Gospel-Driven Unity (Mike Riccardi)

Philippians 2:1–2   |   Sunday, February 17, 2013   |   Code: 2013-02-17-MR



As I was studying this week in preparation for this message, I came across something that I hadn’t known before that I found interesting. Did you know that October is Pastoral Appreciation Month? A whole month dedicated to appreciating your pastor. Apparently there are entire websites devoted to sharing ideas about how to show appreciation for your pastor. One website even held a contest to see who could come up with the best pastor appreciation idea, and people voted and everything. Some of the ideas were quite normal—good ideas. Some people suggested taking time to write letters of appreciation, or fill a jar with index cards with encouraging notes on them. Another idea was to have members of the congregation volunteer to serve the pastor in practical ways, like changing the oil in his car or coming over to his house to mow the lawn.


But as I read on, the ideas got stranger and stranger. One thought was to enroll your pastor in the “Pie of the Month” club, where each month he would get a different homemade pie. And I thought, “OK, pie is good. But is that really the measure for whether a pastor feels appreciated or not?” Another suggestion was to gather embarrassing pictures from your pastor’s youth, assemble them into a PowerPoint slideshow, set it to music, and show it to him in front of everybody. Apparently some people have different definitions of the word “appreciation.” They went on: Take out a newspaper advertisement to honor your pastor, plant a tree in his honor, have a church “parade” in which members of the congregation would pass by and say something encouraging to the pastor; and, my personal favorite: In an effort to crown the pastor with honor, in the middle of a Sunday service in front of the entire congregation, actually have someone place a literal crown on the pastor’s head.


Now, I share that list of ideas with you not because Phil or I feel underappreciated, and certainly not to give you any suggestions about how you might make us feel more appreciated. I share that with you because in our text this morning, in Philippians chapter 2, the Apostle Paul gives us insight into what he thinks is a good pastoral appreciation gift. Let’s read the text together. Philippians chapter 2, and we’ll read verses 1 through 11 to get the full flow of thought in context.


Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



So early on in this passage we learn that the Apostle Paul isn’t interested in parades, newspaper ads, or even encouraging notes. What would make his joy complete is to know that his dear friends at the church in Philippi are unified. His joy would not be completed by hearing that they have plenty of money in the bank and are financially stable. His joy is not made full by learning that their building campaign has gone well and that they now have a facility of their own. He doesn’t say, “Make my joy complete by reporting a certain number of conversions or baptisms.” He would love to hear that the Gospel is going forth from their church, but that’s not what he says here. If the Philippians wanted to bless their pastor—if they wanted to express appreciation to their dear Apostle who had first spoken the Word of God to them and introduced them, as it were, to the treasure that is the Lord Jesus—Paul made it crystal clear how they could do that for him. Verse 2: “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” What would most bless his heart was the unity of the church.


Now if you’re like me, discussions on the importance of Christian unity—rather than thrilling your heart—can often make you suspicious. And that’s because in our day, in our evangelical climate, the call for unity is usually coming from liberal ecumenical-types who want to downplay the importance of truth and sound doctrine in favor of holding hands and portraying a façade of togetherness. For these kinds of people, it doesn’t matter what we’re united on; what matters is: we’re together, and we’re in a big group. And so that kind of approach can tend to make those of us who care about truth and sound doctrine overly dismissive of the importance of spiritual unity. But friends, we can’t surrender unity to those who want to style it as a spineless sentimentalism. We need to pursue true, biblical unity, which is founded upon and grounded in truth. But we also need to recognize that such unity extends beyond our common doctrinal commitments to our attitudes, dispositions, and personal relationships with one another.


In fact, the dangers of disunity are often greater in churches like ours, where people care greatly for truth and sound doctrine. One commentator observed: “There is a sense in which [disunity] is the danger of every healthy church. You see, it is when people are really in earnest, when their beliefs really matter to them, when they are eager to carry out their own plans and their own schemes that they are most apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide” (Barclay, 31).


In his sermon on this passage, Pastor John said the thing he fears most in the church is “discord, disunity, conflict, and division.” He explains in his commentary: “Because fracturing Christ’s church is one of Satan’s major objectives, the challenge to preserve the unity of the spirit is constant. A divided, factious, and bickering church is spiritually weak. It therefore offers little threat to the devil’s work and has little power for advancing the gospel of Christ. Endeavoring to maintain, or to restore, the spiritual unity of a congregation is easily the most pressing, difficult, and constant challenge for its leaders” (MacArthur, 101).


