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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Philippians 2

 

 

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Introduction

Verse 1

Philippians 2:1. If there if therefore any consolation in Christ, It is better to supply the verb here in the indicative, than in the subjunctive, as in the Authorised Version. The apostle neither doubts himself of consolation being found in Christ, nor implies any doubt on the part of those whom he addresses. They are believers, and partakers of the same grace as himself, and it is since this is the case, that he can be so earnest in his exhortation.

consolation in Christ cannot but carry our thoughts back to the aged Simeon in the Temple who was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Then it was expected, it has come in Christ, and St. Paul is ready, as he tells us in this Epistle, to adopt Simeon’s words if it be God’s will, ‘Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.’ The consolation arises from being one with Christ, being found in Him; and the Greek word for consolation is cognate with that used as a name of the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the Comforter. Thus the consolation in Christ is the result of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

if any comfort of love. The first clause referred to consolation divinely sent, this speaks of the blessing of communion with the brotherhood of Christ on earth. The people of the Lord speak often in love to one another, and thus take heart themselves, and breathe courage into others for the struggle with and against evil. The word which the apostle uses marks this as the special comfort to which he refers, the building up of one another by spiritual converse.

if any fellowship of the Spirit. This is that communion of the Holy Ghost which forms so usual a member in the apostolic benediction. Thus the clause becomes a parallel to the previous ‘consolation in Christ,’ as the next clause is parallel to the ‘comfort of love.’ To interpret the words ‘fellowship in spirit’ of Christian brethren among themselves destroys the symmetrical arrangement of the verse, and makes of this sentence little that is not expressed in the words ‘comfort of love’ which have just preceded.

if any tender mercies and companion. As they had shown to be true of themselves by their sending to him in his imprisonment. Now as they had manifested their love to him, their father in the faith, he is about to claim a like love to be shown towards one another as brethren. This same word for ‘tender mercies’ is fitly explained in Colossians 3:1 by the addition ‘forbearing one another, and forgiving one another.’


Verses 1-11

Exhortations to unity and humility enforced by the example of Christ, 1-11.

Following up the exhortation with which the last chapter closed, that the Philippians should stand fast in one spirit, the apostle proceeds with a like teaching. He takes for granted that they have found in Christ consolation under the trials which have befallen them, also that the love of their fellow-Christians has yielded them comfort, and that through the Spirit they feel inward communion with all the brethren, and therefore they are moved by loving-kindness and compassion. Let them show these feelings towards him that he may rejoice over them, and towards one another, that they may learn and practise humility. This was the great lesson of Christ’s life on earth. He had been with God, and was God Himself, from all eternity, and had no need to make a struggle for the Divine character, which was His already. Yet from this majesty He, of His own will, came down, and took the nature of humanity, and endured its greatest humiliations, even submitting to die upon the Cross. For such display of lowliness He is now at the right hand of God, exalted, and to he worshipped by the whole creation as Lord of all, to the glory of God the Father.


Verse 2

Philippians 2:2. fulfil ye my joy. The Philippian church had already caused him much joy (see Philippians 4:1-10): there is, however, one thing yet wanting. He has little blame to bring against them, but there is reported to him some want among them of unity of spirit, and the apostle’s joy will not be complete till this is attained.

that ye be of the same mind, lit. think the same thing. An expression indicative of most complete unity, the high ideal after which the Christian must strive, and which Christ invokes in His prayer ‘that they all may be one.’ The apostle proceeds to indicate the means whereby an advance towards this ideal may be furthered.

having the same love. All striving alike after this highest Christian grace, and not being content to be surpassed by any in this struggle. Thus would they all increase and abound in love toward one another and toward all men. This relates to the inward feeling to be cultivated.

being of one accord, having the same desires, and aiming at the same objects. Thus would their outward behaviour and pursuits be no source of strife.

of one mind. Thus his language reaches a climax in this strengthened form of the first clause. It crowns the whole work if such unity be reached that the minds are not alike only, but feel as one.


Verse 3

Philippians 2:3. Do nothing through faction or through vain-glory. There is no verb expressed in the original, but this in such an earnest exhortation is at once supplied. The reading which introduces the two prepositions is to be preferred, and in that form the two distinct evils against which St. Paul is speaking are more clearly noted. He is exhorting to unity, and he knows that there are no greater foes thereto, than that party spirit which causes men to take sides on any question, and mars their oneness of aim, or that empty self-conceit which fills a man with undue esteem for himself, and so makes his self-importance range him in opposition to everybody else. Against both these he warns them. Through a misconception of its derivation, the word rendered ‘faction’ is constantly in the Authorised Version translated ‘strife.’ The two Greek words thus connected have nothing to do with one another, and though ‘faction’ may lead to ‘strife,’ we can hardly speak of strife as a motive for action in the same way as we do of ‘party spirit’ or ‘faction.’

but in lowliness of mind. That is, act in this spirit, not in the other. Set a low value on yourselves, and to do this he urges further

each esteeming other better than himself. In this way a man will grow willing for Christ’s sake to range himself ever at the bottom of the list. Thus the beginnings of rivalry will be prevented and vain-glory banished away.


Verse 4

Philippians 2:4. not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. According to the best texts, this is another participial sentence continuing the explanation of means towards attaining the great end of oneness of mind. The apostle does not exhort men to cease to look to their own things, for he knows this would be impossible, but he would have them, as they look to their own, in the same degree to look to the things of others. Another form of the precept ‘to love one’s neighbour as oneself.’ St. Paul uses the indefinite phrases, ‘his own things,’ ‘the things of others,’ because he would make his exhortation apply to all men at all times. He includes in it every interest of whatever kind by which men are bound to one another. And by the word ‘look’ he would make each of us a watchman, ever on the look-out lest in thought for himself, he is missing any occasion where he should equally think for his brethren.


Verse 5

Philippians 2:5. have this mind in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. He has already said ‘be of the same mind,’ ‘be of one mind,’ and thus pointed towards a grand ideal. He now sets forth that ideal, as it has once been seen embodied in Christ, the great Exemplar.


