True Christian Fellowship

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Philippians 2:1-4

INTRODUCTION: We are continuing in our “Partners in the Gospel” series through the book of Philippians. We have seen that Paul wrote this letter to encourage the Philippians in their faith and to help them understand their role as partners in the gospel with him. The gospel of Christ was the absolute highest priority for Paul, and in today’s passage he shows how true Christian fellowship is essential to advancing the gospel in our own church and community. (Read Philippians 2:1-4 and pray.)

True Christian fellowship is essential to advancing the gospel. I read about a church in Dallas, Texas where one group of people in the church got involved in a dispute with another group of people in the church. The situation got worse and worse to the point where both groups filed public lawsuits against each other to remove the other party from the church. This of course got all sorts of attention in the press, none of it positive. The judge refused to hear the case and sent it back to the denomination which began its own investigation. When all was said and done, they traced the conflict back to a church supper where one of the church elders had been served a smaller slice of ham than the child who was seated next to him. Hopefully most churches never get quite so far off track, but anytime we allow church conflict to disrupt church fellowship, our gospel witness inevitably suffers.

True Christian fellowship is essential to advancing the gospel, which is why Satan will attack at the point of fellowship within the church. Last time we saw how Paul focused on the church standing strong in the face of persecution. That’s Satan attacking from without. But if opposition from without doesn’t work, Satan will invariably seek to divide the church from within.

And that is why Paul urges the Philippians to practice true Christian fellowship in these verses. He is concerned that the Philippians might allow inner divisions to disrupt their unity and keep them from advancing the gospel in their community. Living worthy of the gospel of Christ means not only standing strong against the opposition but standing united with each other. Unity is not only important as a sign against the opposition, but also for the proper functioning of the body of Christ.

Today we will look at three principles of true Christian fellowship that Paul shares with us in these verses. 1) True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. 2) True Christian fellowship is united around the gospel of Christ. And 3) In true Christian fellowship we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ.

I. TCF is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. (verse 1)

So let’s look at principle number one first: True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. Look at verse 1 with me where Paul writes: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion…” (Philippians 2:1)

True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. This is an argument that is based on Christian experience. You will notice that there are four if’s in this verse, and we will be looking at all four of them in a moment. But I want you to understand that Paul is not talking about these four if’s as just possibilities for us as Christians, but rather as certainties or realities. He is using the word “if” by way of argument, but Paul has no doubt that these things are true. You could almost translate them with the word “since” or “as surely as”: “Since you have encouragement from being united with Christ, as surely as you have comfort from his love,” and so on. The four realities Paul raises here are experienced by all Christians, and they form the basis of true Christian fellowship.

   A. If you have any encouragement in Christ…

So, first Paul says: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ.” As a Christian do you have any encouragement from being united with Christ? Any at all?

Is it any encouragement to you that your sins have been forgiven, that you have been made a new creation in Christ, that the old things have passed away and God is making all things new? (2 Corinthians 5:17) Is it any encouragement to you that Jesus took your sin upon himself and clothed you in his righteousness instead? (2 Corinthians 5:21) Is it any encouragement to you that Jesus has promised never to leave you or forsake you? (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5) Is it any encouragement to you that Jesus prays for you from heaven, interceding for you at the right hand of God the Father? (Romans 8:34) Is it any encouragement to you that Jesus knows his sheep, and he gives them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one can snatch them out of his hand? (John 10:27-28) Is it any encouragement to you that since you have been united with him in his death, you will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection? (Romans 6:5)

Of course it is, and Paul knows that. He is appealing to your experience of these things as a Christian.

