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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 2

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary

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Philippians 2:0


Christian Humility and Christ's HumilityUnity Through HumilityHumility and the Example of ChristChrist's Humility and GreatnessPreserve Unity in Humility
Philippians 2:1-11Philippians 2:1-4Philippians 2:1-11Philippians 2:1-11Philippians 2:1-11
The Humbled and the Exalted Christ
Philippians 2:5-11
Shining as Lights in the WorldLight BearersShining as Lights in the WorldWork for Salvation
Philippians 2:12-18Philippians 2:12-18Philippians 2:12-13Philippians 2:12-13Philippians 2:12-18
Philippians 2:14-18Philippians 2:14-16
Philippians 2:17-18
Timothy and EpaphroditusTimothy CommendedTimothy and EpaphroditusTimothy and EpaphroditusThe Mission of Timothy and Epaphroditus
Philippians 2:19-24Philippians 2:19-24Philippians 2:19-24Philippians 2:19-24Philippians 2:19-1a
Epaphroditus Praised
Philippians 2:25-30Philippians 2:25-30Philippians 2:25-1aPhilippians 2:25-30

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This context is obviously related to one of the themes of the book, "a call for unity among the Christians at Philippi" (cf. Philippians 1:27; Philippians 2:1-4; Philippians 4:2-3, Philippians 4:5, Philippians 4:7, Philippians 4:9 and Ephesians 4:1-6).

B. There has been much discussion among commentators on how this wonderful hymn to Christ (cf. Philippians 2:6-11) functions for ethics or for salvation.

1. It functions as an example to believers to live selfless, giving lives (cf. Philippians 2:1-5).

2. It also deals with the humiliation and exaltation of the pre-existent, incarnated Messiah.

3. In different ways it functions in both areas.

C. Philippians 2:6-11 seems to be an early Christian hymn

1. the form is metric, poetical, or lyrical

2. it contains several rare Greek terms not used by Paul

3. it is lacking some of the uniquely Pauline theological elements concerning Christ

4. Paul quotes other early church hymns, poems, or liturgical structures in 1 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13

5. for another opinion see Gordon Fee, To What End Exegesis? pp. 1731-189

D. The structure of the hymn to Christ has been debated. It seems to divide into two equal emphases.

1. Jesus' person and work

a. pre-existence, Philippians 2:6

b. incarnation, Philippians 2:7

c. substitutionary death, Philippians 2:8

2. God the Father's response

a. universal Lordship, Philippians 2:9

b. universal confession, Philippians 2:10

c. supreme title (Lord), Philippians 2:11

E. A brief outline of this great hymn to Christ

1. Verses 6-8

a. Christ's humiliation

b. OT background isGenesis 3:0; Genesis 3:0 (Adam/Christ typology)

c. focuses on Jesus' actions

2. Verses 9-11

a. Christ's exaltation

b. OT background isIsaiah 52:13-12; Isaiah 52:13-12 (the Suffering Servant)

c. focuses on God the Father's actions

3. Bibles that print poetry differently from prose are crucial in seeing the metric pattern and parallelism (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB)

F. The basic truths found in this Christological hymn

1. Jesus is truly God (in essence, morphç)

2. Jesus is truly man (in form, schçma)

3. Jesus truly sought our best, not His own, so should Christians

4. Jesus is the true object of worship by the will of the Father

G. The hymn was non-Pauline

1. It omits the resurrection which was a major and recurrent emphasis of Paul

2. It omits Paul's regular emphasis on Jesus' relation to the Church

3. It uses several terms not used by Paul anywhere else

4. Paul does quote other early church hymns, catechismal poems, or liturgical structures in 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13 and possibly Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:15-16


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Explain the meaning of Philippians 2:12-13 (both contextually and theologically).

2. Why would the Philippian Christians be grumbling and disputing (Philippians 2:14)?

3. Why were Paul’s co-ministers seen as having mixed interests (Philippians 2:21)?

4. Why could Paul not heal Epaphroditus?

Verses 1-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 2:1-11 1Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1 "if" This is the first in a series of four first class conditional sentences which are assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Verses Philippians 2:1-4 are one sentence in the Greek.

"any encouragement in Christ" This term can be translated several ways: "stimulus" "appeal," "comfort," "encouragement" or "exhortation." This phrase is similar to Paul's discussion of the attitudes that bring and maintain unity within the local bodies of Christ in Ephesians 4:2-3.

"In Christ" (a locative of sphere) is Paul's most common way of identifying believers. For life, true life, abundant life, believers must remain in vital union with Christ by faith (cf. John 15:0).

"any consolation of love" Love has always been the root and fruit for the Christian life (cf. John 13:34-35; John 15:12, John 15:17; 1 Corinthians 13:0; Galatians 5:22; 1 John 3:11,27; 1 John 4:7-21). Jesus lived it, taught it and commanded it to His followers.

"any fellowship of the Spirit" This is the Greek term koinônia, which meant "joint participation with" (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:14). Again, the question is, "Does this refer to believers' new redeemed, human spirit being energized by the Holy Spirit," or "the Holy Spirit being given to them"? There is no article with the term "spirit." This may be a purposeful ambiguity. It may theologically refer to both.


"any affection" This is literally "bowels," which is also used in Philippians 1:8. The ancients believed that the lower viscera (abdomen) was the seat of the emotions. Both of these terms are also used in Colossians 3:12.

"compassion" Paul uses this term four times: (1) to describe God's character (cf. Romans 12:1; 2 Corinthians 1:3) and (2) to describe how Christians ought to treat each other (cf. Philippians 2:11; Colossians 3:12). God desires to produce His character (image) in His children. The restoration of God's image lost in the Fall is the purpose of Jesus' coming.

Philippians 2:2 "make my joy complete" This is an aorist active imperative and shows how Paul felt about these believers even though he was far away in prison. Their actions and choices caused Paul joy or pain.

"by being of the same mind" This is a present active subjunctive that is defined by four present participles (possibly used as imperatives) beginning in Philippians 2:2 and running through Philippians 2:4 They deal with the very difficult pragmatic question of maintaining unity within the Christian fellowship (cf. Romans 14:1-13; 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Paul's guidelines are crucial, not only for Philippi in the first century, but for the Church of every age. The four participles are

1. maintaining the same love

2. unifying in spirit and focusing on one purpose

3. regarding others as more important than oneself

4. looking out for the interest of others

Beware of individualistic religion. Christianity is a family experience.

Paul often uses this term "think" (phroneô) in Philippians it becomes another theme (cf. Philippians 1:7; Philippians 2:2 [twice]; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15 [twice]; Philippians 3:19; Philippians 4:2; and Philippians 4:10).

Philippians 2:3 "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit" This may describe the situation in the Philippian church caused by the false teachers or by persecution (cf. Philippians 1:15, Philippians 1:17; Galatians 5:26). There is no verb, but the thrust of the verse is imperative. The repetition of "think" (phroneô) in the context may imply that this verb is to be assumed.

"but with humility of mind" Humility was not a sought-after virtue in the Greco-Roman world, but Christ made it a unique aspect of His own life and called on His followers to emulate it in their Christian lives (cf. Philippians 2:8; Matthew 11:29; 1 Peter 5:5, 1 Peter 5:6). It is the contextual opposite of "selfishness and empty conceit."

"regard one another as more important than yourselves" This is a Present middle (deponent) participle. This goes against all of our natural, human tendencies, but it is the will of God (cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Corinthians 10:24, 1 Corinthians 10:33; Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 5:2). For "more important" see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at Ephesians 1:19.

Philippians 2:4 "do not merely look out for your own personal interests" This is a present active participle with the negative particle (used as an imperative) which usually means to stop an act in process. It meant "to look attentively at something" (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:18). The term "interest" can refer to (1) things; (2) spiritual gifts; or (3) affairs. The real key here is the word "only." It's not that believers are not to take interest in their own affairs (cf. 1 Timothy 5:8), but they are not to make them a priority to the exclusion of others, especially other believers. The balance is seen in Galatians 6:1-2. Believers are to keep a sharp watch on themselves so that they can watch out for others.

Philippians 2:5 "have this attitude in yourself" This is a present active imperative. Believers are commanded to continue to think (phroneô) like Christ. The goal of Christianity is Christlikeness in thought and deed (cf. Colossians 3:16). This is the beginning of a quote by Paul from an early Christian hymn. There are several terms in this poetic section not found elsewhere in Paul. Other examples of Paul quoting from this type of material are Ephesians 5:14; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:11-13 and possibly Colossians 1:15-20; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 Timothy 6:15-16.

Christians are admonished to follow Christ's example in two ways: (1) He left His pre-existent, divine glory to become a human, not for Himself, but for others and (2) He was willing to die, not because of His own sins, but for others'. Christ's followers are to emulate these self-giving, self-abasing characteristics (cf. 1 John 3:16). We are our brothers' keeper because our brother is in the image and likeness of God!

Philippians 2:6 "who although He existed" Literally this is "who being in the form of God." This is one of two present tenses (here a participle) in the midst of a series of Aorist tense verbs and participles. It emphasizes the pre-existence of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. John 1:1; John 8:57-58; John 17:5, John 17:24; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 10:5-7). Jesus' pre-existence is another proof of His deity. Jesus did not come into being at Bethlehem. There has never been a time when Jesus did not exist and was not divine.

"in the nature of God" This is the Greek word morphç which is used in several senses.

