I attended Fuller Arizona’s commencement yesterday as 35 graduates finished their master’s degrees. The seminary’s director, Tom Parker, opened his address by referencing a short story by Ernest Hemmingway.
It is a story about a father’s desire to be reconciled to his son. In an attempt to build bridges and bring healing, the father places an advertisement in the paper. Paco, meet me at Hotel Montana at noon Tuesday. All is forgiven, Papa. Tuesday morning comes and there are 800 young men who answered the call.
We live in a world longing for reconciliation. A world haunted by something more, something good. That is why we have been called to follow Christ and participate together in His church.
2 Corinthians 5:18
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.
…Live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel.
This morning, we begin our summer series on the book of Philippians. The theme, Together, is taken from this verse which expresses the desire of Paul to see the church standing firm together in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the Gospel. That expresses the kind of unity that we are to carry out the ministry of reconciliation in our world.
Our prayer is that we, as members of the body of Christ, stand firm, be of one spirit and one mind, as we serve our world. A world in desperate need of reconciliation.
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
Have you ever been on a road trip and got to the point where you begin to doubt that you are going in the right direction? The signs magically become far and few between. You wonder if that GPS actually knows what it is talking about. And if you decide that you need to head in another direction, the voice keeps telling you to turn around.
The church today is in a similar situation. We are not standing still but we wonder if we are going in the right direction. At least if we are going together in the right direction. You know that same spirit, same mind, side by side kind of way. The letter to the church of Philippi, provides us with some clear and simple ways we can get back on track together. With a shared spirit, one mind, and side by side.
We are living in a world…let me rephrase that. We have been created for a world that needs the gospel of Christ. It is a gospel that we have recognized as the one gospel that brings redemption. To bring that message we must together experience and practice the grace that we have found in Christ.
Giving Thanks for One Another
I thank my God every time I remember you…
Every time I read this verse, I find myself wondering if the church of Philippi was the perfect church. I mean were they performing well? Were they growing? Was their giving up? Did the members always get along? Did the sermons meet needs and the music live up to personal expectations? I mean why would Paul give thanks for the members of this church if it were not performing?
Paul is setting an example for us. He is being optimistic and upbeat. And this was in spite of the warts and flaws of the church. He expressed gratitude and appreciation for the members of the Philippian church.
I wonder, how my life would be change, how your lives would be changed and how our church would be transformed if we were as prone to express gratitude and appreciation for our fellow members as we are to criticize.
Psychologists Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough point out that gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research. They point out that people who express gratitude also are more likely to offer emotional support to others. In other words, giving thanks for one another brings us together and heals us emotionally. This is essential to being “together.”
Praying with Joy
Constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you!
There is so much in this verse and it naturally follows the act of giving thanks. When we give thanks in all things and for others, the negative spirit that comes from criticism is turned to joy.
There is a Jewish saying that you “should not embark on prayer (tefillah) from sadness, laziness, conversation, frivolity or idle chatter; rather enter prayer from the joy of obeying God.”
Here is what I observe. When I criticize and pass judgment on others, I become negative and give up on others. This destroys togetherness. I notice it in you as well. This can change when we give thanks. Joy is restored. And with Joy, optimism.
Sharing the Gospel
Because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now
The church at Philippi is believed to one of the first churches planted by Paul. It must have caused him great satisfaction for him to see people accept the gospel and share his faith.
I am so grateful that my life has been filled with so many people who share faith in Jesus Christ. You get me? You understand. That is what brought us together and what keeps us together. We are members of the same family. But what I have noticed is that just as denominations have divided the body of Christ, we can let petty issues divide us. When that happens we must remember that we are one in Christ!
Let me make another application. When it begins to dawn on us that Jesus is all that matters, we naturally share our faith with others. It does not happen out of obligation or duty. It flows from a heart set free.
There is an old parable about choices. Let me make an application about the importance of the kind of faith we share. You are given a choice between a God who hates sin and has no love for sinners. That God is angry and as quick to withhold blessing as He is to hand out punishment. Then there is a God who is loving and wants to accept you and forgive you just as you are. Which do you find appealing? Which would you accept?
We who share faith in Jesus Christ have been loved by God and blessed with every spiritual blessings in Christ. That is the faith we share and that is the one we share with our world.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
One of the great elements of togetherness is when we know that we are not saved by our decision to accept Christ but by Christ’s decision to willingly lay down His life on our behalf. And the good news is that God is not done with us. He is still at work. We may wonder and doubt. We may judge others as being immature and spiritually shallow but the God who saves us continues to work in our lives and the lives of others who share faith.
We cannot be so overwhelmed with serving Christ that we feel guilt for not doing enough and wonder if there will be limitations placed on our status in eternity. When that happens we will often judge others the same way and togetherness suffers.
C.S. Lewis explains it this way.
“You have not chosen one another,
but I have chosen you for one another.”
C. S. Lewis
It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.
Every human share the inability to earn salvation. This inability is from a self-centeredness that affects our hearts, minds, wills, emotions and even our physical bodies. Our attitudes and actions motivates this self-centeredness. Because of this, there is nothing we can do to satisfy God.
Except Grace. We are valued, every human being is valued, in God’s eyes. We should never see ourselves or others as insignificant and worthless for Christ has loved and died for each one of us.
Paul, who described himself as chief among sinners, was saved by grace. Grace is what brings us together. When we experience grace we practice grace. This grace is what takes us to the next step.
For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.
I love that Paul used the word compassion here. It describes a loving and caring response to others.
There are two parts to compassion here. Paul’s affection and compassion for the members of this church was based on the compassion that he experienced from Christ. We can conclude that Paul was incapable of showing true compassion to others if he had not experienced the affection and compassion that Christ had for him. The same is true for us.
The late Leo Buscaglia noticed the disconnectedness within our culture while teaching at University of Southern California. Here is what he quickly determined.
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
― Leo Buscaglia
That is what we experience in Christ and when we practice this kind of compassion, good things happen.
– Give Thanks for One Another
– Pray with Joy
– Share your Faith
– Live with Confidence
– Celebrate Grace
– Treat others with Compassion
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”