Philippians chapter 1, verse 27, down through chapter 2, verse 4. “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents – which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
“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, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 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.” And then verse 5: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”
There have always been issues in the church concerning unity. There have always been divisions in the church, even going back to the New Testament. That is why the apostle Paul writes so much about pursuing, preserving, protecting unity. The apostle Paul knows that unity is a product of love, and love is a product of humility, and humility is a profound virtue, in fact, maybe the noblest of all Christian virtues. Humility enables us to love sacrificially, and sacrificial love is what creates unity.
There has always been a struggle, as I said, with this in the church. Certainly, through the years here at Grace Community Church we had our share of discord and disunity. There were some dire times when staff mutiny occurred, and elders were very divisive and took several hundred people out of the church. And there have been people in our church who tried to divide and were somewhat successful, people in leadership in the church who were divisive. This is just church life. And I rejoice now that we’ve been doing this for 50 years, that this is the sweetest and most wonderful unity that I’ve ever known in the half a century of Grace Church. That is a fruit and a product of the work of the Spirit through the Word through all these decades.
Paul had to address this issue, and it’s good that he did, because it is an issue today. It’s an issue in many, many churches, and it’s an issue on the broader level in the body of Christ at large, because now Christians don’t fight their battles just in church, they fight them on the Internet; and as a result of that, the whole world knows the hostility that Christians have toward each other. This is devastating to the testimony of the gospel. This undermines everything that we’re trying to communicate, because Jesus said, “By your love they’ll know you’re My disciples,” John 13.
It’s one thing to pursue unity in the church; that is something that we must do and will do, and we see how to do that in the passage before us. It’s something else to try to create unity on a larger level, and the wider church, when we don’t have any control or any influence on, all these people who are ripping and shredding each other up in front of the world. It’s no wonder that according to surveys – which I hate, but they happen nonetheless – there are fewer and fewer people who are impressed with the truth of Christianity because they see such animosity, such bitterness, such hostility, such confusion, chaos, attacking going on all the time. This is devastating, as I said, to the cause of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know that we can do anything about that on the large scale except speak to that issue; and that is what I trust we will be able to do in this little series. And then, secondly, to model the kind of unity that the Lord would want us to have; and we’ve endeavored to do that here at Grace Church.
Now the church at Philippi was a very good church. It was a healthy church. It was a strong church. In the opening chapter, Paul talks to this church in very loving terms: “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,” chapter 1, verse 3. That’s a pretty good blanket affirmation. “And I’m always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,” indicates that some of them were from the south. He says, “I’m happy for the participation in the gospel from the first day till now.” He says, “I’m confident about you. It’s only right for me to feel this way about you because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. I pray your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.”
This is a really good, healthy church. Paul loves these people; they bring him joy. They are a people marked by thanks, marked by joy, marked by confidence, marked by affection. They are prayerful. They are obedient. They are faithful to pursue Christ. They are generous. In the fourth chapter he talks about how generous they have been, sending gifts to him. This is a church with leaders, good leaders. Chapter 1, verse 1, They have overseers or pastors, elders and deacons. They are full of courage, real love.
There are no doctrinal issues brought up in this particular book that speak to any deviation from sound doctrine in the church at Philippi. There are no corrections of moral misbehavior. No false doctrine, no immorality. This is close to being an ideal church. But in spite of all of that, there was one looming reality that was casting its shadow over this church, the same looming reality that casts its shadow over many church and, as I said a moment ago, has cast its shadow over the whole Christian church in our day, and that is the issue of unity, or the lack thereof.
This epistle has the sense that with all that is right, including joy, there is this disunity that is gaining ground. The letter is really framed by Paul’s concerns about that. In chapter 1, verse 27, he pleads with them to, “Stand firm in one spirit, one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” That’s the first chapter. In the last chapter, the fourth chapter, he says in chapter 4, verse 2, “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” And he asks a true companion, perhaps a man named Cyzicus, to help these women.
