Unity drives genuine gospel citizenship, says Ben Stuart at Southern Seminary chapel
Living out the Christian life is only possible through church unity, said Ben Stuart, executive director of Breakaway Ministries in College Station, Texas, during a March 12 chapel message at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“Spirituality is always worked out in the context of community,” he said. “Christ’s likeness cannot be achieved individually.”
Preaching on Philippians 1:27-30, Stuart argued that fighting sin is impossible on one’s own. Both the Philippian church and the modern church were meant to be mutually encouraging and unified, traits which make up effective gospel communities, he said. Without unity, little of value is accomplished for the kingdom.
“We desperately need unity, because we will be combat ineffective for the work of our great King if we don’t have unity.”
Just as Paul encouraged the Philippians to be citizens in heaven, so Christians ought to find their identity in heaven and enjoy unity with fellow citizens through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Stuart said that people will naturally take on the characteristics of those they are associated with, so the communities believers choose have eternal significance.
Stuart examined the original construction translated as “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel” (Phil 1:27), noting that the verb is related to the Greek word polis, which means “city,” and connotes a citizenship separate from earth.
“Your polis is in heaven,” he said. “You have a different warrior who fought hell for you and won, that secured for us a city, that secured for us a family.”
Unity also allows believers to stand and fight sin together, he said. While isolation from community often leads to sin and failure, entering into community with other believers will lead to perseverance.
“Our purity will come in community; our victory will come in community,” he said.
Stuart said it is important for believers to have at least one person to whom they can confess everything. While many Christians settle for a superficial “perceived holiness,” Stuart said it is impossible to achieve “practical holiness” — an integrity that exists inside and outside the believer — without other Christians.
This requires encouragement, sacrifice, and genuine affection for one another. The fighting that often happens between believers — especially in a competitive seminary environment like Southern — belies the nature of the gospel they proclaim, he said.
“If we’re ministers of the gospel of the grace of God, let’s be gracious with our words to one another,” he said. “Because we’re in a war and it’s not with us. We’re fighting against something bigger, and we have to fight together. We need each other.”
Community will sharpen each individual, he said, and occasionally push believers to try things they would not otherwise. Stuart recounted how a Christian friend in college spurred him to be more evangelistic on his non-Christian campus. Likewise, a unified church community can help the believers accomplish things they could not do on their own.
“One of God’s greatest gifts to us is us,” he said.
Breakaway Ministries is a non-denominational weekly Bible study on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, that attracts gatherings of up to 12,000 students. Audio and video of the chapel is available at sbts.edu/resources.