The 'How' of Church Unity
The “How” of Church Unity
If you have your Bibles this morning, please go ahead and open with me to Phi 2:3.
This morning is the last sermon on our exploration of church unity in Phil 2. Two weeks ago, we covered the why of church unity, last week the what of church unity, and this week the how of church unity.
(And let me make a brief parenthetical comment this morning about this sermon. All of what I will say here is applicable to many different avenues. While I will be solely applying this to church life, this is not the only area where this can be applied. It can be applied to area in your life where you have conflict and disunity: your marriage, your workplace, your family, whatever. The reason disunity is always the same. It’s sin. Sin is always what disrupts relationships. First in our relationship with God, and secondly in our relationship with each other. Just as the problem is always the same, so is the solution. So, I encourage all of you to take what I say today and apply it to every area of your life.)
Let’s go ahead and read the passage. Beginning in 2:3 and ending with 2:5.
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.
There are three verses here. Each point of my sermon will cover one verse. I will not cover these verses in numerical order. That is, I will not start with v. 3, then go to v. 4, and then end with v. 5. I won’t do it that way. Instead, I will start with v. 5, then go to v. 3, and then end with v. 4. I promise you there’s a method to my madness.
For our first point this morning, write, “Imitate Christ.” What do we have to do to achieve unity at CBC? We must all, corporately and individually, imitate Christ.
I get this point from v. 5. Read it with me,
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus
Now if you remember from last week, we covered this verse when we dealt with the verb φρονέω. That verb shows up in this passage. The English statement here of, “Have this mind,” is the Greek verb φρονέω. This verb is an expansive verb and I think is best understood with the English concept of mindset. A mindset is a collection of beliefs, feelings, and thoughts that guide someone in their decision making.
Paul is making a command here about the Philippians mindset. That’s what Paul is saying with this statement, “Have this mind among yourselves.” “All of you should have the same outlook.” Now what type of mindset does he specify?
Notice what Paul says at the end of this verse. He commands for the Philippians to have a shared mindset, and then he says, “which is yours in Christ Jesus.” What Paul is doing with this reference to Christ’s own mindset is that he is grounding the Philippians’ mindset in the mindset Christ had during his earthly ministry. So, one way we can understand v. 5 is to think of it this way: “Have the same mindset that Christ had.”
Paul calls the Philippians to do is to imitate Christ in his thinking, in his mindset. Their mindset ought to be in accord with Jesus’ own mindset in his earthly ministry. They are to imitate Christ in the way he thought, in his attitudes, emotions, and feelings.
To “imitate” is to take or follow as a model, to copy, to mimic, to resemble, to replicate a person. It occurs when an individual observes and replicates another person’s life.
We see imitation in many areas of life. We see this with children and parents. When I was a little boy, I used to imitate my father in several different ways. I used to have a fake Fred Flintstone razor that I would use to mimic my father when he shaved. I also had a tow lawn mower that I would use to mimic my father when he mowed the grass. As Christians, that’s what we want from our children. We want them to mimic us. We want them to imitate our pattern of life. Imitation is a very important concept.
Not only is it popular in everyday life, this notion of imitation is also central to how the NT describes the Christian life. The Bible routinely teaches us that Jesus is our savior. That is basic to the NT. Nevertheless, the NT also tells us that Jesus is our example. If you want to know how you should live, look to Jesus. He is the model. He is the example. He is the ideal. He is who you should duplicate.
This notion of imitation originates with Jesus himself. During his earthly life, Jesus routinely commanded his disciples to imitate him. Listen to what Jesus says throughout the gospel of Matthew:
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
When Jesus says to his disciples, “Follow me,” he is not speaking literally here, like he wants them to physically follow behind him as he walks. No. He’s talking about duplicating his life. “Follow me” means to act like Christ, think like him, live like him, and die like him. “Follow me” is Jesus’ way of commanding imitation. Jesus is commanding the disciples to imitate him.
Jesus’ command in the gospels and Paul’s command in Phil 2:5 are the same. Jesus teaches us that imitating him is central to Christianity. And Paul teaches us that imitating Christ is central to church unity. They both teach imitation but apply it in different yet compatible ways.
The reason why disunity in the church exists is because those who make up the church fail to imitate Jesus. We fail to faithfully and completely imitate Christ. Therefore, we reap the consequences of our sin with disunity.
So what’s the answer to having church unity? The answer is to be more like Christ. Specifically, we are to have the same mindset that he had. There’s that popular old evangelical motto, “WWJD?” What would Jesus do? That’s a very good motto. Very helpful. In light of this passage, we need to ask the question, “WWJT?” What would Jesus think? We need to ask ourselves that question. We need to imitate Christ in his mindset.
