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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Philippians 2



Other Authors
Verse 1

(1) If there be therefore any consolation . . .—In the four-fold division of this verse we trace, first, a reference to unity with Christ, and to a spiritual effect following from it; next, a similar reference to communion with the Holy Ghost, and a corresponding spiritual result. (1) “Consolation” is properly encouragement—the stirring up of spiritual activity—ascribed in Acts 9:31 to the action of the Holy Spirit, but here viewed as a practical manifestation of the life flowing from union with Christ. Out of it comes naturally the “comfort of love,” that is, as always, the deep and thankful sense of comfort in His love, overflowing into comfort, lovingly given to our brethren. On this “encouragement” in Christ, both received and given out to others, St. Paul dwells at length (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). (2) Next, he speaks of “communion of the Spirit” (the very word used in 2 Corinthians 13:13), by which, indeed, we are brought into that unity with Christ; and of this, still keeping to the main idea of love, he makes the manifestation to be in “bowels and mercies”—that is, both in strong affection, and in that peculiar form of affection which is directed towards suffering, viz., compassion or pity. The whole passage (like Philippians 4:8-9) is full of a grave and persuasive eloquence characteristic of this Epistle. No absolute distinction is to be drawn between the two elements of the sentence; but it may be noted that the “consolation in Christ” is exhibited in the action which visibly follows His divine example, “the communion with the Holy Spirit” is shown by the inner emotion, not seen, but felt.

Verses 1-4


(1-4) In this section the hint given above, in the allusion to “one spirit” and “one soul,” is expanded into a direct exhortation to unity of spirit, as shown both by absence of self-assertion and by presence of a genial sympathy.

Verse 2

(2) That ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.—In this verse there is again a four-fold division; but of a different kind. St. Paul begins with the exhortation not uncommon from him, to be likeminded,” that is, to have true sympathy (as in Romans 12:16; Romans 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11; also Philippians 3:16; Philippians 4:2); which he naturally strengthens by the addition of “having the same love” (that is, a mutual love), to show that the sympathy is to be one not only of mind but of heart. But this does not satisfy him: he rises to the further exhortation to perfect “union of soul” (which is the proper rendering for “being of one accord”) in which they shall not only be likeminded, but (in a phrase peculiar to this passage) be actually “of one mind,” living in one another, each sinking his individuality in the enthusiasm of a common love.

Verse 3

(3) This verse expresses the negative result of this unity of soul—that nothing will be done in “strife,” that is, factiousness (the word used in Philippians 1:17), or “vainglory”—nothing, that is, with the desire either of personal influence or of personal glory. “For,” he adds, “each will esteem other better than himself,” or, rather, will hold that his neighbour is worthy of higher consideration and a higher place of dignity than himself (comp. the use of the word in Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13, of temporal dignity); for the idea is of the ascription to others, not of moral superiority, but of higher place and honour. Self-assertion will be entirely overborne. So he teaches us elsewhere that “charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).

Verse 4

(4) Look not every man on his own things.—This verse similarly describes the positive effect of this “being of one mind” as consisting in power of understanding and sympathy towards “the things of others”—not merely the interests, but also the ideas and feelings of others. To “look upon” here is something more than “to seek” (as in Philippians 2:21). It expresses that insight into the thoughts, hopes, aspirations of others, which only a self-forgetting love can give, as well as the care to consider their welfare and happiness. Yet by the word “also” we see that St. Paul does not, in the spirit of some forms of modern transcendentalism, denounce all self-consciousness and self-love, as in a bad sense “selfish.” For man is individual as well as social; he can subordinate “his own things” to “the things of others,” but cannot ignore them.

Verses 5-8

(5-8) From a practical introduction, in the familiar exhortation to follow the example of our Lord, St. Paul passes on to what is, perhaps, the most complete and formal statement in all his Epistles of the doctrine of His “great humility.” In this he marks out, first, the Incarnation, in which, “being in the form of God, He took on Him the form of a servant,” assuming a sinless but finite humanity; and next, the Passion, which was made needful by the sins of men, and in which His human nature was humiliated to the shame and agony of the cross. Inseparable in themselves, these two great acts of His self-sacrificing love must be distinguished. Ancient speculation delighted to suggest that the first might have been, even if humanity had remained sinless, while the second was added because of the fall and its consequences. Such speculations are, indeed, thoroughly precarious and unsubstantial—for we cannot ask what might have been in a different dispensation from our own; and, moreover, we read of our Lord as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8; see also 1 Peter 1:19)—but they at least point to a true distinction. As “the Word of God” manifested in the Incarnation, our Lord is the treasure of all humanity as such; as the Saviour through death, He is the especial treasure of us as sinners.

Verses 5-11

[4. The Doctrine of the Great Humility of Christ (Philippians 2:5-11).

(1) THE VOLUNTARY HUMILIATION OF THE LORD, first in His incarnation, next in His passion (Philippians 2:5-8).

(2) THE CORRESPONDING EXALTATION OF HIS HUMANITY, to bear “the Name above every name,” which all creation must adore (Philippians 2:9-11).]

Verse 6

(6) Being in the form of God.—(1) The word “being” is here the more emphatic of the two words so translated, which lays stress on the reality of existence (as in Acts 16:20; Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Galatians 2:14). Hence it calls attention to the essential being of Christ, corresponding to the idea embodied in the name Jehovah, and thus implying what is more fully expressed in John 1:1. (2) The word “form” (which, except for a casual use in Mark 16:12, is found only in this passage of the New Testament) is to be carefully distinguished from “fashion.” There can be no doubt that in classical Greek it describes the actual specific character, which (like the structure of a material substance) makes each being what it is; and this same idea is always conveyed in the New Testament by the compound words in which the root “form” is found (Romans 8:29; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19). (3) On the other hand, the word “fashion,” as in 1 Corinthians 7:31 (“the fashion of this world passeth away”), denotes the mere outward appearance (which we frequently designate as “form”), as will be seen also in its compounds (2 Corinthians 11:13-14; 1 Peter 1:14). The two words are seen in juxtaposition in Romans 12:2; Philippians 3:21 (where see Notes). Hence, in this passage the “being in the form of God,” describes our Lord’s essential, and therefore eternal, being in the true nature of God; while the “taking on Him the form of a servant” similarly refers to His voluntary assumption of the true nature of man.

It should be noticed that, whereas in St. Paul’s earlier Epistles, in which he cared not “to know anything save Jesus Christ,” and “Him as crucified,” the main idea is always of our Lord as the mediator between man and God, yet in the later Epistles (as here, and in Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:15-19; Colossians 2:9-11; to which we may add Hebrews 1:2-4) stress is laid, sometimes (as in Ephesians 1:10), on His gathering all things in heaven and earth unto Himself; sometimes, even more explicitly, on His partaking of the divine nature, and (as in Colossians 1:17) of His possessing the divine attribute of creation. All this naturally leads up to the great declaration of His true and perfect Godhead in John 1:1-13.

Thought it not robbery to be equal with God.—There are two main interpretations of this passage; first, the interpretation given in our version, which makes it simply an explanation and enforcement of the words “being in the form of God”; secondly, the translation thought it not a prize to be grasped at to be equal with God, which begins in it the statement of our Lord’s voluntary self-humiliation, to be completed in the words, “but emptied Himself of glory.” The former preserves the literal translation of the original word “robbery;” the latter, in accordance with a not uncommon usage, makes it equivalent to “the thing snatched at,” and if this be allowed, has abundant examples in other writings to support the meaning thus given to the whole phrase. Either interpretation yields good sense and sound doctrine; neither does violence to the general context. But the latter is to be preferred; first (1) because it suits better the idea of the passage, which is to emphasise the reality of our Lord’s humility, and preserves the opposition implied in the “but” following; (2) because it has the great preponderance of the ancient Greek interpreters in its favour; (3) because it can, on the whole, appeal more confidently to ordinary usage of the phrase. The sense is that, being in the form of God, and therefore having equality with God, He set no store on that equality, as a glory to Himself, compared with the power of giving salvation to all men, which He is pleased to consider a new joy and glory.

