William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Causes Of Disunity (Philippians 2:1-4)

2:1-4 If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you, if love has any persuasive power to move you, if you really are sharing in the Holy Spirit, if you can feel compassion and pity, complete my joy, for my desire is that you should be in full agreement, loving the same things, joined together in soul, your minds set on the one thing. Do nothing in a spirit of selfish ambition, and in a search for empty glory, but in humility let each consider the other better than himself Do not be always concentrating each on your own interests, but let each be equally concerned for the interests of others.

The one danger which threatened the Philippian church was that of disunity. There is a sense in which that is the danger of every healthy church. It is when people are really in earnest and their beliefs really matter to them, that they are apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide. It is against that danger Paul wishes to safeguard his friends.

In Philippians 2:3-4 he gives us the three great causes of disunity.

There is selfish ambition. There is always the danger that people should work not to advance the work but to advance themselves. It is extraordinary how time and again the great princes of the Church almost fled from office in the agony of the sense of their own unworthiness.

Ambrose was one of the great figures of the early Church. A great scholar, he was the Roman governor of the province of Liguria and Aemilia, and he governed with such loving care that the people regarded him as a father. The bishop of the district died and the question of his successor arose. In the midst of the discussion, suddenly a little child's voice arose: "Ambrose--bishop! Ambrose--bishop!" The whole crowd took up the cry. To Ambrose it was unthinkable. He fled by night to avoid the high office the Church was offering him; and it was only the direct intervention and command of the Emperor which made him agree to become bishop of Milan.

When John Rough publicly from the pulpit in St. Andrews summoned him to the ministry, John Knox was appalled. In his own History of the Reformation he writes: "Thereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day until the day that he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart. No man saw in him any sign of mirth, nor yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, for many days together."

Far from being filled with ambition, the great men were filled with a sense of their own inadequacy for high office.

There is the desire for personal prestige. Prestige is for many people an even greater temptation than wealth. To be admired and respected, to have a platform seat, to have one's opinion sought, to be known by name and appearance, even to be flattered, are for many people most desirable things. But the aim of the Christian ought to be not self-display, but self-obliteration. He should do good deeds, not that men may glorify him, but that they may glorify his Father in heaven. The Christian should desire to focus men's eyes not upon himself but on God.

There is concentration on self. If a man is for ever concerned first and foremost with his own interests, he is bound to collide with others. If for him life is a competition whose prizes he must win, he will always think of other human beings as enemies or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way. Concentration on self inevitably means elimination of others; and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

The Cure Of Disunity (Philippians 2:1-4)

In face of this danger of disunity Paul sets down five considerations which ought to prevent disharmony.

(i) The fact that we are all in Christ should keep us in unity. No man can walk in disunity with his fellow-men and in unity with Christ. If he has Christ as the companion of his way, he is inevitably the companion of every wayfarer. A man's relationships with his fellow-men are no bad indication of his relationship with Jesus Christ.

(ii) The power of Christian love should keep us in unity. Christian love is that unconquered good-will which never knows bitterness and never seeks anything but the good of others. It is not a mere reaction of the heart, as human love is; it is a victory of the will, achieved by the help of Jesus Christ. It does not mean loving only those who love us; or those whom we like; or those who are lovable. It means an unconquerable good-will even to those who hate us, to those whom we do not like, to those who are unlovely. This is the very essence of the Christian life; and it affects us in time and in eternity. Richard Tatlock in In My Father's House writes: "Hell is the eternal condition of those who have made relationship with God and their fellows an impossibility through lives which have destroyed love.... Heaven, on the other hand, is the eternal condition of those who have found real life in relationships-through-love with God and their fellows."

(iii) The fact that they share in the Holy Spirit should keep Christians from disunity. The Holy Spirit binds man to God and man to man. It is the Spirit who enables us to live that life of love, which is the life of God; if a man lives in disunity with his fellow-men, he thereby shows that the gift of the Spirit is not his.

(iv) The existence of human compassion should keep men from disunity. As Aristotle had it long ago, men were never meant to be snarling wolves but to live in fellowship together. Disunity breaks the very structure of life.

(v) Paul's last appeal is the personal one. There can be no happiness for him so long as he knows that there is disunity in the Church which is dear to him. If they would complete his joy, let them complete their fellowship. It is not with a threat that Paul speaks to the Christians of Philippi but with the appeal of love, which ought ever to be the accent of the pastor, as it was the accent of his Lord.

- William Barclay's Daily Study Bible