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(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 1:3-47.1.7). (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 4:8-50.4.9) 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.
(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.
(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 13:4-46.13.5).
(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.
(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.
The Doctrine of the Great Humility of Christ (Philippians 2:5-50.2.11).
(1) THE VOLUNTARY HUMILIATION OF THE LORD, first in His incarnation, next in His passion (Philippians 2:5-50.2.8).
(2) THE CORRESPONDING EXALTATION OF HIS HUMANITY, to bear “the Name above every name,” which all creation must adore (Philippians 2:9-50.2.11).]
(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 11:13-47.11.14; 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 1:20-49.1.23; Colossians 1:15-51.1.19; Colossians 2:9-51.2.11; to which we may add Hebrews 1:2-58.1.4) 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 1:1-43.1.13.
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.
(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.”
(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 53:2-23.53.3). 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 10:9-58.10.10) 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.)
(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 15:24-46.15.28.) 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 19:12-66.19.13, 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.
(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 1:20-49.1.21, and Notes there.)
(11) That Jesus Christ is Lord.—The word “Lord” is the word constantly used in the LXX. to translate, though inadequately, the name Jehovah. The context would suggest that meaning here, for the worship paid is obviously the worship done to God. But, though less perfectly, the acknowledgment of universal lordship and majesty (such as He claimed in Matthew 28:18-40.28.20) would satisfy the necessities of the passage. For, after all, to what created being can it be due? (On this confession of Jesus as Lord, see Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9.)
To the glory of God the Father.—The acknowledgment of the glory of Christ is the acknowledgment of the glory of the Father, as the Source of Deity, manifested perfectly in Him. (See John 1:18; John 14:9). Note in John 5:19-43.5.30, our Lord’s repeated profession that His work on earth was to manifest the Father; in John 17:4, His declaration that He had so done; and in John 17:24, the truth that His glory is the glory given of the Father.
(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 1:29-50.1.30.) 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.
Exhortation and Commendation (Philippians 2:12-50.2.30).
(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 2:12-50.2.18).
(2) ST. PAUL’S INTENTION TO SEND TIMOTHY, AND HOPE TO COME HIMSELF SHORTLY (Philippians 2:19-50.2.24).
(3) PRESENT MISSION OF EPAPHRODITUS, now recovered from his late sickness, and strong commendation of his zeal (Philippians 2:25-50.2.30).]
(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.
(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 9:14-45.9.24) 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.
(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.
(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.
(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 9:24-46.9.26; 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.
(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 13:15-58.13.16, 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.
(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).
(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 7:6-47.7.7, and 1 Thessalonians 3:1-52.3.9. In regard to the Philippians it might exist in detail, but was swallowed up in confidence on all main points.
(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.
(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.
(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 4:7-51.4.14; Philemon 1:23-57.1.24. 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 4:9-55.4.10; 2 Timothy 4:16. His words need not be taken as accusing all of absolute selfishness and unfaithfulness, but they are nevertheless startling enough.
(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 16:12-44.16.40); 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 20:4-44.20.6).
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.”)
(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.
(24) But I trust . . .—Compare Philemon 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 2:25-50.2.30 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.
(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; Philemon 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 2:3-55.2.4.)
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.
(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.
(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.
(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 2:17-50.2.18. 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.
(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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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Philippians 2". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany