1Therefore if 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,
The summation of Christ’s message was that love fulfills the law (Matthew 22:36-40) and that the mark of true disciples is love for one another (John 13:34-35). Thus, if there is anything to be gleaned from Christ, it is that we ought to love one another and be unified. His example and His teaching of love should persuade us and encourage us to love. The fact that we as believers are all sharers and beneficiaries of the same Spirit of God should also move us to live as those who love and are unified. The Hebrews viewed the intestines as the area where tender mercy and compassion resided, just as we would speak of tenderness of heart. Paul is exhorting them to draw from the place in them where mercy should be. If there is any there, which there should be if they are saved, they are to live as if such is the case. What Paul is doing by beginning this section this way is to point out that there is no excuse for believers to not live in unity and love. Christ’s life and example as well as His indwelling Spirit should make it possible for believers to live in harmony with one another (2 Peter 1:3).
2make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.
Therefore, given the infinite resources of Christ in them, the Philippians will make Paul’s joy fully realized if they let Christ have His way in and among them, creating true love and true unity. Paul wants them to be of the same mind, meaning that they be agreed about the gospel and the Word of God. They will be harmonious in that they are to be drawing from the same well of wisdom, Christ (Colossians 2:3), and in that they are to be growing in a common understanding in the fear of the Lord as they obey His Word (Psalm 111:10). There can be no sameness of mind unless the Christian brothers and sisters be agreed that the Word of God stands above them all and that they must conform to it. Being of the same mind implies being in agreement in matters of God’s will and desires. Interestingly, the word translated “mind” is the same word which is translated “intent” and “purpose.” The idea that believers must be intent on one purpose is thus intricately related to being of the same mind. The purpose of believers must be what the Bible says our purpose is. Ultimately, it is the glory and honor of Christ, and this practically means fulfilling the Great Commission, going and making disciples and teaching them all that Christ commanded such that they can grow to maturity and make disciples themselves. It means being sanctified by the Word of God as we learn it and grow in conformity to it. It also involves Paul’s other two commands of “maintaining the same love” and being “united in spirit.” Maintaining the same love implies persevering in brotherly love toward one another, bearing one another’s burdens and caring for the needs of others, even above and beyond our own. The phrase “maintaining the same love” speaks of being closely joined to brotherly love. In other words, a body of believers can only be united if each individual believer is personally so closely joined to the character and nature of love. Some try to manufacture unity by creating environments or agreements as a means of closely joining people. True unity comes as each individual believer becomes more loving. This unity does not have to be manufactured for it is simply a visible reality of a true inward transforming work by Christ, our chief example of unity (John 17:21). Unity must be shaped by the hand of God as spirits are tenderly taught and formed according to love. Paul’s final admonition in this verse is that the Philippians be “united in spirit.” The phrase translated “united in spirit” is a combination of two words, the first meaning “together” and the second meaning “soul or the seat of the desires and affections.” What Paul is after is not a unity that merely says that we attend the same church or prefer the same style of music, for example. Paul is describing a unity that cuts to the deepest part of our being such that the pull of one soul toward the glory and service of Christ is replicated and shared by all other souls. Simply put, what one believer wants (God’s glory) is what all want. This is the mark which the church should seek, and this should make our joy full as it did Paul’s. This is an extremely difficult calling, and it will take great faith. But we would steal not only Paul’s joy if he was still alive but the joy of our Savior by not trying to get to this point. We cannot lower the bar and tolerate doctrinal weakness and error or gloss over sin issues that need to be confronted Biblically. Love and unity are very serious things with profound evangelistic implications. If there is anything that Christ’s life and message point us to as fundamental to Christianity and to the church, it is this.
3Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves;
4do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
Practically, love and unity are manifested by those who take on an attitude of humility such as Christ had. Humility is a posture of the heart that does nothing with selfish motives or out of vain arrogance. The historical use of the word under examination here is to put oneself forward by using unfair means to gain a political office. It is a factious spirit that seeks to put others down so that self can be lifted up, so that its cause can be advanced, and so that it can rise to greater heights while others fall to greater depths. The direct opposite of humility is this spirit of self-advancement at the expense others. This is the essence of selfishness. Also incorporated in a lack of humility is a pursuit of vain glory, being consumed with self and how others view us. The word translated “empty conceit” could also be translated “self-esteem.” Paul’s point is not that we should look down on ourselves, though certainly we should not think of ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3). Paul’s point is simply that we need to stop being so preoccupied and consumed with ourselves so that we begin to think about the welfare and interests of others. Humility is akin to lowliness, the recognition of our smallness and neediness. Humility doesn’t have a big ego, but it boasts in Christ. It is not that it lacks confidence; it is just that it finds is strength and boldness in Jesus Who is in us rather than in our flesh. The word translated “humility” could also be translated “modesty,” thus carrying the idea of a person who is not trying to draw all of the focus and attention to himself for his own glory. Humility seeks God’s glory, and it hates when self steals the show. Humility also views others as of a surpassing value to self. The phrase translated “more important” could also be translated “surpassing value,” which it is translated in Philippians 3:8, speaking of how knowing Christ is better than all of Paul’s human accolades. In the same way, we are to view our brothers and sisters (and those outside of Christ) as of a greater importance and value to us than our own selfish gain. Among the family of God, this mindset doesn’t make us doormats, for others are to view our interests above their own. Thus, no one is self-consumed but rather seeking to serve the other. All benefit, and all have their needs met. The best part is that we get the joy of serving one another, and we get to experience the joy of Christian fellowship, rather than isolating ourselves. We are not to be consumed with our interests only, but we are to put the interests of others ahead of our own, particularly when it comes to the household of God (Galatians 6:10). This will lead to such things as giving sacrificially for the kingdom or the free giving of our time, service, and energy to help a person in need, for example. It is not that we neglect ourselves, for we do have things we need to care to, lest we disqualify ourselves from serving others (e.g. keeping a home to be able to be hospital to others, keeping a job in order to be able to give to back to God, and giving proper time and attention to family to maintain a proper testimony). But even these things of taking care of our own interests ultimately serve the interests of others (family, spouse, employer, employees, clients, customers, those in need, etc.). In all we do, God is to get the glory as we are others-focused rather than self-absorbed. Ultimately, we must trust God Who promises to take care of our needs as we concern ourselves first and foremost with the needs of others (Philippians 4:19).
5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.
Christ was the ultimate example of humility, and it is His attitude we are to imitate. Christ has always existed, being God, and prior to His coming to earth and being incarnated in the form of a human being, He existed in the form of God, Who is spirit (John 4:24). Yet, He was willing to be obedient to the Father and come to earth as a man. Infinite power and deity was confined to human flesh by His choice. Previously, He had had all of the power and glory that belongs to God in being with Him in paradise, but upon coming to earth, He was prone to pain, suffering, and physical death, though even the grave couldn’t hold Him. He had been honored by the angels in heaven in glory, but now He was going to die at the hands of His feeble, rebellious creation. He was willing to do all of this because it was not His interests which came first but the interests of the Father and of His rebellious creatures. He came to them in love even though they weren’t deserving of love (Romans 5:8), demonstrating the epitome of humility. He emptied Himself not of His deity but of the rights, benefits, and glory that were His before coming as a man. Rather than hold tightly to the privileges of His deity and dwelling place in heaven, He gave up His “rights” and took on the form of a bond-servant, disregarding His own interests for the sake of seeking the lost and honoring the Father’s interest. What humility our Savior demonstrated in being willing to take on human likeness, putting our interests and the Father’s will ahead of His own (Luke 22:42).
