So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
The fellowship of the saints in a unified spirit and the encouragement of watching brothers and sisters striving to live holy lives is a completion of joy. In Scripture, joy is called a fruit of the Spirit in Gal. 5:22, it empowers believers to do the mission of God in Acts 13, and it grants perseverance to Christians in suffering in 1 Thess. 1:6. (C.f. Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament entry on “chara” or “joy”) In western Christianity, joy alludes us. And by joy I mean: soul satisfying happiness. (For a more full explanation of happiness I commend Randy Alcorn’s book on the subject). It does not allude us because we can’t understand the definition of joy or process the significance of such a powerful disposition. The absence of joy for the western Christian is most often simply because we don’t believe joy is found in Christ.
Western Christianity has espoused that Christ is sufficient for religious function and atonement for sins, but is not necessary for everyday life. I know this, because I live in the western Christian culture and have pastored western Christians for the past 13 years. We attend a church, participate in a work of benevolence, or live by a code of morality while simultaneously seeking to fill our affections with entertainment, possessions, and activities. These things are not necessarily evil or antithetical to Christ, but they are not Him. Instead of pursuing joy in knowing Him, most so-called believers portion some time to Him and then allot the rest of their time to other things. Our churches attempted to capitalize on this mindset by setting up programs and activities based on affinities. We tried to get people to the gospel utilizing some other means than presenting them with Christ. We won people with things and entertainment. As a result, Christianity in the west is dying… or is at least sick. (This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is necessary to recognize the problem before you can identify the solution). The trouble with portioning time to an infinite God in whom there is infinite joy is that in doing so, we are limiting the infinite. We cannot claim the joy that rightly belongs to us and hold Jesus, The Spirit, and Father at arms-length. In order to have fullness of joy, Christ must be all consuming.
What then, can complete our joy? According to Paul it is the unity of the saints being lived out in holiness. Look again at verse 1. Paul begins this exhortation with a challenge of faith. The exhortation is a conditional one. If verse 1 is true of the believer, then do verse 2. The implication is, if the first part is not true, the second part is not possible. Examine closely how Paul challenges faith. The condition he lay down is that these Philippian believers are finding their encouragement in a consistent relationship with Christ through the Spirit.
Believers find encouragement in Christ and walking with Him in obedience to His precepts.
Believers take comfort in the uncomfortable self-sacrificing love that is born out in their hearts for the people around them.
Believers participate in the mission of God by obeying His Spirit and following where He leads.
Believers have affection and sympathy for each other because Christ’s affection and sympathy for His bride is poured into the hearts of believers and overflows from the Christian to all.
Do those 4 statement describe your Christian life? If not, then you are either: seeking joy somewhere else and need to adjust your lifestyle or you do not know Christ. Consider this carefully, your eternal destiny is at stake. Stop trying to find joy on your own, confess your inability, and follow Christ.
What greater joy is there than the fellowship of saints walking together in holiness? There is no greater joy for a teacher than the students applying what they have been taught. Likewise, there is no greater joy for a pastor than to see the congregation he is a part of living in mature Christian community.
The evidence of mature community are unity in mind, love, and mission. First, to be unified in mind implies some sort of discourse and common agreement. Be careful, dear reader. Unity is not achieved through avoidance or pacification. Unity is achieved when we wrestle through deep topics and truths together. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you do have to wrestle together to reach agreement. All true Christians can agree on this simple fact: Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord. This truth stands as our foundation. Everything that follows is exposition on the topic and is necessary to the Kingdom. The second evidence is a unity in love. Christians have been given love that transforms the soul. If that love is not transforming their actions, they have not been given it (C.f. 1 John 3-4). The final evidence of mature Christian community is a unity of mission. Paul asserts that Christians are in agreement on their journey. In other words, believers walk the same path and follow the same shepherd. They are joined together by their common Spirit which sealed them at redemption (Eph. 1:13).
This connection is unique to Christianity. It is not found in other religions. Christians have a unity that transcends circumstance and preference. While this unity can be mimicked through affinity, activity, and preference, it can never be truly achieved apart from the gospel. This is why it is so important that the foundation of our church communities be in the message of Jesus Christ’s life-giving gospel. Christian brother or sister, find a church that is founded on the gospel of Jesus Christ and nothing else. Whenever we add an “and” to the gospel, we cheapen the power of it. This is truly a massive subject and one I do not have time for in this short work. For more on this particular subject and the implications thereof on the local church: read The Compelling Community: Where God’s Power Makes a Church Attractive (9Marks) by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop.