Our Week of Unity

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I’ve enjoyed writing this week’s devotions and sharing with you Paul’s words on unity. Today I want to recap what we’ve learned and encourage you to start living out these ideas in your own life.

 

 

I began this week talking about the conflict-ridden times we are living in and the fact that the Church is not immune to divisiveness. The church has struggled with unity since its inception, but this isn’t how it should be. Paul wanted unity for the church in Philippi—he said this would make his joy complete. Unity is also what is needed in every church today. This is why we should pursue it.

 

 

On Monday, I said that to be unified we must be striving towards the same idea—to be of same mind. And the idea around which we should be unified is living out the Gospel. This should be our singular purpose in life and everything else should pale in comparison to it.

 

The next day we moved to Paul’s advice on the way towards unity. Humility, the lowering of one’s self and self-interests, is how he says we should go about achieving unity. Our agendas should be subject to God’s. Paul pointed to Christ as the prime example of living in humility and subjecting oneself to God’s will. We must follow Christ’s pattern of humility if we are to have unity in our churches.

 

On Wednesday, we learned about four enemies of unity and why they’re so destructive to churches. The first is pride, which promotes self-interest instead of the Gospel. The second is gossip, which divides people by pointing out others shortcomings without trying to help them. The third enemy is complaining. When we complain, we are saying that we think something is wrong, but we don’t care enough about the body to address the issue in the proper way. The fourth enemy to unity we see is argument, but not just simple disagreement. Arguments that are fueled by a desire to be proved right and arguments that are filled with bitterness instead of love drive churches apart. All four of these enemies are real dangers that we should fight against with love and humility.

 

On Thursday I spoke about our union with Christ and how essential it is to church unity. Union with Christ has two aspects: knowing him and being like him. In knowing him we must truly understand what he did, why he did it, and what that means for us. In being like him, we must strive to live as he lived, in subjection to the will of God and in the service of others. Christ is the head of the body; if we want unity in the body, we must be united with him.

 

Yesterday I spoke about Paul’s final advice for the Philippians on unity and four principles we can take from it. The first is of reconciliation. When two or more people in the church are divided, the church should work together to bring everyone back into unity. The second principle is about exercising gentleness. Just as Jesus was gentle when caring for those who were weak and needed special attention, the Church today needs that same gentleness in its ministry. The next principle is that we should live our lives worry free from the troubles that plague this age and that, when we do face struggles, we should bring them to God in prayer. The final principle we see is that we should fill our minds with things that are good instead of the rot that is a hallmark of this world. These four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity in our churches.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these devotions this week, along with the words of Paul to the Philippians. But we are not called to simply be hearers (or readers) of the word—we must also be doers. The words of Paul to the Philippians are challenging, but the results from following them would be life changing and paradigm shifting for the Church. If we want to see unity in the Church, we must start by applying these ideas in our own lives as individuals—living in humility, having the Gospel be our primary focus, and not gossiping, complaining, or arguing.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Paul’s Final Exhortation for Unity

Philippians 4

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Yesterday we took a break from our discussion on unity in the body to talk about our union with Christ—the head of the body. Today we’re back to the theme of unity in the Church and looking at Philippians 4, where Paul offers the Philippians some final exhortations for unity. From Paul’s advice to the church at Philippi in this passage, we can see four principles that, if applied, will help promote unity in our own churches.

 

The first principle we see here is reconciliation. In verse 2 Paul calls attention to an apparent disagreement that was causing strife among two of the woman in the church. He urged them to “be of the same mind in the Lord.” These women had been workers, alongside Paul, for the Gospel and this disagreement between them was hindering their ministry. Personal differences should never get in the way of our commitment to the Gospel. When disagreements arise, the church should work together towards reconciliation so that it can get back to its primary focus.

 

The second principle we can take from this passage is to live gently. Paul says in verse 5 (NRSV) to “Let your gentleness be known to everyone.” Gentleness is one of the Fruit of the Spirit, but one that I think is often overlooked. This comes from a misunderstanding of what gentleness is all about. Many people equate gentleness to weakness, but it is actually a sign of strength. A weak person is one who lacks strength but a gentle person is one who appears weak for the benefit of others. Gentleness allows us to care for those who are weak and need special attention. Jesus was gentle—this aided him greatly in his ministry to sick and inflicted. If we want to have inclusive churches that minister to the needs of those who are weak, we must promote gentleness.

