You are connected with other believers in the truth of Christ. But how does this walk itself out in your daily life? Today’s study in Phil. 2:1-4 shows how. We look at how being in Christ affects our behavior, especially with regard to being humble.
Part 6 of a whole book study series called “Joy in Christ: A Study Through Philippians.”
Since these believers are sharing in the same suffering that Paul himself is enduring — opposition to the gospel — he exhorts them to reflect on what it is that motivates and fortifies them in that struggle. They must remember what it is that binds them together.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Here in the first two verses of Philippians 2, Paul sets up a conditional argument. If these first four pairings (verse 1) are true in you, then the following will also be true (verse 2): you will be of the same mind, have the same love, and work together in truth- and Christ-centered unity.
Encouragement in Christ. Here paraklesis (translated encouragement) conveys the sense of a personal urging because you are in Christ, saved, standing in Christ’s righteousness. To Paul, being a believer should motivate us to a certain type of behavior. By this we can exhort and encourage each other to grow in our maturity in Christ.
Comfort from love. This phrase speaks of the love flowing from a brotherly connection in Christ. Though this is not always as true as it should be (at least speaking for the western church), people in the body of Christ can give comfort to and receive comfort from each other because of the love that God has shown them by sending His Son to pay the debt of their sins. And because God comforts us in our suffering and trials. This shows the highest kind of love (agapé), which has its source in God.
Participation in the Spirit. This can be read as the fellowship brought about by the Spirit or simply as spiritual fellowship. All believers have the same Spirit indwelling them, by which we are brought into a single, common fellowship.
Affection and Sympathy. This follows hard on the heels of fellowship in the Spirit and with good reason. Kindness and compassion is to flow naturally from a person whose heart is ruled by God’s Spirit. For many of us, this is something that takes some time to show up (especially given the daily struggle between the flesh and the Spirit!). I know that for me, it has taken quite a bit of time before I even began to pray that God would help me see others, especially believers, as He sees them, and to act and speak with kindness and compassion. That’s after two plus decades of walking with the Lord! It’s amazing how our own self-centeredness can really trip us up at times.
Complete my joy by being of the same mind forms the center of these four verses and builds a bridge from cause to effect. Paul can expect the effects of like-mindedness and unity in purpose in these believers because they have the same mind in Christ, are united in the truth, give and receive love, and share fellowship in the Spirit. And for him it is a joy (and he seems to speak here as a proud father) to see beloved believers being progressively more conformed to the image of their Savior.
How are the Philippian believers to make Paul’s joy complete?
By Being of the Same Mind. Paul made the same reference just a few verses earlier (verse 27) as we saw in the last study and gives us the sense of being united in spirit (small ‘s’). He talks elsewhere about being like-minded:
5 Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Rom. 15:5-6 NAS; boldface mine]
When Paul talks about being of the same mind here and in Romans, does that mean he expects every individual believer in Philippi to never have their own thoughts or opinions? To never have doubt? To never have feelings of their own, but only what everyone else feels?
Not at all. Remember this is the same Paul who wrote of the body of Christ being made up of different parts, all unique and all contributing to the overall building up of each other and spreading of the gospel. It is more about having a mind ruled by Christ and His Spirit.
But perhaps there are times when we may pause and take measure of whether our opinion or feeling is worth doing battle over. Simply for the sake of being right? Or being seen as smarter or better than someone else? This doesn’t fit a believer in Christ. We’ll see more about a Christ-like attitude in the next verses.
By Having the Same Love. Maintaining the same love for Christ and for each other. This is simply said, but not simply lived. Relationships are messy and relationships inside the body of Christ are no exception. It takes effort and a willingness to sacrifice yourself for the good of others.
By Being in Full Accord and of One Mind. In his commentary on this verse, Albert Barnes noted that the phrase “of one mind” in Greek mean “thinking the same thing.” He went on to say, “the apostle here uses a great variety of expressions to denote the same thing. The object which he aimed at was union of heart, of feeling, of plan, of purpose. He wished them to avoid all divisions and strifes; and to show the power of religion by being united in the common cause.” (related: Eph. 4:1-6)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. [1 Pet. 3:8 ESV]
Paul then moves to the concept of humility.
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
What does a truly humble person look like? What marks their attitude?
I often ask myself this question: how can you “try to be humble?” The more you try, the more you fall short. Because you cannot just decide, “I’m going to be humble.” If you have to try, then you fall short (No, I don’t believe in “fake it till you make it” thinking leads us to true humility). Or you walk around thinking how humble you really are or how you handled a given situation in a “really humble way.” But that’s just pride in disguise.
My conclusion has been that true, Christ-like humility is brought about by first being aware of what it does and does not look like, then asking God to help you be that way. In verses 3 and 4, Paul gives us a few things that humility is not, then a few marks of what humility does look like. (related: Col. 3:12)
Not Self-Seeking or Conceited
How is it that we can do things in the name of humility, but when we examine our hearts, we have acted out of selfishness — seeking to make ourselves look superior or advance ourselves in some way — or out of conceit — “groundless self-esteem, empty pride” as Thayer’s puts it. These are the things Paul is warning against.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. [Gal. 5:25-26 ESV]
It is nice to be praised. We enjoy it; that is, our flesh glories in being recognized or being shown adulation by others. In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with being praised. But if we do things simply seeking to win popularity or praise, then we do them with wrong motives.
Consider Others More Important
The self-centered, sinful individualist in us probably has at least a split second of resistance or protest at this idea (if we’re honest). That’s the flesh talking, you can turn the volume down now.
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. [Gal. 5:16-17 ESV]
When you are ruled by God’s Spirit, your way of thinking changes (I’ll grant this is often a progressive rather than overnight change). Instead of being bent on serving yourself and accomplishing all that you want for yourself, you consider ways you can serve and help others.
Needs: Balancing Yours and Others
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul isn’t saying to utterly ignore your own interests or needs. What he’s urging is balance because he knows that we tend to swing to the extreme of self-centeredness, to live in our own encapsulated worlds with very tight groups of people. Outside of this, our vision can often be very limited. So what he’s saying is, yes, look to what you need, but also to what others need. And in light of the previous verse, there may be occasions upon which others’ needs (gulp!) actually supersede yours.
[True humility] will manifest itself in all our bearing toward others. …The seemingly insignificant acts of daily life…in our most unguarded moments…truly show who we are and what we are made of. (Andrew Murray, Humility)
It actually ends up being a heightened awareness of those around us. What are they going through? What is hurting them for which they could use your encouragement, prayers, or simple kindness? What weakness are they feeling that could benefit by your coming alongside them? Or what needs do they have that you can help meet by setting aside some of yours? This may mean doing things for which you never receive recognition. The kingdom of God isn’t about your elevated status or achievement. It’s not about attaining some measure of the world’s adulation because of what you do.
Being in Christ means you act in ways that reflect your understanding of who God is and who you are in relation to God (this in itself should be humbling!). It means you act in generous and often self-sacrificing ways toward others. It’s taking the understanding of the great love and sacrifice made for us and living it out. This is where our theology comes out of the book and on to the street.