So he brackets this wonderful epistle with his concern about disunity. This is not just a minor issue in the church, this is the issue in the church. If, as Jesus said, “The world will know us by our love,” then if we don’t demonstrate love to one another, the world is not going to understand the power of the gospel. This has been an issue with Paul in so many of his letters.
When he wrote to the Romans, he told them to be devoted in love; he told them to prefer one another in honor. When he wrote to them in the same twelfth chapter, he said, “Be of the same mind and be humble.” To the Corinthians, he said, “There should be no divisions. You should be of the same mind and the same judgment.” In 2 Corinthians, “You should be like-minded and live in peace.” To the Ephesians, he said, “Walk in unity.” To the Colossians, he says, “Pursue unity, the bond of peace, by love.” To the Thessalonians, he says, “Excel more in love.” This is just a sampling of the many times Paul in his letters concerns himself with the elements that are essential to unity, and that is humility and love.
My constant prayer for this church for all the 50 years plus that I have been here is that the Lord would protect our unity, the Lord would preserve our unity, that man would not tear asunder what God has joined together. But it’s a constant battle. It’s a constant battle because the enemy of the church, the enemy of God, the enemy of Christ wants to bring in discord, disunity, friction, and divisions of all kinds.
The unity of the spirit that concerns Paul is not just people being attracted to people, but people pull together by an attraction to Christ. If you took a bag of marbles, they would be very compact, perhaps, in the bag; but if you open the bag, the marbles would go everywhere, all over the place; and they are loose and you have nothing to bind them together, because what bound them together was external. On the other hand, if you have a magnet and you have iron shavings, the iron shavings will cling to the magnet because the force is not on the outside, the force is on the inside – internal force pulling together, rather than external force holding together.
We’re not talking about some kind of manufactured unity, not talking about some kind of external unity; we’re talking about unity that comes from an internal force, and the internal force in the church is the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ. The powerful magnet is Christ Himself pulling us to Him, and thus, to each other. So where we are all occupied with Christ, we are all pulled together. The reality of this inward magnetic unity is essential to the church’s joy and the church’s testimony and witness and effectiveness; and yet, it is fragile. It is not a default position, it’s not that you go there automatically. That’s why Paul in Ephesians 4:3 says, “Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit.” “Be diligent” is a strong verb, which says, “Make every effort, work at this tirelessly,” – present active. You have to be at it all the time, pursuing and preserving and protecting unity of the church.
So as we have seen already at the end of chapter 1, verses 27 through 30, Paul really lays down a mandate: “Conduct yourselves” – verse 27 – “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” – and what does that mean? – “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” That’s the call for unity.
Now Paul follows up that call in chapter in the opening four verses, and even beyond, as we’ll see, with a very practical section. This is very easy to understand, I just want to walk you through it a little bit; but it’s a very powerful section at the same time. So since this is the call, this is the demand, this is the apostolic command rendering to us the will of the Spirit of God to stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, this is true for us locally, this is true for us across the country and around the world. Our unity should be manifest. So here are the practical realities that produce this kind of unity.
Starting in chapter 2, there are motives for this. Everything needs to have motive, right? So what is the motive for unity? Is it some sort of legalistic responsibility because we’ve been told this, “Do it just because I said to do it like my father told me when I was a kid. You don’t need reasons, just do what I tell you”? Is this some kind of legal obedience that we have to render or is there some motive more profound and more compelling than that? The answer is, of course, there is. So I want to show you the motives that should set us on a course to produce and protect and preserve unity.
Verse 1: “Therefore if there’s any encouragement in Christ, if there’s 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, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” So the motives are given in verse 1. And first of all, I want to say we’ll just take a look at the words. They’re overlapping and intertwined motives, they’re not each one particularly distinct from the other. But I think what Paul is trying to say is he’s trying to pull from four directions the same single motive, and that is this one, and it’s fitting for today: gratitude for what the Lord has done for us. That is the prime motive: gratitude for what the Lord has done for us.
