Bible Topics
in the Christian Library

Philippians 2:1-4

John L. Kachelman, Jr.


I. A congregation in a church in Dallas was divided. The division became so serious that each faction entered a lawsuit against the other to dispossess it from the church and to claim the church property. This litigation came into newspapers, and many watched the court proceedings with interest. The judge finally ruled it was not in the province of the civil court to settle this matter until it had first been aired before the church courts. So the matter was referred to the higher authorities in the denomination.

Eventually a church court assembled to hear both sides. Later the court made up its mind and awarded the property to one of the factions. The losers withdrew and formed another church in the area. It was reported in the newspapers for all Dallas to read that, in tracing this squabble to its sources, the court found the trouble began when an elder at a church dinner received a smaller slice of ham than a child seated next to him! (The Joy of Living, A Study of Philippians, p. 55). 

II. General remarks on the context.

1. Paul has just finished exhorting the believers to stand strong by being united. If they did this it would also be evidence that they were conducting themselves worthy of the gospel (1:27).

2. It may have been that some of the brethren asked "why" and wondered "how" such was possible!

a. Philippi was a progressive church but certainly it was not a perfect church (cf. 4:2).

b. There is evidence that disharmony existed--but not quite as serious as it was in Corinth.

3. As Paul anticipates the question concerning unity, he teaches a much needed lesson today.

III. Perhaps one of the most common robbers of joy in believers today are other people!

1. The comic strip character said: "I love mankind. It's PEOPLE I cannot stand!"

2. Who is present that has not repeatedly lost joy and happiness because of bitterness, resentment, and ill-words which come from another person, and often that person is a member of the church?!

3. Satan is busily sowing seeds of strife and discord in churches--this is a grave threat to the Lord's church!

4. Should one be able to master this section of Scripture, s/he will possess a joy that will never be stolen by an obnoxious person!


I. Consider how Paul prepares his exhortation--he establishes the "WHY" of unity -- Why should we all strive for unity in the church? (v. 1).

A. The structure of v.1 is such that it leaves no doubt as the answer.

1. "IF" -- Does not express doubt, but as given here assures the fact. A truer rendering: "As surely as . . . "

2. Paul takes four general truths and hammers over and over the platform for unity, answering the "why".

B. A brief consideration of these four basic truths.

1. "Encouragement in Christ" -- Reference is made to one's relationship with Christ.

a. They are "in Christ" -- they are no longer in the world.

b. This new relationship changes everything about life.

c. Consider the great encouragement one receives from being "in Christ" (Ro 8:38-39). This encouragement received should cause one to strive for unity.

2. "Consolation of love" -- This refers to God's love which gives great comfort.

a. The Greek is litterally -- "if you know the tender cheer that love gives."

b. The bond of unity should be maintained by meeting brethren with the same tender love (2 Co 1:3-4).

c. Having received God's love in our life we should see the need to lift ourselves above selfishness, bickering, and strife, using our words in encouragement and cheer!

d. The fact that God loved me, as unlovely as I was, ought to move me to love my brother (Ro 5:6-8).

3. "Fellowship of the Spirit" -- This refers to the fellowship resulting from obedience to God's Will. 

a. Ep 5:18 speaks of a similar point.

b. What results in one whose life is in fellowship with the Spirit's direction (Gal 5:22-26).

c. One in fellowship with the Spirit will surely follow God's desire and do everything to produce unity.

4. "Affection and compassion" -- "The old Greek word stands for pity and humanness."

a. As surely as there is pity there should be unity, for pity helps us to overlook other's failings!

b. "We are to show fellowship for our dependents and subordinates, for the fallen, the weak, the weary, for those whose spirits cry out in agony" (Meyer).

c. As surely as there is compassion when we see one going through some sorrow, weakness, or testing, our hand will immediately go out and strive to help!

C. Summary: Provide encouragement for others as you are encouraged by Christ; The comfort you find in God's love should be given to another you come in contact with; Strive to find the unity and harmony which compares to that found in the fellowship of the Spirit; Be constrained by same tender mercies and compassion which prompted Christ to leave Heaven's glory for our sins!

