To live above with saints we love, ah, that will be glory! But, to live below with saints we know, ah, that’s another story!

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. Phil 2:1-2

In the world, relationships are established on the basis of “if:” if you love me, I will love you;” “if you make me happy, I will try to make you happy;” if you respect me, I will respect you.” But, when that attitude is brought into the Church, chaos enters the Body and Christ’s name is sullied. 

That is what Paul is addressing in chapter two. He has been arguing that in Christ, former enemies have been miraculously changed into loving brothers. Outsiders, strangers, foreigners to the promises of God have been brought into the house of God by the blood of Christ. [Ephesians 2:11-18] The old hostilities have been put to death and one new man has been created out of the two. We have been made partners with a common affection for Jesus. We are not only united in belief, we are united in heart [1:7]. We have one overriding purpose: To manifest the glory of God by our love for one another. [John 11:35]              

Last summer I gathered together with a group of very old people who had not been together in fifty years. The thing that bound us together was that we were a part our of church youth group fifty years ago. That church was my spiritual nursery. They helped raise me and instill within me a devotion to Christ and a love for his Body. Fifty years later these people still have a special place in my heart. Throughout my 60 years of faith, I have continued to find sweet fellowship in church families scattered across the country.

Paul is declaring that my experience should not be a rare thing. But, history has shown that too often the church has been a place of conflict rather than compassion. Things start to go bad when some of the members become unhappy and don’t like what they were getting from their “family” experience. The reasons vary. Sometimes the blame is placed on failed leadership or “bad” preaching or change in the music style or a change in the carpet colors. The kinds of grievances are endless, but they become dangerous when they focus on people.        

It gets sinful and destructive when these unhappy people handle their grievances in an ungodly and unscriptural way. First, they find fault in another brother or sister. Then, they fail to judge themselves first to see if they might be wrong. [Matthew 7:1-5] Then, they look to others for support. “We” and “ours” becomes “us” and “them.” It begins with words like this: “What do you think of the sermon last Sunday?” “I sense in my spirit that he is too young to hold that position. What do you think?” “We have never done it that way before. It will ruin our church.” Or, “I don’t feel the Spirit moving anymore.” And, the gossip begins. Fellowship meals become gripe sessions. Phone calls are made to enlist support. As the positions harden, the services are no longer the time to worship or minister or love, but become opportunities to gather more evidence to justify their opposition.

Poison is now released in the Body of Christ. The family that was meant to be so tight that nothing could destroy its love from the outside is torn apart by division from within. The Church that was meant to be a shining light set upon a hill is covered by a bushel of selfishness in the guise of doing God’s work. I have seen it happen again and again: Some of the meanest things are said and done in the name of God.

That is the situation Paul is addressing in the Church at Philippi. Once united in a common love for Jesus and a commitment to spread his glory, the church was experiencing division from within. Perhaps some were thinking, “If you would have been more encouraging, or, “If you would have been more sensitive;” or, “If you would have been more friendly; we would not be upset with you. But, because you failed to meet our expectations, we are through with you.”

The result of that kind of thinking produces a Church that looks no different than the Lions Club or the Rotary Club. Support and respect is given on the basis of “If,” if you give me what I want, if you do it the way I want it, then I will support you. The motivating force is looking to man to make us happy. It is a failure to realize what we have been given in Jesus Christ that should set us apart from all other organisms.

That is why Paul writes, “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose.” [Phil 2:1-2] Paul’s point is this: In Jesus Christ we have been given more encouragement, more comfort, more fellowship, more tenderness and compassion than we will ever need in this life or the next.

Because of this, we are to handle our differences in a totally different manner than our unbelieving neighbors. Even when we may be right in our perspective, we treat the other party with humility and respect. They are not the enemy. They are a brother or a sister, members of God’s eternal family. No one is better than another but all have been rescued from sin and rebellion by the grace of God. All that we have and know has been given to us. When truth is the issue, it is presented, saturated with love. [Ephesians 2:15] How we handle disputes and difference must be controlled by our one purpose: To glorify God by our life together.

When churches divide and fight and draw back into factions, it is a sure sign that gratitude has been replaced by bitterness. To be sure, there are those times when because of our treasuring of truth, there must be separation. But it must always be done with a passion to see Jesus glorified and our brother edified. When we know the infinite blessings that are ours in Christ by grace, treating others as if they are better than us will be a priority in our lives.

You see, Christ not only died to save individuals, he died to bring us together into a new family. Too often we hear Christians justify their divisions by invoking the name of God. In fact, it is not the glory of God that motivates them but the pride of their hearts. I have heard some claim they were leaving a Church family because the Spirit of God was not “felt” in the services. But, when gossip, labeling and division is the order of the day, you can be assured that the Holy Spirit will not be “felt.”

The lesson Paul would have us all learn is that we have been wonderfully blessed by our God. Complaint, bitterness and pride should not be a part of our way of life. When there are differences and misunderstandings, they must be handled with great care and concern, both for the Name of Christ and the welfare of those who differ from us. Nothing, nothing, reveals our love for Christ and our gratitude for his mercies than how we handle our differences within our eternal family. May the Spirit of God open our eyes to see this crucial principle. We are members of an eternal family. May the Spirit of God change our hearts so that we treat them here in the same way as we will treat them there, for the glory of God and the welfare of His Body, and a witness to the power of the Gospel.