Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:1-4
The Need for Unity
At the end of chapter 1, Paul exhorts the Philippians to live a life that is worthy of the Gospel. He instructs them to “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). Having established the necessity for unity, Paul begins verse 1 of chapter two with a rhetorical question proceeded by the conjunctive adverb, therefore. He uses “therefore” as a bridge to connect the two chapters on the theme of unity. The conjunctive adverb “therefore” is proceeded by four rhetorical questions, through which he lovingly exhorts the Philippians to act against internal conflicts in the church for the sake of the unity of the spirit. In the first question, he asks, “if there is any encouragement from being united with Christ.” The KJV says, “if there is any consolation in Christ.” Paul uses the Greek “paraklesis,” which can be translated as encouragement or consolation. The word consolation is not foreign to Paul. In Luke 2:25, Jesus is called the consolation of Israel. Paul tells the Corinthians, “For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ” 2 Corinthians 1:5. In 2 Thessalonians 2:15-167, Paul prays that the Jesus Christ himself, and God the Father who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, encourage their hearts and strengthen them in every good deed.
In the second question, Paul asks rhetorically, “if any, comfort from his love.” Paul uses the Greek paramythion for the English equivalent of comfort. However, both comfort and consolation/encouragement have the same etymology. “The idea behind this word for comfort in the New Testament is always more than soothing sympathy. It has the idea of strengthening, of helping, of making strong. The idea behind this word is communicated by the Latin word for comfort (fortis), which also means “brave.” The love of God in our life makes us strong and makes us brave.” (Guzik) The third question asks, “If there is any common sharing in the Spirit.” The KJV says, “if there is any fellowship of the Spirit.” Paul uses the Greek Koinonia to speak of the fellowship of the Spirit. That word means the sharing of things in common. The idea is that of the Holy Spirit filling and guiding and moving in our lives so we can remain united with Christ and in Christ. Lastly, Paul asks if there are any tenderness and compassion. The KJV says, “affection and mercy.” Paul assumes that if the answer to the three previous questions is yes, then affection and mercy should be evident in the church at Philippi. If so, then he makes a personal request of his Philippian brothers and sisters to make him happy by living in unity with one another. “Part of the reason Paul wanted the Philippians to take heed to his word was that they should know that it would make the founding apostle of their church happy.”
In verse 3, he poignantly admonishes them to avoid doing anything out of selfish ambition and vain conceit. There were three reasons for the division that was simmering in the church at Philippi: selfish ambition, desire for personal prestige, and the concentration on self. To address those underlying concerns, Paul challenges the Philippians to consider four steps toward unity. First, their action should not be motivated by selfish ambition. Paul uses the Greek eritheia for selfish ambition. It is the word that was used to reflect a desire to put one’s self forward. It reflects a partisan and factious spirit that would do anything to get ahead. “Paul found it important to say selfish ambition. Not all ambition is selfish ambition, and there is a good ambition to glorify God and serve Him with everything we have.” Second, they should not act out of conceit. Paul uses the Greek kenodoxia that is translated as conceit. That word is used to describe an excessively favorable opinion of one’s own ability and importance. Such an attitude is toxic to the fellowship of believers in the Spirit. Indeed, there cannot be unity in the body of Christ if anyone thinks too highly of himself or herself. After all, we are all lowly servants who serve the risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
Third, he implores them, “in humility value others above yourselves.” Humility was considered a weakness and not a virtue in the Greco-Roman world. However, it is the humility of Jesus, which gives believers the audacity of faith. Christ emptied himself and became a lowly servant so we can have access to the tree of eternal life. Paul knew there could not be unity without humility. That humility should predispose them to value others above themselves. The idea is not to think that someone is better than you. Instead, it is to have a genuine concern for the needs of others, even to the peril of self. The best example is that of Dr. King, who sacrificed his life so African Americans can have Civil Rights. Lastly, he exhorts them not to look to their own interests but to the interests of others. “Here, the thought is completed. As we put away our selfish ambitions, our conceit, and our tendencies to be high-minded and self-absorbed, we will naturally have a greater concern for the interests and needs of others.”
One of the weapons the enemy continues to use to derail the church’s mission is division. That division is often the result of selfish ambition or vain conceit. However, Paul teaches us four steps to ensure that we remain united as members of the body of Christ. The enemy knows he cannot prevail against the Church of Jesus Christ. That does not stop him from seducing Christians to self-destruct.
In our Western culture, the idea of valuing others above oneself is anathema. Our socio-cultural ethos is based on the Darwinian theory of “survival of the fittest.” We celebrate success even when it to the detriment of others. As we seek to keep up with the “Joneses,” most people prioritize their self- interest over all else. Many people in our culture fake humility so they can be celebrated. It is precisely that celebrity-driven mentality that has caused such a chasm between the haves and the haven nots.
The very thought that we would look to the interests of others instead of our own is also anathema. Perhaps this is because our desire for self-gratification can overpower even the best among us. Besides, those who have tried to genuinely look to the interests of others instead of their own are often abused, exploited, and disrespected. Indeed, there is an expectation of exploitation when one set out to look to the interest of others instead of their own.
Paul’s radical proposition to the Philippians was intended to safeguard unity with a spirit of humility in their midst. There is always a cost to pay to walk humbly before God and to live in unity with others. Jesus paid the price so we can live in unity with one another as members of his body. We should indeed think lesser of ourselves so people can see the imprint of Christ on our souls. When every believer decides to value the interests of others as valuable as theirs, then we will usher an era of unity that will entice our Lord Jesus to return to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
Blessed Lord, please sensitize our hearts to the needs of others so we can draw closer to another in a spirit of humility to the glory of our risen Savior.