Last week we started our new series in Philippians. In writing this letter purpose, written by the Apostle Paul, is to thank the Philippians for their generosity in supporting him and to offer encouragement to them as they face division within the church, and opposition outside of the church. He encourages the church to remain unified during these trying times, so the church can be an effective witness to the city and the world. The irony in the letter is that Paul is writing from prison and he writes about joy even while in chains. He encourages the Philippians because God was still at work in his life, and regardless the situation he is in, he is able to be joyful because his joy is rooted in Jesus. Thus, last week we looked at how we also can find joy in Jesus Christ regardless of our situations. Today as we continue, we will look at joy and ultimately what a joyfully unified church looks like.
To live is Christ to Die is Gain
Vs 18 – 30
In the second part of this first passage, Paul shows more explicitly how his potential future fate is not tied to his circumstances but in his joy in the ministry that God has called him to do. He writes whether he lives or dies all is well. Yet, he is convinced that he will live because the Philippians will benefit from his guidance. For Paul…
Why does Paul have this debate of his personal preference before the Philippians? He knows the ultimate choice of whether he lives or dies lies with God, so why bother speaking about his preference. It is important to note that Paul is not speaking of certainties but of what his preference would be if the choice was his. Thus, the answer to the question “why?” comes in the answer that Paul’s desire to remain with them serves as a model to the Philippian church. His desire is to be with the Philippians, and this shows that he is putting his interests above his own. Naturally, Paul would be much happier in the presence of the Lord, but his desire is to see the church unified and strengthened.
Live life worthy of the Gospel
Starting in verse 27, Paul turns his attention to how the church can and should face the problems of persecution and division outside and inside the church. He encourages them to “live (their lives) worthy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” This challenge is to the Philippians individually, but we must remember that this is a letter written to a group of believers thus, Paul is admonishing not just individuals, but the church as a whole to live worthy of the gospel. When they live worthy of the gospel then they will become a unified church, who is able to stand one spirit when persecution comes. Remember, Philippi is a Roman province and the city had allegiance to Rome. So, when Paul is calling the Philippians “citizens of heaven”, he is telling them they have the responsibility to live according to the gospel rather than Rome. Their savior is God, not Caesar. Their allegiance as a church must be to Christ alone and they must stand unified so they can face the opposition before them.
Practically speaking, what does a healthy, unified church look like? How does it function? To find the answers to these questions let’s go to 1 Corinthians 12: 12 - 31
I Corinthians 12:12 – 31
The Apostle Paul wrote this passage to the Corinthian church and he describes the church body as a living organism made up of many individual parts (or members). Paul uses the human body as an example of how the Church body should function in the same way as our own physical bodies.
Our bodies have many individual parts (or members) and they have specific functions. The eyes are for seeing, the ears are for hearing and the nose is for smelling etc. Likewise, the body of Christ has many individual parts (or members), and each has a specific function. In verse 17b Paul says, “God has arranged each one of the parts in the body just as he wanted.” And in verse 27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.” Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in. God has arranged the parts of the body as he chooses, and individuals (parts/members) make up the body of Christ. Conclusion…We are the church. The church is made up of you and me. When I speak of members of the Church body, I am not merely speaking of individuals who have attended a membership class or have a little piece of paper that says they have been baptized at such and such church. I am referring to individuals who are born again believers in Jesus Christ and play an active role in the functioning of the Church body. The word “member” or “parts” in this passage is derived from the Greek word Melos which is translated as someone who is part of a larger unit. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you are part of a larger unit called the body of Christ whether you have a certificate or not. Each part (person) serves an important and unique role in bringing proper health to the Church body. Each part (person) serves a specific function, and each function serves a different purpose. For example, the eyes don’t function the same way as the ears function, but they are both necessary for a healthy body to function. So, in order for our bodies to function properly all the members need to be working properly and doing their job.
Paul also mentions that no one part (person) serves a more important role (with the exception of the head which is Christ) than the other. It does not matter how small or insignificant you may “feel” in the body because it does not mean that you do not play an important role. All parts are important. In order for our bodies to function properly all the parts (big or small, significant or insignificant) need to be present, working, and doing their jobs. This is true for the church body as well?
Imagine one morning waking up (For some of us we don’t have to imagine too hard) and your legs decide they don’t want to be part of the body that day. They say, “I don’t feel like doing my job today, I’m going to take the day off. I have been doing my job for 40, 50, 60 etc. years.”
“I am tired, and I have better things to do today than walk, stand and run.”
