The Self-Denial of Spiritual Unity

The Self-Denial of Spiritual Unity

The Self-Denial of Spiritual Unity
Text: Philippians 2:2-4

In a letter to Archbishop Cranmer in April 1552, John Calvin wrote of his vision of church unity. “Amongst the greatest evils of our century must be counted the fact that the churches are so divided one from another that there is scarcely even a human relationship between us; at all events there is not the shining light of that holy fellowship of the members of Christ, of which many boast in word, but which few seek sincerely indeed. In consequence, because the members are torn apart, the body of the church lies wounded and bleeding. So far as I have it in my power, if I am thought to be of any service, I shall not be afraid to cross ten seas for this purpose, if that should be necessary.”

I wonder has anything changed?

Last week we saw five incentives Paul used to move the church at Philippi to unity, and he is now going to press that call to unity with great directness.


The biggest hindrance to church unity is the lack of inner self-denial and spiritual pursuit of Christ. “Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.” – Tozer

The unity spoken of here in v2 is not achieved by taking opinion polls or questionnaires. It is achieved by each believer seeking to be more like Christ, and this will lead to four things…

i) Unity of thought – “be likeminded” – verb like in v5.
The mind of Christ is not merely His thoughts, but it is a recognition that how he thought moved Him to live in a certain manner. And this applies to the each believer as well. We’ve already thought about the importance of our minds in 1:8 in the prayer of the apostle Paul for the church. How we think is critical to proper living. Our lives always betray how we truly think.

Now think about that. I may SAY that the gospel is the most important thing in my life, but my life will prove if I really believe it. 
This is the greatest challenge to orthodox, reformed believers. There are a lot of us who believe we have our Ts stroked and Is dotted, and yet our lives betray the coldness of our inner spiritual spiritual life.

The sovereignty of God is not an excuse for idleness. It is a motivation for living the gospel with confidence and purpose. If I know God has chosen a people for Himself, then I know my efforts to preach the gospel WILL be fruitful. God will call out those for whom Christ has died.

ii) Unity of affection – “having the same love” – We have a responsibility to possess a united, emotional connection with one another.
The word for love here is not merely the brotherly love that’s sometimes used, it is the deepest word for love. It is the most meaningful type of love. And what type of love is this? Well we looked at it also in that prayer of the apostle, when he called for their love to abound. It will do no harm to remind you of the nature of true biblical love.

It’s not merely reflected in the word ‘agape’, for the ungodly can and do experience agape. We also showed that’s it’s not merely self-sacrifice. That’s an important element, but we learn from Paul in 1 Cor 13:3 that love can be sacrificial to the point of giving everything we own to the poor or giving our bodies to be burned and still be short of the love taught in that chapter. The key element is having in mind the motivation of the glory of God. If our love fails to be for God, it fails to matter to God.

iii) Unity of being – “of one accord” – this has the idea that they are together as one body.
That they move as an organic unit. This is the outworking of 1 Cor 12, and it was the strength of the Jewish church in the early days of it’s existence. It was true of the 120 or so before Pentecost, and continued to be true of the thousands who gathered after Pentecost.

iv) Unity of purpose – “of one mind” – i.e all your minds are set on one thing.
What is the one thing? I’m inclined to believe it takes us back up to 1:27, where they were exhorted by Paul to strive together for one thing, namely, “the faith of the gospel”.

And this is one of the chiefest things to seek for in a church. Yes, a pulpit that is true to the Word is the key element. And an oversight that are responsible and live responsibly, and a membership that, as much as is possible to perceive, lives as those truly regenerated by the Spirit of God.

I don’t think it’s pushing the boundaries of scripture to put truth as the foremost component of a biblical church. It is clear that those churches that failed to preach the truth, or were polluting the truth, were those that were dealt the harshest of verbal blows from the apostles. But when there is all of that, there is a monumental need for church unity, and it can not be understated.

Now remember, this church did have some cultural differences among them. The church was made up of Lydia who was a proselyte Jewess and those of her household, then there was the pagan demon-possessed young woman, and then the Roman jailor and his family, along with others who may have had Jewish, pagan, and Roman backgrounds.

But this is no excuse in the mind of Paul. John 17:20-21 shows the heart of Christ in this matter, and Paul is pushing for that. He knows that unity in the body is one of the great witnesses to the outside world.


There’s a pattern in the way Paul presents these attitudes, leading with a negative and following with a positive representation of what is required. He contrasts the wrong attitude with the right attitude.

v3 – there is no verb, ‘let…be done’. “nothing through strife or vainglory” i.e. selfish ambition and empty conceit. These are the fruits of pride. “Only by pride cometh contention” Prov 13:10.

“But in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” – ‘lowliness of mind’ – in the greek at the time Paul was writing, this term was a demeaning description. 

This has nothing to do with gift, this is to do with attitude toward the other person; that their place and position is worthy of my humble service whenever required. It is Jesus washing the disciples feet; that regardless of the exalted position He had, He served others. This is humility.


v4 – “Look not every man on his own things” – ‘look’ has the idea of giving all ones attention to. 

So what Paul is addressing in the context of the church body, is that attitude which looks at decisions and problems and issues merely from the perspective of how they affect themselves.

Let’s say, hypothetically, the church oversight decide to change the time of a meeting because it seems to suit the majority, but it doesn’t suit you. The spirit Paul is addressing is that of one who decides to make an issue of this decision and cause strife because of it.

If we are to have the church unity Paul speaks of in v2, then there is a need for each within the church body to possess the attitude spoken of here.

Close – this is the kind of thing Jesus meant when He said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24). The cross that we lift when we begin the Christian life is a cross of death to self.

We need to realize beloved, if we haven’t already, or if we have forgotten it, that Christianity is counter-cultural, and in this respect our culture breeds the spirit of seeking out that which will satisfy our own desires, and doing things because it feels good to us.

We are constantly bombarded with messages to ‘follow your heart’. But Christianity is not about following your heart, it’s about following Christ, and with respect to self-denial and the crucifying of our pride, Paul is going to show us exactly where that leads as we follow the example of Christ.

It is only the individual who keeps the Cross of Christ central in all their thinking that can hope to maintain this attitude, and I trust – oh God, please help me – I trust that you week by week hear the message and see the Christ of God in this place that drives you to conduct yourself as instructed here. May God help us all.