Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 15, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 2:25-29. Today we continue our journey through the book of Philippians and we find ourselves at a section that, oddly enough has played a substantial part of my life now for the last four years, for today we will be looking at a man by the name of Epaphroditus. With that said, let us read our text, pray and get into the Word.
Today, we are now going to examine another person within the Body of Christ, Epaphroditus. This man, Epaphroditus, is only mentioned in the book of Philippians. Some argue that Epaphras mentioned in Colossians is the same person, but there is nothing to support that conclusion except the similarity of their names. Because of this, not a lot is known about Epaphroditus. However, here are some things we do know. First, his name is Greek and it comes from the worship of Aphrodite, a Greek god. His name literally means “Devoted to Aphrodite.” From this we can assume that his parents, when Epaphroditus was born were pagans, worshipers of false god’s. He was therefore most likely a first generation Christian. The second thing we know about Epaphroditus is that he lived in Philippi. He was a true Philippian. Philippi was a city, or Roman colony, in Macedonia, which is modern day Greece. There is not a lot that is known about Philippi, except that it had a very small Jewish contingent. The reason we know this is because when Paul first visited there, there was no Synagogue. A Synagogue was needed when there were 10 Jewish men in the town. This is important because we can get an understanding that Philippi was Biblically illiterate, meaning that they wouldn’t have had a lot of knowledge about the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, etc. They wouldn’t have been exposed to the foreshadowing of the coming Messiah.
Having said that, this was not an obstacle for God. Remember the background story of the Philippians. God gave Paul a vision to go to Macedonia and preach the Gospel. Paul went there and preached the Gospel to Lydia, then to the Philippian jailer, and from that point the Church was born in the midst of this pagan, unreached Roman colony.
Somewhere in-between Paul’s first arrival in Philippi around 50 AD and the writing of this letter around 62 AD, Epaphroditus hears the message of Jesus Christ and repents and places his faith in Jesus and follows Him. When Epaphroditus becomes a disciple of Jesus, he does what all Christians should do. He begins fellowship with other believers. Epaphroditus is a member of the local Church in Philippi. We can see this in verse 25 when Paul says, “your messenger and minister to my need.” Whose messenger? The Saints in Philippi. Epaphroditus was a representative of the Philippian church. Used by the local Church to minister to Paul.
The next thing we see is the Epaphroditus not only had a local church Body, but he had great affections for his local Church. Look at verse 26, “for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. “ The word in Greek is epipotheó, which means to yearn, desire, or have great affection for. We see Paul use this word in 2 Corinthians 5:2 to talk about an inward groaning to dwell in heaven. Epaphroditus was not home-sick as much as he was Church-sick. Now I want us to recognize something. This yearning for them is a yearning to be physically with them. Epaphroditus wanted to see them, hear them, touch them, and smell them. He wanted to be in their physical presence. This is a real love, a love that is dormant in some Christian’s today. A number of Christians would rather stay at home Sunday morning then see their spiritual family. This is not good. This is not how God designed his Church, to live independent of each other. He designed his church to be interdependent. Listen to what Jesus says in John 13:34-35.
We must remember the core of the gospel. God sent Jesus to die, so that we can be reconciled to him, so that we could be in his presence forever. The heart of God is epipotheó, a yearning to be together. If we truly have the Spirit of Christ in us, we should likewise have this same yearning, just like God, and just like Epaphroditus.
So why is Paul writing about Epaphroditus? As I said earlier, Epaphroditus is a messenger and minister to Paul. What does that mean? If you look ahead to Philippians 4:14 you see what Paul is talking about.
The Church in Philippi decides to provide aid to Paul, to support him in his ministry, not just once but ongoing support. Most likely this support would have been monetary gifts, but we can't be for sure. The next issue becomes who, who will take this aid to the front lines where Paul is located? Who will be the bridge between the Church and the unreached?
Once again, we don't know how it came about, but we do know that it was Epaphroditus who accepted the task. Now what I am about to say is completely outside the Biblical text, but I would like to imagine that Epaphroditus volunteered for this mission. In fact, I like to imagine the Church gathering and discussing the monetary collection being made, and the long journey between Philippi and Rome, a distance of 800 miles. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the reality of being away from family and friends. I like to imagine that they would have discussed the physical demand of such journey. I like to imagine they discussed the risk of persecution. And I like to imagine that when they asked for volunteers, the Church was silent. That is until the silence was broken by a man's voice saying, “I will go.” At this moment, I picture the entire congregation turning and looking at this simple, yet humble Christian, Epaphroditus, as he steps forward again, and says, “I will deliver this gift to my brother Paul”.
