Joy in Christian Unity

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(Greek words can be viewed using the Symbol font)

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

April 18, 2004

Joy in Christian Unity

Philippians 2:1-4

We will continue our study of the book of Philippians this morning by
examining 2:1-4 and the reasons, requirements and basis for unity within the
church. In one sense, this study of unity would seem to have little application
to our church at present because at present we have a high degree of unity
within our church. I am not aware of any factions or divisions among our people.
Yet at the same time, this could not be a better time to speak about unity
within the church because it does take work to maintain it. If we are to remain
unified, then we must be committed to that work as well as the importance,
characteristics and basis for unity.

In addition, unity in the church usually corresponds to an increased
effectiveness in ministry. I believe we have seen that happen here at Grace
Bible Church. To maintain our ministry we must remain unified, yet one of our
adversary’s greatest weapons against us would be to cause disunity among us, and
there is always a lot of potential for any minor disagreement or conflict to
erupt into factions and divisions that disrupt a large portion of the church.
Frankly, this was a concern of mine as we looked to repaint and re-carpet the
church, for churches have split over such issues. I am thankful that though
there were some disagreements over color and style, as would be expected
whenever two or more people have an opinion, there has not been any factioning.
All of you have shown the maturity to keep such issues as color and style in
their proper perspective as being of minor importance. If it all did not come
out according to your own preferences, you are to be commended for letting it
remain as something of relative unimportance and instead rejoicing with those
who very pleased by how it all came out.

This brings up the important point of defining unity in the church. In the
ecumenical movement, unity is defined by whatever is the most common factor and
then demanding universal acceptance without any further clarification. It is not
uncommon for this to be “anyone that names the name of Jesus” without any
clarification of which Jesus is being spoken about. It is the Jesus of the
Bible? The brother of Lucifer as in the Mormons? The lesser god of the Jehovah
Witnesses, or perhaps one the many other Jesus figures of other groups that is a
mixture of Biblical and cultic beliefs? True unity must have a foundation of
truth and not the facade of universal acceptance.

To the opposite extreme we find cultic groups in which unity is defined as
uniformity. There is little to no room for disagreement on anything. Everyone is
required to conform to the will of some strong central authority whether it is a
particular person, a select committee or document. You are not allowed to really
think for yourself. That is not the way it is to be in the church.

True Christianity is defined by Jesus Christ with every believer in the
process of being conformed to the image of Christ and the Bible as our
authority, yet each of us is also called to think for ourselves. The Lord calls
us to reason with Him in His call to salvation (Isa. 1:18). The Bereans were
commended in Acts 17:11 because they carefully examined the Scriptures to see if
Paul’s message to them was true. There is also great diversity in the Church in
regards to personal practices because there are many areas in which God does not
give us specific commands. Recall that I spent several months last year going
over the Biblical principles of being both holy and free and getting along with
one another in the midst of our differences in such areas as clothing, dancing,
eating, drinking, entertainment, leisure, music, traditions, holy days, dating &
courtship, raising children, family priorities, etc.

Unity in the church is founded in the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17
in which He prays for our sanctification and then says, “that they may all be
one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in
Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me. And the glory which Thou
has given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I
in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may
know that Thou dist send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me”

(John 17:21-23). Here in Philippians 2, Paul gives us four reasons for unity as
well as four requirements of unity and the practical basis for unity.

2:1 If therefore 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, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining
the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from
selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard
one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your
own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

Four Reasons for Unity – vs. 1

Paul begins this chapter with a foundation for unity in the church by looking
back to the previous chapter by using the word “therefore” which is then
followed by four statements of truth. Each of these statements start with the
word “if.” To most English readers that puts in our mind a question as to
whether the statement is true or not, but the form in the Greek grammar here is
in what is called a “first class condition.” These are statements of truth. They
express the idea of, “If this condition is true, and it is, then . . .”. It
could just as well be translated in English as “since,” “because” or “so.”

Christians are to be in unity with one another because we are to conduct
ourselves in a manner worthy of Christ which includes standing firm in one
spirit and with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (1:27),
and we can do this because there is encouragement in Christ, consolation of
love, fellowship of the Spirit and affection and compassion (2:1).

Encouragement in Christ. “Encouragement” here is
/ paraklLsis which
has a root meaning of being called alongside. It refers to the emotional
strengthening and inspiration that comes when someone comes alongside us to
assist, comfort, counsel or even exhort. It is related to the word used for the
Holy Spirit in John 14:16 and translated as the “comforter.” It is without
question that there is encouragement in Jesus Christ who is the author and
perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1). His promise is to be with us always even to
the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). He is our high priest who makes intercession
for us with the Father (Heb. 7:25) and through Whom we can come to the throne of
grace ourselves to receive mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
Part of the method by which we are conformed into the image of Christ is by
fixing our eyes upon Him and following His example (Heb. 12:1,2), and we find
greater unity with other believers as each of us becomes more like our Lord. The
encouragement we find in Jesus Christ is a reason for unity within the church.

