5 Heart-Moving Incentives for Unity
Text: Philippians 2:1
I think we would all agree that if we want to be better, it’s best to learn from those who are better. That applies both individually, and corporately. This letter encourages us to look to Paul as an example and to be challenged by his perspective of life and manner of living. But it also calls us to look to the Philippian church and to learn from them, because out of all the churches Paul established, this church stands out as an example. It is one we can learn from as a church.
But, among the many things we learn from this church is that even when you are an example, you still need to be cautioned. Some of you take preventative measures with your health with diet and exercise. You don’t have problems, but you’re trying to prevent them. Preaching can be like that. In other cases it’s more like weeding. Little weeds appear and you deal with them early to prevent them from taking over your manicured garden. Preaching can be like that, too.
Now as we begin ch 2, Paul is address the matter of internal strife. The question is, why would this be a problem in a church that’s so exemplary? He is able to tell them to keep living to the same standard they have been living (3:16), but now has to warn them of internal strife. Why?
One of the things that is conspicuous by its absence in this letter is the lack of doctrinal teaching. I’m not saying there isn’t doctrine, but that there’s no effort by Paul to correct erroneous views of doctrine, like Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, etc. It seems that theologically they were hunky dory, i.e. everything was in order. And this doesn’t just happen. This is a conscious effort by people who possess a zealous love for the truth. You don’t just fall into doctrinal purity, it is something you strive after.
And therein may have been their problem. Reflected in their zeal for truth is also their zealous nature in general. People with a passionate zeal for truth carry with them their greatest weakness, the likelihood for discord. The liberal who doesn’t care about truth with their ‘live and let live’ philosophy, will never upset those of the same mind. They live in peace. But the one with zeal for truth carries with them their own poison.
I have a desire that you become passionate for truth, but that also breeds the increased possibility for discord. This is a problem I live with, and it’s a problem I’m willing to have in this church, because if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s fence-sitters, and those without principles, and those who are apathetic to God’s Word. It’s a curse in our day—apathy to the truth! God help us. But the greater our enthusiasm, the greater is the chance of collision. Just as parked cars don’t crash, a dead church doesn’t divide.
Now if you remember, Paul has already identified this potential issue in 1:27b where there isn’t just a call to unity, but a call to unity of truth. That our fighting isn’t with each other, but for the truth. So what is the answer? Well it’s pretty straightforward if we follow the argument coming from Paul, and I’ll try to summarize.
v27 He exhorted the heavenly life in v27, then explained the heavenly life thereafter and will soon show the example of the perfect heavenly life seen in the incarnation of the Son of God. When everyone lives as a citizen of heaven and we live with that kind of responsibility to the Lord, then that will maintain unity of the church, which is important in the light of what he will exhort the church again in v12-16, especially v15 — another exhortation to the lifestyle of one who is a citizen of heaven, contrasted with the crooked and perverse nature of the world.
‘if’ – often used in doubt and hints at a lack of certainty. But not here. The Greek conditional clause here is more like our word ‘since’, and what Paul is presenting then is not a series of possibilities, but a series of realities. Like someone saying to a parent, “if you have any love for you child…”
I. TWO INCENTIVES FROM THE SAVIOUR
“any consolation in Christ” – the word here is derived from a title given to the Holy Spirit x4 in Jn 14-16 ‘Comforter’ and also used of the Lord Jesus in 1 Jn 2:1 where it’s translated ‘advocate’. It has the idea of coming along side to comfort or instruct. So Paul is reminding them that they have experience comfort/consolation in Christ, i.e. Christ has come to them to comfort and instruct them throughout their Christian life, and He has always done it with patience. Is that not your testimony believer? The Saviour has constantly come to us and comforted us and patiently helped us to obey Him.
And that is so important to remember when we look at one another and there are differences. We are impatient and we speak to one another not with the desire to comfort, but with a desire to control. But if we realize how the Lord treats us, we will treat one another correctly.
You see, discord is not a sin against each other (thought it may include that) but it’s great tragedy is that we sin against the Saviour who is so patient with us. And since Christ has been so patient with each of us, let us not grieve Him by treating His people differently than He has treated us.
“any comfort of love” – simply, Paul refers to the comfort of the love of Christ which is universal to every believer. It’s the comfort of it’s Pre-Existence, Particularity, Patience, Perpetuity, and it’s Pattern. Are those things not comforting? Paul’s point in referencing this is to remember it in the context of how we look at others that
i) they are also recipients of the same love, and
ii) to deal with our pride.
What a betrayal of our relationship to Christ if His comfort and compassion are not sufficient for me to maintain unity of the church.
II. TWO INCENTIVES FROM THE SPIRIT
“any fellowship of the Spirit” – i.e. since you have experienced association or communion with the Spirit, and the point Paul is making is that He, like Christ, wants unity among the people of God. We’ve all been regenerated by the same Spirit, indwelt by the same Spirit, sealed by the same Spirit, and we’re all the temple of the same Spirit, and everything good about any of us is the product of the Holy Spirit.
So where is our reason to boast? Where is the place for pride? So what message am I sending when I oppose one of the key elements of the Spirit’s work—the unity of the Church? Surely, if anything will quench the Spirit it is this?
“any bowels and mercies” – ‘bowels’ – this word is not poetic licence by the translators, it is literally bowels or intestines. It is translated “inward affection” (2 Cor 7:15) which is what it really refers to. It describes a sense of longing that is born of the Holy Spirit. You know those longings you have now that you didn’t have before you were a Christian? e.g. longings for Christ, for holiness, for the scriptures, for preachings, for prayer, etc. And among them is there not a longing, an affection for the people of God? I think that’s the sense of Paul’s statement here.
‘mercies’ i.e. those mercies which we have received from God are reflected in our own hearts. We feel ‘merciful’ do we not? Has the Spirit not birthed that in our hearts?
On the basis of these incentives, shouldn’t you be of the same mind? Your strife is a violation of this intimate relationship The Son and the Spirit long for the unity of the church. Am I cooperating?
III. ONE INCENTIVE FROM THE SERVANT
“Fulfil ye my joy” – If these things exist in you, I’d place upon you one last incentive, exercise these things to fill my joy to overflowing. He already had joy 1:4;18, but maximize my joy.
Was this wrong of Paul? To give a human relationship as an incentive? No, because how we treat believers is important, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matt 25:40. Furthermore, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Heb 13:17)
All our present experiences with Christ and the Holy Spirit should be enough incentive to possess the same mind. Why? Because that’s the Spirit’s longing, that’s the Lord’s longing. But, if it’s not, would you do it for the sake of this beloved servant of God that you hold in such high regard?
Close – I find it interesting that Paul uses multiple incentives to encourage the people of God to unity. It’s not merely, do it because it glorifies God. Now I know that’s the overarching principle in everything, and Paul knows that too, but he is not shy about tugging on the heart of God’s people with other incentives. And he lived the same way; while the love of Christ constrained him to Christian duty (2 Cor 5:14), but at the same time it was “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor 5:11).
Any reason, but the sacrifice of cardinal truths, is reason sufficient to unite.