DIGGING IN THE WORD: PHILIPPIANS 2
2:2 Paul pleads for the community to live in harmony; notice the unitive phrases: ‘same’ mind, ‘united’ in heart, thinking ‘one’ thing. He uses the word ‘harmony’ in Romans 15:5, which he claims is “in keeping with Christ Jesus,” and in 1 Corinthians 1:10 the urge is that the whole community “agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you,” and that they be ‘united’ in the ‘same’ mind and in the ‘same’ purpose. There is no doubt that unity within the community is an ideal at the heart of the Christian life; division and strife, on the contrary, are shameful.
2:3 “Regard others as more important than yourselves.” This is a fiercely difficult piece of advice to learn and attain. However, we must admit that if it is a counsel of divine revelation, then it is possible; therefore, we must strive to obtain the reality. A lesser form of regard, that of equality, is given to attain in Romans 12:10, where Paul writes for us to “love one another with mutual affection,” and to “anticipate one another in showing honor. For sure, we are to avoid the lack of regard which is vicious, which Paul warns against in Galatians 5:26: “Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.” This lofty challenge to “regard others as more important than yourselves” is rarely approached by the New Testament authors in such a stark way, but it is a fitting preparation for the deep and eloquent language which he is getting ready to employ in the following verses.
2:4 The practical way of implementing the counsel of verse three is by focusing on others rather than self. This same theme is touch upon in 1 Corinthians 10 with regard to food, drink, and other customs, and Paul’s words are that “no one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24). See also Romans 15:2, which reads: “let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up.” Late in this second chapter of Phillipians, Paul will praise Timothy for being such a good example, in contrast to other, who “all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Paul makes his own claim to strive for this same kind of other-focused living at the end of chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, in verse 33: “I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” This way of thinking and acting for others even finds its way into the great hymn of love in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, where love “does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:4).
2:5 Jesus is our model in all things, especially in humility, which is exposed here. Jesus is equal to the Father, yet He assumed a human nature and lived a human life. A prayer from the Holy Mass, during the mixing of the water with wine, is appropriate here: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” It is by the humility of Jesus that we are raised to the heights of divine life.
2:6 The three persons of the Holy Trinity share equality: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all equally God. Here we see clearly written that Jesus holds that same equality with the Father. Saint John states this divine equality at the beginning of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Later in John’s gospel, Jesus Himself speaks to His Father: “Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Paul sees that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Paul writes that Jesus is equal to the Father in Colossians 2:9: “For in Him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily.” The writer to the Hebrews places Jesus on the same level as the Father in chapter 1: “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (verse 2) and “who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being” (verse 3).
Jesus is the New Adam, accomplishing what the first Adam could not. As Adam reached out to be equal to the Father, explained to us by the seducing snake in Genesis 3: “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” Therefore, as the New Adam, Jesus did not grasp for this equality, but humbled himself.
2:7 Jesus took on a human nature. This is such an extremely awesome reality that language of ‘emptying’ and ‘slave’ are employed to try to capture the staggering event of the Incarnation. Human words cannot grasp fully what this was like for the divine Son of God to assume a human nature. It seems like the divine person empties himself of all the heavenly properties in his human existence. To be limited in time and space, to experience what humans experience, this seems like a slavery for a divine being. This divine Person, in his human form would experience the rejection and pain of humanity. Isaiah prophesied that the messiah to come would be “spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). Later in Isaiah’s prophecy, we see that this man would experience a sort of slavery, being called a servant: “My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear” (Isaiah 53:11). The divine Son of God truly assumed a human nature, as John writes: “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This mystery is furthered shared in verse 3 of Romans chapter 8: God, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” 2 Corinthians approaches this exchange when Paul writes: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This human birth is explained in Gatlatians: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4). The reason why Jesus took a human nature is explained in Hebrews: “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Hebrews 2:14-15). A little further, the writer continues: “Therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
2:8 Jesus, who as God cannot die, in his humanity is capable of tasting death. If this is not enough, He chose to die by a most embarrassing and excruciating death. This humility of God for you should cause you to stop and kneel down. The difficulty of the saving task of Jesus caused Him to pray to His Father when he says “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus lists this as a reason for the Father’s love: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (John 10:17). Jesus has always been the Son of the Father, as Hebrews states “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Jesus was able to see past His death to the new life He would take us into: “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
2:9 Due to the great humility shown, the Father lifted His Son to a great height of glory. The Son of the Father received the name Jesus when He was born of the Virgin Mary. He has always been Lord, but receives it anew due to His death and resurrection and victory of death, sin, and satan. Jesus has been “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Jesus Himself had already taught us that “whoever exalts himself will be humbles; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Paul writes to the Ephesians of what the Father has done “in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). Hebrews speaks to this exaltation: “When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3-4).
2:10 Isaiah had written that every knee should bend and every tongue would confess: “By myself I swear, uttering my just decree, a word that will not return: To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). This is fulfilled in Jesus in these verses of Paul. The book of Revelation sees this comprehensive exaltation as well. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). Jesus and the Father are to receive the same glory, as Jesus states in regard to judgment: “so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). This name of Jesus is praised by Peter as he declares that “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
2:11 Christians are to give glory to the Father by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Many people say something like “I believe in God.” As true as that is, Christians are to go further than that statement by declaring in the world that they believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Acts recounts that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Paul instructs us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in Romans: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to this confession, as it is written: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
2:12 Paul instructs the community to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.” It seems that this use of terms indicates seriousness so that their status among the elect remains unshaken. Psalm 2 makes use of the same terms in its address to kings: “And now, kings, give heed; take warning, judges on earth. Serve the LORD with fear; exult with trembling, accept correction lest he become angry and your perish along the way when his anger suddenly blazes up” (Psalm 2:11). Paul himself presented himself to the people of Corinth “in weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). Paul speaks of the Corinthians reception of Titus in the same way: Titus “remembers the obedience of all of you, when you received him with fear and trembling” (2 Cor 7:15).