Consolation of love. A second reason for unity in the church is
because there is consolation of love. “Consolation” is
/ paramuthion which has a root meaning of speaking alongside.
It is very similar to the idea of encouragement for both speak of a relationship
in which there is assistance, comfort, counsel or exhortation given. This word
gives more emphasis on the words being spoken. “Love” here is
agaph / agapL,
the love of sacrificial commitment to the others best interest. It is the love
God has shown us in Christ and which He commands us to have for one another.

Again, there is no question that there is consolation in love. What greater
comfort can there be than in God’s love for us demonstrated to us in Jesus’
death to redeem us from our sins. It is that very fact that Paul uses in Romans
5 as the anchor that holds our hope secure so that we will persevere, mature and
even rejoice in the midst of the tribulations that come against us. It is the
love of Jesus Christ flowing through us by which we carry out all the “one
another” commands in the New Testament which include to love, buildup, forbear,
be kind, tenderhearted, serve, encourage, be humble toward, greet, be hospitable
to, admonish, stimulate, etc. The consolation of love we have in Christ and from
Him through other believers is another reason for the church to be unified.

Fellowship of the Spirit. The third reason Paul gives for unity is
because there is fellowship of the Spirit. I think most of us are familiar with
the word for “fellowship” here, koinwnia / koinnia,
which can also be translated as “communion” and which refers to what is shared
in common. All believers share in common the same relationship to the Holy
Spirit. 1 Cor. 12:13 tells us that “by one Spirit we were all baptized into
one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free, and we were all made to
drink of one Spirit.”
(Footnote: the baptism of the Holy Spirit occurs at
salvation, not sometime later. It is manifested by fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5)
and any gift, not just “speaking in tongues” as taught in Charismatic theology).

The Holy Spirit has several other important ministries to all Christians
which draw us closer in unity. He “helps our weakness; for we do not know how
to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings
too deep for words”
(Rom. 8:26). He is the one that quickens our spirit and
seals us for the day of redemption ( Eph. 1:13; 2:1). He is also the one that
distributes to each believer spiritual gifts, ministries and power as He wills
for the good of the whole body of Christ. Our common fellowship in the Holy
Spirit is another reason for the church to be unified.

Affection and Compassion. The fourth reason Paul gives for unity in
the church is because there is affection and compassion. “Affection” is
splagcnon / splagchnon and literally refers to the
inward parts of the body such as heart, liver, lungs, and “bowels” as it is
translated in many places in the KJV. It can be used in a figurative sense, as
it is here, to refer to emotions. “Compassion” is oiktirmoV
/ oiktirmos and is also translated as “pity” and “mercy.” These two words
are linked together here because the compassion and mercy where seen to reside
within the bowls. In English figurative language we would say a “heart of mercy
or compassion.”

We find that these affections were exhibited in the New Testament by
Christians toward one another. In Philemon Paul writes of both how Philemon’s
love refreshed the “bowels” of the believers and how much sending Onesimus back
affected Paul’s “bowels.” Because Christians are chosen of God they are to have
hearts of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience with one
another (Col. 3:12). A person that shuts up their affections when they see a
brother in need demonstrates that the love of God does not abide in them (1 John
3:17). As we love one another, our emotions will be affected and our bond of
unity will be strengthened.

Jesus’ prayer for the unity of the church will be answered, for it rests in
the character and ministry of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit and who we are in
Him. We can be unified and conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of
Christ because there is encouragement in Christ; there is consolation of love;
there is fellowship of the spirit, and there is affection and compassion.

Joy in Unity – vs. 2

At the beginning of verse 2 Paul comments about his own desire for their
unity in that it would make his joy complete or full. The sense here is that
though Paul’s circumstances of being incarcerated and having believers purposely
trying to add to his distress, he was nevertheless joyful in what God was doing
in the midst of his current tribulations. He could not go to them as he would
have liked, but they could still add to his heart of joy by living out these
truths in unity with one another. What can thrill the heart of a teacher more
than hearing that those he had taught are applying the lessons he had given?
What could thrill the heart of a godly man like Paul more than hearing those
whom he had ministered to were actively living for Christ and demonstrating that
by how they were treating one another. In addition, Paul had reason to be
concerned that there were some real threats to the unity to the church at
Philippi since there were “dogs,” “evil workers” and those of the “false
circumcision” around who where threats to the church (3:2). There was also the
contention that already existed between Euodia and Syntche (4:2) that could
cause greater trouble if they were not corrected and brought back into a
harmonious relationship.

