Summary: God gives unity as a fruit of Christ-likeness.
A young man in our church in Omaha described a really godly person as, “smelling like Jesus.” We should not take that too literally since a first century Jewish man, with few baths and no Right Guard, probably did not smell fresh and clean! But hopefully you get the point—some Christians are so led by the Spirit, so controlled by the love of God, so renewed by the Word, that they “smell like Jesus.”
Philippians 2 pleads with God’s people to unite in joyful ministry. I chose the sermon title (which seems unrelated to the topic) because the Bible teaches that unity results from each of us being more like Jesus. The closer we draw to God, the closer God draws us to one another.
[Read Philippians 2.1-4. Pray.]
Tonto and the Lone Ranger were riding through a canyon together when hundreds of Indian warriors on horseback suddenly appeared on the rim, dressed for battle. The Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and asked, “What are we going to do?” Tonto replied, “What you mean ‘we,’ White-man?” (from, In Search of Unity, Edward Dobson, pp. 20-27).
That is an old joke, but it does remind us of one reason for unity in the church: it is necessary for survival. The work of the kingdom is too great for us to “go it alone.” We will fail unless we unite in ministry.
Ecclesiastes 4.9-12: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow…. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Unity enables survival.
It also empowers our witness. In John 17.21, Jesus prays for us: “That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” A selfless and shared vision and passion and love and ministry is so rarely seen in the world that when we have it, people will take notice and say, “Maybe God is really among you!”
There are other reasons for unity (worth study); but these verses are about the source of unity: our smelling like Jesus!
As we begin, please remember that unity is both a supernatural work of God and a result of our effort. If we seek unity apart from dependence on the grace, we will not achieve it. Likewise, if we trust God, but are unwilling to change, unity will not result either. We will not find unity without prayer; but neither will we find it with only prayer! We must pray and work, for God is working in us. With that in mind, notice please, first, that…
1. Unity Depends on Experiencing God’s Grace (Philippians 2.1-2)
God provides four sources of grace-producing unity:
1.1. The Grace of Jesus’ Encouragement
Philippians 2.1a: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ…”
“Encouragement,” translates, [Greek word] [pa-ra’-klay-sis], which I mention only because some of you will know the English word, “Paraclete.” Jesus calls the Holy Spirit, [Greek word], [pa-ra’-klay-tos], “the Paraclete,” the one who comes along side to help and comfort and encourage.
When we were in Chicago our church participated in the community Labor Day parade. We built a float and marched in the parade and met people and gave out candy and invitations to a church event. Our float had a large, wooden sun with rays sticking out. Maybe some of you have tried to glue the butt end of two pieces of wood together. If so, you know it is difficult to align and hold them while the glue sets. The key is to cut grooves in both pieces of wood and insert a “biscuit” which fits tightly in each groove. The two pieces are then aligned and held in unity by the “encouragement” of the biscuit.
Similarly, Jesus lines up the lives of believers so they work and hold together. When we as a church know Jesus, then he comes between us and hold us in unity in ministry and fellowship and patience and all the other ways in which God is at work. The grace of Jesus’ encouragement brings unity.
1.2. The Grace of God’s Love
Philippians 2.1b: “…any comfort from love…”
Romans 5.5 reminds us that Christians have “God’s love… poured into [their] hearts through the Holy Spirit….” God’s love forces Christians together.
James Boice, Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church (PCA) Philadelphia explains this well: “Paul knew that Christians are hard to get along with. They were probably as hard to get along with in his day as they are in ours. But Paul also knew that the Christian had a duty to see more than the other Christian’s faults. The Christian must also see the person, and he must love him with a love patterned on the love with which God the Father loves us. The person who really loves the other Christian in this way will not seek to separate from him because he is cantankerous or because he sees some minor doctrine differently. He will seek to know him, to learn from him, and to help him on spiritually as both together advance in the Christian life” (Philippians, in. loc.).