And this high premium on unity within the church is very well-represented in Scripture. Perhaps the ground-zero for the importance of Christian unity is Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in John chapter 17. We’ve said before that in this portion of Scripture, Jesus is preparing His disciples to live life with Him without Him. And just hours before His betrayal, there in John 17 we get to eavesdrop on the Son’s intercession before His Father on behalf of His people. He says in John 17 verse 20: “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” At this crucial time as Jesus accomplishes the ministry His Father gave Him and prepares to send out His disciples as the Father had sent Him, what concerns Jesus at this crucial time is that His followers be perfected in unity.


Paul echoes this concern in Romans chapter 15. As he prepares to close the body of the greatest letter ever written, he prays a prayer similar to the Lord Jesus in John 17. Romans 15 verse 5: “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” You see, this kind of unity in the church brings glory to God, and adorns the Gospel of Christ that we preach to the world.


And that was no different for the Philippians. This clarion call to Christian unity comes in the context of the Apostle Paul’s command to the Philippians to conduct themselves as citizens in a manner worthy of the Gospel, in chapter 1 verse 27. And in the closing verses of chapter 1, Paul explains what it will mean for the Philippians to live this Gospel-driven life in the context of the opposition they’re facing from the enemies of Christ around them. He emphasizes their need to stand firm in the face of opposition, to hold their ground amidst attacks and temptation to compromise. He exhorts them to go on striving together for the faith of the Gospel—to continue proclaiming the Gospel of the cross of Christ to a hostile society. And he charges them to be fearless in the midst of that mission, trusting entirely in the sovereign Lord who is not only with them in their sufferings, but, as we saw last week, is the One who sovereignly ordains their suffering for Christ’s sake as a gift of divine grace.


And in our study of those texts over the past weeks, we have noted Paul’s emphasis on unity in the midst of this opposition. The Philippians are called not only to “stand firm,” but to “stand firm in one spirit;” not only to “strive for the faith of the Gospel,” but “with one mind [to] strive together for the faith of the Gospel.” Why? Because the Philippians are at war! They are engaged in a spiritual battle with the forces of wickedness as they seek to minister the Gospel in their city. And Paul knows that the strength of any army consists foundationally in the unity of its soldiers. If the various soldiers are all trying to do their own thing, advance at their own pace, fight in their own way—and if they even begin fighting against each other—defeat is certain. But a well-trained army presents a united front and fights as a single unit—with one mind and with one accord—as if they were one man (cf. Hansen, 97).


And for all of the good that the Philippian church is doing—even though Paul celebrates their partnership with him in the Gospel and celebrates God’s work in their lives, Paul hears from Epaphroditus that there is discord and disunity among members of the church. And it’s important that we note: this is not a doctrinal disunity. Paul has consistently praised the Philippians as a sound church. He regards them as being grounded strongly in the Gospel. And besides, if the disagreements and disunity that they were facing were on matters of doctrine, you would expect that he would simply address those doctrines and call them to receive the Word of God not as the word of men, but for what it really was: the Word of God (cf. 1 Thess 2:13). But there are no such exhortations. His letter doesn’t contain any reproof for unsound teaching, except to warn them of potential dangers from outside. No, the disunity that the Philippians were experiencing wasn’t doctrinal; it was relational, and personal. They could all sign the same doctrinal statement, but there were just some things about each other—personal preferences, interests, opinions on secondary issues—that just got on each other’s nerves.


And so as Paul comes to the second chapter of his letter, having just addressed in verses 27 to 30 the necessity of unity in the face of external opposition, he now shifts his emphasis slightly and focuses on the necessity of unity in the face of internal division.


What we have in these opening verses of Philippians chapter 2 is Paul’s clarion call to Christian unity. In response to the reported relational discord—and in order to stave off the effects of the petty grumbling and bickering that would dull their witness and cripple their ability to “strive together for the faith of the gospel” amidst opposition (cf. Fee, 191)—Paul writes of the motivation for Christian unity, the matter of Christian unity, and the means of Christian unity. And those three components of the call to Christian unity will be our outline this morning: the motivation—the ground and the basis for our unity; the matter—the substance of what it means to be unified; and the meanshow we can go about pursuing this unity in our practical living.


