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Bible Commentaries

Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Philippians 2


Philippians 2

THE OPENING VERSE of chapter 2 appears to be an allusion to the supplies from the Philippians which had reached Paul by the hand of Epaphroditus. These gifts had been to him a very refreshing expression of the love and compassion that marked them, and of the true fellowship of the Spirit that existed between himself and them. As a result his heart had been filled with consolation and comfort in the midst of his afflictions. Whilst recognizing however, the immediate application of this first verse, do not let us miss its more general bearing. Christ is the source of consolation; love it is that produces comfort; the Spirit of God, possessed in common by all true believers, is the fountainhead of fellowship. These facts abide in all ages, and for us all.

These things being facts, the Apostle uses them as a kind of lever in his exhortation. The “if,” repeated four times in the first verse, has really the force of “since.” Since these things are so, he begs them to fill up his joy to the brim by being like-minded and getting rid of the last vestige of dissension.

Experience proves, we think, that dissension is a work of the flesh which is amongst the last to disappear, and our passage shows how great was the desire of the Apostle that it might be removed from the midst of the Philippians. Note the variety of expressions he used in setting forth his desires for them.

First of all they were to be likeminded. It is obviously a great thing when bdievers all think alike, yet there is also to be considered the spirit that underlies their thinking. If that be wrong mere thinking alike will not guarantee absence of dissension. Hence he adds, “having the same love.” Only love can produce that of which next he speaks, “being of one accord,” or, more literally, “joined in soul,” which in its turn leads to all minding one thing.

When we reach Philippians 3.0 we shall find Paul saying “One thing I do.” He was a man of one object, pursuing one thing, instead of frittering away his energies in the pursuit of many things. Here he exhorts others all to mind

the one thing. Only the man, whose mind is centred on the one thing of all importance, is likely to be characterized by the pursuit of the one thing. It is not difflcult to see that if we are all minding the one thing, under the control of the same love, there will not be much room for dissension.

Still, even so, the Apostle has yet more to say on this point. Verse Php_2:2 does indeed bring in the great positive elements that make for practical unity, but he will also labour to exclude the elements of evil that destroy it. Hence verse Php_2:3 . It is very possible for us to do many things which are quite right in themselves in the spirit of strife, as we saw in considering chapter 1, where we read of brethren preaching Christ “of envy and strife.” Moreover, vainglory is an evil product of the fiesh which lies very deeply ingrained in the fallen heart of man. How often have we done what was right enough, but with the secret desire of gaining credit and glory amongst our fellows? Let us give our consciences time to answer, and we shall feel the keen edge of these words.

Vainglory lies at the root of a vast proportion of the strife and dissension that is distracting Christians, even those who otherwise are spiritually minded. The opposite of vainglory is that lowliness of mind that leads us to esteem others better than ourselves. Lowliness of mind moreover leads to that largeness of mind which is indicated in verse Php_2:4 . If I am self-centred, aiming merely at my own interests and glory, I naturally am only considering my own things. If on the other hand I am Christ-centred, aiming at His interests and glory, I look also on the things of others. And if the things of others are really more for Christ’s glory than my things are, I shall look more on the things of others than on my own.

At this point the Apostle seems to anticipate that the Philippians might wish to say to him, “You have exhorted us to be of one spirit, of one accord, of one mind. But how are we to bring it about? There is no denying the fact that differences of thought and judgment prevail amongst us. Whose mind is to prevail?”

His reply is, “Let this mind be in you” the mind that was “in Christ Jesus.” By “mind” here we have not to understand just a thought or opinion, but a whole way of thinking. Christ’s way of thinking is to characterize us, and this is a very much deeper thing. If His way of thinking does characterize us we shall be delivered from dissension even though we do not see eye to eye on every point. Php_3:15 , Php_3:16 show this.

What then was the mind that was in Christ Jesus? We may reply in the three words that occur in verse Php_2:8 , “He humbled Himself.” The fact is that the mind that was in Christ is the exact opposite of the mind that was in Adam. The Lord’s own words in Mat_23:12 illustrate it. There was found in Adam the self-exalting mind, and as a consequence he fell into the depths. In Christ there was found the self-sacrificing, self-humbling mind, and, as we see in this passage, He is exalted to the supreme place.