Verse 7

(7) But made himself . . .—This verse needs more exact translation. It should be, But emptied (or, stripped) Himself of His glory by having taken on Him the form of a slave and having been made (or, born) in likeness of men. The “glory” is the “glory which He had with the Father before the world was” (John 17:5; comp. Philippians 1:14), clearly corresponding to the Shechinah of the Divine Presence. Of this He stripped Himself in the Incarnation, taking on Him the “form (or, nature) of a servant” of God. He resumed it for a moment in the Transfiguration; He was crowned with it anew at the Ascension.

Made in the likeness of man.—This clause, at first sight, seems to weaken the previous clause, for it does not distinctly express our Lord’s true humanity. But we note that the phrase is “the likeness of men,” i.e., of men in general, men as they actually are. Hence the key to the meaning is to be found in such passages as Romans 8:3, God sent His own Son in “the likeness of sinful flesh;” or Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15, “It behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren,” “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It would have been an infinite humiliation to have assumed humanity, even in unique and visible glory; but our Lord went beyond this, by deigning to seem like other men in all things, one only of the multitude, and that, too, in a station, which confused Him with the commoner types of mankind. The truth of His humanity is expressed in the phrase “form of a servant;” its unique and ideal character is glanced at when it is said to have worn only the “likeness of men.”

Verse 8

(8) And being found . . .—This should be, And after having been found (or, recognised) in fashion as a man, He [then] humbled Himself, having become obedient even to death. “After having been found,” &c., clearly refers to the manifestation of Himself to the world in all the weakness of humanity: the “outward fashion” was all that men could see; and in it they found “no form or comeliness,” or “beauty, that they should desire Him” (Isaiah 53:2-3). From this St. Paul proceeds to the last act of His self-humiliation in death: “He became obedient,” that is, to God’s will, “even up to death.” His death is not here regarded as an atonement, for in that light it could be no pattern to us; but as the completion of the obedience of His life. (See Romans 5:19.) Of that life as a whole He said, “I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (John 6:38); and the doing that will (see Hebrews 10:9-10) ended in “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In this light His death is the perfection of the suffering which, in consequence of the power of sin in the world, must be faced in doing the will of God (see 2 Timothy 3:12); in this light we can follow it, and even “fill up what is lacking of the sufferings of Christ” (Colossians 1:24).

Even the death of the cross.—Properly, and that too, the death of the cross; emphasising its peculiar shame and humiliation as an “accursed” death. (See Galatians 3:13.)

Verse 9

(9) Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him.—The exaltation, like the humiliation, belongs to Him, as Son of Man; for He was “lifted up,” as on the cross, so in the Ascension. It raises Him to the throne of the Mediatorial kingdom, on which He entered by the Ascension, sitting at the right hand of God till He has put all enemies under His feet, and then ready “to deliver up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all.” (See 1 Corinthians 15:24-28.) For it is the “Son of Man” who “cometh in the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13; Matthew 26:64), and has “authority to execute judgment” (John 5:27).

Hath given him a name.—Or, rather, the Name above every name. “The Name” (for this seems to be the best reading) is clearly “the Name” of God. It is properly the name Jehovah, held in the extremest literal reverence by the Jews, and it came to signify (almost like “the Word”) the revelation of the presence of God. See Revelation 19:12-13, where “the name which no man knew but Himself” is the “Word of God.” This is, indeed, made clear by the following verse; for the adoration there described is in the original passage (Isaiah 45:23; comp. Romans 14:11), claimed as the sole due of God Himself. The name JESUS, “Jehovah the Saviour” (like “Jehovah our Righteousness,” in Jeremiah 23:6), does contain, as an integral element, the incommunicable name of God, while the addition of “Saviour” points to the true humanity. Therefore in that Name, of Him who is at once God and Man, “every knee is to bow” with direct worship to Him.

Verse 10

(10) At (properly, in) the name of Jesus every knee should bow.—This is an instance of the significant practice, by which passages of the Old Testament speaking of God are, as a matter of course, applied in the New to our Lord Jesus Christ. “In the Name” is the phrase constantly used for worship of God. “I will lift up my hands in Thy Name” (Psalms 63:4). It denotes worship to Christ, not through Him.

Of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.—For “things” we may better substitute beings, for the reference is properly to personal beings; although in some sense “All the works of the Lord bless the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever.” (Comp. here Revelation 5:13, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth . . . heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.” See also Ephesians 1:20-21, and Notes there.)

Verse 11

Verse 12

(12) As ye have always obeyed.—It is notable that this Epistle is the only one which contains no direct rebuke. The Philippian Church has the glory of having “always obeyed,” not (like the Galatian Church) “as in his presence only, but now much more in his absence.” This “obedience” was to the will of God as set forth by him. In referring to it, there is an allusion to the “obedience” of Christ (in Philippians 2:8); hence their obedience includes also that willingness to suffer which He Himself has shown. (See Philippians 1:29-30.) To this, perhaps, there is a further allusion in the “fear and trembling” spoken of below. (See 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5.)

Work out your own salvation.—To “work out” is (as in Ephesians 6:13) to carry out to completion what is begun. This is the function of man, as fellow-worker with God, first in his own soul, and then among his brethren. God is the “beginner and perfecter” of every “good work” (see Philippians 1:6); man’s co-operation is secondary and intermediate.

Verse 12-13

Work Out Your Own Salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.—Philippians 2:12-13.

From the beginning the treatment of St. Paul by the Philippian Church was worthy of all praise. They received him as the ambassador of Christ, and listened to him as the oracle of God. Their care of him had abounded, and in all his trials he enjoyed their full sympathy. He presumes on that cordial relationship in addressing them on the subject of Church unity. Old memories stir up old emotions, and he would, through the old love, repossess their hearts. They had not only obeyed the truth as the foundation of their religious life, but they had obeyed the Apostle in matters of Church government. This indeed was to be expected while the Apostle was with them, for his presence would carry weight; but the Philippian Christians had obeyed even more fully in his absence. This afforded the greater proof of their love for him. The letter which he was now writing would supply his place, and contain the many counsels which he personally might administer.

It is not well to be always under the influence of a commanding personality. The weaker will may come to be dominated by the stronger, and the cultivation of our own judgment and character may be neglected. Against this danger the Apostle utters a warning. He exhorts the Christians at Philippi to self-reliance. Do not, he says, depend upon me. Work out your own salvation—not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence. In depending upon yourselves you are depending upon God, for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do.

I have sometimes seen melancholy instances of religious partnerships dissolved. When certain associations have been broken up, and the man who, without knowing it, was living on, and kept alive by, the high-seasoned food of meetings, conferences, etc., has, like Philip, been called away from animating, bustling scenes, to go unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert—I have seen such a one languish as if that God whom he thought he loved, and that Saviour for whom he thought he had given up all, were confined to the little society, and located in the spot from which he had been severed; so that the heathen well might say, Where is now thy God? It is to save them from this snare that the Apostle presses the Philippians to work out, each man for himself, his own salvation; to cultivate, each man for himself, a religion which connects him, individually and apart from all others, with his God.1 [Note: H. Woodward, Sermons, 450.]

