Living in sinful disunity with others is not only unpleasant, but it also grieves the Holy Spirit. Yet if we’re honest, there are plenty of times that we don’t love others as we should. Oftentimes we don’t want to unravel the unity we share with another and promote disunity, yet that’s what we do. When we leave a conversation angry, disappointed, or frustrated, it’s usually because we’re looking out for our own interests more than we’re looking out for the interests of the other person. Whether it’s a spouse or child, a person with whom we serve in ministry, a coworker who has different ideas than we have, or a neighbor with whom we don’t get along particularly well, all of us experience disunity in relationships. Thankfully, Philippians 2:1–11 teaches us that the Lord Jesus Christ is not just our example when it comes to loving others, but also the one who enables us to dwell in humility and unity.
One of Paul’s greatest desires for the Philippians is that they will dwell in unity. So he tells them to “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). But like any good pastor, parent or other leader, before he tells them what to do, he tells the Philippians what God has already done for them.
First, he reminds them that there is “encouragement in Christ” (Phil. 2:1). It’s important to remember that “as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:5). As we strive for unity with fellow believers, it is of great comfort to know that the Christ of encouragement is with us.
Second, Paul reminds us that there is “comfort from love” (Phil. 2:1), specifically God the Father’s love for His people (2 Cor. 13:14). “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” to accomplish redemption for His people (John 3:16). When we’re striving for unity in relationships, it’s important to remember the love we have received from God the Father.
Third, believers have received “participation in the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1). We are partakers of grace. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” and “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). Jesus gave to us “another Helper, to be with [us] forever, even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16–17). When seeking unity with other believers, let us remember that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit is with us.
Finally, the triune God has “affection and sympathy” for believers (Phil. 2:1). The “Father of mercies and God of all comfort” extends comfort to believers “in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction” (2 Cor. 1:3–4). “Through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 1:5). And the Holy Spirit is also our “Helper” or comforter (John 14:26). Since the triune God provides comfort for the believer, we should be quick to extend comfort to others.
In several synonymous phrases, Paul exhorts believers to be unified both in mind and in heart “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2). Instead of doing things “from rivalry or conceit,” believers are to “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). Each believer is to “look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). No one did this better than Christ Himself when He took up the cross before receiving the crown.
When you’re in the middle of a heated discussion with someone, it is difficult to stop and think about who God is and all the blessings that He has given us. But if we will train our minds to remember God’s great love, Christ’s encouragement, and the help available to us by the Spirit, it is possible, by God’s grace, to humbly move toward the other person in love, seeking unity.
It is significant how Paul introduces Christ’s cross and crown, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5). Christ is not just our example as we strive for humility but also our enabler. Because He accomplished our redemption, we are new creatures in Christ and our minds are being renewed to become more and more like Him (Rom. 8:29).
The Apostle John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). But Christ, the perfect Son of God, did not grasp for power. Instead, He “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7). In order to help “the offspring of Abraham” He “had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:16–17).
Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). Death on a cross was the most hideous form of death. Romans didn’t even mention it in their conversations, it was so despicable to them. And Jews believed that a criminal died on a cross under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22–23). But there was no other way the redemption of God’s people could have been accomplished (see Col. 1:21–22).
If we are to be humble in each other’s presence, strive side by side for the gospel, and love one another, then we must look to Christ and remember that we are united to Him in His death and in His life.
In between Christ’s cross (death) and crown (exaltation) two important events occurred: the resurrection and the ascension. Although Paul doesn’t mention them in Philippians 2:5–11, they are assumed, since the exaltation could not have happened apart from them. Such events were marvelous to behold, and some had the privilege of seeing and touching His nail-pierced hands, eating with Him, hearing His voice one last time, and watching Him ascend into the clouds of heaven (John 20:26–29; 21:9–14; Acts 1:6–11). But only God the Father, God the Holy Spirit, and the angels in heaven were there when the King of the nations assumed His rightful throne and the Father bestowed on Him “the name that is above every name . . . Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9, 11).
Are you tired of living in disunity? Do you walk away from most conversations angry, disappointed, irritated, or proud? Are you looking out mostly for your own interests instead of the interests of others? Let us humble ourselves before the Lord and strive for unity with those whom God has placed in our lives. We have “encouragement in Christ,” “comfort from [God’s] love,” “participation in the Spirit,” and the “affection and sympathy” of the triune God (Phil. 2:1). Dear believer, Christ is more than just our example. He will enable us to dwell with others in humility and unity as we look to Him.