Psalm 133 testifies, Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! When believers live together in unity it is an experience that brings blessing to them and glory to God. According to the Scriptures, there is unity that exists among genuine Christians that is founded upon a mutual love for Christ which results in love for one another. Therefore, Scripture also contains warnings against disunity, most pointed are those which warn against pride and love-less-ness. When warning us about conflict between believers, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the most common causes are the presence of pride and the absence of love. For example, where there is strife, there has first been pride and hatred.
- Proverbs 13:10 – By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is
- Proverbs10:12 – Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses (Cf. 29:22).
- James 4:1-2 – What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.
If pride, anger, and hatred produce conflict then what it needed is humility and love. Consequently, Ephesians 4:1-3 compels us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God in Christ, which includes all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Without humility and love, it is impossible to know the bond of peace. Let me illustrate.
When I want to repair something that is broken, I often go to the hardware store to buy 2-part epoxy. The two resins do nothing when they remain separate, but when you snip the tip of the dispenser and mix the chemical agents you have a glue that quickly cures and forms a permanent bond. Like that 2-part epoxy, which produces an unbreakable bond, so humility and love combine to form a unity that cannot be easily destroyed. Divisions among believes thrive in an environment where spiritual pride is rampant and love is absent. Therefore, God repeatedly calls us to a life of humility and love, which maintains biblical unity. One such call is found in Philippians 2:1-2.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
The Experience in Christ
In verse one, Paul repeatedly uses the little word “if.” However, he does not use it in order to present a condition they must fulfill but to encourage his reader to remember what is already true of their experience. It is an intensive “if” which means “since.” In other words, verse one describes mutual experiences of those who know Christ in a saving way.
- Encouragement – The word means “to come alongside to help or counsel.” Jesus used the same word in the Gospel of John when speaking of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26). There is help and encouragement that comes from knowing Christ. He will never leave us as orphans (John 14:18-19).
- Comfort from love – “Comfort” is a gentle word. It pictures Christ coming close and whispering words of cheer or tender counsel, such as “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27-28). There is comfort that comes from knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ (Meditate on Rom. 5:8; 1 Jn 3:16; 4:16).
- Participation in the Spirit – “Participation” means fellowship. All true believers share in the Holy Spirit. There are no “haves” and “have nots” among believers, 1 Corinthians 12:13 makes this crystal clear. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The baptism of the Spirit is not a second experience of grace that some Christians receive and others don’t. Every believer—at the moment of conversion—is baptized—place into, immersed—into the body of Christ, the family of God. In the baptism of the Spirit, we receive the abundance of blessings that are ours by virtue of being united with Christ by faith. Every believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God and, as a result, together, we make up the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16). Our fellowship comes through the Holy Spirit. Each and every believer possesses the same Spirit. This is all to God’s glory (Eph. 1:13-14).
- Affection and sympathy – These two words are very much related. They refer to “tender affection” and “compassion.” What Paul is speaking of here is the tender affection of God toward us, which results in acts of compassion toward us.
Tenderness and compassion are found in Christ. The Gospel of Luke provides an example when it tells us of a time when Jesus came into the town of Nain. “As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”
In verse one, the apostle’s logic is this: If you have experienced the riches that come with the experience of knowing Christ as Lord and Savior then there is a certain kind of conduct that is now expected from you.
The Expectation for Unity
Before we go any further in thinking about what this kind of unity looks like, we need to understand that unity does not equal uniformity. Unity flows from within, but uniformity is imposed upon people from the outside.
Unity says, “Since you know and love the same Savior, and are seeking to submit your life to the authority of His Word, we can and should live in unity—and I will lovingly pursue it.” Uniformity says, “If you do things exactly the way I do them then we can be close, but if not then we cannot have fellowship. Unless you are like me, we cannot have a relationship. Unless you listen to the same music, or dress in the same clothes, or school your children in exactly the same way I do then we cannot live in unity with one another.”
In unity there is grace, but uniformity reveals the absence of grace. Unity says, “I love you in Christ and appreciate what God is doing in your life.” Uniformity says, “I will not love you or appreciate you unless you conform to my mold.”
The apostle is not calling us to uniformity (like the Pharisees demanded), but to biblical unity. As he did earlier, he calls us to stand “firm with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). The gospel is the center around which biblical unity revolves. Paul is saying, “Since you have experienced this kind of love and compassion and encouragement and comfort in Christ, and the Holy Spirit has knit you together into one family…then make my joy complete.”
Satan uses conflict to attack and destroy the joy of the believer. As a pastor this was significant in Paul’s mind. When believers are living in unity with one another, under the leadership of their shepherds, it produces joy. Hebrews 13:17 teaches this, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” Nothing destroys a pastor’s joy like hidden or open divisions in the church.
Since the Philippian believers had had the mutual experience of love and grace in Christ there were expectations they were to pursue and practice, habitually. This call is to us, too, and includes:
- Same mind – Paul calls us to “think the same way.” Later in the book, after Paul testified that he chose to forget the past and press forward toward the goal of becoming like Christ, he urged, “Let those of us who are mature think this way” (3:15). And then he urged two women who were in conflict, “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (4:2). Other Scriptures call us to this kind of like-mindedness, too (1 Pet. 3:8-9; Rom. 15:5).
- Same love – This refers to an impartial love; it means loving without favoritism. It means to love others in the church equally. The early church experienced this kind of love from the beginning (Acts 2:32). James 2:1 exhorts us, “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”
- In full accord – Literally, this means to be “one souled.” It describes people who are knit together in harmony and love. When believers have the same passion and goal to see Christ magnified and the gospel taken to the ends of the earth there are so many petty differences that may easily be set aside. We are each called to do our part in the church. A local church is a body that will never function to its full capacity until every member does his part (Eph 4).
This is what God expects from us and it begins with humility (verses 3-4).
One of the devil’s most powerful weapons in his effort to destroy churches which faithfully hold forth the truth of Scripture is disunity. And the means by which he empowers his weapon includes pride, anger, hatred, unresolved conflict, bitterness, destructive speech, and a lack of like-mindedness. As believers, we need to listen up. We need to listen to God’s exhortations, repent, and always be in pursuit of peace and unity among one another (1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 14:19). Pride wears different faces, but surely each of us needs to repent of some form. More than anything else, we need the humility of Christ (Phil. 2:5).
You may listen to last Sunday’s sermon, Foundations for Unity.
[Originally posted April 19, 2016.]