I. The Motivation for Christian Unity (vv. 1–2a)


First we’ll consider the motivation for Christian unity. And as would be expected from the letter we’ve subtitled, “The Gospel-Driven Life,” the motivation for Christian unity is the Gospel, which Paul expresses in the form of various blessings the Christian experiences as he enjoys life in Christ. Look at verse 1: “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind…” The motivation for Christian unity comes in the form of a tender, stirring, pastoral appeal to the grace the Philippians have received in the Gospel, and to their experience of the blessings that are theirs in Christ Jesus.


And this appeal comes in the form of four “if” statements. But the grammar in the original makes plain that Paul does not doubt whether these conditions are true of the Philippians. He’s not saying, “Well if you really cared you’d get your act together and get unified!” These are what you call “first-class conditionals” in the Greek, and first-class conditionals always assume the reality of the conditions. You could translate them, “If there is any encouragement in Christ, as is indeed the case…” or simply, “Since there is encouragement in Christ....” And so Paul is not casting doubts on the Philippians’ Christian experience here. He’s not shaming them into unity by calling their salvation into question. He’s entreating them, lovingly, to be reminded of their identity in Christ, and grounding his commands in the grace that is theirs in the Gospel.


Let’s look briefly at each of these and celebrate the grace that is ours in the Gospel.


A. Any Comfort in Christ


He says, first, “If there is any encouragement in Christ…” And that word “encouragement” is the Greek word paráklesis, which can be translated in a range of different ways. It’s from the verb parakaléo, which has the root meaning of “coming alongside someone to give assistance by offering comfort, counsel, or exhortation” (MacArthur, 104). I think the best rendering for the present context is “comfort.” And so Paul is asking the Philippians, “In your experience as a follower of the Lord Jesus, have you received any comfort in Christ?”


And this is significant given the immediately preceding verse, in which Paul spoke of the conflict of sufferings that the Philippians were experiencing as a result of their ministry. After explaining (a) that suffering is a mark of Christian identity—that the one who believes is the one who suffers, verse 29; (b) that suffering is a gift of divine grace—that it has been granted to them not only to believe, but to suffer; (c) that suffering is endured for Christ’s sake; and (d) that suffering is a means of sweet fellowship with other suffering believers and with Christ Himself — After all of those wonderful truths that strengthen them in the face of suffering, Paul asks, “Do you know Christ’s comfort in the midst of that suffering?”


GraceLife, do you know Christ’s comfort in the midst of your suffering? In times when you have had to bear the reproach of the Gospel from the mocking and the slander of an unbelieving generation, has not Christ met you in the loneliness and the pain of that suffering, and ministered to you the comfort of His own fellowship? Can you exclaim with the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1 verses 3 to 5: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” Can you say with him, “For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.” If you can, make my joy complete, and be of the same mind with one another.


B. Any Consolation of Love


Next: “If there is any consolation of love…” “Consolation” here, is paramúthion, a very similar word to the one we just looked at. In fact, of the four times that this word appears in the New Testament, in three of those instances it’s paired with paráklesis. It literally means to speak closely with someone, but has the connotation of giving comfort and solace by that speech (MacArthur, 104).


Now, commentators debate over whether this consolation comes from the Philippians’ love for each other, from Paul’s love for them, or from Christ’s love for them. But the view I find most persuasive is that this is a reference of the Father’s love for the Philippians. And there are a couple reasons for that. One comes in the very last verse of 2 Corinthians. Keep a finger in Philippians and turn with me to 2 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 14. There, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” In our text we have, “Christ, love, and fellowship of the Spirit.” In this text in 2 Corinthians we have, “Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” When you add to this that “love” is most often spoken as an activity and attribute of the Father—indeed, as 1 John 4:8 tells us that God Himself is love—the connection is only stronger. Besides this, if I’m right about that, Paul is not only grounding his call to Christian unity in the Gospel, but also in the Trinity—(1) encouragement in Christ, (2) consolation of the Father’s love, and (3) fellowship of the Sprit. And the Trinity is the perfect example of what Paul is calling the Philippians to—distinct Persons dwelling in perfect unity.


And so Paul is asking them, and he is asking us, “Do you know the tenderness of your Father’s love? Have you had the experience of Him coming alongside you and sweetly speaking words of consolation to you? Has the love of God been shed abroad in your hearts through the Holy Spirit whom He’s given to us, as Paul says in Romans 5:5? Can you exclaim with the Apostle John in 1 John 3:1, “How great is the love [that] the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (NIV)? If you’ve experienced any consolation from the love of your Heavenly Father, make my joy complete, and be of one mind with one another.


