Exhortation to Unity (2:1-4)
1-2 In these verses, Paul pleads urgently with the Philippians that there might be unity among them. In one way, all Christians are united in Christ; that is, they are all members of His body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:13,27). But in their daily lives, especially in their behavior toward each other, Christians do not act as if they were united. Just as two brothers, though of one family, can be divided against each other, so the members of a church, though of one spiritual family, can be divided against each other in their behavior.
For this reason Paul exhorts the Philippians to be like minded and to be one in spirit and purpose (verse 2). We must be like-minded in all major matters. On small, secondary matters it is all right to have different opinions; but even though our opinions on small matters may differ, we still must remain one in spirit and purpose. We must make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
To be like-minded and one in spirit, we must have the same goal and purpose: namely, to love and obey Christ, and to glorify Him. This must be the life-purpose of each one of us. But, of course, to achieve this purpose, there are many different means (see 1 Corinthians 1:10 and comment).
In verse 1, Paul mentions four blessings that all Christians should experience through the Holy Spirit: encouragement from being united with Christ … comfort from his love … fellowship with the Spirit … tenderness and compassion. Paul knows that the Philippians have already received these blessings. They have experienced the working of the Holy Spirit in their midst. If this is so, then let them act as if they were united. If they have truly received the Holy Spirit, let them act as if they have received the Spirit! Let them share with each other these blessings of the Spirit. If the Philippians will do this, they will make Paul’s joy complete.
When Jesus looks at our church today, what gives Him joy? Our programs? Our work? Our church’s size? No, not these things. What gives Him joy is our unity.6Therefore, let us be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
If we have no unity of mind, we shall have no unity in our work. Unity arises out of a personal love and closeness between brothers and sisters in the church. If we say we are united spiritually, but there is no personal unity among us, our so-called “spiritual unity” is meaningless. Just as good works are the proof of our faith (James 2:14,17-18), so our loving acceptance of one another is the proof of our unity.
3 In order to preserve and maintain our unity, the most important quality we need is humility. Whenever there is a personal division between brothers or sisters in the church, the main cause will almost always be pride. Pride usually remains hidden in our minds; thus we cannot see our own pride. Because of our inner pride, we give offense to others. Not only that, because of our inner pride we also take offense at others. It is because of pride that our feelings are hurt or we feel slighted. Therefore, when it comes to both giving offense and taking offense, pride is the major cause (see Ephesians 4:2).
It is not enough to consider others equal with ourselves; we must consider them better than ourselves (see Romans 12:10). We must judge our own faults and sins severely; but we must look on our brother’s sins and weaknesses with sympathy and understanding.
4 We should look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. What are these interests that we should look to? They are the needs, the welfare, of others (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:24,33; Galatians 6:2). Paul doesn’t mean here that we must always be interfering in the affairs of others or trying to dominate them. Rather, he means that we should seek every opportunity to help and encourage others.
The Example of Christ (2:5-11)
5 The greatest example of humility is Jesus Christ Himself. Even though He was the highest man of all—yes, even God Himself—He nonetheless lowered Himself and made Himself a servant for our sakes. Let the attitude that was in Christ be also in us!
6-7 Christ is in very nature God. This means that God’s entire nature, character, and qualities are in Christ. But even though Christ was equal with God, He voluntarily emptied Himself of all these divine qualities and made himself nothing. Even though He was fully God, He became fully man. That is, He took the nature of a man—indeed, the nature of a servant (see Mark 10:43-45; 2 Corinthians 8:9 and comments).
Christ did not have to grasp His equality with God; it was His to begin with. Christ was and is equal with God; He is God. An heir doesn’t have to grasp at his inheritance; it is his; it has been preserved for him.
Christ came to earth in human likeness (verse 7). Christ was a man like us in every way—except for one thing: He never sinned (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15).
But even though Christ was in human likeness while He was on earth, He didn’t stop being God. For it was God Himself who came to earth in the form of the man Christ. God and Christ are one (see John 1:1,14; 10:30 and comments; General Article: Jesus Christ).
8 Christ not only took the nature of a man; He made Himself even lower than that. He allowed Himself to be killed on a CROSS as a criminal. In Christ’s time, to be put to death on a cross was the most contemptible thing that could happen to a man. The Romans used to crucify only the worst criminals on crosses. There was nothing lower than a crucified criminal. And yet Christ came down from the highest position of all and put Himself in the lowest position of all—for our sakes.
9-11 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place. It was because Christ had first lowered Himself that God exalted Him (Matthew 23:12; James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6). That highest place is at the right hand of God in heaven, where Christ is now seated (see Ephesians 1:20-23; Hebrews 1:8-9 and comments).
At the end of the world, every knee (every person)—whether living or dead, whether a believer in Christ or an unbeliever—will bow (verse 10); and every tongue (every person) will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Shining as Stars (2:12-18)
12 For us, Christ is not only an example of humility, but also of obedience (Philippians 2:8; Hebrews 5:8). Here Paul exhorts the Philippians to be obedient. When Paul says, continue to work out your SALVATION, he means that we must obey Christ and do God’s will. We must continue to follow Christ’s example. Our lives must become more and more holy. Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). This is what it means to work out [our] salvation.