 

 

Living worry free is another principle Paul pushes in this passage that can aide our goal of church unity. In verses 6 and 7 (NRSV) he says “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Worry and anxiety are enemies of the Gospel. Worry is a prison; the Gospel is freedom. Worry keeps us focused on the evils of the age we live in—all the bad things that come about from our sinful nature. It takes our minds off the hope we have in the future Kingdom of God, where everything will be made right and worry rendered obsolete. When bad things do happen in our lives, we shouldn’t spend time thinking about how much worse they could get or why it is happening to us. We should instead bring our concerns before a God who can offer us peace that we won’t find anywhere else, and that can get us through this evil age until we dwell with him in His kingdom. A church at peace and without worry is one that is focused on the future and making a difference in the present.

 

 

The final unity principle Paul offers in Philippians 4 is filling our minds with that which is good. In verse (NRSV) he says, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” There are a lot of things in this world that try to grab our attention and many of them are not beneficial. Our minds our shaped by what we take in, just as our bodies are by the food we eat. This is why what we think about is so important. If we want to get good out, we must put good in. If we want to be unified in our purpose, we must be unified in our thinking, and that thinking should be on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, and excellent.

 

While they are not always easy to follow, these four principles will go a long way towards promoting unity within the Church.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Union with Christ

Philippians 3

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The last few days we’ve been talking about unity in the body. Today I want to spend some time discussing unity (or union) with the head of the body. Our connection with Jesus affects every relationship in our lives. If we are to achieve unity in our local church, we must maintain union with our Lord.

 

Union with Christ has two important aspects. The first is knowing him. This does not mean to know who he is or to know some things about him. It is to understand what he went through and why he endured it. It is to realize that without him we are hopeless. It means communicating with him. It means recognizing that our own efforts count as nothing towards our salvation and that only through him can we be saved and that this is a good thing. Paul says that everything he could boast about in himself is garbage compared to the worth of knowing Christ (Phil. 3:8), and in John 17:3 Jesus says that eternal life is to know the only true God and His son. Knowing Christ is essential for salvation and for being united with him.

 

The second aspect of our union with Christ is being like him. Earlier in Philippians, Paul tells readers to have the same mind as Christ (2:5).  Just as Jesus lived to serve the will of God, we should. Just as he was willing to give up his life for others, we should. He lived perfectly and we should strive to do the same. In Galatians 2:20 (ESV) Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Union with Christ is about emptying ourselves of the muck that comes from our sinful nature and replacing it with the holiness that comes from Christ—out with the old, in with the new.

 

“Therefore, if anyone is in [union] Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (1 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)

 

In this life, we will never achieve perfect union with Jesus. We will not fully know him or be totally like him until we can be with him—without the presence of sin. Paul recognized this and writes that despite his shortcoming he would “press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, NRSV). We, too, should press on towards the goal to have union with Jesus. It won’t be perfect, but it will go a long way in furthering our own spiritual development and the unity of the Church.

– Joel Fletcher

Four Enemies of Unity

Philippians 2:12-30

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Yesterday we learned about Paul’s advice for moving towards unity—having an attitude of humility. Today, I’d like to discuss some attitudes and actions that can hinder unity. These four enemies of unity that I will mention are just some of the obstacles that get in the way of the Church achieving unity. 

Enemy 1: Pride

Pride is the opposite of humility. In humility, we put ourselves in the service of others; in pride, we use others to serve our own purpose. It is an easy trap to fall into; pride catches those who do well and convinces them that this gives them cause to boast in themselves. It inflates their ego—giving them a reason to look down on others and view their own ideals as the be-all-end-all. When even just one person in a church body is infected by pride, it can have terrible consequences for church unity. This why Paul cautioned against boasting in one’s self and works:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV)

Enemy 2: Gossip

There is no redeemable quality in gossip—it is a destroyer of friendships and communities. Gossip is broadcasting the shortcoming of others with no attempt to help them get better. It is a mechanism used to make the one gossiping feel better about themselves. Where gossip is present, unity cannot exist. The one being gossiped about is treated like an outsider and is pushed away from the community. Gossip is a unity killer.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV)

Enemy 3: Complaining/Grumbling 

When we complain or grumble about something we don’t like, this is typically a sign we are struggling with pride and not embracing humility. If something is actually wrong, grumbling under your breath about it is not the way to go. Never will a good solution be found when it is brought to the attention of leaders through complaining. If we feel something is not being done the way it should be, we should humbly voice our concern to those in leadership after much prayer and meditation. Complainers don’t promote unity—those who genuinely want what is best for the church need to find the right way to address changes. 

