Pastor David B. Curtis


The Key to Harmony

Philippians 2:1-4

Delivered 10/04/1998

We have seen in our study thus far that Paul and the Philippians had a very close relationship. He loved them:

Philippians 1:3 (NKJV) I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,
Philippians 1:8 (NKJV) For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.

They also loved him:

Philippians 1:26 (NKJV) that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.

The Philippian church was sound doctrinally. Paul does not correct their doctrine. But as sound as the Church was doctrinally, there lurked in the shadows the deadly disease of disunity. Paul seems to express some anxiety over this one point. We saw in verse 27 of chapter one a call to unity and we will see another in 4:2. But chapter 2 as a whole is really a call to unity through humility.

The New Testament holds unity in very high regard. Paul was so concerned with the unity of the church that he brought it up in every letter he wrote to a Church. Disunity is always a lurking potential for disaster.

The first believers were together in one place; they shared their possessions and were of one heart and soul (Acts 2:1,43; 4:32). Sin threatened this God-ordained unity. The selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), the prejudice of those who neglected the Greek-speaking widows (6:1), the rigidness of those who demanded that Gentiles become Jews before becoming disciples (15:1)--all threatened the unity of the church.

There is a sense in which disunity is the danger of every healthy church. It is when people are really in earnest and their beliefs really matter to them, that they are apt to rub against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide. Disunity is always a lurking potential for disaster, it is something we must always guard against.

Probably there is no single thing so much insisted on in the New Testament as the importance of unity.

Three principles of unity that we must understand are:

1. Christianity is both a given and a goal.

It is a given-- we are one body in Christ, we have unity.

Ephesians 4:4-6 (NKJV) There is one body and one Spirit, just as 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 above all, and through all, and in you all.

But it is also a goal.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NKJV) I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

The word "endeavoring" is the Greek word spoudazo. It means to use speed, to make every effort, to labor, to be diligent. It takes work and effort to keep unity. We have unity but we must work to preserve it, it's fragile.

Unity is a problem to maintain we all know this. Christians have had conflicts since Cain and Able. This poem has a lot of truth in it:

To dwell above with saints we love,

Oh that will be glory

But to live below with saints we know

Is quite a different story.

We all need to work to preserve our unity.

2. Christian unity is not organizational, it is spiritual.

John 17:21-22 (NKJV) "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22 "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one:

The words "as" and "just as" speak of the nature of our unity. It is to be like that of Jesus Christ and the Father-- a common life; a unity of will, purpose, and goal.

It's not people being united because they are in the same container-- organizationally. It's people who are attracted to each other because they are pulled by the same power.

If you take a bunch of ball bearings and put them in a box, they have a unity caused by the container-- an organizational unity. If the box breaks, they all go everywhere. Our unity is to be like that caused by an electro magnet that holds all the ball bearings together because they are all pulled by the same external force-- which is spiritual. We are pulled together by the power of Christ.

There is a huge difference between union and unity. Two people get married, that is union but not necessarily unity! Two churches can merge but that may not be unity either. That is union, but not necessarily unity. If we tie two cats by the tail and throw them over a clothes line, that is union but not unity. Unity has to do with healthy relationships, not structure. Mechanical union is phantom, a counterfeit for unity of the heart.

3. Christian unity is to be visible-- even though it is spiritual.

John 17:21 (NKJV) "that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.
John 17:23 (NKJV) "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

If the world is to see our unity, it must be visible. How can we demonstrate our unity? What is to be our distinguishing characteristic?

John 13:34-35 (NKJV) "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Our unity is to flow into a love for one another that the world can see. Because we have so little love for each other, we see so little unity.

Paul introduces the subject of unity in verse 27 with the word politeuomai, which means to conduct oneself as a citizen of a city state. It was to live for the sake of the community and not for yourself. He also said in verse 27 that they were to "stand fast in one spirit," this too, is a call for unity.

