Tonight we’re looking once again at the portion of Scripture that speaks to the subject of unity in the church.
Philippians 2:1-4 says, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
We are exhorted in Scripture toward unity. Not only in this passage but elsewhere as well. Paul told the believers at Rome to “Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion” (Romans 12:16). In 1 Corinthians 1:10, he told the Corinthians that they “all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
He told them the same thing in his second letter: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
Unity should be the pursuit of every child of God. All of us should endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In order to do this we must understand what is the basis for unity, the call to unity, and the process for unity.
We said last time that the basis for unity is found in verse 1 — it is the divine influence on our life that has given us 4 fulfilled conditions in our life. They are “encouragement in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, and affection and mercy.” Every believer has receive these 4 realities. JB Lightfoot says that the verse could be read this way: “If then your experiences in Christ appeal to you with any force, if love exerts any persuasive power upon you, if your fellowship in the Spirit is a living reality, if you have any affectionate yearnings of heart, any tender feelings of compassion, listen and obey.”
Because we have these 4 realities it should motivate us to unity.
If you look in chapter 1, Paul states 3 other realities that are present in their lives. In 1:6, Paul said that God has “begun a good work in you [and] will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” He mentions this again in 2:13 where he says, “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” Echoing his words to the Ephesians, he says in 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Since it is “God who works in you,” Paul says in Philippians 1:7 that they were made “partakers with me of grace.” The same grace Paul received, they received. The same God who was at work in Paul’s life was at work in their lives.
In 1:29-30, he even shows them that they were graciously granted not only to believe in Christ, “but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” God’s work in us should motivate us to unity. “This unity must be expressed in deeds, gestures, and speech—in short, in the way we think about, talk to, and act with other Christians.” Anything short of this is demonic!
The call to unity is in verse 2 where he tells them to be like-minded, i.e. thinking the same thing by having the same love. This like-mindedness is “seeing things as Christ would see them, and to respond as He would respond.” It is “the concord not of having a common hatred, but of a common love...It manifests itself in a complete harmony of the feelings and affections...It produces an entire unison of thought and directs it to one end.” Being like-minded, being united in Spirit and intent on one purpose will produce unity. But in order to obey this truth we must put away 2 negatives and affirm the one positive that’s found in verses 3-4. Notice what Paul gives for the process for unity.
Do Nothing By Way of Selfishness (v.3a)
The first part of verse 3 says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit.” J. Vernon McGee says, “Most of the difficulties in the church today are not due to doctrinal differences. They are due to strife and envy. Some people just naturally cause trouble.”
Paul says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition.”
“Selfish ambition” or “strife” is the Greek word eritheia. This word “has the idea of factiousness.”
It “speaks of the pride that prompts people to push for their own way. The term did not originally have a negative connotation.” It “merely referred to a day laborer. But it came to be used metaphorically, and almost exclusively, of a person who persistently seeks personal advantage and gain, regardless of the effects on others. It often was used of the unfair pursuit and self-serving preservation of political office. By NT times, it had come to mean unbridled, selfish ambition in any field of endeavor.” William Barclay says, “If a man is forever concerned first and foremost with his own interests, he is bound to collide with others. If for him life is a competition whose prizes he must win, he will always think of other human beings as enemies or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way. Concentration on self inevitably means elimination of others; and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.”
The verb “do” that appears here in verse 3 does not appear in “the Greek text.” It is literally “Nothing by way of selfishness.”
This “grammatical form expresses a negative command...[and it] goes far beyond mere actions; selfishness is also to be totally excluded from the innermost thoughts of the heart.”
Selfishness is the root of every other sin. It was by placing his will above God’s that Satan fell. Isaiah 14:12-14 says, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, You who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart: ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’”
It was by placing their own wills above God’s that Adam and Eve first brought sin into the world. Genesis 3:6 says, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”
Selfishness is a consuming and destructive sin. It breeds anger, resentment, and jealousy. Paul warned Timothy about this in 1 Timothy 6:1-4. He said, “Let as many bondservants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and His doctrine may not be blasphemed. And those who have believing masters, let them not despise them because they are brethren, but rather serve them because those who are benefited are believers and beloved. Teach and exhort these things. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions.” He told the Corinthians that their divisions was due to their selfishness. 1 Corinthians 3:1-3 says, “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?”
“No church, even the most doctrinally sound and spiritually mature, is immune from the threat of this sin, and nothing can more quickly divide and weaken the church.”
The word eritheia is translated by various terms in the NT: “self-seeking”. Romans 2:18 says, “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who "will render to each one according to his deeds": eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath. James 3:14-16 says, “But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
The second word is “strife”. 2 Corinthians 12:20 says, “For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.”
Selfishness appears in Paul’s list of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. It says, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
So Paul tells them “Nothing by way of selfishness” and now he tells them:
Do Nothing By Way of Conceit (v.3b)
The word “conceit” or “vain glory” is the Greek word kenodoxia. It comes from kenos, which means “empty” and doxa which means “glory.” It is “empty glory.” This is a highly exaggerated self-view, which is nothing but empty conceit or “empty pride.”
“This word has the two senses: “delusion,” and “conceit.” Only conceit occurs in the NT (Philippians 2:3), though we find both in the apostolic fathers.”
