Enhancing Our Unity
Phil. 1:1-18  

An insightful poem stressed unity in this way:

        “All have a share in the beauty; all have a part in the plan.
          What does it matter which duty falls to the lot of [each] man?
          Someone has blended the plaster; someone has carried the stone;
          Neither the mason nor the master ever has built [it] alone.
          Making a roof from the weather or building a house for the King,
          Only by working together has [a church achieved any great] thing!”

An elder underscored unity in this way:

       “Harmony is one of the loveliest things of life … a family working     together to attain goals … a team playing closely [as one unit] to win the game … an orchestra playing in unison.  But best of all, is harmony in the church, with all the parts of the body working in the spirit of peace and love!  This kind of unity overcomes a lot of obstacles.  It magnetizes conditions and makes the rough road smooth.  The church that has unity in the Holy Spirit has hope for growth ( Layton ).

A former minister highlighted unity in this way:

       “And lastly, the Jerusalem church had all these programs in the framework of the unity of spirit [in] the bond of peace.  This congregation, composed of thousands, was so dedicated to the unity of spirit [in] the bond of peace that the scriptures say it had ‘one heart and one mind’ (North).”

All of these statements have shown us the importance of unity in the church.  But how do we achieve such unity?  The first chapter of the book of Philippians can help us.  The church at Philippi had many diverse elements, but Paul’s example and advice can provide us with 8 steps towards greater unity.  So let’s quickly examine these steps this morning.

Let’s read verse 1.  The first step to enhance our unity is realizing our roles.  Typically, Paul begins his letters by referring to his apostleship, but in this letter, he takes a different approach because Paul was already a beloved spiritual hero to the brethren at Philippi .  Like the OT prophets who were called “God’s servants” and who worked  as God’s spokesman, so Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus were the evangelists who worked together to help encourage this group of people.  Then we see that Paul addresses all the members of the church here as saints.  His calling them saints does not mean that they were a special breed of miracle workers who did extraordinary deeds of spirituality as some people today think when they hear the word “saint”.  No, this means that these people were set apart from the world in order to live for God.  They were average normal believers who were trying their best to live holy lives as they imitated Jesus.  Then Paul mentions the elders.  The elders are the leaders in the congregation at Philippi .  They taught, protected, guided, and took care of the members there (Acts 20:28 ; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Heb. 13:17 ).  Although they had authority over the members, they did not act like spiritual lords, but led the members through their good examples (1 Peter 5:1-4).  Then the deacons are mentioned.  The deacons were to be experienced men who carried out certain assigned duties and activities for the congregation (1 Timothy 3:8-13).  Good deacons are a great blessing to any congregation.  We have just seen God’s organizational structure for the local congregation.  The elders are the exemplary spiritual leaders, the deacons follow their lead and take responsibilities in carrying out certain duties and activities, the evangelists preach the Word, and the members serve one another through holy lives filled with understanding, courteousness, and thoughtfulness.  And all are doing their part out of love for the same Lord!  Let’s realize our roles and fill them to the best of our abilities!

Now let’s read verse 2.  The second step to enhance our unity is keeping our priorities.  Paul continues to follow Grecian letter style and now gives his readers his greetings.  Paul takes the typical Grecian greeting and modifies it slightly so that grace is emphasized.  Grace is God's favor on those who don't deserve it.  We were all made equals at the foot of the cross because we were all sinners who needed Jesus’ help.  Then, Paul uses the typical greeting of the Jews which was peace.  The peace seen here means more than just tranquility; it refers to living under God's blessing.  Note that this peace is His doing, and not our doing.  These great concepts are then linked to their sources which Paul describes as God our Father and Jesus our Lord.  The fatherhood of God shows His authority and concern, and the close relationship that we can share with Him.  Jesus as Lord emphasizes His authority and leadership, and the submissive relationship that we can share with Him.  Unmerited favor, divine blessing, God's concern, and Christ's leadership are important foundational concepts of our faith with which Paul begins this letter.  Paul shares his priorities with his readers.  Let's do the same.  As we see and run across each other, let's remind each other of these simple important truths: God gives grace, God is our Father, Christ gives peace, Christ is our Lord.  Let's keep these priorities before us!  

Now let's read vv. 3-5.  The third step is enjoying our fellowship.  Paul often thanked God for his brethren, and this letter is no exception.  In fact, he thanks God with joy for their fellowship in the Gospel from their conversion until the time that he writes to them.  The word “fellowship” is really a business term which means “partnership in a business venture where all parties actively participate to ensure the success of the enterprise” (Nelson Study Bible).  Paul's “business” was to spread the Good News of salvation in Christ, and the Philippian brethren had worked actively right along with Paul to do just that.  In fact, they had given financially time and again to support him in his efforts.  They were very concerned about Paul's success and had even sent one of the own, Ephaphroditus, to check up on him when they heard that he was in prison in Rome .  Isn't it wonderful that we can all work together in an endeavor that is greater than any of us and that will outlast all of us!  You brethren are to be commended for all the great works that you've done in the past and are doing, even as of yesterday, to save the lost and to serve the brotherhood!  We are partners in our endeavors, and all work together to make great things happen with our Lord's help.  Let's enjoy our fellowship!  

