The following is a brief summary of the discussion our Bible study groups had this week on Philippians 2:1-5. I hope this blesses you and inspires deeper study of this wonderful passage.
Paul expressed his desire for unity in the church at Philippi. Why would Paul need to address this idea of unity?
Remember the founding members of this young church? Lydia, the sophisticated, wealthy Asian business woman, the Roman military prison guard, and a young Greek slave girl who had been in the occult. They represent quite a spectrum of backgrounds, personalities and cultural perspectives. It’s easy to see how the church could divide up into cliques. Paul encouraged unity under the leadership of the Holy Spirit because that was the only way this group would be able to hang together and have a witness to unbelievers.
The church in Philippi was a good church, but it wasn’t perfect. (For a sneak peak at an issue, Phil. 4:2 gives a clue.) Unity doesn’t come naturally for us. We have human natures to battle and an enemy seeking to divide us. It’s a danger that threatened the early churches and remains a danger for every church. Unity is something to intentionally strive for as God’s people in a world full of disharmony.
What reasons are given for Christian unity?
- We have encouragement from being united with Christ.
- We experience the comfort of God’s unconditional love.
- We get to enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit.
- We have hearts that are tender and compassionate.
These serve as motivations for us to pursue oneness as believers. This idea was so important to Jesus, that on his last night with his disciples before being arrested and put to death, He prayed for His people to stick together. (John 17:20-23) Imagine knowing you are going to die and you have one last thing to say to your family. What would it be? Probably, “I love you,” and “Keep loving each other”. This was Jesus’ heart’s cry before leaving His friends. Why? Because our expression of love for each other is what makes the world take notice and be drawn to Christ. We are to be showing the world what a group of people united by the Holy Spirit looks like.
What does Paul ask the Philippians to do? What can they do to protect their unity?
- Be like-minded
- Love each other
- Stay focused on their purpose
- Exercise humility (Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.)
“Like-minded” is a fascinating word in the original language of the text. It’s a word that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the Bible, so it’s as if Paul had to make up a word to explain this idea. In the Greek, the word is “sympsychos” — “sym”= like, “psychos” = mind. But there’s more: we get our word “symphony” from this. To Paul, the church is like a symphony orchestra. Each instrument is unique and has distinct individual qualities, but when playing together they create something beautiful and moving. The violin cannot play off the tympani drum’s music. The flute is not looked down on for being quieter than the trombone. The cello cannot use a drum stick and the snare drum cannot use a bow. They all work differently and have diverse parts to play, but when in tune with each other and staying with the beat, the sound is overwhelmingly wonderful. Paul sees the Holy Spirit as the conductor, directing the people of God at work in the world. How important it is to keep our eyes on Him! The church can’t work as a bunch of soloists jockeying for the spotlight. The church works by each member staying humble and seeing the value of each one.
What does Paul ask the Philippians not to do? What destroys unity among people?
- Don’t do anything out of selfish ambition
- Don’t be driven by vain conceit
- Don’t consider yourself better than others
- Don’t look only to your own interests
Selfishness turns our eyes inward, focusing on our own wants and desires. Simply turning loving attention outward, toward others, will build oneness.
Have you ever observed a parallel conversation? One person tells about an experience they had and then the other person tells about their similar experience. They go back and forth, each talking about themselves. Each one is thinking about the next thing they are going to say instead of really listening. Looking to the interest of other people can be as simple as asking follow up questions instead of talking more about yourself. It’s a skill we can learn. You might try these:
“How did that make you feel?”
“What do you make of that?”
Questions like these can draw out a person’s heart and show that you are truly interested and listening.
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 2:5
A friend of mine created the acronym D.R.A., which stands for Dirty Rotten Attitude, something I occasionally deal with. How about you?! Christ Jesus never had a D.R.A. He was selfless and humble and served. He was a perfect example of all the good things Paul encouraged the Philippians to do. Although we will never reach that kind of perfection on this side of heaven, we can move in the direction of unity, as we look to Jesus and stay connected to each other.
The symphony needs each of us playing our part!