It should not only bring joy to our heart when we live in harmony with other
believes, but also when we hear that other believers are living in unity with
one another. We can make the joy of other Christians more full by being careful
ourselves to strive for Biblical unity by applying the reasons for unity and
living in the requirements of unity. Paul explains four characteristics of unity
in verse 2.

Four Requirements of Unity – vs. 2

Being of the Same Mind. The idea of “being of the same mind” is to
“live in harmony of mind” or “agree with one another” (UBS GNT Dictionary). The
foundation for this unity of understanding is holding to the same doctrinal
truths, for if there is not agreement in the foundation, there cannot be
agreement on the principles built on those foundations. Paul expressed this in
Ephesians 4:3-6 in which he states that Christians are to be diligent to
preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one
Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one
faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all
and in all.”
The Christian cannot have unity with those who are of a
different body, different Spirit, have a different hope, different Lord,
different faith, different baptism or different God. As Amos 3:3 states, “Can
two walk together, except they be agreed?”
But since Christians do agree on
these fundamental truths, they can walk

together. We are able to “live in harmony of mind” because a unity of belief
directs us to have the same understanding of the rest of life.

Having the same mind should be easy for the Christian, but our own bent
toward sin often causes conflict. While we might all agree to a doctrinal
statement, that does not mean that all of us either understand all the
ramifications of those beliefs or that we all strive to live as our stated
beliefs should dictate. If you claim to love Jesus Christ but do not follow the
command to have your mind set on things above instead of on the things that are
on earth (Col. 3:2), you will not be in agreement with those who do. If you seek
earthly wisdom instead of the wisdom from above, you will also be out of harmony
with those who are godly (James 3:13-18). Unity of mind comes about when we
purposely set our minds on what God wants us to think about – that which is
true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good reputation, excellent and worthy of
praise (Phil. 4:8) – instead on our own desires or on the things the world puts
in front of us. This can take diligent work, but it can be done because of what
we already have in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and relationships with other
believers. The same is true with the next characteristic of unity.

Maintaining the Same Love. The “love” here is also
/ agapL as it was in
the previous verse. It would be impossible for us to have the same emotional
affection toward one another simply because our feelings of attraction vary from
individual to individual for all sorts of reasons. Having the same kind of this
love is to purposely commit ourselves to the best interest of others based on
our conviction of what is right before God and not on personal feelings or
preference. This unity of love is not only possible for believers to have for
one another, but it is necessary because it is the character trait that
demonstrates that we are disciples of Jesus Christ because it is the type of
love Jesus has for us (John 13:34,35).

This mutual love among Christians is expressed in deed and truth and not just
words by our hospitality to strangers, sacrificially sharing with those in need,
and even extending ourselves to be a blessing to unbelievers that persecute us.
This is a love that we cannot produce on our own, but only comes as we allow
Jesus Christ to love others through us. It can only come about when we see our
lives to be wrapped up in Jesus Christ and His glory and not our selves and our
own desires. The more each of us becomes like Jesus Christ, the greater our
unity will be with one another, and in maintaining the same love for one another
we practically demonstrate how we are like Jesus Christ. A lack of this love not
only shows how much we are not like Jesus, but it invariably also results in
disharmony and conflict within the church.

United in Spirit. The third characteristic of true unity in the church
is being united in Spirit. The word here, sumyucoV /
sumpsuchos is a compound form of the same word we saw back in 1:27 and
essentially means “one souled” and hence “united as one spirit.” The unity of
believers is much deeper than just agreeing in doctrine and world view. There is
something much more substantial here that causes us to have mutual love for each
other and in a sense, have our souls knit together. People in political parties
share in belief and world view, but they more often have rivalries between each
other than love. Christians have much closer ties to one another which is why
the Paul’s body analogy is so fitting. We are one body in Christ and
individually members of one another (Rom. 12:5). We strive to have no division
among us but rather have the same care for one another because if one member
suffers, all of us suffer with it, and likewise, if one member is honored, all
the members rejoice with it (1 Cor. 12:25-27). Our common bond in Jesus Christ
and fellowship in the Holy Spirit unites us in one spirit with one another and
thus brings about unity.

Intent on One Purpose. The fourth characteristic of unity is being
“intent on one purpose.” This is simply a participle form of the same word used
earlier and so emphases again the necessity of being of the same mind. Our
harmony in belief and understanding results in us desiring to see the same
things accomplished. This characteristic keeps us from straying into side issues
that would eventually result in disharmony, for it keeps the priorities correct.

