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The Secrets of Unity
The Passionate Apostolic Plea for Unity
from Philippians 2:1-4–part two
Multiple sources confirm the following famous, true story. When a certain church in Dallas became divided, the split was so bitter, each side sued the other for ownership of the property, in spite of the Bible’s warnings about taking believers to court in 1 Corinthians 6. The story hit the Dallas newspapers and created quite a stir–people do love a good fight. We all remember that from our playground days. The judge wisely ruled that the court was not to decide on such matters, but the denomination should–which eventually decided in favor of one side. The losers, of course, withdrew and formed a different church nearby.
But the Dallas reporters did some digging. They discovered the trouble began when (are you ready for this?), at a church dinner, one elder had been served a smaller slice of ham than the child seated next to him. Pork splits the church. Ham hurts. Pig does partitions. This is great material for Saturday Night Live or Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It is also very sad and quite instructive, in that many of the gravest dangers to the Church come from within.
In fact, most of the letters of the New Testament are addressing, in some manner, struggles or conflicts within churches, right? And this is true of the letter to the Philippians, which is one of Paul’s letters from prison, written when the dangers from within and without were immense. Last week we opened up Philippians chapter 2 as Paul addresses their biggest problem–unity. Now for you and me, at first glance, unity doesn’t seem to be that big an issue, until you begin to think through God’s will and God’s Word about true unity. Biblical unity affects every one of us.
If you’ve ever had a friendship crumble, a marriage get tense, a clique turn exclusive, a believer you really don’t like, a ministry sour, a group of believers disintegrate, or a church divide—you’ve been hit with disunity and obviously genuine, biblical unity has failed. What’s the big deal? Unity is sourced in the very nature of God Himself. God is three persons yet one God in perfect unity. If we’re to glorify God, we must be one.
Disunity among God’s people deeply grieves the Lord. Disunity is one of Satan’s most effective tools. It is why Paul exhorted the Corinthians in the first epistle, 1:10, “Now I exhort you, brethren [that’s you and me], by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” God expects you to fight for unity, maintain unity, to address disunity in relationships, in marriage and in the Church. So as Paul addresses the Philippians, he is speaking to all Christians in all ages in every church and every marriage.
In chapter 1 Paul modeled unity–and now in chapter 2 Paul commands the Philippians to live unified. How did Paul do it? Look at Philippians 2:1, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion.” Paul reminds these believers they have what it takes in order to live in unity.
#1 Christians have the MEANS to be Unified
The if’s in verse one are better translated since or because—“Therefore [because] there is encouragement in Christ, [because] there is consolation of love, [because] there is fellowship of the Spirit, [because] there is affection and compassion.” Paul is pointing these believers to what they already have in Christ—eternal life, Christ’s unconditional love, and His compassionate care. They have the means to be unified. And because you’ve received all these blessings in Christ (and you have), then verse 2, you’re now responsible to live in oneness—“make my joy complete.”
#2 The Apostolic MANDATE for Unity
Paul is commanding the Philippians to be completely unified so that joy will completely fill his heart. Paul appeals to their desire to thank him, as their spiritual father, for bringing them the Gospel at great personal cost. So he pleads for them to fill his heart full of joy. What does Paul want? Verse 2, “make my joy complete by . . .”–by is the Greek word for that, stating purpose found in verse 2.
#3 The Genuine MARKS of Unity
Verse 2 gives us the elements of unity—“make my joy complete by  being of the same mind,  maintaining the same love,  united in spirit,  intent on one purpose.” Last week we discovered true unity must pursue, verse 2, 1) Christ-like biblical thinking–think the Bible towards each other, 2) showing the same love to each person in the body–no cliques, 3) be united by the Spirit of God in the church, with differing giftedness/organs but the same body, 4) each of the us with the same purpose, making Christ known. That was all last week!
So then how do we do it? Rodney King asks, “Why can’t we all get along?” The answer is not to live uniform externally, but to live unified internally. What’s the process of living truly unified?
#4 The Biblical METHOD for Unity Verses 3 to 4
As I read verses 3 to 4, pay close attention to the contrast but. There are two major statements containing five methods–three are negative, and two are positive.
- Verse 3, “ Do nothing from selfishness or  empty conceit, but  with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
- Verse 4, “ Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also  for the interests of others.”
With these two verses, Paul is answering the question, “How is genuine spiritual unity achieved?” Verse 3, “ Do nothing from selfishness or  empty conceit, but  with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”
1. Run away from self-centered pride, but pursue cultivating humility
There are both positive and negative steps here. Don’t be selfish, don’t be conceited, but a strong contrast–what? A humble mind. Now if you define your maturity as not sinning, then you’ll not cultivate unity with others around you. If not sinning makes you godly, then you don’t need anyone. Growing in Christ is more than not sinning. Verse 3 describes two sins to avoid and one quality to pursue–hate selfishness and pride, but pursue humility.
Remember, true sanctification is more than not sinning–it is becoming more like Christ. It’s pursuing His character. Growing is not merely fleeing sin, but pursuing godliness. Are you depending on the Spirit and applying the Word of God to become more like Christ? Do flee from pride and run to humility, but first run from . . .
If you’re ever going to become a godly man or woman, you must stop putting yourself first–you must stop thinking of yourself first. Ingrown eyeballs do not produce unity, joy or love. Selfishness, self-will, my will over God’s will has been at the heart of every sin since Satan rebelled from God. Selfishness is the spirit of one who wants his own way. This is the adult motivated by personal gain, or the student seeking popularity with no regard for who they hurt getting it.
It’s often used in secular Greek to describe self-serving politicians pursuing election and using any means to keep their office. Explaining why selfishness here accurately describes someone who strives to advance himself by using flattery, deceit, false accusation, contentiousness, and any other tactic that seems advantageous–carrying the idea of building oneself up by tearing someone else down.
Paul actually lists this same word selfishness as one of the works or evidences of the flesh in Galatians 5:20. Selfishness is a subtle and destructive sin. Even the most doctrinally sound and spiritually mature here are not immune from the threat of the self-sin, and nothing can divide or weaken a church quicker. Selfish ambition is often clothed in pious rhetoric by those who are convinced of their own superior abilities.
And selfishness is often hidden in frightening ways. Your family can be used as an excuse for selfishness. Your struggling marriage, your busy career, your favorite team, your computer game and your group of friends can all be used to mask a selfish, self-serving heart–keeping life on your terms and ignoring God’s clear Word. Discord and division are inevitable when people focus on their agendas to the exclusion of others in the church. James 3:16 tells us wherever “jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” Selfish ambition destroys unity. To produce unity, we must die to self and we must run from . . .
Second EMPTY CONCEIT
Jewish believers in Philippi were prone to feeling a pride in their Jewishness, and Greek believers in Philippi were prone to feeling a pride in their culture. The Pharisee was an egotist in his self-righteousness and the cultured Greek had a huge head about their superiority over barbaric peoples. Every one of us in this room is naturally prone to pride.
So Paul states a second means for promoting spiritual unity is forsaking empty conceit. Empty conceit is a hopoxlogomina–it appears only here in the New Testament. The Greek word is the combination of the adjective empty and the noun glory–hence the King James Version translates the word vainglory. Vanity means emptiness–truly an accurate description. Those who are conceited are empty–hot air, puffed up. Any time you try to bring glory to yourself, it’s an empty pursuit.
Empty conceit refers to a highly exaggerated self-view. Whereas selfishness pursues personal goals, empty conceit seeks personal glory and acclaim. Empty conceit results in an overinflated self-image. A person with such conceit considers himself always to be right and expects others to agree with him. The only unity this guy wants is vortex-ed on himself.
The ancient Greeks did not admire humility, thinking it was a mark of weakness. But they did recognize a person’s view of himself could become so exaggerated, he’d become bigheaded and distasteful. The ancient Greek term for such exalted pride, a word still used in English and many other modern languages, was hubris. Consider–who’ll remember you 50 years after you’re dead? No one! God is not like that. Hebrews 6:10 says, “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.”
Only one life soon past–only what is done for Christ will last. Empty conceit is, by nature, self-deceptive–it’s the toughest sin to see yourself committing. That’s why you must guard against it. These two sins destroy unity–run from them. But to do so–in contrast, Paul says run to humility. Verse 3, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but [strong contrast] with humility of mind, let each of you regard one another [consider one another] as more important [literally excelling more] than himself.” The antidote to these first two ills is to pursue.
You battle selfishness and conceit by growing in humility. Humility is also translated lowliness and that’s what humility is–you’re so aware of your own sinfulness, you are lowly because you know you deserve wrath but received mercy. So instead of being critical of others and highlighting their faults, you are more critical of yourself and more concerned about dealing with your own selfish pride. Instead of seeing yourself as gifted, you esteem the gifts of others and focus on your need of them in your life. It is impossible to have true unity if there is no humility.
This third method to produce unity is a positive pursuit–we must run after developing humility of mind. It is the humility of a transformed heart, which causes believers to run from living a self-seeking, self-promoting desire to be factious, hurt-the-church jerk. Genuine believers desire to be one-heart, one-mind by promoting others and seeking the interests of others first. God’s Word in both Old and New Testaments calls for humility.
Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” Proverbs 16:19, “It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” All great spiritual leaders were humble–Moses in Numbers 12:3, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” Paul in Acts 20:19 was “serving the Lord with all humility.” Peter modeled humility and called each of you to a life of humility in 1 Peter 5:5 to 6, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” And of course, our Lord Jesus described himself in Matthew 11:29, “gentle and humble in heart.”
Look at verse 3–notice how Paul drives this point home. It’s with humility of mind, humble-mindedness, how you think–genuine humility involves believers not thinking too highly of themselves and requires they regard one another as more important than themselves. Humility starts in the mind with how you think. This is where the battle is, thinking lowly. How do you do that? You are to regard one another as more important than yourselves.
Regard is from a verb meaning more than merely having an opinion. Regard refers to a carefully thought-out conclusion based on the truth. Regard means to lead–to lead your mind, to lead your thinking. To what? That others are more important than you. It doesn’t mean to pretend others are more important, but to believe others are actually more important. Force yourself to think of others as more important than you.
The Greek for more important means holding above you or being superior to you. This more important participle is where we get the English word hyper. More important is intensifying the truth here, telling us others are to excel, surpass, or be superior in our thinking. In fact, this word is used in the New Testament to describe the governing/supreme/important authorities we are to submit to. It’s almost as if Paul is saying, “Treat others like a king. Honor them as the president. Treat them as supreme (not The Supremes), but treat others utmost, incomparable, best, ultimate.”
Later in Philippians 3:8, Paul will use the more important word to describe “the surpassing [supreme, more important] value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Paul will use this same Greek word in Philippians 4:7 to proclaim that “the peace of God, which surpasses [far exceeds, is superior to] all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
All of you have been moved by the Make-A-Wish Foundation–you’ve seen the YouTube video where the little boy with brain cancer comes on the field in the middle of a game between two powerful college teams, and in uniform, the little boy takes the hand-off and runs in for the touchdown. Both teams let him run ahead to score, then hoist him up on their shoulders, pat him on the back, give him high-fives and run him around as the game winner, while the entire stadium cheers him on.
More important than yourselves paints that picture–letting others excel over you, letting others be praised, let others have the attention, letting others dominate the discussion–let others excel. “No way—nobody’s done that for me!” Yes they have–Jesus Christ gave up Heaven, became a man, a slave, died a criminal’s death so you could be forgiven, you could excel! It is clear Paul is describing a process the lost can’t do.
