Christian Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-4 (Pt. 5)

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 D (2:3-4) ­– Here, Paul emphasizes that unity only comes through ταπεινοφροσύνη  (tapeinophrosyne, humility). He is further developing from section C (2:2b-2e), where the focus was unity. Syntactically, the apostle builds this importance by antithetical parallelism, noting both negative and positive assertions. The section follows an A, B, A, B, pattern: (A) do not act selfishly; (B) ἀλλά (alla, but) act humbly.[1] Both A and B intimate the same principle, which can be summarized by the imperative “act humbly.” Thus, it is easy to see that Paul is intently utilizing four different phrases to purport one command – i.e. “act humbly.” Once again, from the contextual use of phroneo (2:2b, 2e), one must conclude that this is a “humble-mindedness, because it is the humbling of the mind.”[2]

“The true obstacle to unity is not the presence of legitimate differences of opinion but self-centeredness.”[3] Variation in thought is not the biggest enemy to the unity of the church. Selfishness, self-interest, pride, and arrogance are the borders the church must demolish to achieve Christian harmony.  The ‘Christian team’ is not the easiest allegiance to claim. One often finds reason to disassociate from the brethren (some of these are beneficial so far as they sanctify true Christianity), but what would happen if a large dose of humility captivated the church’s thinking? Bible college and seminary often resolve to destroy the unity of the church for this simple reason: it puffs up certain members of the body. These students now see a glimpse above the clouds. They have diligently strived to clarify their understanding of God and His gospel, and they are left to return to their local churches. And what do they find? There is a small minion of hypercriticism resting upon their shoulder, whispering in their ear with every opportune avenue for error. The throat becomes dry, and what it needs is a big gulp of humility. Be sure of this, there is no spiritual gift of discouragement. Cynicism is intellectual laziness, and not the working of the Spirit. So, what is the real issue deeply latched to the student’s heart? Where does this parasite receive its feast? It is found in a misguided deduction, one that claims that their newfound glory was attained by their own efforts or meritorious diligence. This is arrogance at its finest; but the truth is that the student has lost sight of the nature of illumination.[4] The student knows nothing of the sweetness of God and His gospel apart from God’s gracious Spirit. One is not made ‘wise according to the flesh’ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:26). “A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor. 2:14). Peter proclaims Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17). Indeed, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Therefore, if the student has this gracious frame of mind, where they see that they are who they are by the grace of God alone (1 Cor. 15:10), they will not boast in themselves. And if they do not boast in themselves, there is no room for arrogance and all the room for humility. Now, as there is a balance to all things, let not the student neglect his gifting, but edify the brethren with God’s revelation; but may it always be done in humility. Paul, whose theological prowess far exceeded any student today, sought to use his knowledge for one thing: to preach the foolishness of the gospel. If one is inclined to be humble of mind, let him seek to preach the gospel with passionate vigor and self-abasement. It is only through such humility, centered on the gospel, which will generate a unified body of believers.

[1] “The contrast between self-exaltation and self-denial is highlighted by the series of alliterative pronouns…heautôn—heautôn—hekastos—het-erônhekastos.” Black, “Paul and Christian Unity,” 303.

[2] Chrysostom quoted in Silva, 87. The verbs hegeomai and skopeo also support this mental accent.

[3] Silva, Philippians, 87.

[4] “As by inspiration he provided Scripture truth for us, so now by illumination he interprets it to us. Illumination is thus the applying of God’s revealed truth to our hearts, so that we grasp as reality for ourselves what the sacred text sets forth.” J. I. Packer, Concise Theology, section III, no. V.


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