Two Reasons Why Church Unity Matters to a Well-Lived Gospel Life


In my last post, I argued from the book of Philippians that a life worthy of the gospel treasures and fosters unity in Christ’s church as a non-negotiable priority.

In Philippians 2:1-11, Paul explains three components of this truth: why unity matters, how it works, and what it takes.

In this post, I want to suggest two reasons why guarding church unity matters to a well-lived gospel life.

Reason number one: Trinitarian realities (v. 1).

Paul poses a sequence of conditional “if” statements. He assumes a “yes” answer to each.

One could translate it, since there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy.

This verse resembles the structure of 2 Corinthians 13:14—The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

In Philippians 2:1, Paul has God the Father’s comforting love in mind. When the apostle contemplates the persons of the Trinity, he glories in mercy aspects of all three persons of the Godhead.

He savors Jesus’ massive encouragement, God’s comforting love, and the Spirit’s intimate fellowship—all of which he adds to and piles on the synonyms of “affection” and “sympathy.”

That last word is the same word translated in Romans 12:1 as “mercies”—I urge you brothers, by the mercies of God—capturing the beauties of the gospel covered in chapters 1-11.

If all this is true about God—and it is—how can we be anything but a loving, caring, unity-prizing church full of people?

Reason number two: apostolic priorities (v. 2).

In light of all these stunning Godhead realities so terribly important to his way of thinking, Paul adds further motivation to them by begging this: make my joy complete by being of the same mind.

Imagine this. You’re wasting away in prison, wondering where the next gift to keep you alive will come from, and the thing above all things that will drive your joy over the top is to hear that one of your churches is getting along well? Remarkable!

The unity of his churches mattered that much to Paul. He threw his apostolic authority behind the appeal for unity to motivate the Philippians to guard the oneness of their church.

Both the apostle’s joy priorities and Trinitarian love realities more than answer the question why treasuring and fostering unity should matter to us as a non-negotiable priority.

In their book, Peacemaking Women, Tara Klena Barthel and Judy Dabler emphasize the importance of the connection between beliefs and behavior:

As we learn to walk through life firmly rooted in God’s grace, living for his glory, we constantly identify and evaluate our thoughts and convictions in light of the truth of Scripture. Instead of only addressing our behavior, we ask, “What are the deeply held beliefs that influence my emotions, thoughts, and actions?” and “How do my beliefs line up with Scripture?” We then reject any beliefs that are false, affirm those that are true, and take practical steps to live out our faith in a loving Christian community (21).

The more we affirm true beliefs about the mercies of the Godhead and the apostolic priority of unity, the more practical steps we will take to live out a life worthy of the gospel.

Question: What extra-biblical resources help shape your beliefs in conformity to the Scripture?

Nothing for Which Jesus Cares So Much (Part 7)

Today’s message from John 14:15-24 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here is how I tied together the entire passage in our last look at this section of the farewell discourse:

Genuine faith that knows the Father and the Son who is in the Father demonstrates itself through obedience to Christ’s commandments. There is no love for Christ, no genuine belief in God, apart from a treasuring of Christ’s commandments. This alone will suffice for the measuring rod of your faith as to it genuineness. Do you evaluate it in these terms? Christ alone can give you this kind of faith. If you admit your rebellion against him and failure to keep all His commandments and put your trust in His death on the cross for your sins, He will forgive you and He will send you His Holy Spirit to indwell and empower you and He Himself and the Father will indwell you and strengthen you and aid you in every way as well.

Do you wonder if you ever will overcome that besetting sin? There is a Niagara of help in the Godhead. This is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4). Here is where we must focus in our battle against the flesh. Greater is He who is in you than He who is in the world (1 John 4:4). The good news of the gospel is that because of Christ’s finished work on the cross and His going to the Father, all the resources of the gospel now envelop our hearts and lives. No wonder R. A. Torrey said: I can think of no thought more humbling or more overwhelming that the thought that a person of Divine majesty and glory dwells in my heart and is ready to use even me. He does indeed. One God. Three persons. More than enough for our every need.

On this Palm Sunday may we praise God for the Triune provision that is mutual indwelling and the promise for all we need for a life of treasuring Christ’s commands and walking in obedience to Him.

The Three "Rs" of the Spirit

Yesterday I attempted to apply the teaching from John 14:16-17 about the role of the Holy Spirit with three “so whats.” I want to review them quickly here in this post.

First, find rest in the Spirit’s foreverness. The Son asks the Father to give us the Spirit and promises a forever relationship. We never need concern ourselves that the Father will renege on the promise of the Spirit. We are sealed with the Spirit (Eph. 1:13). He will never leave us or forsake us and always gives us exactly what we need for every circumstance and situation.

Second, take responsibility for the Spirit’s infilling. The Spirit’s indwelling, enjoyed by all Jesus’ followers, does not guarantee His fullness in our everyday lives. We make choices all the time that influence that one way or the other. Ephesians 5:18-21 is the key text:

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Notice the corporate nature of the means that affect the Spirit’s infilling in our lives. Participation in singing and praise from the heart with thanksgiving and a submissive spirit towards others all come into play dramatically in terms of whether or not we enjoy the Spirit’s in full measure.
Third, think relationship with the Spirit as family. He is, after all, a person. A Christ follower has no more intimate relationship than he does with the indwelling Spirit. Talk with the Spirit. Pray to the Spirit. Remember that the Spirit goes with you wherever you go and can be grieved (Eph. 4:30) or quenched (1 Thess. 5:19) by whatever you do.
There are some bizarre teachings out there about the Spirit, but we should not let the fear of those excesses keep us from cultivating a prayer-without-ceasing, keeping-in-close-step with the Spirit.

The Ultimate Grace of Loving (Part 3)

Yesterday’s message from 1 John 4:7-12 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

I summarized the text this way:

So treasure the centrality of love – sweet, endless, lavish – love in the Godhead – ultimatley sourced in the Father’s amazing being, historically secured in the Son’s atoning mission, and continually seen through the Spirit’s abiding presence – seen in the intricacies of showing honor, showing hospitality, mutual burden-bearing, and bearing with others and forgiving others.

If you would like to order a subscription to Free Grace Broadcaster, the gratis quarterly publication I mentioned at the top of the message, click here.

May the Lord grant us grace to dress ourselves in the garments of virtue, especially the ultimate grace of loving in our gospel-shaped community.

More on Adoption – Not a Fairy Tale

Earlier this week I made a post quoting from J. I. Packer regarding the doctrine of adoption and the way we are loved by God as sons because of being in Christ through faith.

God receives us as sons, and loves us with the same steadfast affection with which he eternally loves his beloved only-begotten. There are no distinctions of affection in the divine family. We are all loved just as fully as Jesus is loved. It is like a fairy story–the reigning monarch adopts waifs and strays to make princes of them. But, praise God, it is not a fairy story: it is hard and solid fact, founded on the bedrock of free and sovereign grace. This, and nothing less than this, is what adoption means. No wonder John cries, “Behold what manner of love!” When once you understand adoption, your heart will cry the same (Knowing God, IVP, 1993, p. 216).

This morning in our Oxford Club for men we raised the question as to whether or not Dr. Packer might overstate the case a bit when he writes, There are no distinctions of affection in the divine family. Is there no difference at all between the affection shared by the Father and His Son within the Godhead in comparison with the affection we enjoy as sons through adoption?

John Frame speaks to the question in his book Salvation Belongs to the Lord:

Jesus Himself is the Son of God . . . . He has a unique sonship, a relation to God that we cannot attain. His sonship is higher than ours, and it is the source of ours, for it is only those who receive Christ (John 1:12) who gain the authority to be sons of God. In John 20:17 Jesus distinguishes his sonship from ours when he says to Mary, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Jesus never describes God as “our” Father in a way that equalizes the relationship between Jesus’ sonship and ours. Nevertheless, we are sons of God because God sees us in Christ, in his beloved Son. So, we share the blessings that the Father gives to his unique Son, Jesus (P&R, 2006, p. 206).

Of course this clarification takes nothing away from the astounding truth that God loves us as sons through the association we share with Jesus, our Brother. But it does help to recalibrate our thinking to remember the ultimately unique and ultimate sonship of the second person of the Trinity in relation to the first.

The recalibration notwithstanding, the immedidate message to our hearts from a consideration of adoption, as Dr. Packer reminds us (and I doubt Dr. Frame would disagree) remains the same. I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Savior is my brother; every Christian is my brother too (p. 228).

May we preach this message to our hearts every day and multiple times throughout the day until we finally go home to our reward and inherit the fullness of all our adoption secures for us in Christ Jesus. Then we will no longer need to preach these truths to our hearts for then we shall see Him as He and be like Him. Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.