But through the Spirit, it’s possible to live others-focused. Be aware of your great dependence upon the Spirit. Saturate your mind with God’s Word. Focus on and confess your own sins, past and present. Serve others, share the Gospel with the lost. And remember who you are. If Paul viewed himself as 1 Corinthians 15:9, “the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle,” Ephesians 3:8, “the very least of all saints,” even 1 Timothy 1:15, “the foremost of sinners,” how can any of us here think of ourselves in a higher way? Run from selfishness and pride by running to humility. But Paul is not done, verse 4 . . .
2. Do not allow an exclusive self-focus, but focus on other specific individuals
Verse 4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also 5 for the interests of others.” Every godly man and woman is preoccupied in pleasing Christ first, then the genuinely godly are preoccupied with others. All godly men and women desire to play third. I played first chair trumpet–I hated third chair and worked very hard to get first, because you don’t get to play the melody when you’re third chair.
But when it comes to the community of Christians, to create unity, to please Christ, to live godly, you and I will play third. Where does joy come from? J.O.Y.—Jesus, Others, You=JOY. The godly live to play third in everything. In a world where SELF magazine is not laughed at, and selfies are the norm, living third can be an eye-opener.
So let me ask you–and be honest. When you’re coming to church, is it for the Lord and others first? When you’re at our church gatherings, like a picnic, is it J.O.Y.? When you’re at your community group—is it for Christ, others, then you? How about participating in your ministry–for your King and His subjects first? At student ministry–do you come for Christ first?
But Paul literally says in verse 4, “Don’t look out only for your own (each of you) interests, but be concerned about (each of the) others’ interests.” Have you ever tried to pick a lunch spot with godly people? Everyone is so deferring you get nowhere. The leader in me goes crazy. The solution is spiritual gifts. JP has the gift of restaurants, and Rod has the gift of menu items. One of the key methods for unity is . . .
Fourth VALUING OTHERS, not merely yourself
The Greek word for look out is skopeō, which means to observe–scope it out. And in this context, it carries the ideas of giving close attention and special consideration. Wisely, Paul adds two important words–see them? Merely and also—“do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” By including these, the apostle excludes the unbiblical idea that asceticism demonstrates a deeper level of spirituality and earns special divine approval.
There is no justification for being a monk here. Asceticism, with its denial of all material goods, abstinence, frugality, harshness, and stark plainness was most often a subtle and deceptive manifestation of legalistic pride. Paul suffered hardships and spent many nights without food, sleep or shelter. But Paul never purposely starved himself or caused any self-inflicted harm to his body. During His earthly ministry, Jesus neither practiced nor approved of ascetic self-denial. He ate and slept regularly, took care of His body, and expected His followers to do the same.
We need to take care of ourselves, and the point here is not to merely deny ourselves. The point is to value others. So many issues of disunity come from the failure to value others. Decisions were made without consulting you, direction is set and no one talked to you. Someone was esteemed, but you were ignored. The answer is not to defend yourself, but value others. We are messed up and backwards today. Instead of humility, the supreme virtue is self-love and the supreme purpose in life is self-fulfillment.
So Paul tells you and the Philippians, the method God has put into place is to truly value others. Verse 4, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests”–and in contrast, “but also 5 for the interests of others.”
Fifth SERVING OTHERS
The fifth and final method Paul mentions here for promoting spiritual unity is seeking to serve the interests of others—“but also
5 for the interests of others.” It’s the positive side of the preceding principle of not merely looking out for one’s own personal interests. Paul is describing your relationships with other believers in the church in ministry, in community and on the Sunday patio. What is telling with the language here is Paul’s use of others–in Greek, it is others of a different kind, not the same.
The problem at Philippi and the problem at FBC is the same everywhere–people are different than you. You can try to be like others, but you never will be. Like a jigsaw puzzle, each member of the body is unique and these other people are really different—odd. The word interests is assumed in the Greek language. Not merely weaknesses, but ways to serve others. The godly think about ways to serve others. The godly ask, “Is there any way I can serve you?” The godly just serve without being asked. And the godly often serve secretly so only God knows–but they serve others.
