Study Notes from Philippians by Dr. David Nelson

Philippians 2:1-4: Unity for the Gospel

By Dr. David Nelson

In the letter to the Philippians, Paul shared how his sufferings resulted in the advance of the gospel. He wrote to exhort the church to solve their internal problems so that they could bond together as one man for the advance of the gospel. Churches today need to work together for the advance of the gospel even in the midst of suffering and hardships.

2So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.[1]

In the previous passage, Paul exhorted the church to live worthy of the gospel. They were to live as citizens of heaven by standing together as one man, striving side by side for the advance of the gospel and not being intimidated by their opponents. In this passage, Paul focuses on working together side by side. He exhorts the church to unity with one another for gospel advance.

The basis for unity is our common Christian experience. With the word “therefore,” Paul makes an application from the previous exhortation of living worthy of the gospel by standing together. Essentially, he is asking them have they experienced encouragement since they have been “in Christ.” This is the same as saying since they are followers of Christ. One of Paul’s favorite sayings, “in Christ” is the believer’s position. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness and of Satan to the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13). We are no longer “in Adam” with sin, condemnation, and guilt, but now we are “in Christ” with all the blessings Christ has all to offer (cf. Rom. 5:1-2; 8:1; Eph. 1:3-14). Second, believers have experienced comfort from God’s love. The love of God is a common theme throughout the Scriptures. In the OT, God’s covenant love (Heb. hēsēd) was expressed towards Israel even during their rebellion. In Christ, God has demonstrated His love towards us (Rom. 5:8; 1 John 4:7-12). Third, we have experienced the fellowship (Gr. koinonia) of the Holy Spirit. We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) and He empowers us for service (1 Cor. 12) and witness in the world (Acts 1:8). Thus, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are at work in our lives in common and powerful ways. Finally, believers have experienced affection (Gr. splagchna) and sympathy (Gr. oiktirmoi, also translated “compassion” in Rom. 12:1; 2 Cor. 1:3; Col. 3:12) from God and other believers. This is our common, Christian experience. Because of this shared experience, believers are to sacrifice themselves, their desires, and their interests for the unity of the body for the advance of the gospel. In 2:2-4, Paul shares three ingredients for unity.

First, unity is a choice (2:2). The church in Philippi would bring great joy to Paul’s heart if they had unity. They must choose to have the same mind, literally “to think the same.” “Mind” is from Gr. phronēte, which is an exhortation to embrace the same thinking. Unity, then, starts in the mind. Unity is also through embracing the same love, the same heart. At the end of the verse he repeats the same thought with “thinking the same thing” (“being of one mind,” ESV) (Gr. phronountes). This word is from phroneō and is used in Philippians ten times (1:7; 2:2, 5; 3:15, 19; 4:2, 10). This implies that a church life is transformed when believers’ minds are transformed into the mind of Christ. Unity is a decision we must make if we are to make an impact in the world. Followers of Christ can focus on many things, but if we focus on Christ’s example and command, we will impact the world for the glory of God.

Second, unity comes through humility (2:3). When believers focus purely on selfish ambition out of pride or conceit, it only results in conflict. We can see this in Mark 9:33 after the transfiguration and Jesus healing the boy with an evil spirit. Jesus asked his disciples, “what were you discussing along the way?” They had been arguing about who is the greatest. In chapter 10:35-45, he addresses the topic again because James and John with their mother had come and asked Jesus to allow them to sit on his right and on his left when He comes in His glory. Jesus explained that in His kingdom, things would be different than how the Gentiles rule by lording it over their subjects. In His kingdom, those who want to be first, must be last and those who want to be the greatest must become the servant of all. When every believer follows their own desires and ambitions, only chaos and conflict ensue. But when we put aside our agenda and pride and focus on clothing ourselves with humility in line with Christ’s example, we are able to come together to accomplish God’s purposes. Otherwise, we have conflict and the world wonders what we are doing and has no desire to follow Christ. Instead of pride and selfish desires, we must clothe ourselves with humility, considering others better than ourselves. Whether in a family or church, when each member humbles themselves and considers others, there is love and harmony. The aroma of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit can be sensed. God is at work here.

Third, unity looks at the interests and needs of others. We are born self-centered and selfish, thinking about our own agendas and interests. God says to lay aside your interests and agendas and look at others’ interests and agendas. As Paul exhorts and instructs the church in Philippi, we begin to see the picture. They were looking to their own interests with selfish desires and vain aspirations. There was an unhealthy competition in the church that resulted in disunity and conflict. God says through Paul to lay aside your desires and interests, and look to the interests of others. We miss out on the complete picture when we only focus on our ideas and thoughts. But with a humble and teachable spirit, we can learn and benefit from others.

These directives were the remedy for the problems of the church in Philippi. These principles are still true today. There are many things we can discuss and disagree on. But by focusing on Christ’s example and His command to make disciples of all nations, we can have unity together for the advance of the gospel for the glory of God.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:1–4.


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