The Lord's Day Morning
September 9, 2007
“Complete My Joy, With Unity”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Philippians, chapter two. We have been working our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul, and we have said for the last few weeks as we've been looking at Philippians 1:27 and following, that Philippians 1:27 inaugurates the central section of this letter. It opens with a message in which the Apostle Paul urges us to live life in a manner worthy of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And throughout the center section of this letter, Paul exhorts us to do just that, giving us a series of directions…a series of imperatives, a series of exhortations in which he urges us to live the Christian life.
Now, he does this for a variety of reasons. One reason that he does this is because he longs for the congregation to experience the fullness of the joy that God intends believers to have together as brothers and sisters in Christ in the local fellowship, even though we're in a fallen world with many dangers, toils, and snares, even though we ourselves are going through tremendous troubles and pain, the Apostle Paul has already said to us in Philippians 1 that the reason he was willing to stay on earth and not go to be with Christ (which was much better, he said), was so that he could work for the joy of the Philippians. He was deadly serious about Christians experiencing the life of joy, and especially about a Christian congregation together experiencing joy–the joy of God, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the joy which is for those who are in Christ Jesus, even in the midst of the difficulties of this world. And, therefore, Paul exhorts us to live lives in light of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, because experiencing the joy which God intends for us is inseparably connected to our carrying out these commands and exhortations and imperatives that the Apostle Paul gives us.
Remember a few weeks ago, when we said that for Paul, joy and obedience are not competitors. They’re not contradictory. They don't fight against one another. Obedience in the Christian life does not squelch joy; it brings joy to full flowering. And so, we delight in our duty, and in doing our duty, we delight. And so the Apostle Paul gives us these exhortations to live the Christian life in the central part of this letter because he wants us to experience the joy that God has intended for us together as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ — especially expressed in the local congregation.
But there's a second reason why the Apostle Paul gives us all these exhortations, and that is because of sin.
There are things which rob us of joy and cause us to fall short of the purposes that God has for us in living life worthy of the gospel, and first and foremost among them are pride and self-centeredness, and selfishness, and other kinds of sins. These things disrupt the unity of the congregation. They disrupt the experience of joy that God intends for us, and so the Apostle Paul wants to labor manfully in helping us fight against pride, fight against selfishness, fight against self-centeredness. Why? Because it robs us of joy; it disrupts the unity that is designed to come around us in our very time of need and help us on the way. It cuts the glorious witness that we are to have to the world of the reality of the gospel at work in us, and it causes the world to look at us and say, ‘Well, how are you any different from us? You’re no different than we are–you are divided, we are divided, so what do you have to offer in the gospel?’ And so the Apostle Paul wants to urge us in this passage with these exhortations, because sin is an impediment to joy and it is an impediment to unity in the body of Christ.
Well, we've already said in looking at Philippians 2:1-4 that these four verses are all one sentence. There's only one main clause in those first four verses, and the main clause is “complete my joy.” Now that tells you two things: one, it reminds you again that Paul is serious about joy. The Apostle Paul — his message to you is not to just sort of “cowboy up” and “soldier on.” He's not satisfied with you surviving. He's not going to be satisfied until you are marching to Zion in joy, and he's serious about joy.
The second thing he tells you is this congregation has already given him joy. He doesn't say, ‘Make me joyful.’ He says, “Complete my joy.” This…he loves these Philippians! They are an incredible congregation. They are Gentiles who have never heard the Old Testament. They've never heard the stories of God's grace to the children of Israel in the days of Moses and David, and yet they've come to faith in Jesus Christ. They've embraced Jesus as Lord and Messiah, they love and they trust Him. They are dirt poor, and yet they’re giving generously to missions. They are Christ-loving, Bible-believing, gospel-proclaiming Christians, and Paul loves them.
They have given him much joy…but…there are some problems. Some of them are prideful. Some of them are self-centered. Some of them are haughty and arrogant in the way that they’re dealing with one another. And the Apostle Paul knows that those things will rob them of joy, will keep them from experiencing the fullness of what God intends for them–and will rob him of joy, because their joy is his joy. When they are happy in Christ Jesus, he is most happy in Christ Jesus. When they are experiencing the fullness of God's blessing, he is most joyful in Christ. And so he says, ‘Complete my joy by doing these three things.’
And notice the three things. You’ll see them in verses 2, 3, and 4: Unity; Humility; and Helpfulness. He wants them to live in unity, humility, and helpfulness. Or, we could rhyme them: he wants them to live in harmony, humility, and helpfulness. Or, if you want to do it a different way, he wants them to live in unanimity, humility, and mutuality. But it all means the same thing. Those are the three things that Paul is going for. He wants them to complete his joy by pursuing unity, pursuing humility, and pursuing helpfulness–helping one another.
