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The church at Philippi was Paul’s “joy and crown” (Phil. 4:1). Of all the things that could have brought him joy while he was bound in prison, nothing would have made his heart leap higher than hearing of the Philippians’ unity (2:2). Paul’s desire for and appeal to the Philippians to be like-minded reveals that the Apostolic standard is a church united. Jesus likewise prized unity among His people (John 17:20–23).
But churches don’t drift toward unity, and that is because people don’t drift toward humility. Arrogance engenders disharmony, which is fanned into full flame when striving for self-advancement and self-exaltation become the operative mind-set of a church body. Consequently, relationships often self-destruct from biting and devouring one another (Gal. 5:15).
A church full of arrogance has too many high-flying banners for the world to notice the banner of God’s glory. But a church made up of truly humble people is equipped to lock arms in pursuit of gospel advancement (Phil. 1:27). It should not surprise us that God looks upon haughtiness with righteous anger (Prov. 6:17) but prizes unity among His people.
We’re called to live in a manner that is worthy of the gospel (Phil 1:27), according to a set of values that contradict our natural tendencies and the values promulgated by the world. The world celebrates an individual who started from the bottom and makes it to the top. God celebrates His Son who started from the top and condescended to the bottom.
We are commanded to assume the same disposition as Christ, counting others as more valuable than ourselves. Humility is Paul’s blueprint for unity (2:3–4), and his model is the Lord Jesus Christ (vv. 5–11), who condescended from the highest position of glory and honor to assume human flesh.
The person and work of Christ is the impetus for the Christian’s life of humility. Our salvation was achieved by His humiliation, wherein He, as Athanasius stressed, “became what we are so that he might make us what he is.” He’s held forth as our model. It’s worth noting, however, that John Calvin identified a significant difference in the humility we exercise. In reality, Christ emptied Himself of infinite riches as the co-owner of eternal, divine glory by “being found in human form” (v. 8). We are called merely to empty ourselves of the mind-set that we are greater than we truly are. Pomposity exhibits a lie since humans have nothing in themselves worthy of exaltation. The humility we seek is simply an accurate self-assessment: “I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Rom. 12:3).
In one sense, the unity and harmony of your local church depends on your having an accurate assessment of yourself. With the proper lowliness of mind, we can re-prioritize so that the interests of others supersede our own interests. This manner of life is worthy of the gospel and the fertile soil in which unity is cultivated.