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Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel (Phil. 1:27).
Confessing Our Role in Disunity
Jesus once told a story about a servant who was forgiven a huge debt by the king but refused to forgive a much smaller debt owed to him by a fellow servant. “Seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe’” (v. 28). When the king learned what had happened, he summoned the servant and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (vv. 32-33).
It’s easy to despise the unforgiving servant. But, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that we often act like him. God has forgiven all of our sin, yet we refuse to forgive the wrongs committed against us. God is patient with us in spite of our weaknesses, yet we become frustrated with others and speak unkind words. God continues to love us even though we have grieved him many times, yet we harbor bitterness in our hearts against those who have slighted us.
Before we consider what the apostle Paul says about Christian unity, we need to first acknowledge that we are often like that wicked servant.
The Gospel and Christian Unity
Paul writes to the Philippians, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1:27). The Greek word for “worthy” (axios) occurs five additional times in the New Testament. (Four times “worthy” is used in the context of appropriate conduct among Christians.)
- “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of saints” (Rom. 16:1-2).
- “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3).
- “…we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10).
- “We exhorted each of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12).
- “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God” (3 John 1:6).
The gospel is the good news that God in his grace has saved us—undeserving sinners—through faith in Jesus Christ.
Earlier this year, two men were sentenced to two years in prison for setting two fires in the village of Doaktown, NB. What made this case so notable was that the two men had been volunteer firefighters. Obviously, committing arson is not fitting behavior for firefighters. And behavior that discourages unity is not fitting behavior for people who have been saved by the gospel.
Disunity among Christians is not consistent with the gospel.
Actually, it’s not uncommon for firefighters to commit arson. And, sadly, disunity is not uncommon among Christians. Based on what Paul writes in Philippians, it appears that maintaining unity was one of the biggest struggles of the church at Philippi (2:14; 4:2).
When needing help maintaining Christian unity, remind yourself of the gospel.
Requirements for Unity
Paul repeatedly states his desire that the church at Philippi be unified: “one spirit” (1:27), “one mind” (1:27; 2:2), “same mind” (2:2), “same love” (2:2). (He also says this in 4:2.) In fact, he writes that unity among the Philippians would “complete [his] joy” (2:2). In 2:3-4, we find two basic requirements for Christian unity.
1. Maintaining Christian unity requires humility.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (2:3). A proper understanding of the gospel produces humility. We are sinners saved by grace.
2. Maintaining Christian unity requires love.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:4). This is a description of true love. A proper understanding of the gospel produces love. As the apostle John writes, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Christ Is Our Example
The Greek word for “let your manner of life” (1:27) is politeuomai, which can also be translated “live as citizens.” Philippi was a Roman colony, and the people of the city were proud of their Roman citizenship. The Christians in Philippi were dual citizens: citizens of Rome and citizens of heaven (“our citizenship is in heaven,” 3:20).
One reason why Paul chose to use this Greek word may have been to remind the Philippians that their model for behavior was not Caesar but Christ. When Paul wrote Philippians, Nero was the Roman Emperor (if Philippians was written around A.D. 62). Nero was a proud man who killed and mistreated others to get his way. He was, in many ways, the opposite of Christ.
If you think humility and love are not for you, think about Christ. Even though he is God (2:6), “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (2:8).
Disunity among Christians is not consistent with the gospel.
- When you start to look down on others, remember the gospel.
- When you become consumed with your own needs and problems, remember the gospel.
- When the concerns of others don’t matter to you, remember the gospel.
- When you are struggling to forgive, remember the gospel.
- When you start complaining about other people, remember the gospel.
Remember that God in his grace saved you—an undeserving sinner. Therefore “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.”