Struggling with unity in your church? In this article, a portion of the epistle (i.e., letter) written to the church at Philippi by the Apostle Paul, a church with a lack of unity, is explored for the cure.
...complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. (Philippians 2:2 NET)
Paul is exhorting the church to live together in unity in view of the four facts of the preceding verse:
Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, (Philippians 2:1 NET)
The word “if”, which is used in this verse several times, is the English translation of a Koine Greek conditional particle referring to a fulfilled condition. (3) This means it could be translated as “since” or “in view of the fact.” That is, the four things mentioned in verse one are all fact NOT hypothetical things. (2) With this understanding let us examine these four facts or keys to church unity from this verse:
If there is any encouragement in Christ…
Christ’s example of a wonderful life itself should be an admonition and exhortation and encouragement to the Philippians to live in a state of harmony among themselves.
if there is any comfort provided by love…
The tender persuasion and encouragement that exhorts to unity among the Philippians come from God’s love for them. Their realization of divine love that reached down and saved them should urge them to live in a spirit of unity with one another. In addition to that, this divine love produced in the hearts of the Philippian saints by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), should cause them to so love each other with a love that impels one to sacrifice one’s self for the one loved (John 15:13. Romans 9:3. Exodus 32:32). This will cause their little differences to be ironed out and they will live in unity with one another.
if there is any fellowship in the Spirit…
Each of them participates with the Holy Spirit in a common interest and activity, and therefore, if each saint is interested in the things of the Holy Spirit, and thus the same things, there should naturally follow a unity among the Philippians. The Holy Spirit by thus controlling each saint produces this unity and accord amongst them. The Holy Spirit already indwelt each of the members of the church at Philippi. However, this unity of the Holy Spirit does not come by His indwelling the believer but rather by His control over the believer. The saints at Philippi were not living Spirit-filled lives. A Spirit-filled life is a Spirit-controlled life. (1)
if any affection and mercy…
The God-given graces of affection and compassion (the fruit of the Spirit) present in the saints at Philippi would move them to live at peace with one another. Little differences would be patched up. Estrangements would be healed. Bickering would cease.
These same four facts are just as true today. The Apostle Paul has reminded the saints at Philippi of the four facts that will motivate them to pursue unity. Now Paul is going to show them what they must do in order to have this unity manifest in their church.
...Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. (Philippians 2:3,4 NET)
Those two verses preclude a “what about me?” attitude! This is the daily “denial of self “and picking up of our cross (Luke 9:23,24) that Jesus taught while on Earth. Furthermore, Paul goes on to reveal the depth of this “denial of self” as modeled by our Lord Jesus.
...You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, (Philippians 2:5 NET)
The attitude of Philippians 2:3,4, humility and self-denial for the benefit of others, should always be our attitude because this was our Master’s attitude – the Lord Jesus Christ.
...who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, (Philippians 2:6 NET)
The word “form” does not refer to shape but rather the outward expression that a person gives of his inmost nature. (2) In order to have the outward expression of Deity then one must naturally be Deity. This refers to Jesus always existing as God prior to His birth to Mary (John 1:1).
The phrase “equality with God” refers to our Lord’s co-participation with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in “expressing” the divine essence or Glory of God. Again, it refers to the “expression” of the divine essence and not the “possession” of the divine essence. However, you cannot express what you do not possess! The Greek word translated “although He existed” is not the simple verb of being, but a word that speaks of an antecedent condition protracted into the present. That is, our Lord gave expression to the essence of Deity which He possesses, not only before He became a Man, but also after becoming a Man, for He was doing so at the time this Philippian epistle was being written. (2) Jesus has always and forever shall possess the essence of Deity; however, He did not express this essence of Deity during His Earthly ministry – except on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2).
The phrase “a thing to be grasped” means our Lord did not consider the “expression” of His divine essence such a treasure that it should be retained at all cost. This means He was willing to waive His rights to the “expression” of the divine essence if the necessity arose. The necessity arose in the Garden of Eden at the fall of man (Genesis 3:15).
