Jump Start # 2712
Philippians 2:2 “make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
One of the greatest threats to every congregation, more than false teaching or persecution is the attack upon unity. God expects His people to be one. One in heart. One in mind. One in purpose. One in voice. Be one, as Jesus and the Father are, is what the Lord prayed in John 17. Unity is both comforting and nourishing as the Psalmist described it.
And, here were are in crazy 2020, with so many opinions, ideas and thoughts that pulls us in every way but towards each other. Culturally, there is a major division about the direction of the country, what to do about our borders, global warming and the use of fossil fuels, the funding or defunding of police departments, whether or not kids should be sitting in classrooms or having school through the internet, the wearing of masks, the opening or the closing of public activities. Social media illustrates the heated and often hatred concerning those who differ with others. Many have said that they have never witnessed this country so divided before.
And, of course, it trickles into our congregations. A lot of hot opinions about gathering in the church building and whether or not masks can be mandated. Some have left because they did not agree with what the leaders were saying. Some congregations have divided. Some folks have just thrown in the towel and are content to stay home and worship that way, forever. Folks are irritated, bothered, tired and fussy about all the changes that have come because of Covid 19. Some believe the health concerns are genuine. Others believe it’s mostly about politics and elections. And, most of us just don’t know what to believe.
Here are a few thoughts for us:
First, unity must be natural and internal. You can’t force unity. It’s like sitting beside your sister in the back seat of the car on a long road trip. You don’t like it. And, if she gets too close to you, you’ll likely scream. As soon as the car stops, you get out and get away as fast as you can. Now, that’s not unity. That’s not wanting to be there. Forcing folks to get along who do not want to get along never works. Unity begins with each person being united in Christ. There we have a common denominator. There we have a common basis and understanding. If we stand with Christ, we can fellowship and be united together. But we both have to be all in with Jesus. That includes doctrinally as well as in spirit. That includes the pattern we follow as well as the forgiveness we extend. Civil wars usually happen because those of the same nation are not the same. They are not one mind, one spirit, one voice. They are moving in different directions. We don’t use the terminology of civil war when it comes to a congregation. The word most often used is “split.” But a congregation splitting is nothing more than an internal civil war. Folks on the same side fighting one another.
Second, when unity is missing, the important things are left undone. All attention turns to who is on whose side and what this one said and what that one said. Our energy is about winning our war. And, what is forgotten is encouragement, reaching the lost, building faith, developing leaders, and all the things that God wants a congregation to be doing. This may be why disunity is one of the devil’s most powerful tools. Get everyone stirred up and upset and before long, the work stops. And, Satan smiles. We can be so busy shoring up our side of things that we forget the work that we are supposed to do. Good leaders will recognize that Satan will try to drive a wedge among the members. He’ll try to get two preachers irritated with each other. He’ll try to splinter the eldership. All of this is to get our eyes off the horizon and turn toward each other.
Third, it doesn’t take much to get folks stirred up and upset with one another. An off the cuff comment that wasn’t thought out very well can be just the thing. Mispronouncing someone’s name will do it. Overlooking someone. Not including someone. Not being asked your opinion about something. Now, with all of that, try painting the walls a different color, change the look of the bulletin, make some adjustments in the worship schedule and the bullets will start flying through the air. “How dare they,” some will declare. Others will sigh so loud, that the ceiling fans will spin. Some take to social media to air complaints and find sympathizers to join their side. By doing that, matters only get messier and deeper. And, Satan smiles.
Within this Philippian context Paul lists two important factors necessary for unity.
First, he says stop being selfish and conceited. We need to be humble like Jesus. We need to have the heart like Jesus. Stop wearing your feelings on your sleeve. Stop being so touchy. The humble person won’t recognize that his name was omitted from a list of others. A humble person isn’t draw to the spotlights.
Second, Paul says, look out for the interests of others. Become other minded. Stop thinking so much about yourself. This is hard in a “selfie” world we live in. I know I’m old, but I don’t get all the selfie pictures people take. I’ve been to many, many places and everyone wants a picture of themselves with something in the background. I wonder if they have pictures of themselves on the walls at home. I know what I look like. I want a picture of wildlife, landscape, sunsets without me being in it. That’s just me. I tend to think a selfie mindset colors how we see things. We want to be in the middle of the picture. Paul’s words are look out for others. Be thinking of others. Before you say something, how will others take it? Before you shoot your opinion out there, what impact will that have on others? Will it make the church look good? Will it honor the Lord? Will it be helpful?
Less of me and more of others—that’s the key to unity. Listen more than you talk. Keep some things just to yourself. You do not have to attend every argument you are invited to. Some things just need to stay off of social media. Be an encouraging, not a divider. Be helpful, not a sour spot to others. Bring smiles, not frowns.
Interestingly, before Paul finished Philippians, he named two sisters by name and told them to be in harmony. Get along. Unity—its precious and must be protected. It’s special and it’s a wonderful blessing in a divided world.