How Treasuring Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life


I remember the day this headline in the Orlando Sentinel (8.26.15, p. B4) caught my eye:

In faith and politics, angry division often eclipses joy and service.

Scott Maxwell wrote:

When Fred Hawkins Jr. looked out over the Osceola County Commission chambers last week — and saw a room full of religious leaders and activists — he was slightly depressed. That might sound strange for a man such as Hawkins: a devout, conservative Christian who begins each morning with a daily devotion. So please understand that Hawkins wasn’t bothered that religious advocates had shown up this day to protest an equal-rights ordinance that says employers and landlords can’t discriminate against gays. He was bothered that this was virtually the only time they showed up. “I’ve been on the board seven years,” Hawkins said, noting that his board discusses and debates all manner of things that Christians should care about: poverty, homelessness, education and the environment. “And they just don’t come out.” This is one of the main problems of modern-day Christianity: Religious activists make more headlines for division and anger than unity and joy. . . . Organized religion has a PR problem. . . . We could do better. . . . Boy, would that be living the Gospel—and probably attracting followers to boot.

Of course, the problem doesn’t exist just in politics outside the church; it often plagues God’s people inside the church.

It seems the church at Philippi had its own PR problem when it came to conflict in the church.

Paul even calls out by name two women apparently out of sorts with one another in Philippians 4:2.

He wrote the letter for other reasons as well, but we piece together this important occasion for writing from his multiple references to unity.

Consider the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. He could hardly write more strongly with greater emphasis.

Let’s start with Philippians 1:27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. How?

Jump down to the end of the verse: Standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.

And then just in case we missed it, he hammers the same idea again in 2:2—complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Notice the repetition of the word mind—three times.

Get on the same page. Have the same values. Be thinking the same God-honoring, Christ-glorifying, Spirit-inspired truths designed to renew your minds and make you one (Rom. 12:2).

That he calls a life worthy of the gospel—living in unity as God’s people in His church.

A life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In the next few posts, I want to answer three questions related to the priority of cultivating a culture of peace in your church—why it matters, how it works, and what it takes.

Question: What are some other Scripture passages which show the connection between the power of the gospel and striving for unity in the church?

Testing the Grinch Within

Teddie’s out of the office for her annual year end vacation this week and next. That means, among other things, I get to type up and send out the connect card prayer requests. No big deal. Glad to do it.

Among the requests that went out to the leadership team were my own. They included this one: for my servant heart – our son and grandchildren are in town for the week.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are multiple joys attached to the yuletide invasion of Joel and his tribe. But it also tests the reality of the gospel in my heart during an already busy time of year. And I can find myself easily irritated and Grinch-like.

For example, I went to take a shower earlier today. All I ask for is a relatively few minutes of uninterrupted, hot water streaming from above until I get myself clean. Any idea how hard that is to come by with four extra people in the house, three of them children?! It amazes me how little patience I can have with inconvenience. Perhaps I should have gotten that prayer request out on Monday instead of waiting until today!

Jesus warned against sins of hypocrisy (Matt. 7:5). I seem never to be far from putting on airs or keeping up masks in my flesh.

One thing that helps is focused self-examination, always, of course, under the lavish grace of the gospel.

Recently I came across this test for self-evaluation proposed by John Wesley for waging war against hypocrisy.

Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I’m a better person than I really am? Do I laugh at the mistakes of others, reveling in their errors and misfortunes? Do I insist on having my own way? Is there a tendency for me to put others down so that I’ll be thought of more highly? Do I pass on to others what is told to me in confidence? Am I thoughtful in expressing ‘thanks’ to people for what they’ve done for me, no matter how insignificant it seems? Am I a slave to dress, a slave to friends and their opinions, a slave to work or habits? Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying? Did the Bible live in me yesterday? Did I disobey God in anything yesterday? Did I insist on doing something about which my conscious was uneasy? Did I handle discouragement well or did I have to be coddled? Am I enjoying prayer? When did I last speak to someone about Christ? Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize or hold resentment toward? If so, what am I doing about it? Is Christ real to me?

Frankly, I don’t ever want to take a walk down a road lined with signs asking those questions without gospel grace bracing me from condemnation. Still, giving ourselves to this kind of disciplined testing of ourselves to see that we are in the faith is commended to us in Scripture (2 Cor. 13:5) and and can reveal to us some measure as to how much the gospel is working itself out realistically in our every day lives.

Might 2013 be a year where at least once or twice a week we take a test for self-evaluation and not just at Christmas? Here’s to keeping the Grinch at bay and granting Jesus free reign.

Can We Trust This Jesus of Christmas?

So far in our Advent messages we have studied John 7:1-24. Here are some thoughts in review.

In John 7:1-13, the apostle seeks to answer an important question. Who is this Jesus of Christmas?

In vv. 14-24, with Jesus engaging the pilgrim crowd in Jerusalem at the Feast of Booths, John seeks to answer a related but different question. Can we trust this Jesus of Christmas?

We can, indeed, when we consider statements He made like these in vv. 16-18:

16 “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.

You will never ask more important questions than these. Who is this Jesus of Christmas? Can I trust this Jesus of Christmas? John’s answers are unequivocal. He is the Messiah, God’s Son and yes, you can trust Him as wholly true. His teaching is not His own, but the Father’s who sent Him. He seeks not His own glory but that of His Father. He is the fulfillment of circumcision, the Sabbath, and every other Old Testament type and shadow God gave to Israel. So believe. Don’t give way to intellectual snobbery born of moral depravity or legalistic hypocrisy born of superficial spirituality. Judge with right judgment with respect to this Jesus of Christmas.