Summary: an exposition of Philippians 2:1-11

Islington Baptist Church August 11, 2001

Philippians 2:1-11

Scriptures: Colossians 1, John 17

On Friday morning I called Chris Stockwell’s office. Chris Stockwell is one of our local Members of Parliament. I asked his secretary to confirm for me whether or not I had the proper understanding of this office “Party Whip”. Within each political party in Canada today there is appointed a person who is given the title of “Party Whip”.

I discovered that the term originates from the 1700’s. In the 1700’s in America, various fox hunts were held. One of the members of the fox hunt was called the “Whipper in”. His job was to keep the fox hounds together, orderly and in line. Naturally, he had a whip.

Today’s Party Whip’s don’t carry a real whip but their job is similar in some respects to the “Whipper in” of the fox hunts of long ago. In addition to making sure party members show up for Parliamentary meetings, the Party Whip is to make sure that when it comes time to vote at various meetings that all the party members vote the same way and give the impression that the party is totally united.

As you can probably guess, making sure everyone in their party votes the same way is a big job—at times requiring a gentle hand and at other times requiring a firmer hand.

One of the ultimate responsibilities of the Party Whip is that unity in the party is maintained.

Unity is so important to the function of any organization or group. Unity is especially important in the church.

Jesus knew that unity would be an issue for his followers, this is why we have this prayer of his from John 17:20-23 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”

Today we are going to be studying Philippians 2:1-11 together. Philippians 2:1-11 concerns the unity of the church. READ TEXT

The central command that Paul gives to us in v.1-11 is found for us in v.2 “fulfill my joy by being likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”

This command, which concerns the unity of the church, is often repeated in the repeated in the scriptures.

In Ephesians 4:3 it says “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”

In Romans 15:5-6 it says “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Jesus Christ, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”

Before we get to the unity command of v.2 and Paul’s other commands that relate to unity we must first consider the basis for being united. Verse 1 provides us with reason enough to remain united together as the children of God.

In v.1 Paul strings together 4 sentences that begin with the word “if”

1. If there is any consolation in Christ/ if there is any comfort in Christ

2. If any comfort of love—referring to God’s love for us

3. If any fellowship of the Spirit / with the Spirit

4. If any affection and mercy

Paul appeals to us that we be united on the basis of these 4 things and our experience of them in Christ.

1. On the basis of the grace of Christ and the comfort we have in knowing him we are to be united

2. On the basis of the love of God that we have experienced we are to be united The love of God which resulted in his sending of his Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for us sinners. Our love for each other is to abound more and more. We to love each other deeply.

3. On the basis of our being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who helps, empowers, acts as a guarantee of our salvation, we are to be united


Verse 1 is a basic Trinitarian text: meaning that all 3 members of the Godhead are mentioned together: Christ, Father (mention of his love), Spirit and the fellowship we have with Him. See also II Cor. 13:14 for a parallel “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”

Point: The unity that characterizes the Godhead is to characterize us as the church. Remember Jesus’ prayer of John 17 “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you”

4. On the basis of our general and ongoing experience of the affection and mercy of God we are to be united

When we have all that God has done for us in mind and keep it in mind then we will find ourselves staying united.

In v.3-5 Paul follows up the unity command of v.2 with 3 commands that relate to unity.

1. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.

When our motives are wrong and we carry an attitude of being better than others—than the unity of the church is at risk.

We need to be careful about our motives (selfish ambition, vain conceit). Sometimes in church a person seeks a ministry position because they want to be in the limelight. They want to the praise of others. They want the authority that goes with the position. We need to have servants hearts. Our motives always ought to be to use our gifts and abilities for each others benefit and not any selfish goals. I’ve had different people confess to me that they indeed struggle with serving in certain ways because of wrong and selfish motivations. The thing that impressed me about this was their maturity in that they knew that was their struggle and they were doing something to try to keep their attitude and motivations right.

When we start to think highly of ourselves we are in trouble. Our thinking highly of ourselves always leads to our putting someone else down. The result is that we elevate ourselves at someone else’s expense. In Romans 12:3 it says “do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think”.

To many people think that because they hold a certain position they are entitled to more than others. A certain Mr. Herter was running hard for reelection as governor of the state of Massechusets, and one day he arrived late at a BBQ. He’d had no breakfast or lunch and was very hungry. As he moved down the serving line he held out his plate and received 1 piece of chicken. The governor said to the serving lady, “Excuse me, do you mind if I get another piece of chicken, I’m very hungry.” The woman replied, “Sorry, I’m only supposed to give one piece to each person. The governor said “But I’m starved”, and again she said “only 1 to a customer.” Herter, normally a modest man decided to use the weight of his office and said, “Madam do you know who I am? I am the governor of this state” to which she replied “Do you know who I am? I’m the lady in charge of the chicken. Now move along mister.”

We need to be humble people. None of us are better than anyone else here. We are all sinners saved by grace and we have a job to do: bringing glory to God.

When esteeming each other is our goal then….

2. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. v.4

Verse 4 is a neat verse. For one thing, looking after ourselves and pursuing our own interests is acknowledged as acceptable and good. This we typically excel at. However the qualification is that we must also concern ourselves with the interests of each other.

