Unity—the word is so easy to say, the concept simple to grasp, yet establishing and maintaining biblical unity in a local assembly requires constant vigilance and dogged diligence because it is completely contrary to the desires of our fleshly nature. Adding to the difficulty is the fact that Satan will do all within his power to undermine any godly attempt to live in unity with our brethren. Small wonder, then, that Paul offers his brief but comprehensive treatise on the subject. He began with somewhat broad principles—be of the same mind, maintain the same love, etc. “Regard one another as more important than yourselves,” he said (Phil. 2:3). And having said that, he seems to anticipate a possible question: “How does that play out in reality?” So he “answers” that unspoken question more specifically: “look out . . . for the interests of others” (v. 4).
Paul is a realist. He is not suggesting that believers abdicate their responsibility to provide for themselves and their families in order to take care of others. For he says, “do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (v. 4). He will later in a letter to the young pastor Timothy affirm the importance of providing for one’s own family: “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). However, he is saying in effect, “Here’s what biblical Christian unity looks like in practice: look out for the needs of others in the body.”
The Greek word translated “look out for” is the word from which we get our English word scope. Whether using a telescope or a microscope, the objective of the observer is to gain a clearer and more precise vision of the object under observation. It suggests much more than the casual and sometimes dismissive comments many of us have made to a needy brother or sister: “Let me know if I can do anything.” Given the weight of the entire context, when Paul, by the Spirit of God, orders believers to “look out” for the interests of other believers, he means that we are to exercise serious interest in those around us for the purpose of using our personal resources to meet their needs, whether spiritual, financial, or physical.
In other words, while true unity begins in the hearts and minds of believers engendering empathy and compassion, it does not end there. True unity demands action, often sacrificial action. The Apostle John observed that “whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17). Similarly, James asks, “If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?” (Jam. 2:15, 16).
No parent worth his salt would allow his children to go hungry. He would do whatever was necessary to provide for the needs of his household. Similarly, we are to search out the needy in God’s household and provide for them. And although our examples seem to focus on the natural needs of our brethren, it is even more important that we look out for and provide for the spiritual needs of those with whom we worship.
Every observant parent recognizes that children come into this world impregnated with a “me-first” attitude. Paul is telling us that with the help of God’s grace, we must eliminate that selfish fleshly spirit and put on the charity of Christ. He assured the thankless Corinthians that he would “most gladly spend and be expended” for their souls even if loving them more resulted in their loving him less (2 Cor. 12:15). In other words, unity in accord with the Word of God is so precious that we should give all we have in order to obtain it. In yet another epistle, Paul underlines this same theme: “Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification” (Rom. 15:2). This unity will be our determined objective or we will fail to lay hold of that for which we were laid hold of by Christ (see: Phil. 3:12).
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