Unity in Philippians

The big theme of Philippains.

I preached the opening talk on Philippians at church last Sunday.

It’s focus was on the driving force behind Paul in verse 18. That is, how has Jesus changed Paul so that he rejoices in his enemies proclaiming Jesus.

Christian Unity

But the bigger theme in Philippians is Christian unity in Jesus. That is, all Christians are joined together in some sense by Jesus - and Paul makes a big deal of this.

So I thought I’d write up a brief list of places were this theme comes up. (And, yes, this will cover most of the book).

1. Partners in the Gospel

Found in 1:3-11. Particularly verse 5 and 7.

Paul identifies with the Philippians as partners or fellow workers in the gospel. That is, they are engaged in a common activity in the defence and confirmation of the gospel (v7). Interesting that Paul also includes the Philippians sharing in his imprisonment in that same verse.

2. Unity in Preaching

Found in 1:12-18.

Paul is always proclaiming Jesus. In these verses he is doing it in gaol. And that effects other believers by encouraging them to proclaim Jesus as well.

The really surprising thing is that Paul is happy to rejoice in the preaching of those trying to hurt him (verse 17 & 18). This is Christian unity with embarrassing, different or even ungodly believers (and was a major point of my talk on Sunday). It’s a good reminder for Christian believers that our unity is not always in being the same, but in speaking about Jesus in truth.

3. Just Plain Unity

Found in 1:27.

“Standing firm in one spirit, in one accord, contending together for the faith of the gospel”.

That’s just plain old unity in the gospel.

Earlier in the verse, Paul urges the Philippians to live their lives in a way *worthy of the gospel of Christ”. So he connects unity in the faith with a godly life.

4. Unity in Humility

Found in 2:1-11.

There’s more unity words in verse 2: thinking the same way, same spirit, one love, one purpose.

Paul connects these with his own personal joy in verses 1 & 2. But also uses this theme to introduce the song (or poem, or creed) found in verses 6-11. This emphasises the humility shown by Jesus in dying on the cross for humanity (which I think is the best gospel outline in Philippians).

5. Unity as Paul’s Boast

Found in 2:12-18.

Paul upholds the Philippians as something he can boast about. Which is an unusual turn of phrase in Christian sub-culture: boasting is usually frowned upon. But I think he’s using “boast” in terms of an accomplishment; in Paul’s words “that he didn’t run or labour in vain”.

Particularly, Paul and the Philippians are able to rejoice in one another.

6. Timothy and Epaphroditus

Found in 2:19-30.

Timothy is listed as an author of the letter. And Paul is eager that Timothy can visit the Philippains soon.

Epaphroditus was sent by the Philippians to Paul in gaol (and is likely the messenger carrying Paul’s letter back to the Philippians). All are concerned for his health and near death.

Both of these show the partnership and affection between Paul and the Philippian believers. Not in an abstract sense (as many previous “unities” I’ve listed), but in terms of particular people. The words used to describe both people include: genuine care, like-minded, longing to see you, brother, co-worker, fellow soldier.

7. Non-Unity in Jewishness

Found in 3:1-11.

This is one of the few negative parts of the letter, focusing on Jewish people very keen on circumcision. Paul clearly expresses his dis-unity with these people. Which is a big thing, considering he is effectively cutting himself off from his cultural heritage, and considerable prestige and rank.

Paul also makes very explicit the thing which makes unity amoung believers possible: Jesus. His main concern is to know Jesus, be found in him, to gain him, and ultimately, to attain the resurrection from amoung of the dead because of him.

8. Fellow Citizens

Found in 3:20.

Much of the rest of chapter 3 is quite self-reflective, on Paul’s part. But he uses another image of unity: heavenly citizenship.

9. Be United (that is, don’t argue)

Found in 4:2.

Euodia and Syntyche are urged to stop bickering. There are hints of dissent and disagreement amoung believers in Philippians, but this is clearly the exception - getting on with each other is an important part of being united.

10. United in Money

Found in 4:10-20.

There’s a strange thing going on in these last verses. Paul is grateful for the financial support of the Philippians, which is yet another way they have partnered with him. But he also says how much he doesn’t need it. Yet, this letter seems to exist, at least in part, to say thanks for the gift Paul received.

But it’s a powerful demonstration of unity and partnership when you put up your cash. Exactly what the Philippians do.


Christian believers united in the grace of Christ: the overarching theme of Philippians.

I guess the thing for believers, such as myself, is to express that unity even when the individuals I’m united to are often very different to me.