Now this is what it’s called in the Greek language a set of first-class conditionals. And where you have a first-class conditional in the Greek language you have a fact. So the “if” is not speculative. The “if” would be translated more accurately “since,” or I like even better “because.” So it would read this way: “Therefore because there is encouragement in Christ, because there is consolation of love, because there is fellowship with the Spirit, because there is affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind.” So these are the motives. The motives are, “Because” – simply stated – “of what the Lord has done for us.”
Is what He has done for us enough to motivate us, to fulfill the will that He has for us? And what is that? That we would be one, that we would have one mind, one love, one heart, one soul, and show the world the power of the gospel. The world we know is fragmented. Unbelieving people have nothing to tie them together except their common sin. The church is to manifest the power of the gospel in its unity collectively as well as a transformed life individually.
So Paul lays out the motive in four statements. Statement Number One: “Because there is encouragement in Christ.” Encouragement is paraklēsis. Sometimes you hear the Holy Spirit from John’s gospel called the Paraclete. It means someone called alongside to encourage, called alongside to help, counsel, strengthen, exhort.
“If,” – he says, or literally – “because you have received so much personal assistance from Christ, because you are in union with Christ, because you are in Christ and Christ is in you, because Christ has come alongside, taken up residence in your life and provided all the power, all the blessing, literally poured out all of heaven’s resources into your life as a believer, is that not enough motive to respond in love and gratitude and obey what it is that He desires? He has given you everything, all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.” Has that outpouring of blessing not the right to gain the response that says, ‘You have done so much for me, incalculable riches you have poured out on my behalf, undeserved as I am’? Can I not respond by saying, ‘I want to do what honors You; I want to do what You desire’? And can we hear the Lord say, ‘I want you to be one’? If His gentle encouragement means anything, if His wise counsel through the pages of Scripture means anything, if His constant available power means anything, if all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies poured out on you from the Lord means anything, can you then please pursue unity? Does all of this mean anything to you or do you just take the benefits and run down the path of your own pride?” This is very powerful, because it’s not about legal duty, it’s not about law. It’s about – what? – love. Very powerful. It focuses on obedience as a way to thank the Lord for His unbounded blessing in your life.
There’s nothing uglier than ingratitude, and there’s no greater deposit of treasure than what the Lord has put in us in His own presence. And how can we take that and not render back to Him that which is most on His heart for His own glory’s sake; and that is the unity of the church. If you can’t be motivated by the influence that Christ continually has on you, if you can’t be motivated by all that He has done for you, then how in the world will you ever be motivated? Are you only going to be motivated by your own desires, your own selfish will? Can you live such a thankless life? The gracious blessings, the gentle encouragement of the Lord – and it is gentle, isn’t it? It’s never harsh, it’s always loving and merciful and kind. This should stimulate us to pursue the harmony that He desires for His church.
And secondly, because there is consolation of love – this is another way to say the same thing really – the second way to frame up this motive: since the loving tenderness of the Lord with which He has blessed us in our salvation and our sanctification, since His love has poured out so much to us – and the consolation term is kind of like gentle cheering. One lexicon said, “Gentle cheering, a comfort, a kind of tenderness toward us.”
So we have this encouragement from Christ, we have this tender comfort coming from heavenly love. Actually, literally, paramuthion could be translated to speak to someone by coming close to his side. Since we have this intimate relationship with Christ who is empowering us and comforting us and granting us all spiritual blessings, since He saw us in our sin and loved us anyway, He forgave us, He graciously picks us up, thoroughly cleanses us, gives us a new heart, a new mind, a new life, all undeserved, all by grace. Does it mean anything to us this personal consolation, this personal comfort by which the Lord comes alongside us? Can we not respond by saying, “I will never do anything to dishonor You and I will never do anything to divide Your blessed church”?
Paul really dives deep into the thought that when we do not pursue unity as a church, or even on the larger level, as churches, we defy our Lord, we rebel against our Lord, and we act like ingrates. The Lord has come near to you. He has brought you encouragement. He has brought you gentle comfort from His love. Is that not enough for you to set your own personal agenda aside and fulfill His desire?