1. an Aristotlian sense of essence

2. the sense of the nature of something or unchanging essence of something (this is how the early Church fathers interpreted it)

3. the outward form of something, as in the Septuagint (LXX). This does not mean that YHWH has a physical body, but that the attributes and characteristics-the very essence of God the Father-are evident in God the Son.

It is another way of asserting the full deity of Christ. See Special Topic: Monotheism at Ephesians 4:6.

"did not regard equality with God" Literally this is "thought it not robbery to be equal with God." This is the other present tense (here an infinitive). The Greek term "equality" comes into English as "isometric." It is another way of asserting that Jesus is fully God (cf. John 1:1; Titus 2:13).

NASB"a thing to be grasped" NKJV"robbery" NRSV"something to be exploited" TEV"that by force" NJB"something to be grasped"

This rare Greek word, harpagmos, originally meant "the act of seizing something" or "a sought after prize" (harpagma). However, it could be used in a passive sense (Greek mos ending) meaning "that which is seized or held on to." A third possibility is "something that someone has but does not use for personal advantage." This is reflected in the Phillip's translation of Philippians 2:7: "stripped Himself of every advantage."

Jesus already possessed full equality with God. The theological reason for this phrase's ambiguity is the Adam/Christ typology, where Adam tried to grasp equality with God by eating the forbidden fruit (cf. Genesis 3:0). Jesus, the second Adam (cf. Romans 5:12ff), followed God's plan in perfect obedience where suffering preceded exaltation (cf. Isaiah 53:0).

Philippians 2:7

NASB, NRSV, NJB"emptied Himself" NKJV"made Himself of no reputation" TEV"of His own free will He gave up all He had"

The pronoun is emphatic. This was Jesus' own choice! There are several theories about what it meant that Jesus emptied Himself (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

1. Paul uses this term several times (cf. Romans 4:14; 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Corinthians 9:15; 2 Corinthians 9:3). Apparently Jesus chose to live as a human. He voluntarily left His divine glory and accepted the limitations of flesh. Surely He still had greater insight and spiritual power than ordinary fallen mankind. He was what all humans were intended to be. He is the second Adam and more.

2. Jesus did not become less than God in His Incarnation, but He apparently added humanity to His deity. He left the outward glory of Deity and took on the outward form of a man. This involved addition, not subtraction. During Jesus' earthly ministry, He was filled and empowered by the Spirit, but also He was both fully God and fully human (tempted, Matthew 4:0; Matthew 4:0; tried, John 4:0; afraid in Gethsemane, Mark 14:32-42). He truly knew and revealed the Father (cf. John 1:18). He was truly one with our humanity (cf. John 1:4).

3. It is possible that this emptying was a way of alluding to Isaiah 53:1-3. If so, it related not to his humanity (Philippians 2:7-8a) but to His crucifixion (Philippians 2:8b) as the servant of YHWH (cf. Mark 10:45-15:53).

"taking the form of a bond-servant" This is an exact literary parallel to the phrase "the nature of God" (cf. Philippians 2:6). The term "bond-servant" (doulos) here could be used in the sense of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 42:1-9; Isaiah 49:1-7; Isaiah 50:4-11; Isaiah 52:13-12. Jesus left His heavenly glory for a manger (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9). This is also the background of Philippians 2:9-11. This verse emphasizes Jesus' Incarnation (aorist participle), not His crucifixion, which is spelled out in Philippians 2:8.

Jesus clearly demonstrated that true leadership, true power is a servant's heart. To lead, one must serve (cf. Mark 10:42-45; Matthew 20:25-28). His humility is a sign of true strength. His self-giving love is a true sign of deity.

"and being made in the likeness of man" The RSV & NRSV translate this word as "being born." This is the second major emphasis of this early Church hymn: the full humanity of Christ. This was done to refute the Gnostic false teachers, who held to an eternal (ontological) dualism between spirit and matter. The dual nature of Jesus is a major NT theological issue (cf. 1 John 4:1-6). Jesus' use of the OT term "Son of Man" points in this direction. In Psalms 8:4 and Ezekiel 2:1 the term has its normal Jewish meaning of human person. However, in Daniel 7:13 it took on divine characteristics (i.e., riding on the clouds of heaven and receiving the eternal kingdom). Jesus used this phrase for Himself. It was not widely used by the rabbis and had no militaristic, nationalistic, or exclusivistic connotations.

The beginning of Philippians 2:8 emphasizes this same theological truth with the distinction that although Jesus was fully human, He did not participate in mankind's fallen nature (cf. Romans 8:3; Philippians 2:1 Cor. 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; Hebrews 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22; 1 John 3:5).

