“An Essential For The Church” (Philippians 2:1-4 sermon)

During the American War for Independence, General George Washington was irked by what some of the drummers in the army were doing. Each drummer would just drum in his own way, (and sometimes “out of the blue” just to show off their own ability) and it was sending out mixed signals to the army.  So Washington sent this order out: “The use of drums are as signals to the army — and if every drummer is allowed to beat at his pleasure, the intention is entirely destroy[e]d, as it will be impossible to distinguish whether they are beating for their own pleasure or for a signal to the troops.’” (Chernow, Washington, p. 293)

Washington was telling those drummers: Listen, if we are going to be a successful army, you can’t just drum whatever or whenever you want to; We have to sacrifice our own preferences and send out unified signals if we are going to stand firm together as an army, and win this war.

Before our Grand Opening last week, we finished Chapter 1 of the Book of Philippians, where Paul told us as a church, that we need to STAND FIRM against the contrary “currents” of our society and the spiritual enemy who wants to undermine us.  Now he follows this up in Chapter 2 with a specific challenge on what it takes for us to actually DO that.  We need to realize that whether or not we obey what Paul shows us in these 4 verses today WILL BE A KEY as TO WHETHER WE WILL SUCCED OR FAIL ON OUR MISSION AS A CHURCH IN THIS NEW LOCATION. So we need to look carefully at what he tells us here:  

“Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

(Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus …)”

I.  The Four-Fold Motivation: 

Paul begins Chapter 2 by saying “IF” there are 4 things … and in a sense he’s basically asking 4 questions: 

— Is there any encouragement in Christ?

— Is there any consolation in love?

— Is there any fellowship in the Spirit?

— Is there any affection or compassion?

The answer to all of these is what? It’s undeniably “YES”!  If you are a Christian, you know that all of those things are true. “Is there any encouragement in Christ?”  Of COURSE there is encouragement in Christ!  You KNOW the comfort that Christ brings!

This week I read a biography of P.T. Barnum, the consummate entertainer from the 1800’s who, among other things, began the famous circus that bore his name. When Barnum was about 15, his grandmother was walking in her garden one day, and she stepped on a rusty nail. Soon her foot was dangerously infected, and they didn’t have the medications to treat it like we do now.  His grandmother realized that she was at death’s door, and so  she called all of her grandchildren together around her and told them about her faith in Jesus, and she said that because of Him, she had great joy, and she was not afraid to die. Barnum said that his grandmother’s joyful faith — even in the face of death — impacted him greatly for the rest of his life. 

Is there any encouragement in Christ? You bet there is! P.T. Barnum’s grandmother would tell you “YES there is!” There is encouragement in Christ even in the face of death. Every Christian will tell you that’s so. All of us who know Christ would say a resounding “YES!” There IS encouragement in Christ! 

So Paul’s kind of “setting us up” here, right; it’s kind of like, we all know what the answer to these four things he said is going to be, right? They’re all going to be “Yes!”

It’s like asking:

— Are there any fish in the sea?

— Is there any tea in China?

— Are there any liberals in California?

— Are there any cows in Texas?

We ALL know the answer to these things is “YES”! Nobody disagrees with that.

THAT is what Paul is saying here. He KNOWS the answer is “Yes!”:

— YES there is encouragement in Christ

— YES there is consolation in love

— YES there is fellowship in the Spirit

— YES there is affection, and compassion in this world — we ALL know it 

So Paul says, if these things are true (and he KNOWS that you KNOW that they ARE true!) then he says, then here is what you need to do next, in :2:

II.  The Four-Fold Command to UNITY. 

The 4-fold motivation leads to a command to do 4 things in :2:  

— be of the same mind

— maintain the same love

— united in spirit

— intent on one purpose

Now, these “4 things” are really just 4 different ways of saying the same ONE thing: be unified. Look at the words he uses: 

— “same” mind

— “same” love

— “united” in spirit

— “ONE purpose”

You see how in all 4 of these, he’s saying, I want you to be unified, church: have the “same mind,”  have the “same love”, be “united in spirit,” be intent on “one purpose.” He’s saying if all these things that we just looked at are true (and we ALL know that they ARE true) — then you as a church MUST be committed to UNITY. 

