Note: During the American Civil War, Gen. George B. McClellan was put in charge of the great Army of the Potomac, mainly because public opinion was on his side. He fancied himself to be a great military leader and enjoyed hearing the people call him “a Young Napoleon.” However, his performance was less than sensational. President Lincoln commissioned him General-in-Chief, hoping this would get some action; but still he procrastinated. One evening, Lincoln and two of his staff members went to visit McClellan, only to learn that he was at a wedding. The three men sat down to wait, and an hour later the general arrived home. Without paying any attention to the president, McClellan went upstairs and did not return. Half an hour later, Lincoln sent the servant to tell McClellan that the men were waiting. The servant came back to report McClellan had gone to bed!
His associates angry, Lincoln merely got up and led the way home. “This is no time to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity,” the president explained. I would hold McClellan’s horse if he will only bring us success.” This attitude of humility was what helped to make Lincoln a great man and a great president. He was not thinking of himself; he was thinking of serving others.
In our lesson today we will learn the importance of following the example of Jesus in our behavior and service. We will learn how unity in the church can be maintained when we follow the example of Jesus.
Beginning in chapter 2, Paul addresses the matter of “other people.” In fact, “others” is the key idea in this chapter. It seems that there was some division and discord which was beginning to threaten the Philippian church. This threat to the unity of the church was coming from two sources: false teachers from without (Philippians 3:1-3) and disagreeing members within (Philippians 4:1-3).
In Philippians 1:27-28 Paul exhorted the Philippians to “(stand) firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; in no way alarmed by your opponents. . .” In this passage Paul emphasized the matter of courage in the face of conflict and opposition. In Philippians 2:1-2, Paul moved on to the matter of relationships within the body. The witness of the gospel and the effectiveness of the saints was in large part determined by the matter of unity and harmony. Thus, Paul’s exhortation to unity.
If therefore 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, (2:1)
The grounds of Paul’s appeal to unity in verse 1 is expressed in four “if” clauses. These statements are expressed as first class conditional statements in the Greek text. The first class condition in Greek grammatical construction means that the reality of a condition is affirmed from the viewpoint of the speaker. Thus, “if” should be understood to mean “since” or “in view of the fact.” There was no doubt in Paul’s mind as he penned these thoughts.
The first ground of Paul’s appeal to unity is the Philippian’s common experience of being in Christ. This exhortation “is made in view of all that the Philippians have and are as followers of Christ.” (Erdman). Lightfoot translates this to say, “If your life in Christ, your knowledge of Christ, speaks to your hearts with a persuasive eloquence.” Barclay translates it, “If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you.” Robertson writes, “If one’s own life in Christ does not stimulate the soul to the noblest effort, it is useless to go on with the appeal.”
The second ground of Paul’s appeal to unity is the “consolation of love.” Vos writes that “consolation” may be translated better as “persuasion” or “persuasive power of love.” Barclay translates this clause, “if love has any persuasive power to move you.” Robertson translates it, “If love has any power by its tenderness to stir your hearts, then listen to me.” Barclay writes that this appeal is “based on all the encouragement and comfort which the readers have found in their mutual love or in the love of Christ.”
The third ground of Paul’s appeal to unity is their “fellowship in the Spirit.” Barclay translates this, “if you are really sharing in the Holy Spirit.” the meaning of the word “fellowship” in this verse is “participation” or “partnership” as in Philippians 1:5. Robertson comments, “If we have any partnership in the life and blessings of the Holy Spirit, then we are ready to listen to Paul’s plea for unity.”
The fourth ground of Paul’s appeal to unity is their “affection and compassion.” Barclay translates this clause, “if you can feel compassion and pity.” These are emotions that the Holy Spirit inspires and which they should express toward one another.
make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. (2:2)
In verse 2, Paul tells the Philippians that his joy will be complete if they heed his plea for unity. This statement can also be seen as yet another ground of Paul’s appeal to unity. Barclay comments:
There is nothing selfish in basing his plea on his personal happiness. His friends will understand that his joy is ever found in their welfare. It is like the joy of a parent in the well-being of a child. Thus his readers know that only their highest good can give gladness to Paul.
Paul tells the Philippians (2:2) that they can make his joy complete by:
“being of the same mind” — that is, “to think the same thing, to be compelled by the same aims and objectives.” (Vos). Barclay translates this, “for my desire is that you should be in full agreement.”
“maintaining the same love” — that is, “maintaining a mutual love, the one love of God in all.” (Vos). Barclay translates this, “loving the same things.” Robertson likens the meaning of the phrase to “two hearts beating as one.”
“united in spirit” — that is, “of one accord” or “having a harmony of feelings and affection.” (Vos). Erdman comments, “with harmony of feeling giving your minds to one and the same object.” This phrase renders the Greek work “sumpsuchoi” which means “knit together in soul.”
“intent on one purpose” — that is, “like-minded” or “your minds set on one thing.” (Barclay).
Barclay translates Philippians 2:1-2 as follows:
”If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you, if love has any persuasive power to move you, if you really are sharing in the Holy Spirit, if you can feel compassion and pity, complete my joy, for my desire is that you should be in full agreement, loving the same things, joined together in soul, your minds set on one thing.”
Erdman comments that Paul’s appeal to Christian unity goes beyond an assent to a common creed, or union in a form of worship, or fellowship in a common task. “It underlies all of these. It is a unity of heart as well as of mind. It is a unity of sentiment and mutual love.”
In verses 3-4, Paul addresses the matter of how Christian unity may be broken and how it may be maintained. The salient issue at this point is their behavior. If the Philippians are to heed Paul’s exhortation to unity, they must consider carefully the matter of their behavior.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, (2:3a)
Paul addresses the matter of personal motivation for behavior in verse 3: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit.” The very statement challenges us to examine our personal motivations behind our behavior and service. Without question, “selfishness and empty conceit” are the enemies of Christian unity. These are truly improper motives for service.
The word “selfishness” renders the Greek work “eritheia” which refers to a self-seeking, ambitious, competitive spirit. This is the same word Paul used in Philippians 1:17 to describe the motivation by which some were preaching Christ. This word refers to the kind of ambition which has no conception of service and whose aims are profit and power. The word was often used to denote a self-seeking pursuit of political office by unfair means. It was also used to denote the jockeying for position, place, and power in the political arena solely for the purpose of benefiting self. This is a word that perfectly describes pseudoaltruism, that is, saying and feigning concern for others on the outside while on the inside thinking only of the personal benefits that one might acquire. It is nothing less than advancing one’s own cause at the expense of others.
The term “empty conceit” comes from the Greek word “kenodoxia” and refers to personal vanity or vainglory. This word is literally translated “empty praise.” The word speaks to those who serve for the purpose of being seen and praised by men. It is a word that refers to those who personally try to draw attention to themselves by their acts of charity and boasting (cf. Matthew 6:1-2). Erdman comments:
Vainglory denotes boastful pride. It is the spirit which inclines one to make great claims for himself and to disparage others. Literally it indicates emptiness of ideas. Very often it is the empty-headed man who is loudest in his expressions of vanity and conceit. It is noticeable that religious zeal often breeds a spirit of “faction” and “vainglory.”
Taken together, “selfishness and empty conceit” caution us that serving or behaving for the purpose of obtaining power, profit, praise, and prestige are wrong motivations. (See 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 for a contrast in motivations.)
but with humility of mind (2:3b)
Paul next moves to a consideration of the proper mind-set for Christian behavior that leads to the maintaining of Christian unity: “humility of mind.” Paul has already addressed the matter of personal motivation for behavior and is moving toward a consideration of the practical manner of behavior, but before he does he points out the proper mind-set for behavior: “humility.” Paul is here saying that before one can have pure motives for service he must possess the proper attitude, which is “humility of mind.”
The word humility comes from a word (“tapeinophrosunei”) which means “the ability to recognize one’s personal insufficiency and the ability to recognize the powerful sufficiency of God.” It is a word which is the opposite of “selfishness and empty conceit.” Vos comments that “humility” recognizes the dependency of the creature on the Creator and places all men on the same level before God. Erdman comments that the word “humility” indicates “not merely modesty but self-forgetfulness, or such a lowly view of self as enables one to form rightful views of others, to take an interest in the welfare of others, to lose self in the service of others.”
After addressing the issues of the motivation and mind-set for behavior and service, Paul turns to a consideration of the practical manner of service:
let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (2:3c-4)
“Let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” This is the same idea expressed in Romans 12:10, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love, give preference to one another in honor.” When one has the proper mind-set (“humility of mind”) then the practical manners will follow (“regard one another”) Stuart Briscoe comments:
It does not mean that everybody should be more interested in promoting others, encouraging others and caring for others than himself. It means that we should so relate to others that we are considerably more “others-centered” than self-centered.”
“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” The thought here is that “one must not fix his eye (like the runner does on the goal) upon his own interests to the exclusion of those of others.” (Robertson). Vos points out that one should focus attention on and recognize the good qualities of fellow Christians.
The meaning of this passage can be illustrated by one of Jesus’ most famous stories: “The Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30-37). This is the story of the unfortunate traveler who was mugged on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem . . . thieves beat him, took his money, and left him lying in a ditch. In varying degrees, each one of us is represented by the three groups of people in the story. There were the crooks whose attitude was, “I’ll take from you. What’s yours is mine. I’ll take it.” There were the calloused and uncaring ecclesiastics whose attitude was “I’ll keep from you. What’s mine is mine. I’ll keep it.” Then there was the one whom Christ said is to be our example, the caring Samaritan whose attitude was “I’ll give to you. What’s mine is yours. I’ll share it.” It is the caring Samaritan that teaches us the meaning of looking beyond ourselves, of looking past our own interests and importance to truly see and respond to the needs and worth and interests of others.
Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (2:5)
In verse 5 Paul turns his attention to Jesus. Here he says, “Look at Jesus! He is the ultimate example of true humility. He is the perfect model. Pattern your behavior and service after His.” In the preceding verses, Paul has been appealing to the Philippians to live in harmony, to lay aside their personal ambitions and their pride along with any desire for prominence, prestige, and praise, and to have the humble attitude of Christ. Barclay writes, “His final and unanswerable appeal is to point to the example of Jesus Christ.” Lyman Coleman comments, “When Paul wrote those verses his main intention was not to make a theological point. Rather, his aim was to illustrate what self-sacrificing humility was all about. This passage, although intensely practical, is one of the most important doctrinal statements in Scripture as well as the greatest and most moving passage Paul ever wrote about Jesus. (ref. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
It is important to note that Philippians 2:5-11 reveal the essence of Paul’s Christology:
In this passage, Paul uses Christ to illustrate the characteristics of behavior “and service which he was exhorting them to adopt.”
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus” is simply an exhortation to have the same mind-set or attitude as Christ. Vos translates the first part of this verse, “keep on having this mind in you”, which he says, “may imply the necessity of vigilance in maintaining an orientation to life that could be eroded easily.” Beck translates the verse, “Think just as Christ Jesus thought.” The Amplified Bible translates verse 5: “Let this same attitude and purpose and (humble) mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus, — Let Him be your example in humility.”
who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, (2:6)
How did Christ think? Verse 6 begins to answer the question: “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Here we see that Christ thought of others, not Himself. Paul tells us Jesus existed in the form (“morphe”) of God. This is a reference to the preexistence of Christ. Paul is saying that in eternity past Jesus Christ was God. Barclay defines “morphe” as the “essential form of something which never alters,” in contrast to the word “schema” (which Paul uses in verse 7) which denotes outward and changeable forms. In other words, what Paul is saying is that Jesus Christ possessed the essential nature of God.
The latter part of verse 6 tells us that Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” In other words, equality with God was not something Jesus had to grasp or acquire, it was already His. Barclay adds that this can also be interpreted to mean that Jesus “did not clutch at equality with God, as if to hug it jealously to Himself, but laid it willingly down for the sake of men. However we take this, it once again stresses the essential godhead of Jesus.” Erdman comments, “His divine nature He could never lay aside; His glory however He might relinquish. He ever would be essential deity; but he might assume a humbler mode of being.” Wiersbe writes:
Jesus did not think of Himself; He thought of others. His outlook (or attitude) was that of unselfish concern for others. This is the “mind of Christ,” an attitude that says, “I cannot keep my privileges for Myself, I must use them for others; and to do this, I will gladly lay them aside and pay whatever price is necessary.
but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (2:7)
In verse 7 we read that Christ freely and voluntarily emptied himself and became a man. The word “empty” renders the Greek word “ekenosen”. Barclay comments the word “can be used of removing things from a container, until the container is empty; of pouring something out, until there is nothing left. Here Paul uses the most vivid possible word to make clear the sacrifice of the incarnation.” Vos comments, “There is no hint in this passage or anywhere else in Scripture that Christ gave up any aspects of His deity, but in becoming man He did limit the exercise or manifestation of His deity.” Rienecker/Rogers comment,
The word does not mean He emptied Himself of His deity, but rather He emptied Himself of the display of His deity for personal gain. The word is a graphic expression of the completeness of His self-renunciation and His refusal to use what He had for His own advantage.
Jesus took the “form” of a bond-servant, that is, when Jesus became a man it was not play-acting but reality. The word “likeness” renders the word “schema.” This word was used of a king who exchanges his kingly robe for sackcloth. (Rienecker/Rogers).
Thus Jesus became a slave. Coleman writes that the use of the word “slave” emphasizes the fact that in the incarnation Christ entered the stream of human life as a slave, that is, as a person without advantage, with no rights or privileges of his own for the express purpose of placing himself completely at the service of all mankind.
And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (2:8)
Wiersbe comments, “Many people are willing to serve others if it does not cost them anything. But if there is a price to pay, they suddenly lose interest.” Not so with Christ. Paul tells us in verse 8 that Christ humbled himself still further by subjecting Himself to death, “even to death on a cross.” Vos writes, “This form of death was the climax of humiliation.” Coleman writes, “There has never been a more radical humbling.” And this is something which He did voluntarily (see John 10:17,18). He humbled Himself to death. There was no more dramatic way to demonstrate humility. Vos comments,
Christ’s attitude of self-abnegation was the special truth Paul had in mind when he encouraged the Philippians to think as Christ thought (2:5). If they did, all petty squabbles and factionalism in their midst would cease.
Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (2:9-11)
Wiersbe writes, “Jesus humbled Himself for others, and God highly exalted Him; and the result of this exaltation is glory to God.” The word “therefore” in verse 9 signals a whole new focus. In verses 6-8 it is Christ who is acting and in verses 9-11 it is God who is acting. The word “exaltation” indicates that the act was done by means of a single action, namely the resurrection/ascension of Jesus. Furthermore, God gave Christ “the name which is above every name.” Vos concludes that the name “Jesus” is meant here because of its use in verse 11. Barclay believes the name referred to here is “Lord,” pointing to the fact that “Jesus Christ is Lord” was the first creed of the Christian Church. Coleman agrees with Barclay, pointing to the use of “Lord” in verse 11. In any case, Paul says that one day all will bow and pay homage to Jesus. This worship will come from all of creation.
Note: “God hasn’t called me to win souls,” a pastor informed his congregation. “My responsibility is to become Christlike and to teach you how to become Christlike, too.”
Across town, another pastor was addressing his congregation. “The most important job I have is to win souls,” he announced. “And my second most important job is to train you to do the same thing. God doesn’t want his people to come to church week after week just so they can sit in a pew and soak up Bible facts.”
Two different approaches. Which one is correct? Were both correct to some extent? Are Christians supposed to major on soul-willing or on personal growth? Or should there be a balance? (Illustration by James Dyet)
Every believer has a responsibility to both mature in his spiritual life and make Christ known through a faithful walk and verbal witness in the world. Paul’s words to the Philippians will help us to understand that there should be a significant line of demarcation between the life of the believer and that of the unbeliever. The believer is responsible for living his life so as to demonstrate the joy of knowing Christ and so appear as lights in the world.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (2:12)
In our text for today, Paul continues his exhortation of Philippians 2:1-11 by telling the Philippians that they should continue to progress and mature spiritually and to be faithful and consistent in their witness of Christ in the world. Paul begins verse 12 by writing, “So then, my beloved.” This phrase reminds the readers that what they have just read forms the foundation for what is to follow. The thought here can be paraphrased, “In view of the fact that Christ was characterized by a spirit of obedience, so should you be.” Paul clearly bases his exhortation on the experience of Christ by returning to the practical note of 2:5 and the matter of obedience in 2:8. Lightfoot captures the thought of “So then . . .” by paraphrasing it, “As you have the example of Christ’s humiliation to guide you and His exaltation to encourage you, so continue.”
We should not overlook Paul’s use of the tender phrase “my beloved.” This at once tempers any note of harshness in his exhortation. Note also that Paul uses this expression twice in Philippians 4:1.
Paul continues by writing, “just as you have always obeyed.” Vos comments, “Obedience to the gospel and to Paul’s apostolic directives had ‘always’ characterized the Philippian church, so Paul is asking nothing new but merely a continuation of the way they have acted all along.” Erdman agrees by interpreting this as, “show the same obedience which you have always manifested.”
Paul urges the Philippians to be obedient “not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence.” Erdman comments, “None are so worthy of praise as those whose obedience to the will of God is quite independent of the knowledge and admiration of men.” Robertson writes, “Spurgeon tells of a servant girl who gave as the proof of her conversion that now she swept from under the mats and behind the door. It is poor obedience that does only what will be noticed, as little as possible.” Paul writes, “but now much more in my absence.” This is the indication of real obedience of the heart — obedience and faithfulness that remains constant and true regardless of who is watching.
Paul, having exhorted his readers to be obedient, now urges them to “work out (their) salvation with fear and trembling.” It is important at this point to consider what Paul is not saying in this verse:
• Paul is not suggesting that they are to work “for” their salvation. Remember that he is writing to people who are already “saints” (see Philippians 1:1).
• Paul is not saying that salvation is something to be received as a reward of merit or even as a result of effort. (Erdman).
• Paul is not inferring that a Christian must do something to earn full salvation. (Dyet).
• Paul is not saying that we are to devise our own plan of salvation. He does not mean that we are to develop a method working our way into a right relationship with God by our own efforts. (Ogilvie).
What, then, does Paul mean by “work out your salvation with fear and trembling”? The phrase “work out” renders the Greek word “katergazesthai” which means “to work on to the finish” or “to work to full completion.” Wiersbe comments that in Paul’s day the word “katergazesthai” was used for “working a mine” (getting out of the mine all the valuable ore possible); or “working a field” (so as to get the greatest harvest possible).
The word “salvation” has various shades of meaning in the New Testament. It can denote deliverance from the penalty of sin (justification), the power of sin (sanctification), or the presence of sin (glorification). Or it “can denote the whole experience of a believer from the time he accepts Christ as Savior until he is made perfect in glory.” (Erdman). Paul’s reference in this passage is to the matter of sanctification. This is a reference to the purpose of God which is to conform the believer into the image of Christ (see Romans 8:29). Conformity is an inner change with an outward expression. Some commentators see this as an exhortation to “work out” what God in grace has “worked in.”
We must remember that while salvation is a gift from God, we have a responsibility to cooperate with God in the matter of “working out” our salvation in regard to God’s purpose and desire to conform us into the image of His Son. Someone has said, “Man can do nothing without God, and God will do nothing without the willing cooperation of man.” Wiersbe writes, “The purpose God wants us to achieve is Christlikeness, ‘to be conformed into the image of His Son’ (Romans 8:29). There are problems in life, but God will help us to ‘work them out.’ Our lives have tremendous potential, like a mine or a field, and He wants to help us fulfill that potential.” What a joy it is to cooperate with God as He continues the good work which He began in us (see Philippians 1:6).
Paul tells his readers, and us, that they are to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” Vos comments that this “indicates a spirit of human inadequacy and the necessity of leaning on divine power and wisdom to solve problems.” Lightfoot interprets “with fear and trembling” to mean “with a nervous and trembling anxiety to do right.” Barclay comments that this is the kind of fear and trembling “which drives us to seek God, in the certainty that without His help we cannot effectively face life.” He further comments that this fear and trembling “comes from a horror of grieving God. When we really love a person, we are not afraid of what he may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him.”
James Dyet takes “with fear and trembling” to mean “with constant vigilance against temptation and reluctance to omit any duty that God gives him, he will work out his own salvation by pressing toward the goal of spiritual maturity.” (See Philippians 3:12-14).
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (2:13)
In verse 13, Paul assures the Philippians that they do not have to depend upon their own resources and strength in working out their salvation. He assures them of this by writing, “for God is at work in you.” This God does through the indwelling Holy Spirit (See John 14:16-17, 26; Acts 1:8 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The word Paul uses for “work” is the Greek word “energein.” According to Rienecker/Rogers this word means “to work effectually and productively, to put forth power. The word describes the energy and the effective power of God Himself in action.” Paul assures the Philippians that although they are expected to work out their salvation, they have available in them the divine energy to do it. Watchman Nee reminds us that “divine work can only be done in dependence upon divine strength.” Thus “the same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ when He was ministering on earth can empower us as well.” (Wiersbe).
Paul tells the Philippians that God is at work in them “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” Tolbert comments, “From (God) comes the will to follow Christ in obedience. From Him comes the energy (energein) to fulfill our commitment. His is the purpose toward which we work. ‘For His good pleasure’ can also be translated ‘for His own chosen purpose’ (NEB).” Rienecker/Rogers give as the meaning of “good pleasure”, “satisfaction” or “in fulfillment of His benevolent purpose.”
Paul now urges the Philippians to be a shining demonstration of the difference God makes in their lives. Paul explains how this can be done. If they work out their salvation in dependence upon the strength that God provides then there will be outward and practical evidence in their conduct and in their communication.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing; (2:14)
Paul tells the Philippians that they are to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Vos writes, “‘All’ stands first in the sentence in the Greek text and emphasizes the all-inclusive nature of the command. The verb ‘do’ is in the present tense, indicating in the Greek continuing action: ‘keep on doing.’” The word “grumbling” renders the Greek word “goggusmos.” Rienecker/Rogers comment on the meaning of the word: it refers to “an expression of dissatisfaction, grumbling, muttering in a low voice. The word was used in the LXX for the muttering of Israel against God.” Vos comments, “Murmurings against other believers arise from selfishness and run counter to the example of Jesus.” Kenneth Wuest offers the following commentary on the word “grumbling”:
It refers, not to a loud outspoken dissatisfaction, but to that undertone murmuring which one sometimes hears in the lobbies of our present day churches where certain cliques are “having it out,” so to speak, about themselves. The word refers to the act of murmuring against men, not God. The use of this word shows that the divisions among the Philippians had not yet risen to the point of loud dissension. The word was used of those who confer secretly, of those who discontentedly complain.
Ralph Herring comments, “Complaining Christians have never caught the vision of the cross.”
The word “disputing” renders the Greek word “dialogismos” which, according to Rienecker/Rogers, means “inward questionings, skeptical questioning or criticism.” Lightfoot comments that it refers to the intellectual rebellion against God. Wuest writes that the word “carries the idea of discussion or debate, with the underthought of suspicion and doubt. The murmurings led to disputes.”
that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, (2:15)
In verse 15 Paul tells the Philippians that the goal or purpose of the prohibitions of verse 14 “is the elimination of all things that would mar their testimony in the community or would destroy their effectiveness as a witnessing community.” (Vos). When Paul writes, “that you may prove yourselves to be,” he implies a process of development. Erdman comments, “It is part of that ‘salvation’ which they are to ‘work out.’ They are to become ‘blameless.’ They are to give the world no ground for criticism.” Paul was concerned about the way in which the Philippians were communicating the gospel of Christ in the world.
Paul wanted for the Philippians to prove themselves “blameless and innocent.” Barclay comments that the word “blameless” expresses what the Christian is to the world, and the word translated “innocent” expresses what the Christian is in himself. The Greek word for “innocent” was used to refer to pure wine, unalloyed metal, or that which was unmixed and unadulterated. Erdman comments, “Possibly ‘pure gold’ is a popular designation of the moral quality implied. Christians are to avoid those inconsistencies at which the world can point a finger of scorn.”
The only way in which the Philippian saints could credibly communicate the truth and worth of the gospel would be by living their lives in striking contrast to the world. They would have to daily and consistently prove themselves to be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach.” “Above reproach” means “without spot or blemish.” This is a reference to what the Christian is in the sight of God. Paul wanted for the Philippian saints to be a shining demonstration of the effectiveness of the gospel “in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.” The word “crooked” is a reference to “unbelieving.” The word “perverse” is much stronger. It refers to an abnormal moral condition or being twisted and misshapen in character and conduct.
