Christian Unity and Christ’s Humility
2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose.
The fourfold appeal of Php 2:1 (note the repeated phrase “if any”) is the basis for the exhortations of Php 2:2-4.
Here is a vigorous appeal for Christian unity, backed up by a fourfold rationale, v1, a fourfold description, v2, a double negative and a double positive, v3, followed by a further negative and positive, v4.
Paul would need to follow up this general appeal with a reference to specific individuals who needed to be reconciled, Phil 4:2.
‘Such unity will only come when Christians are humble and bold enough to lay hold on the unity already given in Christ and to take it more seriously than their own self-importance … and to make of those deep differences of doctrine, which originate in our imperfect understanding of the Gospel and which we dare not belittle, not an excuse for letting go of one another or staying apart, but rather an incentive for a more earnest seeking in fellowship together to hear and obey the voice of Christ.’ (C. E. B. Cranfield, The First Epistle of Peter SCM, 1950, pp. 75-76).
Fellowship with the Spirit – or, ‘fellowship produced by the Spirit’. The former is probably the more likely translation.
Like-minded – ‘The apostle knew well that thought and attitudes are the basis of speech and action and so direct the whole course of a person’s life. (cf. Php 2:5; 3:15; 4:8) This perhaps needs underlining in an age when there is great emphasis on feelings and experience. In Rom 12:2 Paul speaks of transformation of life taking place ‘by the renewing of your mind’.’ (NBC)
‘In the great things of religion, be of one mind: but when there is not a unity of sentiment, let there be a union of affections.’ (M. Henry)
vv2-3 provide an earnest and urgent appeal for unit amongst Christians. How seriously do we take this appeal? What attitudes do we adopt which promote or inhibit such unity? What action could we, and should we, take, to promote harmony amongst all believers?
‘The saints are the walking pictures of God. If God be our Father, we shall love to see his pictures of holiness in believers; shall pity them for their infirmities, but love them for their graces…It may justly be suspected that God is not Father of those who love not his children. Though they retain the communion of saints in their creed, they banish the communion of saints out of their company.’ (Thomas Watson)
The same love – ‘Agape is not born of a lover’s need, nor does it have its source in the love object. Agape doesn’t exist in order to get what it wants but empties itself to give what the other needs. Its motives rise wholly from within its own nature. Agape lives in order to die to self for the blessedness of caring for another, spending for another, spending itself for the sake of the beloved.’ (Dwight Small)
2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.
Epaphroditus had, evidently, brought news of disunity amonst the members of the church at Philippi. This is clear from Php 2:2-4,14 4:2, where the disputants are named, and perhaps Php 1:27.
‘Selfish ambition (the word, used also in Php 1:17, can mean ‘party spirit’) and vain conceit are inevitably enemies of fellowship and hindrances to unity. There are realistic ways of overcoming them. One way is by the practice of humility, (cf. Eph 4:1-3) considering others better than ourselves, which means seeing the strengths and gifts of others and our own weaknesses, failures and limitations.’ (cf. Rom 12:10) (NBC)
Humility – What is humility? ‘It is important that we understand what the Bible means by “humility.” The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself; he simply does not think of himself at all! (I think Andrew Murray said that.) Humility is that grace that, when you know you have it, you have lost it. The truly humble person knows himself and accepts himself. (Rom 12:3) he yields himself to Christ to be a servant, to use what he is and has for the glory of God and the good of others. “Others” is the key idea in this chapter; (Php 2:3-4) the believer’s eyes are turned away from himself and focused on the needs of others.
The “submissive mind” does not mean that the believer is at the beck and call of everybody else or that he is a “religious doormat” for everybody to use! Some people try to purchase friends and maintain church unity by “giving in” to everybody else’s whims and wishes. This is not what Paul is suggesting at all. The Scripture puts it perfectly: “ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor 4:5) If we have the single mind of Philippians 1, then we will have no problem with the submissive mind of Philippians 2.
Paul gives us four examples of the submissive mind: Jesus Christ, (Php 2:1-11) Paul himself, (Php 2:12-18) Timothy, (Php 2:19-24) and Epaphroditus. (Php 2:25-30) Of course, the great Example is Jesus, and Paul begins with him. Jesus Christ illustrates the four characteristics of the person with the submissive mind.’ (Wiersbe)
Consider others better than yourselves – ‘Certainly not every Christian is inferior to every other, but in humility one can esteem all others higher than oneself. Likewise it is possible on one occasion to defer to another, submitting to that person’s will, with the situation being reversed at another time.’ (IVP Commentary on Ephesians).
‘Dost thou see Christ humbling himself, and art thou proud? It is the humble saint that is Christ’s picture. Christians, be not proud of fine feathers. Hast thou an estate? Be not proud. The earth thou treadest on is richer than thou. It has mines of gold and silver in its bowels. Hast thou beauty? Be not proud. It is but air and dust mingled. Hast thou skill and parts? Be humble. Lucifer has more knowledge than thou. Hast thou grace? Be humble. Thou hast it not of thy own growth; it is borrowed. Were it not folly to be proud of a ring that is lent? 1 Cor 4:7. Thou hast more sin than grace, more spots than beauty. Oh look on Christ, this rare pattern, and be humbled! It is an unseemly sight to see God humbling himself and man exalting himself; to see a humble Saviour and a proud sinner.’ (Thomas Watson)
2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.