Verse 4 commands us to be concerned – and more than just concerned in mind but to be actually doing something-- about the interests of each other.

Selfishness and self concern is nothing new. We are not the first generation to be the “Me generation”. Listen to what Paul says in 2:20-21 “I have no one else like Timothy who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ”

We have to care more than just for ourselves. Christian unity depends on this. The personal welfare and well being of each of us needs to be our concern. We need to get “others” focused and stop being so stuck on ourselves and our problems and interests. We must become servants to each other—to do this means investing of ourselves in each other. It means getting to know each other—to do that we need to spend more time than just Sunday mornings together.

What does this lead to: It leads acts of caring. It leads to expressions of love. It leads to intercessory prayer. It results in regular Christian fellowship. It results in the unity of the church

3. Be united by striving to have the same mind which was also in Christ Jesus. v.5-11

If we strive, as we are here commanded to, to adopt the attitude/mind of Jesus that is communicated to us in v.5-11 then unity in the church will be no problem.

Christ’s mind/attitude that if have will result in church unity…

i. Willing obedience to the Father. If we have the mind of Jesus then obedience to the Father will be our goal. The result will be unity

-according to the Father’s plan Jesus left Heaven and came down to this earth. In the scriptures Jesus repeatedly says “I came to do the Father’s will”

-in spite of the personal cost to himself Jesus willingly and yes even joyfully (Hebrews 12) obeyed God the Father in all things—eventually dying on the dreaded cross for our sakes and salvation

Jesus’ example of willing obedience to God the Father stands for us as an attitude that is to be ours. We need to daily surrender ourselves to the doing of God’s will, obeying—not out fear of judgement but because we love God. When obeying God in all things is our priority then unity in the church will flourish.

ii. Servant hood. When we decide to be servants of each other then….

In v.7 it speaks of Jesus taking the form of a servant. While here with us on earth Jesus exemplified servant hood. As Jesus said “I came to serve, not be served”

In Matthew 20:26ff Jesus says “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”

When we decide to serve one another out of love then we will be like Christ and then unity will happen.

iii. Sacrifice and selflessness. When we decide to relate to each other sacrificially then unity

Jesus died upon the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. He gave himself for us that we might have life. Jesus in fact died in the lowest of the low ways: death upon a cross. He did this that for all who put their trust in him there is the forgiveness of sins and peace with God.

Jesus’ sacrifice and sacrificial nature is to be imitated by us. As he lay down his life for us so to we must be ready to lay down our lives for each other (I John 3:16). This will build unity and love in the church for each other.

iv. Humility. When we decide to be humble in that no job is to small for us or below us. When we decide to set aside any notion of ego… then unity

In becoming a man Jesus humbled himself. The very notion of Jesus, being God, becoming a man smacks of humility.

In his life as a man Jesus humbled himself by serving others—he worthy of our praise and worship serving us, even washing his disciples feet.

In his death Jesus humbled himself by submitting to dying by means of the cross: the worst of all executions of his death and according to the scriptures: cursed is everyone who hangs upon a tree.

When we take upon ourselves the humble attitude of Christ then unity will thrive in our church.

v. Waited for the Father to exalt Him.

Jesus in no way sought to exalt himself, He waited and let God the Father do that. The scriptures here speak of how God has highly exalted him and gave Him the name that is above every name.

In I Samuel 2:30, God says “Those who honor me, I will honor…”

If we seek to exalt ourselves it is to our shame and the cost is the unity of the Church. We must wait for God to lift us up. Greatness and honor in the kingdom of God comes through faithful service—there is no other way.

If our attitude is to bring glory to God and not to ourselves then unity will flourish in the church

When we have the mind of Christ then unity in the church will be without question, for we will be: servants of one another, willing to die for each other, self abasing for the benefit of each other, not seeking our own glory but waiting for God to lift us up, completely obedient to the Father’s will.


Next week we are going to continue on in our study of v.5-11. Verse 5-11 provides for us a treasure chest of teaching regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ that we have not been able to properly explore today.

Today though our focus has been on unity.

Throughout the book of Philippians “Joy in the Lord” is a major theme. In v.2 Paul tells us that a united church will be for him the “icing on the cake” of his life, the completion of his joy.

A united church indeed brings joy. A divided church which sees people using their tongues as swords, pursuing their own interests, being easily offended and harboring resentment doesn’t bring joy at all.

The command of v.2 to be united is based upon the four if statements of v.1.

Following the 3 commands found in v.3-5 will promote unity.

1. Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit but rather acting in humility, considering others better than ourselves promotes unity

2. Looking out for the interests of each other also promotes unity and love within the church. We are commanded to do so.

3. Having the same attitude or mind as Jesus Christ promotes unity.

When we do these things the church will be united.

What about you this morning?

Are you at odds with a Christian brother or sister?

Are you harboring unforgiveness and resentment in your heart?

Have you decided to be a hard person to offend?

Are you faithful in service, modeling one committed to Christ and the mission he has given us—that promotes unity?

How are you promoting the unity of the church?

Maintaining unity and promoting unity in our church is each one of ours responsibility. The starting point is ourselves and our attitudes….