Isn’t this a great portrait of Jesus Christ? Many Biblical scholars believe that this is the best Bible passage for defending Jesus’ divinity.
However, it is quite clear that Paul didn’t write this as a lesson in Systematic Theology or teaching in Christology.
The Philippian church was close to Paul’s heart – he loved them dearly. Ch1:3-5 “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
They were his family – not only had he had planted this church - the first church in Europe, he also uses them as a model church for other churches to follow, especially in the unique in the way they supported him.
So what leads him to pen this famous hymn of praise of Jesus – its because there was a problem. Word has come to Paul that there has been divisions and disharmony. That is what Paul is addressing here.
So my title this morning is ‘A Call To Unity’.
My headings are
Disunity the problem
Unity is found in Partnership
Unity is found in Selflessness
Unity is found in Humility
Disunity the problem.
V1. THEREFORE if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ,….. then make my joy complete by being like-minded…
What is the therefore there for?
Back in ch1: 27 he admonished them to “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ”.
This was a great Church, but they were under a great deal of pressure. They were a suffering Church.
You may remember that this was a Church that was born out of suffering. It was at Philippi that Paul and Silas were beaten up and locked in jail, which led to the conversion of the jailer.
However, the suffering hadn’t stopped. The Christian church was experiencing severe persecution under Nero the despotic Roman emperor, who torched Rome and then blamed it on Christians.
Now Paul was in prison, in Rome, and on death row he writes to them, “don’t be frightened because of the suffering you (& I) are experiencing, because just like belief, suffering is gifted to us when we all become united to Christ.”
It seems that the church’s patience and resilience under the persecution was starting to wear thin. The word frightened in ch1 v28 is a strong word – it means terrified. The pressure of it had resulted in grumbling, bickering and disharmony, so Paul says if you’re going to live the gospel and cope with the pressures you need to pull together.
He starts in chapter 2 by asking these rhetorical questions.
I want you to imagine you were a church member in Philippi when this letter was read to them. In the congregation with you is Lydia – the first convert with members of her household, then there is the former demonised fortune telling slave girl, and the Philippian jailor and maybe other former prison inmates who had been converted, and there are many other people all relatively new converts, Jews who have stepped out of Judaism and gentiles many saved form pagan idolatry.
As you hear the words of ch2 V1. Imagine your congregation’s response as Paul asks these questions:
V1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, (You would say yes Paul, of course),
is there any comfort from his love? (Oh yes to that too)
is there any common sharing in the Spirit? (of course there is Paul, but what are you getting at?)
and finally Paul says, now to summarise, is there any tenderness and compassion in Christ? (Amen, Amen, Paul but what are you on about?)
then make my joy complete by being like-minded. Oh!!
This church was a huge encouragement to Paul, from the first day they believed to the continuing growth, but now Paul’s joy is not complete. The external pressure was affecting some of them and there were signs of dissent and disharmony. In chapter 4 he mentions a couple of church members who were having some sort of disagreement. Paul admonishes the church in ch2 v14 to do everything without grumbling or arguing.
So Paul is calling them to Unity in Christ. His call to unity has an emphasis on partnership and attitude. So my second point.
2. Unity is found in Partnership
This whole book is about partnership in the gospel. I read earlier ch1: 5 where Paul thanks them for their partnership in the gospel. Then in In ch1:7-8, he says, all of you share in God’s grace with me – that is in his preaching and in his imprisonment. In ch1: 19 he talks about their prayer partnership with him.
1: 27 Paul says he wants to know that they stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.
Paul is emphasising this partnership they have.
As Christians we are part of the body of Christ. We are not individuals - we are a part of the community of God.
Our world today doesn’t work this way. It is more about looking after number one. Our world is all about personal satisfaction of our individualistic wants and needs. The church is not supposed to be like that. The Church is a body with many parts working together. Going off to do your own thing is not Christian – it is sin – it is divorce which God hates. Individualism is not God’s way whatever the problems with disharmony.