It is, of course, a good social rule to be concerned with the interests and needs of others than boring people with constant talk about oneself. The NT elevates this social principle to a moral and spiritual level, Rom 15:2-3; 1 Cor 10:24,33; Gal 6:2.
2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,
2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
‘The context here is fascinating: a church in difficulties because of human power-struggles. Every member knew who he or she was. Everyone knew who she was equal to and superior to. Each knew his own precise position in the pecking order: ‘I’m an old Christian.’ ‘I’m a deacon. ‘ ‘I’m an elder.’ ‘I’m a missionary.’ ‘I’m a professor.’
Paul takes their squabbles to the foot of the cross and asks, ‘How do we look now, in the light of Calvary?’ Christ was in the form of God and equal with God. But did he cling to it? Did he say, ‘I must not let this glory go’? Did he say, ‘I will go into the world, but only provided my glory goes with me and provided you give me a proper coach and a chariot so that everyone knows who I am. I want to go with appropriate protection and in dignity and style. They must know who I am’?’ (McLeod, A Faith of Live By)
‘How often is this fact of the incarnation brought before God’s people as their chief incentive and inducement to service and obedience. Paul urges us to think the way Jesus thought. He humbled himself. He made himself nothing. He said, ‘I don’t matter’. There is scarcely a month that a church is not wrecked by Somebody. That is the whole problem: there is always a Somebody. If we were willing to be nobodies the church would not be wrecked. That is what the church needs: nobodies who have crucified their egos and left them on the far side of that great word of Jesus, ‘Let a man deny himself’.’ (Mk 8:34) (McLeod, A Faith of Live By)
6-11 – This section is often thought to be a quotation from, or an adaptation of, an early Christian hymn. If so, how does modern hymnody compare with it in terms of depth and dignity? ‘In the New Testament, especially in the Epistles, the hymns demonstrate the highest level of theological expression. The creeds and hymns utilize poetic format to present cardinal New Testament doctrines, especially christological truth, often centering upon the humiliation and exaltation of Christ (Php 2:6-11; 1 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 3:18,22; see also Eph 2:14-18; 5:14; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Heb 1:3-4; and possibly Jn 1:1-18).’ (Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral)
In very nature God – = ‘in the form of God’.
Did not consider equality with God something to be grasped – there is perhaps a direct contrast with the action and attitude of Adam in Gen 3. Adam yielded to the temptation to take what he thought would make him ‘like God’.
‘There are many ways in which the words of v 6 (‘he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped’) have been understood. There are two main alternatives: either equality with God means the same as being in very nature God or it can be understood as speaking rather of the glory and honour of a position alongside God the Father, the title to lordship over the universe. Jesus ‘did not think to snatch at’ this (NEB). It would, in fact, finally be his by the Father’s appointment, but beyond a human cradle and a human grave and the resurrection, and because he submitted to go the Father’s chosen way by humiliation to exaltation. If equality with God is understood as essentially the same as being in very nature God, indicating that the divine nature was inalienably his, then we can understand the apostle as saying either ‘he did not cling to’ those ‘prerogatives as God’s equal’ (Phillips); or he did not have to seize hold of them – it was not a matter of their being grasped; or equality with God was not something to be taken advantage of. Perhaps the last of these is the most probable, both because of the meaning of the Greek words used and because it fits in with the teaching of the whole paragraph. The way appointed by the Father was giving not getting, sacrifice and humiliation not taking the advantage of one’s position. This is the way Jesus went and the way we are called to follow him.’ (NBC)
Emptied himself – (NIV, less literally, ‘made himself nothing’). He emptied himsef, not of his divinity (impossible thought!), but of his divine prerogatives.
Christ ‘made himself empty and void, not simply and absolutely, for then he would cease to be himself, and then he would cease to be God; but economically and dispensatively, veiling and covering his godhead under the cloud of his flesh, the beams of his divinity, as it were, wholly laid aside, only now and then it broke out in his works and speeches. Certainly he abstained from the full use and manifestation of it. He did not cease to be what he was, but laid aside the manifestation of it, and hid it in the form of a servant, as if he had none at all.’ (Thomas Manton)
This verse, says Bruce Milne, ‘refers to surrendering not divine powers and attributes but divine glory and dignity. “He made himself insignificant” is the real sense.’ (Know the truth, p185).
‘Some theologians argue that in becoming incarnate Christ emptied himself of the form of God and that the incarnate Christ was consequently an attenuated, depotentiated, reduced Christ who had divested himself of Godhead and contracted and shrunk to the proportions of a mere man. That idea is probably widely prevalent even in evangelical circles. But the answer to it lies in this passage itself because the exact wording is, ‘himself he emptied, taking’: ekenose, labon. What a marvellous paradox! Christ emptying himself by taking! It was what Christ took to himself that humbled him, not what he laid aside.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
‘Fully to understand the purchase price of our deliverance from sin and death, we must think of all that was involved in Christ’s voluntary humiliation; his rejection by men; his agonies, bloody sweat, tears, cruel mocking and brutal death. When we remember all that it meant to God to give his Son, and for that Holy Son who knew no sin, to be made sin for us, what else can we do but hate the sin for which he died.’ (Lockyer, All the Doctrines of the Bible, 188)
‘Even after he took the form of a servant and became man he went lower still. as if the Manger weren’t low enough. What did the angels think of it all? One day they blinked in astonishment as they saw their great Creator in a manger in Bethlehem. They must have found the spectacle incomprehensible. Then as the days and years moved on they saw a drama unfold which must have over-loaded every circuit in their computers. One day word came that their Lord was in Gethsemane, and one of them had been sent to strengthen him. Hours afterwards there came even more astonishing news: he was bleeding on the cross of Calvary. That, surely, was the bottom: the very worst! But no! The next thing was, The Father had forsaken him. The God whose whole impulse it was to wash away the tears from the eyes of his people not washing away the tears of his own Son! That’s how it was from beginning to end of the earthly life: down! The tremendous step from throne to stable, and then the incredible journey from the stable to the cross and beyond it the journey on the cross itself from the immolation to the dereliction. The angels must have been saying, ‘Will this never, never end? How low is he going to go? How low does he have to go?’