Now that he has introduced the subject in verse 27 he goes on in chapter 2 to give us clear insight into the elements that make up this unity. Verse 1-4 are a section on the formula for unity that flows out of 1:27-30, that is why chapter two starts with, "therefore."

In Philippians 2:1-4, we are given insight into the elements that make unity possible. This is how to have unity:

Verse 1 gives us four incentives, or Motives, to unity- Why? Verse 2 gives us four characteristics, or Marks, to unity- What? Verses 3&4 give us the instrumentality, or Means, of unity- How?

1. Motives for unity, Why to pursue unity?

Philippians 2:1 (NKJV) Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy,

"If" - not an expression of doubt but of certainty. It is a first class condition which means: "if and there is." These truths should compel you. Because you have these, pursue unity. Paul is saying, "I beseech you, brethren, by every blessing, and by every privilege which you enjoy as a Christian." This is the same motivation that he uses in:

Romans 12:1 (NKJV) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

No threats, no warnings, but a call for a demonstration of gratitude.

A. "consolation in Christ" -- The word "consolation" is parklesis, which means: "to come alongside to help or support." Does what Christ has done for you through His sacrificial death encourage you? Then pursue unity!

B. "comfort of love" -- The word "comfort" is the Greek word paramuthion. It means: "the alleviation of suffering and misery." It is speaking of God's love for us. Does what God has done for you because of love comfort you? Then pursue unity!

C. "fellowship of the Spirit" -- Because of the fellowship you have with the Spirit, pursue unity!

D. "affection and mercy" -- Paul is appealing to the believer's experience of mercy from God. All believers have experienced His mercy. We deserve hell, but God gave us His tender mercy.

Are you aware of these in your life? If not, they won't be an effective incentive. Because you have received all this, shouldn't you strive to preserve unity? We despise these blessings and are ungrateful when we don't pursue unity.

In verse 2, Paul adds one more:

Philippians 2:2 (NKJV) fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

E. "fulfill my joy" -- Do it for my sake, I know you love me and want my best. My joy will be full when you walk in unity. This is a pastoral plea.

Hebrews 13:17 (NKJV) Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Paul is in prison as he writes this letter, but his concern is not his release, but their unity. Paul has given them four major and one minor motive for unity. The bottom line motive that we see here is gratitude!

2. Marks of unity, What is unity?

Philippians 2:2 (NKJV) fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

A."by being like-minded" -- The word "like-minded" is from the Greek word phroneo, which means: " to think, here to think the same way." Eleven of the 27 occurrences of this verb are in Philippians. How we think is a major concern of Paul. The key to unity is to think alike. This doesn't mean that we're all clones and we all like the same things and act the same way. We are all different and we all have different likes and dislikes. It's referring to everyone having their thinking controlled by the Word of God-- Divine viewpoint.

Colossians 3:1-2 (NKJV) If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

Paul tells the Colossians to set their "mind" (phroneo) on things above. The way that we do this is by having the Word dwell in us.

Colossians 3:16 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

Notice that it doesn't say, "Know Scripture." It says, "Let Scripture dwell in you." The word "dwell" is enoikeo, which means: "to inhabit one and influence him." Scripture is to be the dominate influence on your thinking.

There are only two possibilities; we are either thinking with human viewpoint or the Divine viewpoint. If everyone's thinking is controlled by the Spirit, we'll have the divine viewpoint and there will be no conflict.

B. "having the same love," -- the word for "love" here is agape. This is not an emotion but a sacrificial act of service. This flows out of having the same mind. It means: "to love everybody the same." It starts with thinking and manifests itself in love.

C. "being of one accord" -- "One accord" is sumpsuchos. It means: "one-souled," used only here in the NT, one life. Your passions, ambitions, goals are the same. We could say Soul-brothers.

D. "of one mind" -- lit. "The one thing minding" It's an idiom for "intent on one objective" -- God's glory, the advancement of His kingdom. Not pursuing our glory and trying to advance our kingdom.

