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Philippians 2

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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1. Walking in unity ch. 2

In expounding on the importance of unity and steadfastness as essential for partnership in the work of the gospel, Paul dealt first with the importance of walking in unity. Several writers have suggested that unity is the major theme in Philippians. [Note: E.g., Robert Gromacki, Stand United in Joy; Frank Stagg, "Philippians," in Broadman Bible Commentary; Howard Vos, Philippians: A Study Guide; and Gerald Blazek, "Unity through Humility in Philippians," (Th.M. thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1977).] I do not believe unity is a comprehensive enough theme in the book for it to be the main theme, though it is certainly an important sub-theme. Paul explained the basis for unity and illustrated this basis with the example of Christ. He then clarified the believers’ responsibility and further illustrated with his own example and that of two of his fellow workers.

Verse 1

The apostle introduced his comments on submissiveness by giving his readers four incentives. He stated each one in a conditional clause that he introduced with the word "if." He assumed each one to be true for the sake of his argument (a first class condition in Greek). The translators have supplied the verb that Paul did not state. The NASB has "there is," but the NIV gives a better sense of Paul’s meaning with "you have." We could read each of the four clauses, "Since you have . . ."

The first reason Christians can and should be submissive to God and to one another is that Jesus Christ has exhorted (Gr. parakalesis) us to do so. His teachings while on the earth, as well as those that followed through His apostles after He returned to heaven, specifically Paul, encourage us to be humble. Jesus’ personal example during His earthly ministry also encourages us similarly.

Second, Paul’s love for the Philippians, which came as a comforting gift from God, should impel them to respond positively to his request also.

Third, the fellowship that the Holy Spirit creates should also make Christians submissive (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:13; Ephesians 4:3). It seems best to take this reference as including both our participation in the Spirit and the common life that He has created for us. [Note: Kent, p. 121; William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Philippians and Exposition of Colossians and Philemon, p. 98, footnote 73.] We should probably regard the genitive as both objective and subjective rather than just objective. The former incentives also come from being in Christ and from love. Another option is just our participation in the Spirit. [Note: Martin, pp. 48-49, 91.]

Fourth, the tenderness (affection) and compassion, or the affectionate sympathy, of God and Christ toward the Philippians would make unity normal and expected for this congregation.

Verse 1

B. Unity and steadfastness 2:1-4:1

In addition to walking worthily, the Philippians needed to walk in unity and steadfastness.

Verses 1-4

The foundation for unity 2:1-4

Paul advocated humility, namely, concern for the needs of others, not just one’s own needs, as the basis for unity in the church (cf. Philippians 1:22-26; Philippians 2:21).

". . . someone well said: ’Love begins when someone else’s needs are more important than my own,’ which is precisely what Paul will urge in the elaboration that follows." [Note: Fee, p. 185.]

Verse 2

Paul stated his exhortation to submissiveness in the first part of this verse and then elaborated on it. The apostle wanted his readers to be one in their attitude and purpose so they could fulfill God’s purpose for them individually and as a church. To accomplish this they would need to be humble and submissive in these areas of their lives. The result would be that Paul’s joy because of this congregation, which was already great, would become complete.

Four participial phrases elaborate on this exhortation. The first is that the readers should maintain love for one another. The second is that they should maintain unity in spirit and purpose.

Verse 3

Third, they should view other people as more important than themselves (cf. Philippians 1:17).

"This is the linchpin that guarantees the success of the Christian community." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 69.]

The popular idea that we should put ourselves first goes all the way back to the Fall. Unsaved people in Paul’s day did not view humility as a virtue any more than most people today do. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "tareinos [lowly]," et al., by Walter Grundmann, 8 (1972):11-12.] Paul was not advocating an unrealistic view of life. He was not saying we should view everyone as better than ourselves in every way. His point was that we should view others as worthy of more consideration than we give ourselves (cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 5:5-6).

Verse 4

Fourth, the readers should consider the interests and affairs of one another, not just their own. Philippians 2:3 deals with how we view other people, and this one deals with how we relate to them. We have a duty to be responsible and to look out for the needs of our families (1 Timothy 5:8). However the believer’s sphere of concern should be broader than this and should include the needs of the members of his or her extended Christian family as well. In a larger sphere this attitude should also encompass unbelievers.

"One must also be careful not to push this clause beyond Paul’s own intent, which is not concerned with whether one ever ’looks out for oneself’-the ’also’ in the final line assumes that one will do that under any circumstances-but with the basic orientation of one’s life . . ." [Note: Fee, p. 190.]