Tragically, many good churches have allowed themselves to be side tracked
into minor issues which are then elevated to an improper place of importance
which then skews the purpose of the church from its proper priorities. Competing
purposes then bring about dissension, conflict, and factioning. For example,
Christian schools are good and easily fit into the purpose of the church of
making disciples of Jesus Christ. It would be a fine thing if we had one here,
but unless there is diligence to keep the church’s purpose clear, a school can
change it. Some years ago through some connections I have in the IFCA, I ended
up consulting with a church that had allowed its school to become its purpose.
There were even many of the church leaders that thought the church was a
function of the school instead of the school being a function of the church. To
be unified, we must be intent on one purpose. The purpose of Grace Bible Church
is to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything we do needs to
somehow fit within that purpose otherwise we need to reconsider whether we
should do it at all.

But a major question still remains. In practical terms, how is all of this to
actually come about. Paul tells us that in verses 3 & 4.

The Basis of Unity – vs. 3,4

Humility, not Conceit – vs. 3

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind
let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.
humility of mind is absolutely necessary if a church is to be unified. There is
no other way. Selfishness and empty conceit must be rejected in the church for
they always destroy unity.

I think we all know what selfishness is from our own natural bent toward it.
We want what we want when we want it and we demand that what other people want
are only to be considered after our wants are already met – which of course they
never really are because selfishness always has a voracious appetite.
Selfishness is listed as one of the deeds of the flesh in Gal. 5:20.

Empty conceit is a compound word (kenodoxia /
kenodoxia) meaning “empty” or “vain glory.” It is the foolish pride that causes
a person to think they are something when they are nothing. It is the trait of
being wise in your own eyes. It desires personal glory and fame often
accompanied by the quest for positions of power because that is where such glory
is usually found.

Selfishness and empty conceit are just specific manifestations of pride,
which is the root of all other sins. Pride was the cause of Lucifer’s downfall
(Ezek. 28:17), and it continues to be the reason men reject submission to God in
favor of their own reasoning and desires. Selfishness and empty conceit usually
seek to gain for themselves at the cost of others. They build themselves up
while tearing others down. They are the exact opposite of the traits we find in
Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures sternly warn that God is opposed to the proud,
but give grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter. 5:5).

Humility is the opposite of pride for it is not self centered and it does not
think more highly than it ought to but thinks with sound judgement (Rom 12:3).
If we are to have the “same mind” and be “intent on one purpose” then we must
also be “humble in mind,”and as Paul explains here, that specifically means that
we “regard one another as more important than himself.” The word here is
tapeinofrwn / tapeinophrn
which would be reflective of the mind a slave or servant would have pleasing
their master. That idea seems strong even in the church in which people still
commonly seek positions of prestige, influence, or authority in an effort to be
considered more important than the average pew warmer. That is the opposite of
the way Christ wants us to think. Regardless of our gifts, abilities or talents,
when we look at other Christians, we are to conclude that our purpose is to be a
blessing to them. Any position of prestige, influence or authority in the church
is one of increased service to others, not increased service to us.

In addition to having a humble mind we are to regard others as more important
than ourselves. That is contrary to the way people naturally think, but it is
the way we are to think as Christians. Paul will use Jesus as the supreme
example of this in verses 5-8, which we will talk about next week, but it was
also the way Paul lived. Though he was an apostle and took his responsibilities
seriously and would use his authority as needed, his manner of life was to give
rather than receive. He would minister without charge and made no personal
demands on the church so as not to be a burden (2 Cor. 11). Paul knew his own
sin and persecution of the church and so considered himself the “chief of
sinners” (1 Timothy 1:5), and though an apostle, not fit to be called so because
of it (1 Cor. 15:9). He marveled in God’s grace in allowing him to be a minister
of the gospel because he considered himself the “very least of all saints” (Eph.
3:8). The same should be true for each of us. When we consider the sinfulness of
our own heart, which should properly condemn us more than we could judge anyone
else, how could we consider ourselves superior to other believers except by our
own selfishness and empty conceit?

Other Centered, not Self-Centered – vs. 4

This humility of mind that considers others more important is also to take
action as Paul says in verse 4. “Do not merely look out for your own personal
interests, but also for the interest of others.”

Selfishness and empty conceit looks at life only in terms of how things
affect oneself. Obviously there are personal affairs we must take care of even
it is just the care of our own bodies, and everyone naturally will do that (Eph.
5:29). Paul’s call for us here is to go beyond those things because humility
looks at life in terms of how things affect others. We are to say, as did Paul,
that to live is Christ. Our lives are to reflect Him in service to others.

