Thoughts About Philippians: 2:1-4.
The last paragraph of chapter one emphasizes the unity of the Spirit that Paul hopes will characterize the Philippians. Here, in the opening paragraph of chapter two, he continues this theme. He writes:
“1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not merely look out for your interests, but also for the interests of others.”
In verse 1 Paul names four conditions that lead to the Philippians being united. Each condition begins with the word “if,” but this word can be interpreted as “assuming.” Assuming that these conditions exist, then the Philippians have a basis for being united.
These four conditions refer to the relationship of the saints with Christ and the Spirit. First, the saints are encouraged by their union with Christ. Second, Christ’s love for them comforts them. Third, the saints have fellowship with the Spirit. Fourth, the saints experience Christ’s tender mercies and compassion. In another way, these same conditions exist in the relationships between saints. For example, “any fellowship of the Spirit” can refer to the fellowship engendered by the Spirit between the saints.
Given these conditions, Paul admonishes (verse 2) the Philippians to “make my joy complete by being of the same mind.” In verses 4-5 Paul tells them how to do this. Paul will be joyful when they act with humility, regarding one another as more important than themselves. Like all people, the saints have personal interests. Paul is not speaking against these interests. He is exhorting them to look out for the interests of others as well.
Thoughts about Philippians: 2:5-11.
In his letter to the Philippians Paul is deeply concerned about their need for unity. With the unity of the saints in mind, he writes a powerful passage about the attitude of Christ. This passage applies not only to unity but also to all aspects of life.
Unity cannot be achieved unless people are willing to be humble, to serve the needs of others, and to be concerned about their interests. When this attitude prevails among us, we have taken a long step toward reaching the ideal. When selfish interests are put aside, like-mindedness easily develops.
Paul exhorts the Philippians in verse 5 to have the same attitude as Christ. Then he includes a beautiful passage, Philippians 2:6-11, which is considered to be an early church poem or hymn. We notice two divisions, or movements, in the hymn: (1) verses 6-8 exalt Christ as the highest example of the humility and service advocated in 2:1-4, and (2) verses 9-11 present Christ as the One to whom every knee will bow.
The immediate context stresses the unity of the body of Christ and uses the hymn to illustrate the unifying attitude of Christ. However, verses 9-11 go well beyond the demands of the immediate context, and we can apply the hymn in other ways. We can, for example, apply the hymn to leadership. Christian leaders should have the attitude of Christ.
More Thoughts about Philippians: 2:12-18.
God at Work. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was deeply concerned about the unity of the saints. He wanted them to be as united when he was absent as when he was present. The saints had been obedient to the gospel whether Paul was present or absent. As he wrote, he was absent, but they would now have his letter.
Paul exhorts the saints to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in out, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (verses 12-13). He highlights both the divine and the human aspects of salvation. It is God who takes the initiative and graciously gives us salvation. We cannot earn salvation, but we are duty-bound to be reverently obedient to God. This is true of us individually and all of us collectively. When we individually do God’s will, we will be able to collectively work together. We may plan our way, but it is God who directs our paths.
Now, Paul tells the Philippians how to work out their salvation. They should do all things without “grumbling or disputing.” In so doing they would be children of God above reproach in a crooked and perverse generation. Moreover, as blameless and innocent children, they would appear as “lights in the world.” Their example, as they hold fast the Word of life, would shine brightly in a lost world.
When the saints properly work out their salvation, Paul will have “cause to glory” when Christ returns. Even though Paul is being poured out, possibly facing death, he shares his joy with them. Also, he urges them to share their joy with him.
One of the reasons why I am commenting on Philippians is that this letter speaks to people who are in the later years of their ministries. With Paul, they can be filled with joy over all those who have been encouraged through their ministries. The spiritual harvest will give cause to rejoice.
More Thoughts about Philippians: 2:19-30.
Paul and His Team. This passage is a break in the flow of exhortations that Paul gives the Philippians. Here, we get a good glimpse of Paul’s leadership, his relationship with two key team members, and his concern for the Philippians.
First, we will consider Paul and Timothy. Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy to them. He hopes to be encouraged about them when Timothy reports back about their condition. At this point, Paul writes about the strengths of Timothy (verses 20-23). Even though Paul is sending Timothy, he desires to come again to see them.
In this short passage, Paul expresses his high regard for Timothy. He honors Timothy for his loyal service and acknowledges Timothy’s commitment to the interests of Christ, and his service to Paul. Every leader can learn from this. Leaders need to acknowledge and honor the service of those who work with them. As leaders get older, they have a growing debt of gratitude to others.
Second, Epaphroditus is also one of Paul’s team members. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul to minister to his need. Epaphroditus had become sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, which implies that God healed him. When God healed Epaphroditus, he saved Paul from deep sorrow. Epaphroditus was distressed because the Philippians had heard of his illness. The result was that Paul sent Epaphroditus back to Philippi on his behalf. Paul exhorted the Philippians to receive him with all joy.
As with Timothy, Paul expresses much confidence in Epaphroditus. At the same time, Paul urges the Philippians to be receptive to him. In other words, he prepares the way for his team member to be warmly received. The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to Paul, so they already knew him, but even so, Paul encouraged the Philippians to accept him. Paul is a good model for leaders today.
George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.