The largest battle that happened in the Roman Republic’s civil war (following the death of Julius Caesar) was the Battle of Actium. It was a naval battle between the fleets of Octavian and Antony—it’s famous for deciding the war (in Octavian’s favor). However, there’s a battle before this one that holds more historical interest for me. The Battle of Philippi takes place eleven years before Actium. It’s a land battle that takes place over two engagements. The first time the armies meet, it’s essentially a draw. But the second time, the forces of Octavian and his allies are victorious. Even after such a large engagement, the war goes on for another decade. Philippi becomes most interesting to me after the war is over and the dust has settled. Octavian (renamed Augusts Caesar) has to decide what to do with a nation that has been at war against itself. He resettles the area around Philippi, giving gifts of land to veterans from both sides of the war. The city becomes known for this, coins minted from Philippi during that time feature two hands grasping and the Latin word for fellowship, “concordia.”
A couple generations later, we find the apostle Paul writing a letter to the church in this city. He uses some terms that would hearken back to the city’s history, like “fellow soldier” in Philippians 2:25. He uses this entire letter to speak about the necessary unity for followers of Jesus. Unity comes from humility, from a right understanding of God, and from dedication to one another. At the end of the letter, he calls out the people who are leading the disagreement (4:2). This is where we might call foul. If we’re part of a group of people—any group, be it civic, religious, education, etc.—we don’t like to be named as the source of a problem. We don’t like to be called out as the weak link that prevents unity. We find it distasteful for someone to personally call us out, particularly if we think our disagreement is a private matter.
This brings up a good issue for us to think about. What cost will we pay for unity? What are we willing to give up for peace? For example, when my children come to me noisily complaining about the extraordinary evil one has done to another (usually something like “touching their stuff”), I tend to tell them that for the sake of peace in my home; I don’t care—be quiet. I ask my children to suspend their imagined right that no one touch their stuff in order that I don’t have to hear extraneous noise. Maybe that’s a little unfair to them. But hey, I need a nap periodically. Let’s take that up a level, though, because my need for a nap isn’t too weighty in the grand scheme of things. When it comes to marriage (which unfortunately can look like a battle at times) what are you willing to give up in order to focus on unity? If you’re unwilling to give up anything, get ready for a short marriage. I can only give you the advice a friend who’s a marriage counselor once told me: there can only be one God in the house, and it ain’t you.
Or what about when it comes to your relationships with your neighbors, your co-workers, or any of the other people you have to interact with on a regular basis? What are you willing to give in order to live peaceably? Obviously there are many things we hold as dear convictions we should never give up. It would not be right for you to give up a house you have purchased in order to let someone else build a pool. You should never be asked to suspend a cherished belief in order to have peace with someone who happens to disagree. There are always ways to live in peace even if there is no resolution. But in those other places, where we do have some room to suspend our own demands—make every effort to live in peace and unity.