Now as I said last week, we're not going to look at all three of those things today. We’re just going to look at the first one. We’re going to take a week each to consider these things. Now…bonus question! What is the other passage in the New Testament…[hint: we've just finished studying this book]…What is the other passage in the New Testament where Paul talks exactly about these things? Ephesians 4:1-3. If you wanted to go back this afternoon and look at how Paul says the same things there in slightly different words, that would be a great Sunday afternoon exercise as you pray through this truth.
But now what I want to do is I want you to see Paul's flow of argument in verses 1 of Philippians 2. Paul gives you four motivations for living the Christian life: the encouragement that we have in Christ; the comfort that we have in His love; the fellowship that we have in the Holy Spirit; and, the tender affection and sympathy that we have in Christ. Paul piles up encouragement for us to live the Christian life. And then he says, “In light of those things,…” (verse 2) “… complete my joy.” How? (End of verse 2)…Pursuing unity; (Verse 3)…Humility; (Verse 4)…helpfulness. Now you've got Philippians 2:1-4 outlined and memorized!
Let's bow and pray before we read God's word.
Lord, this is Your word. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it, and by Your Spirit apply it to us. In Jesus' name. Amen.
This is the word of God; hear it:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Amen. Thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Do you think a lot about unity in the Christian life? Do you think about God's big purposes of unity in the Christian life? Did you catch the sentence that you sang when you were singing “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” when you sang to God that He had formed you for His own abode? Did you realize that you were singing about the unity that God intends in His plan of redemption? That He is building one temple, one building, one people, one family from every tribe, tongue, people and nation to be the abode in which He dwells…the family in which He fellowships…the house of His glory…the display of His praise and splendor to the world? God's big plan in all of redemption is to bring together His church, the body of Christ, under the Lordship of Christ: all one, though we are from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, though we are different in a thousand different ways; that He is going to bring us — that He is bringing us, that He has brought us — together in Christ Jesus.
Do you think about that a lot? Or do you ever think about the things that you need to do in order to manifest that unity that God has already given to the church? Remember, we stressed over and over, Paul's message to us is never “create unity amongst yourselves.” No, no, no! Only God creates gospel unity. God has created us, He has made us in Christ Jesus to be one people, one family, one house, one temple. All of us! Everybody who is united to Christ Jesus, everybody who trusts in Jesus Christ, is united to Jesus Christ. And, because everybody who trusts in Jesus Christ is united to Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, we are also united to everyone else who is united to Jesus Christ. And so God has made that unity a reality, but do you think much in your Christian life about how you need to cultivate, manifest, and maintain that unity that God has already given us in Jesus Christ?
I don't think about it enough. I’ll just tell you right now, I do not think about it enough. I do, by God's grace, think about it more now than I did twenty years ago; but of these three things that Paul talks about in Philippians 2:2,3,4 — unity, humility, and helpfulness — I am certain that I think more about the second two than I do the first one. I think a lot about humility, because I need to. But I do a whole lot more thinking about it than I do doing something about it. I think about helpfulness. I think about the importance of serving one another, and helping one another in the Christian life. I do a lot more thinking about it than I do doing something about it. But I all too infrequently think about what I need to be doing to cultivate, manifest, and maintain spiritual oneness, spiritual unity, in the congregation. And the Apostle Paul is saying here that neglect of this is fatal to the joy that God intends for believers. And so he says, ‘Complete my joy…please! Complete my joy!’ He says, ‘Complete your joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, having the same purpose.’ He's saying, ‘I want to see your souls joined; I want to see you displaying spiritual oneness: walking in mutual agreement in brotherly harmony; one in your inner disposition; one in your love; one in your aim. I want to see a reformation in your corporate life and your personal relationships. I want you to have the same love, to be united in the same spirit, to be living lives as a whole that are directed toward the same aim, the same goal. I want a common mind among you about how you go about living the Christian life, and I want you to show the love of Christ by your love for one another, and have the same purpose of life.’ That's what Paul's saying in verse 2.
In fact, if you look at verse 2, there are three parts to it. Paul asks us to have the same mind, the same love, and the same purpose. Now all I want to do today is look at what Paul wants us to have — the same mind, the same love, and the same purpose – and then I want to look at what the obstacles are to having that, and what the solution is to having that.
So, here in Philippians 2:2, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to complete his joy by doing three things: one, by having the same mind. By that he means being like-minded. He wants us to have the same mindset, the same outlook. What's he talking about? He's talking about having the mind of Christ. This is the same word that he's going to use in verse 5 where he says, “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus….”
