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When Christ is All in All
The uniting power of humility
“…complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:2–4)
Wherever divisions (1 Cor. 11:18), strife (3:3), distinctions (Js. 2:4), or disorder (3:16) exist in a church, you can be sure that something somewhere has gone awry. As any used car owner will tell you, that cacophony of screeching, scraping, clunking, and bumping noises under the hood is not a sign of automotive well-being. To the contrary, such sounds are a dreaded indication that something (and probably many somethings) is not functioning as it should. Attention is required to set the broken parts to right.
But just as the proper state of a vehicle is for everything to be in working order, operating together in harmony and cooperation, so the proper state of a church is to do the same. Despite the inevitable pull the saints will feel toward decay and fragmentation, they must, as the apostle here says, strive to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (v. 2). This, apparently, is not only possible for gospel-believing churches, but is in fact the normative pattern for them. The apostle stakes his joy on it, after all (v. 2).
So how are we to maintain this oneness? The means are given in verse 3: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Selfish ambition and conceit, then, are the culprits that will disrupt and hinder unity. Humility, on the other hand — the attitude whereby you consider others and their interests more significant than your own — is the ingredient that binds everything together in strength, harmony, and peace. Where humility is lacking, disorder will reign; where humility is present, love, oneness of mind, and mutual agreement in the gospel will prevail. Humility is indispensable for unity.
One of the implications of this is that a church marked by division and disorder is a church that, among other things, lacks humility. It is a church filled with members who have lost sight of the primacy of the gospel and the supremacy of Christ, and who are therefore left jostling for the fulfilment of their own private interests. As James puts it, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” (Js. 4:1).
The only remedy for this kind of state is the bitter but restorative medicine of repentance: laughter and joy must give way to gloom as we humble ourselves before the Almighty (Js. 4:9–10). Grief over sin, however, is only the first side of the coin. Equally necessary is a returning to Christ as Lord. In order for repentance to be true, Christ must again become foremost in our affections. Christ must become high and lifted up. Christ must become exalted and all-encompassing. For if He is not, sinners will quickly revert to jealous and bitter competition. Selfish ambition reigns where the love of Christ has grown cold.
Temptations toward these pitfalls abound in our day. The Corinthian proclivity to rally around lesser goods will always be with us (1 Cor. 1:12). But just so, it is all the more important for us to remain fixed on the sole foundation of the church and the overarching telos of history: the glorious and inevitable exaltation of Jesus Christ as Lord. Where this is kept in view, humility and fruitful gospel ministry will abound. Where it is forgotten, fragmentation, disorder, and impotence will be our portion.
May God give grace for the former and may He keep us steadfast in the fight.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:5–11)