Copyright © 2011, John.W. (Jack) Carter
All rights reserved. Scripture quotes from KJV
At one end of the spectrum of commitment are those who choose to associate with the church for any of a variety of reasons without actually giving their life to the LORD. It is these who never grow in their faith, continuing to understand only the simplest of doctrinal issues because of a genuine lack of interest in knowing any more. It is these who bring all manner of worldly baggage and sin into the body of Christ and serve as a seed of conflict when they do not get their own way. These may spend their entire life in the family of believers and never advance past spiritual childhood.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who have given themselves completely in submission to the LORD, Jesus Christ. It is these who have an insatiable hunger for God that inspires them to continually pray, to seek God’s purposes in their lives, and to study God’s word. It is these whose life is characterized by moral and spiritual integrity in their personal lives. They demonstrate a humble strength in their faith that seems stronger than common earthly experiences can shatter. They also demonstrate God’s love for all people and take advantage of every opportunity to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of those who profess to have placed their faith in God are somewhere within this spectrum of Christian maturity, and the character of a church body is largely shaped by the level of maturity of its members, and particularly, its leadership. When Paul wrote to the first-century churches, he was writing to the same mix of Christian maturity that we witness today. Some of the early churches were fractured by the expression of doctrinal error, and others like the church in Philippi were in relative peace. Though the church in Philippi was not fractured by great divisions, and seemed to be the more stable of the churches of the region, the content of Paul’s letter to the church reveals that the church was still hurt by infighting and squabbling amongst its members. Paul does address this issue, and does so with great passion.
It may be interesting to note that when Paul addresses issues within the churches, he never condemns the people; he exposes the sin and instructs the people in overcoming it. This alone can be an important point: the conflict in the body of Christian believers is never between people. The conflict is with satan and sin. Sometimes we forget this important truth, hurting one another as we condemn and even attack one another instead of taking on the real issues that affect all of us.
Where the world deals with issues using tools of confrontation, Jesus always dealt with issues by demonstrating His love and sincere concern through His teaching, and Paul taught the early church to do the same. Paul’s advice for the church in Philippi can be instructive for us all.
STANDING STRONG: TOGETHER WITH OTHERS
Philippians 1:27. Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
The persecution that Paul has experienced has been becoming more and more common among first-century Christians. Today’s culture is also becoming progressively more hostile to the Christian message. Paul gives the Philippian church members some sound advice on how to approach these days in a way that honors God and will bring them the full measure of God’s blessing.
· Be Christ-like in your daily walk. The word translated “conversation” does not refer to the spoken word, but rather to one’s very lifestyle. Paul has instructed believers to put on the “mind of Christ.” This action brings a Christian mindset, a spirit of faithfulness, to the life of the believer. Every decision and action that is made is brought under the authority of Christ. Paul desires that the members of the Philippian church will be characterized by this mindset of faithfulness to Christ, a mindset that will inform their daily decisions as it shapes their relationships with others and with the LORD.
· Stand fast in one spirit. If each member of the body shares the mind of Christ, they share the same joy and love, bringing unity among their differences. With such unity, believers can stand together against the stressors of this world. With such unity, they stand united when one of their own is hurting or in need.
Note that when the scriptures speak of unity, there is no reference to each member of the body being forced to agree on any issue. Unity is not found in agreement; unity is found in love. If we disagree on a preference, only my lack of love will lead me to demand my own way. In true love, I can see the blessing you receive when you experience your own preference, and I can then share in your joy when it is your preference that is realized.
A great example of this can be found in the disunity that is found in “worship wars” that plague our modern church. Some people demand that the songs that are sung during “worship” fit within their own preferred repertoire, and will fight to keep the “worship” experience the way they want it. Such a position is self-centered, despises the preferences of others, and is certainly not an expression of faith. Such a position certainly provides no basis for true worship. Unity is found when I love you enough to allow you to worship through the music that you prefer and support you in it, as I now have the opportunity to learn a new repertoire. Do I love you enough to share your songs in worship? After all, worship is about submitting our spirit to the LORD, not about demanding our own entertainment.
· Striving together. Once unity is found, the work of the gospel is shared by all, with each contributing their unique set of gifts, talents, and interests to the one single enterprise to which all Christians are called: to glorify God. The body of Christ is called to a greater purpose than simple, occasional, fellowship. The church is God’s workman on this earth, called to share His love and spread the good news of the gospel to everyone on this planet, giving an opportunity to everyone to hear of God’s gift of grace.
Philippians 1:28. And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.