...but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. (Philippians 2:7 NET)
The phrase “taking the form of a bond-servant” means to give the outward expression of a bondservant. Again, you cannot express what you do not possess. This helps us understand what the phrase “but emptied Himself” means. Jesus emptied Himself of self. This means He emptied Himself of self-desire or an attitude that cries out “what about me!” This was the example that the Apostle Paul was holding up to the saints at Philippi. The God-man Jesus emptied Himself of self-desire in order to help us – can we do no less for each other? Jesus then chose to “express” a quality that was already a part of the nature of God – that of a bondservant instead of that of Deity (Matthew 20:28).
The phrase “and being made in the likeness of men” refers to Jesus entering into a new state of being. Jesus became 100% man with all of the associated feelings and frailty of a human body. However, He never stopped being 100% God in His essence. Again, He just changed what was expressed – He chose to express that of a bondservant instead of expressing that of Divinity.
...He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8 NET)
The phrase “Being found in appearance as a man” means that although He was 100% man, He was much more than just man, He was still 100% God! Jesus had already humbled Himself (denied Himself) in order to express His bondservant nature rather than that of Deity. Now a further humbling of our Lord is presented. Realize Jesus was not obedient to death but rather to the point of death. Jesus always had authority over His life (John 10:15,17,18, John 15:13). However, He chose to be obedient to our Heavenly Father by voluntarily releasing His spirit and dying on the Cross (Luke 23:46). Death on a cross is the most humiliating form of death reserved for criminals and non-Roman citizens (John 18:36). This was the third level of humility by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ – not only death but also the scourge of a Roman cross!
Jesus gave us a beautiful portrayal of these spiritual truths while on Earth:
Because Jesus knew that the Father had handed all things over to him, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, he got up from the meal, removed his outer clothes, took a towel and tied it around himself. He poured water into the washbasin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to dry them with the towel he had wrapped around himself. ...So when Jesus had washed their feet and put his outer clothing back on, he took his place at the table again and said to them, "Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and do so correctly, for that is what I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you too ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example– you should do just as I have done for you. I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:3-5; 12-17 NET)
Due to the voluntary humiliation of Jesus in becoming a man, choosing to die for us, and submitting to the humiliation of the cross – God the Father has given Him “the Name” above all names.
...As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NET)
There is a spiritual truth involved in this sequence – humility comes before honor. This was true for Jesus and is true for us as well.
The fear of the LORD provides wise instruction, and before honor comes humility. (Proverbs 15:33 NET)
In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (1 Peter 5:5 NET)
That is, the way to advancement in the Kingdom of God is through voluntary humiliation.
A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. So Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called 'benefactors.' Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. (Luke 22:24-26 NET)
...So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, (Philippians 2:12 NET)
The phrase “my beloved” communicates to the saints at Philippi that Paul is in prison doing what he has asked them to do. He is suffering in humility as a result of sharing the Gospel. It is the love of God within Paul, by the Holy Spirit, that is compelling Paul to lay down his life for their benefit. (2) That is, the Apostle Paul walks the talk! The phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” is spoken to those that are already saved. It means to carry their salvation to its ultimate conclusion, namely, Christlikeness. (2) This is the daily process of sanctification or separation of our lives from sin. They are to see that they make progress in their Christian lives; however, they are to do it with a realization of complete dependence on God for this growth. Here we have the co-laboring relationship between God and man. The Christians part is to choose to cooperate with God in spiritual growth. (1)
So let the one who thinks he is standing be careful that he does not fall. (1 Corinthians 10:12 NET)
Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1 NET)
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings, (1 Timothy 4:1 NET)
The human mind is more deceitful than anything else. It is incurably bad. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NET)
However, we are to do this with fear and trembling because we are so easily led astray – like dumb sheep (Mark 6:34. John 10:14,11).
...for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort– for the sake of his good pleasure– is God. (Philippians 2:13 NET)
The truth is that it is impossible to grow up spiritually on our own. The grace and mercy is that God the Holy Spirit is within us giving us the desire and ability to grow spiritually. Grace and Mercy provide God’s ability to do what His truth requires!