“Besides I’m only the legs, there are many other parts doing their job, so the rest of the body won’t be effected if I take the day off.”
Or “I really don’t like the smell of feet they are putrid. And those ears; they are constantly letting all this noise in and I do not like noise. I just want a quiet day off and do everything on my own today.” I know this sounds ridiculous, but this is what happens in the body of Christ when we consciously decide to forsake the assembling of believers. When you are not functioning or participating in the body, the rest of the body suffers. Every part is needed.
You may be hearing this and say, “I don’t ALWAYS need to be in church to worship God” and you are right. You do not need to go to church to worship God. In fact, I HOPE Church isn’t the only time to you do worship God. We need to worship God every day, it’s just that Sunday is the day we gather together corporately to worship the Almighty God as one body of believers.
I hear people say, “I don’t like (insert what you don’t like) at Church so I am not going to attend anymore. I get more out of staying home and watching the TV preacher; this way I don’t have to deal with people. I like listening to the message at my own convenience.” Let me say, this is not Jesus’ intention for your life as a follower of him. He does not desire that you be a “lone ranger” Christian.
Pastor Mark Dever writes in his book WHAT IS A HEALTHY CHURCH, “God created the world and humankind to display the glory of who he is. Adam and Eve, who were supposed to image God’s character, didn’t. Neither did the people of Israel. So, God sent his Son to image his holy and loving character and to remove the wrath of God against sins of the world. In Christ, God came to display God. And in Christ, God came to save.
Now the church, which has been granted the life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, is called to display the character and glory of God to all the universe, testifying in word and action to his great wisdom and work of salvation.
Friend, what are you looking for in a church? Good music? A happening atmosphere? A traditional order of service? How about:
A group of pardoned rebels…
Whom God wants to use to display his glory…
Before all the heavenly host…
Because they tell the truth about him…
And look increasingly just like him – holy, loving, united?”
The church is not just a place or a building, it is a gathering. In all honesty at the base level Church is not really even about you and me, it’s all about God! The Church is an assembly of believers (parts/members) who all possess unique God-given gifts who gather together as a larger unit. Simply put, you and I make up the body of Christ and this body is established and ruled by Christ alone. When we gather together, we are citizens of heaven who are living under the headship Christ and according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In our gathering we are living out our joy.
Jesus says to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH (body of believers) and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” What does this tell us? It tells us that Jesus has established the church. He has unified the church. He is the source of Joy in the church… and Satan and his minions cannot destroy it. They will try… oh, they will try their best, but the church will not be overcome by Satan. Why? Because Jesus loves and cherishes His church, and He will protect her and keep from the wiles of Satan who will try (and fail) to destroy all that Jesus loves. Of course, he cannot nor will not prevail, but he can certainly create havoc on it. Thus, it is important that we remain a joyfully unified church.
A Joyfully Unified Church
What does a joyfully unified church look like?
My prayer is that we be a joyfully unified church. We may not face the same difficulties the church in Philippi did, but we do face challenges on a regular basis.
Two Sundays ago, I shared with you an exciting future our church is facing, but not without challenges. I talked about the challenges of our building, finances, and attendance. I was encouraged with the responses many of you gave me following the message. I am also encouraged to tell you that what was said did not fall on deaf ears. Just last Sunday someone said they took the challenge to begin praying about who to invite to church and this person had invited someone and the person they invited said they will come on Easter Sunday. This is encouraging! I want to remind you to keep praying about who you will invite in the future. Secondly, this past Sunday we received the largest collective offering this church has had since we were adopted. Plus, the week before we were only $15 short of the amount, I mentioned we needed for our weekly offering. This is also encouraging. I want to thank you and continue to encourage you in your faithfulness in giving.
This shows me that we are becoming a joyfully unified church. We celebrate today because of your faithfulness but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. We have just begun as we have seen the response to some of our physical needs, but I want to challenge you all today that we add to our spiritual challenges as well. I pray we start finding opportunities not only to invite people to church, but to share the gospel with those whom the Lord leads us to. I pray we become a church who values discipleship and does discipleship so we may grow in our walks with Jesus.
So, as I conclude today, I want to issue these spiritual challenges …
I encourage you as we close with this last song to begin this process. Pray that God will bring someone to you or will lead you to someone you can share the gospel with. Plus, you will start taking the necessary steps in making the commitment to grow in your walk with Jesus through discipleship. If you need guidance in either of these areas, you can talk to Harry or myself and we would love to help you start moving in the right direction.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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