There’s a third way that he frames it: “Because there is fellowship of the Spirit,” fellowship of the Spirit, koinōnia, partnership, communion; actually, shared life. Paul is saying, “You share the life of the Spirit.” In a sense, I could see the Trinity here. First, there’s an encouragement in Christ; that’s Christ the Son. The consolation of love could come from the Father, because the Father is the source of that love: “God so loved.” And here is the Holy Spirit and the fellowship He provides.
Does it mean anything to you that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have poured their very presence into your life along with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies, to provide for you power, and strength, and counsel, and comfort, and fellow? Does that mean anything to you? Does such communion with the triune God have any demand on your life out of gratitude, or are you going to be ungrateful? In spite of what the Lord desires, are you going to be a cause of division and discord and disruption? Are you going to try to make enemies? Are you going to try to fight? Are you going to be ugly in criticizing and castigating other believers? This is what the world is watching.
Since the Holy Spirit has affected our regeneration, so has the Son and so has the Father. Since God has affected our justification by His grace and power our sanctification, since He has guaranteed our eternal glory, since the Holy Spirit has continually interceded for us with groanings that cannot be uttered, since the Son of God ever lives to make intercession for us, since we have been gifted for service and filled for power, since we have been able to understand the Word of God because we’re taught by the Holy Spirit, since we have been literally placed into the body of Christ we’ve been given power to resist temptation, do we not out of sheer loving gratitude answer the prayer of our Lord who prayed that they may be one? Look at your discord for what it is. It’s sin, ingratitude. Nothing is uglier than ingratitude.
And then, fourthly, he frames it up another way: “Because of affection and compassion,” splagchna and oiktirmoi, two interesting Greek words. First one: bowels – deeply felt affections. “Because you have been the recipient of deeply felt affections.” This is what Paul refers to in chapter 1, verse 8, “How I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.” Christ has the deep, deep feelings of affection for us.
And the second word has to do with feelings of mercy. The first is the affection, the second is the result, the mercy that’s extended. Paul uses that second word twice out of four times to describe the tender mercies of God. “Because you have received deep affection from the Savior and tender mercies from God,” because the Lord pours out sympathy and compassion and kindness and love, and makes you a partner and communes with you, because He feels so deeply affectionate toward you, so compassionate, do you have any response to that at all? Do you feel any obligation? If you do, then, Paul says, “Make my joy complete. Be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
You could give this speech as a father. If you did, it might go like this: “Okay, Son, you have been loved, you have been encouraged, you have been forgiven; you have been supported, you have been nurtured, you have been taught; you have been clothed, you have been cared for, you have been treated with affection, sympathy, mercy, grace; you have been given all the affection and compassion and goodness that your father could possibly deposit on you; is it too much to ask you to please do what would be honoring to me?”
So Paul’s pleas here are not legalistic at all, they’re based on a loving response to the massive goodness of the Lord. No threats here, no threats. He wants to persuade by the high and holy motives of love, gratitude, loyalty, and honor. This kind of disloyalty is almost terrifying to us. You might say in a reasonable way, “How could anyone accept all of that and not give back what the Lord wants? How could you do that? How can you rip and tear and shred other Christians?”
So Paul says, “Based on these motives,” – verse 2 – “make my joy complete. Do this.” Do what? “Be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Paul’s appeal is very personal. He started out with honoring the Lord, “Do this for the Lord’s sake,” and then he secondarily says, “And do it for my sake, do it for my joy.”
That is what the write of Hebrews says at the end of that wonderful epistle, chapter 13, verse 17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Make the Lord glad with your obedience and make your shepherds glad with your obedience. It’s a heavenly plea, but it’s also an earthly plea for the joy of the shepherd who doesn’t want to do what he does with grief, but with joy. And I say at this point, I’m experiencing that joy in all its fullness because of how wonderful the unity of this church is.
So those are the motives. What are the marks? So let’s go from why to what, okay. I’m motivated. I want to pursue this unity based on all that the Lord has done for me, is doing, and will do. So what does it mean? What are the marks of spiritual unity, its features? What’s it like?
Well, here we go in verse 2: “Being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” There are four marks. There were four statements about motive, and here are four statements about the marks or the identifying characteristics of this unity.
First of all – and they’re somewhat overlapping as were the motives. First, he says, “Being of the same mind.” Simply, be thinking the same way, be thinking the same way. Second Corinthians 13:11, “Be like-minded.” Ten of the twenty-three occurrences of this verb are in this epistle, which means this is a very critical aspect of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Unanimity of thought: you have to think the same way, and that means doctrinal unity. Christianity is first and foremost about the mind. It’s about the renewing of your mind. It’s about how you think. It’s about tearing down every idea raised up against the knowledge of God and bringing every thought captive to Christ. The very foundation of this unity is truth. Truth, proclaimed truth, explained truth, implied truth applied. It all begins with doctrine; it all begins with truth.
You don’t get unity from shared emotion. You don’t get unity from shared experience. We’re not trying to create an experience, we’re not trying to induce emotion from you. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and the only unity that is ever going to mean anything is that unity that is consistently bound by truth. That’s why Grace Community Church has such an extensive doctrinal statement titled “What We Believe.” It isn’t something we invented, it’s simply the truth as historically understood by the church through the ages; and we pulled it all together. We hold to what the true church has always held to by way of accurate interpretation of Scripture.
You can’t be of the same mind, you can’t think the same way unless you are attached to the same realities. Unity comes when believers think alike. That is to say, when they have basically surrounded the truth, and it’s that truth that holds them like those metal shavings to the magnet which is the written truth and the incarnate truth.
If you look over at the fourth chapter of Philippians and the eighth verse, Paul says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true,” – that’s where it starts – “whatever is honorable,” – if it’s true, it’s honorable – “whatever is right,” – if it’s true, it’s right – “whatever is pure,” if it’s true, it’s pure – “whatever is lovely,” – if it’s true, it’s lovely – “whatever is of good repute,” if it’s true, it’s of good repute – “if there’s any excellence, if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you’ve learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Stick with apostolic doctrine. Everything is about the truth. The truth is what is honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and of good report or repute. The truth is what is excellent. Unity then comes from shared understanding of the truth. If you were to say, “Why is Grace Community Church such a united church?” I would say it starts right here: we all affirm and understand the truth.
“Think on these things.” Think on these things. Be thinking the same way. Paul uses this verbs in Romans 8:5. It says, “Think on the things of the Holy Spirit.” In Romans 12:3, he uses this word and says, “Think with sound judgment.” Romans 15:5, he uses it and tells us to think according to Christ Jesus. First Corinthians 13, to think with maturity. Galatians 5, to think biblically. Philippians 3:15, to think in a pleasing way to Christ. Colossians 3, to think heavenly. It all starts with biblical thinking and biblical truth.
And then the second very important mark of this unity, following immediately after being of the same mind, is maintaining the same love. In Romans 12:10, he says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Think the same things theologically, doctrinally, biblically; and then be devoted to one another in love.
Love will flow out of sound doctrine. I’ve said that through the years. When people come to Grace Church it’s always the same story: they don’t remark about our doctrine, they remark about our love. But that love comes out of a shared conviction concerning what the Word of God affirms. When believers think on the things of the Spirit, when they have sound spiritual judgment, when they have good discernment, when they think the way Christ thinks because they have the mind of Christ, when they think in a mature way, when they think biblically, when they think like the Lord thinks, when they think heavenly things, out of that comes maintaining of love. Love is the outflow of that. So maintain that, hold onto that.
