What Was Paul's Vision for Unity In the Church? — An Excerpt from Lynn H. Cohick's "Philippians" (SGBC)
This week we are introducing a new Bible commentary series, The Story of God Bible Commentary. This new series, edited by Tremper Longman III and Scot McKnight, offers a clear and compelling exposition of biblical texts, guiding everyday readers in how to creatively and faithfully live out the Bible in their own contexts. Its story-centric approach is ideal for pastors, students, Sunday school teachers, and laypeople alike.
This series has uniquely positioned itself within Biblical studies to address the emerging generation with the unchanging Word of God by "[explaining] each passage of the Bible in light of the Bible's grand Story." The series accomplishes this premise by filtering each passage through a three-angle lens: hearing the story; explaining the story; and living the story.
We've selected a portion from Lynn H. Cohick's Philippians volume to demonstrate how this new resource will equip you to serve your people by teaching and applying God's Word. Viewing Philippians 2:1-5 through our three-angle will help you understand why unity is so important to the Church, as well as Paul's vision for that unity.
You can pre-order this important volume today, and also download and enjoy a free eBook based on its content, called Eager Expectations. What does Paul mean when he writes "To live is Christ and to die is gain?" And how can we share in that same unshakeable confidence? Find out when you get Cohick's FREE new eBook on Philippians.
1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.
5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
HEAR THE STORY
Paul pulls out all the rhetorical stops in these few verses (2:1-4 is a single sentence) to galvanize the Philippians’ heart, soul, and mind toward a vision of unity within their church. He alludes to the Trinity, to their salvation in Christ, and to their membership in the community of the faithful (2:1)—all with the purpose of exciting their imagination to the surpassing joy that such unity brings. Paul pulls the rug from under the prevailing honor-based culture with his call to humility (2:3) and the active establishment of another person’s honor. All this is with an eye to offering a human to Christ, the one to whom every knee will bow.
Paul finished chapter 1 by stressing the importance of faithful suffering for Christ. He is not unaware that in the face of adversity, fear and selfishness tend to rule conduct. Thus the apostle exhorted the church to be of a single purpose and to exercise their Christian witness in the face of strong enemies. He roused them not to fear those whose end is destruction, but to embrace their suffering for Christ in hope.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, Benjamin Franklin declared, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Paul might have resonated with this sentiment as he wrote to the Philippians. He recognized , however, that not every enemy is without; often the real dangers are power grabs, prima donnas, and prestige-seeking believers who weaken the body of Christ from within (2:3-4). It is to this potentially lethal danger that Paul turns in the beginning of chapter 2.
EXPLAIN THE STORY
…He asks that they be “like-minded,” hold “the same love,” and be “one in spirit and of one mind.” Twice he uses the verb “to think” (phroneo) in the first and last of his clauses. This suggests the importance of having the same outlook on the world, on the work of God in the world, and on one’s responsibilities in light of those truths. This verb is not easy to translate because our term “think” suggests theoretical knowledge. The Greek verb, by contrast, carries the idea of wise behavior.
…The phrase “be like-minded” is also found in Romans 15:5 and 2 Corinthians 13:11, which suggest that this call to frame the community’s vision about who they are in Christ and in the world is a recurrent theme in Paul’s churches. The effort to live in harmony is so crucial that Paul repeats it twice in one verse.
LIVE THE STORY
Why was unity so important for the church? Before addressing that question, we must think more deeply about the nature of the unity called for. As described by Paul it seems to have two layers, the local and the global. At the local level, the church must care for every member of the community, uphold each member’s dignity and worth, and work actively to seek the others’ good. At the global level, such immediate care is not possible, but the general sense of responsibility should be evident.
The demand is not that the church interprets particular doctrines the same way or organizes church polity the same way. These things, though important, are part of a believer’s conscience (see Rom 14:1-23). Rather, the unity is at the place of participation in Christ, being a member of his body. Thus it is not the soup kitchens or other public services that mark the church, nor is it the glorious worship music composed throughout the centuries, or even the missionaries who risk life and limb to bring the good news to those who have not heard, that testifies to the reality of Christ in the church. It is the unity in the body, the oneness that results when everyone is seen as a participant in Christ. (84-97)
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