Now this notion of imitation is quite general. With “how to” issues, like the one we are dealing with this morning, you must be specific. Imitating Christ is the broad, general theological principle of church unity. Paul makes the “how to” more specific in this passage. He zeros in on what he means in greater detail. He gives two specific instructions for church unity. The first instruction is found in v. 3 and v. 4. First, we’ll deal with v. 3, then v. 4.
Verse three specifies this “how to” instruction. “Be humble.” That is our second point this morning. “Be humble.”
Read v. 3 with me. Paul writes,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
What you will notice first about this passage is that Paul gives two prohibition: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit.” In the church, we are not supposed to act with these two motives, attitudes of selfish ambition and conceit.
The Greek term behind this English term “selfish ambition” describes the phenomenon of seeking out others for selfish gain. Using people as means to ends. “What can you do for me?” type mentality. Only associating with people because you can get something our of the relationship—namely, your own gain or benefit. You scratch my back because I’ll scratch yours.
In our political context here in Pierre, this is a very prevalent motive. I was at a political event recently, and this motive seemed to be evident. Everyone wants to associate with those who are important, rub shoulders with them, get their ear and hopefully their influence. These people who want the attention of important people aren’t really interested in the important people. They’re instead interested in what these politicians can do for them due to the politician’s power and status. They’re only interested in associating with That’s what Paul is prohibiting in the church. Christians shouldn’t operate this way. Christians should associate with those who offer them nothing in return. We should associate with the lowly, the Bible says. Our MO is not selfish gain. Instead, it’s service, humility.
The next concept Paul prohibits is “conceit.” Look with me there in the passage: “Do nothing from . . . conceit.” The Greek term is a compound word. Literally, the term means “empty glory.” It means “a vain or exaggerated self-evaluation.” The English word “conceit” is a good translation of this idea. “Conceit” means,
An excessively favorable opinion of one's own ability and importance.
This motive manifests itself in our thinking. I think there are two telltale signs of this motive in the type of thoughts that we have. First, those who are conceited constantly think about how others perceive us. Those who are conceit, who have a too high view of themselves, want others to also share in this opinion. So, what they do, is they constantly think about how other people think of them. Conceited people fall victim to the fear of man. They constantly think of other people’s thoughts. Second, conceited people are easily offended. Because they view themselves so highly, any attack against their own ego is a crushing blow. The slightest remark that rubs against their ego is taken as a grave sin. Personal offense is a dreadful sin in a conceited person’s eyes.
Paul is saying to us that these attitudes and motives should not characterize the Christian community; not in Philippi and not here at CBC. Instead of acting in this manner, with selfish ambition and conceit, we should act this way. Look with me again at v. 3. Paul states,
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Christians are to humbly consider others as more significant than themselves. Let’s break this down.
The verb in v. 4 is “count.” That’s the main idea. But in the ESV there is this prepositional phrase, “in humility.” The way we obey the command in v. 4, “counting others more significant than ourselves,” is with a humble heart.
Humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. In the secular Greco-Roman literature, humility was looked down upon. Humility was an attribute that designated the slave class. It was an attitude of slaves, peasants, and lower-class people. In the Christian faith, humility is a virtue. Rather than being called to be self-infatuated and self-engrossed, the NT calls the followers of Christ to imitate their savior. Jesus, although he was God, took the form of a servant and died for those who can’t save themselves. The NT teaches that it is not though virtues of power and prestige that should be pursued, but those of lowliness. Due to God being our creator and to our sin, the Bible teaches us to think of ourselves in a lowly manner. Humility is the opposite of “conceit.” the concept we explored earlier. Conceit is to be puffed up; humility is to be brought low. This is our heart attitude, dear Christians.
ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν
In this spirit of humility, we are to “count others more significant than ourselves.” This “counting others more significant” is the outward expression of humility. It is what humility looks like in action.
We want to make sure here that we avoid a false notion of humility. Paul does not mean, when he says, “count others more significant than yourselves,” that we think that others actually better than us. That we think of other people as gods or something. That we think, “I am nothing, but you are something, you are important.” That’s false humility. We are all the same. No one is any better than another person. Everyone is made in the image of God, everyone is a sinner, and everyone needs the grace of God.
What “counting others more significant than yourself” means is that we place their care—their needs and concerns—above our own. We don’t worship them. They are they same as us. However, I look to their needs as more important than my own. I seek their wellbeing above my own. What did Jesus do? He came not to be served but to serve. He came to place our needs—namely, our eternal salvation—above his earthly life. He did not think we were better than him. That would be a foolish thought. Rather, even though he was supremely of more value than us, he counted our lives as more valuable than his own.