   B. If you have any comfort from God’s love…

He goes on: “If you have any comfort from his love.” Paul may still be talking specifically of Christ and Christ’s love here, but I believe Paul is thinking more in terms of God the Father here. Paul often speaks in Trinitarian terms, moving from Christ to God the Father to the Holy Spirit. We find a similar progression in 2 Corinthians 13where Paul writes: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Corinthians 13:14) Romans 5 tells us that “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 5:5)

But either way Paul is appealing to our experience of God’s love for us in Christ. As a Christian, do you have any comfort from knowing that God loves you? That he chose you in Christ before the creation of the world? (Ephesians 1:4) That he sent his only Son to die for you? (John 3:16) That he has adopted you as his own child and loves you as he loves Christ? (John 1:12, 17:23) That he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not also along with him, graciously give you all things? (Romans 8:32)

And once again the answer is yes, a thousand times yes. This is the experience of anyone who has come to God through Jesus Christ. Of course we have comfort in our lives from God’s love.

   C. If you have any fellowship with the Holy Spirit…

Paul keeps going here: “If you have any fellowship with the Spirit.” That word “fellowship” is the Greek word koinōnia that means fellowship, partnership, sharing. It is the same word we saw back in chapter 1 when Paul first spoke about us being partners in the gospel. And once again Paul is appealing to our Christian experience here. As Christians we all share together in the gift of the Holy Spirit, and we have all experienced this wonderful fellowship with the Spirit.

It is through the Holy Spirit that God the Father and Jesus the Son come to dwell within us. (John 14:17,23) It is through the Holy Spirit that we cry “Abba, Father” and know that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16) It is through the Holy Spirit that we receive guidance and counsel and the peace of Christ that passes all understanding. (John 14:26-27; Philippians 4:6) It is through the Holy Spirit that we are made one body in Christ to the glory of God the Father. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Of course we have fellowship with the Spirit.

   D. If you have any tenderness and compassion…

And then finally he says, “If you have any tenderness or compassion.” These two words are primarily used in Scripture of God’s love for us. God loves us with a tender compassion as a father loves his child. Psalm 103 says, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14)

What is Paul saying? He is saying that our experience of God’s love should affect our relationships with each other. True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ.

II. TCF is united around the gospel of Christ. (verse 2)

Secondly, true Christian fellowship is united around the gospel of Christ. Look at verse 2: “Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) Paul has appealed to the Philippians’ experience of God’s love for them in Christ. Now he encourages them to overcome their divisions by focusing on their common goal as Christians, which is advancing the gospel of Christ.

Paul is already full of joy as he prays for the Philippians and as the gospel is preached in Rome. But now he asks the Philippians to make his joy complete, to fill his cup of joy to the brim, by uniting around the gospel of Christ. And he does this by asking them to do three things.

   A. Being like-minded

First of all, “by being like-minded.” The phrase literally means “to set your minds on the same thing.” What is the same thing Paul wants them to focus on? Paul has called the Philippians his partners in the gospel. Paul is in chains for the gospel. Paul rejoices that the gospel is preached. And Paul has called on the Philippians to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel. Paul is encouraging them to be like-minded, to be unified in their thinking, to think the same thing when it comes to life’s ultimate priority. He is calling them to unite around the gospel of Christ.

   B. Having the same love

Secondly, he says “by having the same love.”

A Christian community is a loving community. You cannot have Christian fellowship without love. And each person in the body of Christ should have the same love for each other. Fellowship is not a one-way street. There is a back-and-forth, there is a reciprocal love and relationship in the body of Christ. Without going all Barney the dinosaur on us, “I love you, and you love me!” It goes both ways. Right?

And then Paul is also referring back to God’s love for us in Christ that he described in verse one. We are to have that same love for each other as God has for us. What did Jesus say? “Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34) True Christian fellowship means each of us having the same love for each other that God has for us in Christ.

I thank God that we have such a loving body of Christ here at Plantation Community. Someone expressed concern for me the other day that I might be getting burned out while we wait for the new associate pastor to come on board. And I told them that pastoral burnout usually takes place because of people, not because of tasks. It’s when you’re dealing with difficult people, and there’s conflict and division that a pastor sometimes faces burnout, but when we are practicing true Christian fellowship by being like-minded and having the same love, the ministry is a joy, not a burden.