Contrasts between a Helper and a Servant
A HelperA Servant
A helper helps others when it is convenient.A servant serves others even when it is inconvenient.
A helper helps people that he or she likes.A servant serves even people that he or she dislikes.
A helper helps when he or she enjoys the work.A servant serves even when he or she dislikes the work.
A helper helps when the circumstances are convenient.A servant serves even when the circumstances are inconvenient.
A helper helps with a view to obtaining personal satisfaction.A servant serves even when he or she receives no personal satisfaction.
A helper helps with an attitude of assisting another.A servant serves with an attitude of enabling another.

Verse 5

Paul introduced an illustration of what he meant, namely, the example of Jesus Christ. He wanted his readers to remember that the very qualities he had been advocating were observable in the Lord Jesus. This verse introduces one of the great Christological passages in the New Testament (Philippians 2:5-11).

". . . the secret of Christian joy is found in the way the believer thinks-his attitudes." [Note: Wiersbe, Be Joyful, p. 9.]

Verses 5-11

The example of Christ 2:5-11

This paragraph is the most important one in the epistle and the most difficult to interpret.

"By anyone’s reckoning, Philippians 2:6-11 constitutes the single most significant block of material in Philippians." [Note: Ibid., p. 39.]

Verse 6

This verse begins a section of exalted prose that continues through Philippians 2:11. Many commentators, however, took this section as an early Christian hymn, but Fee’s rebuttal of this view is convincing. [Note: See Gordon D. Fee, "Philippians 2:5-11: Hymn or Exalted Pauline Prose?" Bulletin for Biblical Research 2 (1992):29-46; and idem, Paul’s Letter . . ., pp. 40-43. See Carson and Moo, pp. 499-503, for discussion of the controversy.] The parallels in thought and action between these verses, which describe Jesus’ humility, and John 13:3-17, which records Jesus washing His disciples feet, are striking.

The Son of God’s preincarnate state is quite clearly in view here (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). He existed in the form of God. The word translated "form" (NASB) or "nature" (NIV, Gr. morphe) refers to outward appearance that accurately reveals the inward nature. It does not mean outward appearance that changes as a result of time and circumstances (Gr. schema, Philippians 2:7).

"To say that he was existing in the essential metaphysical form of God is tantamount to saying that he possessed the nature of God." [Note: Kent, p. 123.]

The verb translated "existed" (NASB) or "being" (NIV) is in the present tense in the Greek text and points to the Lord’s continuing existence with the full nature of God. His full deity is not something Jesus Christ gave up or laid aside when He became a man at the Incarnation. [Note: See Dennis W. Jowers, "The Meaning of Morphe in Philippians 2:6-7," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49:4 (December 2006):739-66.]

"This, then, is what it means for Christ to be ’in the "form" of God’; it means ’to be equal with God,’ not in the sense that the two phrases are identical, but that both point to the same reality. Together, therefore, they are among the strongest expressions of Christ’s deity in the NT. This means further that ’equality with God’ is not that which he desired which was not his, but precisely that which was always his." [Note: Fee, Paul’s Letter . . ., pp. 207-8.]

The Lord Jesus’ equality with God did change in some sense, however. The manner in which He existed as God changed when He became a man. He willingly adopted a manner of existence that was different from His father’s, namely, that of the God-man.

"Our doctrine of Christ’s humiliation will be better understood if we put it midway between two pairs of erroneous views, making it the third of five. The list would be as follows: (1) Gess: The Logos gave up all divine attributes; (2) Thomasius: The Logos gave up relative attributes only [i.e., omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence]; (3) True View: The Logos gave up the independent exercise of divine attributes; (4) Old Orthodoxy: Christ gave up the use of divine attributes; (5) Anselm: Christ acted as if he did not possess divine attributes." [Note: A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, p. 704.]

". . . while it is not true that Christ in the incarnation surrendered the relative attributes of omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience, He did embark upon a program where it was necessary to submit to a voluntary nonuse of these attributes in order to obtain His objectives. Christ does not seem to have ever exercised His divine attributes on His own behalf though they had abundant display in His miracles. This is qualified to some extent by the fact that His omniscience is revealed in His prophetic ministry, but He did not use His divine knowledge to make His own path easier. He suffered all the inconveniences of His day even though in His divine omniscience He had full knowledge of every human device ever conceived for human comfort. In His human nature there was growth in knowledge, but this must not be construed as a contradiction of His divine omniscience. Limitations in knowledge as well as limitations in power are related to the human nature and not to the divine. His omnipotence was manifested in many ways and specifically in the many miracles which He did, in some cases by the power of the Holy Spirit and in others on the basis of His own word of authority. Here again He did not use His omnipotence to make His way easy and He knew the fatigue of labor and travelling by walking. Though in His divine nature He was omnipresent, He did not use this attribute to avoid the long journeys on foot nor was He ever seen in His ministry in more than one place at a time. In a word, He restricted the benefits of His attributes as they pertained to His walk on earth and voluntarily chose not to use His powers to lift Himself above ordinary human limitations.

