Whenever there is disunity in the church, danger is on the horizon. Disunity is very seldom because of external forces or persecution, rather disunity comes because of a personal agenda by one or more persons in the body of the Christ. Disunity happens because we take our eyes off the primary mission of the church.
Paul was concerned about a lack of unity creeping into the Philippian church and he starts by writing, “if there is any encouragement – In Christ…” remember being in Christ is our position as Christians, this is our standing before God and being In Christ is one of the primary ways Paul describes what it means to be a Christian. This is our vertical resource, we experience encouragement because of communion with God through the Holy Spirit. This is the first and primary position for unity – are you In Christ?
Paul continues and says, “if there is any comfort from love…” When you come to know Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior, your attitude changes towards other people. The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, the first one mentioned is Love, which is a natural outflow of a life controlled by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for love used here is a love that is governed by a willful decision to seek the highest good of the other individual.
Verse 1 continues, “any participation in the Spirit…” This is true fellowship that is more than simply sharing a meal together, this is unity because we are united by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we become followers of Jesus we are baptized into the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit, as we read in 1 Corinthians 12:13,
Verse 1 ends with, “any affection and sympathy”. The bottom line is that because of the tenderness, mercy and compassion that we have received from Christ, we should be displaying this to one another. To not have concern for others, is a very clear indication that a person is not in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.
So, what is the result of unity? In verse 2 we read that the first result of unity is joy. Paul was overjoyed by their response because he knew that as the Philippian church grew in unity, they would become more effective as a church, being used by God to proclaim the good news of Jesus.
Paul was joyful because he knew that they would be like-minded. Unity is not a temporal goal, where we have a great meeting and then we experience some warm and fuzzies and then we hope to remain in unity. Not at all, we remain in unity, because the message of the Gospel is what binds us. We have a common message, we have the same Holy Spirit, thus we have unity.
This does not mean that we will never have disagreements. It is quite normal to expect differences of opinion on certain methods of church activity, but we never compromise on the essentials of our faith and the truth of the Word of God. And when we do have differences of opinion, the governing rule must be love, the preferential love that always seeks the highest good of others.
Verse 2 ends with two more descriptions of unity, “being in full accord and of one mind”.
These two descriptions are not simply tagged on by Paul, to be in full accord and of one mind means that the church knows their purpose and mission. At Grace Point we have the 4 pillars that we talk about; Worship, Word, Evangelism and Compassion, this is what we exist to do. The mission of the church always superseded our personal preferences, that is Holy Spirit unity.
As we come to verse 3, it seems that Paul really gets down to the heart of the matter, and he begins by launching into a list of things that they cannot do if they are to experience unity.
The first sin he attacks is selfish ambition, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit”, conceit is vain glory, this is the person who makes amazing claims about themselves and their ability, while at the same time putting others down (see Proverbs 27:2). Our culture teaches people to promote themselves, but this does little to create a platform for unity.
The verse continues, “but in Humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This is the culture of the Kingdom, Jesus put others first when he died on the cross for our sins. If we would display humility, we would see unity and love flourish in every relationship in our lives. Johnny Hunt said, “the Christian in right relationship with the Lord treats others as if they were his superiors” that is the key to this verse and the key to living as a part of the body of Christ (see Matthew 20:26-28).
In the final verse Paul explains humility, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” A follower of Jesus must be counter culture, they should stop looking at themselves, their comforts and their own self-interest and look out for the interest of others. This is the normal Christian life. Our social media culture has created a generation of people who only look at themselves. But the Kingdom of God tells us to look out for the interests of others, to have genuine concern for others, even promoting the interests of others (see John 13:35).
This is so much bigger than simply getting along in the church. This is spiritual warfare, we need to fight to prefer others, we need to wrestle with our flesh to look out for the interests of others.
Why is this spiritual warfare? Looking back to the original fall of Satan, his primary sin was pride. The sin of pride and self-seeking is the root of all sins. So, to walk in the opposite spirit of humility goes against the spirit of this world. But it is worth it, for the unity of the church and for the glory of God.