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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Philippians 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-30

Chapter 2

THE CAUSES OF DISUNITY (Philippians 2:1-4)

2:1-4 If the fact that you are in Christ has any power to influence you, if love has any persuasive power to move you, if you really are sharing in the Holy Spirit, if you can feel compassion and pity, complete my joy, for my desire is that you should be in full agreement, loving the same things, joined together in soul, your minds set on the one thing. Do nothing in a spirit of selfish ambition, and in a search for empty glory, but in humility let each consider the other better than himself Do not be always concentrating each on your own interests, but let each be equally concerned for the interests of others.

The one danger which threatened the Philippian church was that of disunity. There is a sense in which that is the danger of every healthy church. It is when people are really in earnest and their beliefs really matter to them, that they are apt to get up against each other. The greater their enthusiasm, the greater the danger that they may collide. It is against that danger Paul wishes to safeguard his friends.

In Philippians 2:3-4 he gives us the three great causes of disunity.

There is selfish ambition. There is always the danger that people should work not to advance the work but to advance themselves. It is extraordinary how time and again the great princes of the Church almost fled from office in the agony of the sense of their own unworthiness.

Ambrose was one of the great figures of the early Church. A great scholar, he was the Roman governor of the province of Liguria and Aemilia, and he governed with such loving care that the people regarded him as a father. The bishop of the district died and the question of his successor arose. In the midst of the discussion, suddenly a little child's voice arose: "Ambrose--bishop! Ambrose--bishop!" The whole crowd took up the cry. To Ambrose it was unthinkable. He fled by night to avoid the high office the Church was offering him; and it was only the direct intervention and command of the Emperor which made him agree to become bishop of Milan.

When John Rough publicly from the pulpit in St. Andrews summoned him to the ministry, John Knox was appalled. In his own History of the Reformation he writes: "Thereat the said John, abashed, burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behaviour, from that day until the day that he was compelled to present himself in the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the grief and trouble of his heart. No man saw in him any sign of mirth, nor yet had he pleasure to accompany any man, for many days together."

Far from being filled with ambition, the great men were filled with a sense of their own inadequacy for high office.

There is the desire for personal prestige. Prestige is for many people an even greater temptation than wealth. To be admired and respected, to have a platform seat, to have one's opinion sought, to be known by name and appearance, even to be flattered, are for many people most desirable things. But the aim of the Christian ought to be not self-display, but self-obliteration. He should do good deeds, not that men may glorify him, but that they may glorify his Father in heaven. The Christian should desire to focus men's eyes not upon himself but on God.

There is concentration on self. If a man is for ever concerned first and foremost with his own interests, he is bound to collide with others. If for him life is a competition whose prizes he must win, he will always think of other human beings as enemies or at least as opponents who must be pushed out of the way. Concentration on self inevitably means elimination of others; and the object of life becomes not to help others up but to push them down.

THE CURE OF DISUNITY (Philippians 2:1-4 continued)

In face of this danger of disunity Paul sets down five considerations which ought to prevent disharmony.

(i) The fact that we are all in Christ should keep us in unity. No man can walk in disunity with his fellow-men and in unity with Christ. If he has Christ as the companion of his way, he is inevitably the companion of every wayfarer. A man's relationships with his fellow-men are no bad indication of his relationship with Jesus Christ.

(ii) The power of Christian love should keep us in unity. Christian love is that unconquered good-will which never knows bitterness and never seeks anything but the good of others. It is not a mere reaction of the heart, as human love is; it is a victory of the will, achieved by the help of Jesus Christ. It does not mean loving only those who love us; or those whom we like; or those who are lovable. It means an unconquerable good-will even to those who hate us, to those whom we do not like, to those who are unlovely. This is the very essence of the Christian life; and it affects us in time and in eternity. Richard Tatlock in In My Father's House writes: "Hell is the eternal condition of those who have made relationship with God and their fellows an impossibility through lives which have destroyed love.... Heaven, on the other hand, is the eternal condition of those who have found real life in relationships-through-love with God and their fellows."

(iii) The fact that they share in the Holy Spirit should keep Christians from disunity. The Holy Spirit binds man to God and man to man. It is the Spirit who enables us to live that life of love, which is the life of God; if a man lives in disunity with his fellow-men, he thereby shows that the gift of the Spirit is not his.

(iv) The existence of human compassion should keep men from disunity. As Aristotle had it long ago, men were never meant to be snarling wolves but to live in fellowship together. Disunity breaks the very structure of life.

(v) Paul's last appeal is the personal one. There can be no happiness for him so long as he knows that there is disunity in the Church which is dear to him. If they would complete his joy, let them complete their fellowship. It is not with a threat that Paul speaks to the Christians of Philippi but with the appeal of love, which ought ever to be the accent of the pastor, as it was the accent of his Lord.

TRUE GODHEAD AND TRUE MANHOOD (Philippians 2:5-11)

2:5-11 Have within yourselves the same disposition of mind as was in Christ Jesus, for he was by nature in the very form of God, yet he did not regard existence in equality with God as something to be snatched at, but he emptied himself, and took the very form of a slave, and became like men. And when he came in appearance as a man for all to recognise, he became obedient even to the extent of accepting death, even the death of a cross. And for that reason God exalted him, and granted to him the name which is above every name, in order that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things upon the earth, and things below the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

In many ways this is the greatest and most moving passage Paul ever wrote about Jesus. It states a favourite thought of his. The essence of it is in the simple statement Paul made to the Corinthians that, although Jesus was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9). Here that simple idea is stated with a fulness which is without parallel. Paul is pleading with the Philippians to live in harmony, to lay aside their discords, to shed their personal ambitions and their pride and their desire for prominence and prestige, and to have in their hearts that humble, selfless desire to serve, which was the essence of the life of Christ. His final and unanswerable appeal is to point to the example of Jesus Christ.

This is a passage which we must try fully to understand, because it has so much in it to awaken our minds to thought and our hearts to wonder. To this end we must look closely at some of its great Greek words.

Greek is a far richer language than English. Where English has one word to express an idea, Greek has often two or three or more. In one sense these words are synonyms, but they never mean entirely the same thing; they always have some special flavour. That is particularly so of this passage. Every word is chosen by Paul with meticulous care to show two things--the reality of the manhood and the reality of the godhead of Jesus Christ. Let us take the phrases one by one. We will set them down both in the King James Version and in our own translation, and then try to penetrate to the essential meaning behind them.

Philippians 2:6 : Being in the form of God; he was by nature in the very form of God. Two words are most carefully chosen to show the unchangeable godhead of Jesus Christ. The word which the King James Version translates being is from the Greek verb huparchein (Greek #5225) which is not the common Greek word for "being." It describes that which a man is in his very essence and which cannot be changed. It describes that part of a man which, in any circumstances, remains the same. So Paul begins by saying that Jesus was essentially and unalterably God.

He goes on to say that Jesus was in the form of God. There are two Greek words for form, morphe (Greek #3444) and schema (Greek #4976). They must both be translated form, because there is no other English equivalent, but they do not mean the same thing. Morphe (Greek #3444) is the essential form which never alters; schema (Greek #4976) is the outward form which changes from time to time and from circumstance to circumstance. For instance, the morphe (Greek #3444) of any human being is humanity and this never changes; but his schema (Greek #4976) is continually changing. A baby, a child, a boy, a youth, a man of middle age, an old man always have the morphe (Greek #3444) of humanity, but the outward schema (Greek #4976) changes all the time. Roses, daffodils, tulips, chrysanthemums, primroses, dahlias, lupins all have the one morphe (Greek #3444) of flowers; but their schema (Greek #4976) is different. Aspirin, penicillin, cascara, magnesia all have the one morphe (Greek #3444) of drugs; but their schema (Greek #4976) is different. The morphe (Greek #3444) never alters; the schema (Greek #4976) continually does. The word Paul uses for Jesus being in the form of God is morphe (Greek #3444); that is to say, his unchangeable being is divine. However his outward schema (Greek #4976) might alter, he remained in essence divine.

Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God; he did not regard existence in equality with God as something to be snatched at. The word used for robbery, which we have translated a thing to be snatched at, is harpagmos (Greek #725) which comes from a verb meaning to snatch, or to clutch. The phrase can mean one of two things, both of which are at heart the same. (a) It can mean that Jesus did not need to snatch at equality with God, because he had it as a right. (b) It can mean that he did not clutch at equality with God, as if to hug it jealously to himself, but laid it willingly down for the sake of men. However we take this, it once again stresses the essential godhead of Jesus.

Philippians 2:7 : He emptied himself, he made himself of no reputation. The Greek is the verb kenoun (Greek #2758) which means literally to empty. It can be used of removing things from a container, until the container is empty; of pouring something out, until there is nothing left. Here Paul uses the most vivid possible word to make clear the sacrifice of the Incarnation. The glory of divinity Jesus gave up willingly in order to become man. He emptied himself of his deity to take upon himself his humanity. It is useless to ask how; we can only stand in awe at the sight of him, who is almighty God, hungry and weary and in tears. Here in the last reach of human language is the great saving truth that he who was rich for our sakes became poor.

He took upon him the form of a servant; he took the very form of a slave. The word used for form is morphe (Greek #3444), which we have seen means the essential form. Paul means that when Jesus became man it was no play-acting but reality. He was not like the Greek gods, who sometimes, so the stories ran, became men but kept their divine privileges. Jesus truly became man. But there is something more here. He was made in the likeness of men; he became like men. The word which the King James Version translates made and which we have translated became is a part of the Greek verb ginesthai (Greek #1096). This verb describes a state which is not a permanent state. The idea is that of becoming, and it describes a changing phase which is completely real but which passes. That is to say, the manhood of Jesus was not permanent; it was utterly real, but it passed.

Philippians 2:8 : He was found in fashion as a man; he came in appearance as a man for all to recognise. Paul makes the same point. The word the King James Version has translated fashion and which we have translated appearance is schema (Greek #4976), and we have seen that this indicates a form which alters.

Philippians 2:6-8 form a very short passage; but there is no passage in the New Testament which so movingly sets out the utter reality of the godhead and the manhood of Jesus and makes so vivid the sacrifice that he made when he laid aside his godhead and took manhood upon him. How it happened, we cannot tell, but it is the mystery of a love so great that, although we can never fully understand it, we can blessedly experience it and adore it.

HUMILIATION AND EXALTATION (Philippians 2:5-11 continued)

It is always to be remembered that when Paul thought and spoke about Jesus, his interest and his intention were never primarily intellectual and speculative; they were always practical. To him theology and action were always bound together. Any system of thought must necessarily become a way of life. In many ways this passage is one of the greatest reaches of theological thought in the New Testament, but its aim was to persuade the Philippians to live a life in which disunity, discord, and personal ambition had no place.

So, then, Paul says of Jesus that he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of a cross. The great characteristics of Jesus' life were humility, obedience, and self-renunciation. He did not desire to dominate men but only to serve them; he did not desire his own way but only God's way; he did not desire to exalt himself but only to renounce all his glory for the sake of men. Again and again the New Testament is sure that only the man who humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14). If humility, obedience, and self-renunciation were the supreme characteristics of the life of Jesus, they must also be the hall-marks of the Christian. Selfishness, self-seeking and self-display destroy our likeness to Christ and our fellowship with each other.

But the self-renunciation of Jesus Christ brought him the greater glory. It made certain that some day, soon or late, every living creature in all the universe, in heaven, in earth and even in hell, would worship him. It is to be carefully noted whence that worship comes. It comes from love. Jesus won the hearts of men, not by blasting them with power, but by showing them a love they could not resist. At the sight of this person who laid his glory by for men and loved them to the extent of dying for them on a cross, men's hearts are melted and their resistance is broken down. When men worship Jesus Christ, they fall at his feet in wondering love. They do not say "I cannot resist a might like that," but, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all." Worship is founded, not on fear, but on love.

Further, Paul says that, as a consequence of his sacrificial love, God gave Jesus the name which is above every name. One of the common biblical ideas is the giving of a new name to mark a new stage in a man's life. Abram became Abraham when he received the promise of God (Genesis 17:5). Jacob became Israel when God entered into the new relationship with him (Genesis 32:28). The promise of the Risen Christ to both Pergamos and to Philadelphia is the promise of a new name (Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12).

What then is the new name given to Jesus Christ? We cannot be quite certain what exactly was in Paul's mind, but most likely the new name is Lord.

The great title by which Jesus came to be known in the early Church was kurios (Greek #2962), Lord, which has an illuminating history. (i) It began by meaning master or owner. (ii) It became the official title of the Roman Emperors. (iii) It became the title of the heathen gods. (iv) It was the word by which the Hebrew Jehovah was translated in the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures. So, then, when Jesus was called kurios (Greek #2962), Lord, it meant that he was the Master and the Owner of all life; he was the King of kings; he was the Lord in a way in which the heathen gods and the dumb idols could never be; he was nothing less than divine.

ALL FOR GOD (Philippians 2:5-11 continued)

Philippians 2:11 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament. In it we read that the aim of God, is a day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. These four words were the first creed that the Christian Church ever had. To be a Christian was to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (compare Romans 10:9). This was a simple creed, yet all-embracing. Perhaps we would do well to go back to it. Later men tried to define more closely what it meant and argued and quarrelled about it, calling each other heretics and fools. But it is still true that if man can say, "For me Jesus Christ is Lord," he is a Christian. If he can say that, he means that for him Jesus Christ is unique and that he is prepared to give him an obedience he is prepared to give no one else. He may not be able to put into words who and what he believes Jesus to be; but, so long as there is in his heart this wondering love and in his life this unquestioning obedience, he is a Christian, because Christianity consists less in the mind's understanding than it does in the heart's love.

So we come to the end of this passage; and, when we come to its end, we come back to its beginning. The day will come when men will call Jesus Lord, but they will do so to the glory of God the Father. The whole aim of Jesus is not his own glory but God's. Paul is clear about the lonely and ultimate supremacy of God. In the first letter to the Corinthians he writes that in the end the Son himself shall be subject to him who put all things under him (1 Corinthians 15:28). Jesus draws men to himself that he may draw them to God. In the Philippian Church there were men whose aim was to gratify a selfish ambition; the aim of Jesus was to serve others, no matter what depths of self-renunciation that service might involve. In the Philippian Church there were those whose aim was to focus men's eyes upon themselves; the aim of Jesus was to focus men's eyes upon God.

So the follower of Christ must think always, not of himself but of others, not of his own glory but of the glory of God.

CO-OPERATION IN SALVATION (Philippians 2:12-18)

2:12-18 So then, my beloved, just as at all times you obeyed not only as in my presence, but much more, as things now are, in my absence, carry to its perfect conclusion the work of your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God, who, that he may carry out his own good pleasure, brings to effect in you both the initial willing and the effective action. Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may show yourselves blameless and pure, the spotless children of God in a warped and twisted generation, in which you appear like lights in the world, as you hold forth the word which is life, so that on the day of Christ it may be my proud claim that I have not run for nothing and that I have not toiled for nothing. But if my own life is to be poured out on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and I do rejoice with you all. So also do you rejoice, and share my rejoicing.

Paul's appeal to the Philippians is more than an appeal to live in unity in a given situation; it is an appeal to live a life which will lead to the salvation of God in time and in eternity.

Nowhere in the New Testament is the work of salvation more succinctly stated. As the Revised Standard Version has it in Philippians 2:12-13 : "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God's at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." As always with Paul, the words are meticulously chosen.

Work out your own salvation; the word he uses for work out is katergazesthai (Greek #2716), which always has the idea of bringing to completion. It is as if Paul says: "Don't stop halfway; go on until the work of salvation is fully wrought out in you." No Christian should be satisfied with anything less than the total benefits of the gospel.

"For God is at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." The word Paul uses for work and do is the same, the verb energein (Greek #1754). There are two significant things about it; it is always used of the action of God, and it is always used of effective action. God's action cannot be frustrated, nor can it remain half-finished; it must be fully effective.

As we have said, this passage gives a perfect statement of the work of salvation.

(i) Salvation is of God. (a) It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. It is true that "our hearts are restless till they rest in him," and it is also true that "we could not even begin to seek him unless he had already found us." The desire for the salvation of God is not kindled by any human emotion but by God himself The beginning of the process of salvation is awakened by God. (b) The continuance of that process is dependent on God. Without his help there can be no progress in goodness; without his help no sin can be conquered and no virtue achieved. (c) The end of the process of salvation is with God, for its end is friendship with God, in which we are his and he is ours. The work of salvation is begun, continued and ended in God.

(ii) There is another side to this. Salvation is of man. "Work out your own salvation," Paul demands. Without man's co-operation, even God is helpless. The fact is that any gift or any benefit has to be received. A man may be ill and the doctor able to prescribe the drugs that will cure him; but the man will not be cured until he takes them and he may stubbornly refuse all persuasion to take them. It is so with salvation. The offer of God is there; without it there can be no such thing as salvation. But no man can ever receive salvation unless he answers God's appeal and takes what he offers.

There can be no salvation without God, but what God offers man must take. It is never God who withholds salvation; it is always man who deprives himself of it.

THE SIGNS OF SALVATION (Philippians 2:12-18 continued)

When we examine the chain of thought in this passage, we see that Paul sets down five signs of salvation, as we may call them.

(i) There is the sign of effective action. The Christian must give continual evidence in his daily life that he is indeed working out his own salvation; day by day it must be more fully accomplished. The great tragedy of so many of us is that we are never really any further on. We continue to be victims of the same habits and slaves of the same temptations, and guilty of the same failures. But the truly Christian life must be a continual progress, for it is a journey towards God.

(ii) There is the sign of fear and trembling. This is not the fear and trembling of the slave cringing before his master; nor fear and trembling at the prospect of punishment. It comes from two things. It comes, first, from a sense of our own creatureliness and our own powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. That is to say, it is not the fear and trembling which drives us to hide from God, but rather the fear and trembling which drives us to seek God, in the certainty that without his help we cannot effectively face life. It comes, second, from a horror of grieving God. When we really love a person, we are not afraid of what he may do to us; we are afraid of what we may do to him. The Christian's great fear is of crucifying Christ again.

(iii) There is the sign of serenity and certainty. The Christian will do all things without murmurings and questionings. The word which Paul uses for murmurings (goggusmos, Greek #1112) is unusual. In the Greek of the sacred writers it has a special connection. It is the word used of the rebellious murmurings of the children of Israel in their desert journey. The people murmured against Moses (Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2; Numbers 16:41). Goggusmos (Greek #1112)--pronounced gongusomos--is an onomatopoetic word. It describes the low, threatening, discontented muttering of a mob who distrust their leaders and are on the verge of an uprising. The word Paul uses for questionings is dialogismos (Greek #1261) which describes useless, and sometimes ill-natured, disputing and doubting. In the Christian life there is the serenity and the certainty of perfect certainty and perfect trust.

(iv) There is the sign of purity. Christians, as the Revised Standard Version has it, are to be blameless and innocent and without blemish. Each of these words makes its contribution to the idea of Christian purity.

(a) The word translated blameless is amemptos (Greek #273) and expresses what the Christian is to the world. His life is of such purity that none can find anything in it with which to find fault. It is often said in courts of law that the proceedings must not only be just but must be seen to be just. The Christian must not only be pure, but the purity of his life must be seen by all.

