Philippians 2: 1-4
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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’”