In Jesus “high priestly” prayer, Jesus prayed to the Father regarding all of those who would come to believe in Him and thereby make up His church. We are in His prayer. This is what He prayed:
“I do not ask in behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst sent Me. And the glory which Thou hast given Me I have given to them; that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, that the world may know that Thou didst send Me, and didst love them, even as Thou didst love Me” (John 17:20-23).
We something here of the heart and purpose of the Lord Jesus regarding His church.
- His prayer was that we might be perfected in unity.
- The basis and nature of this unity is the unity that exists in the Godhead itself. “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, are in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in Us.”
- The unity He prayed for is first of all a positional unity as we are brought into fellowship with the Father and the Son through salvation. But the unity He prayed for us more than that, for He prayed for a unity that was demonstrably evident to others. A unity that would testify to the truth of the gospel.
Paul shared the heart of God in his matter. He had the same aspirations for the church in Philippi. And this was a major matter of concern as he wrote to them in his epistle. We saw something of this in Philippians 1:27-30. That phrase, “with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel” captures the heart of the passage. Believers are to be united in the common cause of the gospel. Paul uses terms in the passage which emphasize the nature of the way that we are to relate to one another. The world “conduct” means literally “to behave as citizens.” As fellow citizens we are to relate to the Lord Jesus and one another in appropriate fashion. The term “standing firm” is a military term meaning to remain in one’s post. We are fellow soldiers we are a “band of brothers” fighting side-by-side in the good fight of faith. The term “striving together” speaks to laboring together in a common purpose. The Greek term is related to our English term “athlete.” So, it could be said that we are like “fellow teammates,” each using our own particular gifts in doing our part in this common cause. Fellow citizens, fellow soldiers, fellow teammates. No Christian is an island to himself. We are part of a grand and glorious and eternal cause. We’ve been enlisted by God to that cause and the only way that we can have any degree of effectiveness is in joining together with our fellow believers.
Now what is here before us is very relevant to us in our day. We look across the landscape of our society and culture and we see a lot of division—division in marriages, division in families, division in our country, in our churches, in our world. Now some of this is not surprising, even as Paul warned Timothy of the spirit of things in the last days (Read 2 Timothy 3:2-5). But God intends something very different for His people. A local church is intended to be an oasis of Christ-centered unity in the desert of human selfishness and division. God’s intent is that we might enjoy the benefits and blessings of unity in our relationship to Him and to one another. As the Psalmist has put it: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)!
I came across an article in the “Tabletalk” devotional this past week in which the author speaks to the challenges we face. He says, “Real community doesn’t happen on its own—it takes time, patience, repentance, forgiveness, and love that covers a multitude of sins. The church community is not just a crowd of people on a Sunday morning; it is the gathered, worshiping people of God in a congregation where masks aren’t needed and where real friends help bear the real burdens of one another. Community is not just getting together; it is living together, suffering together, rejoicing together, and dying together. Although many Christians claim to want genuine community, many want it only on their own terms, when it’s convenient, and when it demands nothing from them. What they want isn’t the church community, but a country club where they pay their dues for services rendered. They want to be served without having to serve anyone else. Real community forces us to die to ourselves and get over ourselves so that we might love one another as ourselves.”
And that’s Paul’s focus in our text…
- Our Shared “In Christ” Blessings
Note the four-fold occurrence of the phrase “if any” in verse 1. The grammar is a “first class conditional” statement in the Greek. It literally means “if, and it is so.” You could translate it “since” (i.e. “since there is encouragement in Christ; since there is consolation of love”).
Now why did Paul put it that way? He was inviting his readers to take spiritual inventory. He was directing their thoughts to Christ and the blessings they enjoy in their relationship with Him. He was calling upon them to take note of the way in which Christ relates to them.
And note this about unity. In order for there is be any kind of unity there needs to be some basis for that unity. A family enjoys that by way of their common identity as members of the same family. For us as believers the basis for our unity is our common relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is a positional truth, but it is a positional truth with practical implications. Because we are “in Christ” and He is in us, we are in a relationship with Him. These things mentioned in verse 1 are all blessings we enjoy in our relationship with Him.
