Saturday, April 19, 2008

Ray Stedman on unity

I so enjoy the sermons of Ray Stedman which have been available on the web for years. I refer to his exposition whenever I've studying a Bible book. Our church is going through Philippians now and what I've read today dovetails with a blog entry I stumbled across yesterday. The web has plenty of attacks on prominent Christians. Yesterday's "find" was attacking a prominent Christian for being polite to the Dalai Lama. In the past I've read sites that attack Stedman as well as every Christian author I've ever read. I wonder who these attackers think they serve?

2:1, 2 "So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

There are three strategies of the enemy we can infer from this passage. The first one is what we might call the power of negative thinking, the snare of a critical attitude toward others. Do you ever catch yourself picking someone apart flaw-by-flaw? Perhaps you salve your conscience by interjecting the phrase, "Now don't misunderstand me. I think the world of him, but..." and off we go again. What's happened? Well, we're irritated, and unconsciously seeking some justification for not seeing this person again or breaking off relationships, by pointing out all the terrible faults in him that make it necessary. The trouble with this philosophy is that we treat it as though there were no alternatives left to us. You know how this works, don't you?

Paul says that is not true. We say there is no way to reconcile our personality differences. He says that isn't true. We say there is no way we can work together on a level because our spiritual maturity is so much superior to their immaturity. Paul says that isn't true. He says there are resources in Christ which make it possible. Believe me, I know what he is talking about because I've been wrestling with this problem this very week. Paul says you have forgotten something when you think that just finding fault is an excuse to break with them. You've forgotten what you share in Christ. You've forgotten the power of the life of Christ within you to overlook injuries and forgive insults, and be patient with weakness and immaturity. There is an alternative to breaking off diplomatic relationships. You can forget it. You can forbear it, you can bear with him.

Then he says, these are the resources and the ground on which you can do this: "Is there any encouragement in Christ"; that is, is the encouragement of Christ's presence and His example anything to you? Is there any incentive of the Spirit in you to love even the unlovely? Is there any participation in the Spirit of God so that you and the other person have something in common, and you know that God is at work from his end as well as yours? Is there any affection and sympathy for problems the one who is irritating you may be undergoing? Have you looked at it from his point of view? Have you tried to put yourself in his place, and sympathized with the pressures he may be undergoing? Paul says if there is any reality in these things, then act on that basis--not with the harsh, caustic, critical, negative attitude that tears someone apart, but stop that attitude which is one of Satan's best weapons for dividing Christians. Remember these things, which are inevitably true,

Paul is going to say this again in chapter four, verse 8:

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

That is not simply abstract. That has to do with a person. When you are thinking about that person, think this way about them.

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