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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Philippians 2

 

 

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Verse 1

2. Exhortation to unity, Philippians 2:1-2.

1. Therefore—Resumes the “standing fast in one spirit” of Philippians 1:27. Four distinct motives to perfect harmony are now urged, namely, the consolation found in union with Christ, the power of love in prevention of strife, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit as a basis of unity, and tenderness of feeling for brethren and compassion for them who err, all which the apostle assumes to exist among them, and in their individual hearts.


Verse 2

2. Fulfil… my joy—Paul’s joy in them he has shown, Philippians 1:4 : he now would have it made perfect by the reign among them of a spirit of unity.

That ye be likeminded—Rather, think the same thing, not in external matters, but in all the affairs of the Church on which they were called to form or express an opinion. This is not difficult to them who are moved by a mutual love.


Verse 3

3. Exhortation to self-forgetting love, Philippians 2:3-18.

3. Strife… vainglory—Here appears the real evil at which the apostle strikes, though this and the following verses are a continued expansion of the like-minded of the preceding verse. Heretical doctrines have made no inroad upon them, as in Galatia, nor is the Church torn by internal factions, as at Corinth; but certain opinionated, conceited, self-seeking individuals, confident of their own comparative excellences, and inconsiderate of others, were pushing themselves forward into prominence and high positions for selfish ends. They were bound to be first against all odds. Two or three such men in a Church of as many hundreds are often enough to destroy its power.

Strife—Party spirit.

Vainglory—Empty pride. A better spirit is lowliness, that true humility which, reversing the too common practice, is severe toward one’s own failings and lenient toward those of others, discovering their excellences and covering their defects.


Verse 4

4. Look not—A self-denying love of the brethren will consider their rights, opinions, claims, wishes, interests, as well as one’s own, and only where it prevails can true unity exist.


Verse 5

4. Illustration in the self-denial of Christ, Philippians 2:5-11.

a. His voluntary self-humiliation, Philippians 2:5-8.

5. This mind—Identity in disposition between them and Christ, especially in his self-denying sacrifice for others. This is the point for the illustration and enforcement of which the example of Christ is adduced. We may observe,

(1) That the incarnate Christ alone is here spoken of ought to be beyond all question. He existed in the form of God before he took the form of a servant. His becoming man was preceded by a self-divestiture, and this again by thinking a certain thing no robbery. It is, then, the pre-existent Christ whose action in self-humiliation is here described; and we have before us, in succession, his ante-mundane glory, his voluntary abasement, and his subsequent exaltation.

(2) The form of God cannot mean his divine nature or essence, although its possession is implied, because in taking humanity he did not put off his Godhead; nor his extraordinarily miraculous powers, for he retained them in his incarnate state; nor yet again his attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, for he did not divest himself of them. It is rather the majesty and glory in which God dwells and appears to the eyes of the angels, manifesting his infinite perfections, the splendour and visible “light which no man can approach;” (1 Timothy 6:16;) the glory which Christ had with the Father “before the world was,” (John 17:5,) with the myriads of attending angels, the worship and honour paid him, and his whole state of heavenly royalty.

(3) That Christ is equal with God is here an asserted fact. He who has the form of God must be on an equality with him in every respect, and especially in the possession of this form, which is the particular thing in contrast with the form of a servant which he chose instead.

(4) Thought it not robbery, etc.—This clause is better translated, he deemed not his being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped at, that is, grasped and exclusively retained for himself. Christ had a clear right both to his Godhead, and the glorious mode of manifesting himself in which the inhabitants of heaven were wont to see him. Equally clear was his right to retain that glory and to appear the God forever. Had he been moved by selfishness instead of love—had he looked only on his own things and not also on the things of others—he would have held fast his glorious state, and appeared on earth in all his majesty. This is just what he did not do. Conceive him as deciding whether he will retain his glory or become man, and we see him thinking the glory a thing not to be seized and firmly held, if by laying it aside he can better save men. His self-denying motive is thus apparent.

(5) Instead of an eager clinging to his right of his majestic glory in an appearance among men, he, on the contrary, made himself of no reputation, or, better translated, he emptied himself. But of what did he empty himself? Not his divine nature—not his essential equality with God—not his attributes—not his absolute right to his glory: of these he could not divest himself. He did not cease to be God, but he laid aside, phenomenally, the form of God, vailing his ineffable glory, hiding his awful majesty, and foregoing the exhibition of himself to men as God.

(6) The mode and extent of this self-divestiture appear in the contrast of his assumed with his previous condition. He had the form of God, he took the form of a servant of God instead. His appearance before men was as a servant who obeys, and not the Infinite King who commands. Still further, he was made in the likeness of men. Jesus of Nazareth was true man, but the eternal Logos took that humanity upon him.

