Monday of Week 31 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Philippians 2:1-4
Here Paul makes an eloquent appeal for unity among the Christians of Philippi. As he writes from prison, the encouragement and comfort he wishes most from them is that they be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing”.

As will become clear in later readings, the Philippians, like many of the churches to which Paul wrote, had their own internal problems which were a source of sometimes deep division.

He proposes four motivating forces which might help them to resolve their differences:

  1. Their life in Christ: the over-riding element in all Christian living is our warm, intimate, personal relationship with Christ. If this is really the guiding factor in our living together, there will not be much room for serious divisions.
  2. Love (agape): for Christians, love is, of course, the very central force in all our behaviour with each other. It is, first of all, the love that God has shown us in Christ, especially by his suffering and dying for us on the cross. Secondly, it is the law which embraces all other laws. It is the criterion by which we judge all words and actions. And where there is genuine love between brothers and sisters in the community, there cannot be any serious divisions.
  3. The Spirit we have in common: that Spirit is God communicating to us the Gospel message we have received from Christ, and uniting us together in a true fellowship. If we are all filled with that same Spirit, then we are going to speak and act in real harmony with each other, driven as we are by a common vision.
  4. Tenderness and sympathy: this expresses the deep care and concern that we have for each other. It is this encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness and compassion which will dissipate any disunity and discord in the community.

If their community life can be guided by these qualities, then, says Paul, they can be “united in [their] convictions and united in [their] love, with a common purpose and a common mind”. This is not so much a plea for total uniformity but rather the ability to work together towards a common goal in a spirit of tolerance and acceptance of each other.

Paul in general is very pleased with the church at Philippi but, if it could realise the unity he is urging on them, that would make him completely happy. The implication is that complete unity has not yet been achieved; that there are some divisions among them.

As a step towards that unity he gives some advice. They should be free of a competitive spirit, where different groups claim to have the truth, and self-centred conceit (“All out of step except me”). Such ambition or self-centredness are destructive of real unity in the community. And, alas, such competitiveness and conceit is not at all unknown in our own churches today.

On the contrary, the Philippians are to be humble and “self-effacing”. That is, they are to be free from arrogance and self-centredness and focused more on the needs of their brothers and sisters.

They can do this by always considering “the other person to be better than yourself”. That does not mean denying one’s gifts and talents but it does mean that the love that each one has for others leads them to giving preference to the needs of others. My gifts are not to be focused on myself, but rather are to be used for the benefit of others – just as others will use their gifts for my benefit. In this way, we all gain by reaching out to each other.

All of what Paul says can be applied to our Church living today. We, too, need to be more united, more tolerant and more accepting. We, too, need to be filled with those four elements which will make any real disunity and division – as opposed to acceptable diversity and pluralism – impossible among us.

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