Joy in Unity
This is a sermon preview for Sunday April 30, 2023. It is the 3rd week of the Eastertide sermon series “Easter Joy: A Walk Through Philippians.”
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ… Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
–Philippians 1:27 - 2:11
Reputation is a tricky thing. Some argue that reputation matters very little because it’s based merely on others’ perception of you rather than who you really are. Still some accurately point out that if you act morally, then there would be no reason for others to perceive you with a negative reputation. Perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s observations best reflect this complex relationship: “Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.”
As it turns out, character, actions, and reputation are linked. And Paul is rather concerned about all of them when he reminds the Philippians to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Don’t get me wrong, Paul isn’t being vain here. He isn’t building a brand or hoping his reputation will carry him as an influencer. But Paul is very aware that the resurrection of Jesus is too powerful, too grand, and too joyous to allow the “toxins of sin” to keep their rule. Instead, the reputation of the Church is marked by one thing: unity in Christ which leads to unity with one another.
Today, unity is hard for us to imagine. In America, we tend to value individuality, independence, and uniqueness. We’re taught to be right without necessarily seeking understanding with the other. We’re taught to “pick a side”--whether it’s in politics, sports, or family fights. You don’t need a Pastor to tell you there’s no joy in this way of constant division.
This was true for the Philippians as well. Paul’s plea for unity reveals that the Philippian church wasn’t just facing persecution externally, but they were also fighting internally among their siblings due to their “selfish ambition and vain conceit.”
This infighting may even bother Paul more than their suffering at the hands of non-believers! After all, the Philippians have been raised with Christ. The Philippians share the same Holy Spirit as their guide. The Philippians have shared in God’s love, compassion, care, and encouragement. So if the Philippians have experienced this resurrection with Christ, it’s time for them to start acting like Christ. It’s time for them to live with Christ’s humility–the key to their unity within the church and the crutch of Christ’s reputation outside of the church.
Recently, a friend of mine tagged me in a post on Facebook. The post was a picture of a typewriter with the caption: “If Paul could see the church in America today, we’d be getting a letter.” I may not be able to prove this theory, but I think Paul’s letter to the American Church would sound a lot like Philippians 2. In a world marked by conflict and self-centered greed, it’s time for us to refocus on Christ’s way of humility and the joy that can be found in unity.
What do you think the reputation of Christianity is in our community? How have Christians / churches contributed to that reputation?
What opportunities are there for you to practice Christ’s humility in your interactions with others this week?
How do you think regularly practicing Christ’s humility might help you encourage unity with others in your church and community?