Unity is a misunderstood concept in the modern church, some do not believe we have to be in unity with anyone others believe we have to be in unity with everyone. The call for unity is not “Unity no matter the cost”. Unity is something that is easily destroyed, especially in the body. I have seen best friends now hate each other over church, over a sermon.
The gracious blessing, the gentle encouragement of Christ has so generously been poured out to us. His exhortations to us are so clear and compelling, including His exhortations to unity, that we should respond excitedly to pursue the harmony He desires in His church for the sake of gratitude and love, if for nothing else. The unity of the church is inward not outward. When the Bible talks about unity it is not talking about some kind of outward unity. It is talking about an inward unity. It is talking about something that is internally compelling, not externally controlled. It is more heartfelt than creedal. It is not particularly verbal as much as it is emotional, spiritual. It is the union of hearts and minds and souls in common cause. It’s not people just being united because they’re in the same container. It’s people who are literally attracted to each other because they’re pulled by the same power.
John Macarthur uses this illustration.
If you have a bag filled with marbles you have a certain unity. You have one bag full of marbles, and all those marbles are pushed against each other, packed together. But that which binds them into unity is the container. It’s something on the outside that holds them. As soon as you tear the bag, the marbles are everywhere because there’s nothing intrinsic or internal to keep them together. It’s purely the package they’re in, the container.
But on the other hand, if you have a magnet and you put that magnet into some metal shavings, the shavings will all adhere to the magnet. Not because there is an external container but because there’s an internal force. And they are pulled to each other because they are all pulled by the same force pulling through each other. And that’s how the church is to be. It is not a collection of marbles in the same bag. It is people who are pressed against each other because they’re all magnetized by the same force, which is the power of Jesus Christ. That’s the internal unity of the church. We are pulled to each other because we are pulled through each other by the power that pulls, which is Christ.
Now what Paul wants to see is not marbles in a bag, people who are all together because the container has brought them together, but he wants to see people who are drawn by the power of Christ to each other because they’re drawn to Christ through each other. And this is the inward, magnetic unity that is essential to the church’s joy and effectiveness. This is the true unity of the Spirit. And it’s very fragile. That’s why in Ephesians 4:1-3(HCSB)Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, 3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us. Paul says “diligently,” and he uses the verb spoudazō, which means “to make every constant effort.” He says, “diligently [or make every constant effort] keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” It takes tremendous effort.
And so, as Paul writes the Philippian church as good as it is, as zealous as it is, as loving as it is, as courageous as it is, as passionate as it is, as sympathetic as it is, prayerful as it is, there’s still the lurking danger of discord. And discord is such a tragedy in the church, such a debilitation in the church that he pleads with them to do all they can to avoid it. In Acts 4:32-35(HCSB)32 Now the large group of those who believed were of one heart and mind, and no one said that any of his possessions was his own, but instead they held everything in common. 33 And the apostles were giving testimony with great power to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on all of them. 34 For there was not a needy person among them, because all those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet. This was then distributed for each person’s basic needs. The multitude of believers were of one heart and one mind; they had great power and great grace. Power and blessing are related to unity.
Philippians 2:1-28(HCSB)1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. 3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Christ’s Humility and Exaltation
5 Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. 7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man
in His external form, 8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—even to death on a cross. 9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Lights in the World
12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. 14 Do everything without grumbling and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world. 16 Hold firmly to the message of life. Then I can boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing. 17 But even if I am poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 In the same way you should also be glad and rejoice with me.
Timothy and Epaphroditus
19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you. 20 For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; 21 all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father. 23 Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me. 24 I am convinced in the Lord that I myself will also come quickly. 25 But I considered it necessary to send you Epaphroditus—my brother, coworker, and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister to my need— 26 since he has been longing for all of you and was distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27 Indeed, he was so sick that he nearly died. However, God had mercy on him, and not only on him but also on me, so that I would not have one grief on top of another. 28 For this reason, I am very eager to send him so that you may rejoice when you see him again and I may be less anxious. 29 Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with all joy and hold men like him in honor, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up what was lacking in your ministry to me.
A passage that has to be considered also in sync with Philippians 2 is Ephesians 4, we can read it as a supporting background to the thoughts that Paul will give us in this section of Philippians. In Ephesians 4:1 he writes, “Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received,” In other words, he says “act like a Christian, act like a believer.” How does a believer act? “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, 3 diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us” A Christian acts this way toward his fellow Christian: humbly, gently, patiently, accepting and lovingly, and does everything he can to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. That’s how a Christian is to act.
The reason is given in Ephesians 4:4-6(HCSB). There must be unity because “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” And because of all that inherent supernatural oneness, the church then is to maintain its oneness as the outworking of its very calling. So we are called to unity, and our unity is based upon a great, profound theological unity within the very Trinity itself.
