United for the Mission

June 23, 2019 Preacher: Luis A. Cardenas Series: Unity

Topic: English Passage: Philippians 1:27

One of the great stains in the biblical history of Israel is found in the book of Judges. During that time, because there was no righteous king, Israel was marked by ignorance, immorality, and idolatry. They had severely strayed from God’s commands, and to say it another way, the nation was marked by stupidity, sexuality, and superstition.

If you ever read Judges, you’ll see for yourself how ugly it all gets, all because, as the closing verse of the book says, there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Proverbs 29:18 says that where there is no prophetic vision, no divine revelation, the people are unrestrained.

A righteous king would bring Israel God’s law, and lead them into obedience, peace, and unity. Israel’s unrest during the time of Judges wasn’t simply a result of attacks from surrounding nations. Israel became unstable from the inside as well. The nation was tearing itself apart.

They had turned from the true God, and so they had forgotten their mission. They had forgotten their God-given purpose—to shine as a light to the world.

The worst part is that they weren’t really aware of it. They still claimed to worship God, but they did  it in their own way. The people grew complacent. The people grew cold. And with that, the people grew apart.

A lack of connection to God, and a lack of connection to one another led them to a civil war, and you can read about that Judges, chapters 19, 20, and 21.

There we have the horrific story of a Levite who had a concubine. His concubine was unfaithful to him and then she ran off to live with her father in Bethlehem, which is in Judah, the southern portion of Israel. Four months later, this Levite decides to go get her.

Well, because of the father’s insistence, the Levite didn’t leave Bethlehem until after 5 days, and even then he didn’t leave until the afternoon.

He leaves Bethlehem and heads north toward. And not wanting to stay in a city run by and filled with foreigners, he passes by the town of the Jebusites and comes to Gibeah, which belonged to the tribe of Benjamin. And coming to Gibeah, he did what most travelers did—he sat down in the city square, hoping for someone, out of cultural and brotherly kindness, to let them stay with them for the night.

Sadly, and ironically, not one Israelite let them stay in with them that night, but they were invited into the home of an old man who was a foreigner.

That night, the Benjaminite men came assaulting the old man’s home, demanding that he turn over the visitor so that they could “know him.” They wanted to use this visitor for their own evil desires and purposes. Israel had turned into Sodom. That’s how bad it had become.

And similar to what happened with Sodom and, the man offers the Benjaminites his own concubine, and they take her, and assault her all night morning. And in the morning the man finds her dead on his doorstep.

So, what does he do? He takes his knife, and he divides the woman’s body into twelve pieces, and he sends a piece  to each of the tribes, asking them to take vengeance for what has happened.

And that message incites a brutal civil war between Benjamin and all the other tribes of Israel. In total, over 65,000 soldiers died because of that battle, men from both sides. Such a tragic division of God’s people!

And that destruction of the unity of God’s people came in tandem with the loss and the failure of their calling.

So, what’s the lesson? The lesson is that the unity of God’s people is directly connected to the purpose or the effectiveness of God’s people. When we stop fulfilling God’s purpose for us, corporately, we forfeit our unity. And conversely, when we stop living in true unity, we will no longer be effective in the purpose God has given us.

Our unity as God’s people is directly related to our purpose as God’s people. You have to understand that. This is the heart of what I want to show you today. Our unity is directly related to our purpose.

What is the purpose of God’s people? It’s not unity. God doesn’t have us here as His people, just so we can get along. What’s our purpose? It is to follow Jesus Christ by helping others follow Jesus Christ, right? That’s our mission. That’s our calling.

First Peter 2:9 says we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. We’ve been called by God so that we would proclaim His excellencies.

We are a proclaiming people. That’s what we are, a proclaiming people. We proclaim the holiness and the goodness of God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Do you remember back in John 17 we talked about the connection between our unity and our purpose? Jesus prayed that we would all be one, just as He and the Father are One, so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him.

Jesus connects our unity to our gospel witness. One the one hand, our unity serves as a testimony to the gospel.

It’s like the muscles on a guy trying to sell you a gym membership. It adds credibility to the message. People see it, and they recognize there’s something there.

But our unity serves, not just as a testimony to the message, but as the means by which the message goes out. The message goes out into all the world, and into our communities, because we’re not intended to do it alone. We are united for a purpose.