"The act of kenosis as stated in Philippians 2 may therefore be properly understood to mean that Christ surrendered no attribute of Deity, but that He did voluntarily restrict their independent use in keeping with His purpose of living among men and their limitations." [Note: John F. Walvoord, Jesus Christ Our Lord, pp. 143-44. Cf Robert P. Lightner, Evangelical Theology, p. 84; and Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, p. 262.]

Jesus Christ did not regard His former manner of existence something that He wanted to hold onto. In view of the context this seems to be the correct interpretation. Another less likely possibility is that He did not need to grasp after equality with God since He already possessed it. A third undesirable alternative is that He did not grasp equality with God prematurely, as Adam did, but waited for the Father to bestow it on Him after His passion.

Jesus was willing to alter His behavior for the welfare of others, and in this He is an example of submissiveness for us.

". . . his true nature is characterized not by selfish grabbing, but by an open-handed giving . . ." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 85.]

Contrast Adam, who considered equality with God something to be seized. Adam tried to become like God by grasping, but Christ, who was God, became man by releasing. This analogy is only conceptual, however, since there are no linguistic parallels to the Genesis narrative here. [Note: Fee, Paul’s Letter . . ., p. 209.]

Verse 7

Instead of maintaining His former manner of existence our Lord "emptied Himself" (NASB), "made himself nothing" (NIV), or "laid aside His privileges" (NASB margin, Gr. ekenosen). From this Greek word we get the term "kenosis," which refers to the doctrine of Christ limiting Himself when He became a man. The kenosis theory in theology deals with this subject.

What did He lay aside? It was not His deity. Jesus did not cease to be God when He became a man. This is clear from the context as well as from other Scriptures (e.g., John 10:30; Colossians 1:15-20; et al.). He did not lay aside His dependence on the Father either. As the terms "Son" and "Father" reflect, the Son was always dependent on His Father within the administrative order of the Godhead.

Taking humanity imposed certain restrictions on Jesus Christ, including those involved in possessing a physical body and a human, though not a sinful, nature. He laid aside the glory and freedom that His former manner of existence afforded Him when He became a man. He became dependent on the Father in a different sense than had been true formerly. However, Paul did not say that Jesus emptied Himself of something. He simply said that He emptied Himself, that is, He poured Himself out. [Note: Ibid., p. 210.] Compare Isaiah 53:12, where the prophet wrote that the Servant of the Lord poured out Himself to death.

"It is not ’Of what did he empty himself?’ but ’Into what did he empty himself?’" [Note: Motyer, p. 113.]

Paul described Jesus’ self-emptying as taking the form of a bond-servant. "Taking" (Gr. labon) does not imply an exchange but adding something. The Lord did not lay aside the form of God; He did not cease to be God. He added the "form" of man. The same Greek word, morphe, occurs in Philippians 2:6 where it describes outward appearance that accurately reveals inward nature. Earlier Paul described himself and Timothy as bond-servants (Philippians 1:1). Bond-servants are not just men. They are servants. The Messianic title "Servant of the Lord" reflects this humility and condescension of our Savior.

Furthermore Jesus Christ became in the likeness of men (cf. Romans 8:3). "Likeness" (Gr. homoiomati) does not mean exactness (Gr. eikon). Even though Jesus had a fully human nature, that nature was not sinful. Every other human being has a sinful human nature. Moreover Jesus had a divine nature as well as a human nature.

As an example to the readers, this verse is an advance on the previous one. It shows that Jesus Christ was not just willing to change His behavior for others, but He really did so by becoming a man who was a servant.

Verse 8

Jesus Christ appeared to other people just as any other man. This was another mark of His humility. There were no visual clues in His appearance that He was sinless or divine.

". . . having said that Christ came in the ’likeness’ of human beings (Philippians 2:7 b), Paul now moves the narrative on to its next point, by saying he ’appeared’ in a way that was clearly recognizable as human. Together the two phrases accent the reality of his humanity, just as the first two phrases in the preceding sentence accent his deity." [Note: Fee, Paul’s Letter . . ., p. 215.]

Jesus further humbled Himself by becoming obedient to His Father’s will to the point of laying down His life in death (cf. Isaiah 53:12; Hebrews 5:8).

Beyond that, He was willing to undergo death by crucifixion, a form of execution that was without equal in its pain and humiliation.

"It is difficult after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society (Cicero, Pro Rabirio 16); even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism: arbori infelici suspendito, ’hang him on the unlucky tree’ (Cicero, ibid. 13)." [Note: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 271.]

The Phoenicians and Persians practiced crucifixion before the Greeks and Romans adopted it. It was a form of execution from which Roman citizens were exempt. Only the worst criminals among the slaves and foreigners underwent crucifixion. [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Crucifixion," by D. H. Wheaton.] Hanging on a tree was a sign to the Jews that the person so disgraced was under the curse of God (Deuteronomy 21:23; cf. Galatians 3:13).

The advance on Christ’s example in this verse is the extent to which He was willing to go in humble submissiveness in obedience to His Father’s will. All believers should be willing to do the same (Philippians 2:5).

"Several years ago, while I was engaged in a study of the Philippian Epistle, a letter come to me bearing news of the death of a friend and former classmate who had laid down his life for Christ in foreign missionary service. He had been a brilliant student, was wealthy in his own right, and at the completion of the seminary course he was married to a beautiful and talented young woman. In this country he might have had everything ordinarily desirable to men-business success, comfort, ease, and luxury. But there was in him the mind of Christ; if I may dare to use the word reverently, he freely ’emptied himself’ of all these prospects, becoming a servant of the cross in Egypt. There, having given what he could in service, he was obedient ’unto death.’" [Note: Alva J. McClain, "The Doctrine of the Kenosis in Philippians 2:5-8," Biblical Review 13:4 (October 1928):524-25.]

"The test of the submissive mind is not just how much we are willing to take in terms of suffering, but how much we are willing to give in terms of sacrifice." [Note: Wiersbe, The Bible . . ., 2:76. See also David J. MacLeod, "Imitating the Incarnation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:5-8," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:631 (July-September 2001):308-30.]

Verse 9

In view of the Son’s submission to the depths of humiliation, God the Father raised Him to the height of exaltation. He literally super-exalted (Gr. hyperypsosen) Him. This process included Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and glorification in heaven.

The name that the Father has given to Jesus that is above every name is evidently "Lord Jesus," as the following two verses suggest. [Note: See John Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, p. 121; and Barclay, p. 48.]

". . . it is not merely the possession of status but rather the use of status or power for the benefit of others which should be honored in congregations today." [Note: Joseph H. Hellerman, "The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Part 2," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:640 (October-December 2003):433.]

Verse 10

The purpose of the Father’s having given the Son great exaltation and a name suitable to such a position is that every person will bow in submission to His authority (cf. Isaiah 45:23 where all bow before Yahweh).

"Residents of first-century Philippi felt strongly compelled to proclaim their social location publicly in the pecking order of this highly stratified Roman colony." [Note: Idem, "The Humiliation of Christ in the Social World of Roman Philippi, Part 1," Bibliotheca Sacra 160:639 (July-September 2003):336.]

Thus Paul’s contrast between the humiliation and exaltation of Christ to the Philippians would have had unusual impact on these readers.

The beings in heaven that Paul referred to evidently are believers who have died and whose spirits have gone into the Lord’s presence. Those on earth are people still alive on the earth. Those under the earth are unbelievers awaiting resurrection. Hades (the same as Sheol, the Old Testament term) is the place where the spirits of the unbelieving dead go until God resurrects them and judges them. The ancients thought of Sheol or Hades as being under the surface of the earth, probably because that is where their bodies went in burial. All angelic beings will acknowledge Jesus’ lordship too (1 Corinthians 15:27).

Various groups will acknowledge that Jesus is Lord at different times. Christians do so at conversion, and we will do so when we see the Lord following the Rapture (cf. Revelation 4-5). Those living on the earth and Old Testament saints resurrected at the Second Coming will do so then (Revelation 19:11-21). Most of those living on the earth during the millennial reign of Christ will submit to Him then (Psalms 2). At the end of the Millennium everyone on the earth and all resurrected unbelievers will bow the knee to Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:7-15).

Verse 11

Verbal confession of Jesus’ lordship will accompany symbolic physical submission. Every being that has a tongue and can speak will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The affirmation, "Jesus Christ is Lord," was the earliest confessional formula of the church (cf. Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 12:3; 1 Corinthians 16:22). [Note: Hawthorne, p. 93.] God will by this universal confession receive glory. Jesus Christ’s purpose is, always has been, and always will be to glorify the Father (1 Corinthians 15:27). [Note: See John V. Dahms, "The Subordination of the Son," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 37:3 (September 1994):351-64.]

"Verse 11 means, then, that the hope of God is that every intelligent being in his universe might proclaim openly and gladly (Lightfoot) that Jesus Christ alone has the right to reign." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 93.]

The exaltation of Jesus Christ is as much a motivation for the Christian to live a life of submissive humility as is His incarnation. God will reward a life of self-denial now and in the future. That is the obvious implication of Paul’s illustration.