How are we to have unity? Are we to have unity with people who have different closed handed doctrinal beliefs than us? (Closed-handed doctrines are the core, essential beliefs that must be accepted by all of Christianity. If these doctrines are not believed, then the person denying them is not truly a Christ-follower because he/she has denied beliefs essential to the faith. Examples of closed-handed doctrines are: belief in The Trinity: The father, son and the holy spirit, The Virgin Birth, the complete divinity of Jesus, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, Jesus sinlessness, the holiness of God, The existence of an eternal Hell, salvation only by grace through faith, The necessity of belief in Jesus Christ ONLY as savior for salvation,Jesus + Nothing= Salvation and the inerrancy of the Bible. In order for a church like ours to be in unity we must rally around a few fundamental beliefs. While we desire to be inclusive and accepting of others and their scriptural beliefs – at some point there has to be a line in the sand that we will not cross.
Open-handed doctrines are still extremely important, but Christians can differ on these issues and still claim a true, Christian faith. Examples of open-handed doctrines include: the Bible’s teaching on the extent of man’s will and God’s will in regards to salvation, Child baptism and communion, Cigarettes, End times eschatology, Political party affiliation, Gifts of the spirit (Speaking in Tongues etc.)Unless it is for salvation, what the Bible teaches about issues of conscious such as the consumption of alcohol and which movies we choose to watch, and how we choose to raise our kids We should be encouraged to search the scriptures and come to our own conclusions about them. We should not divide over them as the church and God’s people.
Now you have two possibilities. You can either think with the Spirit or you can think with the flesh. If we are to think the same, then we must all think in harmony with the Holy Spirit. So the first principle is that if we are to be of the same mind we must think on the things of the Spirit of God. We must have spiritual thoughts. We ascend beyond our own realm, our own agenda, our own flesh, our own unredeemed humanness – that which the Puritans called remaining sin that must be mortified in us. And we must realize that the conflict is between the Spirit and the flesh – note this – never the Spirit and the flesh.You don’t have two people thinking with the mind of the Spirit in conflict. If there is conflict, somebody is thinking in the mind of the Spirit – or no one is – and someone else is thinking in the flesh. And so he says if we are according to the Spirit, then we think the things of the Spirit. So if we’re to have the same mind we must be thinking on the things of the Spirit of God.
Paul says, “Think on the things of the Spirit and think with sound judgment, with God as the source.” Have not only the mind of the Spirit, if you will, but have the mind of God. Look at Romans 15:5(HCSB) 5 Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement allow you to live in harmony with one another, according to the command of Christ Jesus, – here’s the same term – “to be of the same mind.” Think the same: have the same disposition and attitude and concern with one another – here it comes – “according to” – Whom? – “Christ Jesus.” Not according to the denomination or religion you in, or from the preacher you listened to, but from Christ Jesus. We think the things of the Spirit. We think the things of God, which give sound judgment. And we think the things of Christ. Discernment – the ability to judge well. (in Christian contexts) perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual direction and understanding.
You see, what we have to do is get lifted out of ourselves. Let me say it again. Conflict in most churches is not usually over doctrine or over moral principle. But conflict is always a result of sinful attitude. It is the collision of the mind in the Spirit of Christ with the mind of the flesh – always. We are to have the mind of Christ.
You say, “Is that possible?” In 1 Corinthians 2:16(HCSB)“16 For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” You have the mind of Christ. You can think the thoughts of Christ. You can have a Christ-like attitude. You can know the will of Christ, the will of God, the will of the Spirit. You can mind spiritual things. But Paul says in the very next verse – 1 Corinthians 3:1(HCSB)Brothers, I was not able to speak to you as spiritual people but as people of the flesh, as babies in Christ. Paul is saying I can’t speak to you as spiritual because you’re so fleshy.” And how does it come out? “By your divisions and jealousy and strife, and you’re walking like mere humans.” What does that mean? “You have the mind of man, not the mind of God, not the mind of the Spirit, not the mind of Christ. You’re fleshy.”
At the end of 2 Corinthians 13:11(HCSB)11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Become mature, be encouraged, be of the same mind, be at peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you., Paul adds a further plea to the Corinthian church in his last shot in the second letter to them. Paul is enforcing the fact that thinking the same is part of being mature. He says, “be made mature and think the same thing.” It’s part of spiritual maturity. If you’re fleshy, spiritually immature, you’re going to collide with the mind of the Trinity. No question.
Colossians 3:2(HCSB)2 Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. Think heavenly, don’t believe this common lie, “Don’t be too heavenly minded that you are no earthly good. Think the Spirit’s thoughts, think the Father’s thoughts, think the Son’s thoughts, think mature thoughts, think spiritual thoughts, think heavenly thoughts.
How can I think heavenly thoughts? Be concerned about the kingdom? Be concerned about the Trinity? Be concerned about them and not me? How can I be concerned with sound doctrine?” And the answer comes while you’re in Colossians 3:12-17(HCSB)12 Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. 14 Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity. 15 And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. 16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Listen, everyone of these things here talks about relationships in the church. That’s all about unity – every bit of it. All the right attitudes for unity are there.