It was in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation that the Philippians were to “appear as lights in the world.” The word “lights” renders the Greek word “phosteres” which means “luminary, the light given off by heavenly bodies, mainly the sun and moon, the ‘lights’, or ‘great lights.’” (Rienecker/Rogers). If the Philippians were diligent in working out their salvation in dependence upon God, then they would surely be a shining demonstration, standing out in stark contrast in the world. Barclay comments, “The Christian offers and demonstrates straightness in a twisted world and light in a dark world.”
holding fast the word of life, (2:16a)
The message which the Philippians were to demonstrate and communicate is referred to by Paul as “the word of life” in verse 16. Paul tells them to “hold fast” this word of life. The meaning here is “hold fast” and “hold forth.” Vos comments that “it is necessary to hold fast to the truth if one is to hold it forth.” Wuest comments on the words “hold forth”: “It means ‘to hold forth so as to offer.’ This should ever be the attitude of the saint, offering salvation to a lost and dying world.”
In verse 16b we find Paul looking ahead with joyful anticipation. Dyet writes, “The Philippian believers’ good response to Paul’s exhortations would make them productive, mature Christians of whom Paul could be justifiably proud.” Rienecker/Rogers comment on the phrase “cause to glory”: “It is not boasting in meritorious effort but the sign of the completion of a divinely inspired commission.”
so that in the day of Christ I may have cause to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. (2:16)
Paul longs for the Christian progress of the Philippians so that in the day of Christ he may have the joy of knowing that he did not run in vain nor toil in vain. The word “run” pictures Paul’s work as an apostle spreading the gospel under the figure of a runner. The word indicates the strenuous effort and exertion involved. (Rienecker/Rogers). The word “labor” pictures “the intense labor and efforts of Paul toward one goal.” (Rienecker/Rogers). The word “vain” means “empty.” Rienecker/Rogers point out that “the word fits well into the picture of the runner and his eventual success or failure in the race.” Tolbert writes that “Paul felt the success of his own life as intertwined with the commitment of his Philippian brothers.” Maclaren offers the following commentary:
And now looking by anticipation at the results of his apostolic toil, in the light of the great day of Christ, (Paul’s) greatest joy will be that his efforts have not been in vain. His joy then will be, not in the number and wealth of the churches he founded, but in the spiritual progress and advancement of the members. The results of work for Christ are often in this world obscured and confused; but in the day of Christ all will be clear and the work seen in all its beauty and dimensions.
Barclay writes, “For (Paul) the greatest prize in life was to know that through him others had come to know and to love and to serve Christ.”
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me. (2:17-18)
In verses 17-18 Paul looks ahead with joyful anticipation at even the prospect of martyrdom. The prospect of death did not rob Paul of his joy (see Philippians 1:21). Dyet writes:
Paul knew that very soon he might experience a Roman executioner’s blade. His life, then, would be poured out like a drink offering (verse 17); but he would rejoice in this experience with the Philippians’ faith being mingled in with his devoted life as an offering acceptable to God (verse 17b). This triumphant prospect could serve as a basis for rejoicing among the saints at Philippi (verse 18). Sure joy would testify to the reality of God’s enabling grace and the hope of eternal life.
Paul was perfectly willing to make his life a sacrifice to God; and, if that happened, to him it would be all joy, and he calls on (the Philippians) not to mourn the prospect but rather to rejoice. To him every call to sacrifice and to toil was a call to his live for Christ, and therefore he met it not with regret and complaint but with joy.
Note: What characterizes those who are “other-centered” individuals? What characterizes those who are “self-centered” individuals? We noted in an earlier passage that “others” is the key idea in chapter two. Paul began the second chapter by exhorting the Philippians to be more “other-centered” than “self-centered.” He then presented Christ as the perfect model of sacrificial service and behavior, of what it truly means to be more “other-centered” than “self-centered.” In last week’s lesson we read of Paul’s willingness to die for the sake of and in the service of others. Paul now concludes the chapter by mentioning Timothy and Epaphroditus, two men whose lives were lived in the selfless service of others, who gave evidence of having “the mind of Christ.”
TIMOTHY | Timothy held a special place in Paul’s life. Paul had enlisted Timothy to accompany him on the second missionary journey while passing through Derbe and Lystra (see Acts 16:1-3). Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. His grandmother (Lois) and mother (Eunice) were both believers. Thus Timothy was with Paul on the second missionary journey when he founded the church at Philippi. Timothy had also visited the saints at Philippi on at least two other occasions (see Acts 19:22 and 20:3-4).
But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. (2:19)
We learn something of the concern of both Paul and Timothy in Philippians 2:19-20. We learn of Paul’s concern in verse 19: “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.” Paul begins by writing. “But I hope.” These words stand in contrast to the thoughts expressed in Philippians 2:17-18 regarding the possibility of martyrdom and express his confidence that the situation will improve so that he will be able to send Timothy to them (see verse 23). Vos comments that the phrase “in the Lord” indicates that Paul’s plans were governed by the Lord and that he was not certain of them at the moment. Wuest comments that this phrase “tells us that Paul’s every thought, word, and deed proceeded from the Lord as the center of his volition. Paul says in effect, ‘My hope is not an idle one, but one that is founded on faith in the Lord.’”
Since Paul himself was not able to go to Philippi, he informed the Philippians that it was his intention “to send Timothy” as his representative. Barclay comments:
Timothy’s great use was that, whenever Paul wished for information from some church or wished to send advice or encouragement or rebuke and could not go himself, it was he whom he sent. So Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6); to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17 and 16:10-11); to Philippi . . . Timothy’s great value was that he was always willing to go anywhere; and his message was as safe as if Paul had delivered it himself.
Paul writes that the purpose of sending Timothy was “so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.” We see in this something of Paul’s “other-centered” orientation. He was concerned about the condition of the saints at Philippi (perhaps more so because of what we read in Philippians 3:2 and 4:2) and longed for the encouragement that would come by way of a good report about them from Timothy. By going to Philippi, Timothy would also be able to share with the Philippians about Paul’s condition which would be a comfort and encouragement to them as well.
For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. (2:20)
We see something of Paul’s confidence in Timothy and Timothy’s concern for the Philippians in verse 20: “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Paul’s confidence in Timothy is expressed in the phrase, “For I have no one else of kindred spirit.” The literal rendering is “I have no one equal-souled.” Beare translates the phrase to mean, “I have no one to match him,” or “I have no one else who can fill my shoes, for the task in hand.” It has also been paraphrased, “He is the only one who shares my feelings.” Frank Stagg comments, “It is Timothy’s spirit which so suits him for the task in Philippi.” Vos comments that Paul is comparing Timothy with others and concludes that there is no one else who shares such a concern for the Philippians.
We see something of Timothy’s concern for the Philippians expressed in the latter part of verse 20: “who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Malcolm Tolbert comments that while others may have been available to go, they did not possess the proper attitude. “Timothy’s concern,” writes Tolbert , “was solely for the ‘welfare’ of the church — the distinguishing mark of the good minister.”
For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. (2:21)
Verse 21 indirectly speaks of Timothy’s commitment: “For they all (as opposed to Timothy) seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” Barclay comments, “Others might be concerned with selfish ambition; but Timothy’s one desire was to serve Paul and Jesus Christ. Ralph Martin observes:
It says nothing about (Paul’s) fellow-Christians; but is rather his solemn reflection when he remembers that, in a world of selfishness and self-seeking, it is such a rare thing to find a man like Timothy who is really anxious to promote the welfare of other people, and to give himself to a fatiguing journey and to the resolving of personal quarrels in the Philippian church.
Erdman comments on this verse:
There are few, pitifully few, messengers whom the Master can send forth today on missions and ministries of love at home and abroad. For some of these forms of service not many are qualified, but of others the words of Paul are pathetically true: “They all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.
Lloyd Ogilvie comments that most of us are overly concerned about our own affairs and allow our time to be filled by multiple demands and responsibilities. We must ask ourselves what is truly important. For Timothy, the important thing was the cause of Christ. Ogilvie says we must ask ourselves the question, “Is what I am doing advancing the cause of Christ or have I asked Christ to bless my causes?”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and cancelling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks . . . It is a strange fact that Christians frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them . . . But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be rearranged by God.
Timothy was committed to serving Christ and others and to the advancement of the gospel. He was truly a man who was more “other-centered” than “self-centered.” Wiersbe comments, “In a very real sense, all of us live either in Philippians 1:21 or 2:21!”
But you know of his proven worth that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. (2:22)
Paul reminds the Philippians of Timothy’s sterling character in verse 22: “But you know of his proven worth.” The conjunction “but” places Timothy’s character in contrast to what Paul mentioned in verse 21. Wuest comments that “you know” is from the Greek word speaking of “knowledge gained by experience.” The Philippians knew Timothy personally. They knew of his “proven worth” or “proven character.” Vos comments, “They had known Timothy at Philippi and he had proved himself among them; he had stood the test.”
Verse 22 tells us that Timothy’s character had been revealed in his service with Paul “in the furtherance of the gospel, like a child serving his father.” Notice that Paul wrote, “he served with me.” The preposition “with” shows Paul’s humility (Wuest) and raises Timothy to the position of an equal, a fellow laborer, a fellow messenger (Erdman). Paul and Timothy served as father and son, side by side, in the common cause of advancing the gospel of Christ.
Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; (2:23)
Paul assures the Philippians that he will send Timothy to them once he knows the outcome of his trial, which at this time is still uncertain. Paul knew that the Philippians would want to know how things went with him. Timothy would bear the news of Paul’s deliverance or death to the Philippians.
and I trust in the Lord that I myself also shall be coming shortly. (2:24)
Wuest writes that the word “trust” that is used here is a word that means “to persuade.” This word is in the perfect tense. Paul had come to a settled persuasion. Wuest translates this, “But I have come to a settled conviction, which conviction is in the Lord, that I also myself shall come shortly.” Ralph Herring comments that verse 24 reflects Paul’s “confidence in the Lord that his acquittal would make it possible for him also to come to them shortly.” Thus Paul paints for the Philippians a portrait of Timothy as one with a genuine concern, a selfless commitment, and a proven character.