Is it not selfish to serve the Lord for a reward? Was it selfish for Jesus to endure what He did because He knew He would receive a reward? Motivation is the key. If we submit to God and to one another for the glory of God rather than for selfish glory, as Jesus did, our motivation is correct.

The power of a positive example is very strong. Paul had previously used himself as an example of steadfastness (Philippians 1:30), and he would do so again. Here he pointed to Jesus Christ, the greatest example of submissiveness (Philippians 2:2-11). He would use Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples for his readers later (Philippians 2:19-23; Philippians 2:25-30). [Note: See David J. MacLeod, "The Exaltation of Christ: An Exposition of Philippians 2:9-11," Bibliotheca Sacra 158:632 (October-December 2001):437-50.]

Verse 12

The Philippian Christians had been obedient to the Lord and to His servant Paul in the past (cf. Philippians 1:27). Even though Paul was no longer with them and might be unable to return to them, he wanted them to continue to obey. The Greek word translated "obey" (hypakouein) contains the ideas of hearing, especially the divine word as proclaimed (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:8), and submitting to what is heard. [Note: Hawthorne, p. 98.] It was even more important that they purpose to obey with Paul absent since his presence among them provided a measure of external motivation for them.

Specifically they were to work out their salvation. Note that Paul did not say "work for your salvation." We obtain salvation by receiving it as a gift (Ephesians 2:8), but having received it freely we have a responsibility to cultivate it. The apostle had in mind the present aspect of our salvation, sanctification, in which we are laborers together with God (1 Corinthians 3:9; cf. Titus 3:8). [Note: See Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pp. 114-16; Robert N. Wilkin, "Working Out Your Salvation," Grace Evangelical Society News 8:3 (May-June 1993):2-3; and Fee, Paul’s Letter . . ., p. 235.] In justification and glorification, God does all the work (Ephesians 2:9; Judges 1:24). We work out our salvation by keeping in step with the Holy Spirit who leads us in the will of God (Galatians 5:16). In the context the particular aspect of sanctification in view involves achieving unity through humility.

"Paul is not here concerned with the eternal welfare of the soul of the individual. The individual believer is not now being called ’to self-activity, to the active pursuit of the will of God . . . to a personal application of salvation’ (Müller). Rather the context suggests that this command is to be understood in a corporate sense. The entire church, which had grown spiritually ill (Philippians 2:3-4), is charged now with taking whatever steps are necessary to restore itself to health and wholeness." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 98. Müller refers to J. J. Müller, The Epistles of Paul to the Philippians and to Philemon. Cf. Martin, p. 111.]

"Perhaps it is best to see both the outworking of personal salvation and the corporate salvation or deliverance of the whole assembly from whatever held them back from experiencing God’s best." [Note: Lightner, "Philippians," p. 655.]

As we work out our own sanctification, we must remember certain things. We serve a holy God, we have a strong and wise adversary, and we are weak and dependent on God for all that we need. Such awareness will produce the attitude of fear and trembling that Paul advocated. This attitude is not inconsistent with joy and confidence in the Lord.

Verses 12-16

The responsibility of the believer 2:12-16

"The detailed attention just given to the Christ-hymn must not obscure the fact that Philippians 2:12-18 are part of a larger parenetic section-1:27-2:18. Exhortation is resumed again through the frequent use of the imperative mood, or through the use of participles with the force of the imperative." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 97.]

"God’s ’therefore’ (Philippians 2:9) is matched by the Christian’s therefore (Philippians 2:12), [footnote 1: The Greek words are different (Philippians 2:9, dio, ’therefore, wherefore’; Philippians 2:12, hoste, ’so then’), but the effect is the same.] and that, in a nutshell, is what this passage is about. Just as God assessed and then reacted to the worth of his Son’s life of obedience (Philippians 2:9-11), so the Christian must ponder the example of Christ and determine upon a worthy response (Philippians 2:12-18)." [Note: Motyer, p. 125.]

Verse 13

In the preceding context Paul had been urging his readers to do right even though he was not in Philippi to motivate and encourage them to do so (Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:12). Here he reminded them that God was at work not just with them but in them to provide motivation and enabling strength (Gr. energein, from which we get the word "energy"). He would enable them to work out their own salvation. God carries out this work through the indwelling Holy Spirit, and His main tool is the Word of God.

"God does not work and has not worked . . . because man has worked. . . . The contrary is true: because God works and has worked, therefore man must and can work." [Note: Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 255.]

This verse is one of the most comforting in the New Testament. Sometimes we want to do right but seem to lack the energy or ability. This verse assures us that God will help us. At other times we cannot even seem to want to do right. Here we learn that God can also provide the desire to do His will when we do not have it. If we find that we do not want to do right, we can ask God to work in us to create a desire to do His will. This verse gives us confidence that God desires both to motivate and to enable us.