(b) The word translated innocent is akeraios (Greek #185), and expresses what the Christian is in himself. Akeraios (Greek #185) literally means unmixed, unadulterated. It is used, for instance, of wine or milk which is not mixed with water and of metal which has no alloy in it. When used of people, it implies motives which are unmixed. Christian purity must issue in a complete sincerity of thought and character.

(c) The word which is translated without blemish is amomos (Greek #299) and describes what the Christian is in the sight of God. This word is specially used in connection with sacrifices that are fit to be offered on the altar of God. The Christian life must be such that it can be offered like an unblemished sacrifice to God.

Christian purity is blameless in the sight of the world, sincere within itself, and fit to stand the scrutiny of God.

(v) There is the sign of missionary endeavour. The Christian offers to all the word of life, that is to say, the word which gives life. This Christian missionary endeavour has two aspects: (a) It is the proclamation of the offer of the gospel in words which are clear and unmistakable. (b) It is the witness of a life that is absolutely straight in a world which is warped and twisted. It is the offer of light in a world which is dark. Christians are to be lights in the world. The word used for lights (phosteres, Greek #5458) is the same as is used in the creation story of the lights (the sun and the moon) which God set in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth (Genesis 1:14-18). The Christian offers and demonstrates straightness in a twisted world and light in a dark world.

THE PICTURES OF PAUL (Philippians 2:12-18 continued)

This passage concludes with two vivid pictures, which are typical of Paul's way of thinking.

(i) He longs for the Christian progress of the Philippians so that at the end of the day he may have the joy of knowing that he has not run or laboured in vain. The word he uses for to labour is kopian (Greek #2872). There are two possible pictures in it. (a) It may paint a picture of the most exacting toil. Kopian (Greek #2872) means to labour to the point of utter exhaustion. (b) It may be that kopian (Greek #2872) describes the toil of the athlete's training and that what Paul is saying is that he prays that all the discipline of training that he imposed upon himself may not go for nothing.

One of the features of Paul's writing is his love of pictures from the life of the athlete. And there is little wonder. In every Greek city the gymnasium was far more than a physical training-ground. It was in the gymnasium that Socrates often discussed the eternal problems; it was in the gymnasium that the philosophers and the sophists and the wandering teachers and preachers often found their audience. In any Greek city the gymnasium was not only the physical training-ground but also the intellectual club of the city. In the Greek world there were the great Isthmian Games at Corinth, the great Pan-Ionian Games at Ephesus, and, greatest of all, the Olympic Games, held every four years. The Greek cities were often at variance and frequently at war; but when the Olympic Games came round, no matter what dispute was raging, a month's truce was declared that there might be a contest in fellowship between them. Not only did the athletes come, but the historians and the poets came to give readings of their latest works, and the sculptors, whose names are immortal, came to make statues of the winners.

There can be little doubt that, in Corinth and in Ephesus, Paul had been a spectator of these games. Where there were crowds of men, Paul would be there to seek to win them for Christ. But, apart from the preaching, there was something about these athletic contests which found an answer in the heart of Paul. He knew the contests of the boxers (1 Corinthians 9:26). He knew the foot-race, most famous of all the contests. He had seen the herald summoning the racers to the starting-line (1 Corinthians 9:27); he had seen the runners press along the course to the goal (Philippians 3:14); he had seen the judge awarding the prize at the end of the race (2 Timothy 4:8); he knew of the victor's laurel crown and of his exultation (1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 4:1). He knew the rigorous discipline of training which the athlete must undertake, and the strict regulations which must be observed (1 Timothy 4:7-8; 2 Timothy 2:5).

So his prayer is that he may not be like an athlete whose training and effort have gone for nothing. For him the greatest prize in life was to know that through him others had come to know and to love and to serve Jesus Christ.

(ii) But in Philippians 2:17 Paul has another picture. He had a special gift for speaking in language that people could understand. Again and again he took his pictures from the ordinary affairs of the people to whom he was speaking. He has already taken a picture from the games; now he takes one from heathen sacrifice. One of the commonest kinds of heathen sacrifice was a libation, which was a cup of wine poured out as an offering to the gods. For instance, every heathen meal began and ended with such a libation, as a kind of grace before and after meat. Paul here looks upon the faith and service of the Philippians as a sacrifice to God. He knows that his death may not be very far away, for he is writing in prison and awaiting trial. So he says, as the Revised Standard Version has it, that he is quite ready "to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering" of their faith. In other words what he is saying to the Philippians is: "Your Christian fidelity and loyalty are already a sacrifice to God; and if death for Christ should come to me, I am willing and glad that my life should be poured out like a libation on the altar on which your sacrifice is being made."

Paul was perfectly willing to make his life a sacrifice to God; and, if that happened, to him it would be all joy, and he calls on them not to mourn at the prospect but rather to rejoice. To him every call to sacrifice and to toil was a call to his love for Christ, and therefore he met it not with regret and complaint but with joy.

THE FAITHFUL HENCHMAN (Philippians 2:19-24)

2:19-24 I hope in the Lord Jesus soon to send Timothy to you, that I may find out how things are going with you and take heart. I have no one with a mind equal to his, for he is the kind of man who will genuinely care for your affairs; for all men are concerned with their own interests, and not with the interests of Jesus Christ. You know his tried and tested character, and you know that, as a child serves a father, so he has shared my service in the work of the gospel. So then, I hope to send him, as soon as I see how things go with me. But I am confident in the Lord that I myself too will soon come to you.

Since Paul cannot himself come to Philippi, it is his intention to send Timothy as his representative. There was no one so close to him as Timothy was. We know very little detail about Timothy but the record of his service with Paul shows his fidelity.

He was a native either of Derbe or of Lystra. His mother Eunice was a Jewess and his grandmother's name was Lois. His father was a Greek and the fact that he was not circumcised would seem to show that he was educated in Greek ways (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5). We cannot tell how or when he was converted to Christianity, but on his second missionary journey Paul met him and saw in him one whom he could clearly use in the service of Jesus Christ.

From that time Paul and Timothy were very close. Paul could speak of him as his child in the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:17). He was with Paul in Philippi (Acts 16:1-40 ); he was with him in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-14); he was with him in Corinth and in Ephesus (Acts 18:5; Acts 19:21-22); and he was with him in prison in Rome (Colossians 1:1; Philippians 1:1). He was associated with Paul in the writing of no fewer than five of his letters--1 and 2 Thessalonians, 2 Corinthians, Colossians and Philippians; and when Paul wrote to Rome Timothy was joined with him in sending greetings (Romans 16:21).

Timothy's great use was that, whenever Paul wished for information from some Church or wished to send advice or encouragement or rebuke and could not go himself, it was he whom he sent. So Timothy was sent to Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:6); to Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 16:10-11); to Philippi. In the end Timothy, too, was a prisoner for Christ's sake (Hebrews 13:23).

Timothy's great value was that he was always willing to go anywhere; and in his hands a message was as safe as if Paul had delivered it himself. Others might be consumed with selfish ambition; but Timothy's one desire was to serve Paul and Jesus Christ. He is the patron saint of all those who are quite content with the second place, so long as they can serve.

THE COURTESY OF PAUL (Philippians 2:25-30)

2:25-30 I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, and fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, your messenger and the servant of my need, because he is longing for you all, and he is very distressed because you heard that he had been ill, so ill that he nearly died. But God had pity on him, and not on him only, but on me too, that I might not have grief upon grief. So, then, I send him to you with the more despatch, that, when you see him, you may be glad again, and that I may be less grieved. Welcome him in the Lord with all joy, and hold such men in honour, because he came near to death because of his work for Christ, hazarding his life, that he might fill up that part of your service to me which you were personally unable to supply.

There is a dramatic story behind this. When the Philippians heard that Paul was in prison, their warm hearts were moved to action. They sent a gift to him by the hand of Epaphroditus. What they could not personally do, because distance prevented them, they delegated to Epaphroditus to do for them. Not only did they intend him to be the bearer of their gift; they also intended him to stay in Rome and be Paul's personal servant and attendant. Clearly Epaphroditus was a brave man, for any one who proposed to offer himself as the personal attendant of a man awaiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to the very considerable risk of becoming involved in the same charge. In truth, Epaphroditus risked his life to serve Paul.

In Rome Epaphroditus fell ill, perhaps with the notorious Roman fever which sometimes swept the city like a scourge, and was near to death. He knew that news of his illness had filtered back to Philippi, and he was worried because he knew that his friends there would be worried about him. God in his mercy spared the life of Epaphroditus and so spared Paul yet more sorrow. But Paul knew that it was time that Epaphroditus went back home, and in all probability he was the bearer of this letter.

But there was a problem. The Philippian Church had sent Epaphroditus to stay with Paul, and if he came back home, there would not be lacking those who said that he was a quitter. Here Paul gives him a tremendous testimonial, which will silence any possible criticism of his return.

In this testimonial every word is carefully chosen. Epaphroditus was his brother, his fellow-worker, and his fellow-soldier. As Lightfoot puts it, Epaphroditus was one with Paul in sympathy, one with him in work, one with him in danger. He in truth had stood in the firing-line. Then Paul goes on to call him your messenger and the servant of my need. It is impossible to supply the flavour of these words in translation.

The word Paul uses for messenger is apostolos (Greek #652). Apostolos literally means anyone who is sent out on an errand, but Christian usage had ennobled it and by using it Paul by implication ranks Epaphroditus with himself and all the apostles of Christ.

The word he uses for servant is leitourgos (Greek #3011). In secular Greek this was a magnificent word. In the ancient days in the Greek cities there were men who, because they loved their city so much, at their own expense undertook certain great civic duties. It might be to defray the expenses of an embassy, or the cost of putting on one of the dramas of the great poets, or of training the athletes who would represent the city in the games, or of fitting out a warship and paying a crew to serve in the navy of the state. These men were the supreme benefactors of the state and they were known as leitourgoi (Greek #3011).

Paul takes the great Christian word apostolos (Greek #652) and the great Greek word leitourgos (Greek #3011), and applies them to Epaphroditus. "Give a man like that a welcome home," he says. "Hold him in honour for he hazarded his life for Christ."

Paul is making it easy for Epaphroditus to go home. There is something very wonderful here. It is touching to think of Paul, himself in the very shadow of death, in prison and awaiting judgment, showing such Christian consideration for Epaphroditus. He was facing death, and yet it mattered to him that Epaphroditus should not meet with embarrassment when he went home. Paul was a true Christian in his attitude to others; for he was never so immersed in his own troubles that he had no time to think of the troubles of his friends.

There is a word in this passage which later had a famous usage. The King James Version speaks of Epaphroditus not regarding his life; the Revised Standard Version uses risking his life; we have translated it hazarding his life. The word is the verb paraboleuesthai (Greek #3851); it is a gambler's word and means to stake everything on a turn of the dice. Paul is saying that for the sake of Jesus Christ Epaphroditus gambled his life. In the days of the Early Church there was an association of men and women called the parabolani, the gamblers. It was their aim to visit the prisoners and the sick, especially those who were ill with dangerous and infectious diseases. In A.D. 252 plague broke out in Carthage; the heathen threw out the bodies of their dead and fled in terror. Cyprian, the Christian bishop, gathered his congregation together and set them to burying the dead and nursing the sick in that plague-stricken city; and by so doing they saved the city, at the risk of their lives, from destruction and desolation.

There should be in the Christian an almost reckless courage which makes him ready to gamble with his life to serve Christ and men.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/philippians-2.html. 1956-1959.


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Saturday, July 29th, 2017
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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