Philippians 2:1-30

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The introductory phrases starting with “if” () contain the motivation for the Philippians to complete Paul’s joy. If as a result of their being disciples of God’s Son encouragement in Christ (the kind of encouragement stemming from being at one with Christ as members of his body), consolation prompted by love, “sharing of [the] spirit” (benefiting from the influence of God’s spirit and manifesting its fruit), affection (see 1:8), and compassion exist, then the Philippians should complete Paul’s joy. They would be doing so when being of the “same mind” (the same Christlike disposition), having “the same love” (the self-sacrificing love God’s Son exemplified), being “united of soul” (acting unitedly as one person), and thinking “the one thing” (tó hén; other manuscripts read tó autó [“the same thing”]), being in agreement, or living in harmony. (2:1, 2)

In their dealings with one another, they were to avoid contentiousness, selfish ambition, or a quarrelsome disposition and vain conceit. They should instead humbly consider others as better than themselves. Such a modest estimation of themselves would enable them to appreciate the good qualities of fellow believers, be willing to serve them, and look out for their interests instead of just focusing on personal concerns. (2:3, 4)

Paul encouraged the Philippians to have the same mind, attitude or disposition of Jesus Christ. (2:5) As the verses (6-11) that follow reveal, the Son of God manifested an exemplary spirit of humility, and this led to his exaltation. In the Greek text, the lines of these verses are rhythmic, suggesting that they may have been part of a Christian hymn. In numerous translations, the words are, in fact, printed in poetic style (a few examples being CEV, NAB, NIV, NRSV).

Before his life on earth, Jesus was in the “form of God” or, in every respect, like his Father—“the radiance of his glory and the imprint of his being.” (Hebrews 1:3) With apparent reference to his being in the “form of God,” the Greek word ísos used in expressing the relation to his Father appears to denote his being exactly like his Father. To this state of being like his Father, the very form of his Father, he did not cling as if it were snatched booty, but he emptied himself of all the glory associated with being in God’s form and took a slave’s form, becoming a man, “lower than the angels.” (Hebrews 2:7) So, instead of continuing to be in the “form of God,” he came to be in the “likeness of men.” As a man, Jesus humbly submitted to mistreatment, never retaliating and never reviling. He became obedient in an environment where he was subjected to reproach and suffering, and then died a shameful and painful death like the worst kind of criminal. (2:6-8; see the Notes section for additional information.)

Because Jesus humbly gave up being in the form of God, took on the form of a slave as a man, and then obediently submitted himself to the point of suffering a shameful death, God highly exalted him and granted him a name above every name. That highly exalted state embraces his having “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18), and the “name above every name” would include his matchless authority as judge, high priest, king, mediator, and savior. As the possessor of “all authority in heaven and on earth,” every knee should bow in humble submission to him as their Lord. This includes angels in heaven, humans on earth, and the dead under the ground (whom Christ will resurrect). (2:9-11) The universal recognition to be accorded to the Son of God parallels what is said of the Father in Isaiah 45:23 (Tanakh): “By Myself have I sworn, from My mouth has issued truth, a word that shall not turn back: To Me every knee shall bend, every tongue swear loyalty.”

The universal acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord, with every tongue making it, would bring glory or honor to the Father, as he is the one who highly exalted his Son. As Jesus himself said: “The Father judges no one but has granted all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son as they honor the Father. The one who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5:22, 23)

Affectionately, Paul referred to the Philippians as “my beloved.” As they always had obeyed or been responsive while he was present, he admonished them to obey much more so in his absence and to work out their salvation “with fear and trembling.” Emphasizing that their doing so did not depend exclusively on their own efforts, the apostle added, “for God is working in you, [for you] to will and to work for [his] good pleasure.” (2:12, 13)

The Philippians had always been exemplary in responding to what the message about God’s Son required of them. While the apostle labored among them, his words and example would have contributed to their good response. Without his encouraging and motivating presence, the Philippians would have needed to put forth additional personal effort to maintain exemplary obedience to divine direction. They had not as yet attained their final salvation and needed to guard against a spirit of overconfidence. The possibility of not attaining the desired goal of their faith should have contributed to their having a wholesome fear and a terror of what a possible loss could mean. To be diligent and vigilant respecting their salvation required fully cooperating with God in what he was accomplishing within them by means of his spirit. Although justified on the basis of their faith in Jesus Christ, they had not been freed from the sinful flesh and could choose to live in harmony with the spirit’s direction or to be disobedient, grieving the spirit.

Although effort on their part would be required, the Philippians had the benefit of God’s guiding influence. By means of his spirit, he prompted them to “will” or to choose and then to act. The expression “for [his] good pleasure” could either mean that God delighted to work within them as believers to enable them “to will and to work” or that he influenced them to act for his good purpose, to carry out his will, or to please him.

In their personal dealings, the Philippians were to “do all things without murmuring and disputing,” preserving peace. The failings of others or the inconveniences and drain on resources resulting from extending hospitality might have given rise to murmuring or complaining. Besides shunning murmuring, the Philippians were to avoid allowing factors that might cause friction to give rise to heated arguments. By remaining free from murmuring and disputing, they would reveal themselves to be “blameless and innocent, unblemished children of God amidst a crooked and perverted generation.” Like the angels, who do not rail against others, expressing themselves in abusive terms or downgrading others, God’s unblemished earthly children do not speak or act in the hateful manner characteristic of persons who are a part of a “crooked and perverse generation,” people alienated from God. (Compare 2 Peter 2:10-12; Jude 8-10.) While living in the “world” or among persons whose words and actions did not merit commendation, the Philippians, by their praiseworthy conduct, were to shine as lights. (2:14, 15)

The Greek term epécho, following the expression “word of life,” could mean either “hold fast” or “hold toward.” Paul either admonished the Philippians to adhere closely to the “word of life,” living in harmony therewith,” or to “hold [it] toward” others, offering them the message that would lead to life. By following through on the apostle’s admonition, the Philippians would provide him with a cause for pride in “Christ’s day” or at the time of Christ’s return in glory. They would then be found approved children of God, and Paul’s diligent exertion (running) and toil for them would not have been in vain or useless. (2:16)

Besides his having “run” and “labored,” Paul was willing and pleased to be poured out as a libation “upon the sacrifice and service of the faith” of the Philippians. As he wrote, he would “rejoice” and rejoice with all of them even if that were to happen and wanted them to rejoice with him. His laboring for the Philippians and others in the advancement of Christ’s cause led to the possibility of his facing a martyr’s death, but this did not fill him with gloom. If it was reserved for him, he would rejoice in thus being completely spent like a libation accompanying the “sacrifice and service” for which the faith of the Philippians was responsible. (2:17, 18) Their “sacrifice and service” would have included aiding the needy and sharing the message about Christ. (Compare Hebrews 13:15, 16.) The Philippians’ faith motivated them to praiseworthy activity, and this gave Paul good reason to rejoice with them. His remaining faithful to the end and thereby bringing honor to God and Christ would have provided the basis for the Philippians to rejoice with him.

Paul hoped to send Timothy to Philippi soon after writing this letter. When speaking of this hope as being “in the Lord,” the apostle indicated that it depended upon the Lord Jesus Christ. With Timothy in Philippi, Paul wanted to be cheered upon receiving news from him concerning them. The apostle had the utmost confidence in Timothy, saying that he had no one of “like soul” (isópsychos, “like-souled”), mind, or disposition and who would genuinely be concerned about their welfare. It appears that regarding everyone else he could have sent, Paul said that they all were looking after their own interests, “not those of Christ Jesus.” Possibly they considered the perils involved in travel and the drain on their energies and did not want to undertake the mission, preferring their more comfortable and less demanding circumstances. Theirs was not a spirit of wholehearted sacrifice in advancing the cause of Christ. They were unwilling to expend themselves fully for fellow believers. Timothy, on the other hand, had already proved or demonstrated to the Philippians the kind of caring person he was, slaving with Paul like a child with a father for the evangel. Like a dependable, trustworthy, industrious son, Timothy had served shoulder to shoulder with Paul in advancing the interests of Christ Jesus. The apostle hoped to send Timothy as soon as he knew for a certainty how matters would turn out for him personally. In view of the limitations his confinement imposed, Paul doubtless depended greatly on Timothy to assist him, doing for him what he was prevented from doing for himself. Therefore, before he would be in a position to send Timothy, he needed to be sure what his personal situation would be. The fact that Paul had such high regard for Timothy and relied on him revealed the depth of his love for the Philippians when wanting to send him to assist them. (2:19-23)

“In the Lord” or in recognition that everything depended on the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul confidently hoped that he himself would soon be freed to undertake the journey to Philippi. This expression of confidence indicates that he felt strongly that he would soon be able to send Timothy. (2:24)

Paul did, however, consider it necessary to send Ephaphroditus, whom he called “my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier [committed to the defense of the evangel], but your apostle and servant for my need.” Upon learning about Paul’s imprisonment, the Philippians had sent Epaphroditus with a gift and as a helper for Paul. As one sent, Epaphroditus was an “apostle” or “messenger.” He longed for all of the Philippian believers or, according to other ancient manuscript readings, he longed to see all of them. A major reason for his yearning appears to have been his anxiety or distress from learning that the Philippians had come to know about his having become seriously ill. (2:25, 26)

Before he finally recovered, Ephaphroditus had been so sick that he almost died. “But,” as Paul wrote, “God had mercy on him, not only on him but also on me, so that I might not have sadness upon sadness.” The apostle regarded the recovery as an expression of God’s compassion both for Ephaphroditus and for him. It would have added greatly to Paul’s sorrow had he lost his “brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier,” as he knew Epaphroditus had come into the perilous situation because of having been sent to assist him. (2:27) Paul’s sending Ephaphroditus back to Philippi quickly would serve two purposes. The Philippians would rejoice upon seeing their brother again and in good health. Paul himself would be less troubled or anxious, likely because of concern about the anxiety the Philippians may have continued to have about Epaphroditus. (2:28)

Paul encouraged the Philippians to “receive” or welcome Epaphroditus “in the Lord with all joy” and to highly value persons like him, for he had almost died for the “work of the Lord.” Their being reunited with their brother who shared the same relationship of oneness with the Lord Jesus Christ would rightly have been an occasion for joy. When assisting Paul, Epaphroditus had performed the “work of the Lord,” for the Son of God considers such loving aid as being rendered to him. (Compare Matthew 25:34-40.) In place of the Philippian believers who would have wanted to help Paul but were prevented from doing so by distance, Epaphroditus had served, making up fully for what they could not personally do, and had risked his “soul” or life in this loving service. (2:29, 30)

Notes:

In verse 2, the Greek words for the renderings “mind” and “thinking” are forms of the same verb (phronéo), basically meaning “thinking.” Paul’s emphasis is on unity. The Contemporary English Version interpretively paraphrases the verse: “Now make me completely happy! Live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person.”

In 2:6, the Greek term ísos, commonly translated “equal,” conveys the sense of being like or the same as some person or thing. In the parable about the vineyard workers, the twelve-hour laborers complained that the vineyard owner gave the same pay to those who only worked one hour, saying, “You made them equal (ísos) to us.” (Matthew 20:12) Regarding those testifying falsely against Jesus, Mark’s account (14:56, 59) says that their testimony did not agree or was not the “same” (ísos).

Jesus did not consider as harpagmós being the same as God or like God. The Greek verb form of harpagmós (harpázo) means “snatch,” “grab,” “seize,” “carry off,” or “drag away.” The noun harpagmós could either denote something seized as by robbery or something held onto as if seized. Jesus’ action in not clinging to his being like God to become a man would illustrate his humility more forcefully than would his not resorting to a seizure and becoming a man, and this would appear to be the preferable significance of the passage in Philippians.

Based on the suggested lexical meanings for the word harpagmós, translations vary considerably in their renderings. Examples are: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God.” (NKJV) “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.” (NAB) “He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Although from the beginning He had the nature of God He did not reckon His equality with God a treasure to be tightly grasped.” (Weymouth) “Christ himself was like God in everything. But he did not think that being equal with God was something to be used for his own benefit.” (NCV) “Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.” (HCSB) “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.” (NRSV) “He was in the form of God; yet he laid no claim to equality with God.” (REB)

In verse 30, extant manuscripts variously read, “work of [the] Lord,” “work of Christ,” “work of the Christ,” and “work of God.”