In fact, TEN TIMES in this one book of Philippians, it says “be like-minded;” that means UNIFIED!  He’s  emphasizing just how it important it is for us as a church to be unified; “of the same mind.”  

We’ve seen how in Jesus’ last, famous “high priestly prayer” in John 17, He prayed repeatedly for the UNITY of His disciples:

— :11 “I come to You, Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one, even as We are.” 

— In :21 He prayed: “that they may all be one, even as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

— In :22 He prayed: “The glory which You have given Me, I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one. (:23) “I in them, and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me

Isn’t it extraordinary that in His final, High Priestly prayer here on earth, Jesus would repeat THREE TIMES a prayer to His Father for the UNITY of His people?!  And WHY? He repeatedly said “THAT/SO THAT” (remember, that’s the “purpose clause; it tells us WHY:), “SO THAT the world may believe .…”.

Jesus said our unity as a church is so important, because it is a witness to the world for Jesus. And that just makes sense: if the supposed “followers of Jesus” are not unified, and are always fighting each other, who is going to believe their message? It is an important part of our witness to our community that we as a church are unified. It speaks VOLUMES to the watching world. THAT is why Paul emphasizes it so strongly here.  

Why would he be addressing this to the Philippians? Well, if you look later in this book, you see at least ONE reason why: In 4:2 Paul writes: “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” He says in :3 “I ask you all to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel.”  

So Paul says these were “good Christian women,” who had both been involved in the work of the Gospel — but unfortunately, for some reason, they were not getting along. They were not “living in harmony in the Lord.” And he said, help them to get along. Because it is SO important for the church; for the witness of the Gospel in your community. 

(Can I just say, how would you like to be “called out” by name like that? Cheryl says a lot of times when I am preaching on something, she’ll be thinking, “Don’t say my name … don’t say my name …”!).  But it’s one thing to be called out by name in a sermon — it’s another thing to be called out BY NAME, in a New Testament letter that will be read for all time,  because you weren’t getting along with another Christian in the church?!!  (Some of us better watch it, amen?!  Don’t make God call you out!) 

But Paul is just emphasizing here how important the unity of the church is. Because when the church of Jesus Christ works together as one, literally nothing can stop us!  

Years ago Herman Melville wrote about a whaling ship that sprung into action when they spotted a whale. He wrote: ““They were one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; though it was put together of all contrasting things — oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp — yet all these ran into each other in the one … hull, which shot on its way … even so, all the individualities of the crew, this man’s valor, that man’s fear; guilt and guiltiness, all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed” to the goal the captain had set for them. They were “one man, not thirty”! 

That’s a great picture of how the church should be. We are many individuals, but under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we become like “one man,” not two hundred, all working together towards the goal our “Captain” has set for us. A sailing ship, where every sailor knows his place, all working together, is a beautiful thing. And so is a church, when everyone is working together towards the same goals God has given us: to worship Him, and serve Him by reaching, and teaching, and caring for people; it is a beautiful and powerful thing — unstoppable really; Jesus said “the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church”!  IF, we might add … IF we will work together as one, like God commands us here. That’s why He emphasizes it FOUR times here, because it is SO important: work together in unity — and nothing can stop you as a church! 

III.  The Four-fold attitudes that make that unity happen.

It’s one thing to say: “Let’s all be united as a church; let’s go forward on mission together.” But as we know, it is another thing entirely, to really DO that. So many churches fail at this. Satan gets a hand in and stirs up controversy and trouble, and distracts and divides churches, because he knows it will weaken them on their mission. So what specifically can we do, to make and to keep the kind of Biblical church unity that Paul says here is so important for us in our mission as a church?  

