It is a fact that we all like for things to go our way. If it were true that our way was always based on big, fundamental principles it would make sense that we wanted others to give up their thoughts to follow ours. But it is always difficult to distinguish between the fundamental principles of truth from those ideas that only relate to feeble notions founded on personal beliefs and thoughts.
Consider some things the Apostle Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to write to the church in Philippi. We have no way of knowing how large the church in Philippi was when Paul wrote the short letter to them we know as Philippians. When we read of the beginning of the church there we are only told of the conversion of a sales lady named Lydia and the jailer and his family. Perhaps they had grown to a hundred or more people. But now there were difficulties that were threatening the unity of the body. Paul only mentions the names of two women that were not getting along. In chapter four and verse two he appealed to Euodia and Syntyche who both belonged to the Lord, to settle their disagreement. He asked his true partner to help these women, who had worked hard with Paul in spreading the gospel . He referred to them as fellow workers whose names were in the Book of Life.
It is important that we notice that these were good, godly women who were both workers in the cause of Christ. Yet they couldn’t get along between them. I’m certain that people in the church thought that if they just left things alone that these women would work their problems out. Both loved the Lord and the church at Philippi. They wouldn’t want to do anything to cause division or hurt the church. But it is worth noticing that Paul wasn’t willing to leave things alone and allow them to take their natural course. He pleaded with his fellow worker to help these women solve their problems.
In every church that has existed for long, no matter how large or small there are people who are struggling to get along with each other. Differences arise between people. Even in families where the love and devotion are unquestioned people get angry at each other, often over very insignificant matters.
I believe that Paul’s plea to the church at Philippi in chapter two, verses 1-5 are the most powerful and most practical appeal for unity ever made. “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
In this appeal he asked if there is any part of the heart and attitude that belongs to a Christ’s follower. If they have any part of Christ’s heart they are to follow a plan that leads to tender compassion, agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. The one mind and heart was to be the desire of every Christ follower. Having unity brings joy and happiness to those who love the Lord.
Look closely at the simple things we are to do to have such oneness among Christ’s followers. Don’t just think about yourself. Don’t try to impress others. As humble people think of others as better than yourselves. Let’s face it, this challenge goes against all that we have learned as Americans. We have often been told to take care of number one first, by which we mean to look out for our own interest before we think of the needs or concerns of others. Even in financial matters the constant message is “Pay yourself first.” The message is to save for self first, before paying bills or doing for others. The American message misses the mark of truth on two fronts. The Bible’s appeal is to put God first, others next and self last.
The next challenge is “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too.” It’s natural to think about our own interests. Our interests change as our life situations change. Before we are married our interest tends to be in the life of singles. But when we marry our interest tends to change to young marrieds. when we have children our thoughts turn to children and parents. The point God is making through Paul is that even though our personal interest run in the area that most affects us at any given point we should as Christ’s followers develop a deep interest in people who have very different interest from us. If we think of other people’s thoughts and interest it will be hard to develop division in a church.
The next thing Paul tells us is that we need to have the attitude or mind of Christ. He immediately proceeds to tell what that attitude is. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. instead, he gave up divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” The attitude Christ is a self-emptying mind. Instead of claiming our rights or privileges we willingly give up those rights for the benefit of the body of Christ.
What if we all followed the simple instructions God gives in these verses. Personal problems and differences would never be allowed to cause fusses and divisions inside the family of God. We would sacrifice our own feelings and desires for the benefit of the body as a whole.
Of course, if some in the body practice this kind of giving attitude, of self emptying and others continue in their selfish, proud and demanding ways it will lead to the egotistical demands taking control. The church would then become the product of those who demand their own way. In intrigues me that Paul the same writer who penned these words in Philippians is also the one who wrote Galatians chapter two where he tells of teachers from a Jewish background who tried to force Gentile Christians to be circumcised to be accepted as Jewish Christians. He said they tried to force Titus to be circumcised and Paul said, “I gave in to them, no not for an hour.” So this attitude of not being selfish and demanding our own way didn’t mean that we allow people to bind their opinions as though they were teachings from God. Stand up for truth, right and God’s word. Stand for the freedom that God offers to all. But don’t stand up for the selfish interest you and your friends have to the exclusion of others.