Session 8

Philippians Study – Session 8

(Philippians 2:1-4)

I suppose that at times all of us can identify with the person who said, “I love mankind.  It’s people I can’t stand!”  Of course, that’s not an acceptable attitude for Christians.  Of all people, God’s people should be able to get along with each other.

The Apostle Paul was deeply concerned that a spirit of division and strife that had permeated the church at Philippi.  One of the reasons Paul wrote the letter of Philippians was to encourage the people in that church to get along with each other.  We saw in our last session that in the Greek language the prefix sun means “with or together.”  It carries the idea of cooperation or of getting along.  At least 16 times in Philippians Paul attaches that prefix to various words.  The Philippians could hardly have missed the point.  Paul was saying to them, “It is imperative for your spiritual well-being and for the sake of the gospel that your fellowship not be characterized by division in strife.  As brothers and sisters in Christ, you must get along with each other!”

In our journey through Philippians, we have come to one of the greatest statements about Christian unity to be found anywhere in the Scripture.  Look with me to Philippians 2:1-4.  Even though most English translations break it down into several sentences, in the Greek text Philippians 2:1-4 is one long, complex sentence.  The main part of the sentence is v.2 where Paul makes a strong appeal to the Philippians to get along with each other.  Look again at what it says... “...make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose...”  That is an appeal for unity.  Philips paraphrases that verse this way: “Live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit within you.”

In these verses are three principles concerning unity that are essential for followers of Christ to understand and practice.

 

Principle 1 - Christian unity arises from on a spiritual foundation. 

1.      Verse 1 consists of four phrases, each beginning with the word “if”...in our language, the word if is used to raise a question or doubt...when someone says to us, “I will do what you ask if I have time” we know that person is saying “I may or may not have time to do what you ask.”...in English if represents a condition of uncertainty...however, that is not way “if” is being used in Philippians 2:1... the “ifs” in this verse are conditional particles and they refer to a fulfilled condition...carry same weight as our word since...

2.   The four phrases in verse 1 represent spiritual blessings in which all believers share:

--”If ... there is any encouragement in Christ...” - The word “encouragement” actually means “one who stands beside you”...we have Christ standing beside us...

--”...if there is any consolation of love...” - Christ stands beside us to console us, to comfort us with His love...

--”...if there is any fellowship of the Spirit...” - The word “fellowship” means “participation with or partnership with”...we are partners with God’s Spirit...

--”...If there is any affection and compassion...” - First three phrases refer to what God does for us and that’s how this phrase should be interpreted as well...we are the recipients of the affection and compassion of God...

      Paul is saying, “Since you all share in—

--the encouragement which comes from Christ...

--the comfort of God’s love...

--the fellowship of God’s Spirit...

--the mercy and compassion of God...

...since you are all partakers of these great blessings, you certainly should be able to treat each other with dignity and respect.” 

3.      The point of all that is unity among God’s people rests on a spiritual foundation.  It is built on the foundation of our common relationship with Christ and our common experiences in Christ.  Therefore, the way to guard and nurture our unity is to guard and nurture our relationship with the Lord.

4.      A.W. Tozer in his classic book The Pursuit of God speaks to this point.  "Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers [meeting] together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become unity conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."

 

Principle 2 - Christian unity is sustained by a common purpose -- the purpose of serving Christ.

1.      In Philippians 2:2 Paul pleads for the Christians in Philippi and for all Christians who read this letter to be characterized by a spirit of oneness...I like the way Philips paraphrases this verse...he renders it, “Live together in love, as though you had only one mind and one spirit within you.”...

2.      Paul began this letter to the Philippians back in first part of ch.1 by telling them, “I am thankful to God every time I think of you.  And when I pray for you, I always do so with great joy.”...now in first part of ch.2 he tells them, “Don’t let anything spoil my joyful thoughts of you...”...make my joy complete by being of the same mind...”...

3.      That phrase “...of the same mind...” is easily misunderstood...it does not mean that—

--we must think exactly alike...

--we will hold exactly the same opinion on every issue...

--there will never be disagreements among Christians...

While certain cults have attempted to operate that way, that has never been the way of genuine Christianity.

4.      Paul is not calling here for uniformity of thought...he is calling for unity of spirit...understanding that is the key to understanding this verse...following the admonition to be “...of the same mind...” Paul piles three phrases on top of each other to explain what that means...being “...of the same mind...”...the phrases are:

“...maintaining the same love...”