8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Not only did He take on human likeness, being fully human and yet fully God, He willfully and submissively yielded Himself to the plan of God to go to the cross as the Lamb of God Who died for the sins of the world. When put to the greatest test of humility, our Lord passed with perfection, giving up His very life on a cross at the hands of brutal men and experiencing the wrath of God that should have been ours to bear. This is the ultimate example of putting the interests of others (us) ahead of His own, though He knew that obedience to the Father would lead to the greatest blessing.
9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name,
10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
It was because of His ultimate humility and obedience to the Father that God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above all others. All authority has been given to Christ (Matthew 28:18), and He will subject all things under the feet of the Father (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). If men don’t honor Christ as God now, they will have to later, for every knee will bow and every mouth will confess that He is Lord. Those who are in heaven (angels and those already dead in Christ) gladly bow before Him. Those on the earth will bow, some willingly, leading to eternal life, and some against their will, having been condemned because they didn’t bow while they had the chance at redemption. Those dead who are in Sheol will also have to bow and confess before they are sentenced to the lake of fire. By God’s decree, Jesus is the name of utmost power and authority, for this brings Him the utmost glory (c.f. Hebrews 2:9-18).
12So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;
13for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
In light of Christ’s example, His suffering, and His authority, Paul encourages the Philippians to live as those who are indeed saved of Christ, walking in humility and giving honor to one another. He commands them to “work out” their salvation, not to “work for it,” given that they are already saved. We are to do our part of exercising our will by faith to render ourselves like Christ, knowing and remembering all the while that it is God Who gets the glory as He is the One working in us according to His good pleasure. The Philippians have been obedient and faithful, but Paul wants them to keep growing such that they excel still more (1 Thessalonians 4:1, 10). Our positional perfection in Christ needs to become more and more of a practical, conditional reality in our day to day lives which will happen as God continues to transform us as we put our faith in Him (c.f. Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 12:2). What God ultimately wants from us is for us to obey Him, for this brings Him great pleasure. Our chief concern on earth isn’t to find our greatest pleasure, for when we live to bring God pleasure, we will find fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). The purpose of man is not our pleasure but His. Though we ought to enjoy Him (Psalm 37:4), the greatest objective of our existence is that He enjoys what He sees in us. God both desires and works to bring to fruition to our sanctification, and this is His delight. He doesn’t override our wills as we have responsibility to choose to obey and to exercise faith, but He is the ultimate initiator, energizer, and finisher of our faith. Paul wants the Philippians to obey so as to let God get His glory and pleasure in seeing us made more like Christ, His only begotten Son in Whom He was and is well-pleased (Mark 1:11).
Paul makes special mention that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We do this knowing that God is at work in us according to His good pleasure. The point is that it is God’s good pleasure that is to motivate us. That God gets the glory and the pleasure that He desires from lives lived for Him is what should drive us to be devoted to growing in holiness. If life was simply about our enjoyment, we wouldn’t need to fear or tremble. But because life is ultimately about God’s enjoyment, we, upon recognizing this by faith, will fear and tremble that we are not giving Him the glory to His name. It is not that we fear for our salvation, for we won’t face His wrath, but we might fear His disappointment or His discipline. We have an authority figure, and He demands glory. He is a jealous God, and He shares His glory with none. He hates it when we as His people don’t give Him proper respect and reverence. Let us be mindful of Who we serve, trembling before Him and at His Word, desiring always to keep it and knowing that we so desperately need Him at work in us to be able to keep it (c.f. Isaiah 66:2). Thus, we tremble, rather than walk about arrogantly. This also should move us to stop arguing with God and complaining, for such detracts from His pleasure. We must never outgrow the fear of the Lord (c.f. Proverbs 28:14), or we will become arrogant and fail to obey, stealing His pleasure.
14Do all things without grumbling or disputing;
15so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,
16holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.
