Love and Unity in Christ

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, 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. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:1-11)

Paul begins Philippians 2 with some very interesting statements, statements for our encouragement I think, and possibly to just get our minds right before he moves on in the letter. By getting our minds right, I mean, he is helping us to think rightly about life and what is true in our lives as believers. He hits on some of the deepest truths in the life of the believer, and I think it is simply to remind and to encourage.

As Christians we desperately need reminding and encouraging, and this reminding and encouraging, if it is to be helpful, it will be saturated in what is true. Paul does this for us. We need what is true because we are daily bombarded with what is not true. If we are not daily in the Word, personally, listening to and receiving biblical teaching, discussing the things of God with others, listening to sound worship music, praying to the Lord, if we are not engaged in all of these things, then eventually what happens is, what is false begins to seem like what is true. And what is true begins looking like what is false. If we are not consistently and purposefully engaging our minds, interacting mentally with truth, then what fills us is falsehood. This happens very easily! And the reason for this is because we are cutting off truth and being, again, bombarded with what is false. We will begin to be inundated with what is false; it corrupts the mind. 

Where does this come from, where does falsehood come from? From our own flesh, our sinful desires, our wants, our selfishness; and falsehood comes from the philosophies of the world in which we live. These philosophies say things like, “You deserve, you can have, you should have, this is good for you, this will make you happy, you can fulfill your lusts, this is best for you, you are most important, you are all that really matters, God doesn’t care if you do this, you are forgiven so go ahead and engage in this, you only live once, your life will be meaningless without this, everyone else is getting this, why should you suffer, who cares who might be hurt.”

And so we are affected from within, from our own flesh, and from without, the world’s philosophies that we gain just by living in society. There is a battle going on between truth and what is not true. So on the one hand we are receiving into our brains, our minds, all kinds of sources that are not true. It is flooding into our minds, from our environment, TV, movies, music, billboards, friends, work, books, all appealing to our flesh and coming to us rapid-fire, working on our minds; these represent philosophies for living that are not in line with the philosophies of God. To counter that we need truth, truth from the Word as it comes to us in various forms, reading it, listening to it, being taught, conversation, and so on. It’s a battle and we have to be engaged in the battle. If we decide to idle, then without any effort the false, harmful, untrue philosophies of the world come to us. We must actively counter that with consistent truth.

How do we know where we stand? Are we standing in truth, or are these false philosophies taking over? I would just ask some questions, such as: are we worshiping God daily, all day, through fellowship with Him? Are we loving Him? Are we longing for Him, praising Him, thankful to Him? If not, we are in danger of believing things that are not true, and these things that are not true are meant to drive us away from God. Paul doesn’t want that to happen, so he takes a moment and begins reminding the Philippians of what is true for every believer. He does this in an interesting way with a series of “if/then” statements. It’s interesting because all the “ifs” are assumed to be true, so we could substitute “because” for “if.”

What are these statements? In verse 1, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,” So Paul is saying, “If any of these things are true for you, then there is a proper response to that.” And we will talk about the response after we consider these “if” statements. But just note that the response is an appeal to unity. So keep that in mind. Paul gives these statements for us to consider to ground us better in unity with one another.

So just another quick note before we get into these statements. His emphasis here is what we have in Christ and these things – who Christ is in us, what He has done with us, how He is interacting with us today – these things should motivate us to live in unity with one another. Our motive to living in fellowship with one another is not to be based on how people treat us. The flow is so important here, and consistent with the Word as a whole. We don’t treat people according to how they treat us, we treat them according to how Christ treats us. Do you see that? If we are waiting for someone to change, in order that we might treat them well, then we are buying into the philosophies of the world, and not the philosophies of Christ. 

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:32-33)

So Paul digs in here with these statements. He is basing our love for each other, our unity with each other, on who Christ is, and not on other people’s attitudes or behaviors. So as we go through these statements, I hope that we will be overwhelmed by God’s love for us, be in awe of what He freely does for us, so we will say, “Who am I then, to withhold love from my brother or sister and to hinder close fellowship of unity with them?” We have to think about this from a Christian perspective, from a perspective of how Christ treats us. Jesus’ love for us is not based on our actions. It’s a good thing, isn’t it? What would it be like if His love was based on our actions? If that was the case, it might be like, “Okay, if you will meet me halfway regarding holiness, then I’ll save you!” Or, “If you will love me with all your heart, then I will love you and keep my promises to you!” “If you will serve me and me alone, then I will extend my gracious love to you!”