At this point, if the Philippians Church is like the others Churches that we see in the book of Acts, most likely the Church would have brought him forward and they would have prayed for him and they would have laid hands on him, and then the Church body would have sent him.
Like I said, this is what I imagine it to be like, perhaps it wasn't like this at all, but make no mistake, Epaphroditus willingly accepted the task to be a vessel of aid. He filled a very important role within the Church, delivering aid to their beloved Paul, and most likely he was also the one who returned with the original draft of the book of Philippians in his hands.
The effect that this act of risk taking love had on Paul was strong. For Paul calls Epaphroditus his brother, fellow worker, and fellow soilder. I want to spend the rest of my time, briefly talking about these three descriptions.
There is perhaps no greater expression of intimacy between two men, then to call another man your brother. This expression is one that does not come from the head, but from the heart. It is description of togetherness that is not surface level, but one that is soulful. Every time I think of brotherly affection, I think of David and Jonathan, King Saul's Son. They had a strong bond between the two of them, that was forged by God.
I worry, however, that for many of you would not volunteer. Your life is too precious to you. You like your comforts. You like your picket fence, American Dream. Helping people is just too messy, it is too dangerous. Listen to what John says in 1 John 3:17-18.
Which leads me to Paul's next description of Epaphroditus, fellow worker. This is a common description of certain men in Paul's life. He uses this phrase “fellow worker” in Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Philemon, and Thessalonians. The sad part is that it was commonly used by Paul, but it is not commonly practiced today. Very few Christians in American could be rightly called a fellow worker. American Christianity has become consumer oriented. We have become fat and lazy. We barely lift a finger in the spread of the Gospel. Instead of obeying the Great Commission, we leave that in the hands of pastors. Shame on us! Let us heed to the words of Jesus who in his parable of the talents said this to the servant who failed to use what the Master had given him.
Lastly, Paul's final description of Epaphrodits is fellow solider. I truly believe this is a primary way that we must understand our lives as followers of Christ. Too often we live our life as if everything is ok. Everything is not ok! We are at war! Satan hates you. He has declared war on Christ and war on God's creation. When you chose to follow Jesus, you didn't just sign up for heaven, you enlisted in God's army. An army sent behind enemy lines to rescue POWs held captive by the power of Satan. We are to be using all of our resources to battle the enemy. In Philippians, we see Paul leading the attack, Timohty watching his back, Epaphroditus feeding the front lines, and the people back home leveraging all their resources to provide aid. Each person was playing a crucial role in pushing back the forces of darkness.
Once again, is this how you live? Are you living with a war time mentality, or are you living as if this world is at peace and everything is going to be just fine. Folks, we need to wake up. We need to recognize that Hell is real. Satan is real. And that God has left us, His Church, to set captives free. We must be about His work and fight the fight of faith and partner with our brothers and siters in the spread of the Gospel, just like our brother Epaphroditus.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 8, 2015
Turn with me in your Bibles to Philippians 2:17-24. Over the last several weeks we have been unpacking what it looks like to be a disciple of Christ. We have seen that the life of a disciple is a life of progress, a life of working out, a life of sanctification. The end goal of this journey for a disciple is for us to look like our Rabbi, or teacher, our Master, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Who we are told in verse 8, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Today, we are going to examine two disciples in the midst of their journey of sanctification, Paul and Timothy. So let us read our text, pray, and get to work.
When Paul found Timothy, we are not sure how old he was, but most people believe him to be in his late teens or early twenties. However, at that age Timothy was already a follower of Jesus Christ. We are told that the Christian brothers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy. We don’t know all the details but we can piece a few things together. We are told in 2 Timothy 1:5 that Timothy’s grandmother and mother were both believers in Jesus Christ. Paul says this in his letter written to Timothy:
I want to spend just a brief second to encourage parents and grandparents. Your role in your children and grandchild’s life is crucial. You are to be like Lois and Eunice. So many “Christians” are utterly failing in this area of their lives. God has given you a child to steward. He has give you this Child for the chief end of glorifying Him and enjoying Him. Therefore, the first responsibility you have as a parent is to introduce your child to his or her Maker., and then teach them about Him The only way this is done is by opening up the Bible. This should be of first importance. This is more important than gymnastics, or baseball, or boy-scouts, or even school. From the moment they are born until the Lord returns, you should be constantly pointing them to Jesus Christ.