Philippians 2:8 "in appearance as a man" There is some confusion among the translations as to whether this phrase should go with verse Philippians 2:7 or 8. This is the Greek term "schçma," which was usually contrasted with "morphç." In Greek philosophy morphç meant "the inner form of something that truly reflected its essence," while "schçma" meant "the outer changing form of something that did not fully represent its inner essence" (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:31). Jesus is like us in all ways except fallen mankind's sin nature.

"He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death" This may be an allusion to the Septuagint's (LXX) translation of Isaiah 53:8. Jesus followed the Father's eternal redemptive plan (cf. Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:28) even unto physical torture and death (aorist active indicative and aorist participle).

"even death on a cross" The cross was a stumbling-block to the Jews (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:23). They were not expecting a suffering Messiah, but a conquering Messiah. Also because of Deuteronomy 21:23, which implies that if someone was publicly exposed after death, it was a sign of a curse by God. The Jews could not see how their Messiah could be cursed by God, but this is exactly the truth of Galatians 3:13, that He became a curse for us. The concept of a suffering Messiah (cf. Genesis 3:15; Psalms 22:0) was repugnant to them. Yet this is how YHWH deals with the human sin problem, the vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ (cf. Isaiah 52:13-12; Mark 10:45; John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19). The cross is the central truth of the NT where the love and justice of God meet and are merged.

Philippians 2:9

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"therefore" TEV"For this reason" NJB"And for this"

The NT presents Jesus in two ways: (1) fully pre-existent Deity ( cf. John 1:1-3, John 1:14; John 8:57-58; Colossians 1:17) and (2) exalted Deity because of His obedient, holy earthly life (cf. Romans 1:4; Philippians 2:9). In the early church this led to a conflict between orthodox and adoptionist theologians. However, as so often, they both had an aspect of truth. What Jesus was is confirmed by what He did! There are not two Christologies, but two ways of viewing the same truth. Our response should not be to try to decide which is true, but to thank God for Christ before time, in time, and beyond time!

"God highly exalted Him" This is an allusion to the Septuagint (LXX) translation of Isaiah 52:13. The intensified form of the term huperupsoô is found only here in the NT and rarely in secular Greek. See Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at Ephesians 1:19. This was not adoptionist Christology, which asserted that Jesus was rewarded with deity. Jesus was restored to divine pre-existent glory (cf. Ephesians 4:10). In John's Gospel Jesus' death is referred to as His glorification (cf. Phil. 7:39; 12:16,23; 13:31-32; 16:14; 17:1). The humble servant is now King of Kings!

"and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name" This special exalted name is "Lord" (cf. Philippians 2:11). The verb (echarisato) in Philippians 2:9 means "graciously given" as in Philippians 1:29. The term "Lord" is an allusion to the OT covenant name for God, YHWH (cf. Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:3), which the Jews were afraid to pronounce lest they break one of the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20:7; Deuteronomy 5:11). Therefore, they substituted the name Adon, which meant Lord, owner, husband. Jesus, who came in the form of a servant, was returned to His cosmic Lordship (cf. John 17:5; Colossians 1:15-20). "Jesus is Lord" was the public, personal confession of faith for the early Church (cf. Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus of Nazareth is given the supreme title of Deity (cf. Ephesians 1:21 and Hebrews 1:4). See Special Topic: Names For Deity at Colossians 1:3.

Philippians 2:10 "every knee should bow of those who are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth" One day everyone will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. The only question is whether they will do it in time by faith, and thereby become a part of the family of God, or do it on the Day of the Lord and be judged by Him (cf. Matt. 25:31-48; Revelation 20:11-15).

The parallel phrases in this verse refer to angels, both free and bound and humans, both living and dead. All conscious creatures shall acknowledge Jesus' Lordship, but only humans can be redeemed. Verses Philippians 2:10-11 seem to be an allusion to Isaiah 45:23, which is quoted in Romans 14:11. In its original context it was the worship of YHWH that has now been transferred to the Messiah (cf. John 5:23). The transfer of titles and functions between YHWH and Jesus is another way the NT authors assert the full deity of Jesus. See Special Topic: Angels in Paul's Writings at Ephesians 6:12.

Philippians 2:11 "and every tongue should confess" This is an aorist middle subjunctive (used as future, some MSS have the future, i.e., A, C, D, F, G) of exomologeô which acknowledges the fact that public, verbal acknowledgment of the lordship of Christ will be an end-time reality. This acknowledgment of Jesus' Lordship was an early profession of faith (i.e., baptismal liturgy). Paul used this term as he used several OT quotes from the Septuagint (cf. Philippians 2:11 and Romans 14:11 from Isaiah 45:23 and Romans 15:9 from Psalms 18:49. Also the related term homologeô in Romans 10:13 from Joel 2:37).


"to the glory of God the Father" The worship of Jesus is the purpose of God the Father in sending Him. This phrase "to the glory of God" relates to believers' lifestyle in Philippians 1:11 and here in Philippians 2:11 for their salvation, brought through the work of Christ. This same key phrase is used three times in Paul's prayer of praise to the triune God in Ephesians 1:3-14. Ultimately Jesus will turn all power, authority, and praise over to the Father to whom it belongs (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28). See full note on "glory" at Ephesians 1:6.

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO Philippians 2:12-30

A. Philippians 2:12-18, like Philippians 2:1-11, relate to Christian living.

B. Philippians 2:19-30 relates to Paul's helpers, Timothy and Epaphroditus and their coming to Philippi.

1. Timothy, Philippians 2:19-24

2. Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:25-30

Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 2:12-13 12So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13 This is one sentence in Greek.

Philippians 2:12 "So then" This is obviously connected to the previous discussion of the humility and obedience of Christ. In light of Christ's ultimate example in Philippians 2:6-11, these believers were implored to live (1) humbly and caringly, Philippians 2:1-5, and (2) like Christ, Philippians 2:14-18.

"my beloved" Paul loved this church in a special way (cf. Philippians 4:15-16). Paul uses this phrase often to describe those converted under his ministry (cf. Rom. 112:19; 16:8,9,12; 1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 1 Corinthians 15:58; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Corinthians 12:19; Ephesians 6:21; Philippians 4:1 [twice]; Colossians 4:7, Colossians 4:9, Colossians 4:14; 1 Timothy 6:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Philemon 1:1, Philemon 1:2, Philemon 1:16).

NASB, NKJV"as you have always obeyed" NRSV, TEV"as you have always obeyed me" NJB"you have always been obedient"

The text does not state who they obeyed. It could have been (1) Father/Son/Spirit; (2) the Christian faith; or (3) Paul. The obedience of Christ, mentioned in Philippians 2:8, was given as an example for the Philippians to follow (cf. Luke 6:46). This phrase may refer to the church's obedience to Paul's teaching (cf. Philippians 2:12b). Christianity is a process which involves repentance, faith, obedience, service, and perseverance!

"not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence" Christianity is what we are, not what we do! Believers must not perform acts to be seen (cf. Philippians 1:27; Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22).

"work out your salvation" This verb is a mathematical term used of a problem brought to its conclusion. Its form is present middle (deponent) imperative plural.

Verses Philippians 2:12-13 have been the focus of much theological discussion relating to the sovereignty of God, which is emphasized in Philippians 2:13 (cf. Philippians 1:6), and the free will of human persons which is called on in Philippians 2:12. The term "salvation" in Philippians 2:12

1. refers to a believer's spiritual relationship with Christ. Paul has just mentioned becoming a Christian in Philippians 2:9-10. This is another example of the tension between sovereignty and free-will, both initial and ongoing (cf. Philippians 2:16)

2. does not refer to eternal spiritual salvation, but either to

a. OT "physical deliverance"

b. "wholeness," as it does in Philippians 1:19

This aspect of salvation as "wholeness" can also be seen in Acts 4:10; Acts 14:9; Acts 27:34. The initiating grace of God and the required faith response of a repentant human are clearly seen in Ephesians 2:8-9. Obviously, believers do not work for their salvation, but after they are saved, they cooperate with the Spirit to live in Christlike maturity (cf. Philippians 2:14-17; Ephesians 2:10; Ephesians 5:18). Salvation is all of God and totally free but it requires an active, costly, repentant, continuing faith response (cf. Matthew 13:44-46).

The context militates against an individualistic interpretation because the "your" in Philippians 2:12, "you" in Philippians 2:13, and all the verbs are plural, which refers to the entire Philippian church, not to an individual's spiritual salvation. If it did refer to spiritual salvation it is corporate (cf. Philippians 1:28) and progressive (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 15:2; 2 Corinthians 2:15). The thrust of the passage may have been to encourage them to trust in God's presence and purpose for the church at Philippi (cf. Galatians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:2).

"with fear and trembling" This was an OT idiom of respect and awe towards God (cf. Psalms 2:11; Psalms 119:120). It is used several times in Paul's writings (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:3; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5). Believers need to remember the transcendent Holiness of God!

Philippians 2:13 "for it is God who is at work in you" "God" is placed first in the sentence for emphasis. The term "work" is a present active participle which refers to "continuous effective work" (cf. Galatians 5:6). This is a different compound term from Philippians 2:12 but the same root. The phrase "in you" is plural and may mean "among you," which focuses on God's activity in the life of the Church (cf. Colossians 1:27).

