In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul wrote:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:1-5 ESV)
Many of us know what follows this passage. We’ve memorized it and studied it because of its Christological implications (pertaining to Christ and his divinity). Christology is very important. We should study Scripture to help us understand who Christ is – in our limited, human ability to understand Christ.
But, what do we do with these first five verses of the second chapter of Philippians? What does it mean to be “of the same mind”, to have “the same love”, or to be “in full accord and of one mind”? What kind of things should we not do out of “rivalry or conceit”? To what extent do we consider others as “more significant than” ourselves? How do we look out for “the interests of others” as we also look out for our own interests?
At first glance, these questions deal with the concepts of fellowship, community, and unity – very important concepts, but not as important as Christology. Right? Actually, I suggest that these concepts are directly related to our understanding of who Christ is, what Christ has done for us, what Christ is doing for us, and how Christ empowers us to interact with one another. In fact, I would suggest that when we get these things wrong – when we fail to live a life that demonstrates our love for one another – then all the facts that we know about Christ mean very little. Our Christology must be built on Philippians 2:1-5 as much as it is built on the verses that follow.
But, how do we apply Philippians 2:1-5 today?
Without trying to unwrap everything that Paul means in these sentences, we can begin with one thing that should be very obvious, but that we often overlook: we will not always agree with one another. If we always agreed, there would be no reason to consider the interests of others. If we always had the same opinions about things, then Paul would not have exhorted us to consider the other person’s opinion as more significant than our own. If we all had the same priorities and the same desires and the same attitudes, then Paul would not have to warn us about rivalries and conceit. If we always treated one another as Christ treated us, then Paul would not exhort us toward love and like-mindedness.
Yet, Paul expects us to act like Christ in spite of our differences with one another. In fact, the way the we deal with our differences toward one another demonstrates whether or not we are walking in the Spirit or not.
If we deal with believers who differ with us in attitudes of anger, jealousy, stubbornness, conceit, or pride, then this is an indicator that we are not living the abundant life of Christ. If we force people to agree with us, or if we refuse to fellowship with those who disagree with us, then again we are demonstrating that we are walking in our own understanding instead of walking in the Spirit.
If, however, we can give up our rights and give in to the opinion of others and welcome differences with love and acceptance, then we demonstrate that we are living in the unity and love that only the Spirit of God can produce within us.
When the Spirit controls our life, then the Spirit demonstrates himself by producing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives – especially toward those who are different from us and who disagree with us.