Enemy 4: Arguing 

By arguing, I don’t mean mere disagreement, but an incessant need to be proved right (which also comes from pride). When a person goes around trying to convince everyone that their own views on various issues are right and then get angry when they’re not agreed with, it is not beneficial. We must always be striving to find the truth, but we must never do so in a matter that is unloving. Our discussions should be edifying and result in a more unified body; not filled with bitterness and anger which causes strife.  

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.” (Philippians 2:14-28, NIV)

Each one of these enemies come about naturally from our human nature. We must fight against them just as we do with other sins. We must instead embrace humility, love, peace, and encouragement in order to promote unity and avoid these divisive enemies. 

If you struggle with any of these, start pushing them out of your life today. 

– Joel Fletcher

The Way Towards Unity

Philippians 2:1-11

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In Philippians 2 we find our memory verse for this week, in which Paul exhorts the church at Philippi towards unity: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV). In the verses that follow, Paul gives the Philippians some instruction on how they can work towards achieving that unity.

 

Paul’s advice for the Philippians is to pursue humility in order to achieve unity. Humility is to hold one’s self or self-interest in a low or modest regard. In practicing humility, those in Philippi would be placing the interests of others and the agenda of God above their own desires and concerns. This lowering of one’s self would allow room for the Gospel to take over each member’s life and for the church to come together for the purpose furthering the Gospel in their community. In this, they would be unified.

 

But Paul doesn’t stop at giving them some ideal to chase after; he offers a model to copy—a perfect one. Jesus had more reason than anyone to pursue self-interests: he was like God. When tempted to have all the kingdoms of the world put under his rule without having to suffer first, he refused (Matt. 4:8-10). Jesus always subjected himself to God. God’s agenda was the only one he cared about—even if it meant torture and death. Paul called the Philippians to have this same mentality, and we should too.

 

Each one of us has objects we hold as valuable (physical and otherwise), some of them justifiably and others not. We have families and jobs, both of which are important and should not be neglected. We also have ideas, opinions, and agendas that we might say (or at least our actions would suggest) are just as important. What we must remember, and what our actions must mirror, is that all of the things we find value in must pale (greatly) in comparison to the worth we place on the Gospel—God’s agenda.

 

Can you image what the Church would look like if we were all unified around and living out this common idea? What a sight that would be…will be.

– Joel Fletcher

The Purpose of Unity

 Philippians 1

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One of the main reasons Paul decided to write a letter to the church at Philippi was to encourage unity among them. If they achieved this unity, it would make his joy complete (Phil. 2:2). But for what purpose did Paul want them to be unified? What is the common idea around which their unity was to be based? The answer to this question is found in chapter 1.

 

Paul had a singular focus in life: to preach the Gospel (good news) to the world. In particular, he wanted to spread it beyond the Jewish people to the Gentiles. In Philippians 1 Paul mentions the persecution he had faced in his life. While he doesn’t go into detail, we know from other sections of the New Testament that Paul suffered greatly. He was thrown into prison multiple times, he was shipwrecked, and, among other things, he was beaten. Despite this suffering, Paul says in verse 12 “…that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel.” Paul also heard of people who were preaching the gospel out of “envy and rivalry.” Despite these selfish motives, the important thing to Paul was that Christ (the central figure of the Gospel) was being preached. Paul was able to rejoice because his focus was on Christ and the Gospel—even when the situation wasn’t always…pleasant.

 

And this brings us to Paul’s purpose in imploring the Philippians towards unity.

 

Verses 27 and 28 say:

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.”

 

Paul wanted the church to be unified in their desire to further the Gospel. This meant conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel—no matter what happened. If everyone in the Church would start doing this one thing, then they would be striving together as one for the faith of the gospel; they would be unified. No outside force could intimidate them and throw them off course, and no disputes from within could form to distract from their common purpose. This would make Paul’s joy complete.

 

If we want to bring unity to our churches today, we must make sure that we are unified around the same idea: spreading and living out the Gospel. If it is not for that purpose then it’s pointless. And if we want to bring unity to our churches, each of us as individuals must start living in a manner worthy of the Gospel. If we are committed to the same purpose and to living in the same manner, unity is assured to ensue.

 

– Joel Fletcher

Making Paul’s Joy Complete

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Hello everyone! My name is Joel and I will be bringing you this week’s FUEL Bible Readings. Each day we will be taking a look in the letters of Paul (Philippians in particular) at the theme of unity.

 

We’re living in a time filled with divisiveness and disunity. Every day our Facebook feeds, television screens, and other sources for news are filled with stories of conflict. This conflict manifests itself in many ways: arguments, protests, hostility, and even war. Sadly, conflict is not just a problem in secular society; the Church is not immune to it. But this is nothing new; from the very beginning of the Church and continuing for almost two thousand years, there has been discord and conflict among those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth.

