The Unity of Love
If nothing else, you need to love the sixties and seventies for their awesome sense of style. The band was “The Brotherhood of Man,” the year was 1970, and the message of the song was spelled out in its title “United we stand, divided we fall.”
Interesting tidbit about the song, one of the song’s co-writers, Tony Hillier, worked at Mills Music and was looking for someone to sing the demo of United we stand. And so he used the company’s office boy Reg Dwight for the recording. Reg Dwight would later go on to change his name to Elton John. That was free.
Jesus made a similar observation when he told his followers in Mark 3:24–26 Jesus said “A kingdom divided by civil war will collapse. Similarly, a family splintered by feuding will fall apart.”
Jesus’ solution is found in John 17, in what is often called “the High Priestly Prayer.”
Jesus prayed this prayer after the Last Supper and before his arrest, here is a portion of that prayer. John 17:20–23 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them, and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.
This is week five of our series on Philippians, and today as we move into chapter 2, we discover that one of Paul’s desires for the church and concerns for the church was its unity.
He writes in Philippians 2:2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
This follows his thoughts from the passage I preached on last week, Philippians 1:27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News.
The desire and prayer of Jesus was that his people would be united in one spirit and one purpose. The desire and prayer of Paul was that the church of Christ would be united in one spirit and one purpose. And the desire and prayer of Denn is that Cornerstone would be united in one spirit and one purpose.
And if you read through the New Testament, you see the writers broaching this topic time and time again, urging the believers to come together as a unified body.
Sometimes you’ll hear people say that they wish the church today was more like the New Testament Church. The reality is that we are like the New Testament church in many ways. Because 2000 years ago, the church consisted of imperfect people, and that is the reality today as well. And imperfect people will never make a perfect church.
However, to be truthful, I have been a Christ follower for almost forty-five years, and I’ve never seen the church; I’m talking “The Church” as a whole, not Cornerstone here.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen the church as fragmented and divided as it is today.
There have always been disagreements in the churches I’ve pastored and in the various churches in the communities where we’ve served. And I’ve often used the words that John Wesley used when at George Whitfield’s funeral. “We agreed to disagree.” And sometimes, we just need to agree to disagree.
As I’ve pastored through the years, I’ve been witness to doctrinal disagreements and stylistic disagreements.
I’ve seen Christians fight about the gifts of the Spirit and whether they were for today.
We’ve fought over what translation of the bible we should read from, whether women should be allowed to preach and whether we should sing contemporary songs or just traditional hymns.
But man, today, we hear those who call themselves Christians fight and split churches over whether we should have worn masks or not during the pandemic. For some, it was a spiritual issue either way.
Some feel that you can’t accept the COVID vaccine and be a Christian, and others feel that if you haven’t had the vaccine, then you’re not a Christian.
South of the border, politics has become a major dividing point in some churches, and even in Canada, the way you vote is seen by some as an indication of your spiritual commitment.
There are Christians fighting over which news channels you should watch and, ultimately, over which version of the “truth” you might believe.
These are not spiritual issues. They might be political issues. They might be issues of personal freedom, but they are not spiritual issues. As a Christian, you might feel like taking a personal stand on those issues, and I have no problem with that. We may just have to agree to disagree but don’t drag the church or Christ into it.
It was theologian Gordon D. Fee who wrote, “Nothing can frustrate the advance of the gospel more, both in a Christian community’s effectiveness in their witness for Christ and in Christians’ individual lives, than internal unrest among believers. The gospel is all about reconciliation, and unreconciled people do not advertise it well.”
So, what can we learn? Let’s go back to the scripture.
Philippians 2:3–4 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
First of all, Paul talks about The Problem.
I don’t think I need to spend time trying to explain what it means to be selfish and what it means to try and impress people and think of yourself as better than others. Most of us understand those terms, and we’ve met people who exemplify them.
Years ago, we would talk about someone being selfish or self-centred. We’d hear things like, “You think you are better than everybody else.” or “Stop acting so selfish.
We’ve redefined that now, and narcissism is a term that is thrown around freely in 2023.