Verses 5-8

EXCURSUS ON CHRIST’S HUMILIATION

Philippians 2:5-8.

In this passage St. Paul speaks more definitely than in any other of the mystery of the Divine and human in Christ Jesus, and of the relation between the two natures in our Lord’s life on earth. Consequently his language has formed a ground of much discussion to all those who have desired to look more deeply into that mystery. It should be noted, before we ..speak of those opinions which have been put forward as essays towards the exposition of the wondrous self-abasement of the Son of God, that the apostle in these verses speaks of Him who so emptied Himself as being through all times Christ Jesus. St. Paul employs in the whole passage the conjoint names, which indicate that their possessor was always God and man. The Divine person existed from all eternity, but in St. Paul’s language he is ever Christ Jesus; and whether he wear the form of God or the form of a servant neither adds to nor detracts from the truth of His divinity. He possessed it always, but did not deem it a glory which should be clutched tenaciously, when man’s salvation could be wrought He therefore laid aside its exercise, not its essence, while He lived as a man, and for the work of redemption. His mighty acts, by which at intervals He caused the Godhead to shine forth through the environments of the flesh, were but a little part of His earthly life. He was for the most part seen and known as the servant of God. He held meanwhile, but consented not to use, His Divine powers and rights. This was His emptying of Himself so far as the apostle speaks.

And for a time the language of St. Paul sufficed for the needs of the Christian church; but after men began to speculate on, and to attempt to describe in their own words, the nature of the personal union, two erroneous tendencies manifested themselves. Some have in their definition so blended the Divine and the human, that the latter has almost, or altogether, disappeared; while others have kept the severance so strongly marked between the two, that in Christ they have made God to appear as no more than an ally or companion of a chosen member of the human family.

It is not very probable that theology will ever advance much nearer than it has done to an expression of the nature of Christ’s act of condescension, but to notice briefly the various forms of opinion on the subject cannot be without interest, and may warn against error, if it brings us no clearer light of truth.

Before the time of Apollinaris, who was bishop of Laodicea after the middle of the fourth century, there can hardly be said to have been any controversy relating strictly to the union of the two natures. Those heretical teachers who lived before the date of the Nicene Council, as a rule, denied either one or the other nature to Christ altogether.

The Gnostics, who taught that the body of Christ was in some way unreal, gave Him no true alliance with the flesh, but denied the manhood of the Saviour. After them, those teachers, of whom Praxeas is the representative, dwelling unduly on such words of Christ as ‘I and my Father are one,’ impugned the distinct personality of our Lord’s Godhead, and taught that He was a manifestation of the Father under a human form. On the other hand, some, like Theodotus, and after him Paul of Samosata, taught that the Lord was only man. Nobler indeed than any other man, but not Divine. The Logos dwelt in Him more abundantly than in any beside, and through His moral excellence He won a Divine dignity. And it was against Arius, who denied the eternal existence and true divinity of Christ, that the Nicene Fathers (A.D. 325) formulated the first creed, in which, of course, their desire was to maintain the integrity of His Godhead; but while they did this in the expression ‘of one substance with the Father,’ they also asserted the truly human nature in the phrases ‘who was incarnate,’ and ‘who was made man.’

After the Nicene Council, filled with an earnest desire to maintain the divinity of Christ, to which need by the exigencies of the time the attention of the orthodox was then mainly directed, Apollinaris was led, in his attempts at definition, to give up the integrity of His manhood. He taught that the human and Divine in the Logos were united from all eternity, but that at the Incarnation the Christ took only on Him the body and animal soul of humanity, bringing from heaven that which corresponds to the human spirit. Thus was Christ not completely man, and therefore never could have redeemed our nature, as was fully set forth by the opponents of Apollinaris, and by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 382), in which his teaching was condemned.

An error in an opposite direction was soon after broached by Nestorius, and those who thought with him. Disliking the term ‘mother of God,’ which was then applied to the Virgin Mary, they held that she might with more propriety be called ‘mother of Christ.’ But with this distinction they also taught that she only gave birth to a man in whom the union of the Logos with humanity had its commencement, and that the union was only completed when Christ was baptized. Thus the human nature was made to be merely the tabernacle of the Logos, and there was no personal union between the two natures.

As Nestorianism denied the true personal union, Eutychianism, about the same date, made, after the incarnation, but one nature to be in Christ, and is the type of all the doctrines known as Monophysite and Monothelite, which have flourished most among the speculative and mystical thinkers of the Eastern church. The prevalence of Eutychianism led to an appeal being made on this theological question to Leo, bishop of Rome, and his famous ‘Letter to Flavian’ brought men back from their subtleties of definition, for a time at least, to the true teaching of Scripture: ‘Christ, complete as to His Godhead, complete as to His manhood, very God and very man.’ By the decision of the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451), both Nestorianism and Eutychianism were condemned. The former was revived in some degree at a later time in the West by the Adoptionists, who taught that there was difference in the sense in which Christ was Son of God in His Divine and in His human nature; that as man, Christ could only be called a Son by ‘adoption.’

These are the representative errors on this doctrine which arose before the beginning of the ninth century, and after that date there is not much to be noticed in the discussions of the Schoolmen which differs, on the question of the union of the two natures, from what had been brought forward by those who went before them; though the mysticism of the fourteenth century indulged in most fanciful speculations, which made men forget the purpose of the incarnation, and that for man’s salvation it must be followed by the crucifixion and the resurrection. The teaching of the Mystics was, that as the Son is eternally brought forth by God in Himself, and given to man through His birth of the Virgin, so in all Christians there is constantly an incarnation proceeding. The Son is born in them. Thus the mystic teaching makes no distinction between the incarnate Son Himself and the devout believer who is spiritually united to Him.

In the stirring times which accompanied and succeeded the Reformation, there was a substantial accord among all the Reformed communions in the confession of the whole and undivided personality of Jesus Christ, though between the Lutheran and Reformed continental churches there was some difference in teaching in respect of His humiliation. The former taught that Christ existed as God-man from all eternity. The Logos at the incarnation assumed the human nature, and before the God-man could take on Him the form of a servant He must empty Himself of (or another expression was, veil) His Divine form. The humbled state began with the conception and ended with the burial.