Paul calls the Philippians here to be sincere in this–to rejoice with others, to weep with those who weep, to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, to pursue those things which make for peace, and to give up anything which causes a brother to stumble. Actively scoping out the interests of others is indispensable for spiritual unity–to go after it!
Most of us respond to a need for mercy when we hear about it–that is not what Paul is describing. He is telling us to hunt down the needs of others–aggressively pursuing the interests of others is easy to understand, but difficult to apply. But through His Spirit you can dependently obey. You say, “I don’t know, Chris–this is all a little much!” Or, “this is not as important as the cross or the Gospel!” Actually, it’s so crucial Jesus Himself and His cross illustrate the need for unity
#5 The unbelievable MODEL for Unity Verses 5 to 11
You must not miss next week–it will rock your world. Unity is a major concern of each and every one of you here. All of us have experienced the betrayal of a friend, some difficulty in marriage, a clique which shut you out, a ministry that soured, a group you had to now avoid. You all have been hurt by disunity. And as a believer, each of us intrinsically love unity—so-o-o . . . What kind of habits or steps should each of you make in order to contribute to unity and avoid disunity? I am so glad you asked! To produce unity and reduce conflict . . .
1 DEFUSE COMPETITION
Too often we compete with others on our own team. Some of us actually compete with our spouses. Paul says, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” Never act from motives of rivalry. There must be no competition among you. Do all you can to reduce the tension, strain, anger and hostility towards others in the faith.
As a kid, some of you competed for the biggest piece of pie, nicest steak, favorite show or coolest toy. Now you’re older, more sophisticated, yet you are still competing with your siblings to prove you’re better. Who has the better income, coolest job, nicer spouse? With believers, rivalry must die. James 4:1, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask.”
The first cause of conflict is competing desires. We want the same parking spot. Our society preaches instant gratification, so when my needs conflict with your needs, there will be trouble–competing desires. We live in a very competitive world, but to cultivate unity in your family, marriage, business or church, you must defuse competition.
2 DELETE CONCEIT
We are proud. Far too many things are done in our lives to show off or to gain praise. But Paul says, “Do nothing from . . . empty conceit.” Don’t do anything from a cheap desire to boast. Somebody said an egotist is an eye specialist–his eyes are too close together. All he can see is himself. Proverbs 16:18a, “Pride goes before destruction.” We must delete conceit. The person who gets too big for his britches will eventually be exposed in the end. All it takes is one arrogant player to ruin a team.
Proverbs 13:10a, “Through insolence comes nothing but strife.” All of us have been in arguments where you flat-out knew you were wrong, but you didn’t admit it–that’s pride! The first cause of disunity is competing desires. The second cause of disunity is personal pride. When I refuse to admit I’m wrong, it breeds quarrels. There is no I in team.
3 DECREASE CRITICISM
“But with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” When Paul says more important, he is not saying superior, but he is saying more worthy of respect. Clearly, this includes not putting people down. You are to treat them as better than yourself. This is radical. This is the exact opposite of our culture. In America, we are full of people who think they are better than everybody else. We have elevated selfishness to an art form. Parents are actually trying to train their kids to feel superior, like it is a character quality.
Today, can you imagine a best-selling book titled, Looking Out for Other People? Would it sell? No. But, Looking Out for Number One would sell. What if SELF magazine changed its title to SELFLESS–their circulation would drop faster than the stock market. Nobody is interested in unselfishness. We’re all interested in self. Paul is saying this–do the opposite of society. He says, decrease criticism. Why? Because critical people think they are better than others.
And stop comparing yourself to others. If you think you’re better you’ll get proud, if you think you’re worse you’ll get depressed, which is more pride. Compare yourself to God’s Word and humble yourself before a God who forgave you, made you righteous and empowered you to grow to be more like Christ.
1 DEFUSE COMPETITION
2 DELETE CONCEIT
3 DECREASE CRITICISM