The Strife of “Unity” and the Unity of Striving (Philippians 1:27–28)

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” —Philippians 1:27–28

There is a kind of striving that is to be done in unity and it is the very kind of striving that is conducive to unity. If there isn’t the kind of striving Paul refers to in Philippians 1:27, there will be strife. C.S. Lewis said, “You cant get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first.” If we make avoiding strife primary, strife is exactly what we’ll get; but if we strive, there will be little strife.

“Striving” paradoxically modifies “standing firm” here. “Standing firm” has a defensive connotation, whereas “striving” has an offensive one. Defending the gospel is like defending a howitzer. We are to stand firm in and for the gospel, knowing that it is the gospel that advances (Philippians 1:12). Striving must happen because the gospel is primary. Christ is primary. Strife within the church happens when the gospel is demoted. 

This is why so many calls for love, unity, and peace fall flat, even within the church. Unity is something that is, and it is in Christ, in the Spirit, in the gospel (cf. Ephesians 4:1–6). If a church makes unity her god, she’ll tear them apart. If unity is primary, you can’t expect the Spirit of unity to get on board, because the unity He has created is found in Christ our Head.

Men need doctrine for there to be unity, doctrine for which they both stand and strive. Jude admonishes us to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Paul commanded Timothy to “guard the deposit entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20). He says this again in 2 Timothy 1:14 adding, “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you” (emphasis mine). We can count on the Spirit in whom we have unity to be with us if we stand firm in, strive for, and guard the gospel. Forfeit the gospel and whatever unity we may enjoy, know there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in it and it is sure to backfire.

Unity is not primary; it is secondary. Unity isn’t the root; it is a fruit. This is not unity at all costs. It is a unity that is costly. This is not a unity that ends all opposition. This is a unity that stands up against opposition. Too many saints are after a unity in which everyone likes us, instead of a unity that will stand up against everyone hating us. Unity with this world is enmity against God. So, if you want the saints to get along, get them in the fight.

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