Unity Through Humility

Philippians 2: 1-4

by
Greg McPherson

In his book Piloting the Strait David Miller asks us to think about what motivated Lenin to promote socialistic communism in Russia or Hitler to promote National Socialism in Germany in the 1930’s?   He asks what lies behind the advancement of false religions such as Islam and Buddhism and what motivates the false conclusions of evolution?  He concludes that the bottom line to the cause of every departure from God’s will is “human pride”. 

We could likewise ask: why is there division between brethren? What motivates one to sow discord?  Again the answer is human pride. Solomon wrote: “By pride comes nothing but strife” (Prov. 13:10). Pride is fundamentally selfish and is by its very nature a threat to unity.  As brother Wendell Winkler notes in his book Heart Diseases and Their Cure, the middle letter of pride is “I”. This person does not look to others’ needs above his own or to the higher good of unity. Rather he is inward looking and faction is bound to arise.

For unity to exist we must look to the needs of others. By denying ourselves and submitting to God we will not look inward but look outward. Could it be that too often we play down strife between brethren by labelling it as merely a “personality clash” when the real problem is pride, arrogance, and hatred toward a brother? These attitudes are just as serious as the false teacher. The Scriptures are very clear as to how we should treat our brethren and what attitudes we are to have towards them (Eph. 4:31,32; Matt. 5:44;  Rom. 12:13-21; I John 4:7).

The book of Philippians illustrates the need for unity in doctrine as well as unity in attitude (1:27; 3:16; 2:3). Paul exhorts all to have the “same love” (2: 3; 1: 9) and we see this love illustrated in him. Paul remembered the Philippians in his prayers (1:4), had them in his heart (1:7), longed for them in his absence (1:8), was willing to remain in the flesh for their sake even though being with the Lord would have been “far better”, (1:24) and to suffer on their behalf (2:17). His manner of speech rings with affection (eg. 4:1,7,8). The book reminds us of the Psalmist’s words: “How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). 

Verse one of our text outlines the motivation for unity.  Paul uses words like encouragement, comfort, love, and fellowship. All these cannot be experienced until unity exists. In verse two we have an exhortation for unity.  He says “fulfil my joy by...”. Perhaps the Philippians thought he was going to ask them to help him some way in prison. Rather Paul was not thinking  of himself. His real joy was that they would be unified. That’s how much unity meant to him. Finally in verse three and four Paul outlines how to be unified in attitude. For the remainder of our lesson let us notice three attitudes which threaten Christian unity.

STRIFE

Paul admonishes: “Let nothing be done through strife”. Strife is a work of the flesh (Gal. 5:20).  James connects it with wisdom that is “earthly, sensual, devilish” (Jas. 3:14,15).  The word means to: “labour for wages; hence, canvassing, intriguing; gen., party-spirit, faction” (Bullinger). In our text it has been rendered as contention (Rheims), selfishness (NAB), selfish ambition (NKJV), factional motives (Amplified) and strife (KJV).

There are those who always attract strife simply because they have a partisan spirit and therefore canvass it. They love to divide and sow discord and love to see suffering in some form.  Constantly they are at odds with others or pitting brother against brother. It reminds us of the attitude of Israel amidst the sins of its leaders; who “love to have it so” (Jer. 5:31).   Isaiah speaks of those whose feet run to evil, who shed innocent blood, whose paths are destruction, and whose thoughts are iniquitous.  This is the factious person. Isaiah also says of these people “The way of peace they know not” (Isa. 59:7,8;  See also Rom. 3:17). 

 There is no greater foe to unity than this spirit.  It causes men to take sides on any question and mars their oneness of aim.  The moment a man falls into a factious temper and thinks so much of promoting his own selfish ends, and makes it his chief business to object and find fault, he becomes an element of discord to everyone with whom he may be identified.  If there is to be any real unity of mind and heart, the factious spirit must be crucified” (David Lipscomb Gospel Advocate Commentary Vol.  IV, 179).   

Christianity was designed to be a peaceful habitation (Isa. 11:6-9; ). Being citizens of this kingdom, Christians are those who should follow after peace (Rom. 12: 18; Heb. 12:14; Matt. 5::9). This means that we will even bear a wrong and suffer ourselves to be defrauded for the sake of unity (I Cor. 5:7). It means that where there is strife, we will not be the cause of the sin.  If we have a problem with a brother, we will talk about it and even be willing to be approached ourselves (Matt. 5::24).  We will not approach our brother over trivial matters.   At times it may mean deciding to keep silent or to speak out (Eccles. 3:7).  Sometimes it is not in what we say as much as it is in how we say it (Prov. 15:1), when we say it (Prov. 29:11), how much we say and to whom we choose to say it. It also means praying for peace (I Tim. 2:2). 

Drop Thy still dews of quietness,

Till all our strivings cease;

Take from our souls the strain and stress,

And let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of thy peace

                        (J.G. Whittier)          

PRIDE

Paul next mentions the sin of “vainglory” and the grace of “humility of mind”.  Pride is a great threat to unity. Have you heard of the man who is impossible to get along with because he thinks he is impossible to get along without? Pride is a threat to unity because it causes us to be unwilling to repent, unwilling to forgive, unwilling to yield to God and others.  The Bible is not silent about the abhorrent and destructiveness nature of this sin (eg. Prov. 8:13; 16:18).  Thomas Adam stated “Pride thrust Nebuchadnezzar out of men’s society, Saul of his kingdom, Adam out of paradise, Haman out of court, and Lucifer out of heaven” (Wendell Winkler Heart Diseases And Their Cure 46).

