Christian Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-4 (Pt. 3)

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, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.


Section C (2:2b-2e) – Paul employs four phrases, which follows a chiastic pattern. The first and last phrases are nearly identical, and the middle phrases are seemingly emphatic of the main emphasis – i.e. spiritual oneness – not additional features.[1] The apostle is exerting an earnestness to stir his readers to this passage’s importance. As previously discussed, phroneo is utilized twice in this section (‘think’ in 2:2b and 2:2e), whereby one can conclude that this spiritual oneness consists very much in some sort of mental determination – “to be one in intent and disposition.”[2] This unity of mind, however, is not some intellectual equivalence. It would seem absurd to suggest that spiritual oneness requires rational agreement at every level.

Given the celebration of the diversity of gifts in the body in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the unity the apostle has in mind is not complete uniformity. But where does the congregation draw the line on the acceptable limits of diversity in doctrine and behavior?[3]

Can one be united with a brother who disagrees with him? Yes, and that is the very point Paul is seeking to make in this call to unity. One can be unified with brothers and sisters in Christ who seemingly disagree with them on secondary matters. The church must fall under the agreement of the gospel of Jesus Christ, speaking the same thing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:10) in regards to that primary truth, and let the rest be an opportunity to practice humility. This mental determination, then, would be better seen as unity in one’s “whole frame of mind.”[4] This describes a person’s whole attitude and nature of mind.[5] In this case, it is not the particulars that one focuses on, but the frame, whereby the mold and borders of thought are the same. The brothers and sisters are united in the framework of their thought, which is the gospel. In all things, the center will not be shaken, because together the body of Christ will not transcend the borders of the gospel (cf. 1:27, monon).

What is the extent of this unity? Is it merely friendliness or fellowship? Is it a mere smile and hello, small talk and a forceful handshake? One has a glimpse of this answer in Philippians already. Paul claims that the Philippians are ‘partners’ with him in the gospel of God’s grace (1:5, 7). This unity is sealed in the mind of God. As one is joined to Christ by God’s grace, one is instantaneously united to one another. People say, “You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family.” In a very true sense, the church does not choose their family; and God has sealed it.

Observe John 17 and study the prayer that Jesus prayed before his hour of glory on the cross. He prays for the church (John 17:9), and this is what he prays to His Father: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are [ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς]” (John 17:11). Jesus desires for His church to be unified ‘just as’ He and the Father are unified. The body of Christ is called to be one, a unity likened to that of the trinity. One can deduce two concepts of unity for the church from this statement: 1) it is an ontological, positional unity. The Father and Son are both equal in position and power. There is no distinction in their quality. 2) It is a diverse unity. There is distinction in the persons of the godhead in regards to function and submission. The Son submitted to the Father’s will, and the Spirit submitted to the Son’s sending. Submission does not nullify equality (e.g. marriage). From this, the church can uphold its diversity (1 Cor. 12-14) while remaining equal. The unity of the church is not uniformity. There can be positions of leadership, recognition of gifts, and submission to those members in leadership within the church, but the equality of the church body is not nullified. In regards to the proposed question: unity within the church body is a deep and profound equality that retains distinction in function and submission, all of which is rooted in each member’s partaking in the gospel of God’s grace.

Nevertheless, this unity seems too abstract to be attainable. Facing this demand only discourages the Church. Can the body of Christ truly achieve this unity equivocated to the trinity? Jesus offers some consolation:“I in them and You in Me, that they may become [ὦσιν, osin] perfected in unity” (John 17:23). ὦσιν (osin) in that verse is a present, active, subjunctive, meaning it is volitive (‘may be brought to complete unity’). It is not a surety in this world that is given to the church passively; rather it is an imperfect unity on this side of eternity that the church must engage in actively. The surety of this unity is, however, an eschatological surety – a certain hope in the redeemed Edenic community. Thus, the church is motioning through hope, picturing the future certainty as to substantially actualize it in the present by faith. This is similar to the Christian’s pursuit of sanctification. Therefore, inasmuch as the Christian’s personal unity with Christ is imperfect on this side of eternity, so then is the church body’s unity imperfect. Yet, this does not stall the Christian’s effort, rather it fuels it. In like manner, the struggle for unity in the church does not permit us to resolve it unto a purely eschatological reality, rather we effort on the foundational assurance that it will one day be perfected.

[1] “In other words, to have the same love and to be ‘soul-joined’ are in effect explanatory of to auto/hen phronoein.” Silva, 86.

[2] Black, “Paul and Christian Unity,” 302.

[3] Ronald J. Allen, “Philippians 2:1-11,” Interpretation 61, no. 1 (January 1, 2007): 74.

[4] Silva, Philippians, 87.

[5]W. Barclay, “Great Themes of the New Testament—I. Philippians ii. 1-11,” ExpTim 70 (1958) 4-7; W. Hendriksen, Philippians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1962) 99.


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