LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
A Call to Humility
In chapter 1 verse 27, Paul began a new topic in which he challenges the Philippians to live as citizens worthy of the kingdom of God. There are 2 ways in particular they are to live worthily of this kingdom: (1) standing firm in the Spirit and (2) striving together as one united team for the faith of the gospel.
Why the call to unity? At this juncture the Philippian church does not seem to be experiencing disunity. There is the problem between Euodia and Syntyche; however, that appears to be an isolated problem which needs only 2 verses to address it. Paul does know though that the church has already experienced persecution in the past and is probably experiencing more right now. He had come to Philippi preaching that Jesus is Savior (soter pron. so-tear) and Lord (kurios pron. cure-ee-ahs). These 2 titles just happened to be the same titles the Roman Caesars applied to themselves. Although Jesus had declared that His kingdom did not threaten Roman rule (John 18:36), the Romans were so insecure that they punished any and everybody who refused to acknowledge Caesar as Lord and Savior in an ultimate sense. The persecution falling upon the church most likely was creating factures within the church fellowship. (External stress can really turn people against each other.) He seeks to shore up the church by calling it to unity.
Why is unity such a major deal for Paul? Because it is the primary way the church reveals to the world that Jesus is Lord. Whenever the church is not united, it is telegraphing to the world that Jesus is not Lord. Now we as Christians know that disunity within the church results from Christians not living under the lordship of Christ. Nonchristians though believe it results from the belief that Jesus is not the Lord who has been exalted to the right hand of the Father. Disunity destroys that witness.
Live Lives of Humility (2:1-11)
Basis for Our Unity (2:1)
Before the Philippians can experience unity, they need to experience some healing first. Any time persecution hits a church (or a person) that person needs some healing. Only healed persons can truly experience healthy relationships. Just think of the pets you love so dearly. Let a car hit a dog you love and that dog will turn on you. Only after the dog has been healed can it love again. The same applies to people. They need healing before they can truly love and experience unity.
The translations of verse 1 are a little misleading because they lead you to think that the Philippians are not experiencing comfort, consolation, etc. The truth is that in the Greek Paul is saying that they actually are experiencing these. Although there is a hint of hypothesis in his clauses, it is only a hint. A better translation would be: "Assuming there is any encouragement in Christ, assuming there is any consolation of love, assuming there is any fellowship of the Spirit." Why can he assume these things to be there? Because Christ and the Spirit who produce these things live in the Philippians. All the resources of comfort are available to them because Christ the Comforter (2 Cor. 1:3, 4) and the Spirit of Comfort (John 14:16) live within them.
Notice that the emphasis is on the comfort of Christ and the fellowship produced by the Spirit. My feeling of comfort should not be determined by how people in the church are treating me. No matter how others are treating me, Jesus Christ loves me, and that should be enough. Because I am loved with the love of Calvary, I in turn should be able to love others. When I do not love because others mistreat me, then I am not allowing the love of Calvary to determine my life and my actions.
Challenge to Be Humble (2:2-4)
Paul then appeals to the Philippians to make his joy complete by "being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in one Spirit, intent on one purpose." The bold-faced words show that Paul is stressing their need to be united. It is so important to him that he says that his joy will be complete only if they do unify. He is joyous because of his present circumstances (1:12-18a). His future prospects bring him great joy (1:18b-26); however, his joy will not be complete until they are completely unified.
What does Paul say are the ways to achieve unity? By being of the same mind, that is, having the same attitude towards the goal and mission of the church.
As long as the church exists as a junkyard for my messed-up emotions, the church will not experience unity. If the church serves as a place for me to wield power, then it will not enjoy unity. The church exists for the sole purpose of promoting the lordship of Jesus Christ. Any other attitude will destroy the unity of the church.
Paul next says that we are to maintain the same love. That is possible only if EVERYBODY is maintaining the same love. He doesn't say, "By certain people getting their way," or "by some people loving others while the others do not show love." The burden falls upon the entire church. I am to love you the way Christ loves, and you are to love me the way Christ loves. It is a 2-way street if we are going to experience unity.
The unity must come from the Holy Spirit. This is supernatural unity. If you feel like you can't love somebody, don't fret. Christ is not asking you to love others; He is asking for you to allow Him to love others through you. That is the only way to experience the kind of love and create the kind of unity Paul is calling for here.
