The Major Key to Christian Unity
Unity is a prize that Christians must contend for until Jesus returns. How should we contend? The Apostle Paul tells the church at Philippi just that:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from 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. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)
“If you have oxygen in your lungs, if you have legs to run, any brain to think smart thoughts, then go out there and win that ballgame!” That sounds like something a coach would say to motivate his team, right?
If you have these things: Lungs. Legs. A brain… Which you do have, so because you have them, do this with them.
That’s the same kind of reasoning Paul uses in verses one and two: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from 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.”
Paul is telling the Philippians because you are Christians, “You have encouragement in Christ. You have comfort from love, you have participation in the Spirit. You have affection and sympathy.” So because you have them, live humbly among one another.
Let’s examine this list.
Four Marks of a Christian
One, Christians have encouragement in Christ.
The Greek word for encouragement can also be translated to English as consolation, which is comfort amid suffering. Christians have a comforter amid suffering in Christ, who suffered the greatest pain, so they could receive the greatest encouragement. When the rollercoaster of life takes Christians to a new low, they can remember that their King-of-the-Universe brother is riding with them and isn’t going anywhere.
That’s encouraging. Encouragement in Christ should spur us on to live humbly among one another.
Two, Christians have comfort from love.
God loved us enough to send his Son to die for us. God loved us because God is love. That’s who he is, which is marvelously comforting. Because if God loved us because we were first lovable, our relationship with God is in danger every time we sin against Him. But because our relationship began because God first loved undeserving us, we can be comforted. Because you cannot lose what you did not choose.
That’s comforting. Comfort from love should spur us on to live humbly among one another.
Three, Christians have participation in the Spirit.
In chapter one, Paul writes that he has a “partnership in the gospel” with the Philippians (1:5). They have partnered for a purpose. Together, in unison, they partner for the gospel. The same Greek word Paul uses for “partnership in the gospel,” he uses for “participation in the Spirit.”
The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead participates in Christians. Participation in the Spirit should spur us on to live humbly among one another.
Four, Christians have affection and sympathy.
The Greek word for affection also translates as bowels. Like, your intestines; your gut. You, Christian, have affection and sympathy deep within your bowels for people. Because the Holy Spirit is in you, transforming your bowels to feel affection and sympathy for others like Christ first felt affection and sympathy for you.
Affection and sympathy should spur us on to live humbly among one another.
True Christians experience new feelings because, when God saved them, He removed their heart of stone and gave them a heart of flesh. They actually feel encouragement in Christ, comfort from love, affection, and sympathy because they have participation in the Spirit. And all of these emotions, they are to move the Philippians to do what? Verse 2: What does Paul want them to do?
“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Four Commands for the Christian
Paul lays out four commands for the Philippians. The ESV makes it sound like Paul repeats himself; be of the same mind; be of one mind. That’s intentional. The whole point of this passage is about having the mind of Christ. But the NASB translation differentiates these four commands a little more clearly. It reads, “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in the spirit, intent on one purpose.”
These are the ingredients of a Church who strives side-by-side for the faith of the gospel. This is what Jesus prayed for at the Last Supper in John 17. Jesus prayed that “those who will believe in me … may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
Jesus prayed for oneness. And prayed that the Church’s oneness would prove to the world that God sent him into the world. And the ingredients of this oneness are like-mindedness, love, unity, and focus. All of these similarities, Paul says, will complete his joy.
Remember where Paul is when he’s writing this. He’s on house arrest — chained to a Roman guard. And Paul does not write, “Complete my joy by getting me outta here.” He writes, “complete my joy … by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in the spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Your partnership in the Spirit should unite you with people who are partnered with the same Spirit. That unity is what completes Paul’s joy.
Just imagine how much Paul has to love Jesus and the Philippians for him to say this. My joy is incomplete without your unity. Do we think like this? Do we treasure our church’s oneness? Because our like-mindedness, our love, our unity, and our focus tell the world something either true or false about our God.
Is our God greater than our disagreements? Is our God and his people lovable enough for us to humble ourselves for the sake of unity? Do we love being right, more than we love preserving the relationships that Christ died to form?
The Philippians struggled with humility. Look at verses 3-4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”
Here’s where Paul says to sit down and be humble: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.” Do nothing selfishly or narcissistically.
The Major Key to Christian Unity
Proud people are in the church at Philippi. In chapter one, Paul says some are preaching from envy and rivalry (1:15). In chapter two, Paul commands the Philippians “to do all things without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). In chapter four, Paul puts two women who are beefing on blast, urging them to agree in the Lord (4:2).
Pride is a danger, which Paul identifies, that will prevent the Philippians from, “being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in the spirit, intent on one purpose.” They can’t be united with people whose interests they don’t care about. And they won’t care about people who they think they’re more significant than.
And, overall, the Philippians are an extremely strong church. Paul gushes about them throughout his letter. The Philippians had solid theology. Paul raises no doctrinal concerns, which is unusual for him. His concern is unity.
Theologian William Barclay said, “There is a sense in which [lack of unity] is the danger of every healthy church. You see, it is when [people’s] beliefs really matter to them, when they are eager to carry out their own plans and their own schemes that they are most apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide.”
You may be Bible people, you may make disciples, you may live on mission. But if in your passion for God, your church loses its like-mindedness; if you trade humility for assertiveness, your church will divide.
Note: The Philippians are famous for their generosity. Paul is writing this letter, partially, because they just sent him a ginormous gift to support him in prison. A gift that left Paul saying in chapter four, “I have received full payment and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gift you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (4:18).
We can learn a lot today about giving from the Philippians. But you can be the most generous giver; you can be the most sacrificial servant, you can give away all you have and deliver up your body to be burned, but if you have not love, you gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13:3).
The church at Philippi is missional but at risk of division. If we reach the streets but beef with those in our church’s seats we are in rebellion against the Lord of the universe.
When you think of fellow church members, are the first things that pop into your brain differences or similarities? Because Paul says you’re to have the same mind, the same love, the same spirit, the same purpose.