We start from the supreme heights in verse 6. He was in the form of God. Our first parents were tempted to grasp at something far above them at becoming as gods, as Gen_3:5 , bears witness. That place was not for them, and their grasping at it was sheer robbery. But there was nothing of that with our Lord. In His case equality with God was not something to be grasped at. It was His to start with, for He was God. He could not be higher than He was. Before Him there lay but the alternative of staying as and where He was, or of coming down in humiliation.

Blessed be God, He chose the latter. Verse Php_2:7 is the beginning of this wonderful story. Though originally in the form of God, He took upon Him another form, the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. This involved the making of Himself “of no reputation,” or “emptying” Himself.

Years ago when the unbelieving critics of the Bible found themselves rrAnning into conflict with the words of our Lord, they invented the “kenosis theory” so as to be able to maintain their own denials of His words, while at the same time paying Him a certain measure of respect and homage instead of utterly rejecting Him as a fraud. Kenosis is a word coined from the Greek word used in this passage, with the literal meaning of “emptied,” but translated, “made . . . of no reputation.” The theory represents Christ as emptying Himself so fully of all that was divine that He became a Jew, just as ignorant as the majority of Jews living in His age. Hence the critic of the nineteenth or twentieth century, propounding this theory and fortified with modern learning, feels himself quite able to contradict or correct the Son of God.

Such is the kenosis THEORY a web spun by the critical spiders out of their own unbelieving hearts; for they are the liars, and not the Son of God. A web which, sad to say, has served the devil’s purposes only too well.

Many an unwary fly has been trapped in that web. It has given them some kind of a reason for thinking exactly what they wanted to think.

Now while we turn away with abhorrence from the evil theory, we must not overlook the fact that there is a true “kenosis,” a true emptying, for this passage speaks of it. If we desire to understand what it means we turn to the Gospels, and there we see what His Manhood involved, just as we also see what His Godhead involved, shining, as it did, continually through His Manhood. Just two or three examples may be cited, to illustrate what we refer to.

Having become Man, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Ghost and with power. Consequently instead of acting in the simple strength of His own Godhead He acted in the power of the Spirit. It was a case of God doing things by Him ( Act_10:38 ; Luk_4:14 ; Act_2:22 ).

He is the Creator, as Col_1:16 so plainly states, yet in Manhoad He stated that places in the coming kingdom were not His to give ( Mat_20:23 ).

In keeping with this He disclaimed individual initiative or movement in His words and works. He attributed all to the Father ( Joh_5:19 , Joh_5:27 , Joh_5:30 ; Joh_14:10 ).

Considering these things we at once see that this true emptying, which was His own act, was in order that His taking the form of a servant might be a real thing. Were it not for this we might have jumped to the conclusion that the words, “took upon Him the form of a servant,” simply meant that He took a servant’s place only as a matter of form, just as the Pope of Rome is said occasionally to assume the place of a servant in washing the feet of certain poor beggars. He does it in form, but they see to it that in reality it is accomplished in surroundings of elegance and splendour. When our Lord Jesus took the servant’s form, He took it in all the reality it involved.

Verse Php_2:8 carries the story of His humiliation to its climax. If verse Php_2:7 gives us the amazing stoop from Godhead’s fullest glory to man’s estate and place, this verse gives us the further stoop of the Man, who was Jehovah’s Fellow, to the death of the cross. All His life was marked by going downwards, it was marked by an increasing humbling of Himself until death was reached, and that a death of extremes” shame and suffering the death of the cross.

His way of thinking then was to go down, and that way of thinking is to be in us. Only as born of God and possessing the Spirit of God is it possible for us to think in that way. Thank God, it is possible for us so to think. Then let us do so. The obligation rests upon us. Let us accept it, and let us judge ourselves by it.

