The Roots of Fearless Unity in the Gospel

European Leadership Forum | Wisla, Poland

Paul is convinced that even though he would prefer to die and be with Christ if he were the only person involved, nevertheless, he senses God means for him to stay for the sake of the gospel. Philippians 1:25–26.

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

His aim in staying on the earth is the advancement of their joy in Christ. He calls it the joy of faith at the end of verse 25. And I think verse 26 shows that joy in Christ is the way we glory in Christ or boast in Christ: "so that in me you may have ample cause to glory [or boast] in Christ Jesus.” That’s my goal in staying on the earth — your joy in Christ, that is, your exultation, your boasting, your glorying in Christ Jesus.

So you can see he hasn’t left behind the great passion of his life expressed in verse 20 — that Christ would be magnified whether by life or by death. Now he's talking about his life! And his life exists on earth now for the joy of their faith — that is their supreme satisfaction in Christ, expressed in glorying or boasting in Christ Jesus above all things. Paul has one clear passion — Christ being supremely glorified in a people who are supremely satisfied in him.

From Private Affections to Public Glory

But the problem with putting the emphasis on the joy of faith or being satisfied in Christ is that those affections are invisible to the world until they manifest themselves in some public way. And God does mean to be glorified openly in the world, not just privately in the hearts of Christians where only he can see. God loves what he sees there, and that really matters, but God did not create the world in order to be glorified only in a way that he can see.

So in verse 27, Paul calls this church to a certain kind of behavior or manner of life which characterize them as citizens of heaven. That’s implied in this unusual verb “let your manner of life” (politeusthe). It’s the same root word as in Philippians 3:20, “But our citizenship (politeuma) is in heaven.” So he is saying that your true citizenship is in heaven. That is your homeland. That is where your treasure is laid up. That is where your supremely valuable King lives. There is a way of life on this earth that will show where your citizenship is, where your treasure is, where your heart is, and what is supremely valuable to you.

“Living worthy of the gospel means living the way you would if the gospel had infinite worth for you.”

So he says in verse 27, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” That doesn’t mean live your life in such a way that you deserve the gospel. It doesn’t mean become valuable enough as a person so that you merit the gospel. It doesn’t mean get enough worth in yourself so that God will reward you with the gospel. Well, then what does “living worthy of the gospel” mean?

It means just the reverse: you live in such a way as to call attention to the infinite worth of the gospel, not yourself. Living worthy of the gospel means living the way you would if the gospel had infinite worth for you. Living the way you would if you treasured the gospel — treasured Christ, treasured the cross, treasured the forgiveness of sins, treasured eternal life with God — above all things.

So Paul is not saying anything different here in verse 27 than he was in verses 25 and 26. People who have their citizenship in heaven — whose treasure is laid up in heaven, who value the gospel over all the world, whose all satisfying King is in heaven — live to show the joy of faith. They live to show that their boast is in Christ. They live to show the supreme worth of the gospel.

Demonstrating a Life Worthy

And then Paul gets specific and mentions two practical demonstrations of how to live this way, both of which, he says, will be a visible, public demonstration of the truth and worth of the gospel. One is the unity of love in the advancement of the gospel. The other is fearlessness in the face of suffering. You see both of these in verses 27 and 28:

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.

Side-by-side. One mind. One spirit. For the faith of the gospel. That’s the unity of love in the advancement of the gospel. Verse 28: Not frightened in anything by your opponents. That’s fearlessness in the face of suffering. And then you see in the second half of verse 28 that this is a visible and public demonstration of the truth and value of the gospel:

This is a clear sign to them [the opponents] of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

And we know this sign is from God because of the connection with verse 29,

For it has been granted to you [by God] that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

In other words, the faith in which they have unity, and the suffering in which they are fearless are both gifts of God. God is orchestrating things so that there will be a visible public demonstration of the worth of the gospel. He gives the faith, and he gives the suffering. Verse 29: “It has been granted to you [given to you] that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him [the faith in which you are unified], but also suffer for his sake [the suffering in which you are fearless].”

Three Roots of Fearless Unity in Love

Now in chapter 2, Paul takes us down into the roots of this fearless unity of love and describes three deep sources from which it comes and then gives Jesus and Paul himself and Timothy and Epaphroditus as living examples of these roots of this fearless unity of love. You can see he picks up the theme of the unity of the believers in verse 2:

Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

You can’t miss the emphasis — “the same love.” This is why I’ve been using the phrase, “unity of love.” What Paul has in mind when he is talking about unity is not primarily a structure or an organization. I don’t think Paul is suggesting that the hostile world will be impressed by some European or global organization that claims to speak for all Christians. The watching world is a collection of individuals who are watching the Christians that they know and assessing how they love one another and how fearless they are in the face of suffering.

Now come the three roots of this fearless unity of love in verses 3 and 4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

  1. The deepest root is that our selfishness and our conceit have been crucified and replaced with humility and lowliness. “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility . . .”

  2. This humility enables us, then, to “. . . count others more significant than ourselves.”

  3. Then as we count others more significant than ourselves we begin to devote our lives to the interests of others, not just our own. “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

And that gives rise to the fearless unity of love. First, there is the absolutely profound and wonderful miracle of death to selfishness and conceit, and the new birth of humility and lowliness. Then second, growing in the soil of this miraculous new humility, is the ability to look at others not as people to be used for our selfish ends, but as people to be served, counting them more significant than ourselves. And third, out of this mindset grows the actual deeds of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves — tending to their interests, not just our own.

This is the miracle of the Christian life. This is what the world sees and cannot explain. This is the fearless unity of love which is a sign of Christian salvation and the destruction of those who oppose it, as we saw in verse 28.

