In his epistle to believers in the church at Philippi, Paul offers a recipe for unity among believers. In so doing, he makes it clear that unity among believers is not merely an ideal to strive for but an essential mark of saving faith. Where true believers congregate, a God-induced unity will exist. That having been said, Paul understands the contrary nature of the flesh and explains the meaning of true unity and how to preserve it. The first ingredient he mentioned is “being of the same mind” (Phil. 2:2). The second ingredient is ”maintaining the same love” (v. 2).
Since Paul is penning God-breathed words, we must not be careless or casual in our consideration of what he says. Notice the verbal maintaining. Maintaining the same love, Paul advises. In other words, the unity God expects in a body of believers does not depend on the acquisition of love, a going out and finding and capturing love, or a purchasing of it, or bartering for it. We maintain something which we already possess—not something we have yet to acquire.
That verbal goes a long way toward revealing the nature of the love that Paul is speaking about. Paul thus banishes our varied human notions of love. This love is not based in emotion or sentiment. There is nothing self-centered or self-seeking in it. Rather, it is the agape love, the fruit of the indwelling Spirit of God, which He produces in the hearts of those who have been born again. And while on the horizontal plane, it seeks the blessing of others, it always has its focus on the vertical; it is motivated by the desire and for the purpose of glorifying God. No merely human love—however strong and self-sacrificing (and human love can be just that to an amazing degree)—ever rises to that level.
That Paul speaks of a love that is supernatural, though expressed in and through human vessels, is clear, not only because of his use of the word maintaining, but because he says that what believers are to maintain is the same love. It is a love that is identical in substance among all believers, a love that is held in common, regardless of the century, the ethnicity, or the culture of the believers. Human ideas of love often clash. “If you loved me, you would . . .” says one. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t . . .” says another. And “ne’er the twain shall meet.” Husbands and wives find themselves in this predicament all the time. Parents and children also. Friends as well. And when different cultures intersect, the definitions of love may be even more dramatically different.
But believers are to maintain the same love, the very love that is the nature of God and the character of Christ that the Holy Spirit plants in the heart of each believer and germinates as the believer walks in the sunlight of God’s Word and is watered by its truth. There is one Spirit (Eph. 4:4), who produces one fruit, universally the same across time and cultures. Admittedly, the soil of the human heart in which the Spirit plants the seed and grows that fruit has a bearing on both its quality and quantity; it is, nevertheless, all of the same variety. The Red Delicious apple seed will produce only a Red Delicious apple wherever it is planted, though the quality and quantity of the fruit will be affected by its soil and climate.
Hence, Paul’s instruction to maintain the same love. He is not asking us to try harder, to be a better person, to be the best form of ourselves that we can be. He is instructing us to submit ourselves to the Word of God, to believe and obey it, and in so doing, to give the Spirit of God the liberty to produce in and through us the fruit of God’s love. And when that is said, there is no suggestion that we are to sit back and wait for a lightning bolt from heaven to strike us and—voila!—we are suddenly, and selflessly, and wonderfully loving. No, we maintain by an act of the will. At each decision, at every opportunity and every choice, we say, as Christ said in the garden, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” And we seek to live lives that are pleasing to our God and Savior by putting the blessing of others, especially our Christian brethren, ahead of our own needs. This love is the act of a sanctified will, not of powerful emotions.
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