2:13 This verse is quite the clip to us. We oftentimes think that we are not able to do something, but at least we boast of our desire to do it. Even the desire to do something comes from God’s creative chambers. Recall 1:6, where “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” Of all the acts of Christians, it is “God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:6). Paul, while reporting about all the work he had done, does not finish without crediting God for accomplishing it in him: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2:14 This is a very clear verse, but very difficult to carry out. Grumbling and questioning are adolescent traits and should be rooted out through parenting. Never-the-less, they oftentimes aren’t and become snares in adulthood. Therefore, Paul feels the need to write about these very traits. Paul recounts the errors of the people involved in the stories of Israel’s exit from Egypt in 1 Corinthians, and we see that both grumbling and questioning got them in a lot of trouble. “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
2:15 Christians are to be distinguished from the ‘generation’. We live in a crooked and perverse generation just as they did, and we must not behave as the generation behaves, but as the Gospel demands, and as grace provides. This difference is highlighted throughout the New Testament: by Our Lord in Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves”; also by Peter in Acts 2:40, where he says “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” The holiness of the Christian, characterized by words such as ‘blameless’ or ‘light’, is repeated in places such as 1 Thessalonians 3:13 “to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden,” with more in verse 16 “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father,” and in Ephesians 5:8-9 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
2:16 To “hold on to the word of life” indicates that they are walking in the knowledge of the Gospel, with all that entails. Paul turns again to the 2nd coming of Jesus, which should always be in our minds as it governs our lives, and claims that his boasting on that day will be whether souls are saved or not. He writes in a way which tugs at any pastor’s heart in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 “For what is our hope or joy or crown to boast of in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming if not you yourselves?” and in the next verse: “For you are our glory and joy.” This theme goes both ways in 2 Corinthians 1:14: “as you have come to understand us partially, that we are your boast as you also are ours, on the day of our Lord Jesus.” Paul uses the image of a crown as well: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). The connection between souls going to Heaven and the day of the Lord’s coming should not be lost on us. Paul sees it as that which matters.
2:17 The language used here must be understood as lifted from Jewish worship. Jewish priests offered sacrifices, libations would be any number of liquids which would flow or be poured out on or around or in connection to the altar of sacrifice. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, His Precious Blood being the libation poured out for the salvation of the many. Paul employs this language to communicate his own sacrificial life and vocation, even to the point of offering his own life. He makes use of this sort of priestly language in Romans 15 when he writes of his vocation “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable” (Romans 15:16), and he writes of his pending martyrdom in 2 Timothy 4:6 “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
2:18 Paul, having explained the extent of his example, now calls upon the Christian community to imitate his attitude, most likely having not gone through the same difficulties as him. In verse 17 he says that he rejoices and shares his joy, so also they should rejoice and share their joy. We see again why Philippians is known as the ‘epistle of joy’. 16 times at least the word joy or rejoicing is used in this quite short epistle.
2:19-24 The whole church is encouraged by hearing of others walking and standing firm in the Lord. Timothy is one of Paul’s closest associates, as is seen in Acts 17: 14-15 “The brothers at once sent Paul on his way to the seacoast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.” Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Timothy’s importance: “For this reason I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord; he will remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach them everywhere in every church” (! Corinthians 4:17); “If Timothy comes, see that he is without fear in your company, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am” (1 Corinthians 16:10). Paul sees that Timothy is completely at the service of the building up of the Christian community in Philippi (v.20); at the same time he writes against those who are not completely at the service of the mission (v.21). See 2 Timothy 4:9-10, where Paul wants to be reunited with Timothy, and speaks against a certain Demas: “Try to join me soon, for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica.” Paul sees himself as a father to Timothy (v.22). Timothy is a model for all times, and especially our day, that bishops and priests are to ‘serve alongside’ each other ‘in the cause of the gospel’. Paul will send Timothy but plans to go as well when/if he is able.
2:25-28 Paul gives high titles to Epaphroditus: brother, co-worker, fellow soldier, messenger, minister in need. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul and now Paul is sending him back to the community of Philippi. Having been quite sick, he has regained his health, and now Paul will be pleased to have him ministering amongst the Christians in Philippi.
2:29-30 Paul instructs the Christians to give a certain respect, honor, and esteem to those ministers among them who are toiling and spending themselves for the proclamation of the gospel. This esteem for the ministers who work with Paul is seen elsewhere, as in 1 Corinthians 16: “I urge you, brothers-you know that the household of Stephanus is the firstfruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the holy ones – be subordinate to such people and to everyone who works and toils with them. I rejoice in the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, because they made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such people” (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). Note in particular those words used: ‘be subordinate to such people’, as well as ‘give recognition’. Following this same theme, words of ‘respect’ and ‘esteem’ are used in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work.” Paul evaluates the worth of these ministers by the toil, labor, and struggle that they go through for the gospel of Jesus (v.30).
*[NOTE: This Bible exposition has not been edited, so there are misspellings, grammatical errors, and possibly verse citation errors. Maybe one day someone will professionalize it. I simply wanted to get the content to you. God bless!]