Philippians 2:1–4

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. 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.

Gerhard Frost wrote:

“The reason mountain climbers

are tied together

is to keep the sane ones from going home.”

I don’t know who said it,

or when, or where,

but I’ve chuckled over it,

thought about it, and quoted it, too.

With a mountain of mercy behind me

and a mountain of mission ahead,

I need you, my sister, my brother,

I need to be tied to you,

and you need me, too.

We need each other…

to keep from bolting,

fleeing in panic, and returning

to the “sanity” of unbelief…[1]

I think that is very well said. “I need to be tied to you, and you need me, too.” It is a deeply Christian sentiment, and one of the great Christian expressions of it is found in the first four verses of Philippians 2. In verses 2 and 3 and 4, Paul will show what this unity looks like. In verse 1 he prefaces his depiction of and call for Christian unity in the church with a series of seemingly conditional statements.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

Again, this sounds conditional.

  • if there is any encouragement in Christ,
  • if there is any comfort from love,
  • if there is any participation in the Spirit,
  • if there is any affection and sympathy…

But the “if” here does not actually point to a possible reality but rather to an actual reality. Fred Craddock writes that Greek has a

way of saying “if” which stated the case exactly. For example, “If I am your friend (and I am).” This latter type of conditional clause was used to lay a foundation for a request, a command, an instruction. Such is the case in 2:1: “…if there is any encouragement in Christ” (and there is). One could just as well begin the four clauses in 2:1 with “since there is.”[2]

So let us read verse 1 like this:

  • since there is encouragement in Christ,
  • since there is comfort from love,
  • since there is participation in the Spirit,
  • since there is affection and sympathy…

Since these things are true, the church can be what it is designed to be. The church can be the kind of community that it is entitled to be and the church can be characterized by those qualities that God intends and desires. By what should the church be characterized?

The church is to be characterized by unity held together by love.

We begin with a revelation of Paul’s own pastoral heart. He states that what he is about to call the church to will “complete” his own joy. In other words, were the church to do this and become this then Paul himself would be very happy. Of course, that is not the great goal, is it? We want the happiness of God! Yet Paul is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His heart is here aligned to the heart of God and truly we might say that Paul’s joy would be made complete because God’s joy would be magnified in what he is about to ask.

And what he first asks is this: for the church to be characterized by unity held together by love. He writes:

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

There are four parts to verse 2:

  • be of the same mind
  • have the same love
  • be in full accord
  • be of one mind

Thielman offers a literal rendering of verse 2 as:

  • think the same thing
  • having the same love
  • united in soul
  • thinking one thing.”[3]

This is a powerful and compelling image of unity.

Craig Keener points out that “Paul borrows language commonly used in Greek homonoia speeches, which advocated harmony and unity among the hearers.”[4] These speeches would call for political or cultural unity. Homonoia was also a figure in Greek mythology.

HOMONOIA was the personified spirit (daimona) of concord, unanimity and oneness of mind. She was sometimes numbered amongst the Praxidikai (Exacters of Justice), goddess-daughters of an early Theban king named Ogygos. As such Homonoia was probably closely identified with the Theban goddess-queen Harmonia (Harmony). Her opposite number was Eris (Strife).[5]

So the pagans themselves had a concept of unity, as well they should. Unity is essential if one wants to build anything that will last. Even so, there is something qualitatively unique about Paul’s call for unity. Look at our verse again.

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

Paul is doing something here with his sentence structure that is most telling. We might say there are two general ideas, with one of the ideas bookending the other, among the four specific components. They are:

  • unity (i.e., “being of the same mind”)
  • love (i.e., “having the same love”)
  • unity (i.e., “being in full accord and of one mind”)

Do you see? We have, in essence here, a love sandwich with unity being the bread! Or, to put it another way, love is the adhesive that glues unity together.

The unity of the church, then, is not based on political solidarity or a high sense of team cohesion. Rather, it is based on love. We have the “same mind” because we have the “same love.”

But there is more than even that. The two references to “mind” in verse 2 are not referring merely to thinking, to cognition, to mental effort, as if Paul is saying, “All of you guys try to think the same stuff, ok?” Gordon Fee comments on the “the same mind” thus:

…the word does not mean “to think” in the sense of “cogitate”; rather it carries the nuance of “setting one’s mind on,” thus having a certain disposition toward something (e.g., life, values, people) or a certain way of looking at things, thus “mindset.”…The emphasis is thus on the Philippians’ unity of purpose and disposition, unity with regard to the gospel and their heavenly citizenship—exactly as in 4:2, where he qualifies it, “have the same mindset in the Lord”—not on their all having the same opinions about everything.[6]

This is critically important! The church’s unity is bound together by love as well as by a shared disposition and purpose, and that purpose is the glory of God and the Lordship of Jesus and the power of the gospel!

We can be united as one because God has given us the love of Christ and we can have one mind because our minds together are bent toward one object: Jesus! We must reject any element, mental or spiritual, that would threaten this Jesus-focused and love-bound unity.

The church is to be characterized by a humility that lifts each other up.

The church is also to be characterized by a humility that lifts others up. Paul continues:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

This idea was also not utterly unknown in ancient times. For instance, Rabbi Nathan said, “Value your fellow’s honor no less than your own.”[7] That is a good goal, yet Paul is saying even more than that, no? Paul is not merely saying that we should value others “no less than” we value ourselves, or as much as we value ourselves. Rather, we are to “count others more significant than yourselves.”

There are two steps to this:

  • humility
  • valuing others

Moisés Silva writes, “The true obstacle to unity is not the presence of legitimate differences of opinion but self-centeredness.”[8] This is so true.

