In preparing for this post, I read about a church that split, and that split began over an argument at a potluck supper when a lady brought a congealed salad she made with Cool Whip instead of real whipping cream. Can you believe it?
In googling further, you can find where churches have split over whether the pianist should sit to the right or the left side of the podium; over whether the Lord’s Supper is served from the front to the back or the back to the front. Even over trying to decide whether a kitchen should be a part of the church building or not!
We chuckle at these things but more googling revealed a story about a church that split over who was the actual pastor. They had two pastors. Two groups thought they each had their guy, and both of them got up to lead a service on Sunday. Both led the singing. Both groups tried to out-sing each other. Then both pastors started preaching, trying to out-preach each other. Finally, it just broke out into fistfights, and the police had to come in and break it up.
That’s outrageous. And it just goes to show how “intentional” we must be at building and preserving unity among ourselves. These examples reinforce just how important our daily walk with Christ is. We need the help of the Holy Spirit to walk in holiness, love, and unity.
After Paul shared the fantastic work that the Lord was accomplishing in his imprisonment for “the greater progress of the gospel” (back in 1:11-26), He turned his attention off himself. He directed it towards them, the Philippian church.
We saw in Chapter one, verse twenty-seven, that Paul was concerned about their conduct, that they, as regenerated sinners, now “in Christ” through His substitutionary atoning work, would conduct themselves or behave as citizens of Heaven should behave themselves. He exhorted them to live out their new salvation, in his words: “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” And that is to be done even amidst conflict and suffering (1:29-30).
I want to point something out here as we prepare to examine Philippians 2. This congregation of Christians at Philippi was a good church, and as Paul thought about them and even as he wrote to them, his thoughts and feelings were positive. The Philippians had a special place in his heart and he in their hearts. We see that throughout the letter.
For example, in chapter 1, verse 3, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” “Every time I think about you I’m thankful.” Verse 4, “Every time I pray for you it is with joy.” Verse 5, “Grateful for your participation in the gospel, from the first day until now – consistency, endurance.” And then you’ll also notice in verse 8, he says, “I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” There was genuine love between the apostle and this church.
Chapter 1, verse 19, Commends them for their prayers. He mentions his fond memories of them. In chapter 2, verse 12, he says, “You have always obeyed, and I want you to continue to obey.” And he commends them for their obedience. They had a pattern of obedience. When he was there, they obeyed, and he wanted them to continue doing it even in his absence.
Chapter 4 verse 16 he says, “It not the first time you sent me an offering; even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” (generosity)
All of his thoughts about this church were positive; his feelings toward them were warm. In 1:5, when he affirms their participation in the gospel, he notes that they were genuine believers. Verse 7 speaks of their great courage because even in Paul’s imprisonment and “defense and confirmation of the gospel,” they stood with him as “partakers of grace.” Add to all this what John Macarthur points out: “There is a very obvious lack of doctrinal exhortation in this epistle because there was apparently no doctrinal deviation. They had not gone astray in terms of theology. They didn’t need to be corrected. There is no immorality in the congregation which is confronted in the epistle. So generally, this is a quality group of people. This is really a devoted, consistent, doctrinally true church.”
But, despite all of that, there is lurking in that church a deadly snake with venom. And that deadly snake is the snake of disunity, discord, and conflict, which has poisoned many churches.
I mention all of that because I think we are prone to assume that disunity and conflict wouldn’t be a problem in a strong church. That is not necessarily the case. One commentator made this point:
“There is a sense in which this is the danger of every healthy church. You see, it is when people are really in earnest, when their 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,” (William Barclay)
And that is why Paul’s writing to these believers is so helpful to us today. We do not want to be deceived into thinking disunity and discord cannot happen among us.
We need to recognize the danger and be reminded of how we can promote unity and combat discord among ourselves as individuals and a church body.
So, open up your bibles with me, and let’s read Philippians 2:1-4 together.
