corner graphic   Hi,    
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to

Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Philippians 2



Other Authors
Verse 1


This exceedingly important chapter containing some of the profoundest Christological teaching in the word of God begins with an earnest plea for unity, in which Paul stated a fourfold basis of his appeal with an intensity indicating that "There was serious personal strife for place among the Philippian Christians.[1] (Philippians 2:1-4). The example of humility exhibited by the Saviour was cited as motivation for their unity (Philippians 2:5-11), this offhand, matter-of-fact appeal standing as one of the most astounding testimonials to the pre-existence and deity of Jesus Christ that could be imagined. Paul continued his appeal for the Philippians to exercise diligence in Christian service and for them to become shining lights in an evil world (Philippians 2:12-18). Plans concerning Timothy and Epaphroditus were discussed in the final verses of the chapter (Philippians 2:19-30).


[1] John A. Knight, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. IX, Philippians (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1965), p. 315.

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions. (Philippians 2:1)

Collectively, the fourfold premise of this verse adds up to this: "Look, if there is anything at all to your Christianity ...!"

If ... "This is rhetorical and in no way expresses doubt.[2] Paul was here appealing to those very things which he considered most certain in the area of Christian experience. This was a common Hebrew method of making a statement in the affirmative, as when Jesus said, "If I go, I shall come again" (John 14:3), making the certainty of his going the pledge also of his Second Coming.

Lightfoot paraphrased this quadruple list of "if's" thus:

If your experiences in Christ appeal to you with any force, if love exerts any persuasive power upon you, if your fellowship in the Spirit is a living reality, if you have any affectionate yearnings of heart, any tender feelings of compassion, listen and obey![3]

Thus, it is clear that Paul here based this appeal for unity upon all of the sacred elements of true Christianity and upon their highest and best impulses as human beings.

Fellowship of the Spirit ... Martin is no doubt correct in his comment on this that "The meaning must be 'fellowship with participation in the Spirit' rather than 'fellowship wrought by the Spirit'.[4] Thus the admonition is that the Philippians should be "in the Spirit," not that the Spirit should be "in them"! See under Philippians 2:5.

Hendriksen pointed out that Paul's stirring appeal here has a "fourfold incentive and a three-fold directive, the latter being: (i) oneness (Philippians 2:2); (ii) lowliness of mind or disposition (Philippians 2:3); and (iii) helpfulness (Philippians 2:4)."[5]

[2] James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964).

[3] J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1963), p. 107.

[4] R. P. Martin, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 91.

[5] William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1962), p. 99.

Verse 2

Make full my joy, that ye may be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

By commanding them to be in the Spirit, Paul touched upon the basic theological foundation of Christian unity. There is only "one Spirit" (Ephesians 4:4). Other passages bearing upon this basic unity are Rom. 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:13.

Verse 3

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

Faction and vain-glory ... These twin vices have been spoilers of the church of God in all ages. Petty strivings for place and preferment, jockeyings for advantage, pushing and shoving for prestige or attention - how many congregations of believers in Christ have been blighted or destroyed by the sins Paul mentioned here?

Hendriksen asked a pertinent question on his verse: "But how can a man who knows that he is industrious regard the rather lazy fellow-member as being better than himself?[6] Of course, Paul's rule here does not mean that every Christian must think that every member besides himself is better in every particular than he is! However, a proper evaluation of our brothers in Christ will reveal that every person in one particular or another is better than ourselves. In opportunity, in privilege, in the endowment of youth, strength, intelligence, or other of life's benefits, every Christian in some specific sense is better than any other; and thus this rule enhances one's true regard, not merely of his brother, but of himself as well.


[6] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 100.

Verse 4

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

As Wesley said, "The also sanctions some reasonable amount of attention to one's own interests!"[7] True as this is, however, it is concern for and interest in other people and their interests which pay the greatest dividends to the Christian. Would a person who habitually practiced the injunction of Paul in this verse be popular with his peers? Hendriksen gave the answer thus: "True Christianity is still the best answer to the question, `How can I win friends and influence people?'"[8]

If all Christians would concentrate upon thinking of those particulars in which others are better than themselves and of speaking of such things, a climate of heavenly love and appreciation would soon replace the faction and vainglory which Paul sought to eradicate by this injunction.

