Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, having the same love [toward one another], knit together in spirit, intent on one purpose [and living a life that reflects your faith and spreads the gospel—the good news regarding salvation through faith in Christ]. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit [through factional motives, or strife], but with [an attitude of] humility [being neither arrogant nor self-righteous], regard others as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
The paradox of life is that by giving, we receive; by sacrificing we gain; and by putting others first,we feel fulfilled. Some people get it. Newborn babies certainly don’t have much success or many skills to offer, but they give their mothers and fathers tremendous joy. Employers who celebrate their people’s successes more than their own reap the joy of their employee’s smiles and greater productivity, the natural product of feeling affirmed.
We experience this paradox, however, only when we start at the right point: “lowliness of mind.” Thinking properly about ourselves is the first step. Instead of selfish ambition to achieve status, we feel secure in God’s love. Instead of conceit that we’re better than others, we value others highly. Some people confuse humility with shame, but humility doesn’t mean we despise ourselves and demean our abilities. Instead, it means that we see our abilities as gifts from God to be used to build others up and accomplish His purposes. As we see all we have and all we are as gifts from God, we can stop promoting or defending ourselves, and we can focus our attention on others around us. Their needs become important to us. That’s how Christ lived, and as we walk with Him, that’s how we’ll live too.
You can have everything in life you want,if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.
Paul, in writing to the church at Phillipi echoes the High Priestly Prayer of John 17 that Jesus prayed just before the crucifixion. In His prayer, Christ prayed for unity among the believers just as it was with Him and the Father. Paul, as the messenger of Christ urges the Philippians to live that prayer out. He says as God’s representative that if they would do so it would make his joy full. As a pastor, I can tell you that there is no greater joy than when the church is working and walking together in unity and harmony. The worst nightmare is when there is division and strife among Christians.
Obtaining unity isn’t easy and it doesn’t come through negotiated compromise for compromise forces each party to give up something they’d rather keep. As best compromise is a short term solution for sooner or later we want to gain back what we gave up in the compromise.
Paul says that the only way to have the same mind and the same love toward another and to be knit together is to have the same purpose. Much of our conflict arises from the issue of having different purposes. In our modern world quite often the church is in conflict because it’s members have different ideas about its purpose. And that variation of purposes leads to division which in its original form means two- di and seeing- vision. So often the lack of unity comes from two-seeing. I realize that in the world there is this concept that there is great safety and security in having an opposing view that we work through to discover what is best to be done. But the church’s purpose had already been defined by its builder-Christ Himself. That single purpose is to bring humans into relationship with God through Christ Jesus. This is what Paul says to the Philippians. Read that again in our text.
To carry out this purpose, Paul says that we are to never act out of selfishness. When we think of the purpose of the church, it cannot be viewed from the aspect of how it benefits us personally. It must be viewed from the aspect of how it honors and glorifies Christ. In His priestly prayer, Christ declares that He has glorified the Father while He was on earth. So how did He do that? By fully obeying the Fathers instructions even at His own giving up His life. Never do we see a single selfish act emanating from Christ, only selfless acts of love.
Then Paul adds that we are to do nothing by conceit through strife. Oh how often are we so sure about our rights, what we deserve and want our way without ever considering whether those things are pleasing to God or honoring Christ. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter how we do things or even what things we do if they don’t contribute to the single purpose of the church which is the mission of spreading the gospel. That will be what all our effort and energy is measured by on that day when we stand before the Head of the Church.
Paul concludes his steps toward unity by telling us to operate with the humility that regards others more important than we regard ourselves. What a radical statement that is in a world that pushes and drives and takes advantage of and manipulates its way to get to the top of the stack. What sacrifices are there of honor, integrity, truth and humility so that we might gain. Perhaps we ought to listen again to Jesus who said. “What would it profit a man if he were to gain the whole world but lose his soul.” At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if we get our way or not, especially if it’s at the expense of others for all the gain, power, and prestige the world can give will not pass with us into eternity. But when we regard others more highly than we do ourselves and become one who serves rather than expecting to be served we will find that the God who notices our humility will reward us with much more than we could gain from demanding our way.
Our text concludes with the words, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others. May I say in this pandemic world, these words ought to become our motto. It should especially be the motto of the church. The next time you are faced with a decision that will affect you and others, is it possible to set your desires aside and consider what is best for others over what you wish? The next decision point in your life, would it be possible to ask Christ what would honor Him and glorify the Father and let that drive your choice.
If you’re married, may I suggest that if both spouses placed the other first, you would enjoy an awesome relationship. If both children and parents would choose to honor and put the needs of the other first, it would create an awesome family atmosphere where everybody wanted to be home. If we in the church would choose to consider our brothers and sisters more important than we consider ourselves what an amazing unity and how attractive would that be to the community.
It starts with you and I. We can’t wait for the other person to act first. We must begin the practice as spelled out by Christ and in this passage from Philippians. You just might be surprised by the results.
Dr. John Thompson