The truth is that men are apt to look (1) in edifices of wood and stone, (2) in great and ancient institutions, for that perfection which, if it can be found at all on earth, is to be sought in the lives of individuals. The true temple of God is the heart of man, and there the image of Christ may be renewed again and again, and effaced again and again. Neither is there any limit to the perfection which is attainable by any one of us, for Christ says: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” But there is a limit to the perfection of outward institutions. These seem to be at their best when the goodness or genius of some one or two men has inspired them.… All institutions flourish when they are ordered by men who have great aims, who understand their true character; and know how to derive a strength from them, and to impart a strength of their own to them. They are not mere abstractions, but communities of living beings; and a common spirit or soul animates them. And sometimes they fall into corruption and decay; their schools and churches are unroofed, their very stones are carted away, and there is nothing to indicate the place where they once stood.2 [Note: B. Jowett, Miscellaneous Sermons, 285.]


The Great Achievement of Life

“Your own salvation.”

1. One of Paul’s fundamental doctrines is this, that salvation is a free gift, due to the grace of God. In this Epistle he is addressing, not unbelievers, but “saints,” and the salvation he speaks of is something they already possess. Salvation is of God as respects supreme agency, while our part in it is merely instrumental and subordinate. The satisfaction Christ has afforded to the law of God in the room of the ungodly is the whole ground of our acceptance with Him. We are pardoned and blessed only for His substitutionary and perfect righteousness, and this one consideration interdicts all boasting: for if we have paid none of the price how can we have any of the merit? But we find from this passage that the intervention of Godhead in the work of our salvation does not terminate with the coming or the dying of Christ. God, the Holy Spirit, still works in us, enabling us to believe the Gospel, and purifying our hearts by faith. He does not, however, work apart from us; far less, by physical force, does He control and compel. He is a “free Spirit” Himself, and He preserves to us a moral freedom, not superseding our faculties but qualifying them for rational exercise, showing us the truth and reforming us by its influence. But in all this we are occupied. He works in us, or, as the words may import, by us; and as long as our own powers are denied Him for implements of agency He is not working savingly in us at all.

It is an interesting fact that in all the versions of the New Testament, which were composed in different dialects of the language spoken by our Lord, the word “salvation” is almost always rendered by a word which signifies “life,” and the verb “to save” by the verb “to impart life,” or “to restore to life and health.” Only a few times is a verb used which means “to rescue” or “deliver.” This seems to justify us in the belief that in the mind of our Lord, and also of the Apostle Paul, the thought of a new and higher life was present in many of the instances where the Greek word “salvation” is employed; and we are justified in assigning to the word “salvation,” more frequently, perhaps, than has been our wont, the idea of “participation in the life and character of God.”1 [Note: J. T. Marshall.]

Here is a slave who is set to work out his own freedom. He may have encouragements. His master may even give him assistance. But his freedom is to be the reward of his own exertions. He will pay for it by his own toil. He will work it out in the sense of securing it as the wages of years of labour. If this were the sense in which we are to work out our salvation, it would be obvious that we have a hard task upon, our hands, and that if ever we gain freedom we shall have good reason to compliment ourselves.

But let us suppose the ease of a slave emancipated by his master, given his full liberty at once; and then directed, both for the sake of gratitude to his liberator and for the sake of his own self-development, to prove himself worthy of freedom. He, too, is now to work out his liberty: not, however, in the sense of procuring it, but in the sense of bringing out that which is in it, of using it well, of applying himself so as to enjoy his new privileges. He is to prove himself really free by manifesting self-control; by securing employment and culture; by making his own the blessings and the prerogatives of freedom. Legally free, he is to work out a freeman’s life, that he may manifest to others and himself enjoy both the rights and the duties which pertain to his new condition.

This latter case illustrates the sense in which we are to work out our salvation. We may have it at once by faith in Christ Jesus. No one teaches this more plainly than Paul. Jesus secured our needed emancipation. We are free from condemnation. We have passed from death unto life. We are no more the possession of Satan, but the accepted children of God. We are reconciled to God by the death of His Son, and our first need is to realize, in all its wonderful meaning, the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free. Having this possession, we are to work it out to its consummation. Having it legally, we are to work it out practically. Having it in the germ, we are to work out in our lives all its tendencies and consequences.1 [Note: G. T. Purves, Faith and Life, 142.]

2. Salvation, though due to God, is a process that we must work out.—The Bible teaches immediate justification for Christ’s sake. But it is important to add that the Bible insists with equal force that the salvation which is made legally ours we are to work out; the liberty which has been declared to be ours we are to exercise both as to its privileges and its duties; the acquittal which we have received we are to make a real and personal deliverance from the actual bondage of sin. It is only on the supposition that the formal will thus become the real that it is permitted. It is only on the supposition and certainty of our becoming like Christ that we are allowed to know that in Christ we are saved.

Our first and most important religious act is the signing of a declaration of dependence. We need to recognize our relation to God, to see that He is the source of all good, and that without Him we can do nothing. But we are not to be mystics, folding our hands and leaving everything to God. He has made us reasoning and voluntary beings, and when He works in us, He only puts us in more complete possession of our powers of intellect and will. Our declaration of dependence needs to be followed by a declaration of independence. We must see to it that we become co-workers with God and not mere puppets moved by the Divine fingers. The true Christian is more of a man than he ever was before, and while God works in him, he is also to work out his own salvation.1 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 129.]

A little seed, says a German fable, began suddenly to give signs of life, and it shot up through the hard crust of the earth, and it spread forth its roots, rejoicing in the pleasant sunshine, crying aloud in its joy, “Am I not a tree?” But a voice came floating by which said, “The wind shall rock thee, and great storms tear thy very roots, and the winter’s frost shall bite thee, and many winters and summers pass over thee as the years roll along, ere thou canst call thyself a tree.” It is a fable not without application. It is not enough that we feel called to a higher and a better life, and that we perhaps suddenly burst the bonds that hold us to the past, and rejoice in the inherent and everlasting love of God. There must be patient growth and development of character—working out our own salvation.2 [Note: J. Cameron Lees.]

Let no man think that sudden in a minute

All is accomplished and the work is done;—

Though with thine earliest dawn thou shouldst begin it

Scarce were it ended in thy setting sun.

Oh the regret, the struggle and the failing!

Oh the days desolate and useless years!

Vows in the night, so fierce and unavailing!

Stings of my shame and passion of my tears!3 [Note: F. W. H. Myers, Saint Paul.]

3. Salvation is a personal matter.—It is “our own salvation.” No one can work it out for us. Each one is to work out his salvation for himself. Each one stands in an individual relation to Christ. Each one has individually believed and individually lives. And so, individually, we are to weave into the fabric of our own lives, as that grows with the years, the pattern which God has given us; we are each to work it out, as the skilled workman may work out in wood or metal the idea which lies already fully formed within his mind. We are not to work for life, but, as it were, from life, as being those who already have it and who are resolved, by Divine grace, to experience all that life implies. Just as God Himself works out in the history of creation His primeval thought, that thought which before the first creative word was uttered already embraced in itself every moment of history, and every atom of existence, so are we in the sphere of Christ Jesus, in whom potentially we have all things, to work Christ out with fear and trembling into the actual being, thought and character of our souls.

Salvation must be personal for the all-important reason that sin is personal. We have each chosen our own way. And God loves men in their individual capacity. This individuality must never be lost sight of, and our own private and personal interest in the events of Calvary must be ever present to our minds. Grand as is the doctrine of a universal atonement, yet to the man who has never proved his interest therein the contemplation can afford no real peace, no abiding joy. It is only as he cuts himself out of the mass, and realizes his own personal and specific relations to God in Christ, that he can share in the consciousness of His definite presence and delivering power.

We can never dismiss from memory the sadness with which we once listened to the confession of a certain foreign professor: “I used to be concerned about religion,” he said in substance, “but religion is a great subject. I was very busy; there was little time to settle it for myself. A Protestant, my attention was called to the Roman Catholic religion. It suited my case. And instead of dabbling in religion for myself, I put myself in its hands.” “Once a year,” he concluded, “I go to Mass.” These were the words of one whose work will live in the history of his country, one, too, who knew all about parasitism. Yet, though he thought it not, this is parasitism in its worst and most degrading form.1 [Note: Henry Drummond, Natural Law in the Spiritual World.]

