Unity, harmony and love within the family of God (the Church) is not just a nice to have but essential!
Jesus said it like this; ‘by this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35).
When Paul thought of the Philippian believers and thought of what would make his joy in them complete (vs2) he urged them to do three things;
to agree, to be of one mind
to have the same love
to be harmonious (‘in full accord’) with one another
As believers, a family of faith, a gospel-community, Scripture urges us to be united in our thinking. Disunity of thought brings uncertainty in relationships and damages trust and the vulnerability that trust thrives on. But is such unity even possible?
Yes, it is! Unity is possible for those who have been included and encouraged in Christ. Unity is possible for those who are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Unity is possible for those who have all experienced God’s love poured out into their hearts (vs2).
Unity without these shared experiences would be impossible, but within a gospel-community, it is possible; otherwise, Scripture would not command it.
More than this, gospel-communities are to be harmonious according to vs2. The Greek word translated ‘being in full accord’ (ESV) can also be translated ‘harmonious’.
Harmony is not the same as unity. By way of example, an orchestra is not an orchestra unless there is unity in diversity, not uniformity. Both unity and diversity are essential for there to be harmony. An orchestra’s beauty is its harmony of diverse instruments united one piece of music. It is having one conductor arranging their unique contributions in such a way that each contributes their unique sound, thus creating a beautiful harmony.
Gospel communities, likewise, are to be united but not uniform. They have a diversity of personality & gift but are united around one desire – to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve His mission in the world.
This was a passion in the heart of the apostle Paul, and thus, he makes this appeal to the Philippian believers urging them to be united and harmonious.
So what hinders unity and harmony? Its things like selfish ambition, pride (conceit). Such things ruin relationships and damage people and gospel-community.
Therefore, in the Church, let’s be those who humbly consider others more significant than ourselves. Let’s prefer others, be one another’s greatest fans and be very slow to posture or put ourselves forward (vs3).
Let’s also ensure that we are not selfishly looking after our interests but that we are considerate of the interests and needs of others seeking to serve others always (vs4).
What could possibly motivate us to act in these ways? There is only ONE; His name is Jesus! The single mind that we are all to have (vs2) is that we are all to have the mind of Jesus (vs5). We are to follow His example as He did not live selfishly or proudly but in humility, He came to serve you and me. Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself taking the form of a servant (vs7), and humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross (vs8) for us!
He is our example; He is our motivation. He is the one we worship and live out our whole lives as a response.
Unity, love and harmony matter. But they are only possible when a gospel-community together fix their eyes on Jesus our great Saviour and example and live out their lives with one another as a response to Him.
- Ask God if there is any way you have been contributing to disunity in your gospel-community (Church)? Is there any way you have been acting selfishly, ambitiously or proudly? If the Holy Spirit shows you anything, then repent now of such things.
- Meditate again on what Jesus did for you (Philippians 2:5-11). What do you feel God is showing you about Jesus? What is God showing you that might need to change in your life?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more ‘other-aware’, looking out not just for your interests but also the interests of others.
Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 in the NLT Translation)
Paul’s instruction here to the believers is rooted in his desire that they and we too, do not inadvertently stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in church when it is gathered.
The fact that he has to warn them and us means that it is possible to do, so we should take heed of this warning.
Paul goes on to explain HOW we might stifle the work of the Spirit – by ‘scoffing at prophecies’ (vs20), treating them as nothing important.
Prophecy in the NT era is most simply hearing from God for someone else. Someone who brings a prophecy is allowing God to use them to bless, build-up, correct, direct or encourage people as they hear God’s voice through their actions and words.
Prophecy can be corporate or personal in nature and prophecy can take different forms such as a word for someone, a picture or an impression or a Scripture.
For Paul, prophecy was an essential part of biblical church life and community and so was not to be scoffed at, stifled or quenched.
The balance here is that every prophetic utterance is to be ‘tested’ or examined. We need to ask whether what has been shared lines up with Scripture? (vs21) We also need to remember that this side of heaven, all prophesy is ‘in-part’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), meaning that all prophetic contributions will be fallible to some degree.
So, don’t stifle prophecy & don’t blindly accept everything that is spoken in the name of God. Rather, eagerly desire prophecy in your life and in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1) but test all prophetic utterances against the plumbline of Scripture. So, eat the fish and spit out the bones!
In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.
Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;
And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)
Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.
The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.
Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.
Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.
We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…
Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.
For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…
But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.
The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).
I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.
God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?
Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.
A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.
Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.
The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.
Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).
All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!
(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.
And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).
All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.
(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.
Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).
The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?
As we read Romans, it is helpful to remember who this remarkable letter was written to. The church in Rome was a multi-cultural church with both Jews and Gentiles in it. It appears as though this church was wrestling with how to work out the truth of the Gospel in this multi-cultural setting. Paul is building an extended argument that stretches through this whole letter to show off the Gospel and how we should live.
Jewish Christians would have had no problem with Romans 1, probably feeling like Paul had pagan Gentiles in mind. In Romans 2 Paul points the spotlight on all believers by warning the Jewish believer of being judgemental (Romans 2:1-11) and proclaiming radically that; “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). A radical statement that declares that the problem outlined in Romans 1:18-32 is universal, that all will be judged according to how they have lived (Romans 2:6).
All who have sinned, whether they are Jews under the law or Gentiles apart from the law, all will face judgement equally before Jesus on THAT DAY (Romans 12:16).
The Jewish believers who were rejoicing in, trusting in their heritage, their Jewishness are rebuked here by Paul – “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23) So, whether you are born Jewish or circumcised is not as important to God as each one obeying God’s moral law (Romans 2:25-29).
Romans 2 could be summarised as a warning to the Jewish believers in Rome not to be self-righteously confident in the wrong things (their Jewish heritage). The problem of sin outlined in Romans 1 is not a Gentile problem, and they who were Jewish believers are not in a privileged position as believers, God looks on all obedience with no partiality. As Paul declares succinctly in Galatians 2:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
We are united in our need since no one has fully obeyed the law of God. And we are united in God’s provision for our need, the good news about Jesus, His son sent for us… But more on that when we get to Romans 3.
Nothing is known really about Simeon, but Scripture describes him as a man who was waiting with expectation and hope. The NLT translation vs25-26 says of Simeon;
He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Simeon, was waiting eagerly. He believed that God would come to comfort His people by sending the Messiah. In fact he had heard God speak to him by the Holy Spirit that it was imminent, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.
We have no knowledge of how long Simeon had waited with faith and expectation, but we know that in the period of delay, of waiting, he just kept coming (vs27) to synagogue (the equivalent of church in his day). He didn’t get discouraged waiting, he showed his faith by being consistent in coming, didn’t moan at God about delay but trusted God in it!
How do you handle delay? I urge you to keep being faithful, to keep trusting God even when you’ve had to maybe wait a long time. God is faithful. Decide to be disciplined in the delay!
More than this, he came ‘in the Spirit into the temple’ (vs27). He was like the person coming to church full of faith and expectation that He was going to see God do wondrous things, and that day recorded in Luke 2 was his day.
When Simeon met Joseph and Mary and their small child Jesus, he saw not in the natural (just another baby boy) but he saw Jesus’ destiny, he saw that Jesus was the Messiah the Saviour of God’s people (vs29-32). He picked up their child and blessed him recounting Scripture over Him speaking of His destiny, prophesying to Mary about Jesus’ future life.
All the longings in Simeon’s heart were fulfilled in a moment seeing Jesus! Now I can die in peace he said in effect (vs29). One meeting with Jesus, satisfied Simeon. Jesus is the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, Jesus is the One who alone can and does save those who trust in Him.
Luke tells us of another person who met Jesus that day in the Temple, an old woman called Anna. Anna was a prophet, she had lost her husband many years ago and was now 84yrs old but she too, recognised who Jesus really was when she encountered Him and so she exclaimed the truths about Jesus to those listening (vs38), telling them of who He really was.
Simeon and Anna are such examples of long-obedience, long-suffering faith, and the joy of encountering the real Jesus.
Jesus is all you need. The good news is you don’t need to wait for Jesus like Simeon or Anna did. So, why not reach out to Jesus now, call on Him, speak to Him in prayer. Jesus is so willing and ready to meet with you and to speak with you and to transform your life.
This link is to a song Michael Card wrote about this moment if you want to listen to it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBZiPRPogn0
Simeon and Anna were patient in waiting for God to do what God had promised. Is there something you are tempted to give up in, tempting to stop trusting God for? Why not come again to God and to ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you the heart that Simeon and Anna had.
Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far… Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’! Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.
Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day! The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.
In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple. However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus! They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.
All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John.
The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
The Jewish council are dumbstruck! They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures. They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes. But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.
Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God! We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’
The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.
It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men! However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus. Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!
- What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
- What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
- What do you want to START doing more of?
- Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?