Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
“Being of one accord – σύμψυχοι sumpsuchoi – of one soul; having your souls joined together. The word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It means a union of soul; or an acting together as if but one soul actuated them.”
– Barnes notes on the Bible
What is mean by “being like-minded”
I know it seems crazy to be stuck on something that for every else seems so simple. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never slowed enough to think about just what he means.
- Are we to be like-minded in that we are co-sharers of the same encouragement, comfort and fellowship from the Lord?
- Are we to be like-minded in that just as Christ gives us encouragement, comfort and fellowship, we should encourage, comfort and bring fellowship to others?
I think both is the answer. As co-sharers of Christ’s blessings, we bring that same blessing and love to others. It’s easy to receive the blessings and warmth and love of Christ, but takes intentionality to bring that same blessing, warmth and love to others. But it’s the basis of our unity.
Unity in General
Where there is people there are typically always unity problems, even on deserted islands. I remember reading one book where a group of 4 men crashed and were stranded on an island in the antarctic. They eventually built a boat where 2 of them were able to escape. The other 2 who at first were friends, when rescued a month later were mortal enemies. They were the only ones each other had, but they barely had anything to do with each other.
Unity is work. And it’s hard. It’s not just about different opinions but it’s about different levels of maturity. Unfortunately where there is disunity, both sides think they are the ones who are more mature and “see the problem” more clearly. Each one thinks that they have the best solution. Not realizing that the solution isn’t typically a side but actually coming together in a relationship. It isn’t easy especially when disunity typically has hurt somewhere in its source.
Unity (or lack thereof) in Philippi
Clearly unity issues were a problem in Philippi. We see that from the beginning there were some who were taking advantage of Paul’s imprisonment to try to accelerate their own agenda with their selfish ambition (Php 1:17). Paul reminds them to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself” (2:3). Then he encourages them that our attitude should be that of Christ Jesus who was the ultimate example of humility (2:5). He goes on to exhort them not to complain or argue about anything (2:14). This doesn’t mean there are disagreements but it’s about the “how” of the disagreement.
So why is it so important that there is unity in the church? It’s not just a nice thing to have. Jesus himself prayed for unity “that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21). But also look at what Paul says earlier…
“…I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved–and that by God” (Php 1:27-28).
The basis of unity without our diversity and differences but united in Christ is that it is a powerful sign to the unbeliever. It is both a magnet to them as well as a sign for them. Our unity matters.
So how does Paul say to walk out Unity?
One misconception is that some people think that unity means we do not have different opinions. But that’s not the case. I think maturity is best summed up in the saying from the Restoration Movement:
In matters of faith, unity.
In matters of opinion, liberty.
In all things, love
But Paul has something to say as well:
- The love, comfort and fellowship you have received be sure to pass on (2:1-2)
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit (2:3)
- In humility, consider others better than yourself (2:3)
- Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus (2:5)
- Do everything without complaining or arguing (2:14)
- Agree with each other in the Lord (4:2)
How does this work in real life?
Think for a minute of someone, a fellow believer, that you have had a significant conflict with. Why?
I remember one of my more significant conflicts on the field. I was in a group with an older Korean woman who was not our leader. We had two very difficult triggers in our life. She had been very hurt in life and compensated with a significant amount of control to those around her. I’d had spent many years around a controlling personality and I to this day have a knee-jerk reaction around controlling people. It was a toxic combo. But that’s not everything.
In Korean culture a younger person must always obey an older person. In fact in their language, the type of word and vocabulary you use depends upon the age of a person. So whenever you meet a new person you must find out their age compared to your age so you know how to address them and even speak to them. The very words you use signify whether someone is older or younger.
So here we are on a team and this woman is not my leader, but she is controlling (which I am reacting to) and in her perception since I was younger, I must obey her in all things. I, on the other hand did not feel any need to obey her every whim just because I was younger. She was not my leader. My disobedience to her commands was received as profound disrespect and disregard. Her demands that I obey her controlling ways were received by me as profound disrespect and disregard. So you can see how this was an issue.
We actually tried to work it out but it did not good. I did not have any intention of being excessively controlled by someone and my lack of letting myself be controlled by her was to her grave disrespect. It was an ugly impasse.
So how does the gospel work out in situations like these? Whose culture takes precedence? It’s nice to read these Scriptures, but how do they apply?
It’s nice to have answers on paper, and it’s nice to give answers to others, but when it’s the relationships that we are entrenched in it’s a whole different story. Especially when culture is involved.
Even when I look back at that situation it’s a tough one. I could’ve been more gentle. I could’ve resisted the control with more grace. I could deal more with my own severe distaste of controlling ways.
The end of the story is when we went home after our team time was over, we still had unresolved conflict. A full 10 years later we tried to resolve it again without much forward progress. But I tried. And I forgave her. She tried. And I don’t know if she forgave me or not.
Unity is tough. It’s why many marriages fall apart. But forward is the pace at which we must go. Always.