Let me conclude this with a few practical principles and examples of how to
humbly look out for the interest of others.

When there are issues that are important to others but of relative
unimportance to you, defer to their desires. This will include both mundane and
serious things. When colors were being chosen for the carpeting and rugs for
church, my only concerns were that it not be ugly or faddish. Those decisions
were deferred to people that had more interest in matching color schemes. If
things are not that important to you, such as what you eat or how you spend time
off work, then simply defer to the desires of those who do care.

If others have a special concern or desire about something and you can
reasonable accommodate the request, then do so. We do that a lot here at Grace
Bible when it comes to ministry ideas, and so we are open to change and new
things that fit within our purpose as a church. That is how a large portion of
our ministries including AWANA, our teen ministry, Boy Scouts, and some of our
music ministries were started. That is why we are going to try some changes in
our children’s outreaches this summer including a “Family Summer Festival” which
will be meeting after this service to gather ideas and begin planning. The same
should occur in your personal lives as you seek to be a blessing to others and
help them fulfill the desires God has placed on their hearts. Frankly, a reason
I am here is that many years ago Diane shared that she would like to live in the
New England area. I was open to accommodating her desire, and so when the Lord
opened the door to come here, we were both willing to do so.

When you see someone in need and have a means to meet that need, you do so.
That is simply obeying God’s command for us to love one another (1 John 3:17). I
believe the principle here also goes the additional step of thinking about who
could use something that may not be useful to me. The fruit of this mindset is
in how often we post notices in the bulletin or on the board downstairs about
things that are available for free. Over the years folks here have given to one
another all sorts of things ranging from cars and furniture to dishes and office
supplies. You could say that we are not very good at putting on yard sales
because we tend to find someone with a need and give it to them before we can
sell it to a stranger.

One caution here is that regarding others as more important than ourselves
certainly does not mean we are to feed their selfishness or empty conceit. We
cannot claim to be godly if we are helping someone else to sin. We may need to
say no or not cooperate for their own sake. I may want lots of rich food, but
Diane wisely feeds me what is healthy for me. If I want junk food, I have to
work outside her menu planning.

One final principle is that in doing any of the above, you must take into
account all of those that will be affected so as not to cater to the selfish
desires of one person or group or to cause unnecessary offense to others. To use
music as an example, there are certain styles of music I enjoy that Diane does
not care for and vica versa. We generally will play those only when we are
alone. Here at Grace Bible we strive to use a mixture of musical styles in order
to help a wide spectrum of people join us in our worship of God, while at the
same time we avoid the extremes in styles that we know would offend some. We
seek to care about everyone and not just certain groups or individuals.

Humility is the key to unity within the church. It is also the key to
spiritual maturity as we humble ourselves before God and let Him do His work in
us to conform us to the image of His Son. We will learn even more about humility
next week as we examine Jesus’ example.

Study Sheets



Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives.
Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the
sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children –
Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the
sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times “unity” is mentioned Talk
with your parents about how you can have unity in your family and with other


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others.

What is the benefit of unity to the church and the danger of disunity? Define
unity according to each of the following: The ecumenical movement; Cults;
Biblical Christianity. Explain Jesus prayer in John 17:21-23? What does the
“therefore” in Philippians 2:1 refer? What is a “first class conditional
statement”? What encouragement do we have in Jesus? What consolation of love do
we have in Christ and in the church? How do you show that love to others? What
fellowship do we have in the Spirit? What are its benefits? What affection and
compassion is there in the church? How do you demonstrate that to others? How
would unity in Philippian church make Paul’s joy complete? What affect does
unity at Grace Bible Church have on you? How do you respond when you hear of
other churches that are unified? What does it mean to be “of the same mind”? How
is this related to doctrinal belief? How can the same love be maintained in the
church? What does it mean to be “united in Spirit” and how can that be
maintained. What does it mean to be “intent on one purpose” and what is that
purpose? Define “selfishness,” “empty conceit” and “humility.” Why is pride so
bad and humility so important? How should we view and respond to one another?
Why? How do you but humility into practical action? How do you treat other


Joy in Christian Unity


Philippians 2:1-4

Four Reasons for Unity – vs. 1

Encouragement in Christ


Consolation of love


Fellowship of the Spirit


Affection and Compassion


Joy in Unity – vs. 2


Four Requirements of Unity – vs. 2

Being of the Same Mind


Maintaining the Same Love


United in Spirit


Intent on One Purpose


The Basis of Unity – vs. 3,4

Humility, not Conceit – vs. 3


Other Centered, not Self-Centered – vs. 4



Practical Principles & Examples