Gave him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
he bled and died, to take away my sin.
Luther and Calvin used two great words of similar import to express this aspect of the incarnation. Luther spoke of the divine incognito; the unknown, un-recognised Christ. Calvin spoke of the krupsis, the hidden Christ, because on Calvary his glory was obscured by a veil which was impenetrable. There was nobody there, with one possible exception, able to understand who he was because his identity was buried beneath layer after layer of humiliation: beneath servanthood, beneath humanness, beneath death, beneath cross and curse and dereliction. This was the last place in the whole wide world where a man would look for God. There was nothing that looked less like God than that thing on the cross! There was nothing that looked less like a divine act than that transaction on the cross! He is so obscure that his disciples do not recognise him: they lose their faith and their hope. His glory is so obscured that at last even he himself is not sure and for once (and only once) in his entire life he prays to God without calling him ‘Father’. There is no, ‘Abba! Abba!’ Only, ‘Eloi! Eloi! My God! My God!’
Who was the one possible exception? The youngest believer in the world, the terrorist who said, ‘Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ The faith of the child penetrates the obscurity and calls the immolated, bruised and bleeding Saviour ‘Lord’ and ‘King’. Was there ever greater faith than that!’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
The Son of God took upon himself three things in particular: the nature of a servant, human likeness, death on a cross.
Taking the very nature of a servant – ‘In identity he was the Lord, the Master and Sovereign of the Universe. But he became a servant, ‘made under the law’. (Gal 4:4) Men saw him as a slave. Nor was this a mere seeming or a pretence. It was the truth. He was the servant of God. He was the one who washed the disciples’ feet.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)
Being made in human likeness – ‘When it says that he was made in human likeness and found in appearance as a man that does not merely mean similarity without the reality of our human nature. He was indeed truly human, as Paul says in Rom 8:3 and Gal 4:4, but the expression ‘leaves room for the thought that the human likeness is not the whole story’ (F. W. Beare, The Epistle to the Philippians)
‘The interest here is in what Christ looked like, what people saw. If you had seen him, Paul says, he would not have turned any heads. There was no halo. There was no shining face. I don’t suppose he was conspicuously elegant or handsome or that he had those attributes the glossy magazines commend to us today as archetypal masculinity. He was just a man. There was nothing to betray who he was.’ (Donald MacLeod, A Faith to Live By)
It is pointed out that Paul makes no direct reference to the Virgin Birth. However, he employed a number of striking and unusual expressions with reference to the incarnation which lean very much in that direction, Rom 5:12; 8:3; Php 2:7; Gal 4:4.
‘The Word of God, Jesus Christ, on account of his great love for mankind, became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.’ (Irenaeus)
Being found in appearance as a man – he had a human birth, upbringing, trade, and death. He knew hunger, weariness, grief, and tears.
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
He humbled himself –
And became obedient to death – Paul underlines Christ’s ‘obedience’ in line with the tenor and purpose of the whole passage, which is to encourage obedience on the part of believers, vv2-4. ‘Obedience to death’ indicates that Christ was obedient throughout his life, right up to and including his death. We should not see Christ’s death only as fulfilling the malevolent will of those who crucified ‘the Lord of Glory’, but as fulfilling the eternal and beneficent purpose of an all-gracious God.
‘Submission to the Father’s will (Heb 10:5-9) is more significant for the one who is equal with the Father (Php 2:6) than for anyone else. Paul’s words embrace Christ’s whole lifetime of obedience, while emphasizing that the supreme expression of obedience was his death.’ (New Geneva)
Even death on a cross! – What crucifixion meant to Romans is expressed in Cicero’s words, ‘Far be the very name of the cross, not only from the body, but even from the thought, the eyes, the ears of Roman citizens.’
Christ’s death was painful, shameful, and accursed. ‘While he was hanging on that cross, from below Satan and all his hosts assailed him; from round about men heaped scorn upon him; from above God dropped upon him the pallor of darkness, symbol of the curse; and from within there arose the bitter cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Into this hell, the hell of Calvary, Christ descended.’ (Hendriksen)
2:9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—
2:11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place – In this passage, and also in 1 Tim 3:16 – both usually regarded as quotes from pre-Pauline hymns, and accordingly containing the earliest affirmations of Christ’s exaltation – there is no reference to Christ’s resurrection. The movement is straight from death to exaltation. This is not to say that the early Christian writers did not pay attention to the resurrection (see, for example, 1 Thess 1:10), but it to suggest that the ascension occupied a fundamental place in the teaching of the early church than it does in many Christian circles today.
