Joy in Unity

By Don Ruhl


The Philippian church was special to Paul, so that in Philippians 4:1 he used some terms of endearment when talking to them, saying: “Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.”

Interestingly, you will see in the very next verse that two of the sisters in the congregation were having conflict and were thus not united, so Paul urged them to be united, and for the rest of the congregation to help them.

It is not surprising that there is a strong section on unity in 2:1–16. It is this context that gives us the example of Christ in humility, and it is this very quality that we all need to promote unity.

Philippians 2:1–4 Be of one accord

2:1 – The beauty of unity: “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy.” It is all of these things that we experience when we are together in unity. Unity in Christ is consoling, comforting in love, fellowshipping in the Spirit, affectionate, merciful and from verse 2 joyful.

Psalm 133 gives us a picture of how wonderful unity is, so that it is like brother Hugo McCord described it once, “With unity you can have your cake and eat it too”:

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, Running down on the beard, The beard of Aaron, Running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, Descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the LORD commanded the blessing—Life forevermore.

You have seen people in unity and surely you have exclaimed like David that it was good and pleasant. When he says “for brethren to dwell together in unity”  he is showing us a picture of siblings. Do siblings ever fight? Every parent knows how good and how pleasant it is when children are dwelling together in unity! My stepfather used to say that my brother and I would argue about the time of day, and my stepfather was right (one of us would say it was ten till five and the other would argue that it was four-fifty).

Likewise when brethren in Christ are in unity it is good and pleasant. If you have ever been involved in a congregation where they were not united, then when you saw a congregation united, you knew what Paul meant in Philippians 2 and what David meant in Psalm 133.

David said that unity is like the anointing oil that was poured upon Aaron, an oil that was so special that it was not to be used for anything but the anointing of the high priest.

David said that brethren in unity is also like the dew that comes from Mount Hermon upon dry and parched Jerusalem, very refreshing. “[Unity] does everything when it is perfect.—It satisfies desires, simplifies needs, foresees the wishes, and becomes a constant fortune” (Senancour, The New Dictionary of Thoughts, p. 696).

In 1765 John Fawcett was invited to be the minister for a very small church at Wainsgate, England. He labored there diligently for seven years, but his salary was so meager that he and his wife could scarcely obtain the necessities of life. Though the people were poor, they compensated for this lack by their faithfulness and warm fellowship. Then Fawcett received a call from a much larger church in London, and after lengthy consideration decided to accept the invitation. As his few possessions were being placed in a wagon for moving, many of the members came to say goodby. Once again they pleaded with him to reconsider. Touched by this great outpouring of love, he and his wife began to weep. Finally his wife exclaimed, “O John, I just can’t bear this. They need us so badly here.” Likewise, being touched, the preacher said: “Tell them to unload the wagon! We cannot break these wonderful ties of fellowship.” This experience motivated Fawcett to write a hymn. “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love! The fellowship of kindred mind is like to that above” (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, number 1672).

2:2 – Let us be one: “fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”

“‘No man is an island’ said poet John Donne. I believe every man is an island, but there are no limits to the bridges or harbors one can build” (Roy C. Cook, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, number 1680). So while we may all be islands, yet to survive we build bridges. In Christ we build so many bridges that it appears that we are one man.

There are two Old Testament examples that show how Israel was so united, at least in the matters to which these examples make reference, that it was as though they were really one man. In Judges 19 we are told about a horrible incident in the tribe of Benjamin that rivals what happened when the angels went to the town of Sodom in Genesis 19.

The other tribes decided that something must be done to punish the Benjamite men for the gang-rape of an Israelite woman. So here is what we read in Judges 20:1, 2, 7–11:

Then all the children of Israel came out, from Dan to Beersheba, as well as from the land of Gilead, and the congregation gathered together as one man before the LORD at Mizpah. And the leaders of all the people, all the tribes of Israel, presented themselves in the assembly of the people of God, four hundred thousand foot soldiers who drew the sword. … [after Israel is told what had happened, here is what took place next, D.R.] “Look! All of you are children of Israel; give your advice and counsel here and now!” Then all the people arose as one man, saying, “None of us will go to his tent, nor will any of us turn back to his house; “but now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah: We will go up against it by lot. “We will take ten men out of every hundred throughout all the tribes of Israel, a hundred out of every thousand, and a thousand out of every ten thousand, to make provisions for the people, that when they come to Gibeah in Benjamin, they may repay all the vileness that they have done in Israel.” So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man.

They had a common purpose and all agreed to that purpose. They were like-minded in knowing what had to be done, having the same love of righteousness, so they were of one accord as though they had been tied together by a cord, and so they were of one mind .

Nehemiah 8:1 is another example, but the situation more closely resembles one of the things that we do as the church:

Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded Israel.

Think about the following:

The Orchestra is in full swing. The conductor is whipping himself into a frenzy of zeal and enthusiasm. But who is that approaching him? It is a member of his orchestra, the one who plays the triangle. He is speaking to the conductor. “Do you mind if I go home now—I’ve come to the end of my part of the score” (Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, number 1680).

What if every member of the orchestra did this? The unity and harmony of the moment would be disrupted. My wife and I witnessed something similar. The Army Band was playing in our town during the Persian Gulf War, and as they played patriotic songs it was a very moving experience. During one of the songs one of the percussionists must not have done something right, though my wife and I did not notice it. Another percussionist in the band did. He came over to help the one who had made a mistake and the one helping started shaking his head from side to side in disgust and kept doing it, even as the rest of the band played. Even though everyone else was playing along perfectly and not doing anything to disturb the harmony, this one disgusted percussionist was and the unity for the moment was destroyed.

2:3, 4 – Unity achieved: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”

It is selfish ambition and conceit that destroy unity and separate two people or two parties from each other. Therefore when we do something we should have pure motives, not seeking something for ourselves merely, but putting ourselves last. I must in my own mind lower myself and esteem my brother and my sister better than myself. I defer to my brethren, trying to please them for good. My interests do not come first, but those of my brethren. Our lives in the world are geared toward pleasing self, but in Christ we please the other first. We are servants of God, of Jesus Christ and of others.

Philippians 2:5–11 The example of Christ for being of one accord

2:5 Illustrates what Paul taught in verses 3 and 4: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Christ was just like what we see in verses 3 and 4. How do I practice what is taught in verses 3 and 4? I keep the example of Christ before me constantly. Did He put Himself first? No, but He devoted His life to serving others. The gospels never record Him saying that He did not like a certain person because of an odd personality trait.

2:6–8 The extent of the humility of Christ: “who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

He did not empty Himself of His deity, but His equality in authority with the Father. While living on the earth Jesus had all the power of deity. However, He did submit Himself to the Father’s authority.

The stages of His humility were demonstrated when He went from equality with the Father to servanthood; and from being a servant to being a man (to be a servant only could have meant that He merely became an angel, however, Jesus went further and humbled Himself below angels, becoming a man); from being a man to dying (to say that He became a man means that He subjected Himself to the same things that we experience, such as death); from dying to crucifixion. He did not die of natural causes, but He submitted Himself to one of the most humiliating executions ever invented by man. He hung naked, or near naked, and experienced torture for six hours until He died. It is this same kind of humility that we must have to maintain unity in the church. It is the qualities of verses 3 and 4 that were in the mind of Christ that led Him to do this, which in turn has saved us and brought unity between us and God.

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