[7] John Wesley, One Volume New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1972), in loco.

[8] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 101.

Verse 5

Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.

As Wesley said, "From this verse to Philippians 2:11, Paul presents the great renunciation of Christ as the supreme example of the unselfishness to which he has exhorted the Philippians in Philippians 2:4."[9]

Have this mind in you ... This is one of eight Scriptural expressions describing the redeemed in Christ. For a full list and discussion of these, see under Galatians 5:23, this volume.

Which was also in Christ Jesus ... The proper verb in this clause must be "is" rather than "was"; because, while true enough either way, the eternity and pre-existence of Christ clearly enunciated in the whole passage suggest "is" rather than "was." Hendriksen translated it "is."[10] The Greek in this clause has no verb at all,[11] the reason being that no single tense of the verb "to be" is adequate in this clause. Of himself, Jesus said, "I am ... I was ... and behold I am alive forever more" (Revelation 1:17,18). Thus Jesus Christ is, was and ever will be. See also Hebrews 13:8.

Having the mind of Christ in one is equivalent to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, as well as to the indwelling of the Father and the Son in Christian hearts. The Christian's being "in Christ," "in God," "in the Holy Spirit," or having "the word of Christ dwell in" him are also equivalent in every way. See under Galatians 5:23, above.

[9] John Wesley, op. cit., in loco.

[10] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 102.

[11] Alfred Marshall, The Nestle Greek Text with a Literal English Translation (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958), in loco.

Verse 6

Who existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped.


Many scholars insist that "Paul here quotes a previously composed hymn";[12] but outside the attractiveness of plausible imagination, there is no hard evidence of any kind to commend such a view. It is true, of course, that the passage is composed of balanced phrases having a kind of rhythm and that they could have been sung; but what does that prove? Matthew's entire narrative of the crucifixion has been sung and continues to be one of the most popular oratorios. Again, it is true that this passage shows evidence of having been carefully thought out; but the reader is referred to my Commentary on Romans, Romans 1:6, for review of another Pauline passage showing the most careful and deliberate construction even exceeding the passage here in that quality. The rejection of the "hymn theory" has the utility of refuting those who wish to deny the Pauline authorship of this passage; and, since there is no proof whatever of its ever having been an ancient hymn, this writer rejects the hymn theory as having no merit whatever.

"Being in the form of God ..." As Knight said:

The Greeks had two words for "form," one of them referring to mere external appearance, as when a mirage takes the appearance of water ... the other suggests that the appearance is the true revelation of the object itself, the form participating in the reality. It is the second word (@morfe]) which Paul here employs.[13]

This is of course a dogmatic statement of the deity of Jesus Christ. As Hewlett said, "It includes the whole nature and essence of deity, and is inseparable from them."[14] There are at least nine other New Testament passages affirming the deity of Christ; for a list of these, see my Commentary on Hebrews, Hebrews 1:8.

Counted not being on an equality with God ... These words refer to "being in the form of God," and are a statement (in different words) of the status of our Lord in his pre-existent state before the incarnation. It is a gross misinterpretation to construe these words as reference to anything else.

A thing to be grasped ... Modern exegesis has, to a large extent, attempted to pervert this clause, making it mean that Jesus (in his pre-existent state) "could have grasped at equality with God by self-assertion, but declined to do so."[15] Such a misinterpretation, however, makes "equality with God" something that Christ did not have in his pre-incarnate state (flatly contradicting "existing in the form of God"), but something which presented itself to him as a temptation. The true meaning of this place is that, although Christ had existed from the beginning as God (John 1:1), he did not count the prerogatives of deity "something to be grasped" or "tenaciously retained,"[16] because one would not need to grasp what is already his. As Martin expressed this viewpoint (while denying it), "He had no need to grasp at equality with God because he already possessed it."[17]

This student has carefully read the arguments from the meaning of [@harpagmos], and while convinced that Paul might have used a Greek word here with a double meaning (hence the two diverse interpretations), it is only another of countless instances in Scripture where the Holy Spirit left room for people to make a moral judgment. After all, as Kennedy said:

