Pathway to Unity
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 2:1-4
This text touches a unique nerve. For one, it’s a wonderful picture of what life in the church, life in marriage, life with family, and all relationships SHOULD look like. It’s so happy and so inviting.
And yet so often it seems out of reach. Maybe you can’t even imagine the joy of being, “likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” with your spouse. Instead, you experience constant tension and bickering. Or maybe the fighting has continued so long that you are indifferent and numb toward each other. It’s the same at work. Everyone is always selfishly jockeying for position, and you can cut the tension with knife. And when you get together with extended family during the holidays, there is so much division and tension that no one really enjoys it.
Disunity hurts, and it sucks the joy out of life. So, this passage ought to pique our interest, because not only does it hold up a high ideal, it provides a realistic pathway to genuine unity and joy of genuine unity by means of God’s grace.
It’s important that we recognize that Paul’s primary concern in context is unity in the local church. We saw this last Sunday in 1:27. Throughout 1:27–30, Paul exhorts the Philippian congregation to stay together as they endure world’s hatred and as they work together to advance the gospel. And now in 2:1–4 Paul gets very practical about how to grow this kind of unity.
So, the primary point of this text is how Life Point needs to live in unity. But as I already mentioned, the principles apply to all relationships—to marriage, family, work, neighborhood, etc. If we will embrace God’s will in this passage, it can transform every relationship for our joy and for God’s great glory. So, I hope you will be attentive to what God has for us in this very practical passage. It consists of 3 distinct sections, which I’d like to summarize with three implied commands. First…
I. Believe that unity is possible through God’s grace (v. 1).
I’m so thankful that Paul begins here, because it’s very easy to give up on a difficult relationship. So we need to believe that unity is possible.
Of course, it’s also true that it takes two to tango. You can’t force someone who refuses to obey God into harmonious relationships. I know some of you have tried and tried to reconcile broken relationships, but it feels like you are banging your head against a brick wall, because the other person refuses to obey God. That’s very difficult and disheartening.
If you are worn down today, know that God sees your heart and your effort. So, keep trusting that he is good, even while life is hard. And then keep doing what is right. You never know how God may work and how God may use your love and humility to soften a heart.
That being said, this kind of refusal to obey God’s command to pursue unity should never be an issue in the church of the regenerate. And neither should it ever be an issue in any relationship among genuine Christians. Christians want to obey God, and they respond to the conviction of the Spirit. So, the model of unity God presents is always in reach for God’s people.
And Paul tells us why in v. 1 through 4 “if” statements. The point is not to question whether or not they are true, because these statements are true. Rather, Paul uses the “if…then” structure for rhetorical effect. He wants us to seriously ponder the reality of each statement.
Paul begins with, “if there is any consolation (i.e., encouragement) in Christ.” The answer is yes! Christ offers great comfort, encouragement, and consolation as we endure the hardships of life. 2 Corinthians 1:5 states, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation (same word) also abounds through Christ.” Christ gives strength and comfort for every sorrow.
It’s interesting that Paul begins with this hope, because pursuing unity is often hard, and it can be painful. Very often, we just back off from relationships, because we fear the pain they often bring. Therefore, God begins with the promise that Christ provides the encouragement we need to endure when relationships are hard.
So, if you are stuck in a difficult relationship, know that Christ gives comfort. Look to him for the strength to keep going. And if you are not pursuing reconciliation or you keep people away, because you fear being hurt, believe the promise of Christ. I can’t promise that relationships will be painless, but I can promise that there is comfort in Christ.
Second, Paul asks if there is “any comfort of love.” In light of the fact that in the 1st line consolation comes from Christ and that in the 3rd line, fellowship comes from the Spirit, pretty much everyone agrees that the 2nd line refers to either Christ or the Father’s love. Therefore, the idea is very similar to the first line. There is great comfort in the love of our Lord.
We know this. It’s such a blessing to be able to run to the love of the Lord in hard times—to know that he cares, he sympathizes, and he is with me.
And we need this comfort because even Christian relationships can bring a lot of pain, especially relationships with those who are struggling and really need ministry. But what a blessing it is to know that we can take it, because Christ and the Father both give comfort.
Third, Paul asks if there is, “any fellowship of the Spirit.” The Greek word for fellowship is our good friend koinonia, which Paul used in 1:5. Remember that it describes a significant partnership. So, God is saying first of all that we participate in the Holy Spirit. In him, we have tremendous strength to pursue unity even with hard people. And second, the Holy Spirit creates this partnership among Christians. He binds us together into a tight fellowship.
As such, when 2 believers are both walking in the Spirit (This is a big qualifier), unity is always in reach. The Spirit is sufficient to bind a church, a Christian marriage, and a Christian family.