NASB"both to will and to work for His good pleasure" NKJV"both to will and to do His good pleasure" NRSV"both to will and to work for his good pleasure TEV"to make you willing and able to obey his own purpose" NJB"for his own generous purpose, gives you the intention and the powers to act"

Believers' attitudes and actions are produced by the Spirit. The present active participle of Philippians 2:13a is repeated as a present active infinitive in Philippians 2:13b. This is the paradox of a sovereign God and a covenant-making God. Salvation is a free gift and a cost-everything commitment! Paul is a good example of God's undeserved grace (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10). In this context (cf. Galatians 3:4; 1 Corinthians 15:2) God's will is for a united, loving, witnessing, effective church.

Verses 14-18

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 2:14-18 14Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, 16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain. 17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. 18You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

Philippians 2:14-16 These verses are one sentence in Greek.

Philippians 2:14 "do all things without grumbling or disputing" There was obviously disunity in the Philippian congregation. Whether the source was

1. Christian leaders who were jealous (cf. Philippians 1:14-17)

2. the two women who were at war with each other (cf. Philippians 4:2-3)

3. the false teachers (cf. Philippians 3:2ff)

is uncertain The text does not specify whether Paul, other Christians, or unbelievers were the object of the grumbling.

Philippians 2:15

NASB"that you may prove yourselves to be" NKJV"that you may become" NRSV, TEV"so that you may become" NJB"so that you remain"

This is an aorist middle (deponent) subjunctive. As believers choose to be saved, so they must choose to live for Christ! The NT is a new covenant. The believer has rights and responsibilities!

"blameless" This is literally "without defect" (cf. Philippians 3:6). Originally in the OT it referred to sacrificial animals but came to be used metaphorically for humans (cf. Noah, Genesis 6:9, Genesis 6:17 and Job, Job 1:1). It is applied to Jesus in Hebrews 9:14 and 1 Peter 1:19. This was another way of referring to the Christlike life. This is God's will for His people (cf. Leviticus 19:2; Deuteronomy 18:13; Matthew 5:48; 1 Peter 1:16). God wants to reflect Himself in believers ("children of God," cf. Ephesians 1:4, 6:27; Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24) and thereby draw the lost world to Himself (cf. Philippians 2:15). See Special Topic: Blameless at Colossians 1:22.

"spotless" This is a term from the wine industry for "unmixed wine." It is used in the NT metaphorically for moral purity (cf. Matthew 10:16; Romans 16:19).

"above reproach" This was used in the Septuagint (LXX) for sacrificial animals. The term is often used metaphorically in the NT to indicate moral uprightness (cf. Ephesians 1:4; Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24; Revelation 14:5, Revelation 14:6). This does not imply sinlessness, but maturity.

"in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" In Deuteronomy 32:5 this phrase refers to Israel, but in this context it refers to the unbelieving world. This is another example of NT author's universalizing OT passages to fit all mankind. The root of the terms "crooked" and "perverse" is related to the OT concept of the righteousness of God which is described as a "measuring reed" (a straight edge or ruler). Any deviation from His standard was described in terms of "crooked" or "bent." These terms are translated by "sin," "iniquity," or "trespass" in English. Notice that in this context it is the Church that is called on to be the light in a darkened world.

NASB"you appear as lights in the world" NKJV"you shine as lights in the world" NRSV"you shine like stars in the world" TEV"You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky" NJB"shining out among them like bright stars in the world"

Notice the plurals indicating a corporate context. This does not refer to individuals, as in Daniel 12:0, but to churches as a whole (cf. Philippians 2:12). There have been two possible understandings of this term:

1. as related to Daniel 12:3, where believers are described as luminaries or stars shining in the sky

2. those who bear light (i.e., the gospel of Philippians 2:16) to the world (kosmos).

In Matthew 5:14-16 believers are to be light-bearers, with Jesus as our example (cf. John 8:12; Ephesians 5:14).

Philippians 2:16

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"hold fast the word of life" TEV"so you offer them the message of life" NJB"Proffering to it the Word of life"

This is a present tense participle which can be interpreted in two ways: (1) "holding fast," referring to believers' continued faithfulness or (2) "holding forth," referring to believers as witnesses. Both could fit this context (esp. Philippians 2:12).

"in the day of Christ" This refers to the Second Coming of Christ. A very similar phrase is used in Philippians 1:6, Philippians 1:10. Often in the NT the Second Coming is used as a motivation for current Christian living. See Special Topic at Philippians 1:10.

"I may have cause to glory" The godliness of the Philippian Christians (i.e., churches) was evidence of Paul's apostleship (cf. Philippians 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

"I did not run in vain nor toil in vain" This is literally "that not in vain I ran nor in vain labored" (i.e., for the purpose of establishing effective, reproducing gospel churches). These are two aorist tense verbs. The first term, "ran," was used in the Egyptian papyri for water running to no purpose. In this context, "vain" must refer to their Christlike maturity (not their salvation) as they shine forth for Christ! Paul often expresses his anxiety about the new churches' maturity and steadfastness by using metaphors such as these (cf. Galatians 2:2; Galatians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 1 Thessalonians 3:5). Paul often spoke of his ministry as an athletic contest (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7).