We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are weak and sinful. We stumble and go astray. We need to “fear” our own sins and weaknesses. Just as a child is afraid of displeasing his father, so we need to be afraid of displeasing God.7 Because one day we are going to be judged by Jesus Christ for everything we have done in this life (2 Corinthians 5:10). We must continually confess to God our weakness and unworthiness. But at the same time we must continually praise and thank God for His grace, by which we have been declared worthy and righteous in Christ.
13 We cannot “work out our salvation” by our own strength. Only because God is working in us are we able to do so (John 15:5). God not only gives us the strength to do His will; He also gives us the desire to do it. Yes, we are the ones that must carry out His will; we are the ones that must actually do the work. But it is only through God’s grace and strength that we can do it. Everything we do is done by the grace of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). To God goes all the praise!
But remember this: We are free to reject God’s grace. We can refuse to obey God’s will. We can continue in sin without repenting. That is dependent on us; that is our choice. But if we choose to accept God’s grace and to obey Him, then God has promised to help us.
Let us examine our hearts. Is there any area of our life in which we are refusing to obey God? Let us repent of that disobedience. Let us not despise the grace of God!
14 In God’s sight, our inner minds and spirits are far more important than our outward actions (1 Samuel 16:7). There must be no silent complaining or arguing in our minds and spirits. Because that is really the same as complaining and arguing against God. And when we complain and argue against God, we are rejecting His grace and His will for our lives.
15 If there is no complaining or arguing in our minds and spirits, then we shall be blameless and pure. We were chosen, as God’s children, to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4). If we are blameless and pure in our inner minds and spirits, then we shall also be blameless and pure in our outward behavior. The holiness of our outward behavior is both the proof and the result of our inward holiness.
Let us examine ourselves. Are we blameless and pure? Do we shine like stars in the universe? That is Paul’s hope and expectation for the Philippians. And it is also Christ’s hope and expectation for us (Matthew 5:14,16; Ephesians 5:8).
16 Not only must we “shine like stars” for other men to see, but we must also hold out8 the word of life for other men to hear. The word is Christ’s word, which gives life (John 6:63). The word is also the Gospel, which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). However, there is little use in our preaching the word of Christ to others if the light of Christ is not visible in our lives.
If the Philippians “shine like stars” and proclaim the word of life, then Paul’s labor among them will not have been in vain. He will be able to boast about the Philippians on the day of Christ (see Philippians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
17-18 The Philippians have already been offering to God their sacrifice and service (verse 17). Now, in addition to their sacrifice, Paul may have to offer his own life as a sacrifice. But he is happy to do so. He may be about to receive the death sentence. But even though he is sentenced to death, Paul can be glad and rejoice that, through his death, Jesus Christ will be glorified (Philippians 1:20). Whether Paul is sentenced to death or not, let the Philippians rejoice with him!
Timothy and Epaphroditus (2:19-30)
19 Timothy helped Paul establish the church at Philippi (Acts 16:1-3). At the time Paul wrote this letter, Timothy was with him in Rome (Philippians 1:1).
Paul hopes in the Lord to send Timothy to Philippi. All Paul’s hopes are in the Lord (verse 24). But whatever the Lord wills, Paul is ready to accept (see James 4:13-16).
20-22 Why was Timothy such a valuable colleague for Paul? Because Timothy was always looking out for the interests of others, for the welfare of others. Timothy cared deeply for the Philippians. Timothy had served with Paul as a son with his father (verse 22). Notice that Paul doesn’t say here that Timothy “served” him, but rather that Timothy “served with” him. Timothy did not serve Paul; rather, together with Paul, he served Christ.
Paul writes that everyone else looks out for his own interests; that is, they selfishly seek first their own advantage in everything. Timothy was not like that. Timothy looked out for Christ’s interests first of all.
How many people like Timothy are there in our church? Whose interests do we look out for first—ours or Christ’s?
23-24 Timothy will be able to give news to the Philippians about how things go with [Paul]—that is, whether he is released or sentenced to death. Paul is confident in the Lord that he will be released and will be able to come to the Philippians himself (Philippians 1:25).
25 Epaphroditus was a Philippian, who had been sent to Rome by the church in Philippi to give help to Paul and to bring Paul a gift from the church (Philippians 4:18). Epaphroditus stayed for some time in Rome with Paul; that’s why Paul calls him my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier.
26-28 While he was in Rome, Epaphroditus became ill. When the Philippians heard about it, they were greatly worried. After his recovery, Epaphroditus wanted to return to Philippi so that he could dispel the anxiety of the Philippians on his behalf. For the Philippians’ sakes, Paul was willing to let his helper Epaphroditus go.
29-30 All those who risk their lives for Christ deserve the respect of other Christians. It was always Paul’s custom to give honor to each servant of Christ. Paul always speaks well of all those who serve Christ faithfully.
Paul writes that Epaphroditus risked his life to make up for the help you (the Philippians) could not give me (verse 30). Paul means that since all the Philippians could not personally come to Rome to help Paul, they had sent their representative Epaphroditus to do what they could not do in person.