Humility creates unity – Monday, 31st Week in ordinary time – Philippians 2:1-4
Our text of today forms part of a larger text spanning Philippians 2:1-11. The passage speaks of the humility of Christ. The letter to the Philippians covers several messages; one of them was the humility of Christ that we are called to imitate.
Paul begins chapter 2 with the word IF. Paul is not expressing a doubt when he begins 2:1 with the word IF. On the contrary, it is a manner of speaking; a manner that takes the rhetorical statement to be not only a matter of fact but a matter that would receive a resounding approval from all. Paul is not saying that “if you have any encouragement in Christ” and I’m not sure that you do….” Rather, he is certain that they do. The “if” is simply a rhetorical way of forcefully saying “since you have encouragement in Christ, since you have comfort provided by love, since you have fellowship with the Spirit, and since you have affection and mercy, then complete my joy. It is a matter of certainly, tried and tested, that Christ encourages us, love that consoles us and the Spirit that shows us sympathy and consolation. This is not up for discussion or debate. Now if that be so, if the Philippian Christians have received the things he mentions, then they have a responsibility to do what he is about to describe.
That demand of Paul may be summed up in one word; unity. The Christian is called to be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Paul is not talking about uniformity–uniformity comes from uniform, or what you look like on the outside. No, unity comes from character, from internals, from the Word and the Spirit.
All was certainly not well in Philippi. There were tensions in the Church in Philippi. But the Gospels are strewn with tense relationships. There were moments of tension that took place with Jesus’ disciples (see Mark 9:33-34; Luke 9:46; 22:24) or for that matter, Paul and Peter had a disagreement about the law (see Galatians 2:11-14).
The disunity in the Church of Philippi stemmed from the fact that there was an enthusiasm to spread the gospel. This sounds strange but is often the truth; even a good cause or a godly cause can become the source of disunity if we forget the reason for the cause. Even though the Philippians were earnest in their beliefs they got so carried away that at times they began to clash with each other.
Paul gives us the antidote to disunity. He tells us that division begins in the heart. It starts with little things and in little ways. The first step to unity is to renounce any self-ambition. Much of what we do is not done out of love for others, but out of our own desire for “advancement” or “promotion.” The second step to unity is to deal with conceit. Conceit is thinking too highly of one’s self, of having an excessive self-interest and self-preoccupation. It could be more literally translated “empty glory.” The third step to the kind of unity described in Philippians 2:2 is completely contradictory to the attitude of the world, because it calls us to be lowly of mind. Striving to regard others as better than yourself is about the least attractive thing to the thinking of this world. Yet there is truth in this. For, If I consider you above me and you consider me above you, then a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looked up to and no one is looked down on.
Finally the fourth step to unity is that we look not for our own interest but that of others. Paul doesn’t tell us that it is wrong to look out for our own interests, but that we should not only look out for our own interests. Nothing is more diametrically opposed to unity and being one in spirit and purpose than selfishness and seeking one’s own interests. The two attitudes—unity and selfishness—cannot coexist. One has to give way to the other.
The quickest road to joy is humility; the quickest road to unhappiness is pride