Timothy was a product of this type of child-rearing. And because of this, when Paul first encountered Timothy, he knew instantly that Timothy would be an asset to the team. So what did Paul do? He invited Timothy to join him in his second missionary journey.
What is amazing is that it appears that Timothy agreed without hesitation. At least, if there was hesitation, the Bible is silent on it. In fact, Acts 16 is amusingly nonchalant about Timothy leaving his home, his comforts, his friends, his girlfriend, his mother and grandmother, and his dreams.
When I was 18, I have to admit, nothing like this was on my radar screen. The only thing I thought about was going to college, finding a wife, getting a job, and pursuing the “American Dream.” I don't recall one time asking God, what do you have for me? This was not the mindset of young Timothy. Timothy was not focused on the things of this world; he was focused on the things of God. And when the call came he was ready, and he sacrificed all that he knew and followed Christ right out of his town and into the mission field.
In between that moment of Timothy joining Paul and the writing of this letter to the Philippians approximately 13 years had passed. In those 13 years Timothy was fundamental in the operations of the ministry. He was Paul's apprentice, his right hand man, his apostle in training. Timothy was a crucial part of the planting of numerous Churches, including Philippi. He was regularly used by Paul to strengthen existing Churches, such as Thessalonica. In six of the 13 letters written by Paul, Paul indicates that Timothy is right alongside him in the ministry. This is true as Paul writes the letter to the Philippians. We saw this in the very first line of the letter to the Philippians, “Paul and Timothy, servants [doulos] of Christ Jesus.”
The bond between Paul and Timothy was a beautiful one. You can see it in the words of Paul in our text today. Verse 20 say, “I have no one like him” and in verse 22, “how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.” What amazing complements from the Apostle Paul.
As we have discussed many times before, the Apostle Paul not just anyone, he was the greatest follower of Christ this world has ever seen. He wrote 13 of our New Testament books. He was God’s chosen light to the gentiles and was the first to take the gospel message to the European Continent. He was one of the few people who have ever existed that performed actual miracles, and even raised people from the dead.
For a lot of us, it is hard to relate to Paul. We hear about how God chose him, and used him, and then we look at our lives and they are drastically different. At times, it is hard to relate to Paul. That is not the case for Timothy. He was a young man in a small town, whose mom loved Jesus and wanted the best from him. He read his bible and cried out to Christ for forgiveness of sins. He then plugged into his local church and started to love people with the love of Christ. One “random” day, Paul showed up and invited him on the journey of his life. This is the story that most of us can relate to. Can all of us be Paul's? No, not in one sense. But can we all be Timohty's? You bet.
So what was so great about Timothy? What made him so great in Paul's eyes? Was it his oratory skills? Was it his ability to lead people into powerful worship? Was it his cutting edge church plant strategy? No.
So let us ask the question, what is a drink offering? The first place we see a drink offering mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 35:14 when God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. However, where we see it more prominently is the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament. First in Exodus 29, then in Leviticus 23: and again in Numbers 15:1-10.
It is most likely that this is what Jesus was referring to when he implemented the Lord's Supper in Matthew 26:27-28, “And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28for this is my blood of thec covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Paul was following in the footsteps of his Savior, for he was pouring himself out for many, and Timothy was doing the same. Both of these men were Christ centered, which translated to them being other oriented. They were willing to give up everything, including their own lives so that others would know the wonderful treasure of knowing Jesus Christ. They lived their life poured out, constantly emptying themselves for the faith of others.
How foreign is this concept to many of us. We have turned Christianity into another commodity to be consumed. We walk into Churches demanding a certain level of catering. Each Sunday morning is evaluated in accordance to how well the service fulfilled our needs and desires. Is this the aroma that you want to rise to the nostrils of our God?