C. Any Fellowship of the Spirit


And then he says, “…if there is any fellowship of the Spirit….” This is that rich word koinonía, which speaks of the Philippians’ participation in and common sharing in the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is often viewed as a source of Christian unity. In Ephesians chapter 4, which is a parallel passage to Philippians 1:27 through 2:4, Paul gives a very similar exhortation. Ephesians chapter 4 verse 1: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” And nowhere is this clearer than in 1 Corinthians 12, that wonderful chapter on the body of Christ and the gifts of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:12, Paul writes, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” What beautiful imagery!


And so Paul asks us: Haven’t you—along with your brothers and sisters at Grace Community Church—haven’t you all been made sharers in the One Spirit of God? Haven’t you all been made to drink of the same Holy Spirit? Haven’t you all been baptized by that Spirit into one body, made members of the unified body of Christ? If so, my friends, make my joy complete by being diligent to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. If the Lord Jesus Christ has made us all to share in the One Holy Spirit of God, how can we live in strife, in discord, in factiousness, and in disharmony with one another? If we have all been made one with the Lord Jesus Christ, then we have all been made one with each other.


D. Any Affection and Compassion


And lastly Paul says, simply, “…if any affection and compassion…” And here I’ll just briefly paraphrase to bring out the idea: If your experience of God’s tender mercy and compassion have had any effect on you so as to produce in you that same kind of loving affection that bears fruit in deeds of compassion, well then make my joy complete by being unified.


E. Make My Joy Complete


And I also need to say a few words about that phrase that I’ve been repeating at the beginning of verse 2: “Make my joy complete.” Here we see the depth of the Apostle’s affection for his dear friends. He could easily have gone from, “if any affection and compassion,” to his exhortation to be of one mind. But he adds this personal note of love by telling them that his joy is attached to their harmony and well-being.


And when you think about it, this is really an amazing statement from the Apostle Paul. “Fulfill his joy?” Think about how much Paul has sounded the note of joy so far in Philippians. Throughout all his persecutions—throughout all of his trials and oppositions—he’s still rejoicing, chapter 1 verses 18 and 19, because the ground of his joy is the magnification and exaltation of Jesus Christ. And that’s going to remain constant for him whether he lives or dies, because for him to live is Christ and to die is gain. He’s simply oozing with joy—modeling for the Philippians how they should be rejoicing in the midst of their trials (cf. 2:17–18).


And yet as unshakable as his joy is, it is incomplete without their unity. And so he says, “As great as my joy is, my dear friends, even in the midst of my suffering, do you want to know what will just fill it to the brim of overflowing?” And the Philippians would have been dialed in. They loved Paul more than anyone else on the planet, and they would have done anything to bless his heart while he remained chained to that Roman guard in prison. And so he says, “Do you want to complete my joy? Well then get along with one another. Live with love, and tenderness, and compassion, and mercy, and humility toward one another. Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”


It’s as if a group of brothers and sisters simply can’t get along with one another—they’re just always on each other’s nerves. But all of them, each individually, love their father. And their father says to them, “My dear children. It blesses my heart to know of your love and affection for me. I want you to know that I love you all dearly, just as you love me. But as blessed as my heart is, it’s also breaking.” And concerned, one by one the children ask, “Why is your heart breaking, Dad?! Can I do anything?” And he says, “Yes, you can.” And they each say, “Name it!” “Anything!” And the father says, “Get along with your brothers and sisters. Take all that love and affection that you have for me and bend that out toward one another. Then my joy would really be complete.”


II. The Matter of Christian Unity (vv. 2b–2c)


Well, so much, then, for the motivation for Christian unity. Now that we’ve been properly motivated, let’s look at what we are to do. If we are to be motivated by the grace that is ours in the Gospel and by our experience of the blessings that are ours in Christ, let us come now to the matter of Christian unity. What is Christian unity to be marked by? Look with me at verse 2: “…make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” What you have in verse 2 are four expressions that make up the substance of Paul’s call to unity. And what I’ll do here is comment briefly on each of these expressions just so you have an idea of what the text is saying, and then after I go through them all I’ll seek to make specific applications.