Much trouble would be saved if interpreters instead of merely investigating the refinements of Greek metaphysics ... were to ask themselves, "What other terms could the apostle have used to express his conceptions?"[18]

The truth of this passage shines like the sun at perihelion, and it is nearly incredible that anyone could miss it. Note the following:

(1) The mistaken position of some scholars is concisely stated by both Bruce and Martin:

The basic idea of the word ([@harpagmos] in Philippians 2:6) is that of seizing what one does not possess ...[19] Equality with God is not a position which the pre-existent Christ had and gave up[20]

A corrupt translation of this place in the manner of such interpretations voids and contradicts Paul's entire argument in this passage. As Macknight said:

The apostle is not cautioning the Philippians against coveting what they were not in possession of, but exhorting them, after the example of Christ, to give up for the benefit of others what they were in possession of, or had a right to.[21]

Furthermore, if Christ did not have equality with God, such an equality being only something that he might have "snatched at" (New English Bible), then our Lord's not grasping at equality with God could not have been an instance of humility, "but merely the absence of a mad impiety."[22]

(2) After all of the tiresome arguments of scholars pontificating about the meaning of an obscure Greek word, the truth still stands, as expressed by Barclay who affirmed that: "It can mean that Jesus did not need to snatch at equality with God, because he had it as a right."[23] This of course is exactly what it does mean.

(3) Furthermore, there are parallels to the thought of this passage in other Pauline passages, as follows:

(a) "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). Here, as well as in the passage before us, the great parabola appears:

These verses have been called the great parabola of scripture, for they picture the descent of our Lord Jesus Christ from the highest position in the universe down down ... down to his death on the cross, and then carry the mind of the reader up again to see Christ seated once more upon the throne of his glory![24]

(b) "When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth?" Ephesians 4:8,9). See notes on this passage, above. Paul's argument here is that Christ could not have ascended without first descending, the same being exactly the same affirmation of the pre-incarnation glory and Godhead of Jesus which appears in the related passages here cited, especially in Philippians 2:6-11.

[12] Frances Foulkes, New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1132.

[13] John A. Knight, op. cit., p. 381.

[14] H. C. Hewlett, A New Testament Commentary, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 474.

[15] R. P. Martin, op. cit., p. 97.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] H. A. A. Kennedy, The Expositor's Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), Vol. 435.

[19] F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 109.

[20] R. P. Martin, op. cit., p. 97.

[21] James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles with Commentary, Volume III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1969), p. 23.

[22] B. C. Caffin, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 20, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 60.

[23] William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975), p. 36.

[24] James Montgomery Boice, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1971), p. 125.

Verse 7

But he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.

This verse strongly suggests Isaiah 42:1: "Behold my servant whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." It should be distinguished, however, that Christ did not actually become in any sense a servant to any man; rather his life was humble, clothed in meekness and poverty, encompassed with hatred and hostility, and marked by an earthly status fully comparable with that of slaves. He even suffered the death of a condemned slave, though he was King of kings and Lord of lords.

Emptied himself ... Of what did Christ empty himself?

The diversity of opinions among interpreters in regard to the meaning of this passage is enough to fill the student with despair, and to afflict him with intellectual paralysis.[25]

One thing is clear enough. The use of [@morfe] in connection with servant shows that the manhood of Jesus was no less real and actual than his Godhead,[26] Agreement is also felt with Mounce that Christ did not empty himself of divine attributes, because, as he said, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (John 14:9). Christ emptied himself of his glory (John 17:5), exactly the same renunciation Paul was enjoining upon the Philippians.

In the likeness of men ... "This word, of course, does not imply that our Lord was not truly man, but, as Chrysostom said, that he is more than a man."[27]

[25] F. F. Bruce, (as quoted by John A. Knight), op. cit., p. 319.

[26] Robert H. Mounce, Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 765.

[27] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 60.

Verse 8

And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross.

Here in this verse also, the essential truth of the whole passage bearing upon the eternal power and Godhead of Christ shines in the use of the word "obedient." "Only a divine being can accept death as obedience; for ordinary men it is a necessity!"[28] The death of Christ was not something inflicted upon the Son of God, but the voluntary laying down of his life for the salvation of people (John 10:17ff; therefore, it was, on the part of Christ, obedience to the Father's will.

However, Paul will not stop with this emphasis upon the humiliation and death of Christ; the great parabola reaches to the right hand of the Majesty of the Heavens, and the apostle will not pause until he brings that into focus again.


[28] R. P. Martin (quoting Lohmeyer), op. cit., p. 102.

Verse 9

Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave unto him the name which is above every name.

Exalted him ... The exaltation here is contrasted not with the pre-existent eternal Godhead of Christ, but with the humiliation of his incarnation, the one new element in it being in this, that "He is exalted in the very nature in which he died."[29] Thus human nature has been elevated and made to sit on the right hand of God in the person of Christ.

The name which is above every name ... Dummelow said, "This name is the completed title, The Lord Jesus Christ.[30] The name in view here "is Lord, [@kurios], the Old Testament name for God."[31] "In light of Philippians 2:11, the supreme name is that of `Lord.' The root meaning of this term ([@kurios]) was used in Septuagint (LXX) to translate the divine name Yahweh."[32] The word "Lord" denotes rulership based upon competent and authoritative power. The identity of the expression Lord Jesus Christ with the sacred unpronounceable name of GOD as known to the Jews was commented upon thus by Taylor:

God changed the ineffable name into a name utterable by man, and desirable by the world; the majesty is all arrayed in robes of mercy. The tetragrammaton, adorable mystery of the patriarchs, is made firm for pronunciation and expression when it becomes the name of the Lord's Christ.[33]

This writer, because of John 17th chapter, strongly inclines to Dummelow's identification of this name as "The Lord Jesus Christ." For extensive notes on "thy name," see my Commentary on John, John 17:3f. Christ himself first revealed the sacred compound title Jesus Christ in John 17:3, the very night in which he declared himself to be the Christ.

[29] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 427.

[30] J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 973.

[31] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 765.

[32] R. P. Martin, op. cit., p. 104.

[33] H. A. A. Kennedy, (quoting Taylor), op. cit., p. 439.

Verse 10

That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.

In the name of Jesus ... It is wrong to read this "at the name of Jesus," giving rise to the superstitious practice of genuflecting at every mention of the name "Jesus." "In the name of" means "by the authority of," and one thing in view here is that prayers shall be universally offered in the sacred name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Barclay has a precious passage on the term "Lord," thus:

This great title by which Jesus came to be known in the early church was [@kurios]: (1) It began by meaning master or owner. (2) It became the official title of the Roman emperors; (3) it became the title of the heathen gods; and (4) it was the title used to translate the sacred four-letter unpronounceable name of God in the Old Testament. So then when Jesus was called [@Kurios] (Lord), it meant he was the Master and Owner of Life, the King of kings, the true Lord in a way which heathen gods could never be; he was nothing less than Divine.[34]

As to the meaning of things in heaven ... earth ... under the earth, etc., such actions as knees bending and tongues confessing are universally associated with human beings. "Therefore, unless it can be proved that these words are highly poetical, the view which refers these designations to persons (and not things) deserves the preference."[35] It is also possible that MacKnight's understanding this as a reference to "angels, men and devils" could be correct.[36] However construed, the words speak of the absolute and total supremacy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

[34] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 39.

[35] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 115.

[36] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 429.

Verse 11

And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The use of "should" in this place does not imply any uncertainty. As regards the present life only, the teaching of this place details what people ought to do, "should" do, and not what they will do; for it is a fact that many live and die without confessing the Saviour. However, there are overtones of eternity in the passage, and with reference to the ultimate future, all people, high and low, good or bad, saved or unsaved "shall" surely confess Christ to the glory of God the Father. See Revelation 6:15-17.

Here is the great truth that comforted and sustained the weary prisoner chained to a Roman guard; this was the reason why martyrs died with the blessed name of Jesus on their lips; and here is the basic conviction of the redeemed of all ages, namely, that Jesus Christ our Lord is supreme, our only Lord, seated at the right hand of God.

However, we cannot agree with some scholars who take "Jesus is Lord" to be the total creed, and the first-creed, of the early church. Of course, such a view is tailor-made to fit the foolish notion that the religion of Christ grew, developed or evolved." It did no such thing. True Christianity was revealed in its entirety by Christ; and, while true enough that the apostles required some time fully to understand and practice his teachings, none of the apostles ever went beyond the basic revelation by Jesus Christ himself.

In this context, everything mentioned in this Philippian letter was commonly accepted Christian doctrine. Even the profound teaching of the pre-incarnation glory and Godhead of Christ as related to his humiliation, death and ultimate glorification - all of this was a part of the basic fundamental creed of the first Christians. How else could Paul have referred to such things, not as new doctrine but as a well-known, long-received argument favoring their humility? Remember it was only 30 years since Christ was crucified when Paul wrote this letter. The writings of Paul are the effective refutation of any notion that the Christians did not generally refer to Jesus as Lord until long after the resurrection. Christ himself thus referred to himself in Matthew 7:21 and many other places in the New Testament.

Boice has a matchless paragraph on this as follows:

What do these verses contain? The answer is that they contain most of the distinctive articles of the Christian creed. They teach the divinity of Christ, his pre-existence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation and true humanity, his voluntary death on the cross, the certainty of his ultimate triumph over evil and the permanence of his ultimate reign. Then how foolish in the light of these statements are the views of scholars who attempt to dismiss the distinct doctrines of Christianity as late developments in the history of an historically conditioned and slowly evolving church. There was no evolution of these doctrines ... the doctrines themselves were always known (from Christ himself). Christianity is Christ - this Christ; and these things were believed about him from the beginning[37]


[37] James Montgomery Boice, op. cit., p. 126.

Verse 12

So then, my beloved, even as ye 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.

To be sure this verse gives the lie to the heresy of being saved by faith alone; and the somewhat humorous efforts of those holders of the heresy to diminish the impact of this place is discernible in the following comments:

Salvation (in this verse) has emphasis on that aspect of salvation which is called sanctification.[38]

Salvation, not in personal terms ... this can hardly be taken in a personal sense?[39]

Here is no denial of justification by faith, for it is Christians, not unbelievers, who are being addressed. Salvation is something they already possess[40]

The very word salvation signifies that we cannot save ourselves. This does not mean that we can and must effect our salvation.[41]SIZE>

Far more acceptable are such comments as:

Work out your own salvation. Though salvation is through Christ it must be worked out by obedience (Hebrews 5:8). With fear and trembling. That is, earnest anxiety.[42]

Work out your own salvation. Christ's work of atonement is finished ... Your own; it is each man's own work; no human friend, no pastor, not even an apostle, can work it for him. With fear and trembling. Have an eager, trembling anxiety to obey God in all things.[43]SIZE>

If there is any outstanding commandment of God through Christ and the apostles which sinners neglect, refuse or reject through disobeying it, may they be persuaded by Paul's word in another place to the effect that those "who obey not the gospel" will be utterly destroyed (2 Thessalonians 1:8). And just what is the gospel? In a general sense it is all that Christ through the apostles commanded; but specifically the reference is to believing, repenting, confessing Christ and being baptized into him. How unspeakably foolish are those who fancy that since they "believe" there is no need for them to obey a command like baptism!

[38] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 121.

[39] R. P. Martin, op. cit., p. 111.

[40] John A. Knight, op. cit., p. 323.

[41] Frances Foulkes, op. cit., p. 1133.

[42] James William Russell, op. cit., p. 489.

[43] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 61.

Verse 13

For it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.

God indeed works in and through the obedient, but this is far from being a denial that people must obey God. Through the ages the problem has been this: if one must (in addition to believing in Christ) be baptized in order to be saved, that, in the view of some, would make man his own Savior; but such a view is not justified. For example, when the man born blind washed in the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-12), that did not make him his own healer; although none can deny that he could not have been healed without doing what Christ commanded. The same principle applies to the Scripture: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16). See comment in this series of commentaries on both of these passages.

