The Herald Weekly Vol XVII : 47

Harmony in Christ
(Philippians 2:1-4)

A small church was struggling, and everyone knew why. Two church leaders were at loggerheads, and the congregation was split right in the middle from the oldest to the youngest members of the church. They had divided their loyalties between them. There was no forgiveness, but gossip was prevalent each week. They blatantly defied the Lord’s teaching in Philippians 2:1-4 where the Apostle Paul said:

If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

The background of the Philippian Church was one of Apostle Paul’s joyful memories as its leaders and members were not only generous in their giving, but also showing genuine concern for the ministers of the Lord. Magnanimous in missionary support, yet within the church, there was a deep rift between two lady leaders who seemed to have trouble over how the church ought to be governed. The painful conflict moved the Apostle to write this letter to them while in imprisonment. These leaders could have been the founding members of the early church, labouring fervently with the Apostle in the development of the church. Hence, it was important for them to stay serving the Lord together in harmony.

The rivalry among them caught Paul’s attention so much that, in spite of his imprisonment and recent recovery from a bout of serious illness, he wrote to the church to resolve the conflict. Paul was assured that the problem could be resolved because the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, working in their lives was a powerful source of encouragement, comfort and fellowship to overcome any trouble in the church. Hence, the Apostle proposed a four-fold recommendation as a solution to bring in harmony and unity in the congregation.

The first recommendation to bring harmony in the church was encouragement from being united in Christ.

Christ gives us encouragement as He indwells in all believers. We need His encouragement when we encounter suffering, life-threatening crises and imminent danger. The word “encouragement” (paraklesis) in the original language refers to one who comes along side us, directs us, and encourages us to press on.

Jesus used the same word to refer to the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” in John 14:16: “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever.” Have you ever felt like giving up your spiritual walk with the Lord? Of course! I have too! The reason we haven’t given up and given in is because God in Christ will neither leave us nor forsake us (Heb 1:5). He is our “staying power.” He sustains us even though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Through His encouragement we are preserved in Him.

When you don’t think you can carry on, you need to recognize the Lord is your encouragement. Since we are kept in Christ through His encouragement, we are to keep the peace of the unity of the church.

It is the Holy Spirit that brings unity and not conformity to the church. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. True spiritual unity comes from within; it is a matter of the heart. Joy flows out from the heart where there is spiritual unity in the church. Our contribution enables the church to move forward with strength and growth. Conformity begetting uniformity is the result of pressure from without. People may conform to principles, but they may not have joy in doing so. “All Christians are called to unity in love and unity in truth” (The gospel of Jesus Christ: An evangelical celebration).

The second recommendation to bring harmony in the church was comfort from the Father’s love.

Christ gives us comfort or “consolation of love” as He dwells in us. Since we have received the prompting of the Holy Spirit who comforts us, then unity should follow. Since we all share God’s love, that love should produce unity. Each one of us in Christ enters the kingdom by His grace. We are saved by God’s redeeming love. In times of hurt and discouragement, God brings us comfort. God the Father sent His beloved Son to die on the cross for our sins. As God responded to the cries, groaning and sufferings of His people in Egypt, He empathizes with us in the midst of our struggles, trails and suffering like no one can. 2 Cor 1:3-5 reads:

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ.

We, indeed have “comfort from God’s love.” God’s love in our hearts should produce spiritual unity in our lives. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

The third recommendation to bring harmony in the church was fellowship with the Spirit.

Christ gives us fellowship as He dwells in us. This phrase “fellowship of the Spirit” indicates unity and oneness (see 1 Cor 12:13; Eph 4:3-4), which results from the Spirit indwelling all believers, individually (1 Cor 6:19) and corporately (1 Cor 3:16). When we feel alone, God wants us to know that He is present with us at all times. He will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb 13:5b). He continues to cultivate His very life in us. He grants us not only eternal fellowship, but offers us fellowship in our Christian experience on earth.

Fellowship that comes from the Holy Spirit, just as encouragement comes from Christ and comfort comes from love.

The fourth recommendation to bring harmony in the church was tenderness and compassion.

Our union with Christ gives us affection and compassion. God is the one who has modeled for us perfect affection and compassion. He never disappoints. He always meets our deepest needs. He knows just how to express His great love for us. Proverbs 18:24 says, “And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” This friend is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ who not only has laid down His life for us, but has also called us “friends” (John 15:14-15). As He is our Friend, He reveals from the Word of God what is to come and keeps us close to Himself. He is there also to show us the affection and compassion that we need. In this relationship He by the Holy Spirit enables us to produce within each believer a concern and love for other members of God’s family. This is a basis for spiritual unity. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary)

Psalm 133:1 tells us “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”
In essential, unity;
In non-essential liberty;
In all things, charity. (Richard Baxter)
“If we focus on our differences, our focus is on each other. If we focus on unity, our focus is on God” (Unknown Author).

In the solution of church problems, Paul follows up his command with four responses to our identity in Christ.

1. Be of the same mind

Paul’s desire is for unity, not uniformity, Uniformity is gained by pressure from without. Unity comes from deep within. It is the inner desire to conduct oneself in a cooperative manner… to be on the same team, to go for the same objectives, for the benefit of one another.

2. Maintain the same love

Let’s be honest. There may be some Christians that you don’t like. Christians are like porcupines. They have many good points, but they are hard to get close to. The Bible doesn’t command you to “like” believers; the Bible commands you to “love” believers. As you learn to maintain love (agape) for other believers, in time, feeling of fondness follow. Regardless, true biblical love deals with incompatibly. This is the test of biblical love. This is where agape loves takes over and wins the day.

3. Unite in spirit

This is a most unusual phrase that Paul has chosen here for it really conveys the idea of having “joint souls” (sumpsuchos). We are to be soul brothers and sisters, in harmony with all of God’s people.

When we disagree:
(1) We should major on what we have in common.
(2) We should respect the right of others to disagree.
(3) We should hold our convictions in love and truth.
True unity is not an absence of conflict (doctrinal or otherwise), but a commitment to reconciliation.

4. Be intent on one purpose

We are all called to making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19-20). Even in the midst of unmet expectations, personal conflicts and various other schisms, this solitary purpose that we share ought to compel us to stay united in truth with love (Eph 4:15). There will be hiccups along the way, but unity remains paramount.

A writer (Clement Stone) once said, “There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” The only way that you and I can have a consistently positive attitude is by recognizing what Jesus has done for us on the cross of Calvary. It is only through being aware of our identity of Christ that keeps us humble and obedient to His commandments.

May our Almighty God in Christ enable us to be motivated to keep the unity of the bond of fellowship in love and truth for the glory of His mighty name.

Pastor Bob Phee
(1st printing 1 April 2012)

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