Church is about loving God, and loving others. These are the two greatest commands, and Jesus says if we get in line with these two commands, then everything falls into place. Too often we turn our Christian walk into loving ourselves. However this flies in the face of what we are told it means to follow Christ. Jesus tells us that when we choose to follow Him, we are to die to ourselves.
Instead of being self-interested, we should be eagerly pouring ourselves into the lives of others. We shouldn't look at people in this Church as means to ends. We shouldn't see them as an end in themselves. Like Paul and like Timothy, we must be willing to go to them, to encourage them, to love them, and to die for them.
I hate to end on a sour note, but I could not escape feeling the need to call to our attention the words of Jesus when it comes to living selflessly. These are the words of Jesus regarding judgment day.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on March 1, 2015
Turn with me to Philippians 2:14-18. Over the last several weeks we have been unpacking what it looks like for Christians to progress in our faith. We began by understanding that our walk as Christians should be one that match the gift of our salvation. Meaning that we should outwardly display the reality within. Or to say it another way, if we talk the talk, we should walk the walk.
Last week, we examined how this progress in our faith is one that involves both our working, and God working within us. That we are to be actively pursuing Christlikeness, however our pursuit is driven from within by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. This process of transformation is what the Bible calls sanctification. The end of our sanctification occurs upon our death or upon Christ's return, for at that moment the Christian's work is done and we enter into the final rest of our Father and we be like our brother Jesus Christ.
Today we are going to get more specific regarding this process of sanctification. We are going to look at a specific sin, a specific purpose, a specific solution, and a specific result. So with that said, let us read out text, pray and unpack these four verses.
In verse 14 we see Paul exhort the Philippian Church to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” I think it is important for us to recognize that this statement is not disconnected with the first part of Paul's letter. Therefore you could say, progress in your faith without grumbling or disputing, or count others more significant than yourself without grumbling or disputing, or be obedient like Jesus without grumbling or disputing, or work out your salvation without grumbling or disputing. Pual has spent a significant part of his letter exhorting the church at Philippi, and his desire is that they do all these things, not as a burden, but with joy.
As I thought about this text this week, I have to admit that I felt the weight of my sin. I confess I am a grumbler. I wouldn't necessarily use that phrase. Instead I would call myself analytical or critical, perhaps I would even go so far as to admit that I complain about things, but those are just words. The reality is that when Paul is saying don't grumble or dispute, he might as well use my name right after his rebuking.
This week I have felt like grumbling about the weather, my work, my to-do list, the lack of progress in certain areas of my life, the gas tax, the apathy of others, my sleep habits, food, the list could go on an on. This is not to mention the constant sighs that I express throughout my day, as if I can't bare my circumstance one minute longer. The bottom line is that this week I have felt like one giant baby, whining about every little thing that comes up.
And this is the sad part, I was not rebuked one time for my whining. As I went about complaining and grumbling, the world joined in on the conversation. In fact, many times the more I complained the more worldly fellowship I had. People were mesmerized by my poisonous tongue. Why? Because people love the darkness. The world loves sin, and grumbling and disputing is sin.
Many of you, however, may be saying, really? Is it that big of deal to vent once and a while? Or perhaps you are saying, aren't I entitled to my opinion? Can't I stand up on my soapbox? Can't I express myself and let my voice be heard? The answer to this is no, you can't, at least you can't if you are a Christian.
I want to direct your attention to verse 15. Paul uses a phrase that is not arbitrary. He calls the world a “crooked and twisted generation.” This is not the first time this phrase is used in the Bible. It is used by Moses in Deuteronomy 32:5 to describe the nation of Israel during the time they wandered in the desert.
For any of you who have read about those 40 years, which I hope that all of you have, you will know that there is one word that describes those people, complainers. No matter what God did for them, they whined and complained. They grumbled and disputed. This began almost instantly upon Israel's leaving of Egypt. They complained about being led to the Red Sea, they complained about the lack of water, they complained about food, they complained about not having the right food, they complained about Moses, they complained about the people who occupied the promise land. Complain, complain, complain. This was the display of their hearts after God led them out of Egypt. God had chosen these people to be His people out of all the nations of the world, and how did they respond, they grumbled and disputed.
