Given the many impediments latent in our own proud flesh and the many inducements to live selfishly that Satan tempts us with, it should come as no surprise that the pathway to unity is tortuous and strewn with failures. Beneath the superficial calm on many a surface lie hidden shoals of selfishness and pride just waiting to sink and drown a body of believers. It might be easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we have mastered the earlier steps in the path to unity that Paul has set forth, steps such as being of the same mind or being united in spirit. “Certainly,” we say with unjustified confidence, “we are intent on one purpose.” But the next point that Paul provides is much more difficult to deceive ourselves about. It is so concrete and measurable and our own failing so obvious that we want to shrink and run in another direction because it gets at the very heart of our sinfulness and the source of our dissensions and divisions.
“With humility of mind,” Paul instructs all believers, “regard one another as more important than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). What a devastating statement. Paul has not offered an ideal to be admired, nor merely an objective to be pursued (though, surely, it is to be pursued), but, rather, a command to be obeyed. Given this requirement of God for those He has redeemed and joined together in a local church, how many of us can do anything but confess our abject sin in failing to obey this command? Surely, we must recognize the immeasurable grace of God that must operate to maintain a body of believers in a semblance of peace given the selfishness that is enthroned in so many of our hearts.
This step contains two elements: a required state of mind that leads to a right way of thinking. Paul tells us that God requires us to obtain “humility of mind.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines that phrase, which translates one Greek word, as “a deep sense of one’s littleness.” There is only one way to acquire such a sense. Humility of mind as God requires is not the fruit of comparing ourselves with others whom we believe to have greater gifts and abilities than we have, nor is it the result of a self-deprecating examination of ourselves. Godly humility flows from kneeling in the presence of the Lord, from seeing who He is and what He has done, and from coming to the realization that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18). Then we honestly realize, in the words of Charles Wesley, “I am all unrighteousness; False and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.”
Living in the presence of the Lord and armed with an accurate understanding of what we really are apart from the grace of God, then, we can truly begin thinking scripturally about ourselves vis-à-vis others, namely “regard[ing] one another as more important than yourselves.” To regard means “to consider, deem, account, think.” And when that type of thinking motivates action, it is synonymous with love. If I truly account you more important than myself and you genuinely deem me more important than yourself, it will be impossible but that there be a Spirit-engendered, God-honoring, Christ-patterning unity between us. This joining of godly thinking and action is the living, breathing embodiment of love, which is both the source and essence of true unity. Having instructed the Colossians to bear with one another and to forgive one another, Paul says, “Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” (3:14).
God is not advocating the eradication of self. After all, He made us—personally, individually, with unique strengths (and weaknesses). But He is calling us to self-crucifixion, to denying ourselves, to taking up our cross daily, and to following Him. In a healthy physical body, the brain functions for the benefit of the skeleton, the muscles, the organs, and the glands. The liver functions so that the brain is free to perform its conscious and unconscious activities. The muscles move for the benefit of those parts of the body lacking locomotion. Each exists to serve the other. So God intends it to be in the body of Christ. Once again, as Paul explained: “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).
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