In early September, I had the deep privilege of officiating at Scott’s and Katherine’s wedding. Scott’s my nephew. There was a bit of déjà vu in the experience for me as the very first wedding I officiated at was Scott’s dad’s and mom’s wedding.
Weddings are all about becoming one. Jesus said, "The man and the woman are no longer two, but one!" In the mysterious and wonderful way that God built into the DNA of marriage, that is just what happens. But Jesus also said, "What God has joined together, let man not separate." That phrase tells me that there’s effort required to stay one.
In a lot of ways, churches are like marriages. They’re made up of very different people united under Christ—different shapes and sizes, different personalities and dispositions, different gifts, and different hopes and dreams. But as in marriages, even the best of churches, while they have been made one by God in Christ, have to work at staying one. There are challenges to that oneness from within and from without. Against those pressures, over and over again, the Bible calls for the church—like it calls couples in marriages—to work at staying one.
One of Paul’s most beloved churches was in the town of Philippi. This church had come together in a place that was hostile to Christianity. In this climate of pressure and threat, this wonderful church had become severely distressed; its unity was beginning to unravel. So Paul gave them some great advice. That advice also works very well for marriages. Here is what he wrote:
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. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look out not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)
Paul indicated a number of essential principles for working at staying one.
1. Never forget who you really are!
Paul says, “Your core identity, is ‘follower of Jesus Christ;’ you are God’s person.” When a couple opens their hearts to Jesus and become His followers, God does some amazing things in them. He lavishes his riches on them just like he did on the Philippian church. They come to live in the comfort of Christ’s salvation; they are consoled by His love; they come into and presently experience unbroken fellowship with God through the powerful presence of God’s Holy Spirit; and they experience God’s amazing compassion and mercy. The long and short of it is that a couple already shares an incredible amount in common as they each share in salvation.
2. Pursue Harmony!
Paul next says, “Trusting in that greatest common denominator of a personal relationship with Jesus, pursue harmony! Being one is not without effort. And that effort begins with healthy communication that builds toward harmony. Paul says, “Be like-minded,” “have the same love,” give expression to that “oneness in spirit,” and he concludes “think the same thing.” It’s a lot like singing in a choir. Obviously there are a lot of different voices in a church choir. But when those very different voices are all on the same page musically and pursuing harmony, the result is both deeply gratifying and God-honoring. Its the same in marriage–two very different people building toward a deeply gratifying and God-honoring harmony.
3. Show Consideration!
Selfish ambition uses all its energy to roughly press ahead in personal advancement without thinking whether this helps or hurts others. Vain conceit is filled with an overblown sense of self-importance. It’s always saying, “Me first!” and “I count more than you!” These are both mortal enemies of staying one. That’s why Paul says, “do nothing” out of such unworthy motivations. Instead, he says, work at staying one by “in humility considering others better than yourselves.” There is no sense of inferiority, self-disparagement, or groveling in this. Paul says, show consideration—“look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.”
4. Imitate the Great Example!
The final piece of advice on staying one in a marriage so that it goes the distance is this: Imitate the Great Example. Paul’s final recommendation is to model your life in marriage after the selfless example of Jesus himself. He writes,
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (Philippians 2:5-11, The Message)
Becoming one is great; working at staying one is even better!