Septuagesima Sunday January 31, 1999
462, 366, 464, 473
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me. Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Whose sacrificial death unites us Christians, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
“One for all and all for one!”—Can you tell me whose motto that was? If you said The Three Musketeers, you’re right. In 1844, French author Alexandre Dumas wrote the now famous novel about the friendship of three reckless young men. One common thread ran through their many outlandish exploits—and that was the warm bond of companionship. They were friends, comrades, companions. They did everything together. When one had a success, the others shared in the profits. When one was in danger, the others rushed to his aid. That’s why their motto was ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE.
It’s an attractive picture, isn’t it—that picture of close companionship? Perhaps it brings to mind your own youth, the friends you had, and the companionship you enjoyed. Do you sometimes feel lonely and isolated these days? Would you like to enjoy such close companionship again? You can, you know. In fact, as our text for today shows, it is God’s will for your life that you do enjoy such companionship. That’s why God placed you into this Christian congregation. Join me today in considering the theme:
The Apostle Paul was writing to the Christian at Philippi. They were a small group, probably not a lot different that this congregation right here. He was very pleased with their progress. Under Paul’s care and God’s, they had made a fine beginning as a close-knit group of believers. Now Paul admonishes them, “Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
You know, the Apostle’s talking to us, too. What does that mean, that our conduct should be “worthy of the Gospel”?—Simply that our everyday life should reflect honor and glory on Gospel. In our text Paul warns the Philippians not to rest on their laurels, but to “walk the walk”—to keep on making sure that their deeds matched their words, and that their lifestyle matched the Gospel they said they believed in. And it can’t just be a few people who do it, either; it’s got to be everybody. For a Christian congregation to be successful, it has to be ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE.
First of all, Christians are companions in faith. At the time he wrote this letter, Paul was in Rome, under arrest for professing the Christian faith. He hope to be released so that he could travel to Philippi, but in any case, Paul said, “…whether I come an see you or am absent, (let me) hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel.”
In Greek, “striving together” is one word. It’s a term originally used in ancient athletic games, when one team of athletes would compete against another. The winter olympics, which began this week in Japan, remind us that in any such competition, sticking together is important. But unity and teamwork is even more important in a Christian congregation. Why? Because the thing we’re defending is so very precious. You see, we on this team aren’t defending an end zone, or a basket, or a hockey net. We’re not working together for a gold medal and a few moments of glory. We are striving together to defend the faith of the Gospel. The pure truths of God’s Word, not adulterated by any man-made ideas—that is the prize we’re struggling to preserve. It’s the very Gospel of salvation. It’s the Good News that just by trusting in Jesus, any sinner can be pardoned and go to heaven—that’s what we’re defending! That’s why Jude writes with such urgency in his epistle: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 1:3.
Because that faith is so very precious, that’s why we’ve got to stick together in this congregation. It has to be ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE. Take a look at the people sitting around you today—these people, Paul says, are your companions in the faith. That’s not just a privilege, that’s a pretty big responsibility, when you think about it. For instance, when a church member forsakes a certain part of God’s Word that he doesn’t happen to like, he’s not just sinning against the Lord—he’s betraying his companions. He has given up striving for the Gospel. When a church member consistently refuses to attend worship services, he’s not just harming his own spiritual life—he’s abandoning his companions. He’s saying to them, “You go on struggling, but I’m not going to help. I won’t be there to encourage you with my presence and to help shoulder the Lord’s work.” It sort of makes you shudder when you look at it that way, doesn’t it! May the Lord preserve us from selfishly abandoning our companions in the faith!
Paul goes on in our text to show another reason why our congregation’s motto must be ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE: because we come up against such powerful opposition in this world. Our text says, “Stand fast in one spirit…not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Why is congregational unity so important? Because Christians are companions in suffering.
And believe me, as a Christian you’ve got adversaries who are going to try and make you suffer. I don’t think Paul is primarily talking about unbelievers here, either, though their sneers are hard enough to take. No, our congregation, like the one in Philippi, is much more threatened by adversaries who themselves profess to be Christians. It’s no secret that there are people in our community, even people from other churches, who have criticized and will continue to criticize us. God’s Word tells us we can’t pray, commune or worship with people in false-teaching churches. God’s Word tells us not to give Christian burial to a person who, in life, gave no indication of being a Christian. God’s Word says that those who help lead our worship services—including soloists at weddings and funerals—should be people from our own fellowship. God’s Word forbids us to have any part of societies and organizations that are clearly anti-Christian, such as the Lodge, and The Boy Scouts of America. God’s Word says women may not have authority over men in the Church. Now, the CLC is about the only church body left that follows God’s word in these difficult matters. It’s only natural that we’re going to draw a lot of fire. And we do. There are plenty of folks who just downright hate Lutherans like us. Does that surprise you? It shouldn’t. Our Lord Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mat 5:11-12.
Don’t be frightened by them, Paul says. Don’t shy back like a startled horse every time someone attacks you for your faith. My question has always been this: why should I be ashamed for sticking to what the Bible says? Let them be ashamed who have abandoned the Word of God and abused the precious doctrines of Scripture!
Sure, it’s hard sometimes. But as someone once said, a Christian is like a tea bag: not much good until he’s gone through some hot water. The Bible says, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Acts 14:22.
And remember, my friend, that you are not alone in the struggle. The Philippians had seen the Apostle Paul arrested with their own eyes. They saw him thrown into prison and his feet put in stocks. Paul and Silas had been severely beaten before eventually being released. And now the persecution was widening to include other members of the congregation. But Paul says, hang in there, “…not in any way terrified…For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me.” I’ve been through what you’re going through, Paul says. We’re in this together, ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE!
When you suffer for Jesus’ sake, remember: you too have companions—they’re sitting all around you this morning. And your companions are not only in this congregation, but in every CLC church across the nation. We all stand perfectly united in the pure truths of Scripture. We need to stick together. When that criticism starts pouring in, it’s got to be ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE!
Well, Paul has spoken of the importance of standing united to fight the enemies outside our fellowship. Now he turns to an equally important topic. We need to be united in showing love toward those who are inside our fellowship. “Therefore,” he says, “if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” Christians are companions in faith and companions in suffering. But most of all, Christians are companions in love.
During W.W.II, the Japanese conducted experiments to discover what form of torture was most effective in breaking down a human being, in eliciting secret information, etc. You know what they found out? Solitary confinement is the worst thing you can do to a person. Isolate a person from the love and fellowship of other human beings long enough, and he’ll give in to anything, he’ll do whatever you tell him. You know, that’s the devil’s strategy, too. And that’s why the Lord has placed you into this Christian congregation. David says, “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation. God sets the solitary in families.” Psa 68:5-6. God set you here so that you would not be alone; so that you would have a source of love and support in your Christian companions! In this congregation, it’s ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE.
Some congregations are split by factions: men vs. women, e.g.; or long-time members vs. recently-joined members; or people who support the pastor vs. people who oppose the pastor. It shall not be so among you, Paul said. “Be like-minded, having the same love, be of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Is that easy? Not always. “Considering others better than yourself”—that’s a tall order. That’s something that doesn’t come naturally even to Christians. But the Bible tells us what will make it easier: think about what Jesus did for you. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Heb 12:1-2.
Really that phrase, ONE FOR ALL—that fits Jesus best of all, doesn’t it? The Bible says, “Through the one Man, the many shall be made righteous.” Jesus Christ was lowly. Far from putting Himself first, Jesus put your interests before His own. He esteemed you better than himself—that’s why He submitted Himself to the shame and the agony of crucifixion. Jesus is your “soul’s best friend”—He’s your best companion in love. And He teaches you best how to be of one mind with these other companions of yours! “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” 1 John 4:10-11.
When the founding fathers were signing the Declaration of Independence, they knew that unity was essential to the survival of their young nation—and to their own. They were, after all opposing the most powerful government on earth—the British Empire. Ben Franklin said: “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!” The same may be said for us members of this congregation. Our enemies are strong. But when we stand united, there is nothing that can defeat us. May we members of Ascension Lutheran Church be companions in faith, companions in suffering, and companions in love. Let our motto truly be: ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.