Churches are torn apart because of selfish ambition and conceit. That’s the “how to” of church unity. One of the surest ways to destroy a church is for its people to be selfish and conceited. Our command, though, is different. We are to be like Jesus. We are to humbly consider the needs of others as more important than our own. We are to have the mentality of, “I don’t ultimately matter; you matter.” That was how Jesus thought. That mindset will bring us unity.
Seek Others’ Interests
Closely related to humility and honoring the needs and desires of others as more important is what Paul says in v. 4. Now we transition to my third point. It’s this: “Seek others’ interests.” Read v. 4 with me.
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
To understand what Paul is saying in this verse, we must understand the Greek verb in this verse. The ESV translates the verb with “look.” We can add more meaning here, though. This is how one prominent NT dictionary defines this verb.
To pay careful attention to, look (out) for, notice
As this definition makes evident, the idea here is one of trying to look, making an effort to look, to look at attentively, to fix one’s attention on something.
A good way to illustrate this is to think of it in terms of what you might experience when you’re at the airport waiting for a loved one to return. Think about a military wife whose husband has been deployed oversees for months. As people file through the airport, the wife’s gaze is dead set on all the faces that she sees. She’s dead set on seeing her husband. She’s not passive, just kinda casually gazing. She fixed, dead set on find her husband. That’s what this verb means. It’s not a ho-hum, complacent gaze. It’s an attentive fixation.
This idea is complimented by the tense of the verb. Notice, dear brothers and sisters, the tense of the verb. Is it past, present, or future? It’s present. This means that there is an active, ongingness about this command. You don’t just do it one time. You don’t delay, either. You don’t save it for the future. You do it right now. All the time. Continually. This is indicated by the tense of the verb.
Well, who is this command applicable towards? Who is Paul commanding here? That question is answered by the “each of you” reference at the beginning of the v. 4. You see that. “Let each of you do this; let each of you be actively fixing your eyes upon others.” What Paul makes explicit is that this is a command for every particular Christian within Philippi. There is no person in Philippi nor in this congregation who this commandment does not apply to. Paul gets personal here. As the ESV renders it, “each of you” is to look seek others. It doesn’t matter if your rich, poor, black, white, old, or young. All of those in the congregation are addressed here. That includes you, young theologians. Everyone is included in this commandment.
Well what is it that each of us, all of us, everyone of us is supposed to seek? In the beginning part of v. 4 Paul mentions self-seeking. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests.” That’s assumed here. Paul assumes that people will seek out their interests and needs. That’s natural. That’s not bad. That’s a normal part of life. Self-preservation is an essential part of life. We all must take care of ourselves. Paul gets that and assumes that in this passage.
Paul’s emphasis, though, is not self-preservation. That’s assumed. The problem in Philippi is not that they weren’t taking care of themselves. They were. They were too interested in self-preservation. They were too concerned with their own needs and desires. So, Paul reorients their perspective away from self.
Paul wants the Philippians to focus upon “the interests of others.” The English word “interests” is not in Greek. The Greek word here is “things.” It’s very broad. It incorporates interests, desires, wants, needs, really anything. Any interest that a Christian has within the local church is fair game for another Christian to seek out. It can be something big; it can be something small. It can be a note of encouragement for someone who needs to be encouraged. It can be a meal for a mother of a newborn. It can be a birthday gift for someone who loves gifts. It can be helping someone financially who has fallen on hard times. It can be giving someone a vehicle in order to help them get on their feet financially. The Greek noun here is vague. It’s supposed to be vague. Our seeking out of others knows no limitation. Anything and everything that other brothers and sisters want or need is in view.
And the seeking out should be indiscriminate of persons. Although not expressly stated in the English, the Greek indicates that the seeking out of persons is to anyone and everyone. This means that we seek, not only to meet the needs of our friends and close associates, but anyone and everyone within the community of faith. Just as the commandment is for anyone and everyone, the recipient of our efforts to help are also anyone and everyone. We seek others out indiscriminately.
As we conclude, let me briefly summarize. The “how to” of church unity is very simple. We are to not be selfishly ambition or conceited. We are to humbly consider others interests more important than our own. And we all are to seek them out. Not passively, but vigorously. We all have a part to play. All this flows from Christ himself. This is how Christ lived.
For some of you, you are already doing this. You already humbly serving and seeking out others. Christ is evident in your life through your actions. I offer encouragement to you this morning. Keep going, keep pressing, keep serving. Keep seeking humility. Keep seeking Jesus Christ.
For others, however, these qualities of humility, selflessness, and seeking others interest are not evident in your life. You don’t imitate Jesus. My exhortation to you is that you need to repent. If you call yourself a Christian, you must imitate Jesus. You have no other choice. You must follow him. You must imitate him. You must be selfless and humble. Jesus is not content with followers who do not imitate him. He demands our everything.