Let’s read the passage slowly:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in 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. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Let’s skip to chapter 4 as well:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near…Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What is it that will complete Paul’s joy? Is it evangelism and the great commission? Is it social justice? Is it more programs that bring people to church? Is it more Bible study and discipleship groups? Is it vibrant worship and preaching? Is it community involvement?  No, it is none of these things. All of these are good but they are not what will complete his joy.  Paul says if you have any encouragement or comfort or fellowship or tenderness from being united with Christ then it is these few things:

Be like-minded

Have the same love

Being one in spirit and purpose

Putting aside selfish ambition


Considering the interests of others

What did Jesus say in his final words to the disciples about the commandments he is leaving with them? Look at John 17:20-23

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

It was not just the disciples who were to live “as one” so the world in their time would believe that Jesus had been sent by the Father. It is all those who follow. It is not just living as one so the world will see that we can get along with one another but if we do not live as one then the world will not believe – no matter what we say or do. All of our evangelism, buildings, campaigns, crusades, schools and colleges and programs will not convince the world that Jesus was sent by the Father. We will be like those Jesus described in Matthew 23:15.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”

In a way, even God cannot convince the world that Jesus came from the Father and loves them if we refuse to live in the way Paul describes. Again, these are not just suggestions for living together. They are the signs that Jesus has left to show that they are loved by God. That makes our taking them seriously far more important than we might. Our divisions and fights blind the world to the love of God.

What does Paul say in Galatians 5? “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”

What does James say in his letter to the church? “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but you don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.”

Let’s look briefly at the way we are to live with each other so that the world will believe that Jesus is more than a teacher or an idealist or a guru but that he was sent by the Father to show His love for the world.

First, we are to be like-minded. That does not mean thinking the same thing. It does not mean thinking the same way. It means our minds are being transformed in such a way that however we differ we treat each other with respect and love. That is why Paul says in Romans 12, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I don’t believe that means we are to worry about finding God’s perfect will in all the details of life – what school to attend, what job to take, who to marry, what place to live, etc.  All those things are important but I think God’s will in those is broad and not necessarily specific. What is specific about his will is this. It is his perfect will that we live in harmony with each other and in such a way that the world will believe in the love of Jesus. All the rest is negotiable.

It is not uniformity but unity. It is not simply having a contrary opinion but it is accepting the sometimes uncomfortable discipline of thinking and developing a point of view. John Kennedy said, “Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.” It is not being molded by the majority or even outside influences. It means being transformed by the Spirit of God. It is allowing for diversity and the fact that we should be truly different from each other in all manner of things and that we keep those differences. We don’t need a metronome that simply keeps us all marching in step at the same time. We need to think of ourselves as an orchestra with different instruments and scores that complement our harmony – not our unison.  We need to see things from different angles and perspectives. Do you know why it is so difficult to swat a fly? Because the eyes of a fly have over 4,000 lenses which allows it to have 360 degree vision.  We need multiple lenses.

Second, we need to understand that true humility is not self-deprecation or denying our gifts. It is self-forgetfulness. I like the way C.S. Lewis puts it: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.”

Humility comes from the Latin “humus” or the ground. For me, it means someone who is grounded, planted and not trying to be something they are not. It is being secure enough to recognize the strengths of others. Humility allows us to enjoy the strengths of others without feeling the need to compare ourselves to them.

Third, Paul’s joy will be complete if we will eliminate the vanity and conceit in our lives.  Again, I like the Latin root of that word. It means empty or worthless. We all recognize people who are vain, don’t we? We say, “They are full of themselves” but what we really should say is, “They are empty of themselves”. You know the Scripture in 2 Kings 17: In the King James Version it reads: “And they rejected His statutes and His covenant that He made with their fathers, and His testimonies which He testified against them; and they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the heathen who were round about them, concerning whom the Lord had charged them that they should not do like them.”

In the NIV it reads: “They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their ancestors and the statutes he had warned them to keep. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”

Paul knows what happens when people follow vain things and when they pursue worthless idols. They become worthless themselves.  And a worthless person is useless to the fellowship.

Fourth, Paul warns us against what our text calls “selfish ambition” and that does not mean we are to have no ambition at all. Remember what Paul says to the believers in Thessaloniki: “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands..so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” That is a healthy ambition. But the word here is “eritheia” and it means one who has a partisan spirit or a spirit of intrigue and the love of the defeat of someone. It is what Paul so often calls the trait of the false teacher or one who stirs people up to take sides against others. It is someone who likes controversies and passing along misinformation intentionally. It is someone who has a mental attitude that excludes anyone not believing what they believe.  It is one who works against the virtue of like-mindedness by pressuring everyone to think alike.

Fifth, Paul says that true humility will lead us to something difficult to understand at first. “..In humility consider others better than yourselves.” How does that fit with humility not being a matter of self-degradation? What is the good of thinking of everyone being better than you are? Doesn’t that just invite comparison and unhealthy self-debasement? It could if we just read it out of context. But I would like to offer an alternative reading of what it says is, “Out of your confidence in who you are and ability to have a genuine ambition that is healthy you will be able to consider the strengths of others more than you think of yourselves and to consider their interests along with your own.” It’s not being worthless. It is understanding your own value along with the value of others. Walter Hansen in his commentary puts it this way: “Let the needs and interests of others surpass yours; put them in first place; give them the place of honor; respect them; listen to them; speak about them; serve them; strengthen them; encourage them.”  Paul does not say we are not to have our own interests but we are to listen to and consider the interests of others. What a change that would be. We would not begin with “what’s in it for me?” Instead, we would say, “what is in it for both of us?” What is mutual but even moreso by asking what benefits you more than me? What if the world saw such a community?

The word for “better” here is the word from which we get our word “excellence”.  It is the same word in chapter 4 when Paul writes, “..if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” In fact, Paul uses the word “excellent” three times in Philippians. What if we took this to mean “think about the qualities of others that personify excellence. Consider their strengths and attributes – not just compared to yours but those things that are strengths you may not possess. Those strengths that are even more excellent than yours.” It takes genuine humility to recognize and praise the strengths of others but when you do you will find yourself able to disregard some of their weaknesses and consider how their strengths will contribute to the good of the whole. Don’t let their weaknesses distract you from seeing their strengths.

We don’t hear these things from the world, do we? We may spend two hours a week in church but most of what shapes us is the world often telling us just the opposite for hours and hours between Sunday. Be partisan. Be ambitious. Consider what is best for you. Prove your point and defeat your opponent. If possible, make them look foolish. People must think in unison or they are CINO’s – Christians in Name Only.

I’ve resisted fundamentalism for most of my life because it almost always means hostile and narrow. Fundamentalist Christian. Fundamentalist Muslim. Fundamentalists are dangerous people. But I was listening to Beth Moore and Russell Moore this week-end and she said something that makes sense to me. “There are times to get back to the simplest things.” Isn’t that what fundamentalism is? Maybe that is why I have decided to be a fundamentalist instead of just an evangelical. So, what then are the fundamentals? Paul defines fundamentalism here for us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in 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. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

That’s a fundamentalism I can embrace.