When he calls on you to have the same mind, he doesn't mean that you always have to think about everything in the same way. Some of you went to a little school up in Oxford, and some of you went to a little school in Starkville, and some of you went to a little school in Hattiesburg…and we could just go on and on and on. And you know what? For some reason, about football you don't think the same way! (I haven't figured that out yet….) And the Apostle Paul is not saying all of you have got to love Ole Miss (“Whew!” some of you are saying!) He's not saying that you have to think about everything in the same way, but he is saying, ‘I want you to have the same mind, the mind of Christ. I want you to have the same attitude in you, the same disposition, the same outlook that Jesus Christ had.’ He's going to describe that mind for you in Philippians 2:5-11. We’re going to talk about that for a while. But what he's saying here is that he wants us to have the same disposition, mindset, and outlook that Jesus had.
What was that outlook? Well, Jesus himself tells you in the prayer that He prayed for you That's right, for you. Because in the middle of that prayer He says, ‘Lord, I do not pray for these only, but for all who come to know You through their ministry.’ It's in John 17. It's the night He was betrayed. We call it “the high priestly prayer.” And do you know what one of the things that He prayed was? ‘Lord, let them be one, like You and I are one.’ And so Jesus is deeply concerned for the church to manifest the unity that the gospel has given us; not to be little robots that all think the same way about everything, but who have a deep unity in the truth of God's word, who have a deep unity in love to the one true God; to have a deep unity because we're trusting in Jesus Christ, to have a deep unity because we share the same love that He has shown to us, to have a deep unity in the purpose that He has given us for life. We may be different in ten thousand other ways, but in those ways we are in lock step! And so in a sense Paul is just exhorting you to do what Jesus prayed that you’d do in John 17 — have the same mind, be like-minded, have the same mindset.
Then he says, ‘I want you to have the same love.’ In other words, he wants you to love one another with the same kind of love that Christ has loved you with. Now again, that is just an exhortation based on something that Jesus said on the night that He was betrayed. Do you remember John 13, where Jesus turns to His disciples and He says, ‘A new commandment I have for you….” Do you remember the new commandment? “That you love one another…” How? “As I have loved you.” The Apostle Paul is saying, ‘Philippians, complete my joy. Live the Christian life; walk worthy of the gospel by having the same mind and having the same love–the love of Christ for you displayed in your love for one another.’
And, thirdly, he says he wants you to have the same purpose. He wants (in the graphic language of verse 2)…he wants you with your whole being to be set on the same thing; like a laser-guided missile, you are focused on one thing. And what is that one thing? What is the one purpose?
Well, since you’re in Philippians 2, turn back just a couple of pages to Ephesians, because in Ephesians 1:9-10, Paul tells you what the mystery of God's purpose is in all that He's doing in this world. Have you ever wanted to know what God is doing? “Lord God, what in the world are You doing in this crazy world that we live in?” Well, guess what. The Apostle Paul's already told you. In Ephesians 1:9, Paul says that he's going to set forth for us the mystery of God's will. And what does he say it is? He's going to tell us his purpose which is set forth in Christ. He's going to tell us His plan — God's plan — for the fullness of time. What is it? Look at verse 10: to unite all things in Christ.
In other words, Paul is telling us that God's plan — what is God up to in your life, in the church's life, in Jackson, in Mississippi, in America, in Iraq, in Iran, around the world? Here's what He's up to. He is bringing everything in this world under the Lordship of Christ, and He is uniting all who trust in Christ into one family, one body, one people, one temple, so that Christ is given the name which is above every name, and so that as we are in Him, so we are exalted with Him. Now Paul tells you that. That's the purpose of God.
And Paul wants you to be locked in on that purpose like a laser-guided missile. It's your purpose for life. You live to glorify and enjoy God forever. You live to see the day when peoples from ocean's farthest coasts stream in like a countless host, singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, “Alleluia! Alleluia!” You live for the day when people stand as the King of glory passes on His way, and sing “Alleluia! Alleluia!” You live for the day when Jesus Christ is exalted above everything, and He is made head of all things over His church, for God's glory. The one purpose, the one building that God is building in this world, is a house over which His Son, Jesus Christ, will reign. And if that is what God is doing, if that is His great purpose, then our purpose in life must echo that, must reflect it, must emulate it. And this is what the Apostle Paul is saying when he urges us on to the pursuit of spiritual unity in a local congregation. He wants us to have the same mindset: the mindset of Christ. He wants us to have the same kind of love for one another that Christ has had for us. We were unloving and we sinned against Christ, and Christ loved us still; so surely when we are unloving towards one another and we sin against one another, we will love one another as Christ loved us when we were unloving and sinned against Him.
And we will have the same purpose. We will long to see Christ exalted above everything, and all things under His headship, and His Lordship displayed over the whole church which is united in Him. The Apostle Paul is telling us that we ought to be thinking constantly about the whole body, and about this unity that God has wrought, not just about our individual selves. This enables us to cultivate a self-denying, self-giving mind of Christ, and foster Christ-like mutual love, and to make peacemaking and peacekeeping in the congregation top priority.