What was God's response to Israel's complaints? Yes he did provide, but also He killed a fair amount of them. He sent a plague, he swallowed some up in the ground, he gave Miriam leprosy, and he kept all of the adults, including Moses, from entering the Promise land. Why was God so angry about their complaining? Because their complaining was a provocation towards God. Their complaining was an assault on God's Sovereignty. Their complaining was the exact opposite of what they should have been doing, trusting in God, having Faith in God. God desired to use them to display himself to the nations, but what they were displaying is discontent, disunity, and disobedience.
Why is this important to us? Why should we care about Israel of 4,000 years ago? Aren't we different as followers of Jesus? Yes, we are different, but that doesn't mean we are perfect and without sin. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:1-2.
The Old Testament is not irrelevant. The nation of Isreal while wandering in the wildernss is not irrelevant. It is to be an example to to us. We are to take heed, lest we fall. We must recognize that grumbling and disputing kindles the wrath of God, it does not please Him. In fact, God killed his Son on the cross to pay for your sins, not just adultery and murder, but also grumbling and complaining.
Every time you complain about your food, your job, your circumstances, your life, you are complaining about God's providence. Just like Israel, you are questioning the Sovereignty of God as he unveils the plans that he has for you. This is what Paul is trying to get across to the people of Philippi as they work out their salvation, as they obey as Jesus obeyed. He wants the Church to sojourn with rejoicing and not with grumbling.
And don't forget Paul's condition as he writes these words. Paul writing these things while he is chained to a Roman guard. His circumstances are way worse than most of you will ever experience. In this letter do you see complaining? No you see Paul rejoicing, proclaiming, edifying, but you never see complaining. With each step Paul takes, no matter how difficult, he uses it for an opportunity to glorify God, not to grumble against God.
Shine as Lights in the World
Which leads to my second point. Our purpose as disciples is to shine like lights in the world. This is why you live in your neighborhood. This is why you work where you work. This is why you go to the school you go to. This is why you have facebook friends. Your responsibility, your call, your purpose is to shine with the light of Jesus Christ into the darkness that surrounds us.
When you grumble and complain, you are not shining. Instead there is a dark cloud that descends over your testimony. You look just like the world that you are sent to save. As Paul says, you are acting twisted and crooked. Instead of acting like Christ, you are acting like Satan. Do you think that your complaining is going to cause one of your friends or family members to say, “Wow, tell me about your faith. I want know more about the God that you seem not to trust.”
We as followers of Jesus Christ are to be radically different. We are to stand out. We are to be salt in this decaying and tasteless world and we are to be light in the midst of the darkness. And this is to be true in all circumstances, and especially true in difficult circumstances. For when your circumstances are the darkest, your light can shines more brightly. For example, think about the cross. It is the darkest day in all of human history. Creation is killing the Creator. This is the most depraved and wicked act imaginable. However, it is with this backdrop of darkness that we see the light of Jesus Christ shine most gloriously. Did Jesus grumble and complain and dispute with his father? No. He prayed “Thy will be done” and “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” For the Joy that was set before him Him endured the cross.
We are called to be like Christ. We are to be his disciples. We are to follow his lead. When our circumstances are not up to our standard of selfish entitlement, we need to check ourselves before we vent, before we give our two cents on God's providence, before we grumble about the circumstances God has ordained for our lives. So how do we do this?
Hold Fast to the Word of Life
Look at verse 16. What does it say? It says we are to “[hold] fast to the word of life.” What is the word of life? It is the gospel. It is the message of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the promise of God that through the death of His Son, your sins are forgiven and you will have eternal life.
I want you to feel the weight of this. You and I deserve to go to Hell. We deserve to have the wrath of God come crashing down upon us. But God, because He is love provides a way that the price of our sins can be paid and so that we can be reconciled to our Maker. That way is that he kills his Son Jesus. He did this for you! Instead of punishing you for your wretchedness, he punishes Jesus for your wretchedness. And if that was not enough, not only does he forgive you but he adopts you into his family and promises you that you will receive the inheritance of being a child of the Almighty God. And if that is not enough, you will get to enjoy this inheritance forever and ever. Meaning that in a billion years from now, you will still be enjoying the unlimited joy of being a child of God.
And if you have repented of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, this is yours right now.