Note the first of these. “If there is any encouragement in Christ.” What is meant be this word “encouragement?” The term translates the Greek “paraklesis” which is variously translated “encouragement, comfort, or consolation.” It means literally “a calling to one’s side.” I like the term “encouragement” and it is befitting of Christ in our relationship with Him. In salvation He’s come along side us. He is with us, even “in us,” and is with us encouraging and exhorting us along in our walk with Him. We’ve known something of what it means to encourage or be encouraged. We are easily discouraged and distressed. We were that way in sin before we looked to Jesus for salvation. And ever since that day Jesus’ has been by our side. As they hymn puts it: “Jesus! what a Friend for sinners…Jesus! What a Strength in weakness…Jesus! What a Help in sorrow…Jesus! What a Guide and Keeper!…Hallelujah! what a Savior! Hallelujah! What a Friend! Saving, Helping, Keeping, Loving, He is with me to the end” (“Our Great Savior”). Do a spiritual inventory of your own life. Do you find any encouragement in Christ? Of course, you do.
“If there is any consolation of love.” The term “love” translates the Greek “agape” which speaks of that love which is founded in the person of God and revealed to us in Christ. It is that love that has been richly poured out within our hearts by God in our salvation through the Spirit (Cf. Romans 5:5). The term “consolation” translates a Greek term which means “the process of speaking closely to anyone.” Kenneth Wuest translates the phrase, “since there is a certain tender persuasion that comes from divine love.” So, as believers, we are recipients of this. He loves us, and His love works in us and speaks to us and works to transform us. We need never doubt His love for us. He is always relating to us according to His love. In our good times and bad—He loves us the same and nothing can work to diminish His love for us. He always relates to us according to His love. Check your spiritual inventory. Do you have any consolation of love? Of course, you do.
“If there is any fellowship of the Spirit.” The word translated “fellowship” is the Greek “koinonia.” It means a “communion, a sharing together.” The Spirit is the divine person of the Holy Spirit. Every believer in Christ is indwelt by the divine person of the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:14, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” You’ve been born again by the Spirit and ever since that day the Holy Spirit has been at work to fulfill His appointed task. His purpose? To glorify Christ in mediating His presence in you. What does this fellowship of the Spirit look like? John 7:38-39 expresses it best: “He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’ But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” And this is your experience, believer, whether you realize it or not. The ministry of the Spirit is compared to this river of living water flowing from your innermost being. This life, which is as an inexhaustible fountain in Christ’s person, has been unleashed in your innermost being. You are the recipient of this life. In this spiritual wasteland, this desert, you have something that the unbeliever does not have—you have a relationship with God that works to fully satisfy your deepest longings. Is there any “fellowship of the Spirit.” Again, yes! Of course! We are incredibly blessed by the Helper’s ministry in us!
“If any affection and compassion.” The first word is the same word used in Philippians 1:8. It speaks of “tenderheartedness.” The source of this “tenderheartedness” is Christ Himself. The term was used repeatedly of Christ in His dealings with men. You are a recipient of the “affection” of Christ Jesus. He loves you in this way. The second word is sometimes translated “mercy” (i.e. Romans 12:1). He feels compassion towards you and is merciful in His dealings with you. Taken together these two terms speak to how Christ cares for you and cares about what you are going through. You have a friend in Jesus Christ who is always there for you and cares about what you are going through.
Are you experiencing the encouragement of Christ? Are you comforted by His love? Do you enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit? Are you a recipient of Christ’s affection and compassion? Of course you are!
God has loved you in this amazing fashion! He loves you even now and is at work in your life. Now why are you so incredibly blessed? What is God’s purpose in bestowing these blessings on you?
God has blessed you so that you might be a blessing to others. God’s intent was not to save you so you could simply become a repository for His blessings. He has called you to be a “channel of blessing” in your relationship to others. You’ve been saved by Christ. You are now loved by Christ in these various ways, so that you might relate to your brothers and sister in Christ “in kind” (i.e. according to Christ’s example).
