1Christ encourages you, and his love comforts you. God's Spirit unites you, and you are concerned for others. 2Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. 3Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. 4Care about them as much as you care about yourselves
‘Singing from the same hymn sheet’ has become a fairly common idiom, despite fears that it might offend atheists! It demonstrates a common understanding that, for any venture to succeed, all stakeholders must say the same things in public. Here, as Paul continues to spell out the implications of Christian citizenship, he pleads for something much deeper than a PR exercise: he appeals for a unity of focus centered on Jesus, building up to the most majestic hymn ever sung in honour of Christ!
Paul employs all his rhetorical and pastoral skills to press home his passion for a harmony of purpose. Imagine his messenger speaking this out to the congregation at Philippi – and to your fellowship. The four ‘ifs’ of verse 1 do not suggest uncertainty, but serve to pile up and emphasize all the motives for unity. Paul draws our attention to felt experience, as we are strengthened and consoled in Jesus’ family, as we know his love, as we evidence the Spirit’s work, as we bask in compassion and kindness. In view of all these gifts, surely we must take note of Paul’s entreaty. Otherwise we have completely missed the point.
The call for harmony and humility is very familiar to Christians. Why is it so hard to achieve? Humility would certainly have been a counter-cultural concept in the Greco-Roman world, but for us today status envy is also alive and kicking. Varying principles and preferences in our churches too can be a real challenge to harmony. Many schisms and clashes are dressed up as theological or practical differences for extra force and validation. Yet at their root there is often individual insecurity or self-promotion. What would our collective witness sound like if we really took seriously the appeal to invest sacrificially in the lives of others to the detriment of our own advancement?
First used in Encounter with God July-Sept & Oct-Dec 2014, written by Fiona Barnard, copyright Scripture Union. Used with kind permission.
Father, forgive us for the pride and ego that we so often see in our churches. We pray for your Spirit to increase in all of us the love, tenderness and compassion that Paul speaks of here. We pray that we may not seek our own interests but the interests of others, in Jesus’ name. Amen.