That’s not to say that if you are in a broken relationship, you are in sin. You can’t make other people do what’s right, and we have to stand for truth and righteousness. We can’t compromise doctrine or obedience for the sake of unity. But that being said, if 2 Christians are truly committed to honoring the Lord, the Spirit is able to fix whatever is broken and to create true fellowship.
Fourth, Paul asks if there is “any affection and mercy (i.e., compassion).” Again, the answer is yes, because the fruit of the Spirit includes, “patience, longsuffering, kindness, and goodness.” Therefore, Christians should not be harsh and nasty; instead, our relations should always be full of “affection and mercy.” In other words, we will provide each other with a cushion of grace, that absorbs hurt, disappointment and failure.
This is so important, because people will hurt us. If all we do is bounce that hurt back to them, we will never enjoy unity. But if we graciously absorb it, while lovingly helping them grow (we don’t ignore sin), unity is possible.
If your relationships are struggling, I want to ask if you are marked by “affection and mercy.” If everywhere you go the world stinks, it might be that you stink. If your heart filled with bitterness and anger, you will never enjoy strong fellowship, because relationships with sinners always require grace and endurance.
So, don’t excuse your harshness as “just who I am.” Don’t resign yourself to living in constant tension. Commit to growing “affection and mercy.” And be encouraged that through the Spirit, you can get there. The Spirit produces “affection and mercy.”
In sum, Paul frames this entire discussion with the fact that we have everything we need in Christ and the Spirit to enjoy unity. We are not grasping at the wind. This wonderful picture of unity is in reach for the church, your marriage, your family, and every relationship with Christians. In light of this notice the challenge in 2. My second major point is…
II. Pursue genuine unity (v. 2).
The Call: Notice that Paul frames the challenge with a personal appeal. Paul cared deeply about this church. It grieved and concerned him that they were struggling to get along. Because he was so invested in this church, Paul pleads with them to complete his joy through living in unity. And then he follows with another fourfold list, which this time paints a picture of unity among God’s people. The 1st, 3rd, and 4th items in the list all teach that unity comes when we…
Focus on the same goal. Paul begins with the fact that unity involves “being likeminded.” It’s important to emphasize that this does not mean that we are all cookie-cutter replicas of each other. I’ve seen churches try to do that. The pastor legislates every little detail of life—how we dress, how much we must pray and read the Bible, what movies we watch and don’t watch, and on it goes. Or the church builds an identity around cultural markers, like race, style of dress, or politics.
But that’s not what Paul means. We saw last week in 1:27 that biblical unity is built around a mutual commitment to our gospel mission. We are passionately committed to “striving together for the faith of the gospel.”
The gospel looms so large that all the little stuff stays little stuff, and our common passion gravitates us together. As such, Paul ends v. 2 by saying that we are “of one accord, of one mind.” I like how the NASB says it, “united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
Oh, that God would give us this kind of unity at Life Point. May we never be a church were everyone has their own agenda and their own purpose, and we are going 50 different directions. May we never be a church where everyone is climbing over each other for power and prominence. We need to pray that God would keep us all “intent on one purpose,” God’s purpose.
And this vision for unity is so crucial to every other relationship as well. For example, your marriage is not fundamentally about your dreams and your happiness. It is about glorifying Christ by reflecting his relationship to the church. If both of you will focus on this goal rather than your selfish cares, you can have “one mind,” and you can enjoy deep intimacy. You can do so much better than merely coexisting.
Beyond that, you obviously have little control over how others relate to you at work, in your extended family, etc. But the more you are focused on glorifying the Lord by serving others well, the better the chances are that you can work toward unity. Unity of purpose fixes a lot of problems. So, stay focused on the same goal. And then notice the 2nd item in v. 2 teaches that unity comes when we…
Enjoy mutual love. Paul’s vision for unity includes “having the same love.” The point is that unity follows when we are focused on others, not ourselves. Instead of everyone fighting for #1, we are focused on edifying each other and serving each other.
It really is amazing how that change of perspective affects things. If it’s all about me, it’s very hard to be happy. Selfish people are always cranky people, because the heart of man is never satisfied. Therefore, if your life in the church, in your marriage, or in your family is all about you, you will constantly be frustrated. But there is real joy and real peace among brothers, when we find our joy in loving and serving each other.
As well, love creates that cushion of grace we talked about earlier. 1 Peter 4:8 states, “Above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins.’” Again, people are going to hurt you. They are going to do thoughtless things and say dumb stuff. If it’s all about me, I will constantly be offended and angry. But if I love, I’ll take it in stride.
This doesn’t mean I never confront. Love means that at times I need to challenge people, but I always do so with humility, for their edification, not to get something off my chest. And usually people can see that, and they appreciate it.
I want to challenge you to cultivate that kind of love for your family at Life Point. I’m so thankful that we are generally marked by this kind of love, but it can always grow, and it will never remain unless we constantly work at it.