Nothing is of value unless it is individualized. For example, light is universal. It bathes the whole round world in living splendour; but each individual optic nerve must take up its own set of vibrations, and convey them to the interpreting consciousness, or we shall have no sense of form, or colour, or perspective or proportion. The world is full of harmonious sounds, the singing of birds, the multitudinous laughter of the waves, and the sighing of the summer wind through the fragrant pines; but unless each individual auditory nerve gathers up these waves of sound and carries them into the appreciating brain, the orchestra of Nature might as well be silent as the grave. The same is true of air. It is universal. It wraps the whole world round with miles of thickness. There is enough for millions more than tread the earth to-day; but unless each individual pair of lungs operates upon it, and puts in its claim for supplies, it might as well be in a vacuum. Here, for example, we rescue a drowning man. He is laid upon the bank. We know how to render first-aid, and we proceed to induce artificial respiration. “What is wrong?” a bystander asks. We say, “The man cannot breathe.” “Is there not enough air?” he asks. “Yes,” we reply, “plenty of air. Miles of air, air pressing with the weight of nearly fifteen pounds upon every square inch of him; but unless he can be made to draw upon it, his life will be a vanishing spark.” So with salvation. It is as free as air. It folds us round like the atmosphere. It has a positive pressure. It whispers, it woos and waits, it feels round the door of the heart, and listens, and longs for entrance; but unless it be personally admitted, all its universality will count for nought.1 [Note: H. Howard, The Summits of the Soul, 180.]

It is a great moment in any man’s history when he first of all grasps his own real and separate selfhood. To some men this comes suddenly with a great revealing flash that pales the brow and arrests the pulse, and smites the soul with speechless awe. To other men it comes gradually, like the dawning of the day. Tennyson has beautifully described the latter process—

The baby new to earth and sky,

What time his tender palm is prest

Against the circle of the breast,

Has never thought that “this is I.”

But as he grows he gathers much,

And learns the use of “I,” and “me,”

And finds “I am not what I see,

And other than the things I touch.”

So rounds he to a separate mind

From whence clear memory may begin,

As thro’ the frame that binds him in

His isolation grows defined.


The Spirit that Befits the High Enterprise

“Fear and trembling.”

1. This fear does not mean mistrust or doubt, which would keep the mind in a continual apprehension of falling short of salvation, but a distrust of ourselves from a consciousness of our own weakness, and of the obstacles in the way, which produces an anxious solicitude to use all the means necessary to salvation. And trembling here denotes self-abasement in the Divine presence, a holy reverence of God, originating in the conviction of our absolute dependence upon Him for that grace which worketh salvation. The one is a warning against carnal confidence, which, if indulged, would lead to the disuse of the means of salvation; and the other an admonition against vain presumption, which would lead to dependence upon self-endeavour for salvation. What is here recommended is assurance without spiritual security, and labour without spiritual pride; and this meets the case both of those who undervalue and of those who overvalue human agency in the work of salvation.

Did you ever have committed to your care something exceedingly rare and precious; something of singular beauty or untold value? Did you ever come into the possession of something long and ardently desired, which you had thought to be too good, too sweet, too lovable ever to be really yours, your very own? Was there not an awe, almost a terror, in the sense of that possession? Did you not say to yourself, “Who am I that I should have this? What if I should let it drop? What if I should lose it?” Did not the very joy make you “afraid” and your happiness make you “tremble”?1 [Note: J. Vaughan.]

An eminent French surgeon used to say to his students when they were engaged in difficult and delicate operations, in which coolness and firmness were needed, “Gentlemen, don’t be in a hurry, for there’s no time to lose.” Time to make that incision once and well in the vital place, not time to dash at it with over-confidence.2 [Note: J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, i. 125.]

As a young man Dr. A. A. Hodge was Professor Joseph Henry’s assistant in making his experiments. He says: “I can well remember the wonderful care with which he arranged all his principal experiments. Then often, when the testing moment came, that holy as well as great philosopher would raise his hand in adoring reverence and call upon me to uncover my head and worship in silence. ‘Because,’ he said, ‘God is here: I am about to ask God a question.’” Surely that was the right spirit of scientific inquiry—none the less exact for being religious—and it went upon the idea that God is working out in nature His own thought and plan. So, I say, truth is to be embodied—worked into the material of our lives: and the Christian, being once enlightened, is to work out his salvation with fear and trembling.1 [Note: G. T. Purves, Faith and Life, 147.]

2. This fear is a rational and salutary emotion. Here is a crowded concert-hall. In the midst of the performance, a messenger whispers to the conductor. He taps with his baton. In an instant the instruments are hushed, and the leader announces in a clear voice that a fire has just broken out in the building, and that, while there is no immediate danger it is advisable for the audience quietly but at once to withdraw. Here is every care taken to prevent panic, but at the same time every effort to inspire rational fear. It is unworthy of a man under such circumstances to be overcome with terror, but no one of all that audience feels that it is beneath him to fear. No man compromises his dignity or shows that he is a coward when he is “moved by fear” to save his life.

Bishop Latimer once preached a sermon before King Henry viii., which greatly offended his royal auditor by its plainness. The king ordered him to preach again the next Sabbath, and to make public apology for his offence. The bishop ascended the pulpit and read his text, and thus began his sermon: “Hugh Latimer, dost thou know before whom thou art this day to speak? To the high and mighty Monarch, the King’s most excellent Majesty, who can take away thy life if thou offendest; therefore, take heed that thou speakest not a word that may displease. But then, consider well, Hugh! Dost thou not know from whom thou comest—upon whose message thou art sent? Even by the great and mighty God, who is all-present and beholdeth all thy ways, and who is able to cast thy soul into hell! Therefore take care that thou deliverest thy message faithfully.” And so beginning, he preached over again, but with increased energy, the self-same sermon he had preached the week before. The fear of God delivered him from the fear of Prayer of Manasseh 1:1 [Note: A. H. Strong, Miscellanies, ii. 185.]

3. This fear means distrust of self with a desire to please God. There are two master principles of action which simultaneously claim our obedience—God’s will and self-will. Between these two there is everlasting antagonism; eternal irreconcilableness. One of these must be renounced, agreeably to the Scripture maxim, “Ye cannot serve two masters,” and the other must be chosen as the ruling principle of the life. In the case of those who are being sanctified this choice has been made, for they have learned that the wisdom of self-will worketh death; and they have elected to follow the counsel of the will of God as the only way of working out their own salvation. Now, this consecration to the will of God is practical holiness. Precisely in the same ratio that the conduct is coincident with the Divine will is the work of personal sanctification promoted. If we could come to have no will of our own, to lose our will in God’s, we would have reached the highest moral perfection possible to a creature. And we must ever have our eye upon this as our loftiest aim and endeavour.

Not the slavish fear which brings the spirit into bondage, but rather that modest, humble, sensitive spirit which yields to God as the quivering grass of the meadow yields to every breeze that sweeps over its waving wealth of stems; so the soul, in deep contrition before God, trembles lest it should be found doing its own will instead of the will of Him who has come to dwell in it. It is a holy fear lest we should mistake our will for His.

That I no more from Thee may part,

No more Thy goodness grieve;

The filial awe, the fleshy heart,

The tender conscience give.2 [Note: E. W. Moore, The Promised Rest, 191.]


The Twofold Agency Engaged in the Work

“God worketh in you.”