Wow! Can you imagine that? First off, heaven would be empty, and we would be hopelessly lost and headed for hell. Christ says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourself.” There is no works, right? He comes all the way to us with His love, and His love is not conditional toward us. And so we are to extend unconditional love toward others. If we only extend some conditional love toward others, if we do that, then Jesus says we are no better than the lost. We are being more like non-Christians than Christians. We would be buying into the philosophies of the world. And so Paul is making it clear, giving us truth, and that is: base your love and unity with others on Jesus Christ and His gospel work in your life, not on “their” attitudes or actions. That’s pretty radical stuff.

I want to encourage you to consider if these truths are true for you. He begins with, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ” Remember, Paul is going somewhere with this series of statements. “So if there is any encouragement in Christ…then…” So I ask, for you, in your life, have you received any encouragement in Christ?

The word “encouragement” here means “to come alongside, to give assistance.” It is like what the Good Samaritan did to the one who had been robbed and beaten. He, the Good Samaritan, cared for the beaten man, provided for his care and rescued him from further danger. Has Christ encouraged you, come alongside you, provided for your security, your needs, rescued you from punishment and danger of hell, from the punishment that we deserve? For the Christian we must say “Yes! Yes, He has rescued me. Yes, He has come alongside me. He came to this earth, lived a perfect life, took on my sin, protected me from the wrath of God. Of course He has encouraged me!”

So then, shouldn’t this work of Christ in us compel us to maintain relationships with each other of love and of unity? Shouldn’t our understanding of Christ’s work for us and in us drive us to love each other as He has loved us, to desire unity with each other that He desires we have? Who are we to say, “Yes, thank you Jesus for this encouragement that you have given me, thank you for providing salvation for me, for forgiving me, but…I will not love and strive for unity with others as you want me to.” This would be like what we talked about last week, taking good things from God, and yet refusing to live how He wants us to live. Taking His love and withholding love from other people. It’s like, “God, you go ahead and love me, because I like that. Go ahead and command others to love me, because I like that too, but don’t expect me to give that sort of unconditional love back to other people.” I’m afraid we do that at times. Paul says, “If you have been comforted by Christ, encouraged in Christ, then…go and do likewise in your love and unity with other people.”

He goes on and says, “any comfort from love,” “if you have received any comfort from love”. This is very closely tied to the first. This word “comfort” involves a close relationship marked by genuine concern and helpfulness, all from love. This is the love that the Lord has given to us, as unworthy sinners. We are the least likely of all of God’s creatures, created beings, to deserve God’s love or receive it. We in no way deserve God’s love. We are creatures who have willingly, forcefully, and on a grand scale have sinned against God. We have daily sinned against Him. We have done things that are despicable to a holy and perfect God. We deserve none of His goodness, we don’t deserve our next breath. And as we soak in the rottenness of our hearts, the sinfulness of our sin, God comes, He comes to us, He reaches down to us, involving Himself with us, the perfect One with the awful sinner, and He marks us out for salvation. He chooses to have a relationship with us, despite who we are. He decides to show and feel genuine concern for us as helpless beings. He sacrifices His Son for us and bring us from death to life, and our souls are comforted by that. The undeserving, you and me, receive God’s love in the form of eternal salvation into His glorious kingdom. When we sin against Him, instead of striking us down, He comforts us. 

and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:5)

Let the thought of the comfort of love from God in our hearts drive us to do likewise in the lives of other people, as we strive for unity in love. Even unity in love with those who have terribly sinned against us. That is what God has done for us, and that is what He wants us to do as well.

He goes on to say “any participation in the Spirit”. The third motivator for our unity is participation in the Spirit. Participation here is “koinonia” or “fellowship.” This is a mutual sharing. We are, as Christians, in a relationship with the Holy Spirit, we are in fellowship with the very Spirit of God. Depending on how you view yourself, that could be like, “Yeah, I can understand why He would want to fellowship with me” or “What? He wants to fellowship with me? The holy and perfect God?” This is such a great picture of the way God has chosen to interact and relate to us. He does not save us, say He loves us, and then hold us at a distance. No, He brings us to Himself in fellowship, brings us closely to Himself in intimacy. He gives us His Spirit. 

We become “temples of the Holy Spirit,” as 1 Corinthians 6:19 says. The Holy Spirit is the seal and guarantee of our future inheritance in Christ (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26). God is involved with us, gives us His Spirit, draws our hearts to His. He is not a cold master, with some attitude of, “You are sinners and I am perfect, so I’ll save you, but I don’t really want much to do with you.” No, he gives us His Spirit, even as sinners.

We participate with a perfect God. And yet sometimes we look at each other, in the home, or at church, and say, “Okay well, I’ll put up with you, because I guess I have to, but keep your distance.” Like “Don’t get too close to me.” “I don’t really like how you treat me or respond to me. I guess I’ll love you (whatever that means), but I don’t really want you in my life.” And God tells us through Paul, “Look, you in your sinfulness have been brought into this participation with me and my Spirit. Don’t you fail to lovingly fellowship with others in the same spirit of unity.” We are to be diligent to do according to Ephesians 4:3, that is to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That is what God does for us.

Fourthly, Paul says, “any affection and sympathy”. Affection has to do with emotion or feeling. It is like what Paul expresses in 2 Corinthians 7:13, 15 regarding Titus, where he says, “13 Therefore we are comforted. And besides our own comfort, we rejoiced still more at the joy of Titus, because his spirit has been refreshed by you all…15 And his affection for you is even greater, as he remembers the obedience of you all, how you received him with fear and trembling.” Affection sometimes has to do with a deep longing for something, or someone, especially for those we really love. We understand affection.

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:8)

I think we understand what it means to have affection for someone. It involves feelings of love; not just a committed love, it includes feeling as well. I think we may sometimes leave affection out as we consider God’s love for us, and as we consider how God wants us to love others. How does God really feel about His people? Does God possess affection, emotion, feeling for His people?

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. (Jeremiah 32:39-41)

These texts soar with emotion from God, affection. He puts how He feels in terms we can understand. The groom sees His bride and His heart leaps, racing with excitement. He says things like “rejoicing over you with gladness.” Not just out of duty, but with gladness of heart He rejoices over His people, over us. He talks about a quiet love and a loud singing! “He will exult over you with loud singing.” And in Jeremiah, again, verse 41, “I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”

God’s affection is clear. He is a God of emotion in His love. Not just emotion, but also sympathy, or you could say mercies. He is merciful to us. He withholds from us what we deserve. We have earned punishment and yet he says, “I will not punish you.” For He has already punished His son. We deserve to be cast out from His presence and yet He brings us near. He is merciful to us. So affection and mercy.

As those who have received benefit from His affection and His mercy, which we all have as believers, we should then be affectionate and merciful with each other. Care for one another, and withhold our wrath that we are so prone to dish out to each other. Affection and mercy.

Paul says in verse 2, “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

When we realize what God has done for us through Christ, how He has chosen to relate to us through Christ, when we are overwhelmed by His presence in us, His Spirit in us, when we understand His compassion for us, His affection for us, His mercy in our lives, then and only then can we relate to each other in the same ways. That’s the only way. I think that is Paul’s point: “relate to others the way God relates to you.”

“of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

As you have received from God, so then give to each other. It is not “as you have received from each other, so give.” It’s not that. It’s “as you have received from God, in like manner so give to one another.”

If you struggle with loving others in these ways, then I’d encourage you to go back and consider how you have been loved, what God has done for you, how He has given to you, how kind, loving, compassionate, caring, affectionate, and merciful He has been to you, and to me. And when you go there and start thinking about those things, just stay there. Meditate on that, and pray that God would stun you with all that you have in Him, and all that He has done for you and will continue to do in you. And then, go and do likewise.

1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, 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. (Philippians 2:1-2)