We as Christians should work out their salvation by obeying Christ in faith with whole hearts, not murmuring, grumbling, or holding a secret grudge or opposition in our hearts. It is those who have wholly given their hearts to Him that He wants to support (2 Chronicles 16:9). Grumbling speaks of a displeasure within us when God wants us to take pleasure in obeying Him because such brings Him pleasure. God doesn’t want us to deliberate with Him, to challenge Him, or to doubt Him. We are not to be those who create a dispute against God or who dispute within ourselves. There is to be no arguing against the wishes, will, and intents of God. As we see God take control of our hearts to the point where we delight in Him and His will and ways, we will see who we really are, and likely others will too. Children of God stand out from the perverse and crooked ways of the world, for children of God love not the world or the ways of the world (1 John 2:15). They are rather blameless, innocent, and above reproach. They are not perfect practically and conditionally, but they are working hard by faith to be such that they stand out as lights in a dark world in need of the Light (c.f. Matthew 5:16). These faithful children, cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, are to hold fast to the word of life, the commands of Christ, His gospel, and their hope of heaven. When it is clear that these Christians are being sanctified and standing for truth amidst the darkness and persecution of the world in which they are in, this will bring Paul great joy, for it demonstrates that his labor in preaching the gospel and teaching the ways of Christ to them was truly fruitful. This will bring him great reward at the coming of Christ, but more importantly glory to Christ. Christ will be honored by the fact that Paul’s life bore true and lasting spiritual fruit.
17But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.
18You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.
Paul, being in prison and coming toward the end of his life, used an analogy of a drink offering (c.f. Exodus 29:39-41) to describe his life. Just as the wine/flour/oil mixture was poured out over the altar as a soothing aroma to the Lord, so, too, Paul’s sacrificial, humble life was a pouring out of service for others which amounted to pleasure to God. Paul was a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). Paul rejoices in seeing the Philippians’ growth and faithfulness and in having the opportunity by God’s grace to serve them. He wants them to rejoice in their own faithfulness and growth so that they can share their joy with one another and Paul to the glory of God.
19But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.
20For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.
21For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.
22But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.
23Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me;
24and I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.
Many had left Paul, seeking after their own interests rather than after the interests of others and those of Christ. Yet Paul had great confidence in Timothy, and he hoped in the Lord to be able to send him to them so that he could be encouraged to hear of their faith and faithfulness. Paul knew that Timothy was a kindred spirit, indicative of brotherly love and a desire for true unity, and that he genuinely cared about the Philippians’ welfare, a mark of true humility. The Philippians were aware of Timothy’s faithfulness to Paul just as a child to a father. Timothy had built up a track record of faithfulness and reliability. Paul trusted that he himself would be coming shortly also, though he knew he was subject to God’s will. He was released and may have had an opportunity to visit them, though the Scripture doesn’t tell us for sure if he did in fact make it their way (c.f. Acts 28:30).
25But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need;
26because he was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
27For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.
28Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.
29Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard;
30because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.
Paul decided to send Epaphroditus to the Philippians in addition to Timothy. Paul describes him as a brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, in addition to being a messenger to them and a helper to Paul in his need. This was an extremely loyal and faithful man to Paul and to Christ. Epaphroditus loved the Philippians and longed to see them because they had heard that he had been sick. Certainly, they wondered how he was doing and if they would see him again. He had been sick to the point where he just about died, but God spared him in mercy. This kept Paul from having to lose one of his few faithful workers and from experiencing deep sorrow. Paul wanted to send him back to the Philippians so that they could rejoice in having the opportunity to see him yet again, and his visit to them would alleviate some of Paul’s concerns about them. He could encourage them and bring back word as to their condition. The Philippians were to receive him in great joy, which he certainly expected them to do, and they were to make a practice of respecting him and those like him. He was particularly deserving of respect because he risked his life to do the work of Christ and serve the Philippians. Just as Christ gave up His life so that others might live, Epaphroditus apparently went the extra mile almost to his own peril so he could help Paul and meet the needs that apparently the Philippians lacked the opportunity to meet (see 4:10).