That’s what we see in the next two verses, verses 3 & 4.  In these two verses, he gives us another “4” things, this time, 4 attitudes: 2 “DO’s’ & 2 “DONT’s”, that will help us make and keep the kind of unity we need:

He says: 1) DON’T do things from “selfishness or empty conceit”, but 2) DO regard one another as more important than yourself, 

— 3) DON’T merely look out for your own personal interests, but 4) DO look out also for the interests of others.  

These attitudes are VITAL to keep our unity and the mission of the church going strong — but they are not “easy.” This is not “four ‘EASY’ steps to church unity,” — there is nothing “EASY” about these things. Because they don’t come “naturally.” In fact, these attitudes are the OPPOSITE of what has been ingrained into our very being since childhood. 

Like when he says here, “do nothing from selfishness.” Selfishness is one of THE most difficult problems we face as human beings. (Anybody here familiar with it?!)  Because of the sin nature that has been passed down to us from Adam & Eve, we are ALL naturally and innately selfish. We are all just naturally more concerned about ourselves than anyone else. Because of sin, selfishness is just our “normal” human condition. 

Years ago, in some way that is unknown to us today, P.T. Barnum had offended his friend Moses Kimball, who was also a museum owner and showman. Barnum, from overseas, wrote Kimball and apologized.  He said it was just: “selfishness, selfishness, selfishness” on his own part.  And then he signed off by saying:  “I plead guilty to this general crime & can only give my poor excuse that it is a part of human nature.’”  (Robert Wilson, Barnum: An American Life, p. 110)

Well, Barnum may have used it a an excuse, but he was right: ever since the fall of Man into sin, selfishness IS a part of the human nature. No one has to teach us to be selfish, do they? We’re all born with it. I’ve seen too many kids and grandkids holler “MINE!” — we are all born with that selfish nature. And most of us don’t grow out of it, either! Selfishness is one of the main causes of human conflict and suffering today — just like it was between P.T. Barnum and his friend. 

BUT, the Bible says, when we admit our selfishness (and all of our sin) and ask Jesus to save us, He sends His Holy Spirit inside us, and we become  “new creatures.” We still have that selfish sin nature in us, but now selfishness does NOT have to rule our lives any more. The Bible commands us as Christians here, DO NOT act from selfishness — which means that with the help of God’s Holy Spirit in us, we DO have the power not to act selfishly. We CAN be different in Christ. We CAN, as he says in the next verses:

— be humble in mind; we CAN regard one another as more important than ourselves

— We CAN look out for the interests of others, and not just our own.

In the power of God’s Holy Spirit, who lives inside of every Christian, we can break the power of selfishness, and put other people first. Christians all through history have done it. 

One of the greatest examples I ever heard about this, was back in the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, when the financial crisis that had engulfed our country, began to affect out Southern Baptist Churches’ giving, and cuts were going to have to be made in our missions programs, and at our seminaries.

At one of our seminaries, several of the professors were going to be have to be let go, and so, as you can imagine, the professors began lobbying the administration for who should be cut, and for who should get to keep their job. But that lobbying did NOT unfold in the way you might imagine … 

Several of the older professors went to the Seminary President, and said, listen, we have had our day; we are older; we will make it somehow. The younger professors have had no time to save any money; they have young families to support; keep them on at the Seminary, and let us go.  But the President said, at the same time, the younger professors were coming to him and saying, “Listen, we are young and strong; we can make it in other jobs. Our students need the years of accumulated wisdom that these older professors have, who can mentor the students much better than we can. For the good of the school and for benefit of the students, please keep the older professors on.”

SO here you had this amazing situation: faced with critical layoffs, each group at the seminary was lobbying — not to save their OWN jobs — but to save the jobs of OTHERS instead! Through God’s Holy Spirit, they were living out just what this scripture says: “not merely looking out for their own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”   

It is only through Jesus’ Spirit in us that we can do this — but we MUST learn to put aside our selfishness, and put others ahead of ourselves, so that we can be the people and the church that God needs us to be.  We need to apply this in our families, on our jobs and at school — and especially in our church. Don’t merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  

Let me give you just one example of how this can play out, in a practical way. Last week, we had a luncheon after our Grand Opening — a great fajita dinner, catered by La Casona. They did a great job, and we got a TON of compliments on it from our guests.  