1. This virtually is what St. Paul says here: Work out your own salvation, for now the great impossibility has become possible; God is working in you; this is no hopeless task to which I am calling you, no fruitless beating of the air, no idle effort of the leopard to change his spots or the Ethiopian to wash himself white. The Lord is working in you, and He is mighty to save. Whatever impulse you feel, whatever goodwill to this work, look upon it as a token of His presence and of His readiness to help you in it; that is God working in you both to will it and to do it, for He has no feeling but one of goodwill to you.

I cannot for a moment believe that Paul called the Philippians to work because it was first of all necessary that God should work in them. But the import, the beauty, the comfort and the encouragement of this word will appear at a glance when you see that what the Apostle really says is, Work out your own salvation, for God is working in you both to will it, and to do it in His good will to you. That is the only meaning which the original can really bear. And when it is thus read the argument at once becomes clear, and the perplexity gives place to a feeling of relief and good hope. That God must needs work in us is, of course, taken for granted; but we are encouraged by the assurance that that is exactly what He is already doing.1 [Note: Walter C. Smith.]

Religion has been defined by an eminent scholar as “the recognition of the Infinite and Eternal with a view to the regulation of life”; and Jesus, the Divine Author of the only true and perfect form of religion, teaches us to recognize the Infinite and Eternal as a power which is equally active in the measureless abyss of the starry heavens and in the mysterious depths of the human soul. God is present and active everywhere. In Him all things subsist; in Him we live, move, and have our being; men and things are alike a revelation of His glory.2 [Note: D. E. Irons, A Faithful Ministry, 192.]

God cannot have intended any other end for man than the perfection fitted for a self-conscious being. But such perfection is realized in God Himself, and anything less than God must be condemned as imperfect in comparison with that ultimate standard. Consequently, to become even as God is must be the final destiny of man, and the goal towards which both the individual and the race are tending. Thus, Paracelsus declares that

in completed man begins anew

A tendency to God.

Rabbi Ben Ezra speaks of man as “a God though in the germ”; while the Pope, looking forward to his final state, sees him

Creative and self-sacrificing too,

And thus eventually God-like (ay

“I have said ye are Gods”; shall it be said for nought?).

In Fifine the doctrine that the spirit shall return unto God that gave it, the finite being merged once more in the infinite spirit to which it is akin and from which it sprang, is put forward in more philosophical language:

The individual soul works through the shows of sense,

(Which, ever proving false, still promise to be true)

Up to an outer soul as individual too;

And, through the fleeting, lives to die into the fixed,

And reach at length “God, man, or both together mixed.”

The narrow limits of the individual self will at last be left behind, and the process of our life will culminate in the identification of thought, feeling, volition, action, of our very soul and being, with the thought and life of Him, of whom all other life is only the partial and imperfect manifestation.1 [Note: A. C. Pigou, Browning as a Religious Teacher, 64.]

2. Two powers are at work, and the error lies in separating them. The two parts of the text, if taken separately, may lead to error. “Work.” “God works.” The truth lies in the synthesis of the two: Work, for God works. The fact that God works in us ought to be the incentive to our own activity. All life is supported by reciprocation—action and reaction. There must be activity in that which lives before the environment can act upon it.

The great religions of the East, Hinduism and Buddhism, lay all the stress upon the human will. The key-note of those systems is, “Work out your own salvation.” The power that saves you is of yourself; the chains that bind you are of your own forging; the virtue that delivers you is of your own merit. There is no need to disparage this teaching for the sake of exalting our Christian religion. It is the noblest element in Eastern faith, and it is a truth too much neglected by ourselves. Will power is not so strong in human nature that we can afford to discourage its cultivation. There is something stern and grand in the conception of those who, instead of leaning upon others, or repining at their lot, frankly take all the condemnation to themselves, and strive manfully to retrieve their past and work out their own salvation. It is one side of religious truth, but it is not the whole truth, and it is not the gospel truth. It omits the good news of a Father’s love, of the Saviour’s Cross, and of the Holy Spirit that helpeth our infirmities. It is silent about those truths which are the most inspiring cause of human effort, and which have done more than all else to enkindle the heart, and strengthen the will towards right.

These two streams of truth are like the rain-shower that falls upon the water-shed of a country. The one half flows down the one side of the everlasting hills, and the other down the other. Falling into rivers that water different continents, they at length find the sea, separated by the distance of half the globe. But the sea into which they fall is one, in every creek and channel. And so, the truth into which these two apparent opposites converge, is “the depth of the wisdom and the knowledge of God,” whose ways are past finding out—the Author of all goodness, who, if we have any holy thought, has given it us; if we have any true desire, has implanted it; has given us the strength to do the right and to live in His fear; and who yet, doing all the willing and the doing, says to us, “Because I do everything, therefore let not thy will be paralysed, or thy hand palsied; but because I do everything, therefore will thou according to My will, and do thou according to My commandments!”1 [Note: A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester, i. 219.]

This is the profound teaching in St. Augustine’s doctrine of grace, which he pressed so strongly as to seem at times almost to destroy the reality of free will. Man could not seek God unless God already possessed him. He possesses us that we may desire to possess Him. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as mere natural goodness. Whether it is recognized or not, all earnest thought and effort is God working in us.2 [Note: H. Lefroy Yorke, The Law of the Spirit, 166.]

3. When we co-operate with God the antagonism vanishes. God and man are so near together, so belong to one another, that not a man by himself, but a man and God, is the true unit of being and power. The human will in such sympathetic submission to the Divine will that the Divine will may flow into it and fill it, and yet never destroy its individuality; my thoughts filled with the thought of One who, I know, is different from me while He is unspeakably close to me;—are not these the consciousnesses of which all souls that have been truly religious have been aware?

There are two parts in every great work—a working in and a working out. The working in is always the Divine part. It is very easy to work out an idea when once you have got it; but the mystery is the getting of it. What is the mystery of the beehive? It is not the making of the hive; it is the conceiving of it. If you can tell me how the idea was worked in, I will tell you how the plan was worked out. The thing which wakes my wonder is the instinct—the process within the bee; I call it God’s work. So it is with my soul. I, too, am helping to build a hive—a great home of humanity, named the Kingdom of God. I know not how it is done; I know not even what part of the building I am aiding to construct; I only know that an impulse of life moves me. That impulse is God working within me. Whither it tends I cannot see. The making of the hive eludes me. I am travelling through the night—carrying I know not what, to places I know not where. Only, the impulse says “go,” and I do go; I work out what God works in. I cannot fathom His designs; He has inspired me to the work by designs less than His own. He sends me to chase a butterfly when He means me to win a kingdom. No matter, I work what I will not; I compass what I conceive not; I perform what I plan not. I do what is not in my dream by the very effort to fulfil it. I seek, like Abraham, a foreign country, and I find myself in the land of Canaan.1 [Note: G. Matheson, Searchings in the Silence, 213.]

Rose leaves, placed within a vase, can influence the atmosphere of a room, creating an odour which is pleasing to the sense. Can the spirit of man, placed within its vase of clay, create a moral atmosphere which it will be healthful or injurious for others to breathe? Your mind has immediately given an affirmative answer. We cannot be in the presence of any man of great and holy force of character and not perceive his influence. How often one has heard a weaker man speak of a stronger man, and say, “As long as he is with me, I feel I can do everything I ought to do!” If you examine the expression you will find that it is a popular proof of the truth I am now enforcing, that one strong, dominant spirit can pervade a weaker one, and give to the weaker one a sense of confident and conquering might.

Now, let us lift up the argument to its highest application. If human spirit can work upon human spirit, and reinforce it by the impartation of its own strength, is it inconceivable that the great Creative Spirit can work upon created spirit, and impart to it its own unspeakable strength? Do you detect anything in the assumption which is belittling or degrading to an august conception of God? The raindrop, hanging at the tip of a rose-leaf, depends by the same power as the largest star. And I am fain to believe, and rejoice in believing, that the ineffable spiritual energy which is implied in what we call the holiness of God, and which empowers seraph and archangel with endurance to bear the “burning bliss” of the Eternal Presence, will also communicate itself to the weakest among the sons of men, and so hold him in his appointed place as to make it impossible for him ever to be moved.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett, From Strength to Strength, 20.]