There is a wonderful example of this in the land of Israel. The river Jordan flows from north to south and empties itself in the Sea of Galilee. By all accounts the Sea of Galilee is a beautiful place. It is filled with an abundance of aquatic life. Birds occupy its shores. People vacation there. Its full of life. And a part of the reason for that is that it has a goes in and a goes out. It both receives and gives. The cleansing influence of the River Jordon does that. The Dead Sea is a different story. It receives from the Jordon River, but its low in elevation (the lowest elevation on dry land on earth), means that nothing goes out from it. Its salinity is 33.7%. It’s hypersalinity prevents macroscopic aquatic organisms such as fish and aquatic plants from living in it. It’s dead. God doesn’t want for you to be a “Dead Sea” Christian. You were reborn in Christ to walk in “newness of life.” That newness of life means that you are no longer to live as a sinful, selfish, consumer Christian. You don’t come to the church with a “what’s in it for me” attitude? God’s purpose is for you to be a channel of His blessing in your relationship to others.
2. Our Shared “In Christ” Unity
So, Christ relates to you in this way. He encourages you. He loves you. You enjoy the blessings of fellowship with Him. He cares for you and cares about you in all the details of your life. How does this apply to our relationship with one another?
Note the emphasis on oneness in verse 2. The term “same” occurs twice. And then there are the terms “united” and “one.” The basis of the unity we are to work to preserve is Christ and His example to us.
“Make my joy complete.” Paul would rejoice to hear that the church in Philippi was experiencing the things spoken of in verse 2. But, going back to Jesus’ prayer in John 17, these things are at the heart of Jesus’ desire for us as believers.
“By being of the same mind.” The word “mind” translates a term which speaks to a “way of thinking.” The tense of the verb speaks to an all the time activity. One translator has it this way—“that you may be being disposed.” Note the repeated use of this term. You cannot tell in your English Bible, but the Greek term occurs repeatedly in this passage: mind (verse 2); purpose (verse 2); mind (verse 3); attitude (verse 5). So, this “way of thinking” is obviously important. Something else that is noteworthy here is the very fact that we are called to be of this “same way of thinking.” Now this is incredible thing that God could work to do such a thing. People can be stubborn and independent and have their own ways of thinking. Sometimes getting people together in a common cause is like herding cats, something that it is impossible to do. But God wants to work together in a similar way of thinking. What is this way of thinking? What is this “same mind.” Well it’s not my way of thinking. And it’s not your way of thinking. Its Christ’s way of thinking. It is to have the mind of Christ. There’s a wonderful example of this in Matthew chapter 16. Jesus had just explained to his disciples that He was going to suffer and die and be raised up on the third day. And Peter rebuked him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). But (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23). In sin we set our minds of man’s interests. We think in a worldly way. And the only way that we can think rightly is to be born again and then to have our minds renewed by the Spirit of God through the Word of God (Cf. Romans 12:1-2). The bottom line is this—to be of the same mind we must all have the mind of Christ. And the only way that’s going to happen if we are zealous towards the Word that we might better know Christ.
“Maintaining the same love.” The term translated “love” is the Greek “agape” (same as in verse 1). The word “maintaining” speaks of the practice of this love. But note, again, that we are to practice this “same” love. What is the love spoken of? It is love of the same nature of that which we have received. Paul is going to speak to the nature of this love in Philippians 2:5-8. It speaks there of that love that Christ demonstrated in purposing to die for our sins. But the main point here is that we were never meant to be merely a repository for this love. According to Romans 5:3 this love has been shed abroad in our hearts. We’ve been filled up to overflowing with the love of God, so that this love might be extended to others and especially to our fellow believers in Christ. Ephesians 5:1-2 puts it this way, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you.” What is this same love? It is the “just as” love we have received.
“United in spirit.” Positionally speaking, we possess a “unity of spirit” inasmuch as we are each indwelt by the same Spirit of God. Practically speaking, we need—each one of us—to be filled with the Spirit, and to walk by the Spirit, and to keep in step with the Spirit if we are to be united in spirit. This unity of spirit is an incredibly important thing. So much so that Paul elsewhere spoke of the need to be “diligent to perverse the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). We do that as we are all commonly led by the Spirit and, on the other side of things, forthrightly pursue those attitudes and actions that work to resolve differences and promote unity. I read that book, “The Boys in the Boat,” a year or so ago. Great book which tells the story of the University Washington eight-oared crew team which represented the US in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. The book tells the story how these team members, who came from lower middle class families and had to earn their way through school through the depths of the Depression, were coached and prepared to compete and win. In the book you read about the importance of the synchronization of the eight rowers as they responded to the commands of the coxswain. The coxswain was in the back of the boat yelling out the command. The rowers sat one behind another on either side of the boat. They each needed to listen carefully to the coxswain. They needed to row according to his command and they needed to be in sync with their fellow oar men. This is a wonderful analogy of what God intends for a local church. Jesus is the Lord of His church. He speaks to us through the Spirit through the Word. And the Spirit lets us on a Christ-ward course. And He yells out the commands. And he bids us work in harmony with one another. It will do the boat no good at all if one oar man decides that he won’t listen to the coxswain. It will do the church no good at all if one of its members heads off in the flesh to cause division and strife. No, they all need to be pulling together. They all need to “keep in step with the Spirit.” They all need to be actively working together by doing their part in using their own spiritual gifts in serving the body of Christ.
“Intent on one purpose.” The word translated “purpose” is actually a different form of the same term used earlier in the verse and translated “mind.” It has the idea of “being disposed to” something. The through of the phrase is “being disposed to one thing.” And again, the concern here is what was spoken of in Philippians 1:27, “with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” That’s the one purpose we are all intent on.
Brethren, you are there in verse 1. You are so very blessed in Christ. You have encouragement in Him. You are loved by Him. You enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit. He cares for you with affection and compassion. You might say—you should say—with the Psalmist—“my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5).
But Christ’s purpose was never that you should be only a reservoir of His blessings. He intends for you to relate to your brothers and sisters in Christ according to His example. He has it for you to be renewed in the spirit of your mind that you might fully adopt His way of thinking—that you might have the mind of Christ. See that great example of love—whereby Christ died for you—He has for you to relate to your brothers and sisters in Christ in that same manner. You are indwelt by the Spirit; His purpose is that we all might be filled and led by the Spirit that we are united in spirit and intent on one purpose. You ask what that purpose is? It is there in verse 27, “with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.” It is the grandest purpose of all! And God has enlisted you in this cause.
Now if these two verses are to be fulfilled in us we are going to have to change some things. By faith we need to understand and appreciate how truly blessed we are! We need to praise God and thank Him for all that He has done for us. But beyond that we need to value our community. We need to invest ourselves in it. We need to be fully enjoined in it.
We need to value the church. We need to reevaluate the way that we look at church. Church is not something we go to—church is something that we are. We are “members one of one another” (Romans 12:5). You are a part of the grand assembly of believers. God loves the church. The church is the most important entity on this planet. It alone possesses the answer, in the truth of the gospel, for what ails man. It has a bright future inasmuch as God’s purpose in His church will not fail.
We need to value unity. I always cringe if I hear a spouse saying something negative about their partner. It’s painful to hear a family member criticize another member of their own family. It’s no less disconcerting when a member of a church family criticizes a brother or sister in Christ. These are things we must not do if we are to maintain the unity of spirit that God has called us to. These things are not It is impossible for the church to fulfill its God’s appointed task apart if the members of a church family refuse to relate to one another in a Spirit-led, Christ-like manner.
We need to love one another according to Christ’s example. That means showing forbearance. That means exercising forgiveness. That means actively pursuing opportunities to serve one another in love. That means using our spiritual gifts for the common good of the body of Christ. That means attending church with a degree of enthusiasm and genuine interest. That means doing your part, pulling your weight, being a team player. And doing all these things according to Christ’s example, to the glory of God.