“...united is spirit...”

“...intent on one purpose...”

5.      Those three phrases mean essentially the same thing...the idea is that while we are not exactly alike...while there will always be differences among us...as followers of Christ we should be--

--in love with the same thing...

--moving in the same direction...

--focused on the same purpose...

 


6.      Carol and I have in our home numerous clocks...over the years Carol has collected quite a few clocks, all of which chime...and no matter how hard we try, we have found it impossible to get all those clocks to chime at precisely the same time...it generally takes about five minutes for all of our clocks to finish chiming the hour... there is great diversity among those clocks...they are not in lock-step with each other... yet there is a unity of purpose among them as well...they move the same direction...they have the same purpose...they each keep track of time...

 

And that’s the way it should be among Christians...what is the distinctive characteristic which binds us together, that causes us to “be of the same mind” as Christians?  “It is [the] inner desire, [the] inner disposition to love Jesus, to know Jesus, and to serve Him.  That is the oneness Paul was talking about.  The way to get along, Paul said, is for us to get our minds, our hearts, and our spirits set on the one purpose for which we are here and that is to serve Jesus Christ and to glorify His name.  When [we set our minds] on that purpose, we will be able to get along.” [Harbour, Philippians notes]

 

Principle 3 – Christian unity is destroyed by self-centeredness. 

1.      Notice how Paul begins v.3...”Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit...”


·         The word translated “selfishness” or “selfish ambition” is used seven (7) times in the NT...each time it is used a negative connotation is attached to it...for example, in 2 Cor.12:20 it  in a list which includes such things as quarreling, jealousy, anger, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder...the word describes a person who is interested only in self...such an attitude is a cancer which destroys the possibility of healthy relationships...selfishness” is a negative quality that invariably impacts in a negative way the people with whom we come into contact...we are to avoid it at all costs...

·         The word translated “empty conceit” is a compound word...first part means “vain” and second part means “opinion”...it simply means to think too highly of yourself or to be full of yourself, as some people would put it...if we are full of ourselves, there is no room in our lives for others...can’t be full of self and genuinely care about others at the same time...

The phrase “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit...” in first part of v.3 means don’t live merely for yourself and don’t think more highly of yourself than you should...you can’t expect to live in unity with anyone if you are selfish and self-centered...

2.      In contrast to spirit of selfishness and self-centeredness, the last part of v.3 and v.4 explain that the kind of spirit which produces unity among people is a spirit which—

--recognizes the importance of others...

--puts the needs and concerns of others before our own needs and concerns...

3.      Verse 4 express the very essence of the life to which God calls His people...”Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”...in other words—

--we are not to live for ourselves; we are to live for others...

--we are not to be self-centered; we are to be others centered...

4.      What does it mean to live an “others-centered” life?  What does that kind of life look like?  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the was a Lutheran pastor and theologian who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp just prior to the end of WWII, wrote extensively and his writings have had a profound impact on Christianity in the days since WWII.  In one of his works Bonhoeffer listed seven (7) things Christians could do to move from self-centeredness to others-centeredness...want to share them with you in summary fashion... cultivating an others-centered attitude involves--


1)      Learning to hold our tongues and refusing to speak unfairly or unkindly about others...

2)      Understanding that we are not inherently better that others that all of us are sinners in need of God’s grace...

3)      Listening “long and patiently” so we can understand the needs of others...

4)      Refusing to consider our time so valuable that we cannot be interrupted to help with the needs of others, no matter how small or menial those needs may seem to us...

5)      Willingly bearing the burdens of our others...

6)      Declaring God’s word openly and honestly to our fellow believers...

7)      Remembering that Christian authority is a servant authority and does not demand recognition and special attention...

[Frank Thielman, The NIV Life Application Commentary, p.107]

5.      Those are the kind of actions which help us move from being self-centered to being others-centered...and when they are put into practice the result is unity in place of divisiveness...harmony in place of discord...

CONCLUSION

Abraham Maslow, the famous American psychologist, studied human behavior for years...I want you to hear one of the conclusions he reached based on his extensive observations...he said, “Without exception, I have found that every person who was sincerely happy, radiantly alive, was living for a purpose or cause beyond himself.” [Illustrations A-Z, “Unity”]

 

I think that is something of what Jesus meant when He said, “For whoever wishes to save his life [or selfishly clings to his life] will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake [or gives his life away in service to others] shall find it.”

 

Comments