Paul is really saying the same thing in four ways. Unity is evidenced in a group of people who think alike, they are all controlled by the Spirit of God, and they treat each other in love. How do we live like this? The answer is found in verses 3&4.

3. The Means to unity, How we have unity?

Philippians 2:3-4 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Several years back there was an advertisement for a brand of underwear called "BVD's." It stated, "Next to myself I like BVD's the best." The advertisement was based on the fact that underwear is worn next to the skin. But the humor comes from the equally known fact that no one is better liked by anyone than the individual himself.

All men look out for number One, and most people are really only happy when they can look about them and sing, "O what a beautiful morning, o what a beautiful day, I have a wonderful feeling everything's going 'My' way."

The concern of each man for himself is so well ingrained in human nature that only a fool would deny it. We can't have unity when we're only looking out for number one.

Verses 3&4 give us five practical principles on how to preserve unity; three negative-- don't do this, and two positive-- do this. Let's look at them.

1. "Let nothing be done through selfish ambition" -- The word "selfish ambition" is translated in the KJV as "strife" it is the Greek word eritheia. It means: "party spirit or strife." Aristotle used it to describe the self seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means. It's ugly self promotion that steps on the necks of others to lift oneself up. It's pride intent on advancing itself. It's focusing on our own agenda; my cause, my ministry, my goals are everything. We see this attitude in:

3 John 1:9-10 (NKJV) I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.

The word "preeminence" is from the Greek word philoproteuo. It is used only here in the New Testament. It comes from philos, which means: "love," and proteuo, which means: " to be first in rank." So it means: "to be fond of being first," i.e. ambitious of distinction. Proteuo is used only once in Scripture in:

Colossians 1:18 (NKJV) And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

This position is Christ's and Christ's alone, but Diotrephes wanted to assume it and so do many other believers.

We are to do nothing through strife or selfish ambition, this word is used in Galatians 5:20 speaking of the works of the flesh.

2. "Let nothing be done through...... conceit".

The word translated "conceit" is kenodoxia. It means: "vainglory," or "empty pride." It is a state of mind that seeks personal glory. It is used only here in Scripture.

Eritheia (selfish ambition) is the symptom, but kenodoxia, (conceit) is the root. Conceit is a mental attitude, sin that leads to jealousy, which leads to selfish ambition and out of selfish ambition come conflicts and loss of unity.

This person thinks that they're right on every subject, they are conceited and deluded. They seek self-promotion and self-glory, and will fight to prove themselves supreme.

Right now your probably thinking of someone who this fits, and hoping they're listening or wishing they were here. Well, before you exclude yourself from this sin, let me read to you the comments of Albert Barns on kenodoxia:

"Who is there who passes a single day without in some respect, desiring to display himself? What minister of the gospel preaches, who never has any wish to exhibit his talents, eloquence, or learning. How few make a gesture, but with some wish to display the grace of power with which it is done! Who, in conversation, is always free from a desire to show his wit, or his power in argumentation. Who plays the piano without the desire of commendation? Who thunders in the senate, or goes to the field of battle; who builds a house, or purchases an article of apparel; who writes a book, or performs a deed of benevolence, altogether uninfluenced by this desire? If all could be taken out of human conduct which is performed merely from "strife" or from "vain-glory," how small a portion would be left!"

Both eritheia (selfish ambition) and kenodoxia (conceit ) are to be eliminated from our lives if we are going to live in unity. As Romans 6:12 puts it, we are to, "stop letting sin reign in our lives."

3. "but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself." The word "but" is alla which shows a contrast. This is positive. Instead of being selfishly ambitious or proud, maintain a humble attitude. This is where unity begins- unity is born out of humility.

The words "lowliness of mind" are one word in the Greek, tapeinophrosune, it means: "humiliation of mind," i.e. modesty:--humbleness of mind, lowliness (of mind). This word is not found in any Greek writings before the NT, which means the NT writers invented this word. The adjective form, tapeinos was often used to describe the mentality of a slave. It conveys the idea of base, shabby, scummy, unfit, low, common, useless. Humility was never seen in the pre New Testament world as a virtue. It was ugly and never to be sought.