The Reformed held that the Incarnation was the humiliation, and that the absolute Logos was existent in a developing life and consciousness as the Logos made man. It will be seen that the Lutheran opinion had a leaning toward the old Eutychian form of error, in dwelling too much on the Divine; the Reformed might be pushed on to Nestorianism, from its tendency to mark off too distinctly the human in Christ.

It was not long after the Reformation, however, that Socinianism appeared, and either in its original form or in some kindred shape, Arianism first, Humanitarianism afterwards, spread itself from Italy and Poland over Holland, Germany, and England. What Socinus taught was that Jesus was merely a man, but free from original sin. At His baptism the Divine power descended upon Him, and enabled Him to do the works recorded of Him. Yet His death was only a martyrdom for truth’s sake, and in no sense a propitiation. At His resurrection He received a sort of delegated Divine power, and therefore may be reverenced and addressed in prayer as a representative of the power of God. But even this teaching admits far too much of the supernatural to satisfy the rationalistic spirit which arose after it and out of it.

Every contradiction must be removed from the idea of the historical Redeemer, and so the descent began. The union between God and man was impossible, all true divinity was denied to Christ, and in the Deism of England as well as in the theology of Germany Jesus became nothing but a man.

Through modern philosophical opinions (of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel) concerning the Ideal Christ, the doctrine of the Person of Christ has been rescued from the infidel theories of the Rationalists, and by Schleiermacher the ideal theory has been brought into some connection with theology. His doctrine, however, only maintains that Jesus was born without sin, or the possibility thereof. The humanity of Jesus passively receives the power of God; but he denies any personal union of the human and Divine nature; and the indwelling of God in Jesus is the realization of the idea which man’s consciousness has of its own possible sinlessness.

These philosophic teachings have in very recent times exerted great influence upon the divines of the Lutheran church, and have impelled them to undertake to set forth a true conception of the union between the Divine and human natures in Christ. And speculations upon the Question of the state of humiliation of the Godhead have gained much prominence of late years. According to’ one view, the Logos is represented as limiting Himself in the incarnation, surrendering then His eternal self-conscious being, and thus being found in our nature, He gradually expanded again into one Divine-human existence, the development progressing until the ascension. The Holy Ghost is supposed to be the energy whereby the gradual restoration of the Logos to Himself is conducted in proportion as His human faculties expanded.

Others teach a modification of this theory. They do not consider that the Logos underwent a self-depotentiation, but that he was limited in his self-bestowment on the man, according to the gradual ability of the human nature to receive the Divine.

But such theories make the Divine-human person to be not the result of the incarnation, but as following upon the final development of the manhood, till which time the human consciousness could not fully grasp or be grasped by the Divine which was to be united with it. The Logos thus put a limit on His self-communication till the human susceptibility had obtained more complete development.

The first named of these views represents the Logos as suppressing or renouncing all that could not yet find room in humanity; while the second teaches that the union of the two natures was not completely accomplished till there grew to be a human consciousness in Jesus able to be appropriated, and also itself able to appropriate.

Both are attempts to throw light upon the language used by the apostle in this chapter, but in the attempts we are presented with greater difficulties than lie in St. Paul’s words. For, taking the first exposition, it is hard to see how the Logos can, without detriment to His essential qualities, strip Himself of self-consciousness; or, when so stripped, of what advantage the Logos deprived of personality could be to humanity-The second theory disturbs our conception of God, and seems to suspend for a time the existence of the Trinity, and so far from making our appreciation of the union between the Divine and human more complete, makes either the Divine to convert itself into human, or the two to exist side by side, without any union at all.

In striving to escape from the difficulty of the double consciousness of our Lord in one indivisible Person, these theories raise up difficulties far more in number, and as great in their importance; and the history of these and kindred speculations is an evidence that for us the doctrine is not to be divested of its mystery, and that we tread then on safest ground when we use such words concerning it as are supplied to us by Revelation.


Verse 6

Philippians 2:6. who being originally in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on an equality with God. In this exceedingly difficult and important passage, it is necessary to say something of the separate words of the verse, but it should be borne in mind that the words each form part of a context without reference to which they cannot be rightly understood. The apostle is enforcing the lesson of humility, and the avoidance of all factious or self-seeking conduct, and Christ’s example is pointed to for this end. ‘Christ being in the form of God:’ here the word ‘being’ is not the usual simple substantive verb, but a stronger word which is employed when the nature of a thing, in contradistinction to its mere existence, is to be predicated. Here it relates to the existence of Christ before His manifestation in the flesh, and its fuller force is fairly represented by the addition of the word ‘originally.’ ‘Form’ is here all that makes a thing to be recognised for what it is. Hence, when ‘the form of God’ is spoken of, we must understand all those attributes which make the Divinity known as such. All these the apostle says Christ had originally, and in this way was ‘in the form of God,’ though He had not been manifested unto men. It is of this clause that the next words have been taken by the Authorised Version to be an expansion. ‘He thought it not robbery to be equal with God.’ Nor would it be so. For, since he from the first had all the essential attributes of the Godhead in Himself, to make Himself equal with God would be but to have and hold what was His own. But this is not in harmony with St. Paul’s argument, who does not wish to dwell on what Christ might rightly hold as His own, but on what He laid aside. It is therefore better, and more in accord with the original construction, to make this clause connected closely with what follows. The structure of the sentence is: He did not do one thing, but He did another. What Christ did not do was this. He did not count His equality with God as a prize to be held fast. He possessed this equality, but consented to forego it for a time, that He might work out the salvation of men. Thus he became an instance (how mighty!) of one who looked not at His own things, but also at the things of others. This rendering is in entire accord with the reasoning of the apostle; and for proof that the original may be so taken, the reader is referred to the notes of Dr. Light-foot on this Epistle, where the subject is fully discussed.

In the words ‘to be on an equality with God,’ the Greek shows the equality contemplated is in all the attributes and qualities of the Godhead. To express this the neuter plural is used, and so Christ is not mentioned as a person equal to God, but the equality is predicated of Him in all things.