Judy and I have some friends who have left the church they attended because of a dispute and they haven’t been back to any church consistently for years. Unfortunately they are part of a growing number of people today who have no idea about striving together for the gospel.
Actually striving, side by side for the gospel is language of conflict.
Kingston street, did you know we are at war – a great cosmic battle against the hords of the world, the flesh and Satan. Do we think that somehow we can go off and fight the war by ourselves and succeed? Of course not. We can only win the war when we are in partnership with God and God’s people. Satan knows that if he can separate us he can win – divide and conquer.
We need to pray with and for one another. We need to open our homes and share our lives with each other. We need to sacrifice for one another. Bear one another’s burdens. We are to “look out not only for our own interests but also for the interests of others,” ch 2:4.
Paul is really calling the Philippians to repentance. There are unresolved conflicts going on, so Paul uses these strong words, make my joy complete by being of one mind. Its time to fix the broken relationships, to bury the jealousy and resentment.
How do we fight the good fight if we harbour sin and then try to go off to do our own thing.
We all know that conflicts are part of human life, and yes that’s includes us in the church. Just like the Philippians, we are a rag tag mix of people, of disparate ages, personalities and cultures all joined together in Christ. So what is the solution to this conflict. As I have said the first step is to repent and ask for for forgiveness. However if we don’t get to the root cause of the problems they will continue to recur.
What does Paul say here in verse 2, “then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”
The mind is where its at. Our mindset. When there is a dispute or disagreement the solution requires a different mindset. Usually what we do is focus on the particular issue in an oppositional way. We want the other person to change and if they change then we might change too. It is often described by the phrase ‘give and take’, but unfortunately this is not the solution.
It requires a complete change in attitude because if we are in a partnership it means changing our perspective and teaming up against the common enemy for the common good. This is true of all relationships but as Christians we are supposed to have the solution but we must continually allow God to change our mindset. And what is that mindset – it is the mindset of partnership in the gospel. We have to realise that the most important thing is our relationship not the disputes or differences of opinion that occur. When we understand that it is the relationship we realise it is not about give and take it is all give on both sides.
We need a corporate or community mindset where we understand that we need each other. ‘Having a like-minded mindset of one love and one soul. This is suggestive of intimacy in our Christian community, which is supposed to be our distinctive – that we love one another. You can’t love one another if you are one your own.
Such a mindset of course means that there is a change in our behaviour. Such change has two aspects, one of which is selflessness and the other is humility.
So third point is
3. Unity is found in Selflessness
Verses 3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
So this changed mindset is expressed by Paul firstly in a negative way. Our mindset must not be to do things for our own selfish gain. That is what Paul’s opposition were doing, as mentioned in ch1:17 where he uses the same word. They wanted to make a name for themselves. For a Christian that is a total contradiction. If Christ is our Lord and King then we promote him, not ourselves.
Positively expressed it means valuing others above yourself – looking not only for our own interests but also that of others. The word ‘interests’ is not in the Greek text. It just says not looking to your own whatever. We could put anything in there. Not looking after just our own wants, needs, reputation, health etc but looking to those of others. To willingly put ourselves at a disadvantage for the benefit of others. Notice that you don’t ignore your own needs but are to include those of others. John Piper expresses it, “Find your joy in making others joyful.”
(Did you see the news report this week about an American former Special forces guy in Mosul with his family helping others. It showed him saving a litle girl while under ISIS gunfire. On the news clip, he said “I thought, ‘If I die doing this, my wife and kids would understand.’”
I believe God sent me here, and I don’t think about security … but I always ask myself if I’m doing it out of pride,” he said.
When he was asked why he was doing it he said ‘greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends.)
This is what selflessness is all about. When we as a church family are sharing in this partnership together, disunity will disappear. We are standing in solidarity together, bearing each other’s burdens and sharing each other’s joys.
Of course to do this doesn’t happen automatically because individualism and pride so often get in the road. There is a real need for humility which brings me to my final point.
