The Four-Fold Basis of Christian Unity


MOREunityIn the previous post,  The Road to Unity,  I offered a little personal insight and an excellent article by T. Austin Sparks regarding the necessity of understanding/applying the Cross, dying to flesh and believers learning to  enter and keep the Unity that Christ’s work has already created.

As I thought about this topic a bit more, I remembered an excellent bit of work I read a few years ago entitled, The Four-Fold Basis of Christian Unity by the renowned Christian New Testament Greek  scholar of the mid-Twentieth century, Dr. Kenneth S. Wuest.

The writing below analyzes a passage of scripture found in Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church.  The exegesis provided by expounding the meaning of the Greek words that the Holy Spirit directed Paul to use in communicating to the believers clearly reveals Unity in Christ as being an existing reality and the expected norm for Christian community.

I did a small work of editing for you so that your eyes wouldn’t glaze over at times.  My promise to you is that I did not remove or add anything that would take away or add to the point that Wuest is uncovering in his writing.

May you be blessed as you read and study the article.  Keep your peace!

The Four-Fold Basis of Christian Unity

by Kenneth S. Wuest

THE exhortations in the Pauline epistles grew out of the conditions found in the churches to which they were addressed. Because fallen human nature has not changed in two thousand years, conditions that obtained during Paul’s time are existent in the churches of today.

There were minor divisions in the Philippian church, that church which in such a marked way helped in Paul’s support as a missionary.

Two of these divisions centered about two women in the church who were capable and prominent leaders in its work, especially taking leadership in supporting Paul. These women led two factions which were at variance with one another. To bring them together would be to heal the breach, not only between them, but between those who followed them.

The exhortation in Philippians 4:2 is not abrupt.

Euodia I exhort, please, and Syntyche, I exhort, please, to be of the same mind in the Lord.

Paul had prepared the way by laying a groundwork for it in 2:1-4, where we have detailed exhortation, and 2:5-8, where Christ in his life  exemplified the one outstanding thing that will heal all such divisions in the local church, namely, a Christlike humility.

In 2:1, Paul presents four things which constitute the basis for unity among the saints. These demand careful treatment in the original.

First of all, the word “if” does not present a doubt as to whether there is any consolation in Christ. The word in the Greek presents a fulfilled condition, a fact, not a hypothetical case.

For instance, a person says, “If it rains tomorrow, I shall carry an umbrella.” That is, “It looks like it may rain. If it does, then I shall be prepared.” This “if” introduces a guess, something possible in the future.

But the “if” Paul uses is: “You say that he is preaching the gospel? Well, if he is doing that, the Lord will certainly bless him.” The word could be translated, “since,” or “in view of the fact.” It represents a fulfilled condition. Paul is therefore exhorting to unity among the saints in the Philippian church in view of the fact that certain things are facts.

The first fact he presents is that there is a certain consolation in Christ.

The word “any” in our translation is from a Greek word which is used with nouns of persons or things concerning which the writer cannot or will not speak particularly. The word “certain” is a good rendering.

“Consolation” is from a word which does not mean “to console” in the sense of giving comfort. What these Philippian saints needed was not consolation, but exhortation. And “exhortation” is exactly what the word means.

This exhortation to unity is found in Christ. His beautiful life is itself the exhortation to unity which these saints needed. His humility as spoken of in 2:5-8, is the very thing that would lead to unity, since the basis of these divisions was pride. His life therefore was the ground of appeal which Paul used. “In view of the fact that there is a certain ground of appeal in Christ which exhorts you,…be likeminded.” If all the saints would keep their eyes on the Lord Jesus, and walk in His footsteps of humility, divisions in a local church would cease.

The second reason why there should be unity among the saints is that there is a “certain comfort of love.”

The word “comfort” comes from a Greek word made up of the words “beside,” and “word,” the entire word meaning “a word which comes to the side of one to stimulate or comfort.” It speaks of persuasive address. It could be translated by the words, “incentive,” or “encouragement.” The word has the added element of tenderness in it.

The word “love” is from the Greek word for “divine love,” the love that God is, the love which He produces in the heart of the saint wholly given over to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The grammatical construction in the Greek makes it clear that this incentive to unity is produced by love. That is, the love which the Holy Spirit produces in the heart of the saint, causes and enables that saint to love his fellow-saint, and where divine love is, there is unity. Thus, love produces the incentive to unity.

If the saints in a local church would love each other with the self-sacrificial love of John 3:16, and the love as analyzed for us in I Corinthians 13, divisions would cease, and unity would prevail. The secret of the possession of this love is found in a desire for the fullness of the Holy Spirit, and a trust in the Lord Jesus for that fullness (John 7:37, 38).

The third reason why unity should prevail among the saints is that there is a “certain fellowship of the Spirit.”

This does not mean that there is a fellowship between the saint and the Holy Spirit. The fellowship of the saint is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ (I John 1:3; Eph. 3:16, 17) made possible through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The word “fellowship” is from a Greek word which refers to a relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest. Here it refers to the ministry of the Spirit in the life of the saint, and the cooperation of the saint with the Spirit in His work of causing him to grow in grace, this cooperation consisting of the saint’s yieldedness to the Spirit and the act of his free will in choosing the right and doing it. This ministry of the Spirit enables the saint to live in unity with his fellow-saints.

The fourth reason why the saints should be likeminded is that there are “certain bowels and mercies.”

In the orient, they speak of the heart, lungs, and liver as the seat of the tenderer affections. The word is translated “bowels.” The Greek language has another word for the intestines. This word “bowels” is used in the east as we use the word “heart.”

“Mercies” is from a word which literally means “compassionate yearnings and actions.” When brethren in the Lord are tenderhearted toward one another, and have compassion upon one another, divisions will cease and unity will prevail.

The four things therefore which will make for unity in a local church are,

  1. the exhortation which our Lord’s life provides, namely, that of a Christlike humility
  2. the incentive to unity which divine love provides as this love is produced in the heart of the saint by the Holy Spirit
  3. the fact that each saint possesses the indwelling Holy Spirit who if yielded to will control that saint
  4. the fact that if saints show tenderheartedness to and compassion for each other, unity will prevail

The fuller translation of Philippians 2:1-2 is as follows:

In view of the fact therefore that there is a certain ground of appeal in Christ which exhorts, in view of the fact that there is a certain tender incentive which is produced by love, in view of the fact that there is a certain joint-participation with the Spirit in a common interest and activity, in view of the fact that there are certain tender-heartednesses and compassionate yearnings, fill full my joy by thinking the same thing, by having the same love, by being in heart-agreement, by thinking the one thing,



One thought on “The Four-Fold Basis of Christian Unity

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I can only say amen! Kenneth Wuest did an excellent job of describing what I feel in my spirit. It truly only can be accomplished in Christ. Romans 11:36 KJV says it best, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”

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