2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in Spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The first thing I want us to take notice of is this:
1. Redemption changes us (1)
Paul is writing these words in verse one, continuing his appeal in verses 27-30. He is building upon the theme of unity. Remember, he used the terms “standing firm in one spirit,” “with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
In 2:2, he uses the same language. He says: “be of the same mind, maintain the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Paul wants these believers he loves dearly to express (live-out) the power, influence, and fellowship of the Spirit (benefits of the gospel) they received at salvation within their local fellowship. Paul is very aware of the situation between Euodia and Syntyche, and he addresses it later (4:2).
Listen to how two other translations read in verse one:
Barclay: “If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you, if love has any persuasive power to move you, if you really are sharing in the Holy Spirit, if you can feel compassion and pity,”
Phillips: “Now if your experience of Christ’s encouragement and love means anything to you, if you have known something of the fellowship of his Spirit, and all that it means in kindness and deep sympathy.”
Do you get the sense of what Paul is doing here? Notice Paul’s approach with the Philippians. He’s not only warm and pastoral, but he’s also quick to first mention the blessings of the gospel before giving specific exhortations to help them understand the importance of striving for unity within their church.
Often we have that backward and see little results. We can learn from Paul’s example.
But, we need to grasp the point Paul is making and the way he is making it. The “if” in these statements refers to certainties, not possibilities, and could be translated “since.”
Let’s look at each one:
The first reminder (Blessing) is that there is encouragement in Christ. We have the blessing of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:10) and being found in Him (Philippians 3:9). We have been given the gift of faith (Philippians 1:29). Does anything lift our spirits more than knowing we are in Christ? In any trial and suffering we go through, we find encouragement in our relationship with Jesus.
Second, we have the consolation of love. This is presumably a reference to the love of Christ that comforts us. He is ours, and we are His. What comfort! It may also reference mutual love for one another that flows from this relationship with Jesus. This connection was made in Philippians 1:7-8. Paul loves the church “with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:8). We know God’s love, and His love makes us love others.
Third, we’re reminded that we share in the fellowship of the Spirit. The Greek word translated “fellowship” (koinonia) is the same word as in Philippians 1:5. The Spirit unites us as brothers and sisters (Philippians 1:27), partners in the gospel, and the Spirit helps in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). Later Paul says that Christians worship God “by the Spirit” (Philippians 3:3). Paul is aware that disunity threatened the Philippian congregation, so he reminds them of the Spirit-produced fellowship they share.
Fourth, we share affection and mercy. This affection (cf. Philippians 1:8) or “tenderness” (NIV) flows from our union with Christ. Christ has loved us with amazing tenderness. He has shown us infinite affection. Mercy or “sympathy” (ESV) or “compassion” (NIV) has also come to us from the source of all compassion- our great God (see Psalm 103; Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3). We share in a common experience of being the objects of God’s compassion. This tender care should cause us to look out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4) and serve sacrificially as illustrated by the life of Epaphroditus (Philippians Php 2:25-30; 4:18).
So, Paul, so concerned for their unity, their love for one another, and an unhindered gospel witness from them reminds them, and in a way, I think, challenges them, to unselfishly share these benefits of the gospel with others. Freely they have been given, so freely give!
- Dear Christian, because of your being “in” Christ, you too share in these blessings (encouragement in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship in the Spirit, mercy, and compassion).
- How are they equipping you and aiding you in your daily walk?
- Freely, by His grace, they have been given to you. Are you unselfishly sharing these benefits with your brothers and sisters in Christ?
- Perhaps you are reading this today and do not know Jesus as your Lord and savior. You are not enjoying these blessings we are talking about. Your life may be in shambles, depression your only friend, why not look to Jesus? He is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. He can take the mess of your life and make beauty from the ashes. What keeps you from Him?
Paul’s appeal to these folks seems to be this: “If life in Christ has changed you at all, and you are experiencing these blessings in your own life because of Jesus, Make my joy complete…”