We often like to speak about how beautiful it is when there is communion among the saints. “Behold, how good, how pleasant is the union, When brothers live together in communion!” we sing from Psalm 133. But what about when brothers and sisters live in disunity? While union among saints is pleasant, disunity and broken communion is ugly. Where do we begin looking for answers when saints don’t get along?
The solution is found not by looking first at your fellow-saint in the church of Christ. The solution is found by looking first to Christ Himself. At the root of healthy church unity and a healthy communion of saints, is the humility that is modelled by Christ, and motivated by Christ. For proper relations among the body of Christ, the members of that body must look to their Head!
That’s why when the apostle Paul addresses the matter of church unity in Philippians 2, he first addresses the matter of unity with Christ. He calls the saints in Philippi to “make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (v.2) What motivates this communion among the saints? Paul says: “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ…” (v.1) Communion with saints flows from communion with Christ! Behind the exhortations about unity in the church in chapter 2, is the gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul proclaims to the church in chapter 1.
This gospel of Jesus Christ has direct implications for lifestyle: “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (1:27). Specifically, the gospel has implications for relations among believers. The effect of the gospel is a new attitude toward the self, and a new attitude towards others. Not: “What can I get out of the church, and what can I get out of others?” But: “What can I give to the church, and what can I give to others?” Not selfish ambition, but selflessness. Not pride, but humility.
This attitude of humility goes against much of the thinking of today. Our world encourages us to think in terms of getting as much as possible for as little as possible, and to look out for our own interests only. An American entrepreneur by the name of Robert Ringer published a book called Looking Out For Number One which sums up this philosophy of life: You are number one, and you should focus on looking after yourself. But there’s another word for this philosophy. Do you know what it is? It’s “selfishness.” You don’t need to read this book to figure out how it works. Sadly, because of sin, it comes natural to everyone.
Selfishness is a sinful attitude, and it destroys. It leads to broken relations between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters. Let’s be honest, when relationships in families and in the church break down, what’s really behind it? When you strip through all the wrapping paper of grudges and disagreements, the “he said” and “she said”, what’s often underneath the brokenness? Sin. The sin of selfishness.
But in the lives of the saints of Philippi and of saints today, it should and can be different. Saints have heard the life-changing gospel of Christ. As a result of communion with Christ, you share in the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to have communion with others by humbly focusing on their interests and not just your own.
But not only does Christ’s work motivate this new type of selfless thinking, Christ’s work also models it. In verse 5, Paul goes on to say: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ was entitled to heavenly glory and honour. Instead He “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (v.7) The royal Son of God emptied Himself, and walked on a painful road of obedience and suffering, even death on a cross! Verse 8 sums up Christ’s attitude: “He humbled himself.” Humility! Humility for Jesus Christ meant enduring the shame of crucifixion and the horror of the wrath of God. Why? It was all about seeking the interests of others, the saints He’d come to save.
It’s this humble attitude patterned in Christ that thankful saints saved by Christ are to imitate! This Christ-like attitude of humility, this Christ-like activity of looking to the interests of others, is to be evident in the body of Christ. In humility, considering others better than yourselves – that means being willing to sacrifice to be of service to your brother or sister in the church. It means acknowledging that God places you in the life of others, not so that you can get what you can out of them, like a leech or parasite. But so that you can give to them, and serve them as members of the same body.
That’s how Christ-like humility is at the root of a healthy communion of saints. Thankfully developing communion among saints does not lie primarily in figuring out the details of disputes between brothers and sisters. It lies in an underlying attitude of humility towards each other and dependence on Jesus Christ.
Rev. Richard E. Pot
Published in Clarion, 2006