It is amazing how trivial an enemy becomes when we stand against that enemy united amongst ourselves. I recall an incident from my late childhood when the power of a notorious bully was neutralized by a group of previously bullied, but well-armed and very motivated geeks. A bully is only successful when he/she attacks one who is smaller or weaker. There is no weakness found in unity, and when one stands united, the authority of the bully dissipates when their true cowardice and powerlessness is exposed. The adversary that Christians face is nothing more than a powerless bully. Satan is powerless when confronted with the power of the Holy Spirit. When people of faith stand together, the light of the Holy Spirit exposes the true nature of the adversary. The wickedness of the adversary becomes exposed and openly known. When wickedness is exposed by the light of God’s Spirit, that light is evident to all, and God is glorified.
Philippians 1:29. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake; 30Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
As Paul considers his own experiences since coming to faith in Christ, he understands how God worked through those experiences to glorify Himself and spread the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Taking a stand for God involves taking a stand against the prevalent philosophies of this world. Since obedience to God is shown in taking such a stand, people of faith will always find themselves in conflict with the world. Paul notes that the suffering that people of faith find as a result of that conflict is an integral part of that faith. Paul states that “For unto you it is given… to suffer for His sake.”
Indeed, over the centuries following Paul’s writing there will be many who will suffer and be martyred for their uncompromising faith. Many will find martyrdom at the hands of secular and pagan government. Many more, particularly from 400 A.D. to 1620 A.D. will experience martyrdom at the hands of church leadership. More Christians have been martyred in the last hundred years than in the previous 1900, predominantly at the hands of those who espouse violence upon those who disagree with their religious dogma, including Islamic extremists.
Most who claim to be Christians, however, experience very little persecution for their faith. This may be simply because they are not taking their faith into the ghettos of this lost world as they express their faith one to another, but not to those outside of the church. Those who are not experiencing prejudice and persecution would have little reason to consider the conflict in Paul’s testimony: consideration of the advantages of living, and the advantages of dying. For Paul, these thought patterns are natural, and he assumes that the same will be experienced by the faithful members of the Philippian church.
Most Christians would probably stand boldly before an enemy of the gospel, and refuse to deny their faith, even when threatened with death. However, it would seem that those same Christians, like Peter during the trials of Jesus, consistently deny Christ in their daily experience. Paul describes the persecution that comes from faith as a gift, an honor, something to be both expecting and joyfully receiving. We will find it easier to demonstrate our love for God and for others when we take upon ourselves Paul’s mindset concerning persecution, and by so doing, we will find ourselves used of God to minister to others as never before.
THE FRUIT OF TRUE LOVE: UNITY WITH OTHERS.
Philippians 2:1. If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,
Before directly addressing the issue to follow, Paul establishes its tremendous importance. Paul starts with a logical argument, an if-then construct that states the following must be true if any of these four statements is true. The presence of each of these four characteristics in the body of Christ should be evident in any faithful Christian fellowship, and it was certainly evident in the church in Philippi:
1. Consolation in Christ (encouragement in Christ). The church body should be characterized by a spirit of encouragement that comes from the knowledge of God’s grace, given for every believer. It is a body where each member is blessed with the fruit of the Holy Spirit, including the peace and joy that comes with an appreciation of the gift of salvation. The spirit in the church should be one that encourages its members.
2. Comfort of Love (consolation of love). The church body should be characterized by a spirit of unconditional agape love, the sharing of God’s love, one for another, without reservation or compromise. Agape is an unconditional love that knows no restrictions. It is not a love that is earned, but a love that is freely given without reservation. When we share God’s love with one another, people find comfort in one another through all of life’s events and circumstances.
3. Fellowship of the Spirit. The church body should be characterized by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and lives of its members, and consequently, His presence should shape the very nature of the church itself. The Holy Spirit is more than a welcomed guest; He is the very foundation of the church and of the relationships that are formed within it.
4. Bowels and Mercies (affection and compassion). We would probably not say to a loved one, “I love you with all of my bowels,” but to the ancients, the bowels were considered the source of one’s affection for another. We might substitute the phrase, “I love you with all of my heart,” knowing full-well that the heart muscle has nothing more to do with affection than the bowels. Regardless of where the source of affection is, the church should be characterized by its members’ affection one for another. This is the only possible product of the true expression of agape love in the fellowship. As a byproduct of affection, the church should be characterized by compassion, one for another. One demonstrates compassion when one acts upon their affection one for another. One who has affection may sincerely say to one without a coat, “be warmed.” Compassion is shown when one gives the sufferer a coat.
When Paul lists these four characteristics of a healthy church body he does not imply that he is considering these to be great strengths of the Philippian church. In fact, he says of each of these four characteristics, “if there be any”. If there is any at all, then the following statements must be true, implying that if the following statements do not describe the Philippian church, then they totally lack these four important properties. That is, if there is any amount of these four characteristics within the body of the church, and there certainly is, then what is to follow is a product of those traits.