And then work to grow this kind of love for your spouse, your parents, your children, your coworkers, etc. I think you’ll be amazed at how it transforms your perspective. And very often, though not always, it will soften their responses to you. And remember that 1 said that you can love this way in the strength of Christ and the Spirit. Love is always in reach of the true believer.
So in sum, v. 2 provides a vision for genuine unity that we can achieve in the strength of Christ. Then vv. 3–4 provide the 3rd challenge…
III. Replace selfishness with humble service (vv. 3–4).
These two verses are so practical. The Bible teaches that pride and selfishness are at the core of our depravity. Every day we have to fight the battle of vv. 3–4. And if we win this battle, our relationships and our church will change dramatically. Notice in v. 3 that…
We must replace pride with humility (v. 3). The first part of this verse provides an ugly picture of hearts. We are often filled “selfish ambition” and “conceit.” The Greek word behind conceit is kenodoxia. Doxa means glory, and it is used time and again of God’s glory. But here it is combined with kenos, which means empty.
So often, we sinners long for an ultimately “empty glory.” It’s like a balloon that looks big, but when you pop it, there’s nothing there. It’s why kids have a strong urge to be first in line. It’s why teenage girls desperately claw with each other to be the prettiest and most popular. It’s why guys will get in a fist fight over some silly competition.
Normally as we get older, we are better at hiding our vanity, but it still shows up, and it does great damage to churches. People climb over each other to be seen and to get their way. Or they never put themselves out there in an uncomfortable ministry role, because failure or embarrassment would ruin their image. We don’t practice hospitality, because our homes are not perfectly kept, or we don’t have time to cook the perfect meal.
And so many marriages are seriously weakened by the chase for glory. Men neglect their families as they chase glory at work. Or couples pursue glory through having the trendiest clothes, a cool car, and expensive home décor. Debt, and financial stress kill their marriage. It’s all vain glory.
And God says, we need to eradicate In its place, he commands us, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.” We need to grow “lowly” or humble attitudes. This begins by seeing myself rightly in comparison to my Savior. I am nothing but a sinner who has received remarkable grace in the gospel. My glory is in the Lord.
Therefore, my ambition is not to glory in myself but to “esteem others better than (ourselves).” We put their needs and their joy ahead of our own. Parents do this all the time. It’s so impactful to see a dad, for example, who works long hours, drives an old car, and wears plain clothes, so that his kids can go to Christian school or Christian college. That dad is putting his kids above himself. He cares far more about their souls than he does about putting on a vain show.
And God says this is how we must live in the church. When you walk into the doors of Life Point, your focus shouldn’t be on how people see me but on how I can serve. Who needs encouragement? Who needs a friend? Who can I point to Christ?
The same goes for every other Don’t spend your life chasing your glory. Be humble, and transform your perspective so that you truly see the wellbeing of your spouse, your parents, your siblings, your children, your coworkers, and your neighbors as more important than yourself. If you do, I can about guarantee that your relationships will be radically transformed. And then v. 4 challenges us that…
We must replace selfishness with service (v. 4). This verse is so simple, and yet it cuts at the very core of who we naturally are. Our natural impulse is to only look out for ourselves. And Paul doesn’t say that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves. You can only serve others well if you are spiritually well.
However, God commands us not to live life only thinking about me, myself, and I. Instead, my focus must be on “the interests of others.” I must live selflessly, and I must find my joy in service.
This spirit is at the heart of the gospel. Verses 5–8 will detail how Christ exemplified humble service. And Jesus said in Mark 10:42–45, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
If we follow Christ’s example, we can continue to enjoy great unity as a church, we can do a tremendous job of discipling each other, and we will have a great time along the way.
And I’m very burdened today for our marriages. So often Christian couples are happy to coexist. There’s no intimacy, no spiritual support, and no joy in their marriage. Instead, there is constant bickering and complaining. And the lack of godliness in the marriage is a drag on their entire Christian experience, and it diminishes their ministry, especially to their kids.
Very often, it all begins right here. All our bitterness, complaining, and anger stems from selfishness. We walk around home with a “woe is me” attitude meditating over and over on everything that I do, everything that I need, how I’m not appreciated, and how I deserve better. It stinks.
So, I want to challenge you get your eyes off yourself and put them on your spouse. Serve like Christ served you. Christ will be glorified, and you’ll be amazed at how God transforms your marriage and your joy.
And the same goes for every other relationship. Be a servant and find your joy in service. You’ll be far more content, you will enjoy far more peace, and God will use you to impact others.
In this text, God teaches us that genuine Christian unity results from the power of God producing genuine love, humility, and selfless service. Never forget that the power is not in us. It’s in Christ. So walk with him, lean on him, and ask him to change your heart. And then by his grace grow a genuine love, humility, and spirit of service. Do it, because your joy depends on it, the church deserves it, and Christ demands it.