The Apostle Paul, I am told by the scholars, 23 times in his letters uses the phrase be like minded. Now I lost count at about 14 this morning. I was trying to track down, just make sure that the commentator was right. I lost count at about 14. But ten times in this letter he says it. Do you think it's important? Do you think it's important to the Apostle Paul that we would be united and like-minded? He says it over and over again!
Now what are the obstacles to that in a local church? Well, do you have time to stay here this afternoon? There are ten thousand obstacles to this in the Christian life! Yes, yes, yes! He's talking about the total unity of all the people of God in all ages, but that's especially expressed where? In the local congregation. Why? Because it's hard to live with the people that you have to live with. You know it's easy to think nice thoughts about folks that you don't have to hang around with for very long, but live with them for a little while, and unity gets to be a more difficult thing. So we want to especially think about this in the local church, and there are a lot of things that can destroy unity in the local church.
There are failures in communication. All of us have been laughing at the cell phone commercials recently that talk about dropped calls, and how disastrous dropped calls can be. You know the one where the wife says, “If you don't tell me that you love me, I'm not going to be here when you get home.” And the call drops…and he's on the other end of the phone, and you see him going, “I love you, honey! I love you, honey!” And she's on the other end of the phone: “Honey? Honey? I'm hanging up! You better say it now! You better say it now!” Miscommunication. Failures in communication.
A friend of mine came up to me after the service and told the story of a pastor — a mutual pastor-friend of ours — who had been having one of those weeks where everything went wrong. Everything went wrong. Murphy's Law was running amok in the congregation. And one of his most faithful elders was coming to meet with him that day. And he got to his office, and the elder had forgotten the very important files that they needed to have in order to do the work that they were going to do together that day. The elder got there and said, “Pastor, I'm so sorry, I didn't bring the files with me.” The pastor responded, “Well, that figures!” He didn't mean that he was expecting his elder to mess up! He meant that that was just how it had been going all week long — everything that could go wrong was going wrong! (The elder did not take it that way.) “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” as someone once famously said. Those things, totally unintentionally, can bring division in a church.
Disagreements — legitimate disagreements — can bring division in a church. Should we build a building? Should we pave the parking lot? Should we have more staff, or less staff? Should we have a different kind of music? Differences, even legitimate differences, can divide a church.
Different agendas can divide a church. You know, somebody who says, “I don't think the church ought to be doing this; I think the church ought to be doing that.” Or “I don't think the church ought to be focused on this; I think the church ought to be focused on that.” That can divide a church.
And then there's sin. I was a part of a congregation many years ago where there was a woman, and she and her husband were having marital problems. And eventually she committed adultery and left her husband and their five children. The elders of the church tried to intervene and lovingly and caringly confront her with her sin, and seek to bring about reconciliation in that relationship. She would have nothing of it. She was very bitter towards the elders; she said they didn't understand what she was going through. But she was also related to 27 other congregation members, and when the elders faithfully, carefully, lovingly tried to intervene, fourteen people left that church. Her sin wasn't against anybody in the congregation — except her husband and children — but it ended up dividing the congregation. Sin can divine a congregation, even sin in general. Selfishness can divide a congregation. Nothing can divide a congregation more than looking out for Number One. When people's first concern is ‘the church is not meeting my needs…the church has let me down’…when we neglect to think about what the body as a whole needs in preference to what we ourselves need, that kind of selfishness can divide a church.
False teaching can divide a church. And you know…the list could go on.
But I wonder whether in our setting, where we have (praise God) enjoyed a remarkable kind of unity (not a perfect unity, but a remarkable kind of unity for so many years), I wonder if the thing in our setting that most hampers our experience of the kind of unity that the Apostle Paul is calling on us to manifest in this passage is a lack of attention given to pursuing and cultivating and manifesting and maintaining unity. I'm wondering if it's neglect of the pursuit of cultivating and maintaining and manifesting unity that is the biggest obstacle to the experience of unity in our midst. And here's the Apostle Paul saying, ‘Philippians [Jacksonians], complete my joy. It is a big-ticket item on my agenda for you. It is a deep desire for me. It is not some peripheral concern. It is not some fluffy therapeutic group hug kind of thing. I want you to have deep gospel unity. I want you to have the same outlook, the same outlook — the mindset of Christ. I want you to have the same love for one another, so you are loving one another in light of the gospel. And I want you to have the same purpose in life. I want it burning within you. And only then will you experience the joy that God intends you to experience in Christ Jesus.’
Our Lord and our God, give us hearts for the spiritual unity of the church. Let's start with our own hearts first…start with our life, our marriage, our family. And cause Your unity to be manifested and cultivated and maintained in ways beyond our experience in this congregation, amongst all our brothers and sisters in Christ in Jackson, and throughout this world, for Your glory. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational hymn: So If There is, In Christ, Comfort — Philippians 2:1-2]
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirits.