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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Philippians 2

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Therefore if there is any exhortation (encouragement, advocacy) in Christ, if any consolation (encouragement) of love, if any sharing in common in and with the Spirit (koinonia of the Spirit, participation in the Spirit), if any tender mercies and compassions,’

The initial ‘therefore’ here looks back to Philippians 1:27-30. It is because they have been called on to live lives worthy of citizens of Heaven and lives worthy of the Gospel; because they have been called on to stand firm in one Spirit and strive together for the faith of the Gospel; and because they have been called on to suffer for the sake of Christ, that they are now to consider what resources and spur they have in Christ and the Holy Spirit in order to ensure that they live in full oneness and love together. Note the emphasis on ‘the Gospel’, which is of course the Good News of salvation through Christ crucified and risen. The ‘if’ is not an expression of doubt, but rather one of certainty. It assumes the addition of the words ‘as is the case’. What then are those resources?

We note first that there are three grounds of comfort and strengthening mentioned. These are ‘in Christ’, ‘of love’ and ‘of the Spirit’. Some therefore see ‘of love’ as referring to the love of the Father, thus indicating reference here to the triune God (compare 2 Corinthians 12:14 where similar ideas are also in mind). But while that could be so it is not necessarily so here. The love could equally be the love of Christ (compare Ephesians 3:19). Others have seen ‘of love’ as having in mind the love that was being experienced among them because of their love for Christ, which itself was an encouragement to oneness, as pointing to the spur of Paul’s love for them, but its placement between Christ and the Spirit suggests the love of God and of Christ is primarily in mind.

The fourth phrase, which mentions no grounds, may then be seen as incorporating the other three, summing up the whole. Thus we have four incentives to unity described:

1) ‘If there is any paraklesis (comfort, exhortation, encouragement, advocacy on the basis of the cross) in Christ’.

2) ‘If there is any paramuthion (encouragement, exhortation, comfort) of love’.

3) ‘If there is any sharing in common (koinonia) of the Spirit’.

4) ‘If there are any tender mercies or compassions’.

Different interpreters have connected these four statements in different ways. Some connect the first two together (pointing out that the meanings of paraklesis and paramuthion tend to overlap), although it could be argued that they are then almost simply saying the same thing. They then also take the last two together. Some connect 1). with 3). as both mentioning a member of the Godhead, and 2). with 4). as centring on love and compassion. Still others see the first three as referring to different aspects of the Godhead, with the overall impression being summed up more generally in 4).

With this in mind we will first consider the three incentives described (Christ, love and the Spirit), as connected with the three ‘grounds for action’, separately.

1). The first incentive or spur is the ‘paraklesis in Christ’. The idea behind the verb parakaleo is of someone ‘coming alongside to help’. Thus in general Greek paraklesis regularly indicates ‘exhortation’ by someone who is seeking to help, as it sometimes also does in the New Testament. On the other hand in Paul’s more common usage (and in the translation of the Hebrew for ‘comfort’ in LXX) the word indicates ‘comfort’ or ‘consolation’ or ‘strengthening’ resulting from something or someone that comes alongside to comfort or strengthen. However there is a third emphasis in 1 John 2:1 which should not be overlooked. There the noun parakletos refers to ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ seen as acting as a mediator and ‘advocate’ (parakletos) in becoming ‘the propitiation for our sins’, and this idea may well have already been known to Paul. It would certainly fit the context here, for not only would Christ’s encouragement necessarily include thoughts of the cross (John 17:20-21 was itself in the context of the cross), but the very idea is present in Philippians 2:6-8. Furthermore we should note that the idea of sacrifice and offering certainly underlies Paul’s thinking in Philippians (Philippians 2:17; Philippians 4:18).

So the thought may be:

a). That the basis of their action should be Christ’s exhortation as found for example in John 17:20-21 where He prays for His people to be one.

b). That the basis of their action should be Christ’s comforting and strengthening of them (‘that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith’ - Ephesians 3:17) along with the Holy Spirit ‘the Comforter’ (John 14:16, note that He is ‘another Comforter’ acting on behalf of Jesus the Comforter).

c). That the basis of their action should be their response when considering His intervention on their behalf through the cross (Philippians 2:5-7; compare 1 John 2:1). A similar idea of incentive is reflected in the words of the hymn, ‘when I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride’. There too we see the paraklesis of Christ.

These interpretations are, of course, not necessarily exclusive of each other. The word paraklesis may well have been intended to have a number of nuances, and the cross was so central to the Gospel that the cost paid in order to make His actions possible would hardly at any stage be overlooked, especially as it was clearly in Paul’s mind in what follows.

Whichever way we interpret it the impact is ‘in Christ (‘en Christow’). This well known phrase regularly indicates Christ as the sphere in which they operate, as though they were surrounded and made one by the security and power of His presence, and were made one with Him (united with His resurrection body). But here it may well further indicate ‘by Christ’, seeing Him as the One Who Himself gives such exhortation, encouragement, and strengthening and makes such a sacrificial offering. In other words, because they are ‘in Christ’ their encouragement, etc. comes from Christ, and is therefore ‘by Christ’. What greater spur to unity could there be than this, to know that we are made one ‘in Christ’, and to know that He is acting to make us one through the cross, and through the price that He paid in order that it might be so (Ephesians 2:14)?

2). The second incentive or spur is ‘the encouragement of love’. This raises the question as to whose love is meant. Some see it as simply advancing a little on the first statement and as drawing specific attention to ‘the love’ of Christ. In other words it is not only to be seen as a reminder that Christ dwells in their hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:17) but also as a reminder to them of the vastness of ‘the love of Christ which passes knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:19). Others see it as referring specifically to the love of the Father (‘see what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us’ - 1 John 3:1). This would bring together in the verse the whole triunity of God (in Christ, the Father’s love, of the Spirit) as found also in 2 Corinthians 12:14; Matthew 28:19. Still others see it as referring to the love that is jointly experienced among them because they together loved God (‘we love, because He first loved us’ - 1 John 4:19-20). While others see it as referring to Paul’s own love for the Philippians.

Again we need not necessarily totally distinguish. The love of Christ is one with the love of the Father, and both are freely bestowed upon us if we are His. Paul may thus have had both in mind. Further, the consciousness of Their love then brings us within the sphere of absolute love with the consequence that we love one another (‘we love because He first loved us’ - 1 John 4:19-20). It may then be this overall love that is being seen as the encouragement towards oneness of heart, and oneness of spirit and action, among His people. However, the placement of this phrase between reference to Christ and reference to the Spirit does suggest that we are to see the love of God and of Christ as paramount in his thinking. After all Paul was hardly likely to have seen his own love, or even the love of God’s people, as fittingly coming between ‘paraklesis in Christ’ and ‘participation of the Spirit’.

3). The third incentive or spur is ‘if there be any koinonia of the Spirit.’ The word koinonia has primarily within it the thought of ‘sharing in common’. This being so the idea here is of the sharing in common which results from the sharing of the experience and activity of the one Spirit. Thus God’s people are seen as one because they have all been ‘drenched in/by one Spirit ’ (1 Corinthians 12:13) thereby becoming united with and in Christ’s own body. Some thus translate as ‘if there be any joint participation in the Spirit’. In this case their oneness results from their joint participation in the Spirit.

The emphasis, however, is not to be seen as on the koinonia but on the activity of the one Spirit Who causes it to occur. It is not their ‘fellowship with one another’ that is primarily in mind, but their joint ‘participation with the Spirit’. In other words we are made one because we have all experienced the one Spirit. And Paul’s point is therefore that this should be a further spur to practical, outworked unity.

4). The fourth incentive or spur is ‘If there are any tender mercies (literally ‘bowels’) or compassions’. Here the use of the plural without reference to any particular source may well signify that it is intended to encompass all that has been in mind in the first three, the love and activity of Christ, the love and activity of the Father, and the love and activity of the Holy Spirit, and all other loves besides. In other words it is intended to encompasses every aspect of God’s unmerited favour revealed in so many ways towards us.

The basic meaning of the word translated ‘tender mercies’ is ‘bowels’. This was because emotions such as love and compassion were seen by the ancients as coming from the bowels. Here therefore the word ‘bowels’ indicates such tender mercies as springing forth from the very ‘heart’ of God. We may therefore sum up the totality of the incentives mentioned in this verse in terms of the all-inclusive love of God revealed in the redeeming activity and love of the Saviour, the all-embracing love of the Father, and the active and uniting love of the Holy Spirit. These are to be our spurs to unity and oneness of heart and mind.


Verses 1-4

The Call To Unity (Philippians 2:1-4).

