Philippians 2 Study Notes


2:1-2 Four if statements in these verses form the basis of Paul’s appeal. These phrases express conditions that are assumed for the sake of argument. Both Paul and his readers will be inclined to believe the truth of these conditions. Make my joy complete, not “make Paul happy,” reminded them that their steadfastness completed God’s call on his life. Four actions on the Philippians’ part explain what Paul meant. Two verbs translate the Greek word phroneothinking and being intent on. Beyond mere “thinking,” this addresses values. The Philippians were to value the same way and with one purpose. Between these two, Paul included shared love and spirit.

2:3-4 Selfish ambition or conceit recalls the problem Paul condemned (1:15,17). Humility, the antidote for wrong attitudes, results in considering others as more important. Additionally, humility considers the interests of others. Proper relationships include the contrast “not only, but also.” Personal responsibilities demand consideration, but the concerns of others are equally important.

2:5-11 This passage has prompted various (Gk) kenosis (lit “emptying”) theories attempting to describe what Jesus gave up in coming to earth. The text illustrates Christian humility. Because of its rhythmic character, it is often considered an early hymn, including two stanzas—vv. 6-8 (on Christian humility) and vv. 9-11 (on Jesus’s ascension).

2:5 The phrase adopt the same attitude commands the church to value Christ’s character as a model.

2:6 The key thought of this verse is that Jesus did not consider (cp. v. 3) his own interests, thus allowing them to dominate his actions. Existing: The idea is “although existing,” since it presents an apparent obstacle for Jesus to overcome in becoming human. Form (Gk morphÄ“) suggests his complete deity. Equality with God indicates his coequality with God and separate personality (the second person of the Trinity). To be exploited is capable of two connotations. It can mean “to grasp” (steal), but because of Jesus’s deity it probably means “to clutch” (hang on to at all costs).

2:7-8 The phrase he emptied is much debated. Theologians ponder what Jesus emptied himself of. It is certain that he did not divest himself of deity or its attributes. Two statements accompany the verb. First, by assuming the form of a servant indicates that God the Son came to demonstrate true servanthood. Second, the likeness of humanity explains both emptying and servanthood. Two further statements explain the second verb humbled (cp. v. 3). First, when he had come as a man provides the time of his humility. “As a man” contrasts with the “form of God” (v. 6). Jesus was more than human, though he came to earth in the form of a man. Second, Jesus’s humility came through becoming obedient. Servants obey; Jesus obeyed God, even to the point of dying on a cross.

2:9-11 God is described as acting in these verses. Again, two verbs organize the thought. First, God highly exalted him (“super-exalted,” occurring only here) suggests that God gave Jesus a new position, although some take it as superlative (“to the highest”). Second, God gave him the name. This name that is above every name is Lord (kurios = Yahweh). Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess state one result of God’s exaltation. The posture and the confession imply submissive reverence. “Every” includes spatial dimensions: heaven . . . earth, and under the earth. Together they indicate the living and the dead (blessed and condemned). All bring glory to God. This teaches that Jesus mediates between God and humans. He is the focus of worship (Lord) and the administrator of God’s will on earth.

2:12-18 Three applications follow in this section: practical Christianity (vv. 12-13), positive steadfastness (vv. 14-16), and personal joy (vv. 17-18).

2:12-13 Obedience is directed to God, not Paul, who hoped his potential death would not dampen Christian enthusiasm. Work out means to apply salvation, not to earn it. Fear and trembling means to have proper respect in response to God’s blessing. True obedience comes from reverence, not fright. God . . . is working provides the deeper incentive: Christians are recipients of God’s initiatives of motivation and empowerment.

2:14-16 Grumbling and arguing come from selfishness and vainglory (1:15,17; cp. Dt 32:5). Blameless (complete Christian character) and pure (inoffensive living; cp. 1:10) introduce metaphors. First, believers are to be morally faultless in a world crooked and perverted by its failure to understand the word of God. Believers are straight models for distorted lives. Second, they are to shine like stars whose brilliance contrasts with the darkened world.

2:17-18 Drink offering recalls the OT sacrificial system. Paul was the substance being poured out for these believers. Sacrificial service recalls the offering and the ceremony. All of this brought Paul—and the Philippian believers—joy.

2:19-30 Paul in this section expressed his hope to visit some day, but he planned to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians immediately.

2:19-24 On Timothy, see note at 1:1a. Encouraged (lit “good souled”) means “cheered.” Like-minded (lit “equal souled”) means “soul mate or partner” in service. Paul characterized Timothy three ways: he genuinely cared for their interests (cp. vv. 1-4); he valued the things of Jesus Christ and others; and he had proven character (lit “tested by fire”), refined in the demands of the gospel ministry.

2:25-30 Epaphroditus shared Paul’s ministry (brother, coworker, and fellow soldier) and represented the church. Messenger and minister indicate that the church expected Epaphroditus to care for Paul in Rome. Traveling to Rome, Epaphroditus suffered a near-fatal illness. He felt he had failed Paul and the church. The words welcome him (“appropriately”) and hold people like him in honor reveal that Epaphroditus did not fail. He gave his best for the work of Christ. The words what was lacking refer to the churches’ care for Paul. Epaphroditus took it upon himself to make up that lack.