You might also remember that in that same prayer, Jesus asked that we would be kept from the evil one. Jesus wants to keep us out of Satan’s destructive plan, not just in our own lives, but in the purpose we’ve been given.

What would your life look like if Satan got a hold of you? You can’t lose your salvation, we know that. But if Satan were to have his way in your life, what would that look like?

I’ll tell you, it doesn’t mean you’d feel sad and depressed and frustrated and lonely and sick. It very well might mean that your life goes great. Because Satan’s goal is not to make you feel miserable. His goal is to rob God of His glory and to make you unfruitful for that glory.

Think about this: if Satan got ahold of your life, would your life even change? Think about that.

Maybe you are right where Satan wants you. You go to church, and sometimes you even hang out with Christian people. And even though you are somewhat bothered by what you see in the world around you, you have a very comfortable life. You go through it all, and you have zero impact for the gospel. You are reaching out to no one. And that’s just fine with you.

If that’s the case, you have either severely lost sight of what it means to be a Christian, or you were never really saved to begin with. You might not even be a Christian. And if that statement doesn’t jolt you, my bet would be that you’re not. Because a person who has been born again by the Spirit of God longs to know God and to make Him known.

If you’ve been called by God, you have been called for the purpose of uniting with His people to proclaim His truth. Your life is going to be about unity and about proclamation. Those things go hand-in-hand. Unity and proclamation.

We can’t have real, meaningful unity if we’re not going to pursue proclamation. And we can’t be effective in our proclamation unless we are going to pursue true unity.

I want you to see this, first of all, in the early church. We won’t spend too much time here, but go with me to Acts chapter 2, verse 41.

Acts 2 is the story of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. And when the crowds in Jerusalem don’t know what’s going on, Peter stand up and gives a Spirit-empowered sermon. And he calls the people to repentance and baptism.

Look at verse 41—So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Three thousand people come to Christ. Three thousand people are joined to the church. And what do they do?

Verse 42—And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

They were united in their devotion. They were united in their worship. And their unity was expressed in meaningful ways.

Skip down to verses 44-46—44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,

It seems as if a lot of these people didn’t live in Jerusalem originally. They came for the feast, and then because of their conversion, they decided to stay. But not they needed assistance. And the church family came together to help. And they did it gladly.

And notice the result. Verse 47—[They were] praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Their unity won them favor with the unbelieving people. There was a winsomeness to what they were doing. And God blessed it by adding to their number day by day.

Again, we see a connection between unity and evangelism, between unity and effectiveness for the mission.

Last week, we talked about our unity in Christ. Today, we’re going to be talking about our unity for the mission.

And with all that I’ve said serving as an introduction, I’d like you to turn with me now to Philippians chapter 1. Philippians chapter 1.

Philippians is an amazing letter to read. Sometimes, in Christian circles, people will refer to it as the epistle of joy, because that’s such a prominent theme. But that kind of title can be a little misleading. This is not a letter on how to have joy. The real theme of this letter is the gospel.

Paul wants the church to know the gospel is advancing. And he wants the church to be united in advancing the gospel. And as an outflow of that, the church is made joyful.

The references to joy in the letter are talking about the joy that comes out of gospel advancement and gospel partnership.

Look with me at verses 3-5—I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Paul saw this church, not just as supporters of his mission, but as gospel partners. What Paul was doing across the Roman Empire, the members of this church were doing in their own city. Paul felt united to them.

Look at verse 7—It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

They are on the same team. Paul is trying to advance and defend the gospel. And the Philippians are trying to advance and defend the gospel.

And Paul goes on to pray that they would grow in love and in knowledge and in discernment. And he reports to them how the gospel has continued to advance, even in the midst of opposition.

This is what made the Philippians joyful. That Jesus was being proclaimed. This is what united them.

And now that Paul is stuck in prison, what is the instruction he gives them? What does Paul want for them? He wants what Christ wants. And what Christ wants for the Philippians is exactly what he wants for First Bilingual Baptist Church.

Here’s the opening command of the letter. Philippians 1:27. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

That’s a verse that would greatly help you if you memorized it. Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel

Hey FBBC, we’re not going to give an account to the Apostle Paul one day, right? To whom will we give an account? To Jesus Christ. And no matter when Jesus may come, this is what he wants from us.

And in order to unpack this a little, I’m going to break it up into 3 desires that Christ has for our church. This is what Jesus wants for the church. It’s what Paul wants for the church. It’s what we elders want for the church. And it should be what you want for the church too. Okay?

The first desire is this: Jesus wants us to be living out a common citizenship. Jesus wants us, as a church, to be living out a common citizenship.

The opening phrase of verse 27 says “let your manner of life be.” Other translations say “conduct yourselves.”

If you have an ESV Bible, you might see a footnote there saying that the Greek says “behave as citizens worthy of the gospel.” And that’s because the verb translated “let your manner of life be” literally means “to live as a citizen” or “to behave as a citizen.” And this is a word that would have been especially significant to the people of Philippi.

About a hundred years before Paul wrote the letter, Rome won a key military victory in the city, and Philippi was declared a Roman colony. That meant that it was immune from taxation, and it was granted some freedom outside the authority of the local government. Basically, the city received all the rights of a city in Italy.

Well, many former Roman soldiers ended up living there, and the residents were granted Roman citizenship. So, this city was known for its sense of civic pride. Just like Rome, Philippi, used Latin as its official language, and they even modeled their government structure after Rome’s.

So, Philippi was a city that knew what it meant to have certain privileges and expectations about being a citizen. Being a Roman citizen came with privileges and it came with certain expectation.

But Paul reminds them that more important than being a citizen of the Roman Empire, is being a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. To be a citizen of heaven meant having a very special privilege.

Being a Christian means you’ve been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light. You are no longer enslaved to sin and Satan, your Lord is Jesus Christ. And you might remember from last week’s message, it means being blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Paul wants the Philippians to understand that heavenly citizenship. In fact, go ahead and skip over a couple chapter to Philippians chapter 3, verse 20, and you’ll notice that he says it to them again.

Philippians 3:20—But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Their greatest joy shouldn’t come from being Roman citizens. It should come from being a citizen of heaven.

And being a citizen of heaven is unlike being a citizen of any current nation. When somebody is seeking citizenship, for example, in the United States, they have to wait. My grandma, for example, was in this country for years, waiting for it all to be worked out. So, she was living in a country, waiting to be a citizen of it.

For heaven, for the kingdom of Christ, it’s the other way around. We’re not there yet, but we’re already citizens. Do you understand that? We are citizens of a kingdom that hasn’t arrived yet.

Our spot in that kingdom is already guaranteed. What we don’t know is the timing of it all. So until Christ brings that kingdom ,what do we do? To the best of our ability, by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit, we live as if we’re there, right?

We live out our citizenship right now. And it’s supposed to affect our entire lives—what we do, how we talk, how we think. Just think for a moment, if you believed that somehow France was going to take over the world very soon, and they were going to destroy anyone who opposed them and extend their rule all over the world, don’t you think you’d start brushing up on your French? Or maybe you’d start learning more about French history and French food and customs. People do that whenever they’re going on vacation, how much more if we believed we’d be staying there permanently?

Well, Paul is reminding the Philippians, “You’re citizens of heaven. So you better start acting like it. You better start thinking like that. You better start talking like that. You better start being a worthy citizen. Live worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

And keep in mind, this is not a singular command. This is a plural command. All of them Philippians, and all of us here at First Bilingual are supposed to be looking like citizens of heaven.

How different would our week be if we woke up reminding ourselves, “I’m a citizen of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. I’m a representative of the gospel. I represent a holy and loving God.” If we started doing that more often, it would change the way we lived.

When Jesus comes, that what He wants to find. He wants us all living out a common citizenship. And what is one specific expression if that?

One major expression of our common citizenship is unity. And this is our second point for today. This is a second desire that Christ has for the church. Jesus wants us to be standing with a common conviction. He wants us standing with a common conviction.

Paul continues in verse 27. Live like citizens worthy of the gospel, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind…

Let’s just stop right there in that verse. Living as citizens doesn’t mean being a nice person and just keeping to yourself. That’s not what Jesus wants. He wants the local church to be a community of people, united in their heart and in their mind. He wants a common conviction.

And he wants that kind of unity to be so evident that it shapes that churches reputation. That’s why Paul says, “whether I see you in person, or whether I hear about you.” It’s like saying, I want this to be part of your spiritual DNA. I want this in the bloodstream of your church.”

What does he want? He wants to know that they are standing firm. Standing firm. This is the idea of refusing to bend. Refusing to give in.

