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. (Philippians 2:1–2 ESV)
Every week Christians gather together in local assemblies that we commonly call churches. Many of these churches suffer setback after setback until the saints get discouraged and sometimes leave. A setback can be defined as a check or reversal of progress. When people leave a church because it seems to be dealing with frequent setbacks — there needs to be a time of prayerful reflection to ascertain what the problem is. As the Lord Jesus told the churches in Revelation, “He who has ears to hear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul brings several things to our attention. He speaks of encouragement, love that comforts, the operation of the Spirit, affection, sympathy, and unity. Any carnal action or behavior that compromises the loving unity of a church also undermines the effectiveness of that church. Carnal church attendees are people who are behaving contrary to the person of Christ and the purpose of the churches. They are prone to cliques, electioneering (politics), ambition, covetousness, nepotism, abusiveness (real or passive/aggressive), and gossip. If these people are allowed to continue — the ministry is at risk and the church is at risk.
The Necessity of Love
Jesus said, “If you love Me… keep my commandments.” In modern times political correctness has often supplanted the biblical concept of first love. God’s love is not a “go along and get along” attitude. The love of God is in full agreement with God’s word. True love is love that hates sin and loves righteousness. It does not feel sympathies for progressive ideologies that conflict with God’s eternal word. We must never unify at the expense of clearly defined teachings of the New Testament. Again, Jesus said, “If you love Me… keep my commandments.”
Consider the church of Ephesus. They left their first love and were in danger of having their lampstand removed. Without love, a church is not qualified to be a church. In a figure, the lampstand has grown dark. What use is a darkened lampstand? It’s just one more thing to trip over in a darkened room. A church without love is a stumbling block to saint and sinner alike. Any person who behaves contrary to love towards the saints or sinners is undermining the church. We simply cannot afford to ignore these people. No matter who they are or what position they hold in the churches, they must be dealt with or the future of that church is in peril.
The Necessity of Unity
Essential to the success of any church is unity among its members. Every week men and women gather together in churches around the world. The people are a mixture of regenerate and unregenerate — spiritual and carnal. The spiritual have their heart focused on glorifying God and edifying the church. The carnal are focused on all kinds of self-serving things — too many to record. The spiritual desire unity — while the carnal are agents of disunity. This is a primary reason why so many churches fail. There are too many people attending and ministering who have not been born of the Spirit.
Understand that the carnal mind is not subject to the laws of God. Carnal people do not understand the things of God; they are foolishness to them. Another way Paul describes a carnal person is one who is “in the flesh.” If the Spirit of God dwells truly in a person (and not by logical deductions and proof texts) the person is not in the flesh but in the Spirit (Romans 8:9). You know the tree by its fruit. Any person who does not yield the fruit of the Spirit is a potential hazard to the church and needs to repent and receive the Holy Spirit. That’s the simplicity of it. Arguing about it will only prolong the problem and perpetuate the danger. Many churches would be well served to drop all their programs and find out how to preach so as to see their members born from above and stop this dangerous mixture of spiritual and carnal.
Only a church with spiritual people can come into unity. Can two walk together that are not in agreement? Can the unregenerate be yoked with the regenerate? The obvious answer is, no. Psalm 133:1-3 demonstrates the importance of unity by likening it to the anointing oil that flowed off of Aaron’s beard and to the dew of Hermon. The anointing oil is what qualified Aaron to be the High Priest. He was the “anointed priest.” Without it he was not qualified to be priest — and without unity, we are not qualified to be priests. The dew of Hermon is said to have watered the farmers’ fields — enabling fruitfulness. No unity means no water. Could a lack of unity be the reason why so many churches are fruitless?
Paul was utterly concerned for the loving unity of the churches. He writes, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. This means laying aside petty differences and personal ambitions. It means getting in step with God’s order (1 Cor. 11:3). No compromise of God’s word, no matter how well argued, is without consequences. Many people (especially millennials and younger) are beginning to question their beliefs and are studying topics in depth. They are not content with the compromises of the past and they are leaving to find churches that are obeying and teaching God’s word.
A cognate passage to Philippians 2:1-2 is Ephesians 4:1-3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Notice the key to unity… an eagerness to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Coming into agreement with one another first requires that we be in unity with the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit and the word agree. Second, an attitude of peace among ourselves that binds us together in love.