"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. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…" Philippians 2:1-5
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Let's consider the unity of the Church (all true believers) in three parts: the basis for unity, the command for unity, and the expression of unity.
If you're familiar with old school computer programming language, then you probably know about if/then statements (I just used one, actually!). They work like this: If this data exists, then perform this action. The "ifs" are conditions that precipitate or necessitate actions. You might say that they are conditions that lead to a certain behavior. The “ifs” here in Philippians work like that, and they show us the BASIS for our unity as Christians. There are at least four conditions that form this basis:
1. ENCOURAGEMENT. Have you experienced any encouragement from being united with Christ? Has knowing Jesus ever filled you with joy or courage? Has the knowledge that Jesus is near ever been your lifeboat on a terrible day? Has the sudden realization that your sins are forgiven ever made you feel just absolutely incredible?
2. COMFORT. Have you felt the tender love and compassion of Christ? Has that love ever comforted you just when you needed it? Has it ever assured you when you were full of doubt or healed your heart when you were in a thousand pieces?
3. SHARING. Have you felt a connection with other believers that can only be explained by the Spirit of God? Have you felt that unique unity, camaraderie and common ground with your brothers and sisters in Christ? We feel that because we share in the same Spirit.
4. TENDERNESS & COMPASSION Do you know that as a believer you are the object of God’s compassion? Have you known the tenderness of God’s love, how even in his immensity and almighty power he shows himself to be particularly able to love us in just the right way at just the right time?
Paul asks, "Have you experienced any of these things to any degree? For the believer, the obvious answer is a resounding "yes." Therefore, we have Paul's command for unity.
We find it in these words: “make my joy complete.” If you think about it, a parent’s joy is tied to the growth and maturity and well-being of their kids. The same holds true for the minister regarding his brothers and sisters in the congregation. This is what’s going on here with Paul. If these believers in Philippi catch this vision for togetherness, it’s going to make Paul feel like a very satisfied parent! So, he longs for their unity to be a reality, even commands it.
So how is it worked out? How will he know, how will they know, that they’re living in unity? How will we know if we’re really living in unity? It will express itself in certain ways that are obvious:
We will value others more than ourselves and we will look out for the interests of others. This can be restated by saying that we will reject rivalry and cultivate humility.
Rivalry divides congregations and displeases God. Whenever and wherever we can, we need to recognize it and put it to death. Often it starts in our own hearts, because that’s where the battle so often begins – and hopefully ends - as we put to death these sinful inclinations by the strength of the Spirit. So we’ve got to get our heads right, and we’ve got to get our heads together. One expression of unity is to reject rivalry.
Also, there will never be unity in a congregation unless we are walking in humility. Humility will be at the heart of a gospel-centered church, and it is at the heart of these verses.
C.S. Lewis described what humility looks like in a truly humble man: He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.
A good way to sum all of that up would be to say, we shouldn’t think less of ourselves, but we could all stand to think of ourselves less.
So how do we make this happen? How do we cultivate humility in our lives? There are several ways:
*We grow in humility by reflecting on the humility of Christ. There is no room for pride at the cross.
*We grow in humility by reflecting on the glory of Christ. Christ’s lordship should inspire humble adoration.
*We grow in humility by reflecting on God’s Word. God is looking for people who humbly tremble at his word, who regularly seek and submit to it.
*We grow in humility through prayer. Prayer in itself is an act of humility and prayerlessness shows a lack of humility.
*We grow in humility through serving others. The simple truth is that humble actions help you grow in humility. It’s like praying for someone you don’t like. After a while, your heart will warm towards them.
The early church was described as “turning the world upside down” in Acts. How did they do that? By living as soldiers and athletes, by being partners in the gospel, by living lives worthy of the Gospel, and by living lives of humble service, and by living according to the example set by Jesus their King. Jesus both inspired and empowered them! The pattern and process has not changed in 20 centuries. Let’s go and do likewise.