Philippians 2:17, Philippians 2:18 These verses contain four terms which are usually translated "rejoice." This shows that even at the prospect of death (Roman capital punishment while in prison), Paul was glad to be serving Christ and them (i.e., the churches he established). He also admonishes them to do the same. Believers are to give their lives on behalf of others as Christ gave His life for them (cf. Philippians 2:5-11; 2 Corinthians 5:13-14; Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:16).

Philippians 2:17 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence which was assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. This should not be taken as Paul's expecting the death sentence. In this same book he expressed his hope and expectation for release (cf. Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24).

NASB, NKJV"I am being poured out as a drink offering" NRSV"I am being poured out as a libation" TEV"my life's blood is to be poured out like an offering" NJB"my blood has to be poured as a libation"

This is a present passive indicative. Paul views himself as a sacrifice on behalf of the faith of the Philippians (i.e., Gentiles, cf. Romans 15:16). Paul refers to his ministry as a sacrifice several times (cf. Romans 15:16; 2 Timothy 4:6). This Greek term reflects an OT term for a wine libation (cf. Exodus 29:38-41; Numbers 15:3-10).

"upon the sacrifice and service of your faith" Paul saw his life and ministry as a sacrifice to God (cf. Romans 12:1-2). He was offering the Gentiles to God (cf. Romans 15:16). Jesus was a sacrifice for all mankind (cf. Isaiah 53:0; Mark 10:45; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 5:2). Believers are to emulate Jesus and Paul (cf. Philippians 4:19).

The Greek word translated "service" (leitourgia) comes into English as "liturgy." It was used in the Septuagint (LXX) for a priest providing an offering. This may be another allusion to Paul's self sacrifice for the gospel.

Verses 19-30

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Philippians 2:19-1 19But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition. 20For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare. 21For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. 22But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father. 23Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me; 24and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly. 25But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need; 26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow. 28Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you. 29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard; 30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me. 3:1Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.

Philippians 2:19 "But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send" Paul knew his life and plans were not his own, but were controlled by the will of God (cf. Philippians 2:24; 1 Corinthians 4:19; James 4:13-17).

"so that I also may be encouraged" This is a present active subjunctive. This term is used in the sense of a "farewell" and "good luck" and has been found on many ancient tombs. This is the only usage in the NT and seems to be used in the sense of "cheered" (NRSV).

Philippians 2:20

NASB"kindred spirit" NKJV"like-minded" NRSV"like him" TEV"who shares my feelings" NJB"cares as sincerely for your well-being"

This is literally "like- souled" (isopsuchos) This implies that Timothy had the same love for the Philippian church as Paul did. A similar compound "like-minded" (sumpsuchos) is used in Philippians 2:2.

NASB, NRSV"who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare" NKJV"who will sincerely care for your state" TEV"who really cares about you" NJB"cares as sincerely for your well-being"

Originally this term meant "legitimately born," but it came to be used metaphorically for "genuine." The term "concerned" appears in Philippians 4:6 and means "anxious" and had a negative connotation. In this verse it has a positive connotation.

Philippians 2:21 It is uncertain to whom Paul was referring, but he obviously meant his associates in the ministry. This is probably related to the jealous preachers in the Roman church (cf. Philippians 1:14-17). Others see it as being related to the false teachers of chap. 3. However, this seems unusual because Paul would not refer to them as "preachers of Christ" (cf. Philippians 1:15). A good example of the kind of mixed priorities Paul is referring to can be seen in Demas (cf. 2 Timothy 4:10). Self-interest was, and is, a recurrent problem (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:24; 1 Corinthians 13:5; Philippians 2:4).

Philippians 2:22 "his proven worth" This term is used of testing coins or precious metals to prove their genuineness. Timothy had been with Paul at Philippi as recorded in Acts 16:0 and 20. He was well acquainted with this church and he loved them dearly.


"like a child serving his father" This was Paul's way of referring to a good, loyal, and faithful helper (cf. Titus 1:4). However, in Timothy's case, it also meant convert (cf. 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2).

Philippians 2:23 "as soon as I see how things go with me" Paul did expect some word concerning his legal case soon, but he was still uncertain whether he would be put to death or be able to return and visit with them. The order of Paul's prison letters seems to be: (1) Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon early in the trial process and (2) Philippians toward the conclusion of the case.

Philippians 2:24 "I trust" This is a perfect active indicative used in the sense of "to be assured or confident" (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:3; Hebrews 13:18). Paul's confidence was in the Lord (Philippians 2:24), in the Spirit (Philippians 1:19b), and in their prayers (Philippians 1:19a). Paul had much more confidence in his release from prison in this book than in Colossians or Ephesians.

Philippians 2:25 "I thought" These are epistolary aorists. Paul was writing as if he had already done it.

"necessity" This is a very strong Greek word (cf. Acts 1:24; Acts 13:46; 2 Corinthians 9:5; Hebrews 8:3). It is placed first in the sentence for emphasis.

"Epaphroditus" His name is related to the goddess, Aphrodite. He is not the same as Epaphras who was mentioned in Colossians 1:7; Colossians 4:12; Philemon 1:23, although Epaphras is an abbreviation of Epaphroditus.

"my brother and fellow-worker and fellow soldier" Paul saw this man as a close associate. Apparently he had been sent by the Philippians to bring a monetary gift to Paul in prison and to stay on and help him. While there, he became deathly ill (Philippians 2:27). Paul was returning him to his home church and expressing his thanksgiving to them for sending him. Paul did not want the church to be angry with him because he had returned early.

"your messenger and minister to my needs" "Messenger" is the term "apostle" which means "a sent one." Here, it is used in its non-technical sense (cf. Philippians 4:18; 2 Corinthians 8:23). Remember context determines word meaning, not the lexicon/dictionary.

Philippians 2:26 "for he was longing for you all" This is a strong term used of Paul's longing to see this church as in Philippians 1:8 and Philippians 4:1. Epaphroditus was homesick as well as physically ill.

NASB, NKJV, NRSV"distressed" TEV"is very upset" NJB"was worrying"

This term can mean "homesick" from one usage found in the Koine Greek papyri found in Egypt. Here it describes his mental anguish over the report of his physical illness reaching the Philippian church. This same term is used of Jesus' agony in Gethsemane (cf. Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33).

Philippians 2:27 "he was sick to the point of death" Apparently Paul was unable to heal him (cf. Philippians 2:30). It is difficult to determine when and how the Apostles used the gift of healing and why they were unable to do so on some occasions (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:0; 2 Timothy 4:20). Healing is not automatic. Do those modern preachers who claim that God desires all to be healed really believe that Paul the Apostle did not have enough faith on this occasion? Faith is not the key to divine healing, but God's will and plan for the ones healed.

Paul wanted the Philippians to know that Epaphroditus was truly and seriously ill. Possibly some in the church at Philippi would be upset when he returned home early (cf. Philippians 2:28-30).

Philippians 2:30 "risking his life" This is an aorist middle participle which literally means "gambled." It must refer to his sickness. Paul uses the Greek term "soul" (psychç) to refer to Epaphroditus' life. The Bible does not follow the Greek concept that humans have "an immortal soul" but the Hebrew concept that humans are a "living soul" (cf. Genesis 2:7). The physical body is the outward boundary of our earthly existence. Humans are related to this planet like the animals, but they are also related to God. Human beings, however, are a unity, not a dichotomy or trichotomy (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 4:12). This unity is discussed in the NT in contrasting ways:

1. old man-new man

2. external-internal

3. present age-age to come

4. flesh-spirit

5. resurrection life-resurrection day

Be careful of a proof-texted theology that picks one or two verses out of their literary context and asserts that they are the "key" to interpret the rest of the bible. If the interpretive key to the Scriptures is the trichotomous humanity (body, soul, spirit) then where is the clear teaching passage from Jesus or Paul? Anyone can pick an isolated verse and claim it as the key. This would imply that God's truth is not clearly written for the common man, but only for an elite group with secret knowledge of this "key" verse or perspective (Gnosticism). This approach to interpretation is a plague in modern Christianity.

NASB"to complete what was deficient in your service to me" NKJV"to supply what was lacking in your service to me" NRSV"to make up for those services that you could not give me" TEV"in order to give me the help that you yourselves could not give" NJB"to do the duty to me which you could not do yourselves"

In English this sounds somewhat negative, however, it was a Greek idiom showing lack of opportunity but with a positive desire (cf. Philippians 4:10; Romans 1:10).

Philippians 3:1 "finally" This is literally "for the rest" (loipon). Paul often used this term to make the transition to a new subject, usually at the close of the letter (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 6:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:1).

There is a new trend in NT interpretation called "chiasim" which seeks to discern a type of inverted outline (ex. A, B, C, B, A). This pattern of parallelism is known from the OT and many assert that it was also common in Greek thought. Often Paul's finale seems to introduce the middle truth of this structured parallelism.

"rejoice in the Lord" This is a recurrent theme. Rejoice in suffering, rejoice in salvation, rejoice in Him!

"To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you" Major truths need to be repeated for emphasis, impact, and retention. Paul must have said these things to them orally while in Philippi and could possibly have written to them in a previous letter.

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Philippians 2". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/philippians-2.html. 2021.
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