We would certainly hope that, when we look at our own Christian fellowship that we are rich in Christ’s encouragement, fully consoled by His love, in continual fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and have unencumbered affection and compassion one for another. With these traits, the church has the foundation needed to take the next step as a body of believers: to demonstrate the mind of Christ in the relationships we have with one another: a demonstrated, self-sacrificing belief that others are more important than ourselves.
When Gods’ agape love is properly expressed in the fellowship of Christ, others always come first. Squabbling and infighting are only possible when people hold tight to their selfish desires and are willing to fight to attain them. Paul states that if any of these previous four characteristics are evident in the life of the church, there is no place for such selfishness because loving Christians are always going to be more concerned about the desires of others rather than their own desires. When we put away our own selfish desires, some very powerful and exciting attitudes begin to find their way into the fellowship: attitudes that not only remove the party spirit from the body, but replace it with an unstoppable spirit of unity and love.
Philippians 2:2. Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.
There is no question that Paul has a vision for the church. He states that his own joy is unfulfilled when the church experiences squabbling amongst its members. Recognizing that the Philippian church does demonstrate the four spiritual characteristics of verse 1, Paul provides some very practical instruction on how to realize that peace, joy, and purpose that God intends for the church. Paul mentions four very specific actions that the church can take: being of the same mind, love, Spirit, and purpose. To this point in this passage Paul has been describing positive characteristics of the church fellowship. At this point Paul describes four deliberate actions that are products of those godly characteristics. These four require initiative and decisive choice. We as individuals within the church fellowship must choose to do these four things and set aside those attitudes and actions that would prevent them.
1. Being of the same mind. This attitude is one that is difficult for one who is young in the faith, and nearly impossible for a fractured church. To be of the same mind requires one simple decision in the heart of the believer: the desires of others are more important than mine, so I will always set mine aside for the good of the body. My choice on an issue will always be that of those whom I love.
Of course, God’s wisdom should always be applied in all that we do in the faith. Unity does not mean that we blindly follow the group or the leader into doctrinal error. This misunderstanding of unity empowers the errors we have often seen in cult religions.
How do we apply Godly wisdom when our desire is different than that of others? We might ask two simple questions: (1) is my opinion simply my own personal desire, and (2) could the expression of my desire serve to disrupt the unity of the body? If the answer to either of these is “yes,” it is probably a good time to demonstrate love for the fellowship rather than personal preference.
When we can love one another in this way, we will find that we can be of the same mind as a fellowship, even when we differ in our personal preferences.
2. Maintaining the same love. The word, “having” in the KJV is in the aorist verb tense, implying that in order to have this love in the fellowship, it must be continually maintained. Love does not happen spontaneously. Love is a choice. We must maintain love for another when that love is attacked from every direction. Our love can be compromised when we disagree on an issue. Our love can be compromised when we judge one another. Our love can be compromised when we express prejudice. There are numerous attitudes and circumstances that can serve to diminish the love we have for one another, and if we are not vigilant in our resistance to these destructive forces, our love for one another can be compromised. When we fall into squabbling and disagreements we are demonstrating that we are allowing these destructive forces to act in our fellowship. Love can be difficult to maintain, but we can maintain it when we recognize those destructive forces that can compromise our love for one another and we choose to overcome them.
3. United in Spirit. That which we do, we do together. The KJV renders this passage as “being of one accord.” Like the first two of these four imperatives, the act of being in one accord is a choice, one that must be made by every member of the body for it to be united in Spirit. All it takes is for one individual to choose to break the unity, and that unity is destroyed. We have all witnessed this group dynamic when an issue is being shared among the body and someone makes a demand to press their own agenda. A good way to start a disruptive statement is with the words, “Well, I think that …” followed by a statement that demands a decision. Such an event immediately divides the body and makes it impossible for the fellowship to continue united in Spirit. Maintaining “one accord” can be difficult when we have a variety of opinions, but it can still be done. We can maintain unity in the Spirit when we simply love one another enough to refuse to act in a way that would break that unity.
4. Intent on one purpose. Again, we see an action that is intentional. The maintenance of one purpose does not happen spontaneously. If different people are attempting to take the church in a variety of directions, it is impossible to be intent on one purpose. Often churches will draft up constitutions and bylaws that define their basic purpose, and then they seek to maintain their focus on that purpose with little true thought to God’s true purpose for the body. Sometimes we may get a great idea of something that we want to do, only to find that it really does not fit the character and purpose of our fellowship, nor bring glory to God or grace to those who He created. In such a case, the church may not be the place to express that desire.
THE POWER OF HUMILITY: RESPECT FOR OTHERS.
Paul has just given to us what could be a very difficult charge to fully accept. We are individuals, and we live in a culture that celebrates our individuality. Our church fellowship is comprised of sincere and intelligent people who are quite capable of understanding and responding to issues. So, how do we combine all of that individuality, all of that intelligence with the variety of interests, skills, talents, and gifts into a body that has one mind, one love, one Spirit and one purpose?
