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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-30

In the first chapter we have seen that Christ is the very principle of life that motivates the apostle in whatever circumstances, - and so indeed it should be for all believers. Chapter 2 now brings Christ Jesus before us in His voluntary humiliation and obedience unto death, as the great Example of His people. Vibrant life and freshness of soul is sweet, but it will soon vanish if it does not issue in lowly obedience. Thus, if souls have found "consolation in Christ - comfort of love - fellowship of the Spirit -bowels and mercies," - as indeed was truly the case at Philippi, and which they had heartily shown by ministering now to the apostle, then for this very reason he urges them to make his joy full by their cultivation of these fruits among themselves, in consistent humility. "Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind."

Here is a significant test of the true activity of life in the soul. For while this life is most personal, and faith a thoroughly individual thing, yet it cannot be content with our personal blessing: it must necessarily go out to include the people of God, to consider them and to care for them, to seek real and godly unity with them. This is a fundamental aspect of obedience to God.

There is necessarily much involved in this. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory." The evil tendencies of our own hearts must be honestly judged. Striving to gain a point is not godliness, but is closely related to vainglory, which is merely seeking our own exaltation in the face of the actual fact that we are entitled to nothing but the lowest place. All such pretension is empty as wind. "But in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." This is not so difficult if we observe ourselves honestly, for we surely know the evil propensities, motives and failures of our own hearts better than we do those of others. Can we then dare to consider ourselves better than they? It is one of the perverse characteristics of our hearts to strongly denounce another for a certain fault while closing our eyes to the many things in ourselves that we know are evil. In reference to our own shortcomings we are all too quick to plead extenuating circumstances. But we ought never to excuse ourselves on such grounds, though it is our wisdom to make allowances for others in considering their circumstances.

Verse 4 takes us yet a step further: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others." This is simply a very real concern for the well-being of others, a happy characteristic of Christianity in a world so entirely selfish. We cannot however suppose that all Christians are characteristically Christian in the practice of this virtue. Indeed, Paul in this very chapter, in commending Timothy, laments, "I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state.

For all seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" (vv. 20, 21). This selfish attitude is, alas, all too natural to us, and we shall not be otherwise minded without both real purpose of heart and having our eyes fixed on the right Object.

Hence, the apostle immediately sets before us the great Example of the Lord Jesus in His voluntary humiliation. How can this fail to appeal with power to the renewed heart? "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus." It is the mind that willingly takes a lower place than that which is perfectly rightful. In fact, this is not all, for He whose rightful place is the highest has come down to the lowest. Such a sacrifice is far greater than is possible for any other. But we are bidden to have the same lowly mind.

We begin with the infinite glory of His Person, "subsisting in the form of God." Few are the words to describe this august dignity, yet sublime in their simple beauty. Only God could subsist in the form of God. Thus, when John speaks of "the Son of God," he also insists, "This is the true God, and eternal life" (1 John 5:20). There could therefore be no robbery in the thought of His being equal with God. This was the very thought which in Satan had been monstrous guilt. Being merely a creature, he aspired to "be like the Most High," and by this pride he fell (Isaiah 14:12-15). Adam too fell in a similar way (Genesis 3:1-24).

But He who was infinitely higher than Lucifer, - "being in the form of God," - being "equal with God", -has "made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a Servant." Every angel, every created intelligence, is by the very fact of creation in "the form of a servant; "but His rightful state of being was "in the form of God," so that His becoming in the form of a servant involved a thoroughly voluntary and Divinely purposed self-humiliation. Yet in no sense did this mean His giving up the nature of God: such a thought is banished utterly by many Scriptures, as "For in Him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). He is the same blessed Person, but come in a different form, a thing which no-one could have title to do save Him who is "God over all."

But although angels are in the form of servants, yet our Lord did not become an angel: rather He "was made in the likeness of men." Being altogether above angels, He "was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death" (Hebrews 2:9).

Manhood is thus seen to be a lower class of being than that of angels. Angels are spirits (Hebrews 1:14), who "excel in strength" (Psalms 103:20), while man is "spirit and soul and body," (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and is characterised by weakness, at least so long as connected with the first creation. This is seen also in the Lord Jesus, - Him Who is without sin - as John 4:1-54 teaches us: "Jesus therefore being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well" (v.6).

This marvellous stoop of love on the part of the Lord Jesus, in grace assuming such limitations of Manhood, is that which should command our most profound adoration.

It is to be remarked however, that in the resurrection state, this characteristic weakness is not seen. Indeed, of believers we are told that the body "is sown in weakness: it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians 15:43). We shall not be confined by the limitations of our present state, but shall know "the power of His resurrection," our bodies then "like unto His own body of glory," thoroughly suited to spiritual conditions.