O power to do! O baffled will!

O prayer and action! ye are one.2 [Note: J. G. Whittier.]

4. God works in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

(1) What is this “good pleasure” of God towards man? Not that man should exist as a being endowed with reason, conscience, affection, and will, in merely elementary form, still less in the depraved and corrupted forms with which we are only too familiar. It is that human beings, endowed from the beginning with the germs of Power Divine, human beings now existing as weak, wayward, sinning, shame-stained children, should, through the manifold discipline of life, be educated, built up into all the power, wisdom, and moral beauty of a perfect manhood; that through sore trial, and deep suffering, and awful sacrifice, every heavenly faculty should be daily led forth into larger force and nobler firmness, every taint of moral weakness and impurity be gradually purged away, every virtue, every grace of the Christian character be quickened and ripened into fullest beauty in every human soul; that all the sons of men should become truly, fully, sons of God—each carrying on in his varied activity the very work of God, the Author of all life and beauty and joy; and each, in all his richly endowed humanity, standing forth before all worlds the image and the glory of the Eternal.

The assurance that the righteous Creator can never cease to desire and urge the righteousness of His creature is the eternal hope for man, and the secure rest for the soul that apprehends it. For if this be His purpose for one, it must be His purpose for all. I believe that it is His purpose for all, and that He will persevere in it until it is accomplished in all.1 [Note: Thomas Erskine of Linlathen.]

All things a prophecy contain

Of something higher still;

A close relation all sustain,

A place and purpose fill.

Our life on earth is incomplete;

For larger life we plead;

Who made the heart, aspiring, beat

Will answer to its need.

Beyond the bound of time and space

A fairer world we see;

Within the soul of man we trace

The sign and prophecy.

We trust the Lord in faith serene,

A ladder He hath given;

The lower rounds on earth are seen,

The higher reach to Heaven.2 [Note: Thomas Brevior.]

(2) By God working in us “to will and to do,” we are to understand that He makes us willing, and gives us power, who were formerly unwilling and unable, to surrender ourselves to the work of our own salvation. Nor is there involved in this any violation of the true liberty of the human will. The will is incapable of coercion. There can be no forcing of volition. The very freest act of the human soul is that by which it gives itself under God’s grace to Himself. When God works in the soul “to will” there is no violence done to the rational nature. On the contrary, there is the fullest unison with the freedom and responsibility of the moral being. And so is it also when God works in us “to do.” Our doing is not compulsory action. It is not a course of conduct to which we are forcibly driven, but one to which we are freely drawn. We are not like slaves, compelled by the lash to do what we have a repugnance to do. We are like freemen, influenced by grace to do what we have the inclination and resolve to do. Thus the carrying out of our salvation is willing action. But the will and the action, though by us as agents, are not from us in their motive cause. The will is wrought in us by God, and the action is wrought by us, as the instruments of the inworking agency of God.

Feelings are given not merely to be enjoyed, but as motives of action. Professor James advises that we should not even listen to a concert without compelling ourselves to perform also some kind and considerate act for the sake of preserving the balance between feeling and will power. The law of life is: “This do, and thou shalt live.” Feelings may ebb and flow, but right doing is always possible—

We cannot kindle when we will

The fire which in the heart resides,

The spirit bloweth and is still,

In mystery our soul abides;

But tasks, in hours of insight will’d,

May be through hours of gloom fulfill’d.

Work Out Your Own Salvation


Haslam (W.), The Threefold Gift of God, 189.

Horton (R. F.), Lyndhurst Road Pulpit, 199.

Howard (H.), The Summits of the Soul, 171.

Jeffrey (R. T.), The Salvation of the Gospel, 256.

Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year; Sundays after Trinity, i–xii, 313.

King (D.), Memoir and Sermons, 291.

Lewis (F. W.), The Unseen Life, 74.

Maclaren (A.), Sermons Preached in Manchester, 1st Ser., 208.

McNeill (J.), Regent Square Pulpit, i. 113.

Maurice (F. D.), The Prayer Book and the Lord’s Prayer, 207.

Momerie (A. W.), The Origin of Evil, 172.

Moore (E. W.), The Promised Rest, 187.

Munger (T. T.), The Appeal to Life, 169.

Murray (W. H.), The Fruits of the Spirit, 168.

Purves (G. T.) Faith and Life, 141.

Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xiv. (1868), No. 820.

Strong (A. H.), Miscellanies, ii. 129.

Talbot (E. S.), Some Aspects of Christian Faith, 1.

Thorn (J. H.), Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 89.

Yorke (H. L.), The Law of the Spirit, 157.

Christian World Pulpit, x. 410 (Beecher); xlvi. 116 (Smith); xlvii. 27 (Cameron Lees), 221 (Stalker); lxxvii. 168 (Marshall).

Church of England Pulpit, xlv. 257 (Venn); lx. 42 (Hitchcock); lxi. 132 (Hitchcock).

Expositor, 2nd Ser., vii. 145 (Murphy).

Verses 12-30

[5. Exhortation and Commendation (Philippians 2:12-30).

(1) EXHORTATION TO WORK OUT THEIR SALVATION through the in working of God, and so to be lights in the world, and the glory of the Apostle, even in the hour of martyrdom (Philippians 2:12-18).


(3) PRESENT MISSION OF EPAPHRODITUS, now recovered from his late sickness, and strong commendation of his zeal (Philippians 2:25-30).]

(12-18) By the word “wherefore” St. Paul connects this exhortation with the great passage above. For the main idea is here of the presence of God in them, working out glory through a condition of humiliation, on condition of their fellow-working with Him; so that they shall appear as the “sons of God” and as “lights in the world.” In all this there is clearly the imperfect but true likeness of the indwelling of Godhead in our Lord’s humanity, exalting it through the two-fold humiliation to the unspeakable glory.

Verse 13

(13) For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do.—In this famous paradox St. Paul calls on 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 recognised by our deepest consciousness, but to our logic irreconcilable. In one passage only (Romans 9:14-24) does St. Paul touch, and that slightly and suggestively, on their reconcilement: generally Holy Scripture—in this confirming human reason—brings out each vividly and profoundly in turn, and leaves the problem of their reconcilement untouched. Here the paradoxical form of the sentence forces on the mind the recognition of the co-existence of both. If that recognition be accepted, the force of the reasoning is clear. The only encouragement to work, in a being weak and finite like man, is the conviction that the Almighty power is working in him, both as to will and deed.

The word “worketh in you” is constantly applied to the divine operation in the soul (see 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 2:8; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:2); rarely, as here (in the word rendered “to do”) to the action of men. It must necessarily extend to the will as well as the action; otherwise God would not be sovereign in the inner realm of mind (as, indeed, Stoic philosophy denied that He was). We are familiar with the influence of one created will over another—an influence real, though limited, yet in no sense compulsive. From this experience we may catch a faint glimpse of the inner working of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man. Hence, while we cannot even conceive the existence of freedom under an unbending impersonal law or force, the harmony of our will with a Supreme Personal Will is mysterious, indeed, but not inconceivable.

Of his good pleasure.—Literally, on behalf of His good pleasure; that is, in harmony with it. On the double sense of “good pleasure” see Note on Ephesians 1:5. Here, probably, the meaning is His “gracious will” for our salvation.

