We have already had occasion to look at Paul’s concern for like-mindedness as expressed in this letter, and we should remember that later on he appeals for peace between Euodia and Syntyche (Phil.4:2-3). Given this emphasis on like-mindedness, and its relationship to joy, also a theme of this epistle, it will profit us to meditate on this topic in greater detail.
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:1–2).
Summary of the Text
Paul begins with a set of hypothetical conditionals. If there is any consolation in Christ . . . but of course there is abundant consolation in Christ (v.1). If there is any comfort of love—there was certainly comfort of love (v. 1). If there is any fellowship of the Spirit—and how could there not be?—then something else should certainly follow. If there were any “bowels and mercies,” as the KJV has it, and without doubt there were such bowels and mercies, then what? Paul urges them to fill up the measure of his joy, by doing what? He urges them to be like-minded, to share the same love, to be of one accord, and of one mind (v. 2). This whole subject is apparently a big deal for Paul. This unity of mind and purpose is a Spirit-given, Spirit-driven source of joy for Paul.
The Stepping Stones of Like-Mindedness
We should pay close attention to the hypothetical conditionals that Paul is using here. He is not bringing up one set of certainties in order to point to another ethical duty, but one completely unrelated. That would have been something like “if the sun rises in the east, then you should take care to be like-minded.” No. What he is giving us is the first set of stepping stones toward the like-mindedness that he is urging. If you have taken these first steps, you should fulfill the apostle’s joy by taking the next step.
No one is actually laboring for ecumenical unity in the broader church unless they start here. Have they experienced true consolation in Christ? Have they been comforted by His love? Has the Holy Spirit poured out the spirit of koinonia-fellowship on them? Has their experience of these things been such that it has been a gut-churning experience—“bowels and mercies”? Many of the modern translations render this word (splanchnon) as mere affection, which I take as being far too anemic.
And so as Martyn Lloyd-Jones once put it, ecumenical unity cannot be achieved simply by putting all the corpses into one graveyard
Balanced and Eager
We live in a culture that is held together by lies. Many of these lies have successfully gotten into the church, and it is not rare for the purveyor of one of these newly arrived lies to turn to us and tell us we should accept it because “does not the apostle urge us all to like-mindedness?” Yes, he does, but he also tells us that we should not be blown around by the deceitful cunning of false teachers (Eph. 4:14).
Paul elsewhere tells us what a good approach should be when you encounter a new doctrine, or a new emphasis, or when some subject entirely new to you arises. He says this: “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).
And Luke describes this same demeanor in action.
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Acts 17:11 (KJV)
They were ready and eager to accept this teaching. It would be wonderful, if true. But if it was not true, then it would a snare and a delusion. They were ready to accept it, once tested against the benchmark that God has given to us. And only after it was tested against the teaching of the Word of God.
“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, And unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: Should not a people seek unto their God? For the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony: If they speak not according to this word, It is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:19–20).
Not the Lowest Common Denominator
Too many Christians look at all the things we differ over—baptism, eschatology, church government, soteriology, and more—and try to simply remove or minimize the things that they think are getting in the way. But unity is not brought about by getting rid of things, making sure certain things are absent. “Just drop eschatology from the statement of faith, and then we could all agree.” No, unity is not brought about by the absence of certain doctrines, but rather by the presence of a certain Person.
We should not focus on all the ingredients we took out. We should take care that we have made sure certain things are kept in—consolation, Christ, comfort, love, koinonia, the Spirit, and all of it in a way that is felt in the gut. In the original, Paul is urging us to gut-mercies.
Prepping for the Verses That Follow
Now as we move into the meat of chapter 2, we are going to encounter some challenging exhortations. We need to prep for it. We must get ourselves ready. We start to do that through paying attention here.
Paul wants us to fulfill his joy by doing one thing. Or, better, by doing four different things that all amount to the same thing. He says that we should be likeminded. He says that we are to have the “same love.” He says that we should be of “one accord.” And then he also tells us to be “of one mind.” The word that is rendered as “one accord” is sympsychos. Think intertwined souls.
I reminded you last Lord’s Day that this congregation is one organism. It is one body, and all of you as individual organs have a different and crucial role to play. But this never leaves Christ out of anything. This one body that I speak is the body of Christ. You are the body of Christ.
This means that every quarrelsome sentiment you utter, every cantankerous complaint, every proud boast, every self-serving attempt to grasp something, every thrown elbow, every haughty sneer is . . . is what? It is an attempt to make the body of Christ into a spastic body.
But however many pastoral problems you create in the meantime, this attempt cannot be successful in the long run. At the end of this process, the body of Christ is perfect and complete—like a bride without spot, or wrinkle, or any such blemish (Eph. 5:27). That is what God has declared as His purpose and will, and our sin is no match for that declared intention. Christ will have His spotless bride. We will in fact all grow up into the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13), with Christ as head.