4. Unity is found in Humility
The word humility Paul uses here is interesting. The Romans and Greeks had no word for humility. The very concept was totally foreign and abhorrent to them. An associated word ‘lowly’ was always used in Greek literature in derisive way – as something base or having little value – often used to describe a slave. Roman culture was totally based on social standing, seniority of rank and prestige.
Thankfully in our culture humility is still usually a valued characteristic.
Notice also that the word has the idea of mindset – KJV translated it lowliness of mind.
So what Paul is calling for here is a radical counter cultural approach that goes against our natural tendencies which requires a different mindset.
Humility is not giving up stuff just to appear humble but focussing on the other person to serve them.
At this point in the passage Paul uses the crowning example of what humility looks like. It is that which is characterised by Jesus Christ. Again we are encouraged to have a mindset like Jesus when we relate to others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
So when Jesus came he specifically came in a way to show us how he wants us to act.
Dick Lucas comments on this by saying, that this action of God is totally inconceivable. That when God Almighty surrendered his rights and accepted the place of ‘servant of all’ it was inconceivable that God would do this – but he says it was right for the Son of God to do it and it was right for us. Also if it was right for the Son of God to do this – to humble himself then it is also right for us to humble ourselves. Lucas continues, “Divine humility shames our pride and the cross shames our desire to avoid reproach – because we don’t like to face persecution.”
Contradiction, reproach and persecution are all part of life in Christ.
When Jesus as God, came to earth, he didn’t seek to retain that position of privilege, but put it aside. He then took on the position of zero Kudos and status. He didn’t come to be recognised, noticed, respected or rewarded. That is what humilty means.
And he asks that we his children follow in the way of our master – taking on the role of a slave as per John 13 when Jesus washed his disciple feet.
One commentator shared a story about a conductor of a symphony orchestra who was asked, “What is the most difficult instrument to play?” He responded, “Second violin. I can find plenty of first violinists. But, to find someone who can play second violin with enthusiasm, that’s a problem. And if we have no second violin, we have no harmony.”
The problem with all of us is that we don’t like to play second fiddle to anyone. That is why disharmony comes. We don’t like our pride to be poked. We don’t want people to think badly of us. What Paul is saying here is that we must make that our goal, just as Jesus did.
This is so against our natural instinct that none of us are anywhere near what Jesus did. Paul asks that we have a mindset that seeks to live like this. Only by God’s grace and his Spirit’s work in us do we even start to live in his shadow.
How do I live like this and not have an attitude that seeks some sort of reward for living like that? Jesus came not seeking any payoff but to make redemption possible.
“But God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
And that is the goal in this humilty, not to glorify us, but to bring glory to God – and to bring others who seeing our humility, though only a shadow of his, will also confess him as Lord.
The unity Paul is calling for is shown in the ultimate example of the Godhead and the servanthood of Jesus in humility bowing to his Father’s will to be made sin for us so that we would made the righteous of God. (2 Cor. 5: 21)
In finishing I want to go back to the first verses at the beginning of the chapter.
When you become a Christian you get the whole package, the comfort of his love, fellowship or koinonia of his Spirit, who unites us, and the tender affection and compassion of our Father God. These great benefits should encourage us against the external pressures of life, but also it should encourage us against the inevitable internal conflicts.
Do you notice the Godhead illustrated in these statements.
If there is any encouragement or consolation that you now enjoy in union with Jesus, if there is any comfort flowing to you from being loved by God the Father, if you enjoy the fellowship and partnership and communion of the Holy Spirit in your life, if, in summary, there is any affection and any sympathy, any spiritual blessing flowing to you from fellowship with Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit—that ought to show in the way that you act.
Unity flows directly from the throne of God illustrated in that relationship and brought to us graphically in the sending of Jesus to die for us. May our relationships grow more like his as we take on his mindset. So that when we see him the humiliation will be changed to victory. . A victory for Jesus as he presents us as trophies of his grace to the Father.