In the Old Testament, God extolled the virtue of humility, He chose the insignificant and humble for His work, He chose the lowly and meek.

Numbers 12:3 (NKJV) (Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth.)

To the pagans, humility was a vise, and I believe it still is. The world encourages pride, the world says you are somebody, think highly of yourself, you're better than others. The sad thing is that this attitude is also prevalent in the church. Even though the Word of God clearly tells us to think humbly of ourselves.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV) Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,

The word "humility" is tapeinophrosune, its direct relation is to God alone, it is a recognition of our creaturely dependance upon God and our true condition in His sight. Humility is dependence upon God.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NKJV) "And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.

Man lives in dependance upon God, and understanding this is humility. Pride is self-sufficient. This will effect our attitude towards our fellow man, because if we are conscience of our entire dependence on God for all our abilities, we will not pride ourselves on them.

In his book, "Mere Christianity," C.S. Lewis calls pride the great sin and says this about it, "There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else. Pride is spiritual cancer, it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. If anyone would like to acquire humility I can I think tell him the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud. And a biggesh step too. At least nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed."

Paul defines humility as esteeming others better than yourself. If you're humble, this will be easy for you -- are you humble?

John Calvin, commenting on this verse wrote, "Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this is the worst. Hence it is not surprising if humility is so rare a virtue. For as one says, 'Everyone has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.' What pride! Afterwards from a foolish admiration of ourselves arises contempt of the brethren. And so far are we from what Paul here enjoins, that one can hardly endure that others should be on the same level; for there is no one that is not eager to be on top."

The word "esteem" is hegeomai, it means: "to think, or regard." Referring to a belief that rests, not in one's feelings but on the due consideration of external grounds on the weighing and comparing of facts.

We are to esteem others "better" huperecho, to hold oneself above, to excel; superiority: higher, supreme. This could be translated "thinking of others as superior to yourself." Unity is destroyed where self-esteem prevails, rather than a higher esteem for others.

Imagine a horizontal line with an S on one end for those you esteem Superior to yourself, and an L on the other end for those you think are Lower than you. Now, if you are honest, where do you put yourself on that line? You no doubt have some people who you regard as superior to yourself, unless you are really ate up with pride, but think of all those people who you think you're better than. There's probably a lot more of these. It may look something like this:


You might say (to yourself) of those people who you think are lower than you, "But they're low lives, they don't even use the brain God gave them, they're really messed up. How can God expect me to think of them as superior to me?" Ah, the pride is really showing now, isn't it? Dwell on this long enough and you'll see the depth of your pride.

We have a Biblical example of the attitude that God wants us to have in Genesis 13:7-12.

Genesis 13:7-8 (NKJV) And there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. The Canaanites and the Perizzites then dwelt in the land. 8 So Abram said to Lot, "Please let there be no strife between you and me, and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.

This should be the attitude that we all have;"Please let there be no strife between you and me."

Genesis 13:9 (NKJV) "Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left."

Abraham's decision to let Lot choose first was undoubtedly a choice made in humility, he was dependant upon God to care for him. Abraham had a right to the land, it was promised to him. In humility of mind, he regarded Lot as superior to himself. This is not natural, we are naturally stuck on ourselves. That is why Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves, we all love ourselves.

How can we begin to see others as superior to ourselves? How can we have Abraham's attitude?

a. Realize that whatever you have of goodness, greatness, or importance is a gift of God and that you are totally dependant on Him for your very breath.

1 Corinthians 4:6-7 (NKJV) Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. 7 For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

What do you have that is not a gift from God? Looks?,intelligence?, popularity?, talents?, possessions?

Deuteronomy 8:18 (NKJV) "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.

Every thing you are and have is a gift of God's grace.

Colossians 1:16-17 (NKJV) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.