 

But this, my brothers and sisters, is not how it should be.

 

The Church is to be united: having the “…same mind, having the same love, being in full accord” (Phil. 2:2, NRSV).  This is what Paul wanted for the church in Philippi—it would make his “joy complete”. And I am sure that, if he were writing today to any of the many churches dealing with disunity, he would encourage them to do the same.

 

So this week, as you are reading these devotions and the words of Paul, I would encourage you to look at yourself to see if there is anything you are doing that is promoting disunity within your church and look for ways in which you can make Paul’s joy complete.

 

– Joel Fletcher

 

Memory Verse:

“1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. (Philippians 2:1-2, NRSV)

I’ve Been Robbed of My Peace and Happiness

Philippians

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Friday, June 30

There are three different types of problems, which sometimes can also be referred to as opportunities.  First, there are problems that are only problems because our perception of the situation is not what it should be.  Second, there are problems that are in our control and could be solved if we put our mind to it.  Lastly, there are troubling situations in our lives that we have little or no control over.  They all can rob our peace and happiness, but fortunately the first two types of problems can be eliminated.  But how can we find peace and happiness if there is a problem that won’t go away and we can’t do anything about?

Some examples of the type of problem where our perception needs to be altered are when they forget to put the French fries in the bag at the drive thru, when you can’t watch your television show because someone else had the television first, or when the strap on your purse breaks.  If these types of things make you upset or unhappy, you need to work on your perspective in life.  Stuff happens; we need to learn how to deal with it without getting so upset.  These are not the types of “problems” that I want to talk about today.

The types of problems in our control are that I cough too much because I smoke, I am getting poor grades in school because I waste too much time, or I don’t have enough energy because I am overweight.  We can solve these problems with a good dose of self-discipline.  Stop smoking, do your homework, exercise, and eat less.  You’ll be amazed at how your problems will disappear.  I’m not saying it will necessarily be easy, but it can be done.  I am also not going to talk anymore about these types of problems today.

I’ll be honest; I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people that get upset about the small stuff that aren’t really problems (sometimes referred to as first-world problems) or for people that have self-inflicted problems that they could fix if they wanted to.  However, there are problems that are quite real and there is little or nothing they can do to fix them.  They can be quite serious in nature and can very easily rob you of your peace and happiness.  I am talking about someone with an alcoholic spouse that refuses to get help, yourself or a loved one that has been diagnosed with an incurable disease, someone who has been paralyzed due to an injury, a parent who has a child who refuses to be a Christian, someone who made a big mistake and will be spending the rest of their life in prison, or someone who just had a parent die.  These problems are real and they suck.  These problems might not go away.  They can really weigh on your heart and mind and they can make you extremely sad or very stressed out.  How can you still have peace and happiness if your problem doesn’t go away?

The answer lies in Philippians 4:6-9.  In verse 6 we are told to never be anxious and to let our requests be known to God through earnest prayer and thanksgiving.  Verse 7 does not say that your problem will go away; instead, it says you will receive the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension.  God is saying that He will give you peace in your heart and mind in situations that peace doesn’t even seem possible.  How can you feel true peace when you know someone you dearly love is going to die soon?  That doesn’t begin to make sense, but that is exactly what God said, it surpasses comprehension.  It makes no sense that you could have peace, but God can give you an amazing gift of peace that we can’t understand because He is God.

I had a problem that pretty much sucked the joy out of my life for a long time.  I tried hard to make the problem go away, but to no avail.  I really struggled with this because I had always had a pretty easy life with few problems, and I couldn’t change this situation no matter how hard I tried.  I didn’t know what to do.  Then I stumbled across Philippians 4:8, which is now one of my favorite verses in the Bible because of the peace and happiness that it gave back to me.  “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”  It all makes perfect sense.  If we dwell on the stuff that makes us sad or stressed out, we are going to be sad or stressed out.  Duh.  If we dwell on the excellent things in life that make us happy, we are going to be happy.  It was too simple, but I couldn’t figure that out until I read that verse.  It was life-changing.  Do I still think of my problem from time to time?  Sure, but I don’t dwell on it.  I will no longer let it rob my joy.

If you have a problem that you can’t fix, pray for some peace that surpasses comprehension and start dwelling on the good things in life.  It works.

-Rick McClain

(Photo Credit: https://biblia.com/bible/esv/Phil%204.8)