I will put my Spirit within you; I will take the initiative and you will obey my statutes and carefully observe my regulations. (Ezekiel 36:27 NET)
In verse twelve, we have human responsibility, in verse thirteen divine enablement, a perfect balance which must be kept if the Christian life is to be lived at its best. It is not a “let go and let God” affair. It is a “take hold with God” business. It is a mutual co-operation with the Holy Spirit in an interest and an activity in the things of God. The saint must not merely rest in the Holy Spirit for victory over sin and the production of a holy life. He must in addition to this dependence upon the Spirit, say a positive NO to sin and exert himself to the doing of right. (2)
...Do everything without grumbling or arguing, (Philippians 2:14 NET)
The word grumbling is a translation of the Greek word that means “to mutter, to murmur.” (2) It does not refer to a loud outspoken dissatisfaction, but rather the all too typical complaining (1) between various cliques in a church. These complaints are directed at men and not God. The word disputing is the translation of the Greek word that carries the ideas of discussion or debate, with the under the thought of suspicion or doubt. The murmurings led to disputes. (2) We must be careful not to baptize our complaining into the form of a prayer request! Have you talked to God about problems in your church? Furthermore, the Bible has a lot to say about what we say:
But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. (2 Timothy 2:23 NET)
There are six things that the LORD hates, even seven things that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift to run to evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a person who spreads discord among family members. (Proverbs 6:16-19 NET)
The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; I hate arrogant pride and the evil way and perverse utterances. (Proverbs 8:13 NET)
For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice. (James 3:16 NET)
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NET)
to aspire to lead a quiet life, to attend to your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you. (1 Thessalonians 4:11 NET)
...so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world (Phil. 2:15 NET)
If we do all things without grumbling or disputing then, and only then, will we shine as stars in the night to draw the lost to the God that lives in Heaven (Daniel 12:3).
Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples– if you have love for one another." (John 13:35 NET)
...by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain. (Philippians 2:16 NET)
The words “holding fast” are the translation of a Greek word used in secular documents of offering wine to a guest. It means, “to hold forth so as to offer.” This should ever be the attitude of the saint, offering salvation to a lost and dying world. (2)
Again, our murmuring and disputing directly affect our Christian witness. The world is looking for the proverbial “Home on the Range.” The place where never is heard a discouraging word… God has built the Church to be that Home. Amen
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
(2) Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament
(3) Paul does not use the Koine (i.e., common) Greek conditional particle ean, which introduces an unfulfilled condition or a hypothetical case, but he employs ei which speaks of a fulfilled condition. It is no longer now a supposition with him, but an assumption of the fact. This conditional particle suggests, not a future possibility, but expresses a simple present supposition, and is used often when the condition is known to be actually fulfilled. (Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, Volume One, Galatians p. 41)
Example of the conditional particle ean:
1 Therefore we must progress beyond the elementary instructions about Christ and move on to maturity, not laying this foundation again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, 2 teaching about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this is what we intend to do, if [ean] God permits. 4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. (Hebrews 6:1-6 NET)
In Hebrews 6:3 the use of the Koine Greek word ean for “if” is due to the fact it is NOT assumed that God will allow every believer to have the authority required to renounce their salvation. While a believer has the authority in the Name of Jesus imputed to them upon becoming enlightened (i.e., conviction of the Holy Spirit), having tasted the heavenly gift (i.e., accepted the free gift of salvation), having become partakers of the Holy Spirit (i.e., filled with/controlled by the Holy Spirit), having tasted the good word of God (i.e., having STARTED renewing their mind by the Word of God), and having the miracles of the coming age (i.e., the Holy Spirit manifests His gifts in their life’s ministry) this does not mean they have the character of Christ fully formed in them. That is, God will not permit a believer to have the authority to renounce their own salvation manifested until they have through trials and testing (1) allowed Him to form the character of Christ in their lives. That is the character that would never betray God including never renouncing their salvation. The character that has as its hallmark consistent obedience (1) to God our Father (John 5:19,30;8:28;12:49;6:38).
For example, if you have a young child that gets upset and states that they do not want to be a part of the family, do you grant their request? Well, neither does our Heavenly Father. (John 10:28,29. Romans 8:31-39) To our shame, the body of Christ is largely composed of spiritually young children (1 Corinthians 3:1,2. Hebrews 5:11-14). That is, while some may manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit very few manifest the character of Christ. Say, Amen or Oh me. (Hebrews 10:7)