A. Being of the Same Mind


The first expression is that the Philippians would “be of the same mind.” And this phrase literally means, “to think the same thing.” Now this verb, phronéo, is used often in the Book of Philippians; of the 26 times the word appears in the New Testament, 10 of them are in Philippians. In fact, just in this context the word is repeated at the end of verse 2, where it gets translated, “intent on one purpose,” or some translations have, “of one mind;” and then also again in verse 5 where it says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” And when we consider that this spiritual unity among Christians is a major theme in Paul’s letter, and put that together with a significant emphasis on thinking and on the mind, we discover that thinking properly is essential to spiritual unity. You see, this unity that the Apostle call is calling the Philippians to is not some mushy-gushy, maudlin sentimentalism. He is not calling them to disengage their minds, forget about their substantive differences, and just hold hands and sing, “I love you / You love me / We’re a happy family.” No. He doesn’t say, first of all, that they need to feel the same way; he calls them—both at the beginning of this call and at the end—to think the same way. And so any call to a so-called unity that seeks to bypass clear thinking and water down truth in favor of just having a bigger tent is contrary to the biblical understanding of Christian unity.


But remember: Paul’s concern here isn’t so much to exhort them to a doctrinal unity; the Philippians didn’t have any problems with that. Like we said, they could all sign the same doctrinal statement. Paul’s speaking here about the personal interactions and relationships with each other.  


So if the issue isn’t doctrinal unity, when Paul exhorts them to be of the same mind, is he calling them to be carbon copies of one another? Well, no. He’s not suggesting that they can no longer be individuals—with no creativity or independent thinking—or that they must have the same opinion about absolutely everything. As I mentioned a moment ago, this verb phronéo also gets translated as “attitude” in verse 5. The word can describe a person’s whole attitude and disposition of mind (O’Brien, 178). One Greek scholar says that it “expresses not merely an activity of the intellect, but also a movement of the will; it is both interest and decision at the same time” (NIDNTT, 2:617). And so Paul is after the Philippians’ having the same dominant attitude, the same settled disposition, the same mindset, or, as we’ll see at the end of the verse, the same purpose.


B. Maintaining the Same Love


The next phrase is, “…maintaining the same love.” And here Paul ups the ante a bit. While it’s true that true Christian unity is not based solely on emotion or affection, but certainly—and even foundationally—involves the mind, the kind of unity that Paul desires for the Philippians is not simply a cold, theoretical, intellectual agreement. Christian unity is not less than intellectual agreement, but it is so much more. They are not only to agree with one another, but they are to love one another. John Calvin, in his commentary on this passage, writes, “Hence the beginning of love is harmony of views, but that is not sufficient, unless men’s hearts are at the same time joined together in mutual affection” (52).


The Apostle John writes in 1 John 3:14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” And then later on in the letter, chapter 4 verses 20 and 21: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”


You see, true Christian unity is not merely after the head; it is also after the heart. We are to be of the same mind, but also to maintain the same love.


C. United in Spirit


And it doesn’t stop there: We are also to be “united in spirit.” This phrase translates a single word in the Greek: súmpsuchoi. It’s a compound word, beginning with the preposition sun-, which means “together with,” and the word psúche, which is the word for “soul,” or “being.” And so we see that Paul ups the ante even further here. The unity that the Lord calls His people to cultivate with each other reaches the mind—the same attitude and disposition; it reaches the heart—maintaining the same love; and here we learn that it reaches the soul, the whole animating principle of a person.


Paul uses a variation of this word in Philippians 2:20 to describe his relationship with Timothy. He says, “I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” The word there is isopsuchos, “same-souled,” which the NAS tries to capture as “kindred spirit.” We are not only to have the same mindset; and we are not only to genuinely and fervently love one another from the heart; we are called to be of one soul—to so cultivate unity with each other that our hearts beat together—that we have the same passion, the same ambition for our lives.


D. Intent on One Purpose


And that brings us to the final phrase, as Paul comes full circle when he writes, “intent on one purpose.” This reminds me again of the military imagery that we saw in chapter 1 verses 27 to 30. If we are to be standing firm against our opposition, if we are to be striving to advance the faith the Gospel in a hostile society, we must do so intent on one purpose. Like we said before, an army full of soldiers intent on multiple purposes is sure to face defeat. If each of us has a different agenda—if we all have different ideas about how we are to accomplish our mission—we’re never going to get anywhere! We’re going to get swallowed up by the enemy. And so Paul calls the congregation to a life in community directed by a single focus.