Verse 14

The first word in this verse in the Greek text is "all things" (NASB) or "everything" (NIV), which by its position indicates the writer’s emphasis. Most of us can learn to grumble and argue less than we do now, but such activities should be totally absent from our lives.

The first of these words looks at the initial activity and the second what results from the first (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 4:2). The great warning of what complaining and disputing can lead to is Israel’s 10 instances of complaining in the wilderness. That behavior culminated in the Israelites’ refusal to enter and occupy the Promised Land from Kadesh-barnea (Numbers 13-14). We frustrate God’s work of producing unity, which He does by reproducing the mind of Christ in us (i.e., humility), when we complain and argue (cf. Philippians 1:19; Philippians 1:28).

"The new nature is ours by gift of God, but the activation of that new nature in terms of new character and new conduct is through the responsive work of obedience, the hard graft of the daily warfare." [Note: Motyer, pp. 130-31.]

Verse 15

By working out their own salvation with fear and trembling, rather than with grumbling and disputing, the Philippians would show themselves to be blameless and innocent (pure, NIV). "Blameless" (Gr. amemptos) means without blame (not culpable; cf. Philippians 3:6) because we deal with our sins as we should. It does not mean unblemished (Gr. amomos) nor unblameable (Gr. anegkletos and anepileptos). [Note: See Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament, pp. 354-56.] "Innocent" or "pure" (Gr. akeraioi) means unadulterated, unmixed with anything defiling (cf. Romans 16:19).

Paul then added the idea of being unblemished (Gr. amomos). The children of God are to be free from defilement and so not chargeable with justifiable criticism even though we live in the midst of a twisted and perverted generation (cf. Deuteronomy 32:5). The word "generation" (Gr. geneas) can refer to a group of people several generations long, not just to one generation of people. [Note: A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. "genea," p. 112.] Here it probably refers to unbelievers as a whole (cf. Matthew 17:17; Acts 2:40).

Christians are lights in a dark world (Matthew 5:14; cf. Daniel 12:3). The Light of the World now indwells us (John 8:12). Paul wanted his readers to bear a strong witness rather than having their light shaded by sin or uncleanness (cf. Matthew 5:15-16). Light is a good illustration of something that does what it has to do by being what it ought to be. [Note: Motyer, p. 133.]

Verse 16

"There is a break in thought at this point. Paul continues his appeal to the Philippians, to be sure, but he shifts the basis of appeal from the example of Jesus (Philippians 2:3-15) to himself and to the judgment he must face at the day of Christ. Therefore, he now asks them to do something for his sake." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 103.]

Believers are also to hold out the word of life, the gospel (John 6:68), as the Statue of Liberty holds out her torch. This is another way in which we are lights in a dark world. In view of the context, however, it seems more likely that Paul was urging his readers to hold fast to the word rather than to hold forth the word. The former interpretation is possible, nonetheless.

"Only as we firmly ’hold fast’ to the gospel truth can we effectively ’hold it forth’." [Note: Martin, p. 118.]

Paul wanted the Philippians to continue serving as he explained so when he stood before the judgment seat of Christ (cf. Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10) he would have cause for justifiable pride (cf. Philippians 1:26). His investments in their lives would not have been in vain. Running pictures all of Paul’s energetic activity as a Christian, and toiling highlights the hard labor that he expended. [Note: See Adolf Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East, pp. 313-14.]

Verse 17

The prospect that Paul might receive a death sentence soon arose again in his thinking. He described his present life as the pouring out of a drink offering in Israel’s worship (cf. 2 Timothy 4:6; Numbers 15:1-10; Numbers 28:4-7). After the priest offered a lamb, a ram, or a bull as a burnt offering, he poured wine beside the altar. This was the last act in the sacrificial ceremony, all of which symbolized the dedication of the believer to God in worship. The pouring out of the wine pictured the gradual ebbing away of Paul’s life that had been a living sacrifice to God since his conversion.

The phrase "sacrifice and service of (or coming from, NIV) your faith" is a figure of speech (hendiadys) meaning the sacrificial service arising from your faith.

Even if Paul would die, he could rejoice that he had made a contribution to the Philippians’ sacrificial service to God. He viewed himself and them as priests offering sacrifices to God, namely, themselves and their works (cf. Hebrews 13:15).

". . . his apostolic sufferings and the Philippians’ sacrificial gifts to him because he is an apostle combine to form a perfectly complete sacrifice to God." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 106.]

Verses 17-18

The example of Paul 2:17-18

Verse 18

The Philippians would not rejoice over the prospect of Paul’s death, of course, but over the knowledge that they, as Paul, had offered themselves as acceptable sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1). The apostle urged them not to sorrow over their own trials and his, but to rejoice as they worked out their own salvation, adopting his attitude toward their situation in life. They could share their joy with Paul as they communicated with him and assured him of their joy in the Lord.

