Mark Strauss is a Professor of the New Testament at Bethel Seminary and serves on the Board of Directors at the Rock.
Growing up in Alabama, Mark and his older brother loved to play football in the backyard. Their main competitors were two neighbor brothers who were much more gifted athletes in general, but Mark and his brother never lost against them. They were not as strong or talented as individual athletes, but they had better teamwork, often able to communicate plays just by glancing at each other.
Each of us as an individual may only be only average, but together we can accomplish amazing things.
Every coach looks for this kind of teamwork, when the whole is greater than just the sum of its parts. A group of experts may come together and fail because they are unable to work well together, whereas a group of average performers may come together and be amazing if they work well as a team. It is the same with the church. Each of us as an individual may only be only average, but together we can accomplish amazing things. For this reason, Jesus says in Matthew 16:18, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
In the New Testament, the name for teamwork is “unity.” Especially in the writings of the apostle Paul, love and unity are a key focus.
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 1 Corinthians 1:10
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:3
Paul knew that the one issue that could devastate the church was dissention, and that its greatest potential for power was found in unity. Philippians 2 is a great passage which instructs the Christian church how to live in unity.
1. The basis for Christian Unity: who we are in Christ. Philippians 2:1
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion… Philippians 2:1
What benefits do you receive from being a Christian? Do you experience encouragement from others, comfort from love, sharing in the Spirit?
Mark shared that while he was pursuing his doctoral work in Scotland, he and his wife were isolated and struggling with adapting to the culture. Then one day when they contacted a church for directions, the greeter offered to pick them up and take them to church, where they were completely enveloped in love and fellowship from then on. They joined a small group Bible study, enjoyed meals in the homes of fellow church members, and became part of the community. The bonds built were so strong that when Mark’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer back in the US, their Bible study came together and paid their way to go home. They sacrificed for Mark as with family, and provided a haven that was warm, dry and comforting in the midst of his personal storm.
Maybe you’ve experienced storms in your life. What has becoming involved in community at the Rock done for you?
2. The meaning of Christian Unity: united in love, spirit, and purpose. Philippians 2:2
…then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Philippians 2:2
Paul doesn’t instruct the church to “agree on absolutely everything.” Because we are human and we are all individuals, we’re never going to agree on everything. But we are called to be united in love, spirit, and purpose, sharing fundamental things in common.
What makes husband and wife a great team? It is certainly not that they have the same personality types, enjoy all the same hobbies, and have the same opinions on everything. But they make a wonderful team when they are united in what really counts: wanting the best for one another, supporting each other to become all that God calls each one to be, and working toward common values and goals, such as raising children who love the Lord.
Equally, the church should want the best for each other. Members will disagree on minor issues all the time, such as schooling, politics, and even the best Bible translations, but we have foundational truths in common. We love Jesus Christ and our passion is to know Him and to make Him known.
That doesn’t mean unity is easy. We still contend with our differences, pride, sin, and conflicts with one another. So how do we come together in a common purpose?
3. The means to Christian Unity: looking out for others first. Philippians 2:3-4
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,… Philippians 2:3
The key to Christian unity is getting our focus off of ourselves and onto others. We must learn how to build others up in the midst of a society that is very self-absorbed. Many times we fall prey to that selfishness, as James 1:4 tells us:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
When we encounter issues or “brewing fires” with one another, we have the choice to contribute to the problem or contribute to the solution, “throwing gasoline on the fire” to make it rage, or “throwing water on the fire” to put it out.
Instead of giving in to pride, anger, and a desire to prove our own righteousness, we can ask ourselves, “How can I help? How can I be an encouragement?” In this way, we can look out for the needs of others first. Pride destroys relationships, while service and humility build them up. Christian leadership is about empowerment, not power. It is not about authority or control, but enabling others to be all that God calls them to be. Just as Jesus, our ultimate role model, had a humble heart of dependence and service, caring for, sacrificing for, and loving others, so must we.
4. The model for Christian Unity: the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:5-11
…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:4
Jesus as God became a human being in an act of incredible humility. He wasn’t thinking of himself when He spent thirty years in poverty and humility on earth and He wasn’t thinking of Himself when He agreed to suffer and die to pay for our sins in order to bring us back into a right relationship with God.
…that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19
How can we be Jesus’ messengers unless we are willing to give of ourselves in service? He calls us to take up our crosses and follow Him, setting aside our pride to humbly serve others.
Have you joined the family of God? Today is the day to decide to follow Him, to reap all the benefits that God’s family has to offer, and to find fulfillment in the sacrificial giving of yourself!