And what is that focus? It’s the Gospel. We are to be driven by the Gospel. We are to let (a) the realities and the blessings we experience by virtue of our participation in the Gospel as well as (b) our ministry of that Gospel to the world be the driving force and motivator for how we conduct ourselves in relationships with one another. He recognizes that Euodia and Syntyche—the two women mentioned by name whom he calls to agree in the Lord—he recognizes that those two ladies are not getting along. As often happens between sinners who spend enough time together, they began to experience disagreement and just started to not like one another very much. But Paul is saying that we need to be willing to sacrifice those kinds of personal and relational disagreements because that kind of disunity weakens our effectiveness in the common mission to proclaim Christ’s Lordship to a world that stands in opposition to Him. You see? Everything takes a backseat to the Gospel. We are to be intent on the one purpose of making disciples of all the nations by proclaiming the message of forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.


So right now, I want you to think about your relationships with your brothers and sisters at Grace Community Church, maybe even within your own immediate family. Has there been a breakdown, or even just a snag, in a relationship with another brother or sister? When you stop and think about it, intentionally and honestly, do you feel that tug on your conscience—that relational tension, that ice in the air—when you think of a particular friend? Maybe someone didn’t do something in the particular way you would have liked it to be done. Maybe someone said something to you that you felt was rude or inconsiderate, and now you feel that tension between you such that you would rather just avoid interacting with that person at all. Maybe there was a disagreement over some secondary issue and one of you didn’t like the way it was handled. Maybe they sinned against you, and they asked for your forgiveness, and you told them that you forgave them, but there’s still an uneasiness in your spirit, you’re still bitter about it.


Whatever the specific scenario might be, if you can discern something stirring in you as I ask these questions, you need to go to that person and resolve that issue. Whether it means to discuss a matter again, to ask and truly grant forgiveness, or just to defer to the other person, you need to do what you can to be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). You need to put in the hard work necessary to ensure that you are of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose.


This kind of Gospel-driven unity calls us to die to our need to be vindicated in the sight of men—to die to our need to be shown to be right, or proven to be superior. I love what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:7. In the context of disunity among believers even to the point of going to court to sue one another, Paul asks, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” If it means that our local church’s ministry of the Gospel will suffer, why not rather be wronged? Wouldn’t it be better to suffer unjustly and to be mistreated than to bring any shame or disrepute upon the Gospel of Christ?


And so if we have an issue with one another, we can defer to that other person—so that even if you’re not sure they’re right about the issue, you’re not going to insist on your own way, but you’re going to, as verse 3 says, “regard one another as more important than yourselves.” You’re going to treat the situation as if they are right, because your vindication in the matter it is not worth dealing any blows to the progress of the Gospel.


III. The Means of Christian Unity (vv. 3–4)


Well, we have seen that the motivation for Christian unity is the Gospel and the gracious blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus. And we have just examined the matter of Christian unity, considering the substance of Paul’s fourfold call to be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose. But now we come to the means of Christian unity. We all know that it is incumbent upon us to pursue a unity with our brothers and sisters that is driven by the Gospel. But the question we’ve got to answer now is: “How do we attain to that kind of unity? How can I go about pursuing such unity with my brothers and sisters?”


Paul gives two answers to that question in verses 3 and 4. Now unfortunately we’re not going to have time to expound them this morning. We’ll have to save them for next time. But I do want to read the verses and just introduce the ideas so that we can complete Paul’s thought. The means of Christian unity are humility and helpfulness. We pursue unity by being humble and being helpful. Let’s read verses 3 and 4: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”


Disunity festers only so long as it’s fed by selfishness, pride, and arrogance. When the members of a congregation have a proper view of themselves in the light of God’s holiness, all sense of entitlement—the sense that it is owed to us to be treated in a certain way—vanishes. We begin to realize that no matter what difficulty we may be facing, no matter how this brother mistreated us or what that sister said about us, we always get better than we deserve. And so acquainted with our own sinfulness, with our own failures to live righteously before God, our ego is deflated and we are humbled. And my friends, disunity simply cannot survive in that environment. It is starved to death by the warmth and winsomeness of humility.




And what better example of humility do we have than our dear Lord? In fact, that is precisely Paul’s line of thought. He picks up in verse 5 to speak of the incarnation, the life, the death, the resurrection, and the exaltation of Christ.


5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


My friends, that is a summary of the Good News of Jesus Christ. Come to terms of peace with this Sovereign King while there is still time.[*] 

[*] Refer to the audio recording for the full Gospel presentation.