In the light of the example of Christ into which they are to enter in their minds (‘let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ - Philippians 2:5), and of the unifying power of love, and of the working of the one Holy Spirit, Paul calls on the Philippian Christians themselves to be fully one, ‘being of one accord and having one mind’, and he desires that that one mind be a mind that partakes in Christ’s mind as He walked in the pathway of total unselfishness and humility. Like Him they are not to be concerned for their own position or status or advancement, but rather to be concerned only with bringing the maximum benefit to their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their ambition was to be that of total selflessness, being centred on the good of the whole, whatever self-sacrifice that involved. Their ambition was to be that they might be concerned ‘only for the things of others’.

He was not, of course, suggesting that they neglect their own spiritual lives. Indeed he had already spoken about that in Philippians 1:27-30. Rather he was pointing out that if they were truly following the requirements he had laid down their thoughts would be centred, first on Christ and on the Holy Spirit, and then on the desire for the good of others which was central to Christ’s own ministry.

Analysis.

a If there is therefore any encouragement (exhortation, advocacy, comfort) in Christ (Philippians 2:1 a).

b If any consolation (encouragement, exhortation) of love (Philippians 2:1 b).

c If any sharing in common with the Spirit (Philippians 2:1 c).

d If any tender mercies and compassions (Philippians 2:1 d).

c Make full my joy, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:2).

b Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself (Philippians 2:3).

a Not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others (Philippians 2:4).

Note that in ‘a’ the encouragement or comfort resulting from being ‘in Christ’ (the One Who is the exemplar of self-emptying and sacrifice - Philippians 2:6-7), is in the parallel to result in total selflessness. In ‘b’ the encouragement of the love of Christ (or of God) is in the parallel to encourage lowliness of mind, and lack of love for themselves as they rather love others. In ‘c’ participating together in the one Spirit is, in the parallel, to result in oneness of mind among themselves. In ‘d’, and centrally, we have the full abundance of tender mercies and compassions, both Christ’s and theirs, which encompass the whole.


Verses 1-15

The Call To Unity And Love In The Way That Had Been Exemplified By Jesus Christ Himself And Which God Will Work Within Them As They Give Attention To Experiencing Their Salvation To The Full (Philippians 2:1-15).

Along with the call to live worthily of Christ, this call to unity and love now presented pervades the whole letter (Philippians 1:9-10; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1-4; Philippians 2:14; Philippians 4:2-3), although without dominating it. As with Jesus Himself in His final words before His death (John 13:14; John 13:34-35; John 15:12; John 15:17; John 17:21) Paul was concerned that the love that Christians had for one another would be the distinguishing mark of the difference between the Kingly Rule of God and the ever-warring kingdoms of the world. And he saw that this would only be possible when the lesson and mind-set of Christ’s self-humiliation, death, resurrection and exaltation was brought home to his readers as both the example and mainspring of their salvation. Their oneness was to demonstrate the saving work of Christ (‘advocacy in Christ’), their awareness of the love of God and of Christ (‘the encouragement of love’), and the effective working of the Holy Spirit (‘sharing in common with the Holy Spirit’).

Analysis.

a If there is therefore any exhortation (encouragement, advocacy) in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any sharing in common with the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind (Philippians 2:1-2).

b Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself, not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others (Philippians 2:3-4).

c Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped (Philippians 2:5-6).

d But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7).

e And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8).

d For which reason also God highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name (Philippians 2:9).

c That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11).

b So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works within you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

a Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14-15).

We have seen above in the larger analysis how these parallels fit each other, commencing and ending in ‘a’ with the call to unity and oneness, continuing in ‘b’ with the request that they work at humility and submission to one another, knowing in the parallel that God will work it within them, and in ‘c’ onwards making central to His request the self-humiliation, suffering and exaltation of Jesus Christ Who is to be their perfect and effective exemplar (‘c’ to ‘e’), and is to be the One into Whose mind they are to enter. Thus the power that is at work within them bringing about this oneness is to be the very power that was exerted in the incarnation, death, and subsequent resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ applied to them by God, something which Paul will further expand on in Philippians 3:7-14 where he will make clear precisely why he has used this illustration in Philippians 2:5-11. For a further indication of its significance see Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10. Christ was not only to be the example, but also through His saving activity, the very powerhouse that would effect their salvation (see Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8:29-30; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 1:3-14; Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10; etc) as their minds were set on Him.


Verse 2

‘Make full my joy, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind,’

The incentives mentioned are intended to persuade them to be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind’. And if they succeed Paul says that it will fill his cup of joy to overflowing. Like Jesus Paul recognised that ‘by this will all men know that you are His disciples in that you love one another’ (John 13:35), and that was why he longed for it, and why it would fill him with joy. There is indeed no finer incentive towards unity than a recognition that we are all equally made one with Christ through His cross, that we are all caught up in the same love of God and of Christ, and that we all participate in the one Spirit. It is contemplation of these facts, combined with the work of the Holy Spirit within, and Christ’s own exhortations to a unity of love (John 13:34-35; John 15:12), that stirs up within us true oneness of spirit. But it cannot in the end just be manufactured by an act of will (although we should certainly seek to play our part). It must rather spring up from the Spirit’s activity within, for the one mind that they are to have is described in Philippians 2:5-11, and that can only result from the work of the Spirit giving them the mind of the Spirit, the mind of Christ. We fool ourselves if we think that we can walk that way without Him (see Philippians 3:4-14).

It is salutary here to consider the fact that what Paul describes here is still the basis on which God’s people could come together in unity. It indicates that if we would only concentrate our thinking on our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and Who He is and what He has done for us, and in walking in His steps, we would recognise that all else is secondary, (thus avoiding emphasis on the details of eschatology, types of ministry, baptism, and what we see as unique experiences of the Holy Spirit; etc). Then we too would be able to come together with one mind, that of serving Christ and each other in the way described in Philippians 2:5-11, because our concentration would be on our oneness in Christ and in the Spirit. It would result in a genuine love for one another. Instead we ignore Paul’s (and Christ’s) injunctions here and put our emphasis on fighting over secondary matters, bristling at each other over the ramparts of our folly. As Paul would say, ‘my brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be’. We need to recognise that when we do this we are not fighting for God’s truth but being deliberately disobedient towards God. According to Jesus, genuine central truth produces unity (John 17:16-22). It is secondary ideas, when we take our eyes off the Christ of Philippians 2:5-11, that result in disunity.


Verse 3

‘Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself,’

Here indeed is the heart of the matter, ‘faction’ and ‘vainglory’ (empty glory). We need to recognise that raising points of disagreement and having a high opinion of ourselves, and of our own ideas and interpretations, is acting contrary to God’s will and pleasure. What we should rather concentrate on is being lowly in mind, and counting others as better than ourselves, recognising that in eternity their interpretations may well be seen as equally valid (or invalid) as our own.

This will also result in our not seeking our own self-advancement, while always being ready to assist in any way, not in order to be praised, but so as to serve others. Many of the ills of the church through the ages were the result of men who thrust themselves into positions of authority in the church before they had developed sufficiently to be suitable for it. The consequence was that the church became man-ruled, rather then being ruled by the Holy Spirit. (Note how, as we have already seen, in the opening to the letter the leaders were seen as simply a part of the whole church, not as lords over it).

Being ‘lowly in mind’ (in Matthew 5:3 ‘poor in spirit’) was not something that the Greeks admired. Their view was that you were to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be trodden on. But the Christian distinguishes between standing up for the truth of the Gospel and standing up for oneself. In the one case he is valiant for truth. In the other his thought is always on what is for the benefit of the other, and not on what is for his own benefit, because he has the mind of Christ (see Matthew 11:28-30; Mark 10:45; Luke 22:27).


Verse 4

‘Not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.’

This is then summed up in terms of genuine consideration for others. Not as seen in a determination to make them ‘see the truth’ as we see it, but in a concern for their genuine welfare and growth in Christ. Our concern is not to be for ourselves but for others, and for their spiritual advancement. This will involve avoiding controversy, and going out of our way to be encouraging without ‘picking fault’, while at the same time genuinely seeking to help the weaker brother or sister. It includes the idea of having more admiration for their spiritual gifts, than we have for our own, and encouraging them to develop them. All this indeed is what was meant by living as citizens worthily of the Gospel of God (Philippians 1:27). It will now be exemplified in the One Who above all was concerned for the things of others.


Verse 5

‘Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,’

We may translate more literally, ‘Be thus minded (phroneite) in/among yourselves which also in Christ Jesus’. The thought here is not simply that they were to see what Jesus Christ did as an example which they were to follow, although it included that, but that they were to see it as something into which they were to actually enter by experience. This is made clear in Philippians 3:15 where Paul speaks of entering into the resurrection and suffering of Jesus Christ, and calls on them to be ‘thus minded’. This was thus a call to have the mind of Christ and as a result to set their minds so as to enter into His death and resurrection by experience, something which above all would foster oneness among them. We can compare how in Romans 8:5-6 Paul speaks of those who live according to the Spirit ashaving the mind of the Spirit, and adds that to have the mind of the Spirit is life and peace’, where the idea of having the mind of the Spirit is that they fully enter into the experience of the Spirit at work within them and thus let the Spirit be active through them. In consequence he could similarly say, ‘with the mind I serve the law of God’ (Romans 7:25), indicating that his mind, heart and will were continually set to do the will of God. In other words, with his mind he was committed to God’s principle of direction because he was in Christ, reckoning himself to be dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus Christ his Lord (Romans 6:11).

A further example of this can be found in Colossians 3:2-4 where Paul declared, ‘if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.Set your minds (phroneite) on things above, and not on things on the earth, for you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ Who is our life appears, than shall we also appear with Him in glory.’ Once again the thought was of entering by commitment and experience into the resurrection of Christ and its consequence, having first entered into His death. This was to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus.

Here then was the call to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24), in such a way as to be empowered by His resurrection life, after having submitted themselves to death with Him (compare Philippians 3:10; Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 2:20), the final consequence being that they would share the glory of Christ. Indeed as Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:10 makes clear, there was a sense in which they already shared in that glory, for in the spiritual realm (the heavenlies) they had already been raised and seated with Christ. But the assurance here was that one day it would come to full fruit in body as well as in spirit.


Verses 5-11

A Description Of The Pathway Of Humility And Selflessness Followed By Jesus Christ, And Its Final Glorious Consequence (Philippians 2:5-11).

Paul has previously emphasised ‘the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:5; Philippians 1:27 (twice)), but now he portrays it in all its fullness. It is that we can and should follow Jesus Christ in denying ourselves, taking up the cross and following Him (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34), entering personally into His humiliation and death, and subsequently into His resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). For we must not see in these words simply a call to see Christ as a glorious example. Rather they are a call to have the same mind-set of Christ in following Him fully into the full-time, unstinting service of God and men, through our own humiliation, death and resurrection in Christ. They are a commitment to total self-sacrifice in the name of Christ, through entering into His humiliation and death, which will result in new resurrection life and final glorification. They are a commitment to having ‘the mind of the Spirit’ (Romans 8:2-11). And that is that ‘If Christ dwells in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness’, something which will lead on to final resurrection (Romans 8:10-11).

This is stressed here in Philippians by the words, ‘Let this mind be in you ---’ or ‘Be minded in this way’. This is not just a call to consecration, it is a call to constant, unwavering consecration based on the cross. It is a call to enter into the experience of Jesus Christ Himself. It is a call to walk as He walked as we enter spiritually into His death and resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11; Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 2:20). And it begins with an emptying of ourselves in an act of total self-surrender to the will of God, so that we receive the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16), the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8:4-6; Romans 8:9-11).

Compare how ‘having the mind of the Spirit’ in Romans 8:4-6; Romans 8:9-11 involves having the Holy Spirit at work within us producing His mind within us. In the same way here having ‘the mind of Christ’ involves having Christ within us producing His mind within us as he walks the way of humility and the cross.

The background to this portrayal is found in those verses which speak of our personally and experientially entering into Christ’s death and resurrection. Consider, for example, Philippians 3:10-16; Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 2:1-10; 1 Peter 4:1-2. To enter into the mind of Christ is to ‘reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:11). Thereby we are both justified (reckoned as righteous) before God, and sanctified (set apart as holy that we might be made holy) by Him.

It is indeed significant that the greatest portrayal of the true Godhood and manhood of Christ to be found in Scripture (as found here in Philippians) is at the heart of such a call to surrender. It is a reminder that true Christian doctrine, while meanwhile being true in itself, is intended to affect the whole of our lives and to become a part of our living experience. Thus while we can see this as a great Christological statement, it would be a distortion of Paul’s purpose in stating it if we saw it only as that. It is rather also a call for all of us to ‘follow in His steps by full participation in the cross and resurrection’. We are to enter into Christ because He has entered into us. In approaching these verses many simply race on to consider what they tell us about our Lord Jesus Christ, ignoring the context. But it is very important to consider that the verses are equally intended to tell us what we ought to be. Thus every line should hammer its way into our hearts and our experience. It is not only describing the path taken by Christ, it is describing also the path that we must be determined to take from this moment on.

However, if we are to so apply it to ourselves, we must first have a thorough understanding of what it involved for Him, and we intend therefore first to examine what it tells us about Jesus Christ, before we then stress its application to ourselves. But in doing so we must urge that the reader does not overlook the main object of the passage.

Philippians 2:6-11 have been seen as an ancient creed which Paul either himself wrote for the churches, or which he took up from an already well-known creed and fashioned for his purpose. Further than that we cannot say. But there can be no doubt about its credal form and we may paraphrase it as follows;

“Who, essentially existing continually (huparchown) in the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of God,

Did not count the being on an equality with God a snatching (or ‘a thing to be grasped at’),

But emptied himself, taking the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of a servant,

Being made in the very likeness of men,

And being found as having a more temporary but real form (schema) as a man,

He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross.

For which reason also God highly exalted him,

And gave to him the name which is above every name,

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

Of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth,

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD,

To the glory of God the Father.

Our first question then must be, what does this tell us about the essential nature of Jesus Christ? As can be seen the creed divides into two parts, the first describes His deliberate taking of ‘the way down’ until He reaches the very lowest point of all at the cross. The second describes the resultant way up until He attains the pinnacle as LORD.

The first statement, “Essentially existing continually (huparchown) in the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of God”, makes clear His absolute total divinity. The present tense of the verb huparchown makes clear that His existence was a continual one, and was therefore seen as unrestricted by time, while in such a context huparchow can only refer to essential being. Compare its use in 1 Corinthians 11:7 where man ‘is essentially’ (huparchown) the image and glory of God, being that from the very beginning, whereas the woman ‘is derivably’ (estin) from the image of the man. Morphe thus indicates permanent essential form in contrast with temporary changing form (schema - Philippians 2:8). As men look at the morphe, they see the one who has that ‘morphe of God’ as being fully and permanently revealed by it. Morphe reveals the essence. No Greek words could have made Jesus’ divine nature more certain. It is a reminder of His words in John 17:5, ‘And now, O Father, glorify Me, with the glory which I had with you before the world was’. Of Him we can say on the basis of these words in Philippians, ‘From everlasting to everlasting, You are God’.

Elsewhere Paul describes this movement from His pre-incarnate state in terms of ‘being rich’ and ‘becoming poor’, when he declares, ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet He became poor, so that we through His poverty might be made rich’ (2 Corinthians 8:9). In this verse ‘was rich’ can only signify His pre-incarnate state. So these words in Corinthians can be seen as a summary of the application of Philippians 2:6-11 to God’s people. He did this so that we could become ‘rich’.

Note how this phrase and the one that follows (He was essentially God and yet was not holding on to Godhead) is paralleled in the passage with the fact that He is declared by all creation to be ‘LORD’, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). His willing submission is seen as bringing Him final honour, and as bringing glory to His Father.

The second statement, ‘Did not count the being on an equality with God a snatching’ (harpagmos), thus an act of robbery, or a thing to be ‘grasped at’ or ‘taken advantage of’. Thus it could equally be translated as ‘did not think it robbery to be equal with God’. It is literally ‘did not thing equality with God harpagmos’, with harpagmos (a snatching, something which could be snatched for personal advantage, a committing of robbery) indicating something that if grasped would be seen by others as a snatching, or something available to be snatched or taken advantage of, or as an act of robbery. With regard to Him it could not be seen in that way.

Whichever way we take it, it is not saying that Jesus considered equality as a prize which He had not yet obtained. Rather it indicated that it could be seen as something which was His by right so that, if He did decide to bask in it, it would not have been seen as in any way incongruous or unacceptable. Nevertheless it was something that He chose not to do. So the idea is not that He was being commended because, having no right to it, He did not determine to seize it or cling on to it at all costs. It is rather saying that He did have the right, had He wished, to maintain the position and status of equality with God, but in the light of His destiny chose for a time not to do so. He did not snatch at it for personal advantage. To give a lesser illustration, the choice facing every king on his throne is whether to cling on to his exclusiveness, or whether alternatively to descend among his people and be one with them. Jesus chose the latter course to the uttermost.

The third statement, ‘But emptied himself, taking the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of a servant (doulos)’, demonstrates that the king relinquished His exclusiveness, and, descending among His people, even became a slave among them. Notice what the emptying involved. The One Who had the morphe (essential nature) of God took on Him the morphe (essential nature) of a servant. The One Who was by right the Master became the slave. The Creator became the servant of creation. Thereby He ‘emptied Himself’ of all that distinguished Him from man, and took on Himself the permanent nature and status of a servant, a status which He still enjoys (Luke 12:37). For He had come to serve (Mark 10:45), and to be the Servant King.

We must, however, beware here of too much speculation. It is so easy theoretically to speak of Him ‘divesting Himself of His Godhood’ as though that was something that He could easily do, in the same way as a man divests himself of his clothes at night. But it must be recognised that just as no man does or can divest himself of his essential being, neither could God divest Himself of His essential and eternal Being. In God’s case that would indeed be a contradiction in terms, for the essence of God is that He is and always must be eternal. He cannot cease to be what He is. Thus God could not divest Himself of Godhood. This is both a fact of His nature and is also true by definition.

So Jesus did not cease to be God, nor lose His eternal attributes. Rather He ‘emptied Himself’ by setting aside the use of His eternal attributes, and the outward status that was His, so that He could live as a man among men, and as a slave of all. He turned His back on His exclusivity, and became like the lowest of the low. How far He subsequently used His own divine powers while on earth, as opposed to being the channel of the powers of the Father and the Spirit, must always be indeterminable, although He did make clear that He had those powers (John 5:21). It is not for man to know or discern the full intricacies of the working of the Godhead, for they are one in threeness. What we do know is that He was ‘made in all points like as we are, and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4:15), walking continually and uniquely in cooperation with His Father (e.g. John 5:17; John 5:19) and with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10:28). In a very real sense ‘God was there in Christ and was reconciling the world to Himself’ in a unique way (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is the very heart of the Gospel.

The fourth statement, ‘Being made in the very likeness of men’, indicates that He took on Himself true manhood. It is a contrast with Adam’s having been made ‘in the likeness of God’ (Genesis 1:26), that is, as having a spiritual nature. It is confirming that just as Adam’s spiritual nature was genuine, so is Jesus’ human nature genuine, the difference being that Jesus Christ moved ‘downwards’ from Godhood to manhood, while Adam moved ‘upwards’ from being a living creature to having a spirit. Notice the contrast between His being a servant and His being man. He could have come as a servant without becoming man, and He could have come as man without becoming a servant. What He chose to do was to become both. Compare Mark 10:45, where He ‘came not to be served but to serve’, and to perform the greatest of all service in giving His life ‘as a ransom instead of many’. The latter was, of course, only possible because He was God. No finite man would have been sufficient to cover the cost of the whole of redeemed mankind.

The fifth statement, ‘And being found as having a real but temporary form (schema) as a man’, again indicates His essential and genuine manhood. We translate ‘having a temporary form’ because it is in contrast to His permanent form as God. Nevertheless it is still saying that He was revealed as man precisely because He was man. We may translate as, ‘having the appearance of man’ as long as it is recognised that the appearance was seen as demonstrating the underlying reality. He ‘appeared as a man’, NOT ‘He appeared to be a man’. ‘Schema’ does not just mean outward appearance. It indicates a real form which reveals the reality beneath, even though of a temporary nature as compared with morphe which is more permanent. Morphe is the ‘form’ that reveals the essential being, schema is the form that the morphe takes at a particular period in time. Compare how a man is always essentially ‘man’, but may take up different ‘forms’ (schema) throughout life such as infant, child, teenager, adult, and so on. Thus Jesus is God throughout all His existence, but He becomes man at one stage in His existence, remaining so permanently from then on until the final end, although moving from pre-resurrection to post-resurrection manhood meanwhile. As God He sits on His Father’s throne. As man He sits on His own throne at God’s right hand (Revelation 3:21). Note how Paul avoids using the word morphe of His manhood. That might have been to suggest that having become man He was somehow no longer God. But that was not true. In His morphe He was God, but he had taken the form (schema) of man. He was both God and man.

The sixth statement, ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross’, makes absolutely clear His real manhood. He could only die because He had truly become man, for His Godhood could not die. In this regard we can compare how in a man his body may die, but in one way or another his spirit lives on. In the same way the body of Jesus died, but His Godhood lived on. The stress here, however, is on the fact that in dying as a man He also fulfilled His position as a servant (doulos), and followed in the way of obedience. This emphasis on obedience must not be overlooked. Full submission and obedience as a human being was central to what He had come to do (Romans 5:19; Hebrews 5:8; Hebrews 10:5-10. Being obedient He humbly took the lowest way and died the death of a slave (doulos). Crucifixion was looked on as the way of executing the lowest of the low (slaves and insurrectionists). Thus He became the ultimate servant. We can compare here the description of the Servant in Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12 who also gave His life as a ransom and as a guilt offering for many (Isaiah 53:10). And while LXX uses pais for servant, doulos is used in parallel to it in other Greek versions and in sources used by the New Testament writers (pais and doulos have been shown to be largely, although not completely, interchangeable). Here Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of the Coming Servant to the utmost. Here we have reached the nadir of His descent into manhood, as He demonstrated through suffering and death that it was true manhood. Notice how these final phrases summarise the depths to which He was willing to go in three emphatic stages. ‘He humbled Himself (compare Isaiah 53:7 a) -- and became obedient to death (Isaiah 53:7 b) -- even death on a cross’. He humbled Himself as the servant of all, He obediently accepted the path of death (only One Who was God could choose to die, compare John 10:11; John 10:15; John 10:17, while only One Who was man could die), and He finally and most excruciatingly actually suffered death on a cross. In other words in this God was revealed as both true servant who will face up to the fullest demands of servitude, and willing sacrifice Who will offer up Himself, and in this we get to the very centre of the heart of God.

We cannot, however, leave this statement without drawing attention to one more thing which to Paul was central to the Gospel, and that is that to a Jew ‘death on a cross’ was the utmost in shame because it indicated being under the curse of God. To the Jew it was abhorrent. No greater humiliation could be conceived. And in Galatians 3:10-13 Paul takes up the idea in order to illustrate how by His death on the cross Jesus Christ took on Himself the curse that was on all men for breaking the Law. ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13).

The seventh statement begins the second stanza which expresses what would result from His obedience and humiliation. ‘For which reason also God highly exalted him’. ‘For which reason’ stresses the connection with what has gone before. It was because of what Jesus chose to do, and because of the pathway of obedience that He was willing to take (‘Father, not My will but yours be done’ - Luke 22:42), going down even to the lowest possible level, that ‘God highly exalted Him’. What was involved in that is described in what follows. He was to be lifted to the highest possible position. Compare Isaiah 52:13, where this was intended to be the destiny of the Coming Servant of God, and Isaiah 57:15 where it is God Who is ‘the high and lofty One’. Servanthood and Godhood combine for the One who had the form of both God and servant. Nor must we overlook the fact that this exaltation by the Father was necessary as a full vindication of Jesus. By this it was being made clear that far from Jesus’ humiliation reflecting the Father’s displeasure, it was necessarily (‘for this reason’) followed by vindication, indicating that what He had suffered had all been part of a necessary purpose within the will of God.

The eighth statement, ‘And gave to him the name which is above every name,’ raises the question as to what is ‘the Name above every Name’. To a Jew there could be only one answer to that question, it was YHWH (‘the One Who is’), which translates into Greek as ‘LORD’, the Name emphasised by God to Moses in the form ‘I am’ (Exodus 3:13-15), the Name of God from earliest times (Genesis 4:26), the Name that Jesus applied to Himself in John 8:58 as the I AM, for YHWH was what was constantly indicated in the Old Testament when ‘the Name’ was spoken of. And this Name was to be ‘given’ to Jesus. Not because He had not enjoyed it before, but because He had relinquished it on becoming man. He had deliberately chosen to be reduced in status. The giving of a name indicated the approval of the giver. Thus God the Father was by this indicating His approval of the return of the Son to ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17:5) on equal terms with Himself.

A less careful consideration of the passage might suggest to some that the Name above every Name was ‘Jesus’, but a moment’s thought will demonstrate that this could not be so. It is true that in our modern day the name Jesus is in many parts of the world seen as distinctively applying only to Jesus Christ, and such people might thus be prepared to give it this honour. But that is not true, for example, in South America where many males are given the name Jesus, and certainly in 1st century AD the name Jesus (Hebrew - Joshua) was very popular among Jews. It could not have been described therefore as a unique ‘Name above every Name’. It was rather a name borne by tens of thousands of people. In another context ‘the name of Jesus’ could have been seen as signifying ‘what Jesus essentially is’, but in this context a specific Name is required (the Name above every Name). Another possibility might have been the Name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). But there is no reason specifically why that should be called ‘the Name above every Name, and Paul clearly expected it to be understood. Everything points to that Name being YHWH.

But what other grounds have we for thinking that ‘the Name above every Name’ is the Name of YHWH? A further reason is that the creed goes on to say that it was the Name at which ‘every knee would bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father’. This is partly a citation from Isaiah 45:22-24 where the words were specifically spoken of YHWH. It was YHWH to Whom every knee would bow, and every tongue would swear. Thus Jesus Christ is here seen as receiving the honour due to YHWH in the very way described in the prophets.