Philippians 2:3. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.
Disunity enters the body when we consider our own wants and desires as being more important that that of others. This attitude is certainly in conflict with this world culture that looks out for “number one,” and is devoid of God’s love. However, this attitude is not appropriate when one professes a sincere faith in God. When we share God’s love with one another we are simply not going to act in ways that are selfish and inconsiderate. Paul states that “nothing” should ever be done in a way that is self-centered. Paul reminds us that to love one another is to esteem others as more important than ourselves. The need of others is to be more important than our own need. The desire of others is to be more important than our own desire. When our love for one another is genuine, we can always wait upon our own interests in order to promote the interests of those we love
How do we do this? Paul gives us instruction, and an example:
Philippians 2:4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
We get into trouble when we place our focus on ourselves and our own wants. A party spirit enters the fellowship when we first hear of an issue and then immediately take sides as we consider our own desires first. Such a spirit immediately divides the body rather than unify it. The party spirit breaks down our ability to work together and serves as a testimony to the community that we are not much different than the secular world.
The rendering of the word, “things” in the KJV may be unfortunate, as some have substituted a variety of things for this word. One prime example is to replace it with the word “business” and use the verse to defend the invasion of others, quite a contradiction of the true context of this passage. It would be more accurate to replace “things” with very specific, “needs.” If we reread this using the word, “needs” we find we are instructed to look upon the needs of others before our own, advice that is consistent with this passage, and with the gospel message.
Rather than focus on our own desires, Paul instructs us to focus on others’ instead. When our concern for the needs and desires of others replaces the concern for our own, the party spirit is destroyed. This primary concern for others is the very basis of Christian love. It is that love that is compromised when we fail to think of others first. The example of this love that Paul gives is quite humbling.
Philippians 2:5. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
THE MIND OF CHRIST: SACRIFICE FOR OTHERS.
Considering the needs of others first is an expression of humility, a fruit of the Holy Spirit that we often quench with our own self-centeredness and pride. We may think that we are in some way more important than others, or we may think that our ideas and desires are more important than that of others. However God’s purpose for all believers is that they would be more like Christ, and when we observe the nature of Jesus, we find one of infinite value and power, yet also one of great humility. The example of Christ that Paul describes outlines characteristics of the LORD that all Christians should emulate.
Paul instructs believers to put on the “mind of Christ.” True submission to Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD involves a transformation and renewing of the mind, replacing our self-centered world view with the others-centered mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 3:18, NAS. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
Romans 12:2, NAS. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
To put on the mind of Christ is to put away the attitudes and actions of the flesh and replace them with the attitudes and actions of Christ. It is not enough to ask “What would Jesus do.” Renewing of the mind involves doing what Jesus would do without asking. In the remainder of the passage we see what Jesus did.
Philippians 2:6-11. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. 9Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: 10That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; 11And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
We see several things that Jesus did that were consistent with His nature as our Savior and LORD. Each of these can be instructive to Christians today as we seek to put on the mind of Christ.
Jesus made it clear that He and the Father are One. Jesus is Yahweh, Jehovah, come to earth to “tabernacle” with us. Yet, we see that Jesus lived a life of humility. As Yahweh, Jesus could have dominated those around Himself, and He could have demanded that people follow Him. However, domination of others is not consistent with the expression of agape love that defines Jesus’ nature. Born and raised in the most humble of circumstances, Jesus set aside His deity and glory and used that power to serve others rather than dominate them.
With all of Jesus’ majesty and glory, He chose to demonstrate to us a life of self-sacrifice and service. He humbled himself to serve those He loved. He also humbled Himself before wicked men who would take Him to the cross. Jesus taught His disciples, and us, that this is the example of faithful obedience, an example that all believers are to follow.
God may not require us to humble ourselves before wicked men and take our place on a cross, though certainly there have been members of the faithful who have given their lives for the faith. What God asks of us is far simpler: to serve one another in love.
erving one another is an act of humility when we, like Christ, consider others more important than ourselves. What do we sacrifice in order to put on the mind of Christ?
We might have to set aside our pride as we grow in humility.
We might have to set aside what we want so that we can be united with others.
We might have to be patient and wait until our desires are shared by the body.
However, when we are willing to do this, something magnificent takes place: we find a body of believers that shares the same mind, the same love, the same Spirit, and the same purpose. When this happens there are few limits to what the fellowship can accomplish in the LORD. Instead of asking, “What can we do?” and recognize our shortcomings and failures, the united mind of Christ in the fellowship will ask “What can God do in and through us?” We know that God can do great things, and when we are united behind His purposes, He can use us to accomplish them. This is the very purpose of the church. It is a purpose that we can share when we remember and apply one simple truth: It is all about others.