One of the blessings of God’s revelation is that it provides “everything pertaining to life and godliness” (II Pet. 1:3b). We may understand, then, that God does not leave us to figure out how to manufacture joy on our own. Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit, the manifestation of God’s Presence in the life of each of His children. It flourishes in the lives of believers who are walking in the Spirit, who are obedient to the Word of God. Our present text (Phil. 2:2 f.) gives us God’s recipe for “complete” joy—not just for ourselves but for other believers as well. We observed last week that the first ingredient necessary to such joy is that believers be “of the same mind.”
2nd Ingredient: Maintain the same love. The emphasis on unity within the body of Christ is striking. Once again we are reminded that “no man is an island,” so to speak. Neither individual believers nor the church as a whole can flourish where divisions exist. Just as believers must be of the “same mind,” having their thoughts about doctrine and church practice as well as about personal sin and righteousness governed by the Word of God, even so we must maintain “the same love.”
The first thing we note about this ingredient is the participial form of the verb, “maintaining.” Joy does not fall into our laps like Isaac Newton’s apple. We must be actively engaged in the virtue of love. The word suggests more than mere possession, but rather a “clinging” or “adhering” to love. This virtue is something to be clutched because it can easily slip out of our grasp if we start to become occupied with the wrong things. Conscious, diligent effort is required to maintain our hold on love. Even when we are attentive to the things of God, love has a tendency to wriggle out of our grasp in an unguarded moment.
The second thing we note is the thing itself to be maintained, namely love. The love Paul has in mind here is not affection or any other human feeling. Human love, which is based on the emotions, comes and goes. Agape love is rooted in the will. It is a godlike disposition toward self-sacrificial blessing for the benefit of others. This love goes beyond mere desire that others be blessed to actual action undertaken on behalf of others. Human love always has some selfish element in it; the love of which Paul speaks is preeminently selfless. The question, “What’s in it for me?” is replaced by the question, “How may I honor the Lord and be a blessing to you?” Little if anything engenders unity and fellowship among the brethren as does this selfless love; nothing is more Christ-like, nor does anything honor Him more.
The third thing we must note is the word same. This little word that we might pass over so easily is the linchpin in this entire truth. It banishes the notion that we are free to define or express love according to our own opinions. God has not called us to be Samuel Johnson’s or Daniel Webster’s: He has provided the definition of love that keeps us and others on track. We will have unity, we will experience the unmitigated joy of the Lord only as we adhere to God’s idea of love rather than our own, no matter how perfect we think our definition to be or how magnanimously we express it practically. The Word of God is our “dictionary” with regard to this term. The “sameness,” then, that Paul mentions derives from our proper apprehension and application of God’s definition of love.
This biblically based “sameness” becomes especially critical when the love that is demanded calls upon us to correct, reprove, or rebuke a brother or sister in Christ—or to receive such expressions of love from a brother ourselves. If either one of us is working from a human definition of love that suggests that we avoid hurting the feelings of another person at all costs, then our unity will be broken. But if both of us understand the biblical definition of love and know that love is at work (whether we are giving or receiving), then we can deal with sin, correct problems, grow in grace, and rejoice together.
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