Paul then elaborates on the primary way to experience unity--by exercising humility. First, he urges us to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit." The term eritheia (pron. air-eh-thigh-uh) is the same term Paul used in v. 17 to refer to the preachers in Rome who were preaching out of selfish ambition. They were not preaching Christ in order to win more converts. They were preaching Christ in order to steal sheep away from another person's flock. They wanted their church to be bigger than that other person's church. In other words it was not about Jesus; it was about them! As long as it is about you, it will never be about Christ, and as long as it is not about Christ, we will never experience unity.
Instead of operating out of self-serving motives, we are to "regard one another as more important than" ourselves. Is Paul saying that we should put ourselves down or even neglect our own needs and the needs of our families? No. What he is calling for is an orientation in life in which our primary goal is not serving ourselves but serving others. I am not to serve people in the church so that they will start frequenting my place of business. I am not to serve others in the church so that I can get on a powerful committee or gain fame. I am to serve others because my goal is to be others-oriented.
Humility characterized the best mission trip I ever went on. In 1986 I took 30 people to Denver, CO to minister to an area heavily populated with Mormons. Before we left, I read this passage to the group. I told them that we think that we have to make ourselves #1 in order for our needs to be taken care of. The sad truth though is that when I operate this way, only one person is looking after me--ME! If, on the other hand, I and the other 29 apply Paul's principle, then 29 people will be looking after each one of us. We all prayed and committed ourselves to exercising this principle. It was the most enjoyable and peaceful mission trip I've ever participated in. This is the kind of atmosphere Paul is trying to create in the church.
Christ, the Supreme Example of Humility (2:5-11)
Paul supports his call to humility by pointing to Jesus as the supreme example of humility. His argument is that if Jesus, God the Son, was humble, then who are we not to be humble? If God is humble, who are we then to be arrogant? By describing Jesus' humility, Paul does far more. He describes for us the very nature of Jesus Christ Himself. If it were not for passages like this one and John 1:1-14, we would have thought that Jesus came into existence only after the Holy Spirit came upon Mary. The truth is that the Holy Spirit and Mary did not produce Jesus. The truth is that by means of the Holy Spirit and Mary Jesus came from heaven to the earth to become a man. This passage along with John 1:1-14 is critical for this belief.
After Paul commands us to have the attitude of humility which was also in Christ Jesus, he goes on to show how Jesus was humble. First, he describes Jesus' prior existence before coming to earth: "who although He existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself taking the form of a bond-servant." When Paul says that Jesus existed in the form of God before He came to earth, he does not mean Jesus simply looked like God but wasn't really God. Rather he is saying that in every aspect Jesus had the form of God because He was God. A person's form reveals what he or she is. For example, the other day B.F. and I ran into Dana and David Taylor at Cotton Patch. The last time I looked David had the form of a man and Dana had the form of a woman. Why? Because David is a man and Dana is a woman! Your form reveals what you are. The reason Jesus appeared in the form of God is that He is God.
Next, notice what Jesus' view of being God was. He did not view God as being someone who is grasping, grabbing at all He can get and hold onto. This is a shot across the bough of the preachers in Rome who were preaching for selfish motives. They were not preaching Christ in order that others might be saved; they were preaching in order to take sheep away from Paul and build up their own kingdoms. That's not the way Jesus viewed what it means to be God. Instead of being a grasping, greedy kind of being, He viewed God as being someone who pours Himself out for others. (Some of the commentaries you use may interpret this passage to mean that Jesus did not view His deity as something to be held onto. That interpretation does not do justice to the actual meaning of the Greek words Paul uses in this verse.)
Next, Paul says that Jesus emptied Himself. Now some claim that when Jesus emptied Himself, He emptied Himself of His deity. That's just simply not true. If you read the 4 Gospels, especially John, you will see that Jesus became a man so that He could display His deity for us. He performs miracles, He predicts the future, He sees what's in man's heart, He walks upon the sea, etc. This is not God emptying Himself of His deity. This is God emptying Himself in the sense of pouring Himself out for mankind.
The primary way that Jesus emptied Himself was taking on the form of a bond-servant. This can mean that as great as we think it is to be a human being, Jesus who had existed in the form of God considered becoming a man nothing less than becoming a bond-servant. Compared to what He used to be, being a man was like being a slave. This statement though more likely refers to His becoming the Servant of the Lord who Isaiah said would come and bring in the kingdom of God by His sufferings and death (Is. 52:13-53:12). By becoming the Servant of the Lord, Jesus poured out Himself for you and me.
Paul describes how Jesus further humbled Himself: "and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on the cross." Here we see the essence of humility--obedience. Humility is not putting myself down; it is being obedient to God. That is the reason Moses who destroyed the world's super power is called the most humble man on earth at that time. He didn't destroy Egypt because he was full of hate; he destroyed Egypt because he obeyed God's instructions. Jesus did not have a perm with manicured nails (our view of humility and gentleness); He was humble because He obeyed God every moment of His life.
For most of us we think that obeying God is quite easy; obeying people is what gets us. The only problem with that statement is that if we obey God, we will obey others because God commands us to obey them. God commands us as citizens to obey our governments (Rom. 13:1-7); He commands wives to submit to their husbands Eph. 5:22-24) and employees to obey their employers (Col. 3:22); He commands us all to submit to spiritual leadership (Heb. 13:17). If we are honest with ourselves, we realize that many of the times when we disagree with the God-appointed authorities in our lives, it is over matters of judgment. Very seldom has the government commanded me to violate a law of God. How many times has a husband commanded his wife to do something immoral or illegal? How many times has a minister asked you to break one of the 10 Commandments? The answer? Practically never. We all need to swallow our pride and create unity within the home, society, church, etc. by submitting ourselves to others and to God-appointed authorities. If Jesus did it, then we should too.
It is not enough for Paul to say that Jesus demonstrated humility by being obedient. He goes even further. He says that Jesus was so humble that He even obeyed the Father by dying and not just by dying but by dying the death of the cross. Death on the cross was supposed to be not only the most excruciatingly painful way to die, it was also supposed to be the most humiliating. Stripped naked (except for a loin cloth), exposed for all to see for a period of several days, bones plucked clean of all flesh by vultures, laughed at by all who passed by, it was simply degrading. Yet out of obedience to the Father, Jesus humbled Himself to this extent.
(Because this was Jesus' view of deity, this is not just a description of Jesus; it is the description of God Himself.)
As a result of Jesus humbling Himself, a special day is coming in the life of Jesus. From the day that God raised Jesus from the dead, He has started subjecting all of creation beneath the lordship of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission begins with Jesus saying: "All authority has been given to ME in heaven and on earth; Go, therefore, . . ." The purpose of the Great Commission is to bring the whole created universe beneath the lordship of Christ. The climax of history will occur on the day when God has subjected all things beneath the lordship of Christ. On that day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is LORD with the result that the Father Himself will be glorified. Not only will Christians experience exhiliration on this day when their Lord will be magnified, the angelic realm and animal realm will rejoice. Also they will not be the only ones to proclaim Him Lord. EVERY knee will bow, even the knees of the rebellious demonic realm and the knees of rebellious mankind; they will also proclaim Him Lord.
By proclaiming Him Lord, the created universe is not simply saying that Jesus is her Master. The word "Lord" here is the same word used in the OT to refer to God Himself. To be sure Jesus is our Master; however, He is far more. He is God Himself, God the Son, nevertheless as much God as the Father Himself is God. On that day all of us who have gladly acknowledged Him as God the Son in life will proclaim it throughout the courts of heaven. Even better, even those who rejected Him will at last be forced to acknowledge and to submit to His Lordship and His deity. As hard as the Caesars tried to promote their deity, they were pitiful counterfeits of the true Lord.
Notice that Paul says that this will be to the glory of the Father. How will that be when all the focus is being placed on Jesus? According to Paul after the created universe acclaims Jesus as Lord, He will then turn and deliver the kingdom to the Father that the Father may be all in all (1 Cor. 15:24). On that day we shall see that the One who has been behind the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus has been No One less than the Father Himself.
How does this apply to you and me? While it is true that we will never experience the same degree of exaltation that Jesus Himself will experience, it is nevertheless true that what will happen to Jesus will to a real degree happen to us as well. "For God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God that He may exalt YOU at the proper time" (1 Pet. 5:5b-6). Humility results in the unity of the church, the promotion of the lordship of Jesus, and the exaltation of the humble Christ. Reasons enough to be humble. (There is also an implicit warning against any Caesar or ruler who tries to persecute the people of the true Lord of the universe.)