“Whereas selfish ambition pursues personal goals, empty conceit seeks personal glory and acclaim.”
“A person with conceit considers himself always to be right and expects others to agree with him. The only unity he seeks or values is centered on himself.”
We must be on constant guard against conceit. Galatians 6:3 says, “For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Romans 13:13-14 says, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” This too is nothing more than a work of the flesh that must be killed daily in our lives.
We must learn to put this off in our life. Colossians 3:8 says, “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.”
Having mentioned the two negatives of doing nothing from selfishness or conceit, Paul now gives the positive at the end of verse 3:
Have a Humility of Mind (vv.3c-4)
He says, “But in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than himself.”
This is the Greek word tapeinoshrosune, which literally means, “Lowliness of mind.”
“In secular Greek literature, the adjective tapeinos was used exclusively in a derisive way, most commonly of a slave. It described what was considered base, common, unfit, and having little value.”
“This is a deep sense of one’s littleness. This indicates self-forgetfulness in serving others, the spirit which most resembles Christ.”
“Humbleness of mind is the opposite of pride.” It “stands opposed to that pride or self-valuation which would lead us to strive for the ascendancy, or which acts from a wish for flattery or praise. The best and the only true correction of these faults is humility. This virtue consists in estimating ourselves according to truth. It is a willingness to take the place which we ought to take in the sight of God and man; and, having the low estimate of our own importance and character which the truth about our insignificance as creatures and vileness as sinners would produce, it will lead us to a willingness to perform lowly and humble offices that we may benefit others.”
William Barclay says, “There is always the danger that people should work not to advance the work but to advance themselves. It is extraordinary how time and again the great princes of the Church almost fled from office in the agony of the sense of their own unworthiness.
Ambrose was one of the great figures of the early Church. A great scholar, he was the Roman governor of the province of Liguria and Aemilia, and he governed with such loving care that the people regarded him as a father. The bishop of the district died and the question of his successor arose. In the midst of the discussion, suddenly a little child’s voice arose: "Ambrose-bishop! Ambrose-bishop!" The whole crowd took up the cry. To Ambrose it was unthinkable. He fled by night to avoid the high office the Church was offering him; and it was only the direct intervention and command of the Emperor which made him agree to become bishop of Milan.
When John Rough publicly from the pulpit in St. Andrews summoned him to the ministry, John Knox was appalled. In his own History of the Reformation he writes: "Thereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day until the day that he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart. No man saw in him any sign of mirth, nor yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, for many days together."
Far from being filled with ambition, the great men were filled with a sense of their own inadequacy for high office.”
Humility is a dominant virtue in the Old Testament
Solomon said in Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” He said in Proverbs 16:19, “Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the proud.” Numbers 12:3 tells us that Moses was “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” David said, “For though the Lord is exalted, yet He regards the lowly, but the haughty He knows from afar” (Psalm 138:6). In another Psalm, he wrote, “The humble will inherit the land” (Psalm 37:11) which is a passage that Jesus quoted in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
The New Testament teaches that humility is the attitude all believer’s are to have toward God and one another.
In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus “spoke a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ “And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In Romans 12:10 Paul tells the believers to “be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.” In Ephesians 4:2 he said to “have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.”
Genuine humility involves believers’ not thinking too highly of themselves and requires that they regard one another as more important than themselves (vv.3c-4). They are to “Esteem others better” than yourselves. The word “Esteem” is the Greek word hegeomai. This means “more than just having an opinion. It refers to a carefully thought-out conclusion based on the truth. It does not mean to pretend that others are more important, but to believe that others actually are more important.”
J.B. Lightfoot says it’s “each thinking the other better.” Albert Barnes says “This is one of the effects produced by true humility.” “Instead of fixing your eyes on those points in which you excel, fix them on those in which your neighbor excels you: this is true humility.”
Look also for “the interest of others” (v.4). The word “Look” (skopeo), means “to observe something. It often carried the additional ideas of giving close attention and special consideration.” It means “to fix attention upon with desire for and interest in.”
JB Lightfoot renders it “to consult one’s own interest.” It’s “not keeping an eye on the main chance for number one, but for the good of others.”
The word “Other’s is the key to this passage. It is the Christian faith which first made the word others important. Why did Christ come from heaven’s glory to the earth? It was for others. Why should we carry the gospel? For others. To think of others rather than ourselves is having the mind of Christ.”
An example of looking out for the interests of others is by doing what Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”
Our liberty is based on others. Romans 14:19-21 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Romans 15:1-2 says, “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification.”
According to the context of 1:27, this is how we are to behave ourselves according to the gospel. This is what it means to “let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Are you doing nothing by way of selfishness or conceit? Do you have humility of mind? The answer to these two questions will show whether you are maintaining spiritual unity. My prayer is that you will have the mind of Christ and follow his example of humility. We will look at his example next week as we look at verses 5-8. For tonight, I want to ask you to consider what has been said and ask God to search your heart. Our Pastors are available tonight to answer any questions you may have and to show you more on this subject. Maybe you’re here tonight and haven’t obeyed the first and foremost of Christ’s commands and that is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Before you can have a right horizontal relationship you first need a right vertical relationship. Jesus came to set you free from your sin. Will you turn to Him tonight? We would like to share with you one-on-one about this. Go to our Pastors tonight as we pray. Let’s pray.