(7) The description thus far is of the condescension of our Lord from his pre-mundane glory to his self-emptying in his incarnation. It is now of his self-humiliation after having taken humanity and vailed his glory, that is, as the incarnate Logos. In this state, with all the outward semblance of a man, he humbled himself yet further, by becoming obedient to the will of God unto the suffering of death; and, as if this were not going sufficiently low, even to the death of the cross, the severest in pain and the most revolting in its shame. Higher than he was he could not be; to a lower depth of humiliation he could not go. A more powerful argument against “strife,” “vainglory,” and all self-seeking could not be framed.


Verse 9

b. The exaltation given because of this humiliation, Philippians 2:9-11.

9. Wherefore—In compensation for this self-emptying and self humiliation, God the Father highly exalted him in his ascension after his resurrection, and enthronement as universal King. It is the Son incarnate, the God-man, that is thus exalted, the humanity entering with the eternal Logos, from whom it is henceforth forever inseparable, into the glory once laid aside but now resumed.

Name—Simply Jesus. This name of his humiliation is now the name of his glory. The name that was once the jest of the scoffer is made the highest in the universe.


Verse 10

10. Should bow—The object of this exaltation is, that universal homage should be rendered the God-man, every knee bowing at his name in submission to his authority. Angels in heaven, men on earth, and demons under the earth, are expected soon or late, willingly or unwillingly, to recognise his high position.


Verse 11

11. Confess—The thing to be confessed is the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ. Men hated, persecuted, and killed him; and in every age they reject him: Satan tempted and would have destroyed him, and, with his legions of devils, still contests the question of the sovereignty of the earth. But all haters and opposers of him will finally, in love or in fear, confess that the Jesus of the cross is Lord of the universe, and to him the unwilling knee will, in the day of coming judgment, be compelled to bow. Such honour done to Jesus, and such acknowledgment of his Lordship, will redound to the glory of God the Father, whose Son he is, and who has thus exalted him.


Verse 12

5. Exhortation applying Christ’s example, Philippians 2:12-16.

12. Wherefore, my beloved—Reminding them of their habitual obedience to him, the apostle exhorts them, now that he is not present to help them, to great care in working out each one his own salvation until it is complete in heaven. The emphatic words are, with fear and trembling, the opposite of the secure, self-sufficient spirit rebuked in previous verses, and the murmurings and disputings below. Salvation begun is not salvation finished. The work must be carried on to the end, by our own diligent, careful labour, with unfaltering purpose and unremitting zeal. An exaltation to Christ’s right hand is given only to those possessing his unselfish spirit.


Verse 13

13. God… worketh in you—One of the strongest reasons for our working.

Both to will… do—Both the willing and working, and the one as truly as the other. The volition and execution of it in action are our own, the working in us, that we may resolve and act, is God’s. Our working does not, on the one hand, proceed from ourselves unassisted and uninfluenced by him; and on the other, his working is not of a nature that precludes the necessity of our working. God, then, does not create in us the volition, or necessitate the acting; for, then, they would be his and not ours, except mechanically and unrewardably, and the exhortation to work out, etc., would be as proper as if a bell were exhorted to ring when it is struck. Underlying the passage is the well-known truth that a gracious ability to repentance and holiness is given to all men through the atonement, and while this is inferable from what is said, it is not here affirmed. The Philippians were using this power and had entered upon the way of salvation. Over and above the power just named, and the added power through their new nature and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, they are receiving special influences inciting them to fresh resolution and action in pushing through the life they have begun. The statement is more than God works. Emphasize God, and the meaning is, it is God, and nobody less; your God and Father, who is quickening your thoughts, moving your hearts, stirring your consciences, and rousing your wills; and since he is so earnest, be you earnest also. Add to this the divine motive, of his good pleasure; on which see notes, Ephesians 1:9.


Verse 14

14. All things—Without exception.

Murmurings—Petty faultfindings, and sullen grumblings about what is or is not said and done. Disputings soon follow murmurings, and both are death to love. They live not with the mind which was in Christ. Destroy selfishness and they die.


Verse 15

15. Blameless and harmless—Better, pure in character.

Sons— Recognised by others as true children of God, without rebuke, unblamable in life.

Lights—Christians are among wicked, insincere, gainsaying men, as the sun and moon in the world, shedding light by their manner of life upon its deep darkness.


Verse 16

16. The word of life—The gospel. Not only ministers, but private Christians, teaching its doctrines, pointing to its salvation, living in its purity, and illustrating its power in their conduct, are holding it forth, and diffusing its light.

Run in vain—The figure is of the race-course, where the contestant puts forth his best powers, and yet loses the prize.


Verse 17

c. Paul’s joy in their fidelity, Philippians 2:17-18.

17. If I be offered—Better, if I am even being poured out. The apostle hoped to live and witness their progress, but remembering the danger in which he stood, and the possibly near termination of his career, he rejoices even in that supposition. He seems to himself to be as a priest ministering at the altar, presenting the faith of the Philippians as a pure sacrifice to God, and, as he is in the act, he is suddenly slain, and his blood pours forth upon the sacrifice. So his death by martyrdom would be an offering poured forth upon their faith.


Verse 18

18. Do ye joy—Such a death he anticipates with holy joy, and he would have them look at it for him with a like spirit, even counting it an honour that his blood accompanies the offering of their faith.


Verse 19

IV. THE APOSTLE’S PLANS, Philippians 2:19-30.

1. The sending of Timothy, Philippians 2:19-24.

19. But I trust in the Lord—Looking for an escape from the present danger, he hoped, through God’s permission, to soon send Timothy to them, who, from personal observation, would be able on his return to Rome to report their true condition, which would be to him a source of great comfort, as the news of himself in this epistle would be to them.


Verse 20

20. No man likeminded—That is, with the apostle, of the sort that would really feel an anxious, self-sacrificing interest in their affairs. A precious compliment to Timothy, but a sad commentary on the rest. Yet more sad is the reason.


Verse 21

21. All seek their own—Their own things, instead of Christ’s. Who are embraced in this severe censure does not clearly appear. Of the six besides Timothy who were with the apostle a few months previously, (Colossians 4:10-14,) it is fair to believe that they all, as was certainly true of some, were now absent from Rome. Even the love of Demas for “this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10) may have been of a later date. But of all those with him who were at all adapted to a mission of this nature, only one had no selfish interest to plead. Timothy alone sprang eagerly to the front. Verily, if this is a fair picture of the average ministry of the first century, the average ministry of the evangelical Church of to-day is at least its full equal in devotedness, zeal, and entireness of consecration. But the apostle’s standard is the true ideal.


Verse 22

22. The proof—Timothy’s conduct under their own eyes during his six years pastorate among them, (Acts xvi,) fully showed them his true character, especially in his joint service with the apostle to the cause of the gospel.

As a son… father—Lovingly, devotedly, and as if working for himself, did he give himself to his spiritual father for the work of Christ.


Verse 23

23. Presently—Forthwith, after ascertaining Nero’s decision in his case.


Verse 24

24. Shortly—If the decision should be favourable, he would send Timothy at once, and soon afterward come personally. But his confidence as to the matter is in the Lord, and not in Nero.


Verse 25

2. Sending Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:25-30.

25. Necessary—Paul will send Epaphroditus forthwith. Of him we know only what is stated here. He cannot be identified with the Epaphras of Colosse. Paul styles him his brother in the sonship to God, his fellow labourer in the ministry of the gospel, and fellow soldier in the warfare for Christ. He had come to Rome as a messenger sent by this Church, bringing the apostle a gift of money from them, and had remained in personal attendance upon him. He was doubtless a minister in that Church.


Verse 26

26. For he longed—This was the chief reason for his immediate return. Through overwork (Philippians 2:30) in his loving offices to the apostle, and, perhaps, in preaching, he had fallen dangerously sick; the Philippians heard of it, and he knew they had heard of it. This knowledge created in him great mental distress and an intense desire to go home. Whether this was wholly because his great love would relieve them from anxiety, or from some apprehended trouble there, we cannot say. We evidently have not all the facts.


Verse 27

27. Sorrow upon sorrow—His imprisonment brought him grief enough; the death of Epaphroditus, his congenial friend and brother, would have been an additional sorrow to him, the greater because it was in rendering him assistance. In mercy to himself then, as well as to his sick friend, and, doubtless, in answer to his own intercessions, was the restoration to health.


Verse 28

28. More carefullyMore speedily. Whatever would cause them joy, would diminish his own trouble, so deep was his sympathy with them.


Verse 29

29. Receive him—Give him a welcome warm with Christian love and manifestations of gladness. Such men as he, full of self-denial and labour, are worthy of the highest esteem of the Church. The apostle had cautioned them against overvaluing self: this is, perhaps, a caution against a tendency to undervalue others.


Verse 30

30. For the work of Christ—Such it was, for, done to his apostle, it was done to Christ. The money-gift which he had brought is spoken of as their service, but it had the lack of their personally presenting it. This personal service Epaphroditus rendered in fulfilment of their commission, and in so doing he in some way so exposed his life that it resulted in bringing him to death’s door. Such a reason, by all their love for Paul, entitled him to a hearty welcome on his return.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Philippians 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/philippians-2.html. 1874-1909.

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Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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