The Unity of the Church? How?
Basket of Figs, May, 2007
“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. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:” (Php 2:1-5 AV)
It is the will of God that the church be of one accord and of one mind. This is possible because there is consolation in Christ, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, and compassion and mercy. The church is the creation of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit so there are plenty of resources available to the church to achieve the goal of unity of mind.
But not only is the goal of unity identified in this passage, the way of achieving this unity is also identified. The methodology of the Bible is as inspired by the Holy Spirit as the goal that is set before us. The Holy Spirit does not call us to unity and leave us to our own devices in order to achieve it. The destination and the way to get there are both described in Scripture.
We are to be of one mind. It is a goal that seems absolutely impossible and vain even to imagine in the modern world. This might very well be because we have not properly examined how we are to achieve it in the church.
What mind are we supposed to have? What is that one mind? The answer is right before us in the passage above: it is to be the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ is no abstraction, but clearly defined in the passage that follows. Perhaps we will write further on this in a later issue of Figs.
The Holy Spirit first of all describes the godly 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.”
1. Nothing through strife. This word, according to Vine, was used before New Testament times only in Aristotle and meant a self-seeking pursuit of political office by fair means or foul. Paul used it to denote “courting distinction, a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.” The pride that causes men to seek distinction and rule over their brethren can only lead to strife and disruption in the church.
2. Nothing through vainglory. This is groundless self-esteem and self-promotion. Jesus said that we are not to seek the chief seats, but to be content with the place that God has put us. A man’s gift makes room for him and the people of God will recognize our true gifts without us having to campaign for them.
3. In lowliness of mind we are to esteem other better than ourselves. “Lowliness of mind,” does not vaunt itself in moral superiority over others as if more pure than others or more obedient; it does not puff itself up and try to be more than it is.
4. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Calvin says on this passage: “But by humility. For both diseases [strife and vainglory] he brings forward one remedy —humility, and with good reason, for it is the mother of moderation, the effect of which is that, yielding up our own right, we give the preference to others, and are not easily thrown into agitation. He gives a definition of true humility — when every one esteems himself less than others. Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this above everything else is so. Hence it is not to be wondered if humility is so rare a virtue. For, as one says, “Every one has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.” See! here is 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 a level with him, for there is no one that is not eager to have superiority.”
“The things” of verse 4 is our translation of the reflexive pronoun in the first case and the definite article in the second. Literally, it means that we are not to be fixated on anything of our own, but to be occupied with everything of others. This is the opposite of selfishness and the desire for advancement and prestige.
In the words of Jesus, we are not to seek to rule over our brethren, but to be servants of one another. We should be far more concerned about our fellow minister’s use of his gifts than in the exercise of our own. The church is often rent with strife and schism when people put their own agenda ahead of the good of the church, even though they have convinced themselves that their agenda is for the good of the church. “He that is first in his own cause seeketh just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.” (Pr 18:17 AV)
It is this mind that promotes the unity of the church and the welfare of the church. It is the very mind of Christ, who “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Php 2:7-9 AV)
The way of the cross is the way of Christ and the way of glory. This is what God predestined: His church is to be conformed to the image of Christ. Or as Paul put it in another place: “Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all.” (Php 2:17 AV)
“He that is first in his own cause seemeth just; but his neighbor cometh and searcheth him.” (Pr 18:17 AV)