Philippians 2:1–4 – Unity in the Family

Paul’s appeal in Philippians 2:1 is based on what the church already has. The ESV translates these short phrases as conditions (“if there is any….”) This does not mean Paul is unsure of the state of the church in Philippi. The Greek syntax does not express uncertainty and might be translated as “since there is…”  For example, I might say “If it is morning, if coffee is made, then I am going to drink a cup of coffee.” In this case, the sentence is really, “Since it is morning….” Paul lays out the bass of this appeal in four phrases:

Encouragement in Christ can refer to both comfort and exhortation. The noun (παράκλησις) is something that emboldens you to act (BDAG). The context will make it clear if the word refers to encouraging the timid to act or exhorting someone who needs to be corrected. One side of the word is tenderly comforting a person who is hurting, the other is a swift kick in the pants to motivate a person the right direction!

Wille StargelComfort from love may refer to consoling for a person who is hurting in some way, it is a “friendly word” (TDNT 5:820) . The noun (παραμύθιον) appears in the LXX only in Wisdom 3:18, referring to people who will have no comforter on the day of Judgment. Encouragement and comfort naturally go together. In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul uses the concepts of mothers and fathers to describe his ministry with that Church, gentle like a mother, encouraging like a father.

Participation or fellowship in the Spirit may refer to the close association all Christians have because the share in the same Holy Spirit. Since all believers have the same Spirit, they ought to have complete unity.

Affection and sympathy are both deep emotional responses one typically has for someone you genuinely love. Affection (σπλάγχνον) originally referred to the inner parts of a person, their bowels or entrails, where emotions are felt most strongly. Sympathy is also a stronger word than in English, οἰκτιρμός is the deep compassion God has for humans (1 Kings 8:50, Zech 7:9, רַחֲמִים). Taken together, the words refer to genuine, “heartfelt sympathy” for one another.

Does this mean there is no room for dissent? American culture almost requires people to have different ideas and opinions, Paul sounds like a cult leader who will squash any dissent!  One criticism Atheists sometimes use is the vast differences between the various denominations of Christianity. Which Christianity is the real one? Compare a traditional Catholic to a radical Protestant and there are very few things that seem the same.  There are good reasons for these differences, but the differences should not obscure the similarities. There are non-negotiable beliefs that make one a Christian (God, Scripture, Jesus, Atonement) and others that are simply differences created by culture and history.

Far from demanding conformity in everything, unity in the church functions like it does in a real family. There are similarities and differences, but what ultimately counts is the family!  The first believers may have been ostracized by their families when they became Christians. If that is true, the church becomes their adopted family. Paul’s description of the church as a family highlights the similarities yet allows for differences. Some have the view that the church is a kind of factory producing identical clones and squashing thought and dissent. This is not at all Paul’s point here!

Since the church is a family, the members of the family ought to be supportive of one another, characterized by the same sort of grace and forgiveness one experiences in an ideal family. This requires humble service from all members of the community, including the leaders. In fact, the best example of humble service is in fact Jesus himself.

How would a local church change if we really envisioned it as a family?


13 thoughts on “Philippians 2:1–4 – Unity in the Family

  1. I think that if we truly viewed the church as a family, it would change greatly. I think that there would be a lot more smaller churches and not as many mega-churches. In a mega-church, it can be hard to get to know people, and you certainly won’t know everyone. While you may be able to form family-like relationships with some people, the whole church would not be able to do so. However, in a smaller church, it is much easier to meet people. Everyone knows who everyone is, and if it functioned more like a family, I think that people would make more of an effort to actually get to know one another, on more than just the surface level. If they were able to build this close relationships with one another, it would be much easier to help each other out. They could give true comfort to those who are in times of trouble, and people would probably be much more open about the things that they are dealing with. And if they had more of a familial relationship within the church, it has the possibility to make the church much more effective. If they had that deep bond of a family, then instead of arguing with one another or having to deal with internal issues between members of the church, they would be able to come together, quickly work through internal problems, and focus much more on the community around them. I believe that if the local church became more like a true family, that they would be much more effective in living a life like Christ outside of the church.

  2. Encouragement is something everyone needs in life whether some need a little or some need a lot. No one can go wrong with a little encouragement here and there. In this article the part that talks about encouragement i strongly agree with. A lot of times when people need encouragement is when they are down and need help or motivation to get up and keep going or whatever circumstance they may be in. The other part is constructive encouragement when someone might need assistance getting on the right path in life simply by explaining to them what they need to do and where to go. Comfort is another thing that was talked about. Comfort basically goes together with encouragement but comfort would be more like being there for someone that may be hurting. A phrase i did like was, In 1 Thessalonians 2 Paul uses the concepts of mothers and fathers to describe his ministry with that Church, gentle like a mother, encouraging like a father. The last thing was affection and sympathy. These two things are both emotional responses toward someone. Affection to showing love toward someone and sympathy is showing compassion toward another. Both are hand in hand. But all in all each one of these topics all have some type of similarity to them and just as the title says a family has all of these.

  3. Looking at the four phrases you have highlighted about church as a family, I see growth in each of those areas in every church I’ve been to, but also the body of Christ in general. It is confusing even to me how much different views and denominations can split apart brothers and sisters in Christ. We see so evidently in the life of Jesus that no matter what they believed, whether it was a strict Pharisee or a woman who didn’t even know the name of Jesus, He loved on them the same, and gave the same grace and truth, with gentle correction and love too.
    As family, it is so incredibly important to value unity over anything else because it means getting over ourselves and our own opinions and preferences and seeing everyone through the eyes of Jesus. This shows us to be truly Christ-like, and it will be like a slice of heaven, because one day we will all be unified as the body of Christ. This once again goes back to self-emptying, putting disagreements aside and seeing them as a child of God rather than for their specific views (Longenecker 202).
    If we really envisioned the local church as a family, we would definitely be more authentic, have more affection for one another, always be encouraged, and sharpen one another to be closer to Jesus and Spirit-led. When we are together in the same Spirit, operating how the Spirit prompts us to in that moment, all of the parts of the body can come together and see more aspects of God through our unity. Church wouldn’t just be routine, but we would truly see one another genuinely and respectively, not expecting what the day would look like, but ready to do whatever the Spirit is prompting us to that morning. There would be no fixed schedule or hesitancy to “interrupt” the service, too.

  4. When I think of a church family, I think of a loving congregation that everyone knows each other and is not afraid to let you know what needs to change in your life. In order for today’s churches to become the vision I have for a family, most churches would have to downsize. With all these bigger churches, it is hard for deep connections to be made between members, and the pastor. From what I have seen, it seems like a lot of pastors are more focused on the attendance number than how close the congregation is, and how many connections are being made between them. The second thing that I see that should change is how inviting a church looks. There was a church I attended when I was younger and I remember that they were very strict on sins such as drinking and smoking, which is a common struggle that people have, and I can guarantee that if I was struggling with either of those I would not turn to this church as they were not welcoming to those struggling, but instead cared more about pointing out sins than showing they care and want to help resolve them. Family loves one another no matter the circumstance, and God calls us to love everyone, so for a church to become more of a family, they need to start with love.

    • Great post and a really great reminder what it means to be a family. We are all in this race together and we need to be there every step of the way. I think about the community we have at Grace and how friendly and supportive everyone can be. Its our own little slice of heaven, but it also has its problems. As great as our family is at Grace we still have things we need to work on. We need to first accept that we have things to work on and do it together. Just because one part of the body is struggling doesn’t mean we remove it. We need to take time and help them get back on track and that is what family means. If we are hitting hard times then we are all in it together.

  5. I think that if the local churches, especially in Grand Rapids, were to set aside their differences in denomination and realize a common goal that we all have, and treat each other like family, the church would be able to reach thousands more people than it is right now. The division within the church separates us all from our common goal, which is to spread the love of Christ and bring as many people into our family as we can. How will we be able to reach that goal when we can’t even come together within the church and be united? The church needs to understand the difference between salvation issues and non-salvation issues. The church would be stronger together than it is apart, a family depends on each other for help, there would be shared funds that put together could make a much larger impact than if that money was split up all going to different things at different churches. Bringing all the churches together also brings all the money together, that money could be put towards specific things that could make a huge difference. I think that the local churches would greatly benefit from uniting and helping each other out in the name of Jesus.