Verse 19

Paul explained that his plan was subject to the will of God when he said that he hoped "in the Lord Jesus" to send Timothy shortly. The apostle alluded to his submission to the lordship of Christ frequently in this epistle (Philippians 1:8; Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:24; Philippians 2:29; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:3; Philippians 4:1; Philippians 4:10; cf. Romans 14:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39; 1 Corinthians 16:7; Philemon 1:20; Philemon 1:25). These references were probably especially numerous in this epistle because of the indefiniteness of Paul’s release.

The primary purpose of Timothy’s visit was to learn the condition of the Philippian believers and to report that to Paul. This would enable Paul to pray for, minister to, and lay plans to help this church better.

Verses 19-24

The example of Timothy 2:19-24

The apostle’s reference to his present sufferings (Philippians 2:17-18) led him to tell the Philippians about his plans. He wanted to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to Philippi. He said things about those two faithful fellow workers that would assure their warm reception when they arrived. Paul’s descriptions of them have lasting value because they were such good examples of men who possessed the mind of Christ. They were, therefore, true partners in the gospel.

"In this epistle every single reference Paul makes to another person is made in connection with that person’s koinonia, his partnership in the gospel. Timothy and Epaphroditus, except for Paul himself, stand as the most prominent of these." [Note: Swift, p. 246.]

Verse 20

Paul did not write these words to introduce Timothy to the Philippians. They knew him well. [Note: See my comments on 1:1.] Probably he wanted this glowing testimonial to give his original readers confidence that Timothy had their best interests at heart. Timothy would represent their situation to Paul accurately.

Probably Paul meant that he had no fellow worker with him then who would do a better job in this assignment than Timothy. Timothy consistently shared Paul’s general outlook and specific concern for the welfare of the Philippians.

Verse 21

This must be a general statement. Paul had many fellow workers whose commitment to Jesus Christ was complete at this time, one of whom was Epaphroditus. Paul would commend him shortly (Philippians 2:25-30). Perhaps Paul was thinking of those local Roman Christians who were serving the Lord at least partially to advance their own reputations. He had referred to them previously (Philippians 1:14-18). He probably meant that of all the people whom he might have sent to the Philippians, none put the interests of Christ above their own as Timothy did. Luke must have been away from Rome when Paul wrote this, and perhaps other helpers of Paul were also absent. [Note: Robertson, 4:448.] A believer who puts the interests of Christ before his or her own is still a rare individual (cf. Philippians 1:21).

Verse 22

In contrast to most believers, Timothy had demonstrated his worthiness as a servant of Christ and of Paul over more than 10 years. [Note: See George W. Murray, "Paul’s Corporate Witness in Philippians," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:619 (July-September 1998):316-26.] He had served as the apostle’s fellow worker and as his protégé. He had established a good reputation not only in Philippi but wherever he had served. Such a fine record stands a young servant of the Lord in good stead when others consider him for another ministry.

Verse 23

The verse begins "This one" in the Greek text, which draws attention to Timothy’s qualifications. Paul hoped, the Lord willing, to send Timothy to Philippi with a report of the apostle’s situation and plans as soon as he knew the result of his trial. Evidently Paul expected that a decision in his case would be forthcoming soon. Both for the love of the Philippian church and for the effectiveness of his ministry, Paul wanted his friends to know about his situation. In this he set us a good example.

Verse 24

Paul believed that he would receive his freedom and would be able to return to Philippi fairly soon (cf. Philippians 1:25). However, he qualified his hope with the realization that justice does not always prevail in legal courts (cf. Luke 23:13-25). As mentioned previously, there is evidence that Nero did release Paul and that the apostle resumed his missionary work.

"The submissive mind is not the product of an hour’s sermon, or a week’s seminar, or even a year’s service. The submissive mind grows in us as, like Timothy, we yield to the Lord and seek to serve others." [Note: Wiersbe, The Bible . . ., 2:82.]

Verse 25

Rather than waiting, Paul thought it necessary to send Epaphroditus immediately. He would explain shortly why he did this. First, he wanted to commend his messenger.

Epaphroditus’ name appears nowhere else in the New Testament other than in Philippians in this form (cf. Philippians 4:18). However Epaphras, the less formal name, appears in Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; and Philemon 1:23. These were probably two different individuals, however, since the Epaphroditus of Philippians was apparetly from Macedonia and the Epaphras of Colossians and Philemon was evidently from Asia Minor. Paul described Epaphroditus here in five relationships. He was Paul’s brother in the faith, a sharer in spiritual life by God’s grace. Second, he was Paul’s fellow worker, more than a brother but one who joined in the service of building the church of Jesus Christ, a partner in the gospel ministry. Third, he was Paul’s fellow soldier. He was not just a worker but a worker who had entered into spiritual warfare by standing up for Christ in a hostile environment and boldly proclaiming the gospel.