The third reason is because it is specifically stated in Philippians 2:11 that Jesus Christ is to be confessed as ‘LORD’. Now ‘LORD’ was the Greek word which was used to translate the Hebrew name YHWH in the Greek Old Testament, and was thus the Name of God. Thus, combined with the fact that YHWH was to the Jews unquestionably ‘the Name above every Name’, the Name which must never be pronounced (which was why LXX used ‘Lord’), there can really be no doubt that this was the Name to be given to Jesus. This is confirmed by verses such as 1 Corinthians 8:6, where we read ‘for us there is One GOD, the Father --- and One LORD, Jesus Christ --’. Here Paul basically equates the God, the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ, for to the Greeks ‘one LORD’ would undoubtedly have indicated divinity just as ‘one GOD’ did (1 Corinthians 8:5), while, as we have seen, to the Jew ‘LORD’ in a divine context indicated the Name of YHWH. It is a reminder that when Jesus is called LORD in a context with the divine in mind it signifies that He is YHWH just as the Father is God and YHWH.

This fact is further confirmed by the fact that in Isaiah 45:21 we read, ‘Was it not I, YHWH? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour, there is none besides me.’ There YHWH is described as the only Saviour. It is thus all the more significant that Jesus is regularly spoken of as the Saviour, and even as ‘God and Saviour’ (Titus 2:14; 2 Peter 1:1), and we should further note how in Titus 2:10 to Titus 3:7 ‘God our Saviour’ and ‘Jesus Christ our Saviour’ are spoken of intermittently in parallel terms. Note also how in 1 Timothy 1:1 ‘God our saviour’ is paralleled with ‘Jesus Christ our hope’, both conveying the same basic idea, that they are our Saviour and our Hope for the future.

The ninth statement is ‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow.’ As we have seen the citation is from the Old Testament where every knee was to bow to YHWH the Saviour. So the clear thought is that Jesus will receive the honour due to YHWH, and that YHWH is ‘the name of Jesus’ given to Him by God. The picture is of a suzerain lord before whom his people come to pay fealty and yield their submission (compare Revelation 5:8; Revelation 5:12-13). It would have a particularly encouraging significance for the Philippians if they had already had to face challenges to bow the knee to Caesar and to own him as ‘Lord’, that is, as their god. Here then was the antithesis of that, that one day their persecutors themselves would have to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and admit that it is He Who is Lord. It must have given the Philippian Christians a great sense of security.

The tenth statement is, ‘Of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.’ The description is all inclusive. All heavenly beings, all created things on earth, and all the dead will bow the knee to Jesus, owning Him as LORD. None are excluded. It is absolute victory. ‘Things under the earth’ indicates the bodies of men which have been buried and have not yet risen.

The eleventh statement is, ‘And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD’. Here was the ultimate accolade, the confessing of Him as ‘LORD’, in other words as YHWH, the Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth. Note the description ‘Jesus Christ’ which differentiates Him from any other Jesus. This confirms that the Name above every Name was not simply the name ‘Jesus’, because that name is seen as having to be qualified. Confessing as ‘lord’ was the way in which men swore fealty to their rulers. Here that fealty is being sworn to Jesus Christ as Lord by all in Heaven above, in the earth beneath, and in the underworld below this earth where the bodies of the dead await the resurrection. He is seen as Lord of all.

The twelfth and final statement is ‘to the glory of God the Father’. This is an indication of the absolute unity of the Triune God. Jesus being given the highest honour and acclaimed as YHWH is not seen as detracting from the Father but as giving added glory to the Father as the Son is restored to the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (John 17:5). Indeed this was all a part of the eternal plan which was now in process of fulfilment, bringing increased glory to the whole Godhead. All things were being gathered together in Christ so that ultimately God might be all in all (Ephesians 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:28).

It also answered the question of anyone who asked, ‘if Jesus Christ was declared to be YHWH would that not detract from the glory of the Father?’ ‘Never!’ Paul replies. ‘Rather it adds to His glory.’

The Application.

Having first examined what the passage tells us about the status and significance of our LORD Jesus Christ we must now consider the ideas in their wider context, for to Paul this was not just a theological statement, important though it was as that, but something into which each Christian must enter as a part of the whole church. It was reinforcing the call to all of them to humility and oneness in Philippians 2:1-4.


Verse 6-7

‘Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men,’

Thus they were to follow the pattern of, and set their minds to walk with, the One Who, although by nature God, set aside His status, refusing to hold on to it, and, setting aside all His rights, took the form and status of a slave, being made truly man. For ‘emptied Himself’ compare Philippians 2:3, ‘Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory (keno-doksia = empty glory, vanity, excessive ambition), but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself.’ The point was that they were to enter into His self-humiliation by themselves taking the same path. Note the play on keno-doksia, empty glory which men cling on to, and ekenowsen describing how He emptied Himself of His real glory for a time by taking the form of a slave and becoming man. And also the play of words in that Jesus ‘humbled’ Himself (etapeinosen) as an example which they should follow in ‘lowliness’ of mind (tapeino-phrosune in Philippians 2:3). Furthermore by doing this, instead of keno-doksia (empty glory), they would share in the glory (doksan) of the Father (Philippians 2:11).


Verse 8

‘And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even to death, yes, the death of the cross.’

In the same way as Jesus had done they were to choose the way of humility, deliberately electing in their minds to be ‘crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2:20), to as it were die with Him on the cross, reckoning themselves as dead to sin. This was to be the end of all selfish ambition, of any sense of superiority, of any desire to be exalted over others. They were to die to themselves and their own ways and ideas and ambitions in order that they might become true servants of God and live only unto God, in togetherness following only His ways and desires and ambitions, something which would of course deeply affect their relationship with one another.


Verses 9-11

‘Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

And they were intended to recognise that the consequence for them would be that just as God highly exalted Jesus, and gave Him great honour, so God would exalt them in a similar way (Philippians 3:14; Ephesians 2:6). And they had the guarantee in that it had already happened to Him, and in a certain sense also to those who were ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 2:1-6). Thus Christ was now triumphant and they could know that they too would rise with Christ and be seated with Him on His throne (Philippians 3:14; Revelation 3:21; compare Revelation 2:26-27) as indeed they already had in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 2:6). The whole tenor of the passage is therefore that they are so to be caught up within the process of Christ’s saving work that with set mind they will share with Him both in His humiliation and in His glory, with only one aim, the glory of the Father.

This idea of becoming a slave resulting in final exaltation is simply an extension of the teaching of Christ Himself to the Apostles, for in Luke 22:25-30, where He exhorts them not to be like Gentile rulers who lord it over their people, but rather to seek to be the least, following His example as the One Who was among them as a servant, He goes on to promise that they will as a result sit on thrones in His Kingdom. He promises that the result for them will then be that they will receive a kingdom, resulting in their eating and drinking with Him in His kingship, and sitting on thrones ruling (judging) the twelve tribes of Israel (i.e. the people of God). This promise also had a twofold significance in that they would first enjoy this position as Apostles in Jerusalem, where they were rulers on behalf of the son of David, remembering however the injunction not to use the privilege for the purpose of lording it over others, after which they would then enjoy it in the eternal kingdom.


Verses 12-18

As A Result Of Their Participation With Christ In His Death, Resurrection And Exaltation They Are To Put Every Effort Into Together ‘Working Out’ The Salvation That God Was Working Within Them So That, As A Consequence Of Their Resulting Oneness And Unblemished Lives, They Might Be True Lights In The World, Thereby Holding Forth The Word Of Life (Philippians 2:12-18).

What follows here is the fulfilment of all that has been described in Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:11. Following the injunction to ‘live as citizens of Heaven’ (Philippians 1:27) Paul now seeks to constrain them, as a result of their participation in Christ’s self-emptying, death, resurrection and exaltation, to put every effort into ensuring that their salvation (which they have received as a gift from God) is being effective in their lives, knowing all the while that God is working within them to ensure that it will be so (for salvation is of the Lord). They are to put every effort into ensuring that what God is ‘working within them’ is ‘worked out’, that is, is allowed to spring up from within them and have an important impact on their lives day by day as they respond in faith.

Notice his emphasis on the fact that they are themselves to be a sacrifice and worship offering as a result of their believing response, further indicating that being sacrificed is an essential part of the passage, as we have already seen. He has in mind also what he has already said about the conflict that they are facing in the world which might even lead to martyrdom (Philippians 1:29-30).