First Corinthians 16:13 uses the same word when it says, “Stand firm in the faith. Acts like men. Be strong.” Standing firm is not an easy thing. I think of a rank of soldiers, or of a defensive line in football. And you can imagine the coach or the general, pleading with them, charging them: “You do not move. You do not let the enemy advance one inch. You stand firm.”

But stand firm for what? Obviously, we’re standing firm for the essential doctrines of the faith, but more specific to this passage, we’re dealing with standing firm in unity. Stand firm in one spirit, with one mind.

Spiritually, be linked up, arm to arm, and do not let anything separate you. I don’t think it’s helpful to make a huge distinction here between spirit and mind. It’s just Paul repeating the idea for emphasis.

He doesn’t just want these people wearing the same jersey, he wants them thinking the same way. He wants them prioritizing the same thing.

To use the words of Ephesians 4, Jesus wants the church eagerly maintaining or preserving the unity of the Spirit. We, as a church, are supposed to be one mind, one spirit. You can the rest of Philippians this week. Or read it today after lunch. And just take note how many times Paul mentions this church’s mind or spirit or heart. Have this mind among you.

Paul wants the church to be united in mind, in heart, in conviction.

Do you feel like that? Do you feel like you are one mind with those around you? Do you feel like we members are all on the same page?

I don’t always feel like that with my own wife, so how are we supposed to make that happen in the church? How do we do that?

Well, it doesn’t mean that we all think exactly the same way. That’s not going to happen, right? We’re all so different. But it does mean, at a minimum, that we’re dealing with the issues of division. And I imagine we’ll be talking about that at some point in this series. We need to take very deliberate steps to both prevent and address any interpersonal conflict.

But in addition to that, there is one very vital key to biblical unity. And this is the point of this passage. The kind of unity Jesus wants for the church comes from working together on a common goal.

And this is the final desire of Christ we’ll talk about today. Jesus wants us working toward a common goal. He wants us working toward a common goal.

It’s not enough that we’re all citizens of the same kingdom. It’s not even enough if we all say we value the same things. The unity God wants for us, as a church, as First Bilingual Baptist Church, comes from us working together toward a common goal.

Look at the end of the verse. Verse 27. Christ wants us “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” He wants us working together. This is such a vivid word in the original.

The Greek word is sunathléō; it’s a compound word. That firs pat “sun” means “together” or “with.” And that second part is athléō. What does that sound like? It’s where we get words like “athlete” or “athletics.” In the Greek, it means to compete, to fight, or to wrestle.

This is the idea of fighting together. One example of that might be like a group tug-o-war. How many of you have ever done that? You’ve got one group of people against another group of people. It’s a collective effort.

Maybe a more vivid analogy, and maybe even more appropriate here, would be a team fight. I’m not gonna ask how many of you have been in that. But you get the idea, right? We’re not doing this alone. We’re fighting side by side. We’re all part of the same team.

Listen, if you have this idea of Christianity that it’s predominantly about you, and that the rest of us are here simply to make your life better, you’re missing it. We are all supposed to be fighting together.

Those of you who have ever been part of a good team, you know the fulfilment that comes from that. You know the camaraderie that that brings. Nobody has time to be bickering about the minor stuff when you’re working together to put out a fire, or to defeat a common enemy. All of that other stuff disappears.

We are supposed to be striving together… for what? “For the faith of the gospel.” We’re fighting for the faith of the gospel.

And that includes, number one, the faith in ourselves. We’re fighting together to keep running the race, to fight the good fight. That’s why in Ephesians 6, when Paul describes the spiritual armor God has given us and call us to use, he immediately adds, “and always keep praying. Keep alert in prayer with all perseverance, making supplication for the saints.” This is not a battle you’re doing all by yourself. And if it is something you’re doing all by yourself, you’ve got some major problems.

So we’re battling to keep the faith. Secondly, we’re battling together to defend the faith. This is about what is says in 1 Timothy 3. The church is the pillar and support of the truth. False teaching or false accusations are going to come at us. And we need to fight together against that. We need to be able to clearly defend the truth God has given us.

So we fight together to keep the faith. We fight together to defend the faith. And last of all, and I would say this is the thrust of Philippians, we’re fighting together to proclaim the faith. We’re fighting together to proclaim the gospel. Because that’s the mission we’ve been given.