   C. Being one in spirit and purpose

Paul says, “Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2) And this last phrase brings out the idea of a common goal once again. Being one in spirit and purpose refers to being united as one soul, one person for a common task. We saw in 1:27 how in the face of outside persecution Paul urged the Philippians to stand strong as one man against the opposition. Now in the face of inner division he encourages us to stand strong as one man united around a common goal or purpose – the gospel of Jesus Christ.

III. In TCF we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ. (verses 3-4)

We have seen that true Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. True Christian fellowship is united around the gospel of Christ. And now finally, in true Christian fellowship we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ. Paul gives us three instructions here.

   A. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit

First, of all: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.” (Philippians 2:3a) Now selfish ambition was exactly the problem Paul addressed back in chapter one about those who were preaching Christ from false motives. “The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” (Philippians 1:17) If it was wrong for the Christians who were stirring up trouble for Paul in Rome, then it is wrong for the Christians at the church in Philippi. And it is wrong for those of us here at Plantation Community Church. There is no room for competition or rivalry in the Christian faith. How can you serve each other humbly when you are competing with each other?

And then Paul speaks about vain conceit. The word literally means “empty glory.” Anytime we try to take glory for ourselves instead of serving others, it is an empty glory. Ironically, next week we will see how Christ emptied himself of glory in order to serve us. You cannot experience true Christian fellowship when you act out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.

   B. Consider others better than yourselves

Secondly, “In humility consider others better than yourselves.” Rather than selfish ambition or vain conceit we should practice humility and consider other betters than ourselves. That word “better” here doesn’t mean better in the sense of more valuable or a better person. It means better in the sense of more important, putting the needs of others first. As someone once said, “Love begins when someone else’s needs are more important than my own.” This is true in marriage, it is true in parenting, it is true in relationships, and it is true in the church.

   C. Look to the interests of others, not just yourself

And then finally Paul says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4) That word “look” means “to contemplate, to gaze, to focus on.” What are you focused on in life? Your own needs or others? In true Christian fellowship each person puts the needs of the other people first. That doesn’t mean you neglect yourself or your own needs, but you look to see how best you can serve those around you. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that “love is not self-seeking.” 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”

Once again, your attitude should be the same as Christ who “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) In fact that’s what the very next passage in Philippians is all about. Philippians 2:5-11 starts with the phrase: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5) In true Christian fellowship we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ.

CONCLUSION: I hope you saw the common element in all three principles of true Christian fellowship this morning. Let’s review them briefly. 1) True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. 2) True Christian fellowship is united around the gospel of Christ. And 3) In true Christian fellowship we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ. What’s the common element? Christ! That makes sense. How can you have Christian fellowship without Christ?

But I want you to see this morning how true Christian fellowship is especially shaped by the gospel of Christ.

1) True Christian fellowship is motivated by God’s love for us in Christ. God’s love for us in Christ is ultimately expressed through the gospel. God loved you so much he sent his own Son to die for your sins so that you could enjoy fellowship with Him and with other believers. That is our motivation for fellowship.

2) True Christian fellowship is united around the gospel of Christ. True Christian fellowship is not only motivated by God’s love in the gospel. It is united around sharing the gospel with others. We have a common purpose in advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our communities.

3) In true Christian fellowship we humbly serve each other as modeled by Christ. In the gospel Christ not only saved us. Christ provided the example of humble service that is the mark of true Christian fellowship. We are saved by the gospel, we are commissioned for the gospel, and our very fellowship as Christians is shaped by the gospel as we serve each other in Christ.

True Christian fellowship is essential to advancing the gospel, because it is motivated by the gospel, it is united around the gospel, and it is shaped by the gospel. If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Let us pursue the joy of true Christian fellowship together.

© Ray Fowler

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