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) – (Continued) Does this sound selfish? Is the church meant to be so particularly inward-focused? This seems unlike Paul to take the focus off of the mission of the church, where the body of Christ is told to ‘go’ rather than ‘unify.’ It would be wrong, however, to suggest that the apostle is presenting this dichotomy, because it is a false dichotomy. The church body’s desire for unity is not inconsistent to its mission to evangelize; and one will apparently see this in John 17:21. Jesus’ prayer for unity is towards the end ‘that the world may believe that [the Father] has sent [Jesus]’ – i.e. “this purpose clause at the end of v. 21 shows beyond possibility of doubt that the unity is meant to be observable.” How does the observance of unified believers stir unbelievers towards the gospel? It is unpacked in John 17:23, where an additional purpose clause is added: ‘[so that the world may know] that you…have loved them even as you have loved me.’ D. A. Carson says it best:
The thought is breathtakingly extravagant. The unity of the disciples, as it approaches the perfection that is its goal, serves not only to convince many in the world that Christ is indeed the supreme locus of divine revelation (that you sent me), but that Christians themselves have been caught up into the love of the Father for the Son (cf. Eph. 3:17b-19), secure and content and fulfilled because loved by the Almighty himself, with the very same love he reserves for his Son. It is hard to imagine a more compelling evangelistic appeal.
The more that the body of Christ is united, the more that the world sees Christians being in oneness with one another, the more that the world will see the unspeakable love of the Father and wonder at His glory. They will see that the church is united to a loving God, and that same love can be extended to them. This focus, then, on the unity of the body of Christ is no way opposed to evangelistic efforts; rather it is the very means by which the church ought to proclaim the love of God found in the glory of Jesus Christ. By the same principle, a Christian’s sanctification, their focused growth in holiness, is in now way opposed to their evangelistic mission. If a follower of Christ wants to proclaim the gospel to the world, let it be done through their personal exemplary union with Christ. This does not nullify explicit evangelistic outreach, but it does qualify its effectiveness. So when we speak of unity in the church, let always keep in mind “the drift, end, and objective of it, namely, that the world may believe that God has sent the Lord Jesus.”
Now, the question becomes, what are the primary concerns that the church must not tolerate? Simply, the church ought not be unified with heretical teaching and immorality. Christ’s body cannot permit a degrading of the person of Jesus Christ, legalism, apathetic Christianity, the prosperity gospel, the humanitarian gospel, flagrant sin without repentance, etc. because these things distort the gospel. Nevertheless, as people who hold such views and do such things proclaim to be Christians, we still reach out in love, seeking to biblically confront their error; but if the authority of Scripture does not convict them, we must not tolerate such things. What is the core issue? Those who are united to Christ cannot be united to that which is not united to Christ. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be” (1 Cor 7:5). If the one brother disagrees with another who is in Christ, how can the one brother forsake him? To do so would be equivalent to chopping off one’s arm or leg, gauging out ones eyes, or removing their ears. Yet, if this brother disagrees with their supposed brother, and the other brother finds no common ground in the essentiality of the gospel, how can the one brother seek unity with such a man? To do so would be equivalent to prostituting the body of Christ. He who is united to Christ cannot be united to that which is against Christ, because a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand (Matthew 12:25; Mark 3:24). All in all, we strive for the harmony of the church body under the authority and unity of Jesus Christ.