We should note that they are to do this together. They are not to be one man bands, but to assist each other as they go forward with Him, although necessarily each is responsible for his own final response. It is therefore not necessary to ask, is this to be seen as for each individual or for the whole? The answer is that it is for both. For the whole is made up of individuals, each of whom is responsible for their own response, while also having responsibility for the whole. And it is as one together that they are to go forward with Him. His desire was that as a whole they would go forward as ‘children of God’ (Philippians 2:15), revealing what they are by being without blemish and free from the entanglements of the world (1 John 2:15-16), thus being ‘lights in the world’, and holding forth the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16). For it was only if this were true that Paul would have something to glory in, in the Day of Jesus Christ (the Day when He comes to reveal all things, and call men to account e.g. Matthew 7:22-23; Matthew 10:26; Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Revelation 20:11-15), in that it would prove that all his activity and efforts had not been in vain. And as long as this was true he was ready, yes, eager, to be poured out as a libation on the sacrifice of themselves that they were offering (see 1 Corinthians 12:1-2), as they offered themselves to God by faith for whatever He had in store for them, rejoicing with them in the privilege that they were both enjoying. Philippians 2:12 ‘So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’

The words ‘my beloved’ soften Paul’s injunction from being a harsh command to being a loving requirement. It is a reminder that people are far more likely to respond if they are convinced that we genuinely care, and only seek their good, as Paul did. But there is no softening of the requirements. Just as Jesus was obedient to the Father ‘even unto death’ (Philippians 2:8), so were they to be obedient in the working out of their salvation ‘with greatest care’ (fear and trembling lest they come short, compare 2 Corinthians 7:15). The injunction was even more important because Paul was now absent from them. While he was present with them he was able to oversee their obedience, but now that he was absent from them they were, humanly speaking, ‘on their own’. Thus it was all the more urgent that together they urged each other on, and so set their minds (Philippians 2:5) on their participation in the crucified and resurrected Christ that they ensured that ‘their salvation’, the salvation which was theirs from God through Him, was fully effective in them and through them.

Having once committed himself to the way ahead, Jesus had Himself ‘worked out’ His vindication through obedience, suffering, death and resurrection, and they were to do the same. He Who knew no sin but was ‘made sin’ (2 Corinthians 5:21) had fulfilled His work of salvation and had borne the sins of others in the way described above (no one who knew Paul’s teaching would fail to understand the import of the words). Now they were to lay their sins on Him, partaking in His sacrifice by faith (Philippians 2:17) and ensuring also that the resurrection life of Christ was lived out through them (Philippians 3:10; Romans 6:3-11; Galatians 2:20). They were to ‘continue working out their salvation.’ And they were to do it with greatest care, remembering that they had to give account. It was not that they had to save themselves, but that they were to benefit by the salvation that God had given them in Christ, which was therefore now their own, by ensuring that it was allowed to ‘work out’ through them. Compare how women were to ‘be saved’, that is were to work out their salvation, by bringing up children while continuing in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety (2 Timothy 2:15).

‘With fear and trembling.’ That is fearful lest they fall short in any way and thus hinder the work that God is doing (compare Hebrews 12:15; Hebrews 12:25). It is a reminder that ‘it is a fearful thing to fall onto the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31). In the Greek Old Testament (LXX) ‘fear and trembling signifies awe and concern in the face of God’s activity (see Exodus 15:16; Isaiah 19:16; Psalms 2:11). The fact of our confidence and boldness in our approach towards God (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 10:19) must not take away from our recognition that we are dealing with a holy God. But the ‘fear and trembling’ is not so much on the individual’s behalf, although it is also that, as on behalf of the whole church, being as concerned for the things of others (Philippians 2:4) as they are for their own salvation in the light of what God is. They are to watch for each other with greatest care as in the presence of God, as those who must give account (Hebrews 13:17), for they are involved in the working out of God’s eternal purpose (Philippians 2:13). The salvation of God’s people (including themselves) is to be their all absorbing interest and their great concern (compare 2 Corinthians 7:15). In Ephesians 6:5 it is paralleled by ‘singleness of heart’.

‘But now much more in my absence.’ While he was hoping to be with them shortly (Philippians 2:24), he knew that it could not be guaranteed. He was not absolutely sure which way his trial would go (Philippians 1:20; Philippians 1:22). Thus they were not to allow his absence to prevent them from going forward ‘full steam ahead’ with Christ. (It would have been so easy to put the brakes on). He wants them to stand firm and go forward whatever the circumstances, for it is God’s work and not his.


Verse 13

‘For it is God who works within you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.’

And they are not to think that they are on their own in this. This verse is crucial to the whole injunction (the separation of the verses must not be allowed to disguise that fact). Had Paul stopped short with Philippians 2:12 we might well have been left in fear and trembling, but he now assures them that the enabling and power for what he has required from them will come from God. It is God Who is working powerfully within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Nothing therefore can in the end prevent it. Once again we are reminded that while God is sovereign in His activity we are called on to put every effort into ensuring that it is successful.

‘It is God.’ There is no mention here of the Holy Spirit (although see Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1). But that does not mean that we are to exclude His working. Indeed in all the Spirit’s activity the Father and Son are ever present. It is the Father and the Son Who indwell us when we become Christians (John 14:23) and that in the context of the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26). Note the ‘we’ which make the multiple presence quite clear. And when Jesus promised the coming of the Paraklete (Comforter, Strengthener, Helper - John 14:16-17), He also promised ‘I will come to you’ (John 14:18). When we are strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man, it is Christ Who dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:16-17). Thus we are indwelt by the Triune God. And it is as we have within us the mind of Christ, that the experience of Christ in His death and resurrection becomes ours (Philippians 2:5-11).

‘Who works within you.’ The word used here is regularly used by Paul to signify the effective power and working of God. It is God Who ‘works all things according to the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1:11), Who is at work within them. It was the effective working of His power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1:20), that also raised ‘us’ up when we were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians (Philippians 2:1), and it is the same power which is still available to us through prayer (Ephesians 1:19; Ephesians 3:20). Thus it is a working that is both effective and irresistible, and yet to some extent very much requires our response.

‘For His good pleasure.’ Some see this as meaning ‘in fulfilment of His benevolent purpose’. Others see it as indicating bringing about in them what pleases him. Both are, of course, true. For He works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1:11), and it is His will that we should do what pleases Him.

Note the twofold ‘to will and to work’. The inner motivation and the actual outworking will result from this powerful activity of God. He will be the mainspring of their willing and working, and that is why they are to take the greatest care to ensure that they do not hinder the process in any way, either as individuals or as a church. He then goes on the demonstrate how this is to be ‘worked out’.

This contrast of ‘working out’ what God has ‘worked in’ is common in Paul. He knew very well the distinction between Christians being ‘sanctified’ (1 Corinthians 1:2) and yet being lacking in holiness (as the Corinthians clearly were), and those who were both sanctified and holy. Thus he regularly urged Christians to ‘become what you are’ (see for example Romans 6:2-6; Romans 8:1-11; Ephesians 4:20-24; Colossians 2:20; Colossians 3:1-4; Colossians 3:9-10), and it is significant that having told Christians that they had died with Christ (Romans 6:2-7; Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:34), he then called on them to start putting themselves to death (Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:5). But he was nevertheless confident that God would by His inward working finally ensure that His true people did become holy. For in the end, ‘if you live according to your sinful nature you will die, but if you through the Spirit do put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live’ (Romans 8:12-13). Thus he could say to the weak and failing Corinthians, ‘Who will confirm you to the end that you may be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’. And he based this on the fact of the faithfulness of the God Who had called them, ‘He is faithful Who promised’ (1 Corinthians 1:8-9. For he was confident that ‘He who had begun a good work in them would bring it to completion until the Day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1:6). In the same way the writer to the Hebrews confirms that ‘whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. -- If you be without chastening, of which all are partakers, then are you illegitimate children and not sons.’ (Hebrews 12:6; Hebrews 12:8). Indeed Jesus Himself made clear that in the end ‘by their fruits you will know them’, which is the constant message of the New Testament (Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:43-45; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:20-22; Hebrews 10:39). The wise man who built his house on the rock heard His words and DID them (Matthew 7:24-25). Salvation is invalid that does not result in obedience.


Verse 14-15

‘Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world,’

And part of the working out of this salvation would be that it would result in unity among themselves, so that all murmuring and questioning was done away. This is not so much referring to questioning the truth about things, but to the questioning of other people’s faith, purposes and motives. We could translate as ‘disputes and quarrels’. Here we get back to what has up to now been a theme of the letter, the desire for them to walk in unity and love (Philippians 1:9; Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1-4; compare Philippians 4:2), and it will be brought about by their fulfilling the injunctions of Philippians 2:5 and Philippians 2:12.

The importance of this unity and love comes out in that this is to form a large part of their presenting a blameless front to the world at which no finger can be pointed. The word rendered blameless was used in LXX in Genesis 17:1. where Abraham was commanded to be blameless, and of Job in Job 1:1; Job 1:8; Job 2:3 where we learn that Job was a blameless man, even in God’s eyes. Both lived their lives by faith with a view to pleasing God (Genesis 15:6; Job 1:1; Job 13:15; Hebrews 11:8-10). Furthermore they were to be ‘harmless’. In other words they must be make clearly apparent that they are not ‘causers of harm’ (are harmless as doves - Matthew 10:16), and that they are truly children of God undeserving of rebuke, before a world outside which is both crooked and perverse. Indeed it will make them lights in the world as they shine out before their fellow-men (compare Matthew 5:16; John 8:12). The word rendered harmless can also mean ‘undiluted’, containing the thought that they are to be pure through and through.

‘Without blemish.’ Comparison with Philippians 2:18 may suggest that here Paul has in mind the unblemished lamb which was offered for sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), with the thought that even though they are lights in the world, it will not prevent their being offered up as a sacrifice to God by their persecutors. It was precisely the unblemished lamb that was offered up. Being without blemish was also God’s aim in choosing them out for Himself (Ephesians 1:4), and it was as those who were without blemish that they would be presented to Christ as His bride-wife (Ephesians 5:25-27).