The third thing he says, “united in spirit.” A very interesting word. The word “soul” is the main word here, and the word could be translated having a single soul, being one soul. This single word, by the way, “united in spirit” is just one word in the Greek. It means one soul. This single word explains the oneness of love. We look at each other as soul brothers – you know that: soulmates. We’re one soul. We don’t divide everybody up. We don’t care about earthly identifications. We talked about a lot, haven’t we? We don’t care about whether you’re a Jew or a Greek or anything else, or whether you’re slave or free, or male or female, barbarian, Scythian. God is all and in all, and you’re all in Christ. We’re one soul – I love that. We’re soul brothers. We have the same loves, the same desires, the same passions, the same causes.
Another mark, “intent on one purpose.” Now there are a lot of ways to translate that. It actually literally means thinking as one. So it’s back to that original statement of being of the same mind, thinking as one. And there may be a sense in which you could add the idea of having one goal or having one purpose. And what would that one goal and one purpose be? The glory of the Lord, right? “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of the Lord.”
Our goal is the same, to advance the kingdom. We don’t operate with personal goals. I often wonder how those prosperity gospel churches in those churches that tell people that, “All God wants to do is give you what you want,” function in areas of unity, because if the whole thing is designed to give you what you want, how does that work for unity? If this thing is all about making sure you get what you want, this is a toxic idea to the real unity of the church.
In Romans 15:5, “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement” – that’s marvelous, again, and reminding us of what the Lord has done for us. “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.” So this unity ultimately ends up with one voice seeking to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So that is our one purpose: to glorify God. The one great gospel goal is the glory of the Lord.
So we know what the motives are: everything the Lord is doing, has done, and will do for us. As a result of that, the marks of this unity: we have common understanding of truth, we love each other equally without respect of persons, we feel the same passion for the glory of the Lord. That dominates everything. And so we are one soul; we’re soulmates.
Now how do you get to this? Is there a means? Yes, verses 3 and 4. We saw the marks of unity after the motives. Here’s the means, verses 3 and 4. Here’s what is required: “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.”
Not hard to understand, right? Some things you have to exclude, some things you have to include. There’s some negatives and positives. Let’s look at the negative.
First, “Do nothing from selfishness,” nothing from selfishness. There’s not even a verb here; it’s as if it says, “Nothing from selfishness.” It carries the force of a negative command. And the term “selfishness” actually is used to mean selfish ambition and is translated that way in the first chapter. This refers to strife, party spirit, rivalry, faction, “I’ve got my agenda. My group has this agenda, my group has this agenda. They don’t like your agenda. We’re going to condemn you, criticize you because you’re not on our wavelength.”
This same word for “selfishness” is in the list of Galatians 5, “works of the flesh.” Egotism, selfishness, driven by all-consuming personal desires, taking precedent over everything else. This destroys the unity of the spirit. This is on display across the Christian world for the whole world to see. But where there is this one soul, one mind, one love, one purpose, people don’t do things from the vantage point of selfishness. Our pride is rooted deeply in our fallen flesh; and when people elevate their agenda, whatever it is, when people elevate their cause, elevate their ideas, elevate their demands, this is not easily dealt with, because it’s animatable to the fallenness of their hearts, and it is sin.
So the negative, “Do nothing from selfishness,” – your agenda doesn’t matter – “or empty conceit.” That’s a very interesting word, kenodoxia, made up of two words: kenos means empty, doxia means glory, doxology. It’s only used here in the whole New Testament. It implies a state of mind which seeks personal glory, personal elevation, personal exaltation. This is a person who arrogantly claims to have glory and be worthy of glory and demands to be given glory who, in fact, is empty. And the emptiness is manifest in the desire for glory.
Never are you more evidentially empty, spiritually speaking, than when you seek glory. This is a person who is conceited with no reason, who is deluded, whose ambitions are, when added up, reaching zero. Empty conceit. It’s behind factions, it’s behind group think; it’s behind personal vanity, personal animosity. So if we want unity, all selfishness has to stop and all these people seeking their own empty glory have to turn to seek the glory of their Lord.