This verse was called a paradox by Barry, thus:

In this famous paradox, Paul calls men to work by their own will, just because only God can grant them power both to will and to do. The origination of all in God, and the free action (which is in some sense origination) of man, are both truths recognized by our deepest consciousness, but to our logic irreconcilable.[44]

Scholars are entirely too sensitive about "work" and sinners, or Christians either, "saving themselves." No apostle, or other New Testament evangelist, had any of the foolish notions on this subject which clutter the minds of so many today. In the first sermon ever preached, the apostle Peter said, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). Paul's mention here (almost immediately) of "crooked and perverse generation" shows that his thinking here was exactly parallel to that of Peter on Pentecost. In fact, these two verses supplement and explain each other.


[44] Alfred Barry, Ellicott's Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. III, Philippians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 75.

Verse 14

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

Murmurings ... Here, as practically always in the Scripture, guilt is attached to the vice of murmuring. For a discussion of this sin, see my Commentary on Acts, Acts 6:1.

Questionings ... would seem to be just one form of murmuring.

That ye may become ... children of God ... As Hendriksen said, "Some commentators fail to see how children of God can in any sense become children of God."[45] But, as the same writer noted: "A child of God should strive to become a child of God without blemish!"[46]

[45] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 124.

[46] Ibid.

Verse 16

Holding forth the word of life that I may have whereof to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain neither labor in vain.

Holding forth the word of life ... This is explanatory of the clause in the preceding verse to the effect that the Philippians "are seen as lights in the world." The light which they are able to shed abroad is not of themselves but of the word of God which they have received. A problem well known to many scholars involves an alternative translation of "holding forth," which would make it "holding fast"; but the resolution of it is unimportant, the meaning being about the same either way it is rendered. As Mounce explained it:

If Paul is continuing the metaphor (of the Christians being lights in the world), then the place should be translated "holding forth" like a torch held out before the bearer ... But if the final clause is parenthetical (Lightfoot) and the apostle is contrasting the Christians with the perverse generation, it will be translated "holding fast."[47]

Run in vain ... labor in vain ... Paul did not mean by this that his ultimate redemption depended in any manner upon the fidelity of the Philippians, but that if they should not live properly his "running" and "labors" would prove to be in vain as far as the Philippians were concerned. Therefore, this verse does not bear upon the so called doctrine of the final perseverance of the saints.


[47] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 766.

Verse 17

Yea, and if I am offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all, and in the same manner do ye also joy and rejoice with me.

There is in view here a sacrifice, whether like that in Exodus 29:40, or like one of the animal sacrifices offered to pagan gods, is not specified; because a "drink offering" was a prominent feature of both. Russell thought that Paul had the Jewish sacrifice in mind, saying: "Paul's meaning is figurative, referring in humility to his service as the drink-offering which was added to the burnt offering."[48] However, whether the reference is "to the Jewish libation poured out beside the altar, or the pagan libation poured out over the sacrifice, makes no difference[49] The meaning is the same both ways. In either case, Paul was comparing all of his own great toils and sacrifices to the drink offering (which was the tiniest part) and their labors to the main sacrifice!

Paul was an unqualified marvel. He drew great spiritual lessons from the Olympic games, from the triumphal processions of emperors, and in this amazing passage from the temple sacrifices! However, it is very important to see that "`I be offered' is a verb in the passive voice and figurative in meaning. Paul is not offering anything, whether his own life or the Philippians' faith!"[50]

The great lesson for all in the passage was presented by Barclay as follows:

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 (v. 18) not to mourn at the prospect but rather to rejoice. To him every call for sacrifice or toil was a call to his love for Christ; and therefore he met it, not with regret or complaint but with joy[51]

[48] James William Russell, op. cit., p. 290.

[49] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 127.

[50] R. P. Martin, op. cit., p. 120.

[51] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 46.

Verse 19

But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort when I know your state.