Paul is telling us that we must hold fast to this gospel truth. We must not be casual about it. We must cling to it violently. Never letting these promises slip out of our mind. E must keep our eyes focused to these words, and they must be the anchor of our life. We must hold it, as it holds us.
The question is, are you holding fast to the words of life? Are you clinging to the words of Jesus with white knuckles. Are you soaking, and meditating, and delighting, and cherishing the word of life?
This week I saw a quote from Charles Spurgeon that was somewhat aggressive. Spurgeon said, “There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers.” Does this describe you? Does your Bible sit on the shelf day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year with almost no attention? Instead of holding fast to the word of life, are you holding fast to facebook? HGTV? ESPN? Your business?
I echo what Paul says in verse 16, I do not want to stand in the day of judgment and realize that all of the labors of Cornerstone were vanity. That they were worthless. That my preaching and teaching has fallen on deaf ears. For we know that on the day of Judgment, everything will be revealed. At that time we will not have to look at the dust of our Bibles for God will reveal the dust on our cold dead hearts.
And it only makes sense, for those who who do not have the words of life implanted in their heart, of course they will act like Israel. Of course you will whine and complain and grumble and dispute with God. For that is your nature. You are a rebel, an enemy, an antagonist of God.
But this should not be true for real, authentic followers of Jesus Christ. We must heed the warning of Israel, for we have hope. The hope of eternal life through faith in Christ. And this hope should spring up into our joy.
Be Glad and Rejoice
And that is exactly what we see in verse 17 and 18, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.“
If God has begun a work in our hearts, and we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ, and we trust in the promises of God, then first we should love to be reminded of these things. And each time we saturate ourselves in the good news of Jesus it should produce in us good feelings. Not feelings that are rooted in our circumstances, but feelings that are rooted in the cross.
This is why Paul could rejoice despite his imprisonment. This is why the Church in Philippi could rejoice despite the threats of their opponents, and this is why you should rejoice when the gas tax goes into effect next week, and when the temperature is negative 24, and when you get laid off from work, and when you get a call from the doctor with bad news. Because our joy is in the word of life.
Let us commit ourselves to stop complaining and start proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us work our our salvation without whining. Let us act like we have actually received the greatest gift ever imaginable. And Let us rejoice.
Preached at Cornerstone Church in Cascade, IA on February 15, 2015.
Open your Bibles to Philippians 1:1-11. Today the title of my message is “The Joy of Christian Unity.”
As we sit here today, we have an enemy, and not just any enemy, but the most powerful created being in the Universe, Satan. In Isaiah 14:12, Satan is referred to as the Day Star, son of Dawn. In Ezekiel 28 he is described as signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. In Heaven, he was the guardian Cherub before his fall. Because of his great beauty he became prideful and He attempted a coup. His desire was to exult himself above the Sovereign God. For the first time in Heaven, there was a break in harmony.
This obviously did not work out well for Satan, for he was cast out of Heaven by God. Jesus speaks of this in Luke 10:18. With Satan’s fall he took with him 1/3 of the Angels. Once on the Earth, he makes his first appearance in the Garden of Eden. What is he attempting to do? He is attempting to achieve more followers. He is successful in convincing both Adam and Eve to listen to him and not listen to God, and in that moment everything changes. He creates division between God and man and the tranquility of the Garden of Eden is transformed into shame, guilt and separation. And at that moment for the first time on Earth, there is a disruption in the harmony of Creation.
From that point on Satan wonders the Earth like prowling lion looking for people to devour; whether that be Job, Israel, Jesus, the Aposltes, the early Church or Cornerstone Church. Prior to Jesus’ crucifixion Jesus spoke to this reality. Jesus prays this:
From the beginning of the Church, Satan has hated its existence. He hates Christ, he hates his bride, he hates its mission, he hates its harmony, and he will do anything and everything to create discord. Cornerstone Church is not immune to Satan's attacks. In fact, I believe we are actually at high risk of attack. Why? Because we are a threat. As I stood here a few weeks ago, I rejoiced in the prayers that I heard come from our congregation, prayers of gospel orientation, Satan fumed. He hated every prayer request that came out of your mouths. Not only that but he hates mission trips, Bible studies, and discipleship classes called multiply. And don't think for one minute that he is not looking for a foothold for division.
And Satan will do it like he always does, with whispers of temptation. He will appeal to your selfish desires and your self interests. Perhaps you will start to be bothered by certain people, certain songs, certain decisions, certain conversations. As God told Cain before he killed his brother Abel, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you,“ the same is true for all of us. So the question I have is when that day comes, if it is not already here, will we follow Cain's lead and throw stones at our brothers and sisters, or will we head God's warning that he gives us today in his Word?
What is Christian Unity?
Let us now turn our attention to the question, what is true Christian unity? Let's start with what Paul and Jesus are definitely, not talking about. The unity we find in John 17 and the unity we find in the letter to the Philippians is not the same unity that we see in the fallen World. They are diametrically opposed to each other. The Unity of the World is a unity of rebellion, a rebellion against God.
If I were to chose a word for our generation, I would chose the word of tolerance. The way in which this word is being used and understood in our current culture is to advocate the acceptance of another sin. It is the “don't judge me” mentality that has infected the minds of our messed up western culture. It is a cry not to interfere with my transgressions. It is a mantra of “you sin they way you want to, and I will sin the way I want to, and we will be unified in our desire to sin without boarders.” It is a unity that we find in Sodom and Gomorrah. Were those two towns unified? Absolutely, the were unified in their wretchedness. This is not the unity of the Bible.
What is the unity we find in the Bible? The unity we find in the Bible is not a unity of self interest, it is a unity of self-sacrifice. It is not a unity of rebellion, it is a unity of obedience. Let us look at verse 3 in our text.
The greatest picture of this self-sacrifice is non other than Jesus. Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. This sacrifice was more than just death, for everyone dies, and some even die for others in a heroic manner. Jesus' sacrifice was far greater, for He is far greater. Jesus gave up the Glory of God and came to Earth. His stepping down into the story was an infinite step. His humiliation of taking on the form of man is something we will never know the depth of, because there is no depth. His sacrifice is literally immeasurable. Jesus said it well when he said that there is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. This is infinitely true with this life that is laid down if the Author of Life. Why did he do this? For two reasons, so that you will be forgiven and because His Father asked him.
And this unity of self-sacrifice, obedience and love is a unity that God draws us into, and Christ achieves for us. Don't forget what Jesus prays to His Father in John 17:
Standing Firm and Participating in the Spirit
How on earth are we to achieve this? Is it simply a sermon? Let us look at two verses.
We are commanded to be one. This command is out of our reach, at least on our own. This request can only be achieved supernaturally, specifically by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We must be swept up into the Trinity and participate in the Unity that already exists. There is only one way to achieve oneness and that is through the One Spirit. The spirit who, also perfectly sacrifices, perfectly obeys, and perfectly loves.
As I was preparing this week to preach this text, John MacAruthur provided a good picture of Unity in relationship to the Holy Spirit. He said there are two ways to attempt to achieve unity, I would actually argue there are three. The first way we have already discussed, it is the unity of inclusion, no borders, no rules.
The second way is a unity of external pressures. It is the unity of hallow religion. The unity that focuses on works. It is a unity of the Pharisees. It attempts to place everyone inside a predefined box, whether they want to be in the box or not. It is the unity of Islam, Mormonism, and unfortunately Roman Catholicism. This is not true unity, it is a mirage of unity. Not a unity of love, but a unity of burden. No one wants to be in the box, but they feel like they have to.
True unity is not a box you are thrown into. True unity is a force you are drawn to. True unity is like a magnet. Something inside of you is drawn to this magnet. The magnet is Christ and the force inside of us is the Holy Spirit. Each one of us drawn to the same Person, Jesus, by the same force, the Holy Spirit. True unity is not religion, it is a loving relationship with Christ. Our oneness is a product of Christ in us, and for that we rejoice.
This sermon was supposed to be preached two weeks ago, but because of the snow it is today's message. This delay has turned out to be a great blessing to me, for I was able to experience a unity in India that was breathtaking. They did not have logos, t-shirts, mission statements, or statements of faith, etc. They had one thing, an intense love for Jesus Christ. It was this love for Christ that was the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it was what touched our heart the deepest.
We have the same Holy Spirit inside of us, therefore, let us then lay aside our sin and our flesh and lay down our lives for each other, so that we can display the harmony of Heaven to the ears of this World is discord.