  6. If we can envision our church family as a family, I think it would be closer to the relationship we’ll have as a community in Heaven. That being said, I don’t think that kind of community will be probable within one church on earth. There are so many factors people can’t look passed to start a relationship with another. Additionally, as someone commented earlier, it is hard for people to connect in a mega church because of it’s size. It’s certainly hard to achieve this community, but I think we should and could still strive for it. If we come with the mindset that Paul writes in 2:4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

  7. The way family is compared to the church body makes me wonder why the local church can be so far from that concept yet strive to grow their personal ministries. The reflection of fathers and mothers to members of the congregation makes sense. Strong families are going to love each other, and love everyone no matter the differences. With families there are fights and disagreements but at the end of the day everyone is still connected. The local church would thrive if they looked at themselves in the way they see their personal families. What separates a church from a family is that a church is all adopted by God as His children where some have a hard time seeing the meaning of a true family because of bad personal experiences. Seeing God as our father is what helps unify the church as a family, but because we are all sinful not everyone has that loving fatherly figure and has a hard time accepting the only true father who can truly do no harm. This concept can be life changing for the local churches because it can help create meaningful relationships and bonds that the church was designed for. People are designed to love God and each other but because of our flesh there are times when we become selfish and choose ourselves over others.

  8. Hi,
    I believe that family is so important, and if we have a healthy family, then we can also get along well with our church members and societies. There are so many churches in the world, and they all have goals, but their goals are different from each other. Some churches are very small, and it is hard for them to do more things like others. Some big churches can make a big difference for people, and they can do so much for their communities and people. But we are all one in Christ, and we all have a job to spread the words of God to the world. We need to bring more people to our church and make disciples. It does not matter whether there are local small churches or big churches; they all should unite and work together. If they unite, then they can do more things than before, and the churches will keep growing.

  9. I think there would be a huge change in the churches and for the better if we truly saw the church as a family. Nowadays, there are a lot of mega-churches and there isn’t a lot of connection and relationship building throughout everyone that attends these churches. With the mega-church, you can definitely build family-like relationships with people there but it definitely will not be a whole church whole family type of experience. If we truly viewed the church as one family, I think there would be a lot more smaller churches where we can build these relationships with the whole church group. There are still going to be disagreements and fights between any type of family relationship and we won’t always agree on everything but we remain connected through Christ. Oftentimes, people leave mega-churches because they didn’t feel that type of relationship or connection with the people there. But on the flip side, there are also people who only want to go to mega-churches because they don’t want to talk to anyone. Either way, there are disconnections or disagreements within every church, it is how you go about your disagreements that matters. If you view everyone in the church as a brother and sister, you would go about these conversations with an open mind and heart rather than just arguing about it. In the end, we all want to live our life as Christ would and viewing the church as our actual family than our mindsets would switch.

  10. I think if the church was able to have the mindset that they are family and that we can share things and love one another it would bring so much more fellowship and love into the church. I know it can be hard to share your burdens and struggles within the church because we are scared of what people might think, but often someone else is struggling with that or has been through what you are going through. Often we are ashamed of our pain and struggles but if we are to open up it can bring the fellowship and help that we might need from others. The church is called to be a family and to share our struggles and joys with one another but we often struggle with that. The Bible tells us to bear our burdens and struggles with each other and in doing so we can pray for one another. Oftentimes we don’t do this because of the gossip that occurs and the lack of confidentiality. We are instructed to bear one another’s burdens and support each other. I know that it took me a while to share the things happening in my life in my church group but once I learned to I was able to see the support, love, and fellowship that was there.

  11. First and foremost, a sense of genuine belonging would permeate the church. Families are built on unconditional love, acceptance, and a commitment to support one another through thick and thin. If we were to truly embrace our church as a family, the barriers that often divide us—age, race, socio-economic status—would dissolve. In their place, a spirit of inclusivity and acceptance would reign, fostering an environment where every member feels valued, heard, and cherished. In this familial vision, mentorship and guidance would replace judgment and criticism. Just as parents’ guide their children, the more experienced members of our church family would willingly mentor the younger or less experienced ones, helping them navigate their faith journeys. This mentorship would be marked by patience, encouragement, and a genuine desire to see every member grow spiritually and personally.

  12. If the church members treated other members like family then there would be that many church break downs. There wouldn’t be any room for any scrabbles in the church. From the families that I have seen stay together, I have seen a few things in common, one there was forgiveness when asked for, it took the offense happening over and over with out true remorse to cause any major tension. In some churches it is easier for people do to do so then it is in others. The sad thing is that if more church members treated each other in like family then we wouldn’t have churches dividing over small things. We might not ever have number of denominations that we have because we would be celebrating the differences along as they aren’t salvation based beliefs.

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