The term Narcissistic means “love of self,” and it comes from a Greek myth about the young hunter Narcissus. Narcissus was known for his beauty, and he was his own biggest fan.
One day while walking by a pool, he saw his own reflection in the water, and not realizing that it was just a reflection, he fell in love with it.
Unable to pull himself away from his reflection, Narcissus lost his will to live, and he stared at his reflection until he died.
In today’s setting, narcissism is defined by the Mayo Clinic this way, “Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition in which people have an unreasonably high sense of their own importance. They need and seek too much attention and want people to admire them. People with this disorder may lack the ability to understand or care about the feelings of others.”
Perhaps, you’re picturing someone in your mind right now. Maybe you’ve even called someone a narcissist. Two years ago, we preached a series on mental health, and in one of the weeks, I dealt with Narcissism and used the Old Testament Prophet Samson as an example and perhaps I may have named a couple of politicians in both the US and Canada. Perhaps.
However, in a recent article by Charles Harper Webb, Ph.D in Psychology Today, we read this warning, “In the last several years, . . . catalyzed, perhaps, by the behaviour of some elected officials—narcissism has become a kind of personality disorder du jour, much discussed by psychotherapists and life coaches, and flung around by laypeople as an all-purpose insult, a highfalutin substitute for names referencing body parts or a birth out of wedlock.”
The article goes on to say, “Narcissism is a serious disorder, yet the term is often overused and misapplied. Some ‘narcissistic’ traits may actually be signs of warranted confidence and self-esteem. The tendency to see narcissism hiding everywhere can make everyday conflicts worse.”
I don’t think Paul was speaking about a mental health disorder here. He was telling people, don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble. Think of others as better than yourselves. And he summed it up by saying, don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
And we’ve all acted selfishly at some point or another. You know that, and if you don’t think you have ever acted selfishly, you are delusional. And in most cases, it’s not a big issue.
Last year I spent some time with Angela exploring the UK and Europe for our 40th anniversary, and for the one person who is thinking, “I wonder if the church paid for that?” No, we paid for it.
And much of that exploring happened on tour buses, and we tried to get to the bus early. Do you know why? So we could get really good seats. If we had been selfless instead of selfish, we would have waited until everybody else was on the bus and taken the worst seats, even if we couldn’t see and were split up.
In my heart, I said, “At least we’re not as selfish as the couple who each took a window seat.” And if we didn’t get to the bus early and didn’t get the seats we wanted, we didn’t demand that someone give us their seat or whine about it. Or at least not whine loudly about it.
The problem comes when that governs how we live our lives when it’s always about us. And what Paul is speaking of here is when decisions that are made at the church level always have to be about me.
When we were in Australia, I led our church through a building project, and there are some of you who are shocked that I was involved in a building project. That was a bit of an inside joke. I’ve been in building projects in every church I’ve led.
When we moved into our new building, a good friend of mine came to me and told me that their family was leaving the church to attend a church closer to home. I was stunned. This family was part of the original core that had planted the church. They were two of our biggest supporters, and I couldn’t count the number of times they had our family over to their home, Barry was a board member.
They had voted in favour of the building and were there on most of the work nights helping with the construction.
Barry told me it was just too far to drive, they had four kids, and it meant driving over for midweek kids’ ministry and then teen ministry. Barry and Joan and a couple of the kids served on the worship team, so one of them was always there for practice, plus there was Sunday morning.
And I asked him why he didn’t say something before when we were looking at the property. And he said, “Because it was the right move for the church, and I didn’t want our personal preferences to come in the way of that.”
Disunity comes when we start to think that our church exists mainly to please us. That Denn’s job and the job of the rest of the staff is simply to make you happy. And woe be if someone sits in your seat, or parks in your parking spot. If Pastor Stefan doesn’t sing the songs you like and if Pastor Marilyn asks you to serve in children’s ministry.
“Because if I have to be in children’s ministry one week a month, then I’ll miss being in the service.”
By the way, If you think serving once a month means that you’re serving half the time you’re here, maybe you need to come more often.