The opposite of pride is humility. It translates a Greek word which involves: “humility, lowliness of mind, the esteeming of ourselves small inasmuch as we are so; the real estimate of ourselves” (S. Zodhiates The Complete Word Study New Testament, 960). Humility is one thing we can not boast about to others.   It is like the person who received a medal for his humility, but had to have it taken off him because he wore it! (W. Winkler Heart Diseases And Their Cure. 46). There is an illustration of the school boy, who, after having received great praise from receiving a medal at school, went home to his mother, repeated the words of praise and proudly asked her “How many great men are in the world anyway?”.  His mother answered “One less than you think!” (Knight’s Treasury of Illustrations 298)).

Concerning “lowliness of mind” [Greek: tapeinophrosune] from our text:

Its direct relation is to God alone... The “lowly of mind,” as to his spiritual life, is independent of men, while sensible of his continual dependence on God.  Still, it INDIRECTLY affects his behavior toward his fellow-men; for, conscious of entire dependence on God for all his abilities, he will not pride himself on them, or exalt self in his conduct towards others... Neander, “The thinking lowly of ourselves because we are so” (Eerdmans Commentary Vol. 3 p. 428)  

We, therefore, need to esteem others better than ourselves. We should acknowledge our weaknesses and praise other people’s strengths. It means being prepared to take second place.  It means that we will not cause division over an opinion. It means rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. It means recognising everyone has sins and weaknesses, including ourselves, and that we are all on equal footing under God’s mighty hand. It means giving God the praise for our strengths and talents. Let us always strive to never let human pride hinder us from forgiving, repenting, rejoicing, weeping, laughing, praising others, or any other area of our lives that pride can snare from us.

SELF-CENTREDNESS

We live in an age where everything is centred around self. People push for their rights, and threaten to sue at the slightest infringement upon those rights. We look for ways to get rich, and how to get ahead. The media is full of stories about “victims” of government, neighbours and  friends. People protest in the streets, and often for selfish motives. We are taught concepts of self-esteem, self- assertiveness and self-love.

First, we had the magazine called Life. Then People magazine began to be published.  Then there was a magazine called Us, followed by one called Self.  It has been suggested that if the trend continues we will finally have one called Me, filled with pages of aluminium foil, so I can look at me.  (David L Roper Getting Serious About Love 106).

The biblical view is that we must deny self (Matt. 16:24).  It is only by being crucified with Christ that we live (Gal. 2:20). So it is with how we should view ourselves.  It is only in loosing ourselves that we see ourselves as we ought.  It is not achieved by constantly dwelling on self and esteeming ourselves higher. We need to look to God and to others. (Matt.22:37-39).  We sing “Sweet will of God, still fold me closer, Till I am wholly lost in Thee” (L.N. Morris). That’s how to get rid of “stubborn will” and self-centredness - get lost!  It has been said that the Scriptures do not emphasise self-love nor self-hatred but self-forgetfulness. (David L Roper, Getting Serious About Love 107,108).

This, of course, does not mean that our own needs are completely worthless. The Bible teaches the value of self worth, and looking to our own needs is only natural (Eph. 5:28, 29).  A Jainist went too far who vowed “I shall neglect my body and abandon the care of it; I shall with equanimity bear, undergo, and suffer all calamities arising from divine powers, men, or animals” (R. Rutherford Survey of World Religions 66). He travelled for 12 years without clothes to wear, he begged for food, and did not care that he was beaten by men and attacked by dogs. Being selfless does not mean being a glutton for punishment!

Paul is a good example of looking to others’ needs.  He wrote this letter from prison, but he was not self-centred about it. Likewise he knew that some were preaching the gospel only to add more affliction to his bonds (1:16). Rather than protecting himself and lashing out, he rejoiced in that Christ was preached (1:18). This is further illustrated by the blind man who was once asked why he carried a light wherever he went. He answered “So others won’t trip over me” (A.B. Simpson in Knights Master Book of New Illustrations 615). These illustrations teach us that even in times of trial and discouragement, we can look to others.

Self-centredness is a threat to unity. It attempts to divert the energy that could be focused on other areas of the Lord’s work onto ourselves. Here are some soul-searching questions.  Am I able to rejoice in a brother’s accomplishments? Are my good works motivated by seeking the praise of men? Am I overly sensitive that I take everything personally which causes others to treat me gently? Am I jealous that another is getting more attention? Do I brood over a discourtesy shown to me?  Am I sarcastic toward the success of others?  Do I wear modest apparel?  Do I worry obsessively about what people think and say about me?  Can I laugh at myself?  Am I willing to give up television or another luxury to help someone or teach someone the gospel?  May each of us seek to be others-centred and not self-centred.

CONCLUSION

Unity among God’s people will only come if we are one in doctrine as well as in attitude. Philippians shows us what unity is like when the proper attitudes are displayed toward our brethren. In all these attitudes we have studied we can see the sin of putting self above God  and others. In turn, it presents a great threat to the unity of the Lord’s body.  Let us all, then, put away strife, pride and self-centredness from our hearts and grow in our love for God, for others and for the peace and prosperity of the church.  Let us say with the Psalmist “For the sake of my brethren and companions, I will now say ‘Peace be within you’” (Psalm 122:8).

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