Taking the gospel into the communities and the families of this world is not the pastors’ job. It’s not the website’s job. It’s the church’s job. That’s why we’re here. That’s why God has given us the abilities and the opportunities He’s given us—so that the glorious name of Jesus would be proclaimed.

Jesus doesn’t just want us being citizens of the same nation. He doesn’t just want us all thinking and valuing the same things. It’s not just a mindset. Jesus wants us taking action together for the same goal—the proclamation of the gospel.

What role does the proclamation of the gospel play in your life? And then secondly, what role does the rest of the church play in that proclamation? Are you united to the church like that? Are you fighting side-by-side with the church for the faith of the gospel? Or are you just trying to survive another day?

If you read the letter to the Philippians, you’ll notice that this church, for the most part, is a healthy church. It has a beautiful history, which you can read about in the book of Acts. They had such a love and support for Paul.

But with that success, and with those blessings, came the temptations to sit back and rest—sit back and relax. “We’ve done enough already. We’re good. If anyone ever wants to accuse of half-heartedness, we’ll just point them back to the good, ol’ days.” That’s a dangerous place to be.

And maybe some of you are there already. Maybe we’re there as a church. The budget is nice. The sanctuary’s getting remodeled finally. We’ve got sermons online. We’ve got a new van we can use. All great. But that’s not the priority. That’s not why we’re here.

Do not be content with that. We need to be fighting side-by-side for the gospel. And if we got to be more about that, I think we might be surprised how easily some of these lesser issues might fade away. Because, remember, our unity is connected to our purpose. Lose sight of that purpose, and unity will suffer. And stop working toward that unity, and our we’ll be less and less effective.

Skip over with me to chapter 4. Philippians 4, verse 2. I want you to see this. Paul, for some reason, felt compelled to publicly call out two women in the church who were fighting.

Philippians 4:2—I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 

We don’t have the details, but apparently there was some kind of disagreement between them. Maybe it’s a rivalry. Maybe it’s a forgiveness issue. And Paul is calling them to find some kind of agreement. But notice how he appeals to them. He reminds them about the purpose.

Verse 3—Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

“Help these women, because they used to labor side-by-side with me.” If they don’t get along, that work suffers. But if they remember their calling, they’ll be pulled back into unity.

So, what does this mean practically for you? That’s the question you have to answer. How are you partnering with others in the church for the gospel? And how are you allowing others in the church to partner with you?

I’ll give you some very possible, very tangible responses. We’ve got a soccer camp coming up, and we’ve got VBS coming up. And on top of that, we still have kids ministries and youth ministries going on every Sunday.

I don’t say this to guilt you into signing up, although that would be a tremendous blessing. I say it for two reasons.

Number 1, I say it so that you would take a moment and seriously consider what your priorities are. what really matters to you. Because if your priority is simply making sure you’re family is comfortable, or your FLG is comfortable, or worse, making sure you get the same seat every Sunday, there’s a major problem. And rather than feel closer to the church, you’re going to drift away.

Secondly, I give you these very practical suggestions because I want you to, in just a small way, begin to experience the blessing of fighting side-by-side with members of your own church for the proclamation of the gospel.

That when we really start crying together and praying together and rejoicing together. That’s what we were put here to do.

And whenever those things end, I hope you’re still looking for more ways to unite with others. Because evangelism and gospel ministry can never be limited to an event, or to some kind of ministry. Evangelism includes events and ministries, but it also includes a lifestyle.

This is what the church is about. This is what Christ wants for us. This is why He saved us. So that we would glorify the Father by drawing near to Him in Jesus Christ and by calling others to do the same. That’s not your mission. That’s OUR mission. It’s our common goal.

Think back to that story of a divided Israel. That was an ugly story. That was a disastrous story of a nation that forgot its purpose and then failed to live for the glory of their God. The results were devastating.

From a human perspective, we may never get to that point. We may never have a church split. This church might never die. But if we are not living as citizens, united with a common conviction, and working together toward a common goal, we’re no better and no more useful to God than Israel in the time of the Judges.

Let’s not be that. Let’s not be a useless church. Let’s be united in our mission for the gospel.

More in Unity

December 22, 2019

The Savior and King

July 28, 2019

Responding to Conflict, part 2

July 21, 2019

Responding to Conflict