Let's read verse 6.  The fourth step is watching our spiritual growth. One commentator explains: “God, who began the work of [their] redemption will continue to perform it until its completion when [Jesus] returns.”  You see, Paul is confident that God will continue to do His part in helping the Philippian brethren to reach maturity.  Now notice something important here: the work of such transformation is God's work; it's not our work that we do all by ourselves.  So guess what, we get to watch the Master Craftsman do His work on bringing about those changes for the better among all of us!  Didn't you like watching your children grow up, and weren't you proud of them when they improved in their skills and when reached a point when they made some important decision on their own which was based on following God's will?  With that same excitement, we get to watch God work among us as well!  We're certainly not all that we want to be, but thanks to God's work among us, we're better than what we used to be!  Let's watch the spiritual growth among us that God will bring about in the future!

Let's read verses 7-8.  The fifth step to enhance our unity is by weathering our storms.  Paul said openly that he had these people in his heart and that he loved them with Jesus' affection.  What a bond Paul felt with these brethren!  Why did Paul feel so strongly towards them?  Paul saw that these brethren were not just “fair weather” friends.  “When he was in chains, they didn’t abandon him; they stood true when he was under attack” (Barnes)!  The words “defense and confirmation” are legal terms that refer to Paul's trial when he would be before the emperor.  This must have been a pretty stormy time in Paul's life, so he was very grateful for the love and concern that these good brethren were showing him.  What a blessing we possess when we have others “to feel close to and to rely on when the going is hard” (Barnes)!  Weathering our storms certainly draws us closer together!

Let's read verses 9-11.  The sixth step to enhance our unity is by praying for our enrichment.  Paul prays for three specific things and each of them begins with the word “that” in the text: that their love may increase, that their approval may increase, and that their sincerity may increase.  Although this congregation loved Paul, it is interesting that Paul prays that their love will continue to abound, but this love is grounded in understanding God better and making godly choices.  The term “approval” was used to test coins for their authenticity, so one commentator says that Paul is asking God to help these members to be able to realize what are the really important issues in their church life.  The term “sincere” comes from the dyeing industry when a person would hold cloth to the sunlight to be sure there were no streaks or blemishes but a consistency throughout.  So putting all these ideas together results in a prayer to this effect: “God, we pray that our charity will ever increase as we understand You better and as we strive to make godly choices, that our ability will increase to see what’s really important and needed for this congregation, and our sincerity or consistency will increase to be more complete because we are continually filled with Your righteousness so that we’ll all be blameless when Christ returns, and this transformation of us all will be to Your glory and praise!”  Now isn't that a fantastic prayer!?  I'd like to challenge us to pray this same prayer every day for the next month.  If you can't remember all this prayer, then just pray what's in your Bible or you can simply say, “Lord, increase our charity, increase our ability to see what's really important, and increase our consistency of being filled with Your righteous, all to Your glory!”  Please pray that for 30 days.  Let's pray for our enrichment!

Let's read verse 12-14.  The seventh step to enhance our unity is to claim our opportunities.  Paul was in chains, but notice how he explains that these chains had become opportunities!  As a prisoner, Paul would be chained to 8 soldiers per day.  There were 9000 soldiers in the imperial guard, and Paul says that they had learned that he was not a prisoner for political reasons but for religious reasons.  He also states that other brothers in Rome had been strengthened to share their faith as well.  Another preacher has observed: “Some things which seem to be worst when we experience them look like the best when we are able to review them from a different perspective.  If we are faithful, God can bring benefit from the worst possible circumstances” (Barnes)!  What opportunities has God given to us?  They may be more than we think.  It's kind of like these shoe salesmen who were sent to Africa .  One e-mailed back to the boss, “Sir, it's hopeless to try and sell shoes here; nobody wears them.”  His fellow salesman e-mailed back to the boss, “Sir, opportunities for sales here are unlimited; everybody needs them!”  Let's claim the opportunities that God has given to us!

Now let's read verses 15-18.  The eighth step to enhance our unity is to evaluate our progress.  Paul explains here that some are preaching Christ with terrible motives, but they haven't changed the message of salvation!  Paul says in the book of Galatians that if someone changes the message of salvation, then they should be condemned (Gal. 1:6-8)!  But here Paul is evaluating the situation and concludes: “I will rejoice because salvation through Christ is being preached (despite those terrible motives to hurt me that some messengers possess)!”   Isn't it amazing how Paul is able to see the Gospel's progress in his situation?  Sometimes, when we can only see the darker colors, maybe we need to stop, step back, and try to evaluate those colors against the much bigger picture of our situations.  Paul saw in the overall scheme of things that his ultimate goal of preaching salvation through Christ was being accomplished, and he was joyful.  Let’s strive to evaluate our progress against the larger picture!

E. A. Hoffman wrote these great words: 

                 “What have we to dread.  What have we to fear. 
                  
Leaning on the everlasting arms, 
                  
We have blessed peace with our Lord so near.
                  
Leaning on the everlasting arms.
                  
Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus. 
                  
Safe and secure from all alarms. 
                   
Leaning on Jesus.  Leaning on Jesus.
                  
Leaning on the everlasting arms.” 

Let's realize our roles, keep our priorities, enjoy our fellowship, watch our spiritual growth, weather the storms, pray for enrichment, claim our opportunities, and evaluate our progress.   “Making a roof from the weather or building a house for the King,  Only by working together has [a church achieved a great] thing!”  “But best of all, is harmony in the church, with all the parts of the body working in the spirit of peace and love!”  May God help us as we strive to keep and enhance our unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace!

                                                                                                        Last updated on 3.8.08