II. Paul now proceeds to tell us "How" this unity is to be achieved (v.2).

A. He gives us four statements which are essential for unity.

1. "Same mind"--Oneness of mind, a common cause, common purpose, common love.

a. This is a basic step toward creating unity.

b. We are to have "one mind" in regard to the basic principles of God's Word.

c. "So often disharmony appears in our congregations when agreement is sought on the minor things . . . The minor things that have little or no bearing on the basic truth of Scripture demand tolerance but not unanimous acceptance" (Blair).

d. Christ clearly taught that unanimous agreement had to be found on doctrine (Jn 17:17,20,21). We must all think alike in doctrine! The Word of God is the sole basis for Christian unity!

2. "Same love"--The believer is to have the same love as God!

a. This is not conditional but unconditional love--it loves even in the face of rejection and criticism.

b. The supreme mark of maturity is love (1 Co 13:7).

3. "One accord"--"united in spirit" (NASV). Whenever a congregation is united in spirit all divisive feelings will be put aside!

4. "One mind" -- "intent on one purpose" (NASV). Each will show a desire to please Christ as King so that all who are contacted may know Him and bow their knees in obedient confession to Him!

B. The "how" of unity is thus stated -- it requires diligent effort and great patience with one another.

1. The great motto of the Restoration Movement illustrates so well: In essentials unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In differences, love; In all things, Christ!

2. Such unity is indeed possible--are you helping to make it a reality?

III. Paul now turns to apply these points to the readers. We now note the plea for unity (v. 3-4).

A. There is the mention first of three negatives (v. 3a, 4a). Such things must NOT be found or unity can never be possible!

1. "STRIFE"--The most severe and violent. The word means "a factious or divisive spirit."

a. "Quarrelsomeness can do such a lot of damage, and bring such discredit upon the Cause; yet one does find Christians at loggerheads -- often over such stupid, trifling matters" (King).

b. Such is opposed to God's Will (Ps 133:1).

2. "VAINGLORY" -- Better translated "empty pride".

a. The danger of pride is that it quickly evolves into faction and ill-will (3 Jn 9).

b. God hates pride -- Pr 16:18; 29:23; Ro 12:3.

3. "SELF" -- (v. 4a) -- "look" -- to regard fixedly, all attention and concern is on it.

a. Some are so totally concerned with their own interests that they are oblivious of anyone else.

b. To be forever looking for, and scheming for his own self-advantage is sinful! Here is the one sin that is solely responsible for producing misery and division in the family of God!

c. Self is the root of the two problems mentioned above!

B. Paul now gives a positive command for unity (v. 3b, 4b). 

1. The two positive commands listed . . . 

a. True humility (v. 3b) will respond and create unity. True humility means that one's eyes are turned away from self and focused on other's needs.

b. Preference shown to others will create unity (v. 4b).

2. These two commands stress our relationship with others.

a. In our treatment of others we reveal our attitude toward Jesus Christ (Mt 25:40).

b. Of all people Christians should be the most thoughtful and considerate in their attitudes toward others (Gal 6:10).

C. The basic plea Paul makes for unity is for each of us to be unselfish and humble in all relationships!


I. Unity is indeed possible and must be striven for in the church! The one who is not working toward unity is working against God!

1. The platform for unity (v. 1) establishes the "why."

2. The "how" of unity (v. 2) is clearly pointed out.

3. The plea for unity is unmistakable (v. 3-4).

4. The result of unity is "full joy" (v. 2a).

II. There are possibly those present who do not have joy simply because they are not enjoying full unity as Paul has discussed.

1. We plead with all to put self aside and find this full joy.

2. Recognize the reasons why and the ways how you can be united with one another. Put aside silly personal conflicts and enjoy the greatness of being in Christ with each other! Time in the present and eternity is too precious to waste in strife and ill-feelings with one another!

Copyright 1998 by John L. Kachelman, Jr. may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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