There’s some positive things as well: “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourself.” Hmm, there’s an antidote; that’ll fix it. “With humility of mind,” here’s where unity begins. Here’s where the ugly giant of pride is slain. It’s one word in the Greek, just one word, “humility of mind.” It’s one word; and it really, if you break it up, it means to think like a slave. Yeah, to think like a slave.
This word cannot be found in secular Greek prior to the New Testament. We don’t have any evidence of this word being used prior to the New Testament. So maybe Paul invented it. The adjective “slave,” yes; the word “think.” But nobody was advocating anybody thinking like a slave. And that would be pretty consistent with a kind of evangelical Christianity we see today. Nobody is advocating that you think like a slave, they are wanting you to think like some king or some deserving person, and go to God as if He owes you something. The idea of this word is to fell lowly, base, shabby, unfit, common, of no value.
So if you want to have unity, then that’s how you have to think about yourself. And by the way, you have every reason to think that way, because you, from your vantage point, you’re the worst human being in the world. You say, “Why are you saying that?” Because you know more about your sin than anybody else’s, right? So the notion that you would be better than somebody else when you know everything that’s wrong with you and you don’t know everything that’s wrong with anybody else, no wonder Paul said, “I’m the least of saints.” No wonder he said, “I’m the chief sinner.” You say, “Well, why would he say that?” Because he knew more about his own sin than he did anybody else’s. And therein lies the kind of honesty that is humility of mind and regards others as more important than yourself.
This is so contrary to the thinking of Paul’s day that the word didn’t even exist. This is, in the ancient world, a kind of new virtue: “Think of yourself like a slave?” It’s the product of the gospel. This is a word that is the product of the humbling realities of the gospel. James said, “Exalt yourself, and the Lord will bring you down; humble yourself, and the Lord will lift you up.”
There must be no desire to be admired, no desire to be respected, no desire to have special honors, to be known, to be listened to, to be prominent. So you ask yourself, “Do I live with that kind of humility where the last person that I’m concerned about is me?” First Peter 5, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He exalt you at the proper time.” Your time will come, but that’s in God’s hands, not yours.
Then he adds, “With humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves,” or literally being superior to yourself. Every man knows his own heart, and every man who honestly knows his own heart knows more about his own sin than he can possibly know about anyone else. From that vantage point, everybody is superior. Problems of discord and division, factions and fights and all of that come from people who overestimate their value.
There’s one more negative, verse 4: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” That’s a huge redefinition of your life. It’s not about me. Obviously we have to care for some things with regard to our own lives. When you’re looking out for life, obviously there are some things that you must care for in your own life. But Paul says, “Don’t just do that. Don’t just look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Interest is just things. What could that be? Well, they’re interests, they’re enterprises, they’re tasks, they’re goals, they’re needs; whatever it is in their life. So we avoid selfishness and we avoid empty conceit by being preoccupied with others.
So the motives are clear. Out of gratitude for all the Lord has done for you, you ought to do what you can for what concerns Him, and that’s unity. How do you do that? You do that by maintaining the same convictions concerning the truth, loving everybody the same, being soulmates, all living for the glory of God. Practically, how does that work? The negatives: “Set aside all selfishness and empty conceit, and humble yourself, be more concerned about others than you are yourself.” This wipes out hostility and competition.
And, oh, by the way, there’s a model for this, verse 5: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” Who humbled himself most? The Lord did; and that’s going to be our subject next week.
Father, Your Word is light and life, refreshment, joy, bread to us, to our souls; but it carries with it beside the blessing the responsibility. Thank You for the clarity of Your truth. Thank You for the promise of the blessing of obedience. Lord, may we be a people who fulfill Your desire for unity in Your church, the church which You purchased with Your own blood.
Humble us, cause us to continue to be concerned far more about others than we are ourselves, never wavering on the truth, but always maintaining in equal love for all who are in Christ and considering them better than we are. Give us that kind of humility and that kind of love that sustains the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace for the sake of the gospel, in the glory of Your name we pray. Amen.
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