Monday, March 14, 2016
Monday Morning Rewind: What Holds Us Together
For example, if you find when speaking of your church family that you use the singular "I' or "me" more than "we" or "us," you may need a good, healthy dose of what Paul offers in his letter to the church at Philippi. For that reason, we are spending the next ten weeks moving verse by verse through Paul's letter to the Philippians. This church, which was planted when Paul crossed the Aegean Sea in Acts 16, was a highly diverse reflection of of the port city in which it was located. It's members included a wealthy owner of an import-export business, correctional officers, Greeks, Thyracians, blue collar port workers, and even a small number of Jews.
In other words, their diverse makeup was similar to our own congregation, which consists of white collar D.C. commuters, local business owners, public servants, University students, faculty, and administration, artists, and even rednecks! Any time you have a congregation that diverse, unity is always a challenge. This is because different backgrounds bring different points of view, opinions, cultures, and ways of looking at life.
But diversity was never intended by God to be a barrier to genuine unity. Diversity is the richness of our human experience, and when we all find common ground under the Lordship of Jesus, such diversity makes for the most powerful kind of unity--because it is a unity governed by the mind of Christ. Paul opens this letter describing for the people at Philippi--and us--the things that hold us all together, no matter who we are or where we come from.
1. Faith. Paul's love for this church is revealed early, and its revealed strongly! And the biggest reason for his love is the "partnership" he shared with the church. From the very first contact with Lydia up until this moment, there has been an unbreakable bond, and its unbreakable because it is "in the Gospel."
If we all truly believe the Gospel, we won't be the kind of church that breaks up like a teenage garage band at the first sign of conflict. For Paul, this meant neither the differences of opinion and arguments going on inside the church, or even his own imprisonment could shake the bond they shared. Genuine faith is stronger than that!
2. Service. Facing hardship together is a great cure for disunity and division. For Paul, it was prison. Can you imagine after receiving this letter how conversations leading to division might have been stopped? I imagine someone probably said "hey guys, one of our own is in jail! Is there really anything more pressing than that?" Indeed, is there any conflict so great that we should let it overcome us and keep us from seeing the more important things? When we work together with a focus on our common mission, that service does much to hold us together.
3. Love. Paul expresses a deep love for the church, but as we will see later in the letter, this isn't a romanticized "love" that always feels good and is always pleasant. A love that never offends anyone, or never makes anyone feel uncomfortable isn't real love. In fact, we in the west have romanticized away everything about genuine love that makes it so powerful! The genuine love that challenges for the good of the other is what Paul will model throughout this letter, and its a fantastic glue that holds God's people together on mission.
4. Trust. Paul's desire here is that the love he is expressing through the letter be replicated in the church, and that it create the kind of intimate knowledge of each other that allows us to make moral distinctions. Trust requires that we see clearly the good, bad, and ugly in each other so that we can make each other better and grow together toward Jesus. But that can't happen if we don't trust each other!
5. Destination. Yes, we are all going to heaven together, but Paul has something else in mind as we approach verse 11. Namely, together is how we reach the goal of becoming more like Jesus. This always happens in the context of church community. There are no solitary routes to becoming like Jesus. And this is why you need your church family. We need each other.
The late evangelist Dwight L. Moody said "There are two ways of being united. One is by being frozen together, and the other is by being melted together." I think that's a pretty good picture of our choices. Covenant Church can have a union that is cold and shallow--a union that centers around organizational documents, buildings, membership roles, and a budget. It doesn't have to be any deeper than that. But that's not what God wants for us! If we truly love each other, we will aspire to the picture Paul draws for us in these first 11 verses. Those are the things that will "melt" us together into a genuine unity. That kind of unity, when grounded in the Gospel, is inseparable. And as we continue this series for the next nine weeks, its exactly the kind of unity I'm praying for--for all of us.
Will you join me?