What a beautiful thing it is when the people of God come together. There truly is only one Church and only one body of Christ. We can look around in our churches and in our communities; seeing others who have different hobbies, different priorities, different values, different colors of skin, different languages, different preferences regarding athletics, movie genre, life philosophy and even the style of worship in a church service. There is a diversity in our society and I think it’s a beautiful thing.
Many times, though, diversity can become a point of conflict. We are sometimes in danger of trying to force others to be like us. We think life should look a certain way, that worship music ought to be something specific, that we are the only ones who do things the right way, that others who think differently or have different convictions are sinners. We end up competing with others because we want all of the attention and this attitude carries over into our churches. All of the sudden beautiful diversity has caused churches to compete with one another rather than pursue great partnerships. Make no mistake, we are in an age of great conflict. Yet, we promote love. We talk about love. We talk about sharing Christ’s love and offering the world the eternal life that Christ has given. My question becomes this: are we guilty of only talking about love, or do we let the love of Christ work out in our lives? What in the world does the outworking of Christ’s love look like?
Philippians 1:1-11 (HCSB)
Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus:
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you, always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart, and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and establishment of the gospel. For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
Paul wrote the book of Philippians around the year A.D. 61 from Rome. As he was writing this letter, he was in prison and the central theme of the letter is experiencing joy. In this part of his letter, Paul greets the saints in Philippi, writes of how thankful he is for the Philippian believers, and prays for the Philippians to continue to grow in love.
Partnership brings thankfulness
When Paul shares his thankfulness for the Philippian church, he claims to be thankful because of their partnership in the Gospel. Not only did they partner with Paul financially, but also in the grace of God and in the defense and establishment of the Gospel. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, and the Philippian believers were pouring God’s grace out to those around them. They were defending what honored God and defending Christ. They were working to establish the Gospel where they were. They were being the church.
We currently live in an environment where churches are constantly competing with one another. We compare our churches according to who has the best music, who has the most charismatic or relevant preacher, the average age of the congregation, how nice the buildings are, how many regular attendees there are on Sunday morning, and even according to the size of a budget. Our churches compete with one another to see who can fill the most seats and who can have the best stuff. We strive to have the best youth ministries or the best meals. These things are not bad, but they are so trivial in light of what it means for us to honor God in our lives, in our churches, and in our denominations. When we compare and contrast according to these trivial values, we become so guilty of creating unhealthy, worldly competition that works against the movement of the Gospel in our community, in our city, in our state, in our nation, and in our world.
Paul was thankful that the church in Philippi did not compete with him, but partnered with him for the sake of the Gospel. In the same way, there must be partnership between our churches and between our denominations. We can disagree on secondary issues, but when we share God’s grace, defend the Gospel, and work to establish the Gospel, we can be thankful for one another because we are partners in Christ, not competitors.
God’s work in the church
As I read this introduction from Paul, I notice something very important about God’s work in the church. I have noticed that the apostles were never concerned with having the best music when compared with other churches. They were never concerned with finding a church that had a great orator as a preacher. They did not consider it necessary to have a beautiful stage, decorations, a lot of people, or even a physical place to meet. The apostles were not trying to outdo one another in these respects or have nicer things than one another. Their focus was simple: reach people with the love and message of Jesus Christ. They were able to do so even without owning much in this world. They didn’t always feel spiritual. They struggled in this life and even died for the faith that they had in Christ. As a perfect example, Paul is even writing this letter to the Philippians from prison.
Paul refers to the believers in Philippi as partners, then he encourages them by saying that God will complete the work that He has started in them. After this, Paul describes their partnership as grace, a defense of the Gospel and the establishment of the Gospel. God’s work in the church runs much deeper than our being able to put on a good show. It is about God giving grace to us so that we can share that grace with one another and with the community. It is about our defending the genuine message of Christ because Christ has given us eternal life. It is about our establishing the Gospel together because we want the whole world to experience that life. When we make our meeting together about anything else, we have failed to worship God. When we pick a church based on personal preference, we have failed to worship God. When church leaders try to make the church into what they think it should be, they have failed to worship God. We can have the best show, and miss entirely what it means to be the church. It is not about competition. It is about us partnering together, perpetuating God’s grace, defending the Gospel and establishing the Gospel. This is because Christ is King, we are not.
Outworking of love
As Paul finishes his greeting, he writes that he hopes the Philippian believers’ love will continue to increase in all knowledge and in all judgment, so that they could “approve the things that are superior and (could) be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.”
The outworking of God’s love in our lives is way more than an emotional or spiritual high. It is deeper than feeling an emotional connection either through song or instruction. It is so sad when we reduce worshipping God to only trying to achieve an emotional high for ourselves. When we do this we actually contradict ourselves. Unfortunately, this becomes the case in many of our churches because we too often adopt society’s entertainment and concert-driven way of manipulating people. I have some great news for the church today. We are not to manipulate people by striving to achieve preference or by telling people what they want to hear or by making people feel what they want to feel. Paul knew this. The love that Paul is talking about is a connection that is much deeper and much more beneficial.
It is a love that seeks genuine knowledge. When we seek genuine knowledge, then our priority as we meet is to know God more, not to fulfill our own preferences. When we seek genuine knowledge, then we also strive to know our brothers and sisters more. When we do these things, we get to build genuine community that is rooted in something much deeper and much more beneficial than a song or a sermon.
It is a love that seeks to make better judgment. As our love for God and one another increases, so does our wisdom because we care more about the things that honor God and more about the well-being of our brothers and sisters. We become more willing to put thought into our action and more committed to not act impulsively or rashly because we have taken the time to know and to care for one-another.
When we strive to have all wisdom and all good judgment, we are more prepared to approve the things that are superior and that can be blameless before Christ. As we grow in Christ, we are less concerned with having our way, and more concerned with pursuing what honors Christ. This is the test of mature belief in Jesus Christ. Those who have grown more in Christ’s love will be less concerned with themselves. Those who are more concerned with themselves have not grown in Christ’s love. When we put ourselves aside, we become full of the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
So, brothers and sisters: We are one body in Christ. We do not compete with one another because we are partners in the Gospel. We do not pursue personal preference, but instead what honors God and benefits others. This must be reflected in every church. If it is not, we will fail to worship God in a way that actually honors Him.
This being said, we have a great reason to be thankful. We can be thankful because God has chosen us, He has saved us, and we are all partners for the sake of Christ’s name and to God’s glory, not our own.