Building Unity for Christ's Joy
How to Satisfy Christ's Joy
Some weeks ago, I preached a message on spiritual warfare and the need for unity amidst that war. Paul wrote, “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). The idea is that spiritual battle is greatly successful when we work together as a unit to defeat our enemy. That is a powerful incentive for unity. In Philippians 2, Paul uses a different kind of incentive, though the call is the same.
Here’s today’s incentive: The joy of our Master is missing when unity is absent among his people. Let me show you how I get that, and then I want to give two means to better unity. Open your Bibles to Philippians 2.
Paul writes, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, if any comfort from love, if any participation in the Spirit, if any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (2:1-2).
In the immediate sense, Paul’s joy for the Philippian church was incomplete. What did they lack? He said, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. So they lacked unity. If they could be unified in their love and thinking, Paul’s joy would be complete.
But completing Paul’s joy is only important because Paul’s joy was Christ’s joy. If Paul was sad to see a divided church in Philippi, how much more did it pain Christ, to whom the Philippian church rightfully belonged? It doesn’t come through in every English translation, but in verse one, Paul gives four conditional statements that are intended to show the gravity of being unified.
Those four conditions are: (1) If there is any appeal in Christ (in other words, if your partnership with Christ disposes you to listen to reason); (2) If there is any comfort from love (in other words, if Christian love is any consolation to you); (3) If there is any fellowship in the Spirit (in other words, if you are actually joined together with the Holy Spirit); (4) If there is any affection and sympathy (presumably for Paul and Christ’s incomplete joy).
So, if in Christ you can still be reached, and if you have consolation from love, and if you are partnered with the Holy Spirit, and if you have sympathy and affection, then being unified should be your highest goal. Which means, if we don’t deeply care about unity, we may not be in fellowship with the Holy Spirit. That’s the gravity and import of having (or caring about) Christian unity.
So the call through the Holy Spirit today is: Be unified so as to complete Christ’s joy among you. How do we do that? This whole letter is, in one way or another, an appeal to unity—so there are countless means to better unity. But this text provides us with two. The first is to properly align our thinking with Christ, and the second is to consider everyone else as more important than self. Let’s spend some time detailing those.
Getting Our Thoughts Together with Christ
In verse five, Paul challenges us to think like Christ: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ.” The idea is, if we think like Christ, then unity will naturally result. So it’s important to ponder how our natural thinking may be at odds with Christ’s thinking.
Paul wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Satan is working in the world, constantly, and in large part through philosophy—the assumptions and thought-patterns of man. He works on the philosophical scale because deviant activity among men is more easily prompted when men have a corrupted philosophy. If my philosophy is pure and I stumble in sin, I at least have a standard for returning home and repenting and getting right. It’s the whole “I knew the right thing to do but was weak” kind of thing. Satan may have success by dangling candy before the conscientious Christian; he may loft a certain smell to lead one along a path they would otherwise avoid. It has its power, no doubt—but it lacks a broad sweeping affect. That kind of work demands a tailor-made temptation for each person; for each person is tempted by something different. If Satan wishes to broadly affect an area—a region—and future generations—he messes with its philosophies. He corrupts the thought patterns. He corrupts world views and conceptions. If he gets us thinking the wrong way, it’s very easy to get us doing the wrong things—because our actions are naturally borne out of our thoughts. If our thoughts are corrupted, our actions will be also.
So, how is the devil using philosophy to corrupt modern thinking? One of the trends I see today is the self movement, i.e., self esteem, self confidence, self improvement, self love. It’s everywhere. All of modern psychology pushes for a self-centered world view. It sounds like this, “Be happy with who you are. Don’t change for anybody. Be the real you. Fight for your rights.”
Self is the most worshiped God in our time. But we are called to think like Christ! What happens when you have a hundred people whose primary concern is self? Is unity possible when everyone has been taught to fight for their rights—to exercise all of their liberties? Is unity possible when we are taught not to change for anybody? Just think about that.
The first step toward unity is to change our thinking and align it with Christ, who spent his entire life thinking of two groups, neither of which were himself: (1) He thought of God (“Not as I will, but as you will”), and he thought of others (“the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others”).
You Are More Important than I Am
After Paul’s command to share the same love and the same mind, he tells us how to do that: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4).
So that’s the Holy Spirit’s recipe for building unity. But here’s the message of the world: To be unified, that person must apologize to me; to be unified, that person must share my exact opinion on every matter; to be unified, the authorities must implement my plans and preferences; to be unified, I must be seen as an equal; to be unified, my rights must be upheld.
On the contrary, Paul says, to be unified, forsake your rights and liberties, and humbly do what’s best for your brother! Even go so far as to see him as more important than you. We aren’t called to esteem self. We are called to esteem everyone except self.
Granted, this is hard to do! I’m the most important person in the world, right? Or, in the least, I’m equally as important as you are, for there is neither slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). So if we are all equal, how am I to consider my brother or sister as more significant than I?
Well, think like Jesus: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
Christ was literally God. I mean, he was the radiant, glorious, omnipotent heavenly Creator, seated on his throne in glorious heaven, and he—though God—didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.
The text goes on, “[He] emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:7-8).
Count others as more significant than you. See them as more important than you. Be interested in their interests. Honor their needs as though they are more important than yours. And when that seems impossible, just look at dying Jesus, and remember—that bloody criminal once sat on his glorious throne in infinite radiance. And he brought himself down here willingly so as to lift me up. Surely I can take the small step it takes to get below my brother.
The step he’s calling us to take is insignificant in comparison to Christ and how far he descended. He was literally in the exact form of God in heaven. But he stepped down. What’s the step below God? Angels. Still, he went lower. What’s lower than an angel? Man. Still, he went lower. What’s lower than generic man? A servant of men. Still Jesus went lower. What’s lower than a servant of man? A criminal. Still Jesus went lower. What’s lower than a criminal? One guilty of capital punishment. And he went lower still. What’s lower than one guilty of capital punishment? One guilty of death by cross—the most torturous and shameful public death in history.
Just imagine it—from Almighty, glorious King over the universe to a foot-washing servant accused of blasphemy and ordered to die in the most shameful way. That’s what Paul means when he says, “He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
That’s why he’s not asking too much when he says, “Count others more significant than yourselves.”
“Complete my joy,” calls Jesus, “by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
And when that call comes, it’s frightfully easy to say, “I’m just waiting for my brother to agree with me and give me the respect I’m due. Help him, dear Lord.” But that’s not how unity is built. It isn’t built waiting for others to do their job. It’s built when we reject the idea of self in order to get underneath our struggling brothers where we might lift them up.
When that call becomes difficult, picture our glorious Creator as a bloody pulp, and say, “I can consider my brother as more significant than self, for Jesus, God, considered my life of more value than his—and he died in my stead.”