In our last study we noticed 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 certain exhortations to help them understand the importance of striving for unity within their church. In this post we will continue our study of these first couple verses and look at his exhortations to these believers.
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.
Fellowship unites us (2-4)
That is an interesting statement for Paul to make, “make my joy complete.” He expressed his joy over their salvation and participation with him in the gospel (1:4). He rejoiced at being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of their faith (2:17). BUT what would bring his joy to it fullness? “unity in the bonds of peace.” What would thoroughly complete Paul in his ministry to this church is unity among their fellowship!
In these verses, 2-4, I see two themes emerge:
In order for there to be biblical fellowship, within a church, there has to be like-mindedness, there has to be expressions of love, there has to be an understanding and grasping hold of “one purpose.” ALL of these things begin with what Paul was talking about in verse one: The saving, changing work of the Holy Spirit! We cannot have true God honoring fellowship with one another, if we do not have fellowship with the Spirit ourselves! Gratitude affects attitude!
It is very clear in these verses that selfishness and empty conceit are polar opposites to self-less-ness and humility.
Perhaps Paul’s mind is on Euodia and Syntyche. Later he writes urging them to be of the same mind. They were not maintaining their love for one another. They did not have the same purpose at heart. Selfishness or empty conceit may have been playing apart in their discord, and it was wreaking havoc within this church. It was so bad that Paul, many, many miles away, in prison, hears about it from Epaphroditus, most likely, when he was sent to serve Paul on their behalf.
So, Paul, and it is an interesting observation, in the Greek, uses the imperative here. “Make my joy complete,” is a strong exhortation to begin doing something they were not presently doing.
It could read: “Right now work at being of the same mind, right now begin maintaining your love for one another, right now start esteeming others better than yourselves. Right now stop being so selfish, stop being so prideful and share the benefits of your fellowship with Christ and His Spirit with your brothers and sisters in the Lord.”
vss. 2-3 explains how Paul’s joy would be complete-Fellowship is fostered by people whole-heartedly agreeing with each other, loving one another, and working toward the same goal (Gospel unity, gospel witness). It necessitates self-less-ness, humility and a true regard for others that places their needs above our own.
Selfishness, empty conceit, double-minded-ness, always stifles gospel centered unity, always hurts others, always is disobedience to the Lord.
This is what is burdening Paul; unity and the lack of it in this otherwise GOOD church. It seems that he frames the letter, with that issue. For example, in the first chapter he speaks of it, verse 27, when he says, “I want you to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” In chapter 4, the last chapter, he speaks of it in verses 1 and 2 when he says, “stand firm in the Lord, my beloved. And I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”
So, in chapter 1 we see an urging toward one mind and one heart. In chapter 4 another urging toward one mind and one heart -And then in the middle is this second chapter, and the opening verses of chapter 2 also deal with the issue of unity in the church. This is a plea for unity.
3. Unity strengthens us (2-4)
Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are working and striving together to make the gospel known to the lost as well as living it out in community with one another?
Can you imagine a church where the Christians are humble, serving one another allowing their Lord to encourage and comfort and show mercy to others through them?
Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are obedient to Christ even when their feelings get hurt, or their ideas for ministry are not acted upon or done to their satisfaction?
Can you imagine a church where the Christians in that fellowship are “standing firm in one spirit, steadfast in their opposition to the enemy, unrelenting in their humility before God and others?
How strong would such a church be? It is true: “united we stand, divided we fall.”
Christian, have you noticed any potential areas of disunity in your congregation? Have you sought to bring unity in that situation?
Maybe there is someone in the congregation that you personally are in conflict with, how can the Elders help you through that?
Talk with another mature believer about it and work towards maintaining “unity within the bonds of peace.”
Paul, in a way, is giving them, giving us, a blueprint for a strong, healthy, vibrant, fruitful fellowship within the local church, and it has everything to do with UNITY!
BUT, this unity is all wrapped up in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ! We see that in verses 5-11. That will be my focus in my next post!
Paul isn’t about to leave these people he loves dearly thinking that unity and love, God honoring fellowship, self-less-ness is something that they can do on their own in the flesh. He is not about to move on in his letter leaving these beloved people contemplating his exhortation without giving them an example.
So, in order to enforce the earnest exhortations he had just given as to lowliness of mind and unselfish consideration of the things of others, Paul sets forth the Lord Jesus Christ as the supreme example of this. His voluntary self-abasement, His incarnation, His obedience even unto the death of the cross. The passage combines Christian doctrine and Christian practice. The immediate connection is between the principle in Philippians 2:4, of having regard to the condition and needs of others, and this sublime example of Christ.”
All that now follows declares how Jesus looked upon our dire needs as sinners. We are the “others” whose “needs” were the great object of His acting in grace. And it is His mind, as thus expressed, that is to be our mind.
His “attitude” was one of: self-denial (6-7) Humility (8) Obedience (8)
And Paul lays before these loved ones the greatest example he could ever give. No one was more undeserving of love, forgiveness and fellowship than they were, then we are as vile sinners. Who were we that God should become man, lower Himself for a time, in order to redeem us and qualify us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light? (Colossians 1:12)
And yet, He did. “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith. Who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:2-3).
Dear Christian, Christ is our supreme example, His selfless love is an example to us. His Humility and obedience even to the point of death are our encouragement, given by Paul, to strive for unity within their /our local church.
Friend, just like all those who have gone before, just like all of us sitting here today, you are undeserving of His love, His forgiveness, and His fellowship. You as the rest, are a vile sinner in His eyes and should be cast off into outer darkness.
But, you have hope in this same Jesus! He came to this earth, endured the cross, despised the shame, died the death you should have died, bore your sins on that cruel tree, so that you, through Him, could be declared righteous! Forgiven!Reconciled! At peace with God, your creator! Please believe in Him and you “will” be saved!