He created us, and by His power, we continue to exist. If we're dependant upon Him for our very being, how can we think we're better than someone else?

b. Look within and be honest about your own depravity. Do you know the heart of any other person? NO! Although, sometimes we think we do. Only God knows the heart. The only sin I know in another person is what I can see or hear. I don't know what's in their heart. But I do know the sin of my own heart, if I'm honest with myself. Think about it, you know more sin about your own heart than you do about anyone else's. So, from the level of first hand information, who is the worst sinner you have ever met? Who is it? It's you! Who's got the most corrupt mind you know of? Who's got the most impure motives? Who's got the most evil desires? YOU DO! (The more you mature spiritually, the more you'll understand your own sinfulness) You have enough personal information to be able to put others in a position superior to you.

I believe that Paul was the greatest Christian that ever lived, yet look at what he said of himself. On his third missionary journey he said in:

1 Corinthians 15:9 (NKJV) For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

During his first Roman imprisonment he said in:

Ephesians 3:8 (NKJV) To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Then after his first Roman imprisonment he said in:

1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV) This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

Do you see the progression or should I say digression? As Paul matured, his view of himself decreased, he said these things based on personal knowledge. This perspective ought to help us look at others from a different view.

c. Realize that everybody in the body of Christ has a usefulness and a worth by virtue of their union with Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:17-18 (NKJV) If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.

Every part of the body is important and has something that it can do better than you or me.

We must also remember that how we treat others is how we treat Christ.

Acts 9:4 (NKJV) Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?"

Because of our union with Christ, what is done to us is done to Him.

If you realize that whatever you have of goodness, greatness, or importance is a gift of God, and that you are totally dependant on Him for your very breath; If you look within and are honest about your own depravity; If you realize that everybody in the body of Christ has a usefulness and a worth by virtue of their union with Christ; then, and only then, will you be able to esteem others as better than yourself.

Philippians 2:4 (NKJV) Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

4. "Let each of you look out not ONLY for his own interests."

The word "look" is skopeo, it means: " to fix the attention upon with desire for, and interest in." We are to be looking out for others. Looking to meet the interests of others and not just our self. We need to hear this, we are so consumed with ourselves that we have no time for others.

5. "But also for the interests of others." If we esteem others as better than ourselves, we will look out for their interest, we'll be concerned with their needs. Timothy fleshed this out, Paul said this of him in:

Philippians 2:20-21 (NKJV) For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus.

Notice that he doesn't say that others care for themselves and not you, but others care for themselves and not for Christ. To be concerned for other Christians is to be concerned for Christ, to love Christ is to love his people.

These are great verses for husbands and wives. How would your marriage be if you practiced these verses? Read them this way: Philippians 2:3-4 (Curtis paraphrase) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem their spouse as better than themselves. 4 Husbands, look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of your wife. Or, Wives, look out not only for your own interests, but also for the interests of your Husband.

Problems of discord, divisions and factions end when we hold others as more worthy of respect, and honor and a right to be heard and followed than we do ourselves. And in order to do this, we must deal with our pride.

We desperately need this practical message. Our society has created monsters, selfish, self-indulgent, egotistical, introverted, consumptive, materialistic people who can think of nothing but their own things and all this is sweeping into the church and destroying our unity and therefore our testimony.

In trying to put this exhortation in practice, remember that we are neither the author nor end of our own being. Author-- we didn't create ourselves, nor are we responsible for what we now are. We also tend to think that we are the end for which we exist. We don't exist for ourselves to serve ourselves, we are neither the author nor end of our own being. God has made us and not for ourselves. He made us for Himself first and secondarily for others.

The key to the Christian life is not self assertion, it is self renunciation, contrary to what psychologists tell us today, self love is not the key to happiness, but it is the service of one another.

Matthew 20:28 (NKJV) "just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Christ is our example, we are to imitate Him.

This is tough stuff, if we can live this way, we will have unity, no more conflicts or division in church or home.

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