In contrast the unbelievers are ‘crooked (not straight, unscrupulous, dishonest) and perverse (depraved)’. Their lives are questionable at every point, even when they appear to be doing good. And this includes the Jews who have rejected Christ and have therefore been cut out of Israel, being replaced by Gentile converts (Romans 11:17-28).

The combination of the ideas ‘children of God -- blameless -- without blemish -- crooked and perverse generation’ may suggest that Paul has Deuteronomy 32:5 in mind. ‘They have dealt corruptly with Him, they are not His children because of their blemish, a perverse and crooked generation’. Thus the Philippians are to demonstrate that they themselves ARE His children as is to be evidenced by their unblemished lives in contrast with those who demonstrate that they belong to a crooked and perverse generation. It is the church who are to be revealed as the true Israel, the true children of God


Verse 16

‘Holding forth the word of life, that I may have of which to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain nor labour in vain.’

As lights in the world (the word for ‘lights’ was used of beacons) they are to ‘hold forth the word of life’. The witness is to be both practical and verbal as they offer the word of life to the world, thus like Jesus Himself becoming the light of the world (John 8:12). Elsewhere Paul calls them ‘children of light’. ‘You were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5:8). They were there as lights so that those who walked in darkness might have the light of life (John 8:12). And it is of great importance to Paul for it will provide him with something in which he can glory in the Day of Jesus Christ, in order to demonstrate that he had not run in vain, or laboured in vain. He wants them to be such that he can be proud of them in that Day.

‘That I did not run in vain nor labour in vain.’ As so often Paul calls on the sporting arena to provide his illustration. His life is like a long distance race which has involved heavy training. He does not want it to have been in vain. But is it possible that Paul really thought that his running and his labouring might be in vain? In view of Philippians 1:6 and Philippians 2:13 the answer must be ‘no’ if we are considering the church as a whole, for his confidence was not in them but in God. It is thus a theoretical possibility mentioned in order to ensure that it remained theoretical. Humanly speaking it could happen and they were being urged on to ensure that it did not (although it would happen in some individuals). Divinely speaking it was not possible, except possibly for the hangers on, those whose hearts were ‘stony ground’ (Mark 4:16).

Some translate as ‘hold fast the word of life’ (paralleling ‘stand fast’ in Philippians 1:27; Philippians 4:1) but the aim of being a witness is apparent in what follows, whether they hold if forth or hold it fast..


Verse 17-18

‘But also if I am offered as a libation on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all, and in the same manner do you also joy, and rejoice with me.’

In the midst of his confidence he again recognises that he may possibly never see them again if his case goes against him. And he therefore wants them to recognise that he is not dismayed at the thought of possible martyrdom. If instead of release he is to complete their sacrifice of themselves, by himself being offered up as a libation on it by the shedding of his blood (like the pouring out on it of wine as an additional offering) he will have joy and rejoice with them all, and if it does happen he wants them also to rejoice with him. There is to be no thought of gloom. He has the mind of Christ in regard to suffering, willing even for martyrdom to be his lot. To be offered up to God in martyrdom is a privilege not a trial. Thereby he will share Christ’s sufferings and also share His reign in Heaven (Revelation 20:4). It is a reminder of the solemn words in Philippians 1:28 that they are still in the midst of conflict and may be required to suffer on His behalf.

‘On the sacrifice and service of your faith.’ These words demonstrate the truth of what we have seen before, that they are to be seen as offered up as a sacrifice along with Christ. Their responsive faith to Him has involved them in sacrifice and priestly service, as they offer themselves up to have their part in His sacrificial death. It was hinted at in Philippians 2:1 a, was made clear in Philippians 2:5-8 and was emphasised in their need to be ‘without blemish’. While sacrifice is not specifically mentioned in Philippians 2:5-8 a voluntary obedience to death could indicate nothing else. He was the willing sacrifice on behalf of many (Mark 10:45; Hebrews 10:5-10). So having called on them to share the mind of Christ in this regard, Paul is willing to put the final seal on their sacrifice by himself being offered as a libation. He recognised that unless the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit (John 12:24).


Verse 19

Paul Now Gives Two Examples Of Men Who, Like Himself, Have The Mind That Is In Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:19 to Philippians 3:1).

Having expressed his own willingness to be ‘poured out as a libation’ in the furtherance of the salvation and blessing of the Philippians, thus demonstrating that he was willing to fulfil the injunction to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, Paul now gives two examples of fellow-workers who also readily tread that way, the first being Timothy, who is the example of the true servant, and the second is Epaphroditus, who is the example of someone who was willing to hazard his life for the Gospel, thus walking in the shadow of Jesus Christ. Timothy is mentioned first because he wants them to recognise that he is seriously concerned to put right anything that is wrong in the church, but meanwhile he is sending Epaphroditus with his letter so as to prepare the way for Timothy. But he clearly see Epaphroditus as unable to fulfil the task that he will expect of Timothy, possibly both because he lacked the specific gifts needed, and because he would not carry Timothy’s authority as one of Paul’s lieutenants.

The delicacy of Paul’s writing style comes out in the introduction of this theme here. Having given a deep theological exposition he now wishes, as it were, to take his foot off the theological pedal for a while and provide two simple but effective illustrations which will illuminate what he has said, after which he will go into a second deep theological exposition, which will parallel the first.

The section is, however, important in that it demonstrates Paul’s practical concern for the Philippians, and provides two of the reasons for the writing of the letter, the return of Epaphroditus to Philippi and Paul’s desire to discover how they are faring.


Verse 19

‘But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be of good comfort (literally ‘well in soul’), when I know your state (literally ‘having known the things concerning you’).’

Paul was aware of how circumstances at that time were constantly changing, and speaks therefore rather of a ‘hope’ than a certainty, for it would depend on the intention of the Lord Jesus (‘I hope in the Lord Jesus’; compare 1 Corinthians 4:19, ‘I will come to you shortly if the Lord wills’). It reveals his uncertainty about what was coming next. Nevertheless he is intent on sending Timothy if at all possible because he is concerned to know their spiritual state, so that he will be comforted (made well in soul). As he sat in prison, Paul still had on him ‘the care of all the churches’, and at that time his great concern was for Philippi because he had learned of the disagreements among them, partly as a result of strong personalities in the church (Philippians 4:2) (compare Diotrephes in 3 John 1:9). .


Verses 19-23

The Promise To Send Timothy, A Prime Example Of A True Servant (Philippians 2:19-23).

Paul’s first example is of Timothy, the true servant, who is like-minded to Paul (or to Jesus Christ), in contrast with those who seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ. He is sending him in order to underpin the Philippian’s spiritual state (‘who will truly care for your state’), and so that he can learn how they are going on (‘that I also may be of good comfort, when I know of your state’). He is seemingly not expecting Epaphroditus to return.

Analysis.

a But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state (Philippians 2:19).

b For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state (Philippians 2:20).

c For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:21).

b But you know the proof of him, that, as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 2:22).

a Him therefore I hope to send forthwith, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me (Philippians 2:23).

Note how in ‘a’ he hopes to send Timothy, and in the parallel he is sending him to them forthwith. In ‘b’ he is depicted as likeminded with Paul and a true carer, and in the parallel he is to Paul like a son who serves his father in the furtherance of the Gospel. Centrally in ‘c’ this is in contrast with those who seek their own things rather than the things of Jesus Christ.


Verse 20

‘For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state.’

His reason for sending Timothy was because, of all whom he had available to him at that time, Timothy was the one whom he considered to be nearest to his own mind and soul (isopsuchos - ‘with the same soul’, and therefore sharing his concerns), one who had the same caring heart as he had, and the ability to be a good watcher over their souls. He was the example of a true servant.

Note the play on words between ‘well in soul’ (eupsuchos) in Philippians 2:19, and ‘like-souled’ (iso-psuchos) here. Both were rare words expressing the very depths of their inner being.


Verse 21

‘For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.’

That this phrase is not to be applied too widely comes out in what he goes on to say about Epaphroditus, nevertheless it reveals a sad state of affairs in that it brings out that there were few who were with him at that time whom he could really trust as being wholly concerned with ‘the things of Jesus Christ’. We can compare ‘Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world’ (2 Timothy 4:9), indicating not total backsliding, but a mind that placed the things of this world before the things of God. It may well be that Paul had sounded out one or two possible candidates and had been rebuffed by them because they were ‘too busy’. (The choice was probably not wide as the lack of mention in the closing salutations suggests that Paul had none of his faithful lieutenants with him). Sadly it is a description of the state of the majority of church members today. While they are not totally unconcerned about the Gospel and the spiritual state of people, it is by no means their primary concern. Other things take precedence. They are busy about ‘their own things’. This is in total contrast to the One described in Philippians 2:6-11 Whose sole concern was to please His Father, and also in contrast to Timothy.


