Throughout the New Testament, the phrase “one another” appears over ninety times and is associated with over thirty-five different verbs, which identify activities in which Christians are to be engaged as part of the body of believers. Implicit in these “one another” passages is the expectation of community. Over the past few weeks, we have been investigating some of these “one another” instructions in an effort to identify our responsibilities to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. As we continue this series, we turn our attention to Paul’s statement in Romans 15:5 (NKJV) in which he instructed the Christians in Rome “to be like-minded toward one another.”
What does it mean “to be like-minded toward one another”?
To understand the meaning of this instruction we need to examine the other “one another” passages that address the “mind.” In 1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV), Paul instructed the church in Corinth to “be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” When Paul penned these words, the church in Corinth was divided based on their individual allegiances to different Christian leaders such as Paul, Apollos, and Peter (1 Corinthians 1:11-13). Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to “be united in the same mind” was a call for them to eliminate the “divisions” that were causing “quarreling” among them. In other words, he was calling for them to be unified. Later, in 2 Corinthians 13:11, he instructed this same congregation to “Aim for restoration,…agree with one another, [and] live in peace.”
A similar instruction appears in Philippians 4:2 (NKJV) where Paul implored Euodia and Syntyche, members of the church in Philippi, “to be of the same mind in the Lord.” These two women were divided over an unspecified issue that caused serious disagreement. In fact, another translation instructs them “to agree in the Lord” (ESV). The problem was so serious that Paul instructed the entire congregation in Philippi to “help these women” (Philippians 4:3), and wrote to the whole congregation about being “of the same mind” and possessing the “same love” (Philippians 2:2). Once again, Paul’s “same mind” instruction was a call for unity amidst a situation where disunity was reigning.
Why is like-mindedness so important?
Since like-mindedness is associated with unity, it is important because Jesus indicated that our unity serves as evidence for His deity. In John 17:20-21, Jesus offered the following prayer shortly before His arrest:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
In this passage, Jesus prayed for His disciples to “all be one.” That is a prayer for unity between brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus also prayed for His disciples to “be in us.” That is a prayer for unity of believers with God. Why did He pray for these two things? According to the last statement in verse 21, Jesus prayed for unity on these two fronts “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Unity between disciples and unity with God apparently serves as evidence for the deity of Christ. Therefore, our like-mindedness is essential to our witness of who Jesus is.
What does like-mindedness entail?
In order to achieve the unity that Paul’s “be like-minded toward one another” instruction entails, we must possess humility. In Romans 12:16, we are not only instructed to “live in harmony with one another,” or, as another translation says, “be of the same mind toward one another,” but we are also instructed to “not be haughty” nor “be wise in your own sight.” Thus, Paul instructs the church in Rome to not only pursue unity but also humility. Why? Because unity is powerful, but it is only beneficial when it is accompanied by humility.
Consider the circumstances surrounding the construction of the Tower of Babel. After the flood, people united around the goal of constructing “a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven” (Genesis 11:4). Once they set out to build, “the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:5), and, upon seeing it, He acknowledged that their unity was powerful, saying, “they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Genesis 11:6). However, their unity lacked humility in that it was self-centered rather than God-centered. The purpose of their construction was not to bring glory to God but to bring glory to themselves, as evidenced by the fact that they wanted to “make a name” for themselves (Genesis 11:4). Thus, the problem at Babel was not so much that the people were unified, but that they were self-absorbed. As a result, God intervened by confusing their language and causing them to be scattered (Genesis 11:7-8). In the end, their unity proved powerful because God acknowledged that “nothing they propose to do will…be impossible for them.” However, their unity also proved counterproductive because it lacked humility, causing God to have to humble those who had lost sight of bringing glory to His name.
The lesson to be learned from the Tower of Babel episode is that unity without humility is ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. That is why Scripture associates unity with humility. In Philippians 2:2, Paul instructed the church in Philippi to “complete my joy by being of the same mind” and followed that with the following instructions in verse 4-5:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Paul’s instructions establish a link between like-mindedness and humility because the only way we can be like-minded is if each of us is willing to forego our agendas in order to center our collective will around the Lord’s agenda. It takes humility to give up our agendas. That is why Paul holds up Jesus as the model mindset (Philippians 2:5). According to Philippians 2:6-8, Jesus “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In other words, Jesus humbly gave up His heavenly existence in order to assume a temporary existence on this earth all because that was the will of His Father. If we are going to be like-minded toward one another, then we must adopt the humble mindset that Jesus demonstrated.