You probably have read or heard in the news lately that the year 2020 has been crazy, from the pandemic’s mass chaos to riots in the streets. You may have quit listening to the news because you are not sure who is telling the truth. You may even look all around you and see that people cannot find unity anywhere. But the church is called to be different. How can we have unity in the church amidst chaos in the world?
What makes the church the one place in the world where people from all types of backgrounds and cultures can be unified? We all share the same gift from Jesus Christ in salvation: He lived the life you and I could not live, died the death we deserved and rose from the grave three days later. 2020 has shown us that we can become divided over anything from politics, to mask mandates, to the people we vote for, and so many other issues that arise today.
Setting Aside Our Preferences
Philippians is a letter addressed to the church of Philippi. This is a church that Paul loved dearly. At the beginning of the letter, you read how he prayed for the church with joy because of their partnership in the gospel (Ph 1:4-5). He loves their church through the problems, but he was not afraid to point out a unity problem that needed to be addressed. We know that whatever issue was causing the division allowed grumbling and disputing among one another to creep into the church (Ph 2:14). Unity in the church can be difficult as everyone has their preferences and ideas on how the church should operate but being grounded in God’s Word and the salvation of Jesus Christ means those preferences may need to be set aside at times.
Paul does not tell the church how they should achieve unity. Rather he says,
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)
Do Nothing from Selfish Ambition or Conceit
The world continues to push the notion that you should be most concerned about you. Do not worry about others but worry about yourself. Paul is telling this church not to be selfish as it was tempting to follow the Roman culture, which proclaimed people were proud and cared about their self-image and status. This is not what the Bible calls us to, but it is countercultural to say, “Do nothing selfishly.” Instead, the Bible commands us to not cause division between you and your brother or sister in Christ.
Count Others More Significant Than Yourself
Paul connects unity in the church with Christians humbling themselves and counting others more significant than themselves. This is not natural for us to do as Christians, and it takes work and reliance on the Holy Spirit if we are to count others more significant than ourselves. This is not a “Don’t care about yourself and only care about others” attitude, but an attitude that makes you more selfless instead of selfish.
Look to Jesus for Unity in the Church
From verses five to eleven, Paul points to Christ’s example as the one who was most selfless instead of selfish. Christ humbled himself so you and I may be saved from our sins and submit to His Lordship, which is the ultimate selfless act.
Unity in the church is possible when Christians look to Christ as the example of being a person who counts others more significant than themselves. Jesus told his disciples, A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).
Christians who love one another as Jesus has loved us and count others more significant than themselves will be people who have unity with one another.