The three verses which detail His humiliation are now followed by three which declare His exaltation according to the decree of God the Father. Still He takes everything from the Father’s hand, and is granted a Name which is absolutely supreme. In this passage “name” is used, we judge, in the same way as it is used in Heb_1:4 . No particular name is referred to, whether Lord, or Jesus, or Christ, or any other, but it refers rather to His fame or reputation. The once despised and rejected Jesus has such fame and renown that ultimately every created being will have to bow before Him and confess His Lordship. And when an assembled universe does Him homage, whether they do it with glad willingness or with grief under compulsion, all will be to the glory of God the Father.

In verse Php_2:12 the Apostle leaves this delightful theme and returns to his exhortation, which began with Php_1:27 . He longed that their manner of life might be in everything in keeping with the Gospel, that they might be marked by earnest labour for the Gospel with oneness of mind, and courage in the presence of opposition. In the past, when Paul had been in and out amongst them, they had been marked by obedience to what was enjoined. Now, let them be, if possible, even more obedient to his word since they were bereft of his personal help. Dangers threatened them from without, and there was this subtle danger threatening from dissension within, let them then with redoubled energy seek to have and manifest the mind that was in Christ Jesus. Thus would they be working out their own salvation from all that threatened. Let them do it with fear and trembling, remembering their own weakness. Once Peter thought he could work out his own salvation without fear or trembling, and we know what came of that.

This evidently is the simple meaning of this much used, and abused, verse. Can we not each apply it to ourselves? We certainly can if we will. So may God make us willing to do so. We need not shrink from doing so in view of verse 13. We are to work out our own salvation, but it is God who works in us, to the willing and doing of His good pleasure. Let us note that. God works the willing as well as the doing, and the willing comes first. Thus

God’s work and our work are considered as moving harmoniously together. God’s work must ever take precedence of ours both as to time and importance. Yet the thing is not presented in a way that would turn us into fatalists. Rather our working is mentioned first, and the responsibility as to it is pressed upon us. The fact that God works is brought in as an encouragement and incentive.

Thus, taught of God to love His will, we do it, and if the mind of Christ be in us we do it in the right way. Not grudgingly with murmurings and disputings, but as harmless and simple children of God, bearing the character of God, whose children we are. Mankind has become a crooked and perverted generation and we are to be living in a way that presents the sharpest possible contrast. Only thus shall we be lights amidst the darkness of this world.

The word translated “shine,” is a word, we are told, which is used for the rising or appearing of the heavenly bodies in our skies. This gives us a striking thought. We should appear as heavenly luminaries in this world’s sky. Are we doing so? Only if we are altogether distinguished from the generation of this world, as indicated in the earlier part of the verse. Only then can we effectively hold forth to others the word of life.

There must be life as well as the testimony of our lips if the word of life is to be held forth. The word of testimony most frequently becomes the word of life to others, when it has first been translated into the life of the witness. If that were accomplished in the case of his beloved Philippian converts, Paul would have the assurance that his labours on their behalf had not been in vain. He then could anticipate abundant cause for rejoicing when Christ should appear and inaugurate His day. He could regard God’s work in them, of which he had spoken in Php_1:6 , as being carried to its crown and completion.

Having set before the Philippians the supreme example of the Lord Jesus, who was “obedient unto death,” and having exhorted them to obedience which would mean the doing of God’s “good pleasure” from the heart, the Apostle again alludes to his own case in verse 17. Though he had expressed his anticipation of still continuing amongst them for a season ( Php_1:25 ) yet here he contemplates the possibility of his speedy martyrdom. Some people set great store by their “impressions” and elevate them to a certainty and authority almost, if not quite, equal to the

Scriptures. This is a mistake. Paul had his “impressions” as to his future, and we quite believe them to have been justified by the event. Yet even he, apostle as he was, entertained the thought that the event might falsify his impressions.

The word “offered” in verse Php_2:17 is “poured forth” as the margin shows. Paul uses the same word in 2Ti_4:6 , when his martyrdom was impending. He alluded of course to those drink offerings which the law enjoined. A “fourth part of a hin of wine” was to be poured over certain sacrifices, before the Lord.

This being so, two very striking things confront us in verses Php_2:17 and 18. First, he calls the gifts of the Philippians, sent out of their poverty by the hand of Epaphroditus, “the sacrifice and service of your faith.” That is, he considers them to be the major sacrifice. His own martyrdom he considers as a small quanity of wine poured over their sacrifice as a drink offering: i.e. as the minor sacrifice. An extraordinary way of putting things surely! We should have reversed the matter, and thought of the self denial of the Philippians as a drink offering poured over Paul’s great sacrifice as a martyr.

Why did Paul esteem things in this way? Because he was looking not “on his own things but . . . also on the things of others” ( Php_2:4 ). He was a striking example of what he had urged on the Philippians, and of the worth and excellence of the mind which was in Christ Jesus. There was no affectation about Paul, no paying of mere compliments. Delighted with the grace of Christ as seen in his beloved converts, he meant what he said.

The second striking thing is that he actually contemplated his own martyrdom as calculated to provoke an outburst of rejoicing, for himself and for the Philippians mutual rejoicing. A most unnatural proceeding truly! Not natural, but spiritual. The fact is, Paul REALLY believed what he had said as to departing and being with Christ. It really IS, “far better.” He knew that the Philippians so truly loved him, that in spite of grief at losing him, they would rise above their own feelings to rejoice in his joy. We are afraid that we often turn Php_1:23 , into a pious platitude. It was much more than that to Paul.

Still he was not anticipating martyrdom just at that moment, as he had already told them, and so he contemplated sending Timothy to them

shortly, that he might help as to their spiritual state and also that through him he might hear of their welfare.

Now of those available just at that moment no one was quite so likeminded with himself, and so zealous for the good of the Philippians. The mass, even of believers, were characterized by seeking their own things rather than Christ’s. Timothy was a happy exception to this. He was a true son of his spiritual father. The mind that was in Christ was also in him.

We are afraid that this seeking of our own interests and not Christ’s is sadly common amongst believers today. No servant of God can so effectually serve the saints as he who moves amongst them seeking nothing but the interests of Christ.

So Timothy was the one he hoped to send to them before long, and indeed he hoped to be released and able to come himself. Still he wished for some speedier means of communication with them in acknowledgement of their gifts and so was dispatching back to them Epaphroditus, who had been their messenger to him, and who now became the bearer of the epistle we are considering.

We are now, verses Philippians 2.25-2.30 , permitted to have a glimpse of the kind of man this Epaphroditus was, whom Paul calls, “My brother and fellowworkman and fellow-soldier” (N. Tr.). He too was like-minded, and we at once see that when just before the Apostle had said, “I have no man like-minded,” he had meant, “I have no man amongst those who have been my immediate helpers and attendants in Rome.” Epaphroditus was a Philippian and so not in view in the earlier remark.

Many there were, and are, who, though to be acknowledged as brothers, can hardly be spoken of as workmen or soldiers. Epaphroditus was all three, and not only so but a workman and a soldier thoroughly “fellow” to Paul. They worked and warred together with identical objects and aims. Could such testimony be rendered to anyone today? We believe it could, inasmuch as the New Testament informs us so fully as to the doctrine, manner of life, and service of Paul this pattern servant of God. At the same time we are afraid that in actual practice it is rare. Every believer is called to be a worker and a warrior. The trowel and the sword should mark us all. But do they? And are we characterized as “fellow” to Paul in our use of them?

In carrying out his service and journeying to Paul, Epaphroditus had nearly died of sickness. Twice over do we find the expression, “nigh unto death.” God indeed had had mercy upon him, and averted this great sorrow both to Paul and the Philippians, yet he had not regarded his life for the sake of the work of Christ, and hence was to be honoured.

So in Epaphroditus we see another who followed in the steps of Paul and Timothy, even as they followed Christ. The mind that was in Christ Jesus was found also in him, for not only did he venture his life in order to serve his Lord, but when he had been so sick that he was near to death, he was “full of heaviness,” not because of his own malady, but because he knew his brethren at Philippi had had news of his sickness and would be sorely grieved on his account. This was a fine case of a man not looking “on his own things, but . . . also on the things of others.” It was unselfishness indeed!

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Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Philippians 2". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.