The movement from Christ’s humiliation (v8) directly to his exaltation has prompted some to suppose that this represents the original Christian (theological) message and that the idea of Jesus’ (historical) resurrection was a later addition. But exaltation and resurrection are linked elsewhere in Paul’s writings (Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; 2:6; Col 3:1). And, ‘while it is true that resurrection and exaltation should not be viewed as synonymous, there is an essential theological linkage between them. The exaltation is not so much a theological interpretation of the resurrection as the inevitable consequence of it, the logical result to which it is leading. As Harris states, “(Jesus’) resurrection was the prerequisite and means of his exaltation and the exaltation was the outcome of his resurrection”.’ (DPL, art. ‘Resurrection’)
God…gave him the name that is above every name – Some think that ‘name’ here means ‘reputation’. It ‘does not mean a specific name or title as such, though ‘Jesus is Lord’ is the right and proper Christian profession. (cf. Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3) It means that God exalted him to the highest place of honour, and it is most significant – especially when people would say that the Christ of the NT is less than God – to realize that in vs 10-11 the words that are used in Isa 45:23 of God are used of Jesus, to express his honour and rule and authority over all creation.’ (cf. Eph 1:20-22; 4:8-10; Rev 5:13) (NBC)
Others, however, incline to the view that a specific name is meant here: ‘What Paul actually said was not that God gave him a name, but that God gave him the name: the name above every name. Now there is only one name that can qualify for such a description: the name Jehovah. It was so sacred that no Jew, not even a modern Christian Jew, will take it upon his lips. That is Jesus’ name: Jehovah. Let us notice, too, that the words of verse 10 are taken straight from Isa 45:23, where Yahweh says, ‘Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear’. The astonishing thing is that the Apostle unashamedly ascribes those words to Jesus. Every tongue will confess that he is Lord and every knee will bow to him. Jews did not bow to angels or to rabbis. They bowed only to God. The Lordship of Jesus must be great enough and solid enough to sustain the weight of divine worship.’ McLeod (A Faith To Live By),
Either way, we are by no means driven to the conclusion of Robert M. Price (in The Historical Jesus: Five Views, and other works), who thinks that ‘the name’ must be Jesus (because ‘Lord’ is not a name, but a title), and that since Paul says that the name ‘Jesus’ was given after his exaltation, the earthly Jesus of the Gospels never in fact existed. But this is an absurd attempt to destroy the solid superstructure of the Gospels with the popgun of an idiosyncratic interpretation of the present verse. (See here for a summary of Price’s view)
The wording of this verse is closely related to that of Isa 45:23 – “Before me [God] every knee will bow”. This prediction is fulfilled in the bowing of every knee at the name of Jesus. ‘By applying this text to Jesus, the hymn boldly asserts that Jesus bears the name of God and is to be worshipped as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (Hansen)
At the name of Jesus – could mean, ‘the name belonging to Jesus’ – i.e. ‘Lord’, v11.
In heaven and on earth and under the earth – Whereas the scope of Isa 45:22 is ‘all the ends of the earth’, here it is even wider, encompassing the whole of the universe, including all angels and demons, as well as all human beings.
The mention of the three spheres of the universe reflects ancient thinking about the structure of the cosmos. ‘Under the earth’ translates ‘katachthoniōn‘, ‘the underworld’.
Lamoureux (Four Views on the Historical Adam), says, ‘Some attempt to write off this reference to the 3-tier universe as “poetic” because it appears in a hymn. However, this argument is based on the popular idea that poetry only deals with figurative language. The proper definition of poetry refers simply to structured writing. Poetry is not limited to figurative language because it can refer to physical reality. For example, the psalms are poetically structured, and Psalm 148: 3 states, “Praise him [the Lord], sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.” No one today writes off the existence of the sun, moon, and stars in this verse because it is in a poetic format.’
There is an allusion here to Isa 45:23.
‘Christ’s divinity will someday be known by all. These verses are probably from a hymn sung by the early Christian church. The passage holds many parallels to the prophecy of the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. As a hymn, it was not meant to be a complete statement about the nature and work of Christ. Several key characteristics of Jesus Christ, however, are praised in this passage: (1) Christ has always existed with God; (2) Christ is equal to God because he is God; Jn 1:1 ff Col 1:15-19 (3) although Christ is God, he became a man in order to fulfill God’s plan of salvation for all people; (4) Christ did not just have the appearance of being a man-he actually became human to identify with our sins; (5) Christ voluntarily laid aside his divine rights and privileges out of love for his Father; (6) Christ died on the cross for our sins so we wouldn’t have to face eternal death; (7) God glorified Christ because of his obedience; (8) God raised Christ to his original position at the Father’s right hand, where he will reign forever as our Lord and Judge. How can we do anything less than praise Christ as our Lord and dedicate ourselves to his service!’ (HBA)
Lights in the World
2:12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 2:13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort—for the sake of his good pleasure—is God.
Therefore – The apostle resumes the exhortation of Phil 2:1-5, now reinforced by the Christ-hymn of vv6-11. This applicatory section (vv12-18) contains three sentences (2 verses per sentence), amounting to a threefold appeal concerning (a) obedience, 12f; (b) character, 14f; (c) testimony, 15f.
As you have always obeyed – The obedience of Christ has just been emphasised. Obedience, though not highly valued in our own anti-authoritarian culture, is in fact a Christ-like quality. Their obedience was not so much to Paul, but to Christ himself, of whom Paul was an apostle. As an apostle, he was, like the Jewish shaliach, a duly accredited messenger. And, so long as he kept within the terms of his commission, he spoke with the authority of the person who sent him. “A man’s shaliach is as himself.” (Babylonian Talmud, cited by Bruce)
Work out your salvation – in other words, ‘out-work’ it. ‘In Paul’s day this expression was used for “working a mine,” that is, getting out of the mine all the valuable ore possible; or “working a field” so as to get the greatest harvest possible. The purpose God wants us to achieve is Christlikeness, “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom 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.’ (Wiersbe)
‘Paul is not urging each member of the church to keep working at his or her personal salvation; he is thinking of the health and well-being of the church as a whole.’ (Bruce)
‘Work out here has the sense of bringing to completion. It is not a matter of working for salvation. We could never do that. The very word salvation (which means ‘rescue’) signifies that we cannot save ourselves, (cf. Jn 15:4-5; 1 Cor 15:10; Eph 2:5,8) but we can and must live lives that show God’s saving power that we have made our own.’ (NBC)
With fear and trembling – Something of a Pauline figure of speech. ‘In 1 Cor 2:3 it is used for the misgivings with which Paul first came to Corinth, having been expelled from one Macedonian city after another; in 2 Cor 7:15 it is used for the trepidation with which the Corinthian Christians greeted Paul’s envoy Titus, so soon after they had been taken to task in the apostle’s severe letter; in Eph 6:5 it is used for the sense of reverence and duty toward Christ that should motivate Christian slaves to obey their pagan masters.’ (Bruce) Paul is by no means recommending slavish terror, (cf. Rom 8:15) but rather the conscientiousness that comes from an awareness of doing everying under the unsleeping eye of the living God. If pagans can be aware that God is present with his people, (1 Cor 14:25) how much more should we ourselves be aware of it?
This verse, says Packer, captures the essence of Christian holiness, which is ‘the active expression of our knowledge of the grace that separated us sinners to God through Christ our Savior and is now transforming us into Christ’s image…by our obedience to God’s revealed commands we “work out” (actualize and express) the salvation that God has wrought in us, doing so “with fear and trembling,” that is, not panic and fright, but reverent awe at what God is up to in our lives as he works within us by his Spirit to make us will and work for his good pleasure.’ (Keep in Step With The Spirit, 2nd ed.)
This verse is best understood when viewed in its context. ‘Paul calls his readers to unity in their common life, to be achieved through humble other-directedness, (Php 2:1-4) motivated by the example of Christ’s humiliation and utter self-giving. (Php 2:5-11) It is this work of Christ which for Paul is the basis (“therefore”) of the imperative “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Php 2:12) The salvation which comes to us through Christ’s “obedience to death” (Php 2:8) is to be “incarnated,” implemented and worked out, within the context of our relationships with each other. The motivation for this “outworking” is “fear and trembling,” not in the sense of “being afraid of,” but rather in the sense of “awe,” namely, the “awe” which comes when we contemplate God’s work of “amazing grace” in Christ.’ (HSB)
Fee has some characteristically vigorous comments about the controversy that has raged in the past over this verse. ‘The context makes it clear that this is not a soteriological text per se, dealing with “people getting saved” or “saved people persevering.” Rather it is an ethical text, dealing with “how saved people live out their salvation” in the context of the believing community and the world. What Paul is referring to, therefore, is the present “outworking” of the eschatological salvation within the believing community in Philippi. At issue is “obedience,” pure and simple”], which in this case is defined as their “working or carrying out in their corporate life the salvation that God has graciously given them.”‘
What Paul has just said, in v12, is open to misunderstanding, then as now. Lest they think that their obedience is a completely human-wrought thing, he encourages them by saying that God himself is at work, effective their obedience for his own good pleasure.
It is God who works in you – Gk. energein (twice in this verse). Paul often uses this verb to express the effectiveness of God’s power. ‘Salvation is not something we possess. It is rather a relationship in which we stand. And within that relationship, we become partakers of God’s Spirit. Thus Christian action is never “our work;” it is always the outgrowth of a dynamic relationship, whose author and completer is God.’ (HSB)
According to his good purpose – lit. ‘for the good pleasure’. It is not stated specifically whose ‘good pleasure’ is meant, but ‘God’ is implied.
2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 2:15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 2:16 by holding on to the word of life so that on the day of Christ I will have a reason to boast that I did not run in vain nor labor in vain.
Bruce summarises vv14-16 as follows: ‘The Philippian’s obedience, the working out of their salvation, depended very largely on the maintenance of love and harmony within their community. If love and harmony were maintained, their witness in the pagan environment would be effective, and Paul could look forward with confidence to the time when he would be called upon the render an account of hi stewardship in respect to them.’
Do everything without complaining or arguing – In contrast to the Israelites of old, when they complained about their hardships in the wilderness, Nu 11:1-6; 14:1-4; 20:2; 21:4f; see also Moses descriptions of the people, Deut 32:5 (cf. v15 below); Deut 32:20; again, see what Paul says about their punishment for such complaining, 1 Cor 10:10.
