Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (Philippians 2:1-2)
Joy is a firm confidence that all is well regardless of the circumstances. God is the source of joy, and God is the object of joy. We’re joyful because God is who he says he is, and that means we can trust him, fully relying on his guidance and provision through any circumstance. Our joy isn’t circumstantial, because our faith isn’t circumstantial. We’re joyful because of God but also with God. As we live close to God, we experience life with the glimpse of his perspective. Because God has the big picture, we can trust there is always hope, and if nothing else, we can find joy in hope.
We can always find joy in love. The two are inextricably woven together. Just as God is the source and object of joy, He is the source and object of love. In today’s verses, the focus of love and joy is on unity. God says that as we remain united in His love, we have complete joy. Remember joy isn’t simple happiness or pleasure; it’s deep-seated. It’s confidence. Unity in God’s love, which is also unity in God’s Spirit and purpose, stirs joy, and it bubbles up, fills, and overflows around us. We don’t maintain unity in love for ourselves. We do so to honor God. In the process, we share in His joy.
Consider some of the words included in these verses: encouragement, consolation, fellowship, affection, compassion. Do these words characterize Christian community? Is everyone who you know to claim to be a follower of Christ living in and with all of these characteristics? Is the Christian community as a whole characterized by these things?
Of course, we want to be able to give a resounding, “Yes!” But it’s not the truth. Sometimes we have a skewed view of unity. We think it means we have to look and be the same. We get unity confused with uniformity. God created us as individuals, and He fosters personal relationships with each of us. We are different, yet united.
In our unity, we celebrate our differences. With our differences, we strive toward unity. We don’t need to respect others’ differences just because they’re different. Instead, we respect people because they’re created by God. We don’t have to accept every difference, because not every difference is God-given. We measure each difference with God’s guidelines, then respond with His love, which includes encouragement and compassion as well as discipline and accountability.
The same applies to similarities. We might connect with somebody who is similar to us, but what if we’re similar in ways that aren’t God-honoring? Unity includes a willingness to extend and accept encouragement, compassion, discipline, and accountability. Unity involves trusting God enough to let Him work through others in our lives—using His standards—not mine, a friend’s, or society’s.
It takes effort to confront along the path toward unity. It takes effort to understand someone’s perspective and extend compassion. It takes effort to accept and offer forgiveness. It’s easy to find turmoil and dissension. The effort toward unity is worth every bead of sweat and minute of time, furthering the gospel and maintaining unity in our relationships. In it, we find complete joy.
Dear God, I know You strive toward unity. You long for unity. You want Your body of believers to wrestle through the messiness of relationships to come out closer to You at the end of each struggle. It’s difficult, but You already know that. I am going nowhere that You do not know or You have not been. I am so thankful for Your insight as well as Your investment. You care. You want me—and others—to experience Your complete joy. I commit myself to coming together with others in Your name to love You and others and to honor You with our pursuit of unity in community.