By Earl Kimbrough
The Philippian Christians aroused such joy in Paul that he continually thanked God for them (Phil. 1:3). They comprised a model church, except for a hint of discord that gave the apostle concern. The trouble was nothing like that at Corinth. But even a healthy church can become unraveled if small snags are unattended. Paul wisely treated the problem as a danger, but not as an emergency. He did not issue rebukes or thunder threats. He gently urged the Philippians to follow principles that promote like-mindedness in a congregation (Phil. 2:14).
The Basis of Like-Mindedness
“Therefore” ties the like-mindedness to the preceding exhortation (Phil. 1:27). Their standing “fast in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel” was what Paul wanted most to hear about them. The motives on which he based his appeal to this end are introduced by four “if’s” (Phil. 2:1). The conjunction here does not express doubt but assured certainty. Anchoring his plea in facts they knew to be true, he poured out his heart in fervent eloquence, urging on them the highest possible duty.
The facts are fundamental. “Consolation in Christ” is the comfort one receives by assurance of union with him. Christians breathe the atmosphere of Christ, and none can do this without genuine affection for the Lord and his people. “Comfort of love” is the encouragement love brings and which we share with all who are in Christ. The “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” is our participation in the Spirit’s influence through his word dwelling in and guiding us to fruitful lives (Gal. 5:22, 23). “Affection and mercy” are also valued blessings the Philippians knew.
The aim of Paul’s exhortation was the completion of his joy (Phil. 2:2). This was not merely for his personal benefit, but his joy was so entwined with the joy of Christ that he knew what made him glad made Christ glad. But as great as Paul’s joy in them was, it would not be full until he knew they were truly “like-minded.” The word means “to think the same thing” and is the general word for harmony. It is followed by two specifics. (1) There is unity of affection: “having the same love.” Love will not survive unless it is mutual. (2) There is unity of sentiment: “being of one accord.” This means to be of “one soul; having your souls joined together . . . (and) acting together as if one soul actuated” the body (Albert Barnes).
“Of one mind” repeats the idea of harmony in stronger form and gives it greater emphasis. The unity enjoined is deeper than common belief, harmonious worship, or mutual work. As important as these are, they must be coupled to a unity of feeling. Ephesus shows that a church may be one in faith and practice but fall short of the inner bond of love that is essential to true oneness in Christ (Rev. 2:2-4). The Lord prayed for unity that is more than form (John 17:20, 21).
The Qualities of Like-Mindedness
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition” (Phil. 2:3). Christians, as members of Christ’s body, must not act according to faction, or in separate interests. Neither should they act in opposition to or in competition with one another, whether as individuals or a party. Rivalry among Christians has no place in the service of Christ. There are two ways to do a good work: through strife and through love (Phil. 1:15-17). What Paul has in mind is the modesty of self-assessment that is learned at the feet of Jesus.
“Let nothing be done through . . . conceit.” Empty pride or vain glory is meant. Conceit is the spirit that moves one to boost himself and put others down. Vanity and discord are common bedfellows for vanity creates discord. It can ruin a marriage, a family, or a church. “Christ came to humble us, and therefore let there not be among us a spirit of pride” (Matthew Henry).
Each Christian is to be characterized by “lowliness of mind.” This is the opposite of self-seeking and vain glory. The apostle does not recommend that we think any less of ourselves than we should. Everyone needs a sense of worth and accomplishment. How often, even in the church, do we hurt and discourage people by ignoring or making light of what they do because they do not do it as well as others? Some act as if feelings for others were a mark of apostasy. Christianity was not designed to make door mats or neurotics of pe ple. When it does, it has been perverted.
But neither was it designed to encourage us to think of ourselves more highly than we should (Rom. 12:3). What Paul desires is a balance between a healthy selfesteem and a wholesome regard for others, with the preference tipped in their favor. He is discussing moral worth, not knowledge, skill, or ability. His words must be taken in perspective. We see our faults better than anyone else, if we are honest, because we view them from within. But we do not see the faults of others with the same clear vision because we view them only from without, and perhaps with warped lenses. Love’s eye is quick to detect virtues and overlook defects in others. It is in this light that we are to esteem others better than ourselves.
“Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Each one is to watch for his own interests, of course. This is not wrong; but do not miss the “also.” What is forbidden is fixing the vision on our interests to the point that we fail to see the interests of others. The thief on one hand and the priest and the Levite on the other represent two types of excessive self-interest. The first is aggressively harmful to others, and the second is negligently harmful. There is another kind of excessive self-interest that cuts more deeply. It finds expression in Demas, a supposed friend who deserts one in time of need.
Paul is not encouraging us to be busy bodies, or to intrude into things that are not our business. Where looking into the personal affairs of others is needed (as in helping one in distress), the utmost delicacy should be used. Some enter such situations with a bulldozer, and shout the ill fortune from the housetops, leaving injured souls along their path. Perhaps the main thought in the verse is care for the spiritual welfare of others. We are not lords of others’ faith, but we are helpers in their service. We need the wisdom to know the difference.
“Probably there is no single thing so insisted on in the New Testament as the importance of harmony among Christians” (Barnes). What Paul describes is ideal. It is not always possible to attain this degree of oneness (see Rom. 12:18). But we must constantly strive to reach it. And remembering this will also help promoting disunity.
Guardian of Truth XXXI: 24, pp. 746, 752
December 17, 1987