So that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault – This expression is very similar to that of Christ’s in Mt 5:45.
In a crooked and depraved generation – we are not to imbibe the attitudes and behaviours of the surrounding pagan culture, but rather act as salt in the world, cf. Mt 5:13,45,48.
Followers of Christ are not only like salt, but also like light, cf. Mt 5:14-16. Paul picks up this idea by saying that effective Christians shine like stars in the (dark) universe. As luminaries, were do not shine for our own sake, but in order to provide light for the world.
The Christian message is called the word of life because it proclaims new life in Christ. See Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; (Hab 2:4); Acts 5:20; Rom 6:23.
That I may boast on the day of Christ – Paul knows that his ministry will be reviewed and evaluated on the last day. Indeed, he was less concerned about human evaluations, because he knew the Lord will judge him, 1 Cor 4:3f. See also 1 Thess 2:19.
2:17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice together with all of you. 2:18 And in the same way you also should be glad and rejoice together with me.
Paul hopes for a favourable verdict, and for his life to be spared. However, he might be sentenced to death. ‘When a sacrifice, such as a burnt offering with its accompanying cereal offering, was presented in the temple at Jerusalem, a drink-offering or libation of wine or olive oil might be poured over it or beside it. This was added last, and completed the sacrifice.’ (Bruce) Paul will be content if his life is to be poured out as such a drink offering on the sacrifice that their faith offers to God.
If I am being poured out – Which possibility has in 2 Tim 4:6 become an imminent certainty.
Models for Ministry
2:19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be encouraged by hearing news about you. 2:20 For there is no one here like him who will readily demonstrate his deep concern for you. 2:21 Others are busy with their own concerns, not those of Jesus Christ. 2:22 But you know his qualifications, that like a son working with his father, he served with me in advancing the gospel. 2:23 So I hope to send him as soon as I know more about my situation, 2:24 though I am confident in the Lord that I too will be coming to see you soon.
I hope in the Lord Jesus – This may have the same ‘incorporative’ force as Php 1:14,26. The hopes and plans of Paul and Timothy fall within the sphere of their shared life in Christ. (Bruce)
‘The Christian is a part of Christ, a member of his body. His every thought and word and deed proceeds from Christ, as the centre of volition. Thus he loves in the Lord, he hopes in the Lord, he boasts in the Lord, he labours in the Lord, etc. He has one guiding principles in acting and in forbearing to act, only in the Lord, 1 Cor 7:39.’ (Lightfoot, quoted by Wilson)
‘Part of the reason why Paul describes Timothy and Epaphroditus at the end of chapter 2, and is so self-revealing about his own motives and habits in chapter 3, is that he is concerned to establish and reinforce good models. He is not stooping to cheap flattery of his colleagues, nor is he indulging in self-congratulation. His aim is to provide clear Christian examples that younger and less-experienced Christians ought to emulate. For if they do not have such models, or if they are not encouraged to follow them, they are likely to follow poor or misleading or even dangerous examples.’ (Carson)
Motyer compares the beginning of this chapter, with its deep and reverent picture of Christ, with the close, with its homely portrait of three followers of Christ (Timothy, Epaphroditus and, by implication, Paul himself). Motyer adds that the two parts of the chapter are not, however, unrelated. ‘Christ so consecrated himself in obedient service to God that he poured himself out for the benefit of others. They so consecrated themselves to God that self was subdued in the service of other Christians. He is the Christian’s Model. They are model Christians.’
Receive news about you – The same phrase as in Php 1:27. Paul is not thinking about news in general, but news in connection with what he has spelled out in Php 1:27-2:18.
I have no one else like him – or, ‘I have no one so like-minded as me’. In either case, Paul is commending Timothy because no-one else around him ‘could quite do what he expected of Timothy’ (Martin).
In this, Timothy has a Christlike attitude, for though Christ was equal with God, he did not think of that equality as something to be clung to, but instead made himself a servant.
As Fee says, ‘What he says about Timothy…sounds so much like his appeal to them in v3f, one must assume this to be intentional, and for their sakes.’
Motyer sees in this passage three features of Paul’s attitude towards other Christians. First, he saw them as worthy of the best. He regarded Timothy, v20 and Epaphroditus, v25, as the best, v20, yet he was willing to send them to Philippi. In this Paul was following Christ, who possessed the glories of heaven, yet gave them up for the love of others, 2 Cor 8:9. Second, other Christians called forth his warm affection and ungrudging praise. Timothy was like a son to him, v22, and Epaphroditus was one who death would have been almost unbearable to him, v27. This is a standing rebuke to our lukewarm attitude towards our Christian brothers and sisters. Thirdly, other Christians were the object of his personal concern. In sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi he himself would be cheered and encouraged by their rejoicing, v28.
‘Timothy was of a choice and excellent spirit that naturally cared for the Churches’ welfare; few such now-a-days.’ (Trapp, quoted by Wilson)
Everyone looks out for his own interests – Timothy excluded, of course. Cf. Php 2:4, which implies that the same self-centredness was affecting both groups of Christians.
Fee argues that Paul is not contrasting Timothy with others who might have been sent instead of him, but with certain others who came to Paul’s mind as he was writing. Fee says that Paul can hardly have spoken so disparagingly of those whom he elsewhere calls ‘brothers’, Php 4:21.