In the two preceding verses, Paul contemplated his own martyrdom as a realistic possibility; but here the mood changed to one of hope and confidence, for his being able to send Timothy would mean that his state had improved enough to make this possible. It is therefore impossible to make Paul's statements about his prospects the basis of dating the epistle. Like any person in similar circumstances, Paul, from time to time, would have wavered between the extremes of despair and confidence. Note here that Paul anticipated still being alive at a time when Timothy would return with good news.

Timothy had been with Paul extensively during his travels and was at the time indicated here performing some valuable service for the apostle. It would have been a genuine sacrifice for Paul to part with him for a journey to Philippi. Nevertheless, such was his concern for them that he was willing to do so.

Verse 20

For I have no man like-minded, who will care truly for your state. For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.

Paul referred to those around him as "brethren" (Philippians 4:21), but they were far short of the zeal and dedication of a man like Timothy. Paul has been accused of petulance on account of this evaluation of his associates; but it is a mistake to make anything out of this except what it is, a matter-of-fact statement concerning the attitude of some of the apostle's contemporary brethren. Furthermore, the same evaluation would apply to a great many so-called "brethren" in our own times.

As Caffin said, "Paul's spiritual isolation increases our wonder and admiration for the strain of holy joy that runs through Philippians."[52] It is also a mistake to apply Paul's words here to everyone associated with him in the New Testament. "We must suppose that faithful helpers like Luke were not in Rome at this time having been sent away for a little while on some business."[53] As Mounce put it, "Paul's no one here is not a sweeping condemnation of fellow laborers, but it means that of those available there was no one like Timothy?[54] Despite this, as Dummelow said, "Doubtless some of Paul's brethren had declined the mission from reasons that Paul considered selfish."[55]

[52] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.

[53] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 434.

[54] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 767.

[55] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.

Verse 22

But ye know the proof of him, that, as a child serveth a father, so he served me in furtherance of the gospel Him therefore I hope to send forthwith, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me: but I trust in the Lord that I myself shall come shortly.

Ye know the proof of him ... The whole world of New Testament churches in those days knew the proof of Timothy. The word translated "proof" was used of gold and silver that had been tested and could be accepted as current coin."[56] Timothy had been with Paul in Philippi when that church was founded (Acts 16:1ff); he was in Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17:1-14), and in Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 18:25; 19:21,22); and even at the time Paul wrote this letter he was standing by Paul in Rome (Philippians 1:1).

Him therefore I hope to send ... Implicit in these words is the fact that Paul could not, at the moment, send Timothy. Macknight believed that "This was because Aristarchus, Titus and Luke were all absent from Rome at this time,"[57] leaving only Timothy to look after Paul. Of course, Epaphroditus was available, and him Paul sent.

I trust ... that I myself shall come shortly ... "This hope, in all probability, was fulfilled (Titus 3:12)."[58] Lipscomb has a great paragraph on Paul's probable thoughts at this juncture:

We do not know what he meant by shortly. The uncertainty as to what whim might strike Nero was nothing to count upon. He no longer counts on going to Spain as he once had planned (Romans 15:28); his heart now turns to this old field of labor (Phlippians 1:1:22) ... those grievous wolves of whom he warned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29,30) had taken advantage of his absence and were causing much trouble and confusion among the churches of Asia.[59]

[56] John A. Knight, op. cit., p. 329.

[57] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 436.

[58] B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 63.

[59] David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles, Vol. IV (Nashville: The Gospel Advocate Company, 1964), p. 194.

Verse 25

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

Paul must have regarded Epaphroditus very highly. Note the five titles given to him.

I counted it necessary to send ... This is what the scholars call an epistolary aorist and refers to something Paul was in the process of doing, not to something already done. Another instance of it is in Philippians 2:28. In all likelihood, Epaphroditus was the one who bore this letter to the Philippian church; but since, at the time of the Philippians' reading it, the sending of Epaphroditus would indeed (at that time) be spoken of in the past tense.

Epaphroditus ... This name occurs only here in the New Testament, although there are two other instances of the shortened form of it in Colossians and Phlippians. Since it was a rather common name, scholars are very reluctant to allow that there may be a connection with the man mentioned here.