In a somewhat different sense from either of the above, the words have been taken by some in the sense that Christ did not think of His equality with God as something which He, having seized, must carefully guard, and so could not venture on laying it down at all. But this rendering does not do justice to what St. Paul is dwelling on, that Christ for the sake of mankind laid down of His own will that which He had from eternity, and His right whereto none could question.


Verse 7

Philippians 2:7. but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. This literal rendering of the Greek expresses by a figure the act of Christ in the incarnation. But no figure ever exactly represents that for which it is put, and must therefore never be too closely pressed. For the various expositions of the text, see Excursus subjoined to Philippians 2:11. It is, however, certain that St. Paul did not intend us to understand by the word ‘empty,’ that from Christ by the incarnation the Divinity was altogether withdrawn. The glory of the Godhead was still there, and manifested itself often in deeds of power. He was still Himself, the Divine in person, though instead of the ‘form of God’ He for a time condescended to wear the ‘form of a slave.’ ‘Taking the form of a servant,’ this was the manner in which the emptying of the text took place, and has suggested for the translation another figure, ‘to divest.’ Christ had possessed from eternity all those qualities and attributes which are distinctly Divine; these He now, as it were, puts off, lets them not constantly be seen, and wears the character and manifests the attributes of a servant. But as the figure ‘to empty’ might be pressed to say too much, for the Godhead remained though it was veiled; so ‘to divest’ is in danger of saying what is inexact in another way, and painting the Divine character as something so distinct from the human, that the God-man would be made not one but two persons. That which the world has only known in Christ, it is no marvel that it has no language to explain.

being made in the likeness of men. The verb signifies ‘the coming into any state of being.’ Christ at His incarnation entered on a new manifestation of Himself. He had before been in the form of God, He now assumes a human likeness. And it is said ‘of men,’ that we may understand the expression generally of the human race. Thus the apostle’s words avoid any sense like that in which the Docetæ of old spake of Christ’s human body as a mere phantom, and St. Paul says, He wore on earth the human figure, a form such as is common to men.


Verse 8

Philippians 2:8. and being found in fashion as a man. Being found, that is of those by whom he was seen and known. This was constantly expressed by those who saw and heard Him: ‘Never man spake like this man;’ and even the centurion (Mark 15:39), while styling Him ‘Son of God,’ speaks of Him as ‘this man,’ and St. Peter in his Pentecostal sermon calls Him ‘Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God unto you.’

in fashion, in all those outward particulars which the eye can note as in human growth and human needs, human sense of pain and human capacity for death, in every way and manner resembling the usual type of mankind.

as a man. He was more than man, but the Divine in His nature He deigned to shroud and keep out of sight on most occasions, so that to the people of Nazareth, whose want of faith checked Him from mighty works, He seemed but as ‘the son of the carpenter.’

he humbled himself. As though it were not enough to lay aside the Divine and consent to wear the human form, His self-abasement went still farther, and went, too, of His own will.

becoming obedient even onto death, yea, the death of the cross. He became obedient, for He had taken the ‘form of a slave.’ His obedience was yielded to the Father, as we may learn from the agonized language in Gethsemane: ‘Not my will, but Thine, be done.’ The scheme for man’s redemption was framed in the counsels of the Godhead from all eternity, and the consent of the Son of God made one part of that counsel. So that of ‘His own will lie suffered, and yet the Divine was so far veiled, the human in Him so far manifest in His agony, that He can speak to His Father of the coming death as ‘Thy will.’ And in Him obedience was carried to its farthest limit. Even in the slave’s lot there comes a point at which resistance may be expected and justified. Toil and pain He may endure and not rebel, but to accept death when it might be avoided is the extreme of humiliation. Yet even this Christ chose to do for men, and to the humiliation was added degradation, for He died upon the cross, a death reserved only for the worst criminals and malefactors.

Now we may see how the whole picture of Christ’s humiliation fits into the apostle’s argument He looked also on the things of others. He beheld man’s fallen state, man made in the likeness of God, and to rescue him, came down from His eternal glory and dwelt as a man among men, and fathomed the lowest depths of humiliation and of suffering.


Verse 9

Philippians 2:9. Wherefore also God highly exalted him. This refers to the fact that at the ascension it was in ‘the likeness of men’ that Christ ascended into heaven. Thus was He exalted in the body of His humiliation, and the exaltation thereof corresponds to the debasement to which He voluntarily submitted. As His humiliation was the lowest, so His exaltation was the highest, for the form of man has been received at the right hand of God. As Son of God, Christ is only where He was before, but as Son of man He has received from the Father honour in return for His sufferings.

and gave unto him the name that is above every name. St. Paul has his mind still full of the thought of the voluntary humiliation, and so he represents the gift made by the Father to the Incarnate Son as a gift of grace. And this agrees with the language of Jesus (John 17:5), where He prays: ‘Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was,’—words in which the Son of man preserves the character of one who has emptied Himself of glory, but who still is the Eternal Word who in the beginning was with God. The person is not changed, only the ‘form of a servant’ is voluntarily worn by Him who afore had worn the ‘form of God.’

The best MSS. give ‘the name’ instead of ‘a name,’ and the reference is probably to that supreme name of God which among the Jews was held as incommunicable, a name which represented the concentrated omnipresence of the Godhead, whose emblem in old times was in the Shechinah. In the vision of St. John (Revelation 19:11-16) the ‘name which no man knew’ is among the names of the Word of God, who is also called ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’ It is worth notice that the name which was provided for the Incarnate Son (Jesus, i.e., Joshua) had by a special change which Moses made (Numbers 13:16) been compounded with the Tetragrammaton, the most sacred name of the Eternal, as though the compound should speak of salvation through Jehovah but with a human as well as Divine nature in Him who should be the true ‘Jehoshua.’


