Christ).

3. This Unity expresses itself through sharing mutual beliefs and values. (Taking a Christian World-view)

4. This Unity is realized when our congregation adopts a common purpose. (The Advancement of the Gospel)

Any other reason, is secondary to getting along with each other at Immanuel Baptist Church, it takes a back seat when it comes to our collective love for Jesus Christ, it’s less important than having values and beliefs based upon the bible, it’s inferior when it comes to our mission—the advancement of the gospel to our friends, family, and community.

For the sake of clarity, I have broken down our passage in a simple outline form – I try to use the old acronym: K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid I have discovered 4 divisions of thought from our text in chapter 2, vss. 1-11.

Remember that the main idea is “How we can achieve and maintain unity at Immanuel Baptist Church and what we can expect as a result of unity”

1. Unity is restated as being essential to our mission as a church. (Vss. 1-2) We have already established that.

2. Unity in our church is achieved by acquiring 2 key attitudes: (vss. 3-4)

A. An attitude of humility (vs. 3)

B. An attitude of focusing on the needs of others

as well as our own needs (vs. 4)

3. Unity in our church is achieved by being like Jesus Christ (vss. 5-8)

A. Following His humble attitude and actions.

(Vss. 5-7)

B. Practicing His example of submission to God

the Father at all costs (vs. 8)

4. Unity once achieved through a humble attitude and obedience to God results in honor and high esteem. (The way up is Down) (Vss. 9-11)

Firstly, in vss. 1 & 2 Unity is restated as being essential to our mission as a church.

Paul expresses the importance of unity by using the expression, “If there is any . . . encouragement, if there is any . . . consolation (or tenderness) of love, if there is any . . . fellowship with the Holy Spirit, if there is any . . . soft-heartedness and compassion.

What’s he saying? Paul is using an expression of appeal. It’s a plea. We use it when we’re appealing to someone’s conscience: I might say, “if you had any common decency, if you had a smidgen of being a gentleman, if you had any common sense, if you had the least bit of consideration for others, then . . . you would act or behave in a certain manner.” For example, “if you had any regard for your personal hygiene, you would take a shower once a week, whether you needed it or not.”

Paul, after exhorting the Philippian Church, asks them to “Make his joy complete.” How? By living a life in the context of the church by exhibiting unity – in particular, to begin with, “like-mindedness.” He’s not asking us to be cookie-cutter Christians – he’s encouraging us to think alike biblically.

He then encourages us to “maintain the same love.” But love for what or for whom? It’s having a mutual, unconditional love for others, having a similar charity towards fellow believers and for the lost.

He goes on to encourage us to have like-mindedness in our attitude. The 3 Musketeers give us an idea of the meaning here when they lived by the adage, ‘One for all, all for one.’ “Esprit de corps” is built when we find a purpose that we feel passionate about—something that we have in common with people of like mind.

Finally, he encourages the Philippians and us to live life purposefully with a common goal or objective in mind. I fear that our society by default, lives aimlessly, except from acquiring all the creature comforts that they can obtain. Our going for the gusto has been reduced -- it has come to mean our preference for a brand of beer instead of having a vitality for life based upon the purpose God has given us as Christians to follow Him, to share our faith and testimony with others, and to love God above all else.

2. Unity in our church is achieved by acquiring 2 key attitudes: (vss. 3-4)

We now arrive at the beginning of how we achieve unity – that oneness that’s so important in the eyes of the Apostle Paul and of God. We are all in agreement that unity is important. Now, how do we get it? Unity is achieved through humility. That’s the theme of our passage. Sounds simple, right? The idea is not complicated but real Christian “koinonia” or fellowship is not so easy to come by. I think I know why, don’t you?

Vs. 3. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own interests, but the interests of others.

1. We all tend to want our own way. “It’s my way or the highway.” The Greek word for “selfishness” can also mean engaging in rivalry or being envious toward one another. These are the characteristics of “donkey churches.” They extinguish our unity.

2. Another unity killer is just plain “conceitedness.” This can take many forms, but the result is always the same. Our egos are bruised when we think too highly of ourselves than we ought. The Greek word for “empty conceit” is a compound word broken up into 2 parts: the first part has a meaning of something that is “unfounded” or “without reason.” It’s being pretentious. Use of the first word of the compound was used in describing “a camel crossing the desert empty or unladen with cargo.” To the Middle Eastern mind, that camel was not put to good use and was not delivering the goods. It’s like a braggart that says he can do something, but when the time comes to “put up or shut up” he “can’t deliver the goods.” The second part of this compound word is the word from which we get the word “doxology.” It is singing one’s own praises, glorying in oneself. Put together, this word means “to have an elevated view of oneself that has no basis in reality” – “a puffed up attitude that is without any good reason.” An attitude like this is dangerous. God says “He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

3. Then we often have difficulty when Paul asks us to have a humble attitude that regards others as more important than ourselves. As a disclaimer, this does not mean that we are to put ourselves down. We just need to view ourselves in an accurate perspective.

The most practical test of whether we have this attitude is proven by our listening skills. Are we constantly thinking of what we are going to say as another person is talking or are we trying to listen and learn from others and allow them to speak? I’m afraid that I fall woefully short of this standard. Often, I can’t wait to tell others what I think, how important my views are.

1 Cor 13:4 “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”

2 Cor 10:17 "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." 18 For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

4. Finally we are all prone to self-centeredness. It’s so easy to think that we are the at the hub of the universe--that the world revolves around us. The cure is supernatural. It comes from asking God to make a paradigm shift in our lives—where we look out for the interests of others. The word in the original is the word the English word “scope” is derived. A telescope is an excellent tool for exploring the heavens, but is of no value as a microscope. Our scope or focus, if exclusively on ourselves, will condemn us to the tyranny of our own self-centeredness.

What this has to do with the unity of our church should be abundantly evident. If we adopt an attitude of humility instead of self-importance, of other-centeredness instead of self-centeredness, of regarding the views of others of greater importance, if we avoid unfounded self-glory and glory in Christ Jesus, then our church will thrive, we will live together in harmony (not perfect harmony because whenever there are a group of people gathered together for a certain cause, there is bound to be some friction) for together we stand, and apart from one another we fall.

3. Unity in our church is achieved by being like Jesus Christ (vss. 5-8)

Vs. 5 “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” Lit. in the original in the imperative, or command form “Have this mindset”

This is not a suggestion. It means like the Nike commercials, “Just do it.” You and I are expected to develop the attitude and actions that Jesus had. By virtue of the word, Christian, meaning “like Christ,” we are to be like Christ. To be called a Christian and act or live some other way is contrary to the definition of the word Christian.

Vs. 6 “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,”

Let no one doubt that Jesus was God. He was co-equal with the Father. How many times in the Bible are we told that Jesus was divine?

John 10:30 “I and my Father are one.”

John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

John 1:14 “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,)

Vs. 7 “But He emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

These verses describe what theologians call t “kenosis.” “Kenosis” means lit. “To empty oneself.” Jesus laid aside all his privileges as God out of His love for the father and his love for us. But care must be taken here. Some say that Christ emptied Himself of His deity when He came to the earth. But He did not. He emptied Himself of His divine privileges, but not of His immortality, His deity. He temporarily imposed upon Himself human limitations so He could identify with and become a sacrifice for mankind. He was then and always will be 100% God and 100% man.

In vss. 5-8 Paul presents to us an example, a pattern to follow. We need to be like Jesus. The word Christian means to be “ A Christ One” -- “A little Christ” Jesus began with a certain mindset. This mindset was a particular attitude that the Apostle Paul commands us to emulate – it is a mindset bent on service to others as opposed to others serving us.

Having His attitude or lit. “Mindset”

a. He didn’t insist upon his divine rights or

privileges even though He was God of the Universe.

b. He “emptied himself” for a limited time of

His divine attributes

c. He redefined the meaning of leadership, not

lording it over others but leading through

service to others.

d. He condescended Himself taking on “the

morphology” or form of men.

e. He allowed Himself to undergo the humiliation

of being treated as a criminal out of obedience

to the Father so as to atone for our sins.

1. Unity once achieved through a humble attitude, submission, and obedience to God results in honor and high esteem. (The way up is Down) (Vss. 9-11)

The result of His attitude is paradoxical to the unregenerate human mind. The world teaches us to strive after the 3 deadly “P’s” as the priority of our lives: They are:

1. Power

2. Prestige

3. Possessions

The Word of God teaches that the way to glory and exaltation is through humility, not through the pursuit of the 3 “P’s”

I want something to burn into our minds. Paul writes to the Philippians for a purpose as he wrote to other churches or persons for a reason. Evidently, there was a party spirit in the church. There were undoubtedly divisions within the church. There were personalities in the church that insisted on their own way. Philippi was a cosmopolitan city with people from a variety of backgrounds. So there was the issue of dealing with diversity. Paul writes this letter to lay down guidelines and principles to safeguard the unity of the church. We hear so often of church splits, fights among fellow believers in the body, discord, and cliques. He knew all too well the heart of men and women – their propensity toward selfishness, the insistence upon one’s own rights, having one’s own way. Paul also knew that a house divided against itself could not stand—at least not for long. That’s why we must take to heart the exhortations that he gives to us as members and friends of Immanuel Baptist Church. Times change but human nature has not changed. Not one iota.

In conclusion, if we follow Christ’s example, then as a result we, like Christ, will be lifted up. Exalted. But we need to be a united team and we all need to get involved to make this church thrive, grow, and bear fruit. Prayer is the very lifeblood of a productive future for us of Immanuel Baptist Church. Unity is the heartbeat that keeps that lifeblood flowing.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers once said, and I am paraphrasing the quotation to remove any archaisms, “When a person’s heart is so stirred that he weeps over the sins of others, he is ready to be used. Soul winners are people who weep over the lost. As there is no birth without labor, so there’s no spiritual harvest without work on our part. When our hearts are broken with grief at man’s transgression we shall break other men’s hearts: solemn tears bring forth tears of repentance and salvation.

If we want joy....we must weep. I’m afraid that like many of our Major League baseball teams the Evangelical Church has traded off what I would call the Weeper. They have traded him and also like many of our baseball teams they have made some very bad trades. Like the Cubs when they traded Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio in the early 60’s. That makes me sad even to this day.

1. They have traded the Weepers for Beepers. Beepers are those who always have something to honk about. They are those ones who can always find the reason why something can’t be done. There are always plenty of beepers. The church-at-large has traded the Weepers for Beepers but Beepers can’t be Reapers in the Kingdom of God, right?

2. They have then traded the Weepers for Deepers. Deepers are those who suffer from spiritual pride. They have traded the Weepers for Deepers but neither can Deepers be Reapers in the Kingdom of God.

3. The church has traded the Weepers for Sleepers. Those are the ones who come into church and if they don’t go to sleep, they plan out next year’s vacation. They plan out their afternoon. Well, I’ve been there. I won’t be a hypocrite. I haven’t always been fully awake during sermons given by other pastors. My eyes have glossed over in my time, and my chin has hit my chest waking me up just in time for the benediction. The minds of the sleepers are just about anywhere else but on the worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Weepers have also been traded for Sleepers but Sleepers can’t be Reapers in the Kingdom of God either.

4. They have traded the Weepers for Creepers. Creepers are those who are bound by tradition. Tradition is good if it meets the needs of the lost and hurting of our community. But it can also be harmful if it becomes a “comfort zone” at the expense of the furtherance of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Creepers favorite saying is “Why, we never done it that way before.” They just want the church to creep along. The Creepers would rather see their church slowly sink into irrelevancy by staying the same like a torpedoed ship as it is gradually swallowed up by the deep blue sea. The Evangelical Church has traded their Weepers for Creepers but Creepers by definition cannot be Reapers in the Kingdom of God.

5. The Church Universal has traded their Weepers for Peepers. Let me explain. They are the observers in the bunch. Someone has said that in a Division 1 football game there are 50,000 people watching the game who are in desperate need of exercise and 22 men on the field in desperate need of rest. They are content to come in and watch others do all the work. Now there are some who because of health reasons or advanced age who cannot do as much as they could at one time. That is understandable. They have traded the weepers for peepers but peepers cannot be reapers in the Kingdom of God either.

But everyone can pray. And I ask that you would pray for our deacons, for our musicians, for our Sunday School Superintendent, for the trustees, for our moderator and Chairman of finance, for our Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, for our mission board, for our children, for our choir, for our ushers, and please pray for me. I need your prayers because I live or die by the prayers of my congregation. And pray for unity of vision, unity of purpose, unity of mission. That is what our passage is all about. And it is relevant for us today as it was 2000 years ago when this letter was written.