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Unity in the Midst of Trials

Christ died on the cross so that believers could be unified together in joyfully glorifying God forever.

Aug 21, 2020

Many have said that the theme of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is joy. There is a lot of merit to this claim. Paul mentions joy or rejoicing 12 times in this short letter. Warren Weirsbe, now with the Lord, wrote the popular “Be…” series and the title of his Philippians study was of course, “Be Joyful!” But as I read Philippians today I wonder if Paul (and Warren Weirsbe now?) might say, “Joy, yes, important, but don’t miss unity!”

We see unity being the source of joy for Paul when he writes,

“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. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:1-11

The basis for our unity according to Paul is a common life experience—the Gospel and all its implications! Click To Tweet

The basis for our unity according to Paul is a common life experience—the Gospel and all its implications! We find a common encouragement by first being united with Christ. No longer the objects of His wrath, together we share and are united by the comfort of His love! We together are the objects of His love. This unity that brings joy is a Spirit-empowered fellowship with the Lord and one another and is characterized by affection or tenderness, and sympathy or compassion. These are not mere sentiments. No, these are to be the very disposition of our character toward one another in our words, actions and deeds.

With the Gospel as our basis for unity established, Paul turns his attention and ours to an expansion of how such unity is exhibited—likemindedness, or as the ESV translates it—“of the same mind.” Likemindedness is very important to Paul, he mentions it 10 times in Philippians. It literally means “to love the same things.” What are the things we should love? In the immediate literary context it starts with a negative: it is not a love of what’s important to me, my interests, my comforts, my exaltation. Rather it’s a likemindedness rooted in loving God with our entire being and loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). We know this is true because Paul demonstrates in this passage that Christ is our example!

Jesus’ example for us begins with humility. No unity will be developed without an atmosphere of humility. Writing about humility John Calvin said that it is “the sovereign virtue—the mother and root of all virtue.” Jonathan Edwards said humility is “the most essential thing in true religion.” And of course the Scriptures are full of admonitions regarding this important characteristic that is a sign of being in Christ. Consider Isaiah the prophet, writing at a time of renaissance and wealth and pride in Israel,

Thus says the LORD:
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool;
what is the house that you would build for me,
and what is the place of my rest?
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.Isaiah 66:1-2

Humility is the Spirit-given characteristic of the elect. Click To Tweet

Fast forward to the early church in Jerusalem and James warns as he shepherds,

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6b

Humility is the Spirit-given characteristic of the elect. Jesus tells us this early on in His ministry when He preached from a mountain to those who were following Him to hear His message, a message of perfection that only He could keep for them. If they were to embrace the Gospel it would mean they would have to bring nothing and die to themselves. Such people demonstrate that their citizenship is not found in the ancient nation of Israel, or the prosperous Roman city of Philipi (Philippians 3:20). No our citizenship is found in the Kingdom of Heaven,

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

Humility is the only atmosphere in which unity will thrive. The Lord tells us through His servant Paul that humility is seen in “counting” others more highly than ourselves. In other words, when we look at each other we should give a greater weightedness to the other person’s needs than to our own. This is what Christ did when he did not “count” equality something to be grasped. That is truly jaw dropping when you think about it. We are called to think this same way together.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”

Jesus came to the earth in flesh, was born in a humble fashion, a servant (“my servant” Isaiah 42!), and died no typical death—a death reserved for the lowliest criminal. Christ’s humility is upheld as our example but is much more than that. His humility is seen in His obedience. This obedience that led to the cross purchased the redemption of the prideful elect granting them the grace and faith to now follow in humility.

I must admit that when I strive to be sacrificial in my service my motive is still so often tainted with pride. Not so with Christ. He is perfectly holy and His motives, untainted by sin, were of one mind and united with the Trinity. His motive was for one purpose—to glorify God. Yes, for sure we are the beneficiaries of this goal—but God saved people for Himself. God loves us—there is no doubt because of Christ. But His ultimate act of love in Christ toward us ultimately blesses us in that we now too can glorify God because of Christ. This is why the Westminster divines began their catechism with, “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It’s what God created us for and what the fall kept us from.

Like mindedness for us has this same goal: God’s glory. Click To Tweet

Like mindedness for us has this same goal: God’s glory. Christ laid down His life so that His image bearers, ruined by the fall, could once again look not to their own interests, but together strive to do joyfully that for which we were created—glorify God and enjoy Him forever—together! And this also means that we love one another. John tells us that this is the assurance that we are in Christ,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11


This blog was originally posted at Slice of Grace, view the original post here.