Verse 10

Philippians 2:10. that in the name of Jesus. The literal rendering keeps up for us, as is so often the case, the connection between Old Testament and New Testament phraseology. So we have (1 Chronicles 14:10) to ‘glory’ in the name of the Lord, and (Psalms 63:4) to lift up the bands in His name, and (Micah 4:5) to walk, and (Zephaniah 3:12) to trust in the name of the Lord. Jesus is henceforth to be the glory, the way, the confidence, and the adoration of His people.

every knee should bow. Thus to Christ does the Father assign the worship which He solemnly (Isaiah 45:23) under the old covenant claimed as specially His own. Thus God’s stamp is put upon what Christ had said of Himself, ‘I and my Father are one.’

of things in heaven. Of course the application is only to be made to such beings as can render worship; these in heaven are the angels, of whom it was said (Hebrews 1:6), ‘when he bringeth in the first begotten into the world he saith: And let all the angels of God worship Him.’

and things in earth. The human race, of whom Christ is to be owned for Lord, when all things are put under Him, and before He gives up the kingdom to the Father.

and of things under the earth. These are the spirits of the dead in the unseen world. That they were made conscious of the redemption wrought by Christ is to be inferred from many parts of the New Testament (cf. Colossians 4:9), and from such passages is drawn the teaching concerning Christ’s descent into Hades after His death. The sacrifice was for all those who by faith had rejoiced to see the day of Christ, and so we may not doubt that they were made sharers in the knowledge when the work of redemption was finished.

Erasmus had two misconceptions concerning this verse; he accepted the first clause as though it meant that at every mention of the name of Jesus the knees should bow, which, however reverent in act, is not the sense of the verse, but ascribes to the spoken word Jesus (as Calvin says) a magical effect, as though the power were in the sound. Erasmus also wrongly held that by ‘beings under the earth’ the demons were intended. Another equally false interpretation is that which applies the expression to the souls in purgatory.


Verse 11

Philippians 2:11. and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. There is not only to be done to him that reverence of the body which shall acknowledge His divinity, but with ‘the best member that they have’ men shall give to Jesus the Divine Name. The word translated ‘Lord’ is that by which ‘Jehovah’ is constantly rendered by the LXX. To call Christ by this name is to acknowledge and proclaim His unity with the Father.

to the glory of God the Father. For in the worship of Jesus is God the Father glorified. For Christ is by God highly exalted, and in acknowledging Him as Lord of all, they give glory to God, who has made Him ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’


Verse 12

Philippians 2:12. So, then, my beloved. The particle in the original is not equivalent to ‘on which account,’ or ‘wherefore,’ but merely the lighter conjunction by which an imperative or hortatory clause is attached to what has preceded.

as ye have always obeyed. This is the secret of all the joy in the Philippian Epistle. In the church there, his words, as spoken in Christ’s name, had ever been diligently followed. He had no cause for grief of any kind over them.

not as in my presence only. Do not only labour as you did when I was with you in the work of salvation. Their earlier zeal he had been witness of; he now begs that he may not find that his presence among them was necessary to sustain that zeal, but that they will prove it to have been of a true nature, a zeal for Christ, by their efforts while he is away from them, as in the nature of things he must constantly be.

but now much more in my absence. This would be the surest evidence, if the earnestness increased instead of abating when the apostle was absent.

work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. The apostle has in his thought for a moment the influence which perhaps his own presence or absence may exert on the congregation at Philippi. He would have them learn to be independent of him, and so he says, Work out your own salvation, and adds, because he knows the many dangers and temptations which will beset them, with fear and trembling, that he may impress on them the need for watchfulness and constant anxiety in this work. And he employs a verb expressive of complete and perfect accomplishment, that they may feel at now great results they are to aim. But in a moment, lest there should be any misapprehension of his meaning, and the Philippians should place trust in themselves, he adds a corrective.


Verses 12-18

Exhortations to advance in the way of salvation, to be lights in the world and a joy to the apostle, 12-18.

Having set before them the perfect example of Christ as an incentive to unity of mind, the apostle continues his exhortation, urging them to diligence in their Christian course, that they may prove themselves conscientious and worthy of the work which God has begun within them. Let them avoid murmurings and disputes, and thus by the light of their Christian example they may lead others from perverse ways, and may rejoice the apostle’s own soul with the feeling that he has not laboured in vain. If only they bring their faithful service as an offering to God, he will rejoice with them, and bids them rejoice also, even if his life-blood have to be poured out, as the libation poured over a victim in a sacrifice.


Verse 13

Philippians 2:13. for it is God which worketh in you. Thus only can your work have a beginning. The first movement comes from God. He bestows His quickening gift, and then you may improve what He has given by your earnest labour. So St. Peter (2 Peter 1:3-7) describes the groundwork of faith as the gift of God, to which, and in the strength of which, the struggling Christian may contribute grace after grace to the building up of the new man to the perfection of Christian love. And God’s work is in the soul of man; the evidence that men desire to foster that working is shown to the world by outward actions, and so this working may be called their own.

both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Even the wish to serve God comes from Himself, is roused first by Him in the heart of man; and when He has so awakened the mind, He bestows the energy, the working power, so that the wish may have its fulfilment. Yet still it is left to men to use, or leave unused, that power; with them rests that co-operation in the work which is needful before their salvation can be worked out. And God’s graces are bestowed because He willeth not the death of a sinner, but that all men should come to salvation. This is His good pleasure, and for the sake of its achievement. He is thus large in His bounty to men’s souls.


Verse 14

Philippians 2:14. Do all things without murmurings and disputings. Two hindrances are here contemplated to the right employment of the will and power which it is God’s good pleasure to bestow, There may rise within men a disappointment at the work to which God sends them, and thus they may murmur and complain instead of labouring as He intends; or they may stand still and not move, because they think more light should be vouchsafed before they make any attempt at progress. St. Paul’s own experience, and indeed that of all who walk as he walked, is that God does not always make all pleasing or all plain. Often men have to wait and be content with the message which St. Paul received, ‘Rise and enter into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.’ If they go in faith as the blinded apostle went, then the scales fall off.


Verse 15

Philippians 2:15. that ye may be blameless and harmless. The verb implies that the process will be a gradual one, ‘that ye may become,’ and the whole context makes its clear that the advance will be one which will make itself felt by others. ‘Blameless’ no doubt primarily before men, but also with the further sense of 1 Thessalonians 3:13, that they may be presented blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. ‘Harmless,’ the word used, Matthew 10:16, as a description of the Christian character, and explained, Romans 16:19, in such a way as to show that it is without any admixture of evil, pure,

children of God. As Dr. Lightfoot points out, the reference is to the description of the children of Israel (Deuteronomy 32:5) in the LXX. God had chosen them, but they behaved with so much murmuring and want of trust in the wilderness, that they are described as no longer His children, but full of spots and blemishes, a crooked and perverse generation. That the ‘children of God’ shall be known unto men by their works is declared by St, John (1 John 3:10), ‘they will do righteousness and manifest brotherly love’ the very marks on which St. Paul insists in this Epistle.

without blemish. The thought no doubt goes back to the description of the spotless victims which alone were fit to be offered to God under the old covenant, and which spake typically of the Lamb without blemish and without spot of the Christian covenant. As their Master was, so His followers must strive to be.

in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation. The spirit of Christianity is that Christ’s people are not concerned only for their own salvation, but that all men should come to the knowledge of Christ. For them, therefore, it is God’s intent that they should not be taken out of the world, but only be kept from the evil, and that their conduct should make them like the salt of the earth, a purifying and saving influence wherever they are.

among whom ye are seen as lights in the world. The word rendered ‘lights’ is found only here and Revelation 21:11 in the New Testament. In the LXX. it is used for the luminaries in the sky, and in classical writers for ‘windows’ through which light is admitted. The sense of ‘luminaries’ is no doubt that which St. Paul intended. Christians are to be the lights of the world, shining, however, with the reflected light of Him who is the only true light. The verb ‘ye are seen’ refers both to the duty of the servant of Christ to let his light shine, and also to the certainty that in the end such light will gain attention and attract followers. Men through it will come to glorify God.


Verse 16

Philippians 2:16. Holding forth the word of life. Here also there seems to be a double application possible of the verb ‘holding forth.’ It may mean ‘setting forth’ by your conduct, what the word of life has been able to do for you: how it has made your life a real one, and done it by directing you to the life eternal; or it may imply that Christians are to act the part of evangelists, and carry to others the glad tidings, from which they draw such joy for themselves. The ‘word of life’ in either case is the Gospel of Christ, showing itself in its effects, or preached by His messengers.

that I may have whereof to glory. This is a strong phrase, but somewhat frequent in St. Paul’s writings. When it is read in the light of its use in other places, such as ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,’ we can understand its meaning here. It is used in no sense of boasting over his own work, but in a sense of exultation over the victories won for Christ.

in the day of Christ. When He shall appear as judge, to take account of the work of all men.

that I have not ran in vain. Also a figure of frequent occurrence with St. Paul, and appealing to the feelings of the Gentiles, among whom races of all kinds were a frequent spectacle. His whole life was a race for souls, ‘If by any means I may save some.’ We may well understand then the feeling of exultation when he contemplates such a church as that which he had been privileged to found in Philippi.

neither laboured in vain. The word implies labour of great difficulty, and weariness, and is constantly applied by St. Paul to the toils which he and others underwent in their missionary journeys (2 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:9, etc.).


Verse 17

Philippians 2:17. Yea, and if I am offered. The literal meaning of the verb is, ‘to be poured as a drink-offering’ over a sacrifice. And the thought in St. Paul’s mind continues from the previous verse. I have laboured even to weariness, but I am ready to do more than this. I am ready to die, if my death would help to strengthen you in the faith. This he expresses by a figure familiar enough to the people among whom heathen sacrifices were common. In such sacrifices, that the offering might be rendered the more acceptable, wine was not unfrequently poured over the victim which was offered. The apostle is willing that his life should be looked upon in the same light, as ready to be spent in any way or sacrificed, if so be the cause of Christ may be helped thereby. It is not necessary, because the apostle has used the figure here, to suppose that he saw at the time of his writing any special danger of immediate death. On the contrary, in Philippians 2:24 of this chapter, he expresses a hope that he may soon come to Philippi. But we can see from a later use of this same verb (2 Timothy 4:6), ‘I am already being offered,’ that he counted his whole life as devoted in the daily sacrifice of all for Christ

upon the sacrifice and service of your faith. The word rendered ‘service’ here implies ‘a religious service,’ and seems to indicate that the apostle was regarding the Philippians as themselves the ministers in the offering of their works done in faith to God. Thus they brought their faith as the sacrifice, and were themselves the offerers. The preposition would have a slightly different force with the two nouns. The apostle is ready to be poured out on the sacrifice at the time when it is offered, if only it may be offered.

I joy and rejoice with you all. That St. Paul had reached that stage of the Christian advancement when be could say ‘to die is gain’ is seen from this Epistle. We need not then wonder at his joy over the prospect of departure, especially with such a thought to cheer him as the faith exhibited by his converts. That they should rejoice, and be encouraged by him to do so, is also natural, and makes up largely the theme of this present letter.


Verse 18

Philippians 2:18. and in the same manner do ye also joy and rejoice with me. There are two offerings in the contemplation of St. Paul: his own, as he is poured out on the sacrifice; the offering of the faithful lives of the Philippians which they themselves are to make. He does not intimate whether the power of Rome, or his own continued toils, shall be the agency employed to pour his life forth. But both offerings are subjects for joy. He cannot restrain his triumph at the one, and in like manner he bids his friends feel equal joy at the offering which he is making and being strengthened to make unto his Master.


Verse 19

Philippians 2:19. But I hope, in the Lord Jesus, to send Timothy shortly unto you. The verb is the same which is rendered ‘hope’ immediately in Philippians 2:23, and there is no need for any variation of rendering. ‘In the Lord Jesus’ is equivalent to ‘through the Lord Jesus,’ It was to Jesus he looked in all his need. Of Timothy the Philippians had knowledge already, since he had been there with Paul in the first visit, and we can imagine that the youthful disciple would have won him friends who would be glad to hear of the prospect of his visit. We have no intimation anywhere of the stages through which the hearing of St. Paul’s case at Rome passed, but he must have observed the tendency of events somewhat to be in his favour before he wrote this verse. There is nothing, however, to guide us very definitely to the date of the Epistle in those two years’ imprisonment, except the time which must have been spent in the journey of Epaphroditus, and in his labours in Rome and consequent sickness. We cannot be far wrong, in view of these various events, if we place the date of the Epistle in the latter of the two years.

that I also may be of good comfort, when I know your state. The comfort which the apostle seeks is that encouragement which would be drawn from a knowledge that the Philippians remained stedfast in the faith.