Verse 22

‘But you know the proof of him, that, as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel.’

He is aware that the Philippians were already acquainted with Timothy, for Timothy had been with him on his first visit to them, so he reminds them that they themselves had sufficient evidence of the way in which he had been like a faithful son to Paul, serving with him in the furtherance of the Gospel. The verb ‘serving’ (edoulesen) connects back to the One Who took on Himself the form of a ‘doulos’ (servant). The noun ‘proof’ (dokime) indicates that he has ‘stood the test’.

This not an attempt by Paul to make Timothy acceptable to them, but simply an assurance confirming his adequacy in every way for the task. Paul has every confidence that he is up to the job, which was no easy one. It behoves us all to ensure that we are like Timothy.


Verse 23

‘Him therefore I hope to send forthwith, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.’

And it was because Timothy was in every way trustworthy that he hoped to send him in the near future, as soon as he knew how his own legal case would go, at which point Timothy would be able to tell them the result of the trial.


Verse 24

‘And I trust in the Lord that I myself also will come shortly.’

The mention of ‘trust’ (being quietly confident) indicates Paul’s uncertainty. He hopes to be with them, but is not certain of how his trial will go. Nevertheless he is pretty confident that he will soon be able to follow Timothy in his visit to them.


Verse 25

‘But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,’

Paul stresses that his sending of Epaphroditus was ‘of necessity’. These words may have been put in lest they got the idea that Epaphroditus had let the side down by leaving Paul in the lurch (note how he builds Epaphroditus up and stresses the reason for his being sent), or may have been simply because he felt it necessary to send Epaphroditus in person in order to allay their fears. Combined with this may have been the necessity arising from the fact that 1). until he could release Timothy he had no other reliable messenger, 2). there was a necessity arising from the dissensions that had arisen in Philippi (Philippians 4:2) and 3). there was a necessity to advise them in respect of the false teachers that had come among them, or were expected to come among them (Philippians 3:2; Philippians 3:18-19).

We should note that the name Epaphroditus was a common one around that time, possibly connecting his family with the one-time worship of Aphrodite. It abbreviates to Epaphras, but it was common enough for us not necessarily to connect him with the Epaphras in Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Phlippians 1:23.

Paul provides a fourfold description of him. Firstly he was ‘my brother’, a term of affection and endearment, demonstrating the close relationship that he had with Paul. Secondly he was a fellow-worker, that is, he had faithfully served with Paul in the trying and dangerous circumstances of his activities in his prison in Rome. Thirdly he was a fellow-soldier, because he had bravely faced up to danger and even the possibility of death for Paul’s sake. And fourthly he had been their messenger (apostolos; compare 2 Corinthians 8:23) and minister (leitourgos - one commissioned to serve, minister in religious matters, great benefactor) in the meeting of Paul’s need. He had been a true follower of the Servant King.


Verses 25-30

Meanwhile He Is Sending His Letter With Epaphroditus Their Fellow-Countrymen Who Has Been Close To Death ‘For The Work Of Christ’ (Philippians 2:25-30).

Epaphroditus is pictured as having the mind of Christ Jesus in that having served Paul faithfully in his imprisonment for Jesus Christ, he followed in the way of the cross by hazarding his life for the work of Christ. He was another example of the true followers of the Servant King in accordance with what was depicted in Philippians 2:6-11.

He had been sent to Paul with a gift from the Philippians (see Philippians 4:18), probably with the intention that he remain with Paul as his helper, but he had eventually become seriously ill, and news of his illness appears to have reached Philippi, something which troubled Epaphroditus greatly when he heard about it, because of his love for them. Indeed his illness turned out to be so serious that it was nearly fatal, and appears to have been caused because of his service for Paul. But Paul expresses his gratitude that God had mercy on him so that Epaphroditus did not die, thus sparing Paul from great distress. He appears to have served Paul faithfully. Now, however, Paul intended to send him back to the Philippians and took the opportunity to write them this letter, seemingly partly in order to vindicate Epaphroditus’ return. This would appear to have been one of the main reasons for the letter. We do not know the nature of Epaphroditus’ illness, but it would appear to have been directly connected with his service for Paul, for Paul speaks of him as suffering ‘for the work of Christ’.Analysis.

a But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need (Philippians 2:25).

b Since he longed after you all, and was sorely troubled, because you had heard that he was sick (Philippians 2:26).

c For indeed he was sick, nigh to death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:27).

b I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful (Philippians 2:28).

a Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy, and hold such in honour, because for the work of Christ he came nigh to death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me. And so my brothers, rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 2:29 to Philippians 3:1 a).

Note that in ‘a’ he intended to send Epaphroditus, a fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, who had been their messenger and minister for his need, and in the parallel called on them to receive him because he had served Paul (fellow-servant) at the risk of his life (fellow-soldier) supplying their lack of service towards him. In ‘b’ he expresses their concern for Epaphroditus, and in the parallel he pictures them as rejoicing at the sight of him. Centrally in ‘c’ he expresses his gratitude at God’s mercy in sparing Epaphroditus.


Verse 26

‘Since he longed after you all, and was sorely troubled, because you had heard that he was sick,’

But he was also a man who loved his fellow-Christians in Philippi, and had been deeply troubled that they had heard about his serious illness, so much so that his heart had reached out to them in longing, and he wanted them to know that all was well.


Verse 27

‘For indeed he was sick, nigh to death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow.’

Paul stresses that Epaphroditus had genuinely been seriously ill. Indeed his illness had been so serious that it had nearly proved fatal. But God’s mercy had been such that he had recovered, and Paul stresses that that mercy had not only benefited Epaphroditus, but had also benefited Paul himself who would otherwise have had another burden of sorrow added to the trials that he was already facing. Paul’s contentedness with his lot did not mean that he did not feel deeply the sorrows with which he was burdened. Contentedness, confidence and sorrow can go hand in hand.

We are given no indication of what the illness was or what caused it. It may have been an illness contracted on the way to Paul which he refused to allow to hinder his fulfilling his commission to take the Philippians’ gift to Paul. Or it may have been something contracted in Rome as a result of his service for Paul, possibly the dreaded Roman fever. There was much disease in Rome, and he may have contracted it as he moved around on Paul’s behalf among poverty stricken Christians, or even among Christians in filthy prisons (not all were Roman citizens enjoying immunity from bad treatment). Or it may have resulted from he himself being arrested, imprisoned in bad conditions, and examined by the Roman authorities as a possible criminal because of his obvious sympathy with Paul’s aims. While the authorities left it to friends to see to the wellbeing of prisoners, it could always be dangerous to be associated with them, especially for men. (It may well have been because he could not stand the pressure involved in being with Paul that Demas had gone to Thessalonica to save his own skin, in total contrast to Epaphroditus). This may well have been part of the reason why it was such a necessity for him to return to Philippi, in that he had become a marked man who was being kept under observation, something which might well have put other visitors in danger.

There is an indication here that the healing of disease was by this time no longer looked on as a foregone conclusion, even with a man like Paul present. The days when the Apostles healed instantly all who were sick were seemingly past. It is true that healing did in fact take place in the end, but it was clearly recognised that it might not have done.

There is an interesting contrast between this verse and Philippians 1:21, ‘to me to live is Christ, to die is gain’. If the latter is true, how then was it in God’s mercy to keep Epaphroditus alive? Would it not have been more merciful for him to go immediately to be with the Lord? The answer may lie in the fact that, as with Paul and other fellow-workers, Epaphroditus’ continuance in this life was seen as important for the churches, and for Paul. Alternatively it might simply be seen as a natural reaction against premature death when it was not by martyrdom (where clear testimony could be given). Nothing was gained by dying of disease.


Verse 28

‘I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.’

It would appear that Paul’s fatherly heart had also been burdened because he had shared Epaphroditus’ burden (Philippians 2:26), and because of the grief of the Philippians, so that he was eager to send Epaphroditus personally in order that they could see for themselves that he was now well again, in order that they might thus be filled with rejoicing. It was constantly his desire that Christians should have cause to be joyful (something deeper and longer lasting than happiness) as part of their testimony.


Verse 29-30

‘Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy, and hold such in honour, because for the work of Christ he came nigh to death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.’

So he calls on the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus joyfully ‘in the Lord’ (i.e. because he is a true servant of the Lord, or because they are all one in the Lord), and hold him in honour on the grounds that, far from being a quitter, he had had a near death experience, willingly gambling his life his life for the work of Christ, in order that he might provide the service to Paul that they were unable to offer. It is doubtful if ‘lacking in your service towards me’ directly refers simply to their giving, for that was indeed a service that they had provided through Epaphroditus. It is far more likely that he is referring to the service that Epaphroditus had performed for him once he was in Rome, something which necessarily those who were far away could not provide however much they may have wished to do so.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/philippians-2.html. 2013.

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