Psalm 133 testifies, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” When believers live together in unity it is an experience that brings blessing to them and glory to God. According to the Scriptures, there is unity that exists among genuine Christians that is founded upon a mutual love for Christ which results in love for one another. Therefore, Scripture also contains warnings against disunity, most pointed are those which warn against pride and lovelessness. When warning us about conflict between believers, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that the most common causes are the presence of pride and the absence of love. For example, where there is strife, there has first been pride and hatred.
Proverbs 13:10 – “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.”
Proverbs 10:12 – “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
James 4:1-2 – “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.”
If pride, anger, and hatred produce conflict then what is needed is humility and love. Consequently, Ephesians 4:1-3 compels us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling of God in Christ, which includes “all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Without humility and love, it is impossible to know the bond of peace. Let me illustrate.
When I want to repair something that is broken, I often go to the hardware store to buy 2-part epoxy. The two resins do nothing when they remain separate, but when you snip the tip of the dispenser and mix the chemical agents you have a glue that quickly cures and forms a permanent bond. Like that 2-part epoxy, which produces an unbreakable bond, so humility and love combine to form a unity that cannot be easily destroyed. Divisions among believers thrive in an environment where spiritual pride is rampant and love is absent. Therefore, God repeatedly calls us to a life of humility and love, which maintains biblical unity. One such call is found in Philippians 2:1-2:
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
The Experience in Christ
In verse one, Paul repeatedly uses the little word “if.” However, he does not use it in order to present a condition they must fulfill but to encourage his reader to remember what is already true of their experience. It is an intensive “if” which means “since.” In other words, verse one describes mutual experiences of those who know Christ in a saving way.
Encouragement. The word means “to come alongside to help or counsel.” Jesus used the same word in the Gospel of John when speaking of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26). There is help and encouragement that comes from knowing Christ. He will never leave us as orphans (John 14:18-19).
Comfort from love. “Comfort” is a gentle word. It pictures Christ coming close and whispering words of cheer or tender counsel, such as “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27-28). There is comfort that comes from knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ (Meditate on Romans 5:8; 1 John 3:16; 4:16).
Participation in the Spirit. “Participation” means fellowship. All true believers share in the Holy Spirit. There are no “haves” and “have nots” among believers, 1 Corinthians 12:13 makes this crystal clear. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The baptism of the Spirit is not a second experience of grace that some Christians receive and others don’t. Every believer—at the moment of conversion—is baptized—place into, immersed—into the body of Christ, the family of God. In the baptism of the Spirit, we receive the abundance of blessings that are ours by virtue of being united with Christ by faith. Every believer is indwelt by the Spirit of God and, as a result, together, we make up the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16). Our fellowship comes through the Holy Spirit. Each and every believer possesses the same Spirit. This is all to God’s glory (Ephesians 1:13-14).
Affection and sympathy. These two words are very much related. They refer to “tender affection” and “compassion.” What Paul is speaking of here is the tender affection of God toward us, which results in acts of compassion toward us.
In verse one, the apostle’s logic is this: If you have experienced the riches that come with the experience of knowing Christ as Lord and Savior then there is a certain kind of conduct that is now expected from you.
The Expectation for Unity
Before we go any further in thinking about what this kind of unity looks like, we need to understand that unity does not equal uniformity. Unity flows from within, but uniformity is imposed upon people from the outside.
Unity says, “Since you know and love the same Savior, and are seeking to submit your life to the authority of His Word, we can and should live in unity—and I will lovingly pursue it.” Uniformity says, “If you do things exactly the way I do them then we can be close, but if not then we cannot have fellowship. Unless you are like me, we cannot have a relationship. Unless you listen to the same music, or dress in the same clothes, or school your children in exactly the same way I do then we cannot live in unity with one another.”
The apostle is not calling us to uniformity (like the Pharisees demanded), but to biblical unity. As he did earlier, he calls us to stand “firm with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). The gospel is the center around which biblical unity revolves. Paul is saying, “Since you have experienced this kind of love and compassion and encouragement and comfort in Christ, and the Holy Spirit has knit you together into one family…then make my joy complete.”
Satan uses conflict to attack and destroy the joy of the believer. As a pastor this was significant in Paul’s mind. When believers are living in unity with one another, under the leadership of their shepherds, it produces joy. Hebrews 13:17 teaches this, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
This blog was originally posted at Counseling One Another, read the original post here.