EPAPHRODITUS | Paul turns his attention to Epaphroditus in verse 25. Like Timothy, Epaphroditus was also a man whose life exemplified the exhortations of Philippians 2:1-4. He was a man who was more “other-centered” than “self-centered.” Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippian church, had been given the responsibility of taking the Philippians’ special love offering to Paul. He had also been charged with the responsibility of staying to minister to Paul’s needs, doing the things that the Philippians could not do themselves because of distance, but that could only be done by one present. Vos writes, “His only claim to fame is that he showed kindness to the apostle Paul and was concerned for others in his local church.”
But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; (2:25)
Paul spells out the credentials of Epaphroditus in verse 25. He is referring to him as “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier.” Paul called Epaphroditus his “brother.” These men were indeed brothers in the faith, sharing a common sympathy. Paul called Epaphroditus his “fellow worker.” These men shared a common service, namely, the advancement of the gospel. Paul called him his “fellow soldier.” These men also shared a common suffering and danger. They were in joint conflict in Christian warfare.
Paul also referred to Epaphroditus as “your messenger and minister to my need” in verse 25. The word messenger renders the Greek word “apostolos” and refers to one entrusted with a mission. The word “minister” renders the Greek word “leitourgos” which refers to “one who is engaged in priestly service.” Erdman comments:
Epaphroditus was probably engaged chiefly in humble or menial tasks in providing for the physical needs of the apostle. Yet this honor is as great as that of Paul, and he is acting as the official representative and priestly servant of the entire church at Philippi.
because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. (2:26)
In verse 26 Paul tells us why he thought it necessary to send Epaphroditus back to the Philippians — “because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.” Wuest comments:
Thus the heart of Epaphroditus was not at rest. The reason for this restlessness was that he was concerned that the Philippians had heard of his illness and were themselves concerned over their messenger for whom they in a measure held themselves responsible.
For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. (2:27)
Paul reveals the extent of the illness of this faithful servant in verse 27: “For indeed he was sick to the point of death.” The phrase “point of death” literally means “alongside of a neighbor.” Epaphroditus was next door to death. He and death were next door neighbors. (Wuest). Vos comments, “Epaphroditus was so sacrificial in serving Paul that he had become run down and contracted a serious disease or had had a physical breakdown.” But whatever the cause, Paul writes that “God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” Erdman comments:
The death of such a companion, if added to all the distress of Paul’s imprisonment, would have been almost more than he could stand. It would have been a crushing blow when billow after billow of sorrow had already broken upon him, and he might have been overwhelmed.
Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly in order that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. (2:28)
Paul therefore sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi “all the more eagerly” knowing that the Philippians would rejoice in seeing him again (see verse 28). Robertson writes:
Paul was anxious for the Philippians to recover their cheerfulness, which had been clouded by the sickness of Epaphroditus. Their joy would react on Paul and make him happy. The best way to be happy is to make others happy . . . (Paul) understood the yearning of Epaphroditus and the anxiety of the Philippians.
Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; (2:29)
In verses 29-30 Paul commends Epaphroditus to the Philippians, encouraging them to “receive him in the Lord with all joy.” Vos adds, “with a joy that harbors no suspicions of his motives or condemnation of his actions.” Dyet comments, “Epaphroditus was a loyal believer who did his work admirably. He was not returning as a quitter, but as a highly commendable servant of God.” Paul therefore, urged the Philippians to extend to Epaphroditus a royal and cordial welcome and to “hold men like him in high regard,” especially in view of the reasons given in verse 30.
because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. (2:30)
In verse 30 Paul tells the Philippians that the reason they are to lovingly receive Epaphroditus and hold him in high regard is “because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” The phrase “risking his life” renders the Greek word “paraboleuesthai.” Rienecker/Rogers comment on the meaning of the word:
(The word means) to gamble, to play the gambler, to expose one’s self to danger. The word has connotations of gambling or playing dice by which high sums were often at stake. The word was used in the papyri of one who in the interest of friendship had exposed himself to dangers as an advocate in legal strife by taking his clients’ cause even up to emperors. The word was later used of merchants who for the sake of gain exposed themselves to death. The word was used of a fighter in the arena who exposed himself to the dangers of the arena. In the post-apostolic church a group called the “paraboloni” risked their lives by nursing the sick and burying the dead.
Ogilvie comments on this verse:
(It) took some courage to become the attendant of a man awaiting trial on a capital charge. He had come as an emissary to the Philippians to see what he could do to help Paul. And he assumed the risk by staying with Paul in spite of the danger.
Paul concludes verse 30 by reminding the Philippians that Epaphroditus had risked his life “to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Vos comments, “The last part of the verse is not a rebuke on the part of Paul that the Philippians had neglected him but is simply a statement that he was there to do what they could not do for him because they were hundreds of miles away.”