The very pragmatic argue that the values held out here represent an impractical ethical ideal. No leader of any nation could afford to govern by “the mind of Christ”. It would require the renunciation of power and national interest! Nor is what we read a simple ethic for individuals, it is a summons to adopt a social ethic intended to guide the life of a community. As such it calls us to consider what being in community means, living a life in unity. But then it also challenges us to consider life in unity together with people who are different from us.
Listen again to what Paul calls for: being of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord and of one mind. A straight forward translation of the Greek text reads: “that you think the same thing, having the same love, together in soul, thinking one thing.” To emphasize it Paul places the phrase ‘being of one mind’ first and last – repeating it so it can’t be missed.
Is being of one mind a virtue? We “celebrate diversity”. Difference is intrinsically good. Difference, tolerance and the embrace of the other makes us strong,
Isn’t Paul the apostle to the Gentiles? Didn’t he champion a diversity of spiritual gifts, insisting that because “the body does not consist of one member but of many,” “the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,”. Jews and Gentiles are to be brought together into one body, as are the diversity of spiritual gifts. We simply assume that, whatever our differences, we need to love each other, fellowship together, work alongside each other. The call to unity, as we see it, is a call to overcome our intolerance, our fear of difference, but not a call to overcome the differences themselves.
Where is Paul going with this? “Thinking the same thing”? Come on, now, Paul, .don’t be so narrow-minded. Why do you want to abolish difference? Don’t you know that difference is what makes us strong? We don’t want to live in a world where everyone thinks the same thing.”
The events of September 11, 2001 forced us to acknowledge that boundaries are needed in our embrace of diversity. We learned that suicide-bombing fundamentalists cannot be tolerated. Doesn’t that suggest that there is no place in our pluralistic world for the continued acceptance of religious extremists who fail to embrace our gospel of diversity? What about Donald Sterling and his ownership of the Clippers?
Is this our new orthodoxy? If everyone must be included then clearly those who don’t think everyone can be included cannot themselves be included. The embrace of diversity requires a shared vision of the value of diversity asking what sort of differences we are to embrace, which ones we are to merely tolerate and which ones we must exclude – and why. Here’s the paradox: pluralism defined as an open inclusion of many different viewpoints requires the inclusion of those who hold view points among which, at least, is the shared conviction that diversity is a good thing.
Is it that we can tolerate the differences in belief but not differences of actions? We want to think that so long as one’s belief does not translate in actions harmful to others we have a fundamental liberty of conscience to believe what we want. But of course the reality is that we tolerate all kinds of differences of actions and practices, so long as we share a similar core belief about the purpose of society, the meaning of life together, and the kind of love for others that is called for.
Paul doesn’t say “Doing the same thing.” His theology of spiritual gifts requires each of us to do different things, without this necessarily harming the unity of the body. But we must “think the same thing,” by which Paul certainly does not mean “sharing identical opinions on every question,” but sharing the same fundamental convictions about the world and what God is doing in it.
Paul writes: …complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Those four phrases mutually interpret one another, leading us away from either an intellectualistic uniformity of belief or a fuzzy sentimental unity . What they point us to, instead, is a common object of love, which is one-another-in-Christ, a common strategy for life together, which is a self-sacrificial regard for the other, and a common vision of what God has been doing and is doing in the world. Without this shared compass, no project for unity in diversity in the Church can get far.
This passage is an illustration of what Christian citizenship means.
Unity comes in serving God through service to each other. There is danger of selfishly looking out for one’s own interests at the expense of others, or of arrogance born of pride in one’s status, birth, or achievements. A spirit of self-sacrifice is an expression to others of the love exemplified in Christ, love that was “obedient unto death.”
There is no room for triumphalism here! There is no room for a feel-good religion that does not take its servant role seriously. There is no room for a victory that does not first know the “fellowship of His sufferings” in behalf of others; no room for piety that does not pour out, yes, even totally empty, oneself for the interests of others.
The Church needs this unity of mind and purpose to which Paul called the Philippians. It needs a unity built around servanthood. This passage suggests that the Church needs to see itself less as the proclaimer and defender of divine truth, and more as the servant of humanity, the foot washer who expresses his love by humble service. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: The church is the church only when it exists for others. . . . The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. . . . It must not underestimate the importance of human example which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus.
We live in a society dominated by rights-activism, permeated with the philosophy of “me first,” and molded by the corporate ideals of efficiency and success. The Church must be called to remember that demanding one’s rights and privileges may be popular but if it does so at the expense of Christian unity and love, it is not Christian! The Body of Christ must be called upon to refocus on Christian humility, unity, and fellowship. We must make service to others, perfect love in action, our primary responsibility.
For us, Quakers, our worship and our process of discernment is specifically seeking the mind of Christ, by which to be directed. It is the culmination of the story of Pentecost. It is consciously moving away from hearing the polyglot voices of the world’s success models and listening intently to hear the voice of Christ which influences how we relate to one another and the world.