Look to Others’ Interests

Let’s look briefly at each of these roots of fearless unity in the faith. Let’s go backward. Verse 4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” The word interests is supplied by the translator. In the original, it’s open-ended. “Let each of you look not only to his own . . . but also to those of others.”

So it could be, “Let each of you look not only to your own financial affairs, or your own property, or your own family, or your own health, or your own reputation, or your own education, or your own success, or your own happiness, or your own salvation — don’t just think about that, don’t just have desires about that, don’t just strategize about that, don’t just work toward that, but look to the financial affairs, and property, and family, and health, and reputation, and education, and success, and happiness, and salvation of others.”

In other words, verse 4 is a way of saying the words of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:39). That is, make the good of others the focus of your interest and strategy and work. Find your joy in making others joyful. If you are watching television and your child says, “Would you play with me?” don’t just think about how tired you are, but by an act of gospel-fashioned, Christ-exalting will, put the child’s interests before the pleasures of your relaxation.

Count Others as More Significant

One of the keys to this radical way of living is in the second half of verse 3: “count others more significant than yourselves.” Be careful here. It does not mean think falsely about others. The point is not what others are. The point is what you count others to be. The point is not whether they are worthy of your help. The point is will you count them as worthy of your help and encouragement? Will you serve them whether they are worthy or not? This is the second root of fearless unity in the faith.

Rejoice in Lowliness

And where does this amazing ability to count others as worthy of your service come from? Verse 3 answers, “In humility count others more significant than yourselves.” It comes from humility which literally means lowliness. This is the great opposite of a sense of entitlement. Humility is the opposite of “You owe me.” Paul said, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish” (Romans 1:14). In other words, they don’t owe me. I owe them.

Why? Why do Christians walk through life feeling a humble sense that we owe service even to unworthy people, rather than them owing us? The answer is that Christ loved us, and died for us, and forgave us, and accepted us, and justified us, and gave us eternal life, and made us heirs of the world when he owed us nothing. Our very existence — we feel this! — hangs on being served when we didn’t deserve it. “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

So the picture is that it all begins in our hearts with the death of selfishness and conceit and the birth of brokenhearted, lowly, joyful humility. This gives rise to a servant-hearted disposition that counts others as worthy of our sacrificial service. This gives rise to a way of life that looks to the interests of others, not just our own. And this creates the demonstration to the world that Christ is real and that he is supremely and eternally satisfying, if they are drawn in. For others it is a sign of destruction. The aroma of life and the aroma of death.

Four Lowly Lives

Now in the rest of this chapter, Paul puts this beautiful mindset on display in four lives: Jesus, Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus.

1. Jesus

First is Jesus himself. Verses 5–9:

Have this mind among yourselves [the mind of verse 4!], which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count [notice the word!] equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing [literally emptied himself], taking the form of a servant [that is what it means to look to the interests of others], being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself [he laid down all his legitimate entitlements] by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

If you ever struggle with humility or self-denial or serving those who are hard to love, think on this picture of Christ. This is what he did for you. He is the great example of verse 4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That is what he did when he came to die in your place.

To be sure, verses 9¬–11 show that he was gloriously rewarded for this self-emptying servanthood unto death: “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11). And it will be true for you as well. “Whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).

2. Paul

Second is the example of Paul himself. Verses 17–18:

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Paul loved this church. He loved all the churches. And he died every day to serve them. “I die every day!” (1 Corinthians 15:31). He compared his life to a drink offering poured out on the sacrifice of their faith. In other words, he didn’t take thought just for his own interests; he took thought for their faith and was willing to deny himself over and over, and in the end die, that their faith would be strong.

3. Timothy

Third is the example of Timothy. And here the wording is an explicit recall of verse 4. Watch how Paul contrasts Timothy with others. Verses 19–22:

I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare [literally: your interests, your things]. For they all seek their own interests [there’s the exact wording of verse 4], not those of Jesus Christ. But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

I pray that this mind of Christ — to take thought not only for our own interests but for the interests of others — will not be as rare in your ministry as it was in Paul’s experience. “They all seek their own interests!” (verse 21) “I have no one like Timothy” (verse 20). Pray that God would make this mindset the relational mark of your ministry.

4. Epaphroditus

Finally, the example of Epaphroditus. Verses 25–30:

I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. . . . So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

Notice how amazingly their interests dominate: He was not distressed that he was ill, nor was he distressed that they had not heard he was ill, like most of us who want others to know if we are sick. Instead, he was distressed because they had heard he was ill! Would they be too worried? Would they fear he died? Their interests were on his heart.

Beautiful Lowliness

There you have four illustrations of what you and I long to become and what you hope your ministry will be like. Call it “the mind of Christ.” Call it “living worthy of the gospel.” Call it “the fearless unity of faith.” Call it whatever you will. It is beautiful.

It was beautiful when Christ put our interests above his own earthly comforts and died for us. It was beautiful when Paul suffered every day to plant the churches that brought us the gospel. It was beautiful when Timothy served side by side with Paul, putting the interests of others first. It was beautiful when Epaphroditus risked his life to complete the Philippian service to Paul. And it will be beautiful in your personal priorities and families and ministries.

So God’s great purpose for Europe is to glorify his own name, his Son, his gospel. And to that end, in the miracle of new birth, he crucifies our pride and selfishness and replaces them with humility and lowliness. This humility enables us to count others as more significant than ourselves, and from that flows putting the interests of others before our own, and from those roots grows a fearless unity of love — a life worthy of the gospel.

Lord, do it. For Christ’s sake. Amen.