Verses 19-30

Of his intention soon to send Timothy, and of the immediate return of Epaphroditus, 19-30.

The apostle now turns to personal matters about which he is sure from their behaviour that they will be interested. I hope, he says, soon to be able to part with my companion Timothy and send him to you. He will bring me word of the condition of the Philippian church, and is truly attached to your welfare, since he was with me on my first visit. Others have interests of their own, he like a child treads faithfully in my steps, works in all things as I work. I do not know what turn my cause may take, but when that is known, I shall send him to you. And I am not without hope that I myself may be set at liberty and come to you soon. Your messenger, Epaphroditus, I send at once. Thus will your anxiety be relieved, and his mind be comforted. He has been at death’s door through his labours in my behalf. But God was merciful to me as well as to him, and spared him. When he arrives at home, treasure him much for his work’s sake.


Verse 20

Philippians 2:20. For I have no man like-minded. That is, like-minded with myself, whose soul equally with my own will be filled with affection and interest for you.

who will care truly for your state. This word ‘truly’ is used by Paul in another place of Timothy (1 Timothy 1:2), where he styles him ‘his true child in the faith.’ We can see then that the sense here is ‘genuinely,’ and the ‘care’ is that intense anxiety which St. Paul speaks of (2 Corinthians 11:28) as his own lot in ‘the care of all the churches.’ It is the thought which admits no rest till the object of it is quite secured, and hardly then, but finds new anxiety for itself.


Verse 21

Philippians 2:21. For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ. We find other times in St. Paul’s life when this bitter sense came upon him. So when he writes (2 Timothy 4:10-11), ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world . . . only Luke is with me.’ In the ‘things of Jesus Christ’ we must not only understand all that is connected with the preaching and advancement of the Gospel, but such matters also as most nearly concerned the apostle himself, the prisoner of Jesus Christ, as he elsewhere calls himself. In this we can see the reason why, till the course which events would take was better known, he could not suffer Timothy to leave him.


Verse 22

Philippians 2:22. But ye know the proof of him. No mention of what was done by Timothy at Philippi occurs in the Acts, but such events call forth display of character; and we may be sure that when St. Paul suffered, Timothy took all the share he could in what his ‘father in Christ’ had to bear. That his service showed a child’s faith and love we may gather from this verse.

that as a child serveth a father, so he served with me. Both services were rendered to God, therefore St. Paul writes he served with me; but that he may also express the obedience and self-surrender of Timothy, he describes it as service also yielded to himself in the most filial manner.

in furtherance of the gospel. The preposition is ‘unto.’ They were bond - servants unto the Gospel. Whatever, therefore, would advance its progress, it was their bounden duty to undertake, and in this work St. Paul found Timothy a labourer worthy to be set by his own side.


Verse 23

Philippians 2:23. Him therefore I hope to send forth-with. The adverb here implies that the prospect appeared very immediate. There must have been a constant fluctuation of mind for the apostle in this imprisonment, for he had arrived at Rome (Acts 28:21) before any charge against him had been forwarded to the Jewish community, and yet the manner in which he had appealed was sufficient warrant for keeping him in custody in expectation of the charges which might be laid against him.

so soon as I shall see now it will go with me. Of course, if he could let Timothy go to them, it would be because he did not need his presence so much, and that would indicate that his cause was going on satisfactorily. Something of this is also intimated in the Greek verb, which has the sense of seeing both clearly and to some distance forward.


Verse 24

Philippians 2:24. But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly. Here he uses the same adverb of his own coming which he had used in Philippians 2:19 of the sending of Timothy. We can see the great naturalness of the language here. As he writes of Timothy’s visit, his heart warms and his hopes rise at the thought, and soon he advances from ‘shortly’ to ‘forthwith,’ and looks forward to his own journey consequently as nearer at hand. Here, as before, he does not let his hopes obscure the thought that his coming or absence is in the hands of the Lord.


Verse 25

Philippians 2:25. But I counted it necessary. In our idiom we should say ‘I count,’ but the Greeks put their verbs in epistolary writing into the tense which would be true not only at the date of the writing, but also at the date of receiving the letter. We have no such indefinite tense, though some-times we use our present in a similarly indefinite way. It was necessary that Epaphroditus should be sent, for he would hardly recover thoroughly, while longing to go home; nor could the Philippians be happy till they saw again their messenger, whose work in their stead had cost him a severe sickness, and nearly his life. He must go back at once.

to send to you Epaphroditus my brother. The name only occurs in the N. T. here and at Philippians 4:18. There is another form of it (Epaphras) found in Epistles of this same time, Colossians and Phlippians; but as the apostle has written the name in this Epistle in the longer form, and in the other places in the shorter, we may almost surely conclude that different persons are intended. He is called ‘brother’ by St. Paul, as a member of the same Christian fellowship. The subsequent epithets rise to a higher level.

and fellow-worker. A title applied to those who, like the apostle, laboured for the spread of the Gospel by their missionary preaching. So it is used of Aquila and Priscilla (Romans 16:3), of Timothy (Romans 16:21), of Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23).

and fellow-soldier. Implies that a more devoted service still had been called for from those to whom the title is given. It is only found elsewhere applied to Archippus (Phlippians 1:2), on whom an important charge was laid which required good heed that he might fulfil it. It was not only work to do, but enemies to resist.

but your messenger. The Greek is the word ‘apostle,’ but it cannot have that restricted sense here, though some good authorities so render it. It is not given as a title except to the twelve, and those who like Paul and Barnabas were placed on the same level with the first apostles in the earliest days of the Church.

and minister to my need. The noun here signifies primarily ‘one who discharges some public function,’ and it is applied to magistrates, kings’ servants, and others; but it soon came to have a special signification, and to be used for one who performed religious services. This use of it has no doubt had some influence on the minds of those who would translate ‘apostle’ in the previous clause. The word appears in our English ‘liturgy,’ but almost certainly here signifies no more than that Epaphroditus was the representative of the Philippian Church in the mission to Rome. St. Paul may have selected the word, which had these various shades of meaning, to indicate that he felt the service done unto himself was in a sense a religious work, and done unto Christ’s cause as well as to the individual prisoner.


Verse 26

Philippians 2:26. Since he longed after you all. St. Paul testifies to the same longing in himself in Philippians 1:8.

and was sore troubled. The strength of this word will be recognised from its being used (Matthew 26:37; Mark 14:33) of Christ’s agony in the garden (Authorised Version, to be very heavy’), and nowhere else in the New Testament. Its strong character is not unsuited to the feelings of one who has been very sick at a distance from all his friends, and in his recovery feels that home is the only place in which he can thoroughly recover,

because ye had heard that he had been sick. There can be no question that a considerable amount of time must have elapsed since St. Paul came to Rome before these words were written. The Philippians first had to learn of the apostle’s need, to make their collection and send it. After this we cannot think that it was immediately on the arrival of Epaphroditus that he fell sick, for the apostle plainly implies that he had exerted himself and so brought on his sickness. This becomes known at Philippi, and the anxiety of his friends has been reported at Rome.


Verse 27

Philippians 2:27. For indeed he was sick nigh unto death. Such a sickness must also in all probability have extended over some time. And St. Paul’s words indicate that the report which the Philippians had heard had come short of the reality.

but God had mercy on him. The phrase is common in the Gospels in the petitions to be healed which men utter to Jesus. St. Paul does not consider that for all men it is a mercy to them that they be taken away, though he can say of himself that ‘to die is gain.’

and not on him only, but on me also. For there appears only to have been Epaphroditus and Timothy to whom the apostle could look with confidence at this time. To lose one at such a time would have been a crushing stroke.

left I should have sorrow upon sorrow. St. Paul does not mean by this that he would have had the sorrow of mourning over Epaphroditus’ death added to the grief which he had felt while he was sick. He rather regards his life as an heritage of sorrow, from which sorrow never departs, and he says that to this, his wonted grief, the death of his friend would have brought an addition of sorrow. That this was St. Paul’s view of his life we may see from Acts 20:23, where he declares that the Spirit bears him witness that in every city bonds and afflictions await him.


Verse 28

Philippians 2:28. I have sent him therefore the more diligently. That is, because of his longing to return, and because I desired that he should be restored to health, for which result this was the surest means. ‘Diligently’ indicates that St. Paul had allowed no time to elapse after the recovery of Epaphroditus before he sent him away. The whole language bespeaks the tenderness of the apostle both for the sick man and his friends at home. Though he found solace and help in his presence, he would keep him no moment longer than was needful.

that when ye see him again, ye may rejoice. The adverb is so placed that it seems as though it was meant to qualify the last verb as well as the first. Indeed, some have taken it with that verb rather than with the former. ‘Ye may again have joy,’ which is fled from you since ye heard the tidings of his sickness.

and that I may be the leas sorrowful. For he could not be without sorrow as long as he knew of the anxious friends in Philippi. When their messenger was among them once more, the weight on the mind of St. Paul would be lightened.


Verse 29

Philippians 2:29. Receive him, therefore, in the Lord with all joy. Therefore, that is, because I have been so zealous in sending him to you as soon as he was able to come, receive him joyfully. ‘In the Lord’ marks what he would have the reception to be. It would be joy of the whole church for the restoration to health and to them of a member whom they so prized. It would be a joy with thanksgiving because they had in mind how gracious the Lord had been in saving the life of their friend.

and hold such in honour. There were not many such to find, and so he specially intends, though not expressly saying so, to bid them set high store by Epaphroditus when he reached. This is clear from the next verse, which does not speak generally, but particularly of the good deeds which he had done.


Verse 30

Philippians 2:30. because for the work of Christ. There is some uncertainty whether the last two words be not an addition of later date. Some MSS. read ‘work of the Lord’ instead, and some omit them altogether. ‘The work’ is a New Testament phrase for the work of preaching the Gospel (see Acts 15:38). The sense is the same whether they be omitted or left in.

he came nigh unto death. The original expresses a very close approach. ‘He drew near, even unto death,’ expresses the fulness of the phrase, in which the verb alone expresses the proximity, and the preposition which could have been dispensed with is added to give emphasis to the danger in which the life of Epaphroditus had been. The same purpose is served by the ‘for indeed he was sick’ of Philippians 2:27.

hazarding his life. This is according to a slightly different reading from the Authorised Version, but which has the support of the older MSS. Neither the word of the received text, nor of the version here given, is found elsewhere in the New Testament. The former implies that he neglected to take counsel for the safety of his life, the latter that he willingly put it in jeopardy. From this word a name ‘Parabolani’ was taken in after times for those courageous persons who in the times of plague and pestilence took the position of watchers of the sick. Such a word gives a vivid picture of St. Paul’s opinion of the conduct of Epaphroditus. It represents him as encountering the labour and danger which attended on St. Paul’s circumstances with full free will, and an entire disregard of consequences to himself, such as only true devotion could supply.

to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me. St. Paul does not imply any blame upon the Philippians in the word ‘lack.’ They could not all come to Rome, nor could he experience the liberal attentions which would have been poured upon him had he been among them. The lack was inevitable. Epaphroditus came as the representative of many, and would fain have multiplied both his powers and services, that he might not only be the bearer of their bounty, but the impersonation of their united love. In his zeal to do this, a hopeless toil, he was worn out in body though not in heart. The knowledge of what his labours had been makes the apostle say: ‘Hold such in honour.’ He uses here also again that word for ‘service’ which marks it as a votive religious act, as well as that it was done by Epaphroditus as a duty imposed by his fellow-citizens.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/philippians-2.html. 1879-90.

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