Among other things, Paul writes the Philippians to encourage unity. He writes in 1.27-28, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” Paul has a special place in his heart for these Christians who are facing opposition from an adversarial culture.
In ch2, he turns his attention to the danger of dissension from within. He encourages the Philippians to be “like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. (2.2)” He notes three essential components to Christian unity:
- Being like-minded – be of the same mind
- Having the same love – be of the same heart
- Being one in spirit and purpose – be of the same purpose
Despite what some would say, becoming “like-minded” doesn’t mean Christian converts are brain washed, instantly becoming card-carrying members of the Republican party or eschewing “secular” music in favor of WAY-FM playlists exclusively. Being unified doesn’t imply uniformity. However, Paul does seem to indicate the importance of mind renewal – which is one of the keys to transformation – in the life of the Christian (Romans 12:2). But more to the point, Paul is saying the same thing in a couple of different ways: to say Christians are of the same mind is akin to saying they are of the same heart and the same purpose. As indicated by the Christological hymn Paul quotes next (2:6-11), the imitation of Christ is to remain at the forefront of Christian thought and behavior and, as such, is critical to Christian unity.
But before Paul moves to this sweeping hymn, he interjects one final word of warning: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (2:3-4)” It seems that humility is the final ingredient for unity according to Paul.
My sister, Tara, is the most gifted cook I know. In addition to being this week’s featured member at Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen (quite an honor indeed), Tara also maintains her own personal cooking website (taracooks.com) and, most importantly, is always willing to whip up a few select dishes anytime her kid brother happens to roll into town.
I spoke to Tara recently to ask about the importance of following a recipe precisely, of not overlooking a single ingredient. This is a portion of what she shared with me:
Ah, Yeast. That perfect little fungus that gives us light, fluffy bread. Typically when people think of a “fungus” they are grossed out. But they are necessary in many respects, especially in the making of bread.
Yeast and flour make a great marriage because they need each other. Yeast needs certain enzymes and sugars to successfully perform its duties and make the dough rise. Flour provides both the enzymes and the sugar to assist yeast in carrying out its mission, which is to produce the perfect chemical reaction. This chemical reaction is actually a fermentation process that results in gases being released into the dough. When fermentation takes place, gases are created and released into the dough, causing the dough to rise. This reaction can only take place when flour and yeast are activated by liquid that has been heated. However this perfect little chemical reaction all depends upon the proper TEMPERATURE of the liquid. If the liquid is too cool (below 105 degrees Fahrenheit), no chemical reaction will occur and the dough will fail to rise. And the yeast can be “killed” if the temperature of the liquid is too hot (above 115 degrees Fahrenheit) and again, the dough would fail to rise. But if the diligent cook takes the time to monitor the temperature of the liquid as it is heated, perfect results will follow and the yeast, the flour, and the liquid can work in a complimentary way, usually doubling in size, yielding a light fluffy bread that will melt in your mouth.
Humility works in much the same way. Like-mindedness, shared purpose and passion…these are essential for Christian unity. But humility remains the hidden ingredient, the TEMPERAMENT for unity to take hold. It is humility that keeps like-minded individuals from becoming a society of spiritual know-it-alls. It is humility that keeps our passions grounded in light of our purpose. It is the humility of Christ that compels His servanthood, His death, even the Incarnation itself (2:6-8). And it is this humility that we imitate (2:5). Without humility, unity never develops.
Being like-minded has its place.
Being of the same heart is certainly important.
Sharing the same purpose is absolutely essential.
But these qualities must also marinate in humility, an often overlooked ingredient, if Christian unity is to be achieved.
May the church heed God’s recipe.