But if you were here last week, think back in your mind, if you would, to the moment you walked into that lunchroom at ACS where we had the meal. Think back to when you were standing in line. Did you glance over all the tables? Did you notice who was sitting where?  Think about this: WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS as you looked over that room?

— Did you think: “Who can I sit by? Who would I like to talk to; who would make me feel the most loved and comfortable?” (I think that is what most of us just “naturally” tend to do — because we have it ingrained in us to look out for our own personal interests. “Who would it benefit ME to sit by?”) That’s what most of us, if we were honest, were looking around for. 

— But what SHOULD our thought process have been? Philippians 2 says: “Not merely looking out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. In other words, look not just for “who would it benefit ME to sit by?”, but “Who could I sit by, that would make THEM feel better; that would make THEM feel welcome; that would make THEM feel loved”? 

See, that’s a huge difference, isn’t it? “Not merely look(ing) out for your own personal interests — but also for the interests of others.”  It is a totally fundamental difference in outlook. It is an entirely different way of looking at things. But it is a difference that should characterize us as followers of Jesus — because that is what JESUS did for us — and that is what He wants us to do for others now too. 

And this isn’t just for church fellowships — that’s just one example. We are to do this in every sphere of our life: at church, on the job, at school — even at home! — wherever we are: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  Think of others, not just yourself! 

If we will learn to put other people ahead of ourselves like that, it will give us the sweetest unity in our church that nothing can hinder. But if we do NOT learn to put others ahead of ourselves, then it doesn’t matter what else we do as a church. We’re gonna be selfish; we’re going to look out for our own interests — and we will get all the conflict and division that comes along with it. Putting others ahead of ourselves is imperative for church unity; its is vital for our ultimate success as a church.  


Paul says here in Philippians 2, this is ESSENTIAL for you as a church, as you move forward, that you stand together unified in God’s mission. You know, there are things that are “nice” to have as a church, but that you don’t really “have” to have:

— It’s “nice” to have a new building — we just celebrated that last week. But the truth is, you don’t HAVE to have a new building to be a successful church.

— It’s nice to be in a strategic location: Anchor Road & 288 is an amazing spot — but there’s a lot of churches sitting on major highways that are dying — and then there are other churches that are hidden away that are doing very well. You don’t HAVE to have a strategic location.

— You don’t have to have a lot of money. There’s a lot of things you can do with money that can be very helpful in God’s work — but the early church at Jerusalem was poor, and they changed the world! You don’t have to have money to be a great church. 

— And quite honestly, it is not essential that you have a great pastor, either. We’ve all seen churches and thought, “How are they doing so well with a pastor like that?” (Some of y’all may be thinking that right now!)  But the truth is, you don’t have to have a great pastor to succeed as a church. 

There’s a lot of things that are “nice to have” in a church, but that you can do without. But God tells us here: if we are going to succeed as a church as we move forward, we MUST have this: we MUST be unified; we MUST be one. And to do that, we MUST be willing to put aside that selfishness we were all born with — and put other people in the church ahead of ourselves. If we’re going to succeed in the long run as a church, that is something we MUST have. 

And then he says, if you want to see the greatest Example of that, just look at what Jesus did for you — and that’s what we are going to look at next week …. 

But for now, let’s bow our heads together …


— is there some way I have been acting selfishly, that I need to confess:

at church — or home — or somewhere else … 

— is there some issue/person in the church I need to put ahead of my own personal preferences, for the unity of the church

— And say a prayer that Satan won’t GET a foothold in our ch in any way …

— Maybe you need to give your life to Jesus/be baptized/join the church. Respond today as God is leading you …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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2 Responses to “An Essential For The Church” (Philippians 2:1-4 sermon)

  1. Kathy Powell says:

    You are doing great things in the church we miss you here.

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