Not those of Jesus Christ – What does it mean to look out for the interests of Jesus Christ?
As a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel – Just as, in the ancient world, a son would follow learn his trade from watching his father, so Timothy has learned his skills in Christian ministry from Paul.
‘The slight want of correspondence between the two parts of the sentence, reflects accurately the twofold relation between the men. To one another, they were “as child to father;” to God, they were alike servants, one “serving with” the other’ (Gwynn, quoted by Wilson).
See 1 Cor 4:14,15,17; Phm 1:10; Gal 4:19; 1 Thess 2:11.
He has served with me – lit., ‘served as a slave’. The parallelism almost requires Paul to say, ‘as a son with his father he has served me.’ But Paul does not say that: Timothy has served with him in the work of the gospel.
Martin points out that the Philippians would be aware of how Paul and Timothy had come to their city. Acts 16:3 17:14 indicate Timothy’s presence in Paul’s 2nd journey. Thus, ‘they were no strangers to his excellence – it had been tested during previous visits.’ (Eadie)
Motyer says that the introduction of the idea of ‘slavery’ sums up Paul’s attitude to Christ. For one things, Paul was totally submissive to Christ in the Lord’s ordering of his life, v19, 24. He might have thought his future lay in the hands of the Roman court, or in his status as a Roman citizen. But no: ‘from the Roman, court, he appeals away to the highest court of all, the throne of God; from any assertion of personal prestige, he resigns to the authority of his Lord. Paul’s doctrine taught him that a sovereign God ruled all things…Paul’s practice was to accept without question or rebellion what the Lord ordained’. For another thing, Paul was submissive to the Lord in the matter of service. Submission to Christ does not imply inactivity, but complete obedience. And in this he is following Christ himself, v7.
Because Timothy has learned his ‘trade’ from Paul, as a son learns from his father, therefore Paul is happy to send Timothy to the Philippians as his forerunner.
As soon as I see how things go with me – That is, as soon as Paul sees how his present imprisonment and trial turn out. He needs Timothy by his side for the moment, but soon hopes to send him with news of his condemnation or acquittal.
Notice that Paul does not presume to know how the future will turn out for him. He hopes to be spared for further Christian service. He knows that he might be condemned. But he avoids the wishful thinking that says, “I know it will turn out just as we hope, I just know it will.” There are few things more damaging for Christians than entertaining unwarranted hopes that are dashed.
This is sometimes referred to as the ‘apostolic parousia’, already mentioned or hinted at in Php 1:8,27; 2:12.
Although Paul is prepared for an unfavourable verdict, Php 2:17, he hopes to be acquitted and released for further service.
Looking back over what Paul says about Timothy, we are impressed by how Timothy put the interests of others, and especially of Christ and the gospel above his own interests. ‘One must “look out for number one,” after all. Agreed, as long as one recognises the cross to dictate that “number one” is one’s neighbour and not oneself.’ (Fee)
2:25 But for now I have considered it necessary to send Epaphroditus to you. For he is my brother, coworker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to me in my need. 2:26 Indeed, he greatly missed all of you and was distressed because you heard that he had been ill. 2:27 In fact he became so ill that he nearly died. But God showed mercy to him—and not to him only, but also to me—so that I would not have grief on top of grief. 2:28 Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you can rejoice and I can be free from anxiety. 2:29 So welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor people like him, 2:30 since it was because of the work of Christ that he almost died. He risked his life so that he could make up for your inability to serve me.
Timothy will not be sent quite yet. But Paul has thought it ‘necessary’ for Epaphroditus to return now, before the outcome of Paul’s trial is known, and he will now go on to explain why.
This paragraph about Epaphroditus takes the form of a commendation. Such would often be used in the Greco-Roman world to introduce the bearer of a letter. Even though Epaphroditus was well known to the Philippians, Paul wants them to know about his long absence and recovery from illness, and to greet him with honour. (Fee)
Paul’s commendation of Epaphroditus contains three elements that describe his relationship to the apostle, and two that describe his relationship to the Philippians.
I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus – It seems that Epaphroditus had come from Philippi with the financial gift to the apostle, Php 4:10,14-18. But now Paul wants to send him back, and this is what Epaphroditus wants too.
My brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier – ‘My brother in the faith, my fellow-worker in preaching, my fellow-soldier in adversity.’ (Anselm) Lightfoot discerns an ascending scale: ‘common sympathy, common work, common danger and toil and suffering.’
Fellow worker – synergos.
Fellow soldier – Found only here and in Phm 1:2 in Paul. This imagery was perhaps suggested by Paul’s own circumstances, (see the reference to the Praetorian Guard, Php 1:13), or Philippi’s origins as a Roman military colony. ‘With reference to Epaphroditus, the magery is that of a wounded comrade-in-arms, who is being sent back home for rest.’
Messenger – Gk. apostolos. He had been sent by the Philippians to Paul, in order to take care of his needs. ‘As the “apostle” or appointed delegate of the Philippian church, cf 2 Cor 8:23, Epaphroditus was sent to perform a sacrificial service for Paul by presenting their gift of money, Php 4:18 and ministering to his needs in prison on their behalf, Php 2:30.’ (Wilson)
Whom you sent to take care of my needs – lit. ‘to minister (leitourgos) to my needs’. This relates to the way in which the Philippian’s gift ‘had helped the service of the gospel and had been part of the church’s “sacrificial offering” to God and for the apostle’s need, Php 4:16-19 Rom 12:13.’ (Martin)
Prisoners were not fed and clothed by the state. These things would have to be provided by family and friends. The Philippians have performed a sacrificial service to God in sending Epaphroditus with the gift necessary to support Paul in prison.
The description of Epaphroditus as ‘brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier’ marks him out as a man of harmonious disposition. ‘Had he been a quarrelsome, nagging, restless person, ready to pick out faults and quick to criticise, he might still, in Christian charity, have been called a worker, and a soldier, but he would not have been awarded a bar in his medal, ‘fellow worker and fellow soldier’ (Motyer).
‘Behind and throughout this description of Epaphoditus’ great record of devotion to others, there is seen his fundamental consecration to the Lord Jesus. In Christian service he was no passenger, but a worker and a soldier, emphasising now the nouns themselves rather than the prefixes to them. Here the related ideas of effort, endurance, and loyalty are grouped together: the effort of Christian work; the endurance to keep it up and to fight to the end; the loyalty of the good soldier who keeps himself free from worldly entanglements in order to please him who called him as a soldier, 2 Tim 2:3-4.’ (Motyer)
He…is distressed because you heard he was ill – ‘This is a remarkable assessment. Epaphroditus was not distressed because he was ill, but because he knew that by now his Philippian brothers and sisters in Christ had heard he was ill. Epaphroditus was distressed because he feared his fellow believers would be distressed on his account.’ (Carson)
A possible scenario is that Epaphroditus set off from Philippi with travelling companions (he was, after all, carrying a considerable amount of money). Epaphroditus became ill en route, and one of his companions returned to Philippi with that news (which is how Epaphroditus knew they knew). Epaphroditus and the others completed their journey, even though this put his life at risk. (Fee)
God had mercy on him – Fee says that few people in ancient times recovered from near-fatal illness. It is not merely, then, that in God’s good mercy Epaphroditus got better, but that the Lord had a direct hand in it, his recovery being due to ‘gifts of healings’, 1 Cor 12:9,28,30. Other commentators, such as Hendriksen, are inclined to doubt that Paul implies any miraculous healing here. We cannot be certain either way.
To spare me sorrow upon sorrow – Presumably, Paul means that Epaphroditus’ death would have been one more burden on top of a mountain of suffering. This mention of sorrow is significant in a letter so full of joy. ‘Joy does not mean the absence of sorrow, but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it’ (Fee).
So that when you see him again you may be glad – or, ‘so that when you see him you may again be glad.’
And I may have less anxiety – ‘The original sorrow, which still remains his portion, will be lessened by sympathy with the Philippians’ joy at having Epaphroditus home again and in good health.’ (Plummer, quoted by Wilson)
On sharing the joys and sorrows of others, see Rom 12:15.
Welcome him in the Lord – The qualifier, ‘in the Lord’, is typical for this letter. ‘It probably reflects the fact that their common existence, theirs and Epaphroditus’s, is predicated on the fact that together they are “in the Lord,” meaning they belong to him.’ (Fee)
Honour men like him – This may be taken as inclusive (‘honour people like him’) – so TNIV, GNB, Fee. People like Epaphroditus (and Timothy and Paul) are to be held in high esteem, and valued.
He almost died – The underlying phrase – ‘unto death’ – is used elsewhere in Paul only in Php 2:8 (of Christ’s death on the cross).
Risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me A plausible scenario is that Epaphroditus had been taken ill enroute to Rome, but had pressed on regardless out of commitment to those who had sent him and the one to whom he had been sent. In bringing the gift to Paul, Epaphroditus was completing the good work that the Philippians had begun in sending Epaphroditus with the gift. As Vincent puts it, ‘the expression is complimentary and affectionate, to the effect that all that was wanting in the matter of their service was their ministration in person, which was supplied by Epaphroditus.’
‘Risking’, parabaleusamenos, is a gambling term. He had staked his life for the service of Christ.
The use of the word ‘help’ is a little surprising. It is normally used for some religious service. This raises the question of what we mean by ‘worship’. ‘When people ask what worship is, charismatics tend to begin with 1 Cor 12 and 14, musicians tend to begin with David’s choirs, sacramentalists begin with 1 Cor 11 and other references to the Lord’s Supper, and New Testament specialists often begin by trying to identify hymn fragments in the New Testament…Few have tried to construct a genuinely biblical theology of worship.’ (Carson)
‘A passage like this ought to serve as a constant reminder to all of us (scholar, pastor, student of the Bible) that the NT was written in the context of real people in a very real world. Biblical texts are too often the scholar’s playground and the believer’s rule book, without adequate appreciation for the truly human nature of these texts – texts written by one whose speech was ever informed by his theology, but who expressed that theology at a very personal and practical level. Without being maudlin or saccharine one may rightly note that Paul lived as a believer in a world surrounded by friends, that those friends brought him joy, and that the untimely death of such friends would have been for him immeasurable grief. Hence the sense of deep relief at the experience of God’s mercy is worth noting. That Epaphroditus’ illness was itself the direct result of his “risking his life” for the sake of the work of Christ is also worth noting, especially in a culture where taking risks is primarily related to “business ventures,” rather than to genuinely personal risks related to one’s love for Christ and for his people.’ (Fee)