I can’t believe I said that I only meant to think it. Obviously, I need to have my filter checked.
The best discovery I made in my ministry was made in 1986 when I not only realized that I couldn’t please everyone in the church but that I wasn’t called to please everyone in the church.
Harry Truman said, “Selfishness and greed, individual or national, cause most of our troubles.” And that applies to the church as well.
Let’s go back to our scripture.
Philippians 2:2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.
So obviously, the solution is to stop doing whatever the problem is and do the opposite.
Richard Whately wrote, “A person is called selfish, not for pursuing his or her own good, but for neglecting his or her neighbour’s.”
So, instead of being selfish, always promoting ourselves and demanding our own way, Paul tells us to work together, to at least agree to disagree and to love one another.
That’s why Jesus told us in Matthew 7:12 “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”
That should be enough, but it’s really not that easy, is it? After all, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it. Outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins acknowledged that when he said, “Let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.”
In the church, we call being born selfish all a part of inherent depravity or the sinful nature we are born with. And while we can’t do anything about that, the Discipline of the Wesleyan Church explains what the solution is, “But through Jesus Christ, the prevenient grace of God makes possible what humans in self-effort cannot do.”
Let’s go back to our scripture, Philippians 2:5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
So here is The Secret
Have you ever been told you have an attitude? Or perhaps you’ve been told not to have an attitude or to change your attitude.
Attitude is something I’ve been told I’ve had and something I’ve been told not to have.
Through the years, I have heard, “Don’t give me any of that attitude, young man.” And “I don’t like your attitude.” On the other hand, I’ve been told that I have a positive attitude.
Dictionary.com defines attitude this way, Attitude [ at-i-tood, -tyood ] manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation, especially of the mind.
It was Winston Churchill who reminded us that “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
And not only are we told to have the attitude of Christ, but Paul then lays out what Jesus’ attitude was, Philippians 2:6–8 Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Now, obviously, we aren’t God, so we can’t give up our divine privilege, but we can follow Christ’s example.
That’s the secret, as Christ followers, we are supposed to follow Christ’s teaching, and we are supposed to follow his example.
Do you remember back in the 90s, when we went through the entire WWJD, What would Jesus Do phase? It was on coffee mugs, mouse pads, on bumper stickers and on T-shirts. We don’t hear much about it now, but the idea is still valid. What is the attitude of Christ? And how can we reflect it, and exemplify it, as much as possible?
So, how do you think Jesus react to the infighting in the church today? How would he have responded through the pandemic? What words would he have used? How would he have treated people?
If he was a part of a local church, would he demand his favourite songs be sung? Would he be content to simply let others serve?
And I truly believe that when we answer those questions, how we respond will be our choice.
It was psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, who wrote, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Preacher Charles R. Swindoll, said the same thing a little differently, “We cannot change our past. We cannot change the fact that people act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude.”
Let’s go back to Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.
I wonder if it’s a coincidence that at a time when infighting in the church seems at an all-time high, the influence of the church seems to be at an all-time low.
It’s been said in different ways, but the reality is that Christians are the only bible many people will read. And unfortunately, the world is saying, “Your actions are speaking so loud, I can’t hear your words.”
Jesus was very clear when he told his disciples in John 13:35 Jesus said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
He didn’t say, “Your political views will prove to the world you are my disciples.”
He didn’t say, “Which news channel you watch will prove to the world you are my disciples.”
He didn’t say, “How vocal you are speaking out against the ills of society will prove to the world you are my disciples.”
He didn’t say, “Your view on masking will prove to the world you are my disciples.”
He didn’t say, “Neither being vaccinated nor being unvaccinated will prove to the world you are my disciples.”
He said, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
And maybe, just maybe, if we are serious about reaching people for Jesus, it’s time we took his words to heart.
Let’s close this morning with a reminder of what it means to love one another. 1 Corinthians 13 has often been called the Love Chapter of the Bible, so I’m going to put it up on the screen, and let’s read it together, out loud.
1 Corinthians 13:4–7 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.