I recall with sadness buying a book entitled Humility by a well-known Christian author. I read it. It was good! I was extremely frustrated, then, when a man acquainted with the author began leaking emails and documentation from their ministry that revealed him to be oftentimes anything but humble. We are none of us perfect! But probably very few should attempt to write a book on humility. (Though, thank God, some followers of Jesus can!)

When Paul says we are to “count others more significant than yourselves,” he is not calling for some kind of plastic or forced or fabricated veneer of self-abasement. He is not calling for us to theatrically grovel. No, he himself defines the driving forces behind this: (1) the rejection of “selfish ambition or conceit” and (2) humility. Paul is calling for healthy, Christ-honoring humility.

How might Christians truly (1) humble themselves and (2) count others more significant that ourselves? How might we die to self and lift up others? Fortunately, the Christian church, alone of all groups on the planet, has the definitive model for this: the cross. Jesus humbles Himself and comes low and lowly to lift us out of the pit! Jesus, who is exalted, comes lowly so that we, who are very low, might be exalted and made sons and daughters of God!

Our humility must be Jesus-shaped, cross-shaped.

What does this look like? In Thomas Merton’s collection of the desert fathers, he passes along this story of some monks who lived many many years ago.

To one of the brethren appeared a devil, transformed into an angel of light, who said to him: I am the Angel Gabriel, and I have been sent to thee. But the brother said: Think again—you must have been sent to somebody else. I haven’t done anything to deserve an angel. Immediately the devil ceased to appear.[9]

And again:

Abbot Pastor said: A man must breathe humility and the fear of God just as ceaselessly as he inhales and exhales the air.

Abbot Alonius said: Humility is the land where God wants us to go and offer sacrifice.

This is it. Simple humility. Seeing through the devil’s lies. Seeking the glory of God. Seeking the good of the other.

Do you count others as more significant than yourself?

How do you view others?

When you come to church, where is your focus?

Jesus told us to (1) love God and (2) love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37–39). This is the way forward.

The church is to be characterized by a concern demonstrated in care.

And once we let love become operative in our lives and in the church, then we can rightly care for one another. The church is to be characterized by a concern demonstrated in care. Paul writes:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Now those of you who have the self-granted gift of meddling need to be careful not to misread this. By “look…also to the interests of others,” Paul is most decidedly not giving any of us a license to meddle, to insert ourselves into situations where our presence is not needed. No, he is calling us to humble, loving, cross-shaped concern. Verse 4 is what happens if we get verse 3 right. If we humble ourselves and consider one another more significant than ourselves, we will be free to genuinely care for the interests of others, free to love others as we should.

It is not all about you. It is not all about me. In the church of Jesus Christ, we concern ourselves with loving, helping, assisting, and caring for each other in the name of Jesus. It is about Jesus, and He is the context in which we may most effectively love one another.

James Montgomery Boice passes along a fascinating story that shows the revolutionary and transforming power of caring for the interests of others.

Watchman Nee, the Chinese evangelist, tells of a Christian he once knew in China. He was a poor rice farmer, and his fields lay high on a mountain. Every day he pumped water into the paddies of new rice, and every morning he returned to find that a neighbor who lived down the hill had opened the dikes surrounding the Christian’s field to let the water fill his own. For a while the Christian ignored the injustice, but at last he became desperate. He met and prayed with other Christians and came up with this solution. The next day the Christian farmer rose early in the morning and first filled his neighbor’s fields; then he attended to his own. Watchman Nee tells how the neighbor subsequently became a Christian, his unbelief overcome by a genuine demonstration of a Christian’s humility and Christlike character.[10]

Had the offended Christian farmer been concerned with only his interests, he would have sought retaliation or punishment. Rather, with the counsel of the church, he decided instead to subvert the whole structure of vengeance by genuinely caring for the interests and concerns and needs of the one who wronged him! It is most telling to me that this decision to water the fields of the one stealing his water came after the farmer met and prayed with the church. That is as it should be. Why? Because that kind of mindset should be operative in the church!

Tellingly, the one stealing the water becomes a Christian. Genuine love and care and concern opened the door for him to come to Christ!

And that too is as it should be, for Christ is the only way we can love like this at all! Christ has shown us the way. Christ has shown us that this is possible: love, unity, humility, care. This is Jesus. So too let this be the body of Christ.


[1] Quoted in Swindoll, Charles R. The Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart. (Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 1998), Section 25.

[2] Craddock, Fred B.; Craddock, Fred B. Philippians (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching) (p. 35). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[3] Thielman, Frank S. Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary Book 11) (p. 102). Zondervan Academic. Kindle Edition.

[4] Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (IVP Bible Background Commentary Set) (p. 560). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.


[6] Fee, Gordon D. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT)) (pp. 184-185). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. Kindle Edition.

[7] Keener, Craig S., p.560.

[8] Silva, Moisés. Philippians. (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 87). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[9] Thomas Merton, The Way of the Desert (New York, NY:  New Directions), p.52-54.

[10] Boice, James Montgomery. Philippians. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), p.107.

One thought on “Philippians 2:1–4

  1. OK then, can we get our love sandwich, hold the mayo? As a baptist intorvert, we did “sneak into” the Monastery in Conyers hoping that we would NOT be excommunicated for the violation & it was there me stumbled in to Merton (I think?) which was a tremendous discovery of great joy for me; this led to a world of reading books from “those strange” folk who hang out in ancient old buildings and pray; that led to reading a lot of “Desert Fathers” material & other monastic works. Rabbi Nathan and Moisés were a extra nice bonus for studying our outlines here & listening, actually listening to your messages. You have to wonder if Harmonia smote Eris at least occasionally? Thank you Wym & go CBCNLR. We do strive to PRAY for youinz often 🙂

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