In relation to the Philippians, Epaphroditus was their messenger to Paul. He had carried their gift to him as their representative. Translators usually render the Greek word translated "messenger" as "apostle" (Gr. apostolos). This word has a general meaning and a specific meaning in the New Testament. Generally it means a messenger and describes such people as Barnabas (Acts 14:14), James, the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7), probably Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:7; cf. Philippians 1:1), and Epaphroditus here. Technically it refers to the 12 apostles and Paul, those whom Jesus had specially commissioned with the ministry of planting and establishing the church. This second usage is more common in the New Testament. Many men functioned as apostles in the early church, but only 13 were official apostles (i.e., occupied that office).

Finally, Epaphroditus was the Philippians’ "minister" to Paul’s needs in prison. This word (Gr. leitourgon) sometimes describes the kind of ministry a priest performs (Romans 15:16; Hebrews 8:2). Consequently Paul may have been thinking of Epaphroditus’ ministry to him as similar to a priest’s. He presented the Philippians’ offering to Paul as a sacrifice (Philippians 4:18).

"Epaphroditus was their envoy to him, their way of telling him that they cared enough to send their very best . . ." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 120.]

Verses 25-30

The example of Epaphroditus 2:25-30

Another messenger would arrive in Philippi before either Paul or Timothy. Epaphroditus would carry this epistle to its destination. Paul wrote this pericope to prepare for a proper reception of its courier and to draw attention to Epaphroditus’ humility.

Verse 26

Paul decided to send Epaphroditus immediately because word had reached Epaphroditus that his fellow Philippians had learned that he had been ill. This knowledge had created a longing in his heart for his brethren and had distressed him. His feelings were intense. Paul used the word translated "longing" (NASB) or "longs" (NIV, Gr. epipotheo) earlier to describe his own feelings for the Philippians (Philippians 1:8; cf. James 4:5; 1 Peter 2:2). "Distressed" (Gr. ademonon) also described Jesus’ feelings in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

"It describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state, which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, as grief, shame, disappointment, etc." [Note: Lightfoot, p. 123.]

Epaphroditus may have been an especially sensitive Christian. On the other hand his concern may reflect a misunderstanding that had put him in a questionable light since he had left Philippi. [Note: Kent, pp. 135-36.]

Verse 27

Paul gave God the credit for restoring Epaphroditus to health when he had been at death’s door. Epaphroditus’ death would have increased Paul’s sorrow over his brother’s illness. Evidently Paul did not have the ability to heal everyone whom he wished would be healthy, even his fellow workers. [Note: H. C. G. Moule, The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, p. 53.] Divine healing has always been subject to the will of God and not something someone can do whenever he or she wants to.

Verse 28

The concern of Epaphroditus and the Philippians for one another led Paul to send their messenger back to them at once. He may have done so earlier than he would have otherwise. This would lessen Paul’s concern about the Philippians knowing that Epaphroditus’ return would relieve his readers’ anxiety.

Verse 29

Paul wanted Epaphroditus’ homecoming to be a joyous occasion. He had carried out his mission successfully and had ministered to Paul with distinction. He urged the Philippians to regard him highly and to welcome him wholeheartedly.

Verse 30

Specifically, Epaphroditus had become sick because of his service for Christ, apparently his service of travelling to Rome and ministering to Paul there. He had daringly exposed himself to danger. [Note: See Deissmann, p. 88.] It was as he had labored for his absent Philippian brethren, to make up their deficiency in this sense (Philippians 4:14-18; cf. 1 Corinthians 16:17), that he had become ill.

Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of gamblers. When a pagan Greek threw the dice he would cry out "epaphroditos!" meaning "favorite of Aphrodite." Epaphroditus’ name may have connections with this custom. If so, Paul may have written that Epaphroditus "risked [gambled] his life" as a play on his friend’s name. Paul made a more obvious wordplay with Onesimus’ name, which means "useful" (cf. Philemon 1:10-11).

"He says Epaphroditus gambled with his life, but won, because God was there and ’had mercy on him.’" [Note: Harrington C. Lees, "Epaphoditus, God’s Gambler," Expository Times 37 (1925):46.]

Paul’s emphasis in chapter 2 was on the importance of unity and its necessary prerequisite, humility. For true partnership in the work of the gospel to exist there must be unity among the workers. The key to achieving unity is for each believer to adopt the humble mind of Christ.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Philippians 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/philippians-2.html. 2012.
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