Verse 14

(14) Without murmurings and disputings.—St. Paul seems purposely to leave this precept in perfect generality, so as to apply to their relations both to God and man. We observe, however, that the word “disputings” is mostly used of objections and cavils in word (see Matthew 15:19; Luke 5:22; Luke 6:8; Romans 1:21; Romans 14:1); although in Luke 9:47; Luke 24:38, and perhaps 1 Timothy 2:8, it is applied to the inner strife of the heart. In either case it seems mainly to indicate intellectual questionings. Similarly, the word “murmuring” is used of outward wranglings of discontent (Matthew 20:11; Luke 5:30; John 6:41; John 6:43; John 6:61; John 7:12; Acts 6:1; 1 Corinthians 10:10; 1 Peter 4:9), proceeding not so much from the mind, as from the heart. The object, moreover, contemplated in Philippians 2:15 is chiefly good example before men. Hence the primary reference would seem to be to their relation towards men, in spite of the close connection with the preceding verse. Nor can we forget that it is on unity among themselves that the main stress of the exhortation of this chapter turns. Of course it is obvious that the disposition rebuked is sure to show itself in both relations; and that, if checked in one, the check will react on the other.

Verse 15

(15) Blameless and harmless.—“Blameless” as to external law and judgment (as in Luke 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:10); “harmless” in internal purity and simplicity (as in Matthew 10:16, “harmless as doves;” and Romans 16:19).

The sons of God, without rebuke.—The word “without rebuke” is, according to the best MSS., the same as that which is used in Ephesians 1:4 (where see Note), and elsewhere, to signify “unblemished.” The whole passage seems certainly a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 32:5, as it runs in the Greek version, speaking of the Israelites as “no children of God, full of blemish, a crooked and perverse generation.” The word “crooked” is similarly applied to the unbelieving Jews by St. Peter in Acts 2:40, and the epithet “faithless and perverse generation” used by our Lord in Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41.

Lights.—Properly, luminaries; so used in the Old Testament, and probably in Revelation 21:11. Christians are as the lesser lights of heaven, dim in comparison with the Sun of Righteousness, perhaps shining by His reflected light, and seen only in the night of this life, till He shall rise on us again in the “day of Christ” spoken of in the next verse. The word, therefore, stands half-way between “light” itself, as in Matthew 5:14, and the merely artificial “light” (or, candle) of John 5:35.

Verse 16

(16) Holding forth the word of life.—This translation seems correct, and the reference is to the comparison above. There may, indeed, be (as has been supposed) a reference, involving a change of metaphor, to the holding forth of a torch, for guidance, or for transmission, as in the celebrated torch race of ancient times. But this supposed change of metaphor is unnecessary. The “luminaries” hold forth their light to men, and that light is the “word of life.” Note the same connection in John 1:4, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”

The word of life.—The phrase “the word of life” is remarkable. Here it signifies, of course, the gospel of Christ. But the gradual progress of this expression should be noted. Of Him His disciples declared that He “has the words” (i.e., the expressed words; see Note on Ephesians 6:17) “of eternal life” (John 6:68); He Himself goes further, and declares that His words are themselves spirit and life (John 6:63); here the gospel, as giving that knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ which is “eternal life” (John 17:3), is a “word of life;” and all these lead up to the final declaration that He Himself is “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

Run in vain, neither laboured in vain.—St. Paul’s usual metaphor includes the “race” and the “struggle” of wrestling or boxing (as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In Galatians 2:2 he speaks only of the “running in vain.” Here, perhaps, the more general word “labour” (united in Colossians 1:29 with the word “struggling”) may be taken to express at any rate that element of endurance and watchfulness which the struggle in the arena represents.

Verse 17

(17) If I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith.—The striking metaphor of the original is here imperfectly represented. It is, If I am being poured out—if my life-blood is poured out—over the sacrifice and religious ministration of your faith. The same word is used in 2 Timothy 4:6, where our version has, “I am now ready to be offered.” The allusion is to the practice of pouring out libations or drink-offerings (usually of wine) over sacrifices, both Jewish and heathen. Such libation was held to be a subsidiary or preparatory element of the sacrifice. In that light St. Paul regards his own possible martyrdom, not so much as having a purpose and value in itself, but rather as conducing to the self-sacrifice of the Philippians by faith—a sacrifice apparently contemplated as likely to be offered in life rather than by death.

The sacrifice and service of your faith.—The word here rendered “service,” with its kindred words, properly means any service rendered by an individual for the community; and it retains something of this meaning in 2 Corinthians 9:12, where it is applied to the collection and transmission of alms to Jerusalem (comp. Romans 15:27; and see below, Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:30), and in Romans 13:6 and Hebrews 1:7, where “the powers that be” and the angels are respectively called “ministers of God.” But the great preponderance of New Testament usage appropriates it to priestly service (see Luke 1:23; Romans 15:16; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:21; Hebrews 10:11), which is obviously its sense here. The simplest interpretation of the whole passage would be to consider the Philippians merely as priests, and to suppose “sacrifice” to describe the chief function, and “ministration” the general function, of their priesthood. But the word “sacrifice,” though it might etymologically mean the act of sacrifice, has universally in the New Testament the sense, not of the act, but of the thing sacrificed. Accordingly, here it would seem that, following afar off the example of the great high priest, the Christian is described as at once sacrifice and priest, “offering” (see Romans 12:1) “his own body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” and with it the “sacrifice of praise” and the “sacrifice of doing good and communicating” (Hebrews 13:15-16, and below, Philippians 4:18). This union of sacrifice and ministration, being the work “of faith,” is in St. Paul’s view the thing really precious; his own death the mere preparation for it, in which he rejoices “to spend and be spent” for them.

I joy, and rejoice with you all.—That is, I joy, and that in sympathy with you. First, “I joy” absolutely, in the feeling that “to depart and be with Christ,” following Him in His own way of suffering, is far better. Next, “I joy in sympathy with you,” in the sense of community of sacrifice, and brotherhood in suffering, for the sake of the one Lord. The emphasis laid on the latter clause harmonises with the old proverb, that sorrow is halved, and joy doubled, when it is shared with others.

Verse 18

(18) Do ye joy . . .—The Epistle lays great stress on joy, not only as a privilege, but as a duty, following from Christian faith and proving its reality. Joy is in itself natural in the first thoughts of childhood and youth; it is apt to be chequered or even destroyed by the second thoughts of fuller experience of life, as darkened by suffering, sin, and death; but in the third and deepest thoughts of the Christian, recognising these darker elements of life, but knowing that they were not in the beginning, and shall not be in the end, joy comes back, solemnised but deepened into thankfulness. A Christianity which has no power to rejoice, either in flashes of joy amidst tribulation, or, better still, in the calm steady light of cheerfulness, may be true, but is imperfect. It has not yet entered into the promise given by our Lord Himself of the “joy which no man taketh from us” (John 16:22).

Verse 19

(19) We note that here Timothy is spoken of in the third person; hence, though he is joined with St. Paul in the salutation (see Philippians 1:1), the Epistle is the Apostle’s, and his alone. The same is the case in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (comp. Philippians 1:1 with Philippians 3:2; Philippians 3:6).

That I also may be of good comfort.—The words express some anxiety, but greater confidence, as to the news which Timothy on returning was likely to bring. We have instances of a similar but far stronger anxiety of affection in 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7, and 1 Thessalonians 3:1-9. In regard to the Philippians it might exist in detail, but was swallowed up in confidence on all main points.

Verses 19-24

(19-24) St. Paul takes occasion of a promise to send Timothy shortly, to give an emphatic commendation of him, and adds a hope that he may soon come to Philippi himself.

Verse 20

(20) For I have no man likeminded.—That is, probably, like-minded with myself. St. Paul calls Timothy his “genuine (or, true) son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2), a son who in spirit and affection was like his father. The word “naturally” in this verse is the same word, and should be translated genuinely, without either counterfeit or duplicity of aim; and the word “care” implies something of the same absorbing anxiety which is expressed on St. Paul’s part in this passage.

Verse 21

(21) For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.—Compare our Lord’s words, “Ye shall be scattered every man to his own (things), and shall leave Me alone” (John 16:32). St. Paul’s declaration is startling; for he had certainly some “brethren with him” (Philippians 4:21). But the scanty notice of them in the close of this Epistle contrasts strongly with the detailed and affectionate mention of his companions by name in Colossians 4:7-14; Phlippians 1:23-24. It would seem as if at this time he was either separated accidentally from his most trusty disciples, or that there had been a temporary falling away from him, in some degree like that which he describes with so much sadness in 2 Timothy 4:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:16. His words need not be taken as accusing all of absolute selfishness and unfaithfulness, but they are nevertheless startling enough.

Verse 22

(22) The proof of him.—The allusion is justified by their intimate personal knowledge. Timothy was at Philippi with St. Paul on his first visit (Acts 16:12-40); we find him sent to Thessalonica shortly after (1 Thessalonians 3:2), and he probably then paid a second visit to Philippi; from Ephesus (Acts 19:22) he is sent again to Macedonia; and with St. Paul on the way to Jerusalem he was at Philippi once more (Acts 20:4-6).

As a son with the father.—The original construction is curiously broken here. It runs, As a son to a father—as though St. Paul was going to speak of Timothy’s dutiful ministration and following of his example; but then the sentence changes, in a characteristic humility, and makes Timothy and himself merely fellow-servants—he served with me in the gospel. If we may judge of Timothy’s character from the general character of St. Paul’s directions to him in the Pastoral Epistles, and especially the significant exhortation, “Let no man despise thy youth, (1 Timothy 4:12), it would seem to have been gentle and warm-hearted rather than commanding. Hence, perhaps, the necessity for this singularly emphatic commendation of him. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:10, “If Timotheus come, see that he be with you without fear.”)

Verse 23

(23) How it will go with me.—An explanatory paraphrase, though probably correct, of the original, the things concerning me. Probably some crisis in the imprisonment was at hand, with which the expectation of release implied in the next verse was connected.

Verse 24

(24) But I trust . . .—Compare Phlippians 1:22, “Prepare me a lodging, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given to you,” where the expectation seems even more immediate. The interval between the Letters is unknown. The received belief of St. Paul’s release, and subsequent re-imprisonment (resting on unvarying tradition, and on the evidence of the Pastoral Epistles), supposes this expectation to have been fulfilled in due time.

In the Lord.—So above, Philippians 2:19. The expression, connected in both cases with matters of practical life and even of detail, is one which (like “the bowels of Jesus Christ” in Philippians 1:8) belongs to the consciousness of a life so absorbed in Christ, that it cannot think or live in hope except “in the Lord.” But it carries with it, perhaps, also the idea suggested by St. James (James 4:15) “If the Lord will, we shall do this or that.” Just so far as a hope or prayer is really “in the Lord,” it will be accordant with the Divine will, and will therefore be realised.

Philippians 2:25-30 contain the immediate mission and commendation of Epaphroditus, who had been sent from Philippi with supplies, had fallen sick, and now in convalescence was longing for home, and fearful lest the report of his sickness should cause them anxiety.

Verse 25

(25) Epaphroditus.—The name was often shortened into Epaphras. But it was a common name; hence any identification with the Epaphras of Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Phlippians 1:23, is, to say the least, extremely precarious. It is hardly likely that one who was a native Colossian would be a resident and chosen messenger of Philippi. The three titles here given him are closely joined together in the original, and form a kind of climax—“brother” in a common Christianity, “fellow-worker” in the service of Christ, “fellow-soldier” in the “hardness” of daring and suffering, which the warfare of the Cross implies. (See 2 Timothy 2:3-4.)

Your messenger.—The original word is apostle; and by some interpreters, ancient and modern, it has been thought that it is intended here to designate the chief pastor—or, in the modern sense, the bishop—of the Philippian Church (as probably is the case with the “angels” of the churches in the Apocalypse); and the word “your” is then explained in the same sense as the words “of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:13. But this is very unlikely, (1) because there seems to be no example to confirm the statement that the chief pastor of a church was ever called its “apostle;” (2) because the character of the apostolate, being general and evangelistic, was very different from that of the local and pastoral episcopate; (3) because in this passage the word is inseparably connected with the following “and minister to my needs,” showing the latter phrase to be explanatory of the previous word; (4) because the style of commendation in Philippians 2:29 is hardly suitable as applied to one whose office alone should have commanded respect. Our version is, therefore, correct in rendering it “messenger,” just as in 2 Corinthians 8:23 (“the messengers of the churches”), where there is a similar reference to the transmission of alms.

Verse 26

(26) For he longed after you all. . . .—The two clauses of the verse are distinct from each other. St. Paul’s first reason for sending Epaphroditus was in itself a sufficient one, that in his convalescence he yearned for home, and needed a change thither. The original is strong, because he was continually longing (see Philippians 1:8; Philippians 4:1) for you all. But besides this he was “full of heaviness,” or more properly, distressed and uneasy, because of the effect which the news of his apparently fatal illness might cause at home.

Verse 27

(27) God had mercy on him . . . and on me also.—The passage, over and above its interest as an example of the strong personal affection which belonged to St. Paul’s nature, and harmonised with his wide scope of Christian love, is notable as showing clearly that the Apostle’s power of miracle, great as it was, was not his own, to use at his own will. When it was needed to be “the sign of an Apostle” (2 Corinthians 13:12) it was given; and at special times, as at Ephesus, it was given in “special” fulness (Acts 19:11). As we note, both in the Old Testament and in the New, special epochs of miracles in the history of the Church; so it would seem there were special occasions on which miracle came out prominently in the Apostle’s preaching. We may, perhaps, infer from certain points in the descriptions of the healing of the cripple at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:4), and at Lystra (Acts 14:8) that some spiritual intimation warned them when the hour of miracle was come. But an Apostle could not, as our Lord would not, work miracles for his own needs. Thus in this case, deeply as he sorrowed for Epaphroditus, there is no hint of his exercising that power on his behalf. He could only pray that God would have mercy on him, and thank God when that prayer was heard.

Sorrow upon sorrow.—That is, probably, upon the sorrow of captivity the sorrow of losing one who had (see Philippians 2:30) risked his life in the ardour of service to the captive.

Verse 28

(28) I sent him therefore the more carefully.—That is, I was the more earnest and anxious to send him. In any case the Apostle would have been desirous to express his thanks and send news by Epaphroditus. But the circumstances of his illness increased that desire to greater earnestness.

I may be the less sorrowful.—There is a peculiar pathos in this expression, as contrasted with the completeness of joy described above in Philippians 2:17-18. Epaphroditus’ recovery and safe return would take away the “sorrow upon sorrow;” but the old sorrow of captivity, enforced inactivity, and anxiety for the condition of the gospel, would remain. The expression of perfect joy belongs to the “spirit which was willing” indeed; the hint of an unspoken sorrow marks the weakness of the flesh.

Verse 30

(30) Not regarding his life.—According to the true reading, the sense is “having hazarded his life; literally, having gambled with his life, not merely having staked it, but staked it recklessly. It is possible that (as Bishop Wordsworth suggests) there may be allusion to the caution money, staked in a cause to show that it was not frivolous and vexatious, and forfeited in case of loss; and that Epaphroditus, risking his life through over-exertion in the cause of St. Paul, as a prisoner awaiting trial, is therefore said to have gambled with his life. This would give a special appropriateness to the allusion. But it is, perhaps, too artificial, and the figure is in itself intelligible and striking.

To supply your lack of service.—There is not in the original the touch of reproach which our version may seem to imply. Epaphroditus’ presence and activity are said to have “filled up the one thing wanting” to make the service of the Philippians effective for its purpose.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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