But the voluntary humiliation of our Lord did not end with His becoming Man. Unspeakably blessed as it is to gaze upon the lowly form of the Lord of Glory become Man upon earth, this was not in itself sufficient to meet the deep need of our souls: He must come yet lower. "And being found in figure as a Man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death." Death could have no claim upon a perfectly obedient man: it was only sin that drew down death's sentence upon mankind. So that, while every other life was forfeit on account of sin, He alone had perfect title to live.

His death therefore, was in the fullest sense voluntary, as that of none other could be. "I lay down My life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of My Father." (John 10:17-18) After becoming Man then, He has further humbled Himself in a lowly obedience to the Father's will even "unto death." How thoroughly and blessedly sacrificial is this death in every way! - awakening the deeper chords of thankful worship.

But let us look more closely still at the actual circumstances of His death. Where do we see the noble dignity of which such a sacrifice is worthy? Ah, it is not to be found! Despised and rejected of men, there is every kind of shame and abuse heaped upon Him. No honour is accorded Him for this supremely magnificent sacrifice; but gross contempt!

But more: the heavens are utterly darkened: no voice of God is there to vindicate and honour Him, and His own voice pierces the darkness with pathos unutterable: "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" All this, and more, is involved in that pregnant expression, "even the death of the cross."

His was no ordinary death, but the death of the curse, the bearing of guilt and suffering on behalf of ruined sinners, agony unparalleled in all history. Well knowing previously, too, the horror all this would entail, yet His willing self-humiliation did not end until He had come to the lowest place, in which He could reach and save the lowest sinner. Indeed, it was only this that could save any sinner: He must come to the lowest place possible, and this He did in willing sacrifice. Blessed be His Name forever!

But with what majestic honour is He conducted back in triumph to the Glory! No longer now could Heaven be silent: His mighty work of sacrifice was finished, perfectly finished, and God, true to His nature, will righteously reward Him who has humbled Himself, highly exalting Him and giving Him a Name which is above every name. Blessed answer of perfect righteousness!

This is not the fact affirmed of His returning to His previous glory, (which of course is also blessedly true), but of God's having rewarded Him as the Man Christ Jesus with an official glory that is above every other title ever conferred by God upon anyone. It is the glorious result of His blessed work. How sweet beyond all thought to contemplate the glories of the Man upon the throne of God!

This exaltation, too, involves the decree "that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of heavenly and earthly and infernal beings, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to God the Father's glory." Indeed, how could any other conclusion be right and proper? Since the eternal God has been manifested in flesh - has become Man - in order to accomplish the great work of redemption, then certainly nothing in creation can be excused from bowing the knee to Him, "whether things in Heaven" - the highest angels; or earthly beings every class of mankind; or things infernal - fallen spiritual beings. This is an imperial decree. Those who now refuse to bow to Him will eventually be compelled to do so, but under chains of eternal punishment.

On the other hand, those who willingly bow are simply taking the creature's place, the place proper to them, and this means eternal blessing for their souls. This of course is only possible where there is faith in the resurrection of Christ. If He is not raised, what authority could He have? what real bearing could His Name have upon men's lives? Thus the vital heart of the matter is clearly expressed in Romans 10:9 : "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." This simple, real submission and confession anticipates the great Day of manifestation, the heart willingly giving glory to God the Father. But He will be glorified in all, however unwillingly may be the eventual submission of the lost. It is not simply the exaltation of the blessed Son of Man that shines out in this, but the glory of God the Father, which has been the blessed object of the devoted sacrifice of the Lord Jesus.

The latter part of our chapter brings before us three men who are practical witnesses in lovely measure to the possibility of truly following Christ in self-sacrificing devotion. Can we dare excuse ourselves from a similar path?

"Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do His good pleasure."

The apostle's heart is manifestly refreshed in being able thus to speak of the consistent obedience of the Philippians. And he encourages this, particularly since he is absent, and not therewith in such close touch with their circumstances as to be able to help them work out the daily problems and difficulties that continually arise. How far indeed does a truly obedient spirit go in solving the difficult questions of daily life! Let us be sure first of all to have this, and the working out of our salvation will be greatly simplified.

For the salvation here is certainly not "the salvation of souls," but deliverance from the cares, temptations, perplexities and defilements that commonly beset our pathway through the world. It is the Lord Jesus who has already worked for the salvation of our souls at Calvary. Our temporal salvation we are to work out ourselves. It is on this line that Paul writes to Timothy: "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that bear thee" (1 Timothy 4:16).

Thus the saints are to "work out" in result "their own salvation." But it must be well remembered that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure." The internal work is certainly by far the more important, but we are responsible to respond to this in a spirit of thorough obedience. God is sovereign, and we therefore are responsible to be subject.

"Do all things without murmurings and reasonings." Murmuring is utterly foreign to a servant's true character: he ought to accept with prompt willingness his Master's will. And once that will has been expressed, then reasonings as to the advantages or disadvantages of obedience can only indicate treachery against the Master. The Master, not the servant, is the judge of what is suitable.

"That ye may be blameless and harmless, the children of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." Our effect upon others is no light matter, and nothing becomes more harmful than "murmurings and reasonings." They may appear in a very specious light, and for this reason are more dangerous. "Blameless and harmless" is put in contrast to "murmurings and reasonings." Galatians 4:4-7 shows that all believers are sons of God in actual fact, by faith in Christ Jesus: the passage now before us exhorts us to be this in actual practice - "sons of God without rebuke." We are to rightly represent the character of Him Whose sons we are. This is the more important in view of the contrary character of "a crooked and perverted generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." A light is intended to be in sharpest contrast to the surrounding darkness.

Defensive character then is not sufficient in the Christian warfare: he must be prepared to carry the battle into the enemy's stronghold. "Holding forth the Word of life" is a noble privilege consistent with the dignity of being "sons of God." Yet, let us take heed that this is no mere attacking of evil , but the overcoming of evil with good - the presentation of the pure, positive "word of life." This alone will accomplish results for God. Evil will not be put down by mere denunciation. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4). Let our souls be deeply impregnated with the precious, living Word of God, for this only will enable us to faithfully represent our Lord in a contrary world.

Thus Paul encourages this energetic devotedness in the Philippians, that he himself would thereby have occasion to "rejoice in the day of Christ," for such results would be blessed proof that he had neither run his race in vain, nor in vain spent his labours upon them.

But he will go further, to speak of his present joy in "the sacrifice and service of your faith." Who can doubt that his very life was being "poured out" in the service of Christ? But he speaks not as though this was any sacrifice to him: rather he gives importance to their sacrifice and service, the fruit of their faith. And just as a drink offering of wine was poured upon the lamb of the continual burnt offering (Numbers 28:7), to signify unselfish joy in the sacrifice, so the apostle attributes to them the sacrifice and service of devoted faith, while he takes the lesser place if being simply the drink offering poured out upon their sacrifice, having unfeigned joy in devoting his very life to the furthering of their devoted affection to Christ. He rejoices, and does so in common with them all: he had joy in their joy of faith. And for this reason he expects them also to rejoice, and rejoice with him in his joy. It is a most sweet comment on the intertwining of true Christian affections and interests, in which all the saints have common part. And Paul's imprisonment at the time makes it much more sweet. Would that we knew more of his unselfish, unaffected spirit!

"But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timotheus shortly unto you, that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. For I have no man like-minded who will naturally care for your state." This is a refreshing commendation of Timothy, whose very character was such that Paul could trust him to care for the welfare of the Philippians. He has no hesitation in sending him, -expecting comfort, too, in hearing through him of their state. With sorrow he has to record that the general tendency was quite in contrast to Timothy's lowly spirit of service. "For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's." Yet he can appeal to their own knowledge of Timothy, and does so with quiet suitability: "Ye know the proof of him, that, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel."

Still, hoping as he does to send Timothy as soon as possible, he also adds, "But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." His being imprisoned did not at all hinder his confidence in this respect.

Along with these two lovely examples of unselfish faith and lowliness, the chapter concludes with the commendation of a third , - Epaphroditus, - who had come to Paul from the Philippians with supplies for his need and comfort in the prison. Now Paul is sending him back, bearing this epistle, saying of him, "Yet I supposed it necessary to send unto you Epaphroditus, my brother, and companion in labour, and fellow-soldier, but your messenger, and he that ministered to my wants. For he longed after you all, and was full of heaviness, because that ye had heard that he had been sick." Here is again the "mind" that was "in Christ Jesus", the extreme opposite of self-commiseration. His love to the Philippians was such that it pained his soul to think of their distress at the news of his sickness. It shows, too, the confidence he had in their own unfeigned love toward him, - love that truly thinks more of its object than of itself.

And the apostle assures them, "For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. I sent him therefore the more carefully, that, when ye see him again, ye may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: because for the work of Christ he was nigh unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me."

It will be observed here in how lovely a manner Paul intertwines the Christian affections of the Philippians with that of Epaphroditus and himself. how deeply he himself values the self-sacrificing character of his "fellow-soldier." Sickness in this case was evidently occasioned through an arduous journey to reach the apostle, for the sake of the work of Christ. What the Philippians were unable to do for Paul personally, Epaphroditus had done through being their messenger. Now his recovery is deep comfort to the apostle's heart, and he so counts upon the warm affection of the Philippians also toward Epaphroditus, that he sends him immediately, that they may rejoice in seeing that he is recovered, and their joy will further alleviate Paul's sorrow.

Let us note also that his recovery was "mercy" to him and to the apostle. There is no suggestion that they considered making any claim upon miraculous instantaneous healing, even in a case where sickness had been brought on altogether for Christ's sake. This lowly character is most becoming and instructive; and as we have seen, the chapter presses that we should follow such example: "Let this mind be in you."

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/philippians-2.html. 1897-1910.

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Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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