Messenger ... The Greek word from which this comes is actually "Apostle" ([@apostolos]; but, as Epaphroditus was certainly not an apostle in the ordinary sense, it is supposed that Paul used the title here as complimentary. They are definitely wrong who interpret this word as meaning "that Epaphroditus was diocesan bishop of Philippi."[60] There is no evidence of any diocesan bishop having been appointed or honored during New Testament times. The nearest thing to such a thing is the honor given to James the Lord's brother; but in his case, it appears that the respect paid to him was derived from the fact of his having been a physical half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not from any office like that of a metropolitan bishop.


Certainly Epaphroditus was a spiritual leader at Philippi, probably one of the elders. He had been commissioned by the church there to bring a gift of money to Paul and to remain with him for an unspecified time to look after Paul's needs and to assist in any way possible. While engaged in that service, he became dangerously possibly from attending Paul during an illness, or from over-exertion. The friends of Epaproditus in Philippi heard of his illness, and became concerned and anxious regarding his condition. God graciously restored him to health. As was quite natural, he wanted to return to Philippi as soon as he became able to travel. Paul, in complete accord, sent him back, probably as the bearer of this letter, and heaping praise and commendation upon him as in the passage before us.


[60] B. C. Carlin, op. cit., p. 64.

Verse 26

Since he longed after you all, and was sore troubled, because ye had heard that he was sick.

Was sore troubled ... "Erasmus said the Greek word so translated means to be almost killed with grief?[61] It should be remembered that homesickness was certainly a factor in the grief of Epaphroditus, a homesickness that would have been grievously aggravated by his illness.


[61] James Macknight, op. cit., p. 437.

Verse 27

For indeed he was nigh unto 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's ascription of Epaphroditus' recovery to the special providence and mercy of God is characteristic. All healing is of God; but there are some recoveries which give every evidence of having been granted by the Father in answer to prayer; and so, it seems, was the case of Epaphroditus.

Again, on this passage, Hendriksen raises an important question: "Why did not Paul perform a miracle on behalf of Epaphroditus, instead of permitting the illness to continue?"[62] The answer lies in the purpose of miracles, which were never given for the personal needs of God's apostles and preachers, but only for the purpose of "confirming the word" (Mark 16:20). Timothy suffered from a stomach illness and Trophimus was left at Miletus sick, just as Epaphroditus was allowed here to suffer the normal course of his illness.


[62] William Hendriksen, op. cit., p. 141.

Verse 28

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

The altruism of the great apostle shines in this, as Hendriksen noted: "Easing the mind of the Philippians and imparting gladness of heart to them meant more to Paul than any personal service he might have been able to derive by the continued attendance upon him of Epaphroditus."[63]


[63] Ibid., p. 143.

Verse 29

Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy; and hold such in honor.

Dummelow thought that:

The apostle heaps commendations upon Epaphroditus, apprehending seemingly that he might have a cool reception (Philippians 2:29-80), since he is going home prematurely and without having rendered all the service expected.[64]

It is very difficult, however, for this writer to agree with that, because the severe "nigh-unto-death" illness of Epaphroditus would certainly have made it very difficult for any right-minded person to have faulted his desire to return home before the mission was totally completed.


[64] J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 974.

Verse 30

Because for the work of Christ, he came nigh unto death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.

Hazarding his life ... The word here actually means "gambling his life" for Paul's sake. The use of the particular Greek word ([@parabolos]) has led some scholars to identify Epaphroditus' work as like that "of an association of men in Alexandria known as the Parabolani. Among the hazardous duties of this `suicide squad' was the nursing of the sick during epidemics[65]

When certain types of epidemics frightened the pagan populations, terrible things happened. Barclay tells this:

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.[66]

Whether anything like this was involved in the illness contracted by Epaphroditus is unknown; but we may be sure of one thing, "He was a brave man; for anyone who proposed to offer himself as an attendant of a man waiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to considerable risk of facing the same charge."[67]

[65] Robert H. Mounce, op. cit., p. 769.

[66] William Barclay, op. cit., p. 50.

[67] Ibid., p. 48.


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, February 20th, 2019
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
There are 60 days til Easter!
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology