4. Philippians 2
I have just written of the struggle we have together in our Gospel partnership, but I also want to write you about the encouragement and comfort that helps us in our partnership.
As Paul continues his exhortation to the kind of life that will make their partnership in Gospel ministry all the more effective, he reminds them of the Gospel blessings they enjoy in Christ.
In the overall structure of Romans and Ephesians, after the blessings of the Gospel are explained, they become the basis for Paul's exhortation to Christian living. The same pattern is apparent within these few verses. Since there is such encouragement, comfort, fellowship, affection, and compassion for us in the Gospel, therefore we are urged to live a life of unity, love, and humility. With a profound understanding of the Gospel, with the humility that flows from that understanding, and with the fellowship of the Spirit we can truly live in loving unity!
There are certainly too many Christians who do not recognize the rich encouragement we have in knowing Christ, who take their comfort from other sources besides the love of God, and who prefer their fellowship outside of what the Spirit produces, but they are not the kind of Christians that make highly effective partners in Gospel ministry.
Paul asks them to complete my joy by living in unity, love, and humility. He uses joy and rejoice in two complementary ways in this letter. First, we should rejoice in who the Lord is and in all that He has done for us, that is, we should find our joy (1:25; 3:1; and 4:4) and our boasting (1:26 and 3:3) in the Lord and in the Gospel. Second, that joy (1:18; 2:2, 17-18; and 4:1) and our boasting (2:16 and 4:1) become complete as our partners in Gospel work live their lives in harmony with the implications of the Gospel. We should remember that Paul's letter to the Philippian congregation is not primarily about joy, it is about the Gospel Partnership he has with them, and about making that partnership more effective. So as that partnership prospers there is great joy to be found in the Gospel, and there is a “completed” joy to be found when one's Gospel partners are united in spirit. It should be clear that without joy in the Lord and in the Gospel, any joy in ministry would be without a sufficient foundation, and in danger of collapse.
The basic command to be of one mind is further elaborated upon in the rest of verse 2 and verses 3-4.
2:3 never with selfish ambition or vainglory, but in humility of mind considering one another more important than oneself.
The unity called for in the previous verse, the unity that would make Paul's joy complete, is so easily destroyed whenever we consider ourselves more important than the people we interact with. Ambition to promote ourselves, however well approved it may be in our culture, is nevertheless destructive. Vainglory,80 the pursuit of honor from men, does not build healthy lives. We really grow as we simply decide that others around us are more important than ourselves. This is of course the great irony of the Christian life. As the Lord taught us in Mark 9:35, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all, and servant of all.” Paul has already supported this exhortation with the negative example of those that preach out of self-interest (1:15-16), and the positive example of himself (1:12-26). He is about to support that exhortation with the positive examples of the Lord Jesus Christ (2:6-11) and Timothy (2:19-24).
2:4 Do not be watching out for your own interests, but each also watching out for the interests of others.
This verse explains what it means to “consider one another more important than oneself.” Doing this is much more difficult than understanding what it means. Our opportunities for applying this verse are endless, and our excuses for not applying it are abundant. This radical call to service and humility is only slightly toned down by the single word also. In using that word Paul acknowledges that we have a basic responsibility to take care of ourselves,81 but the balance of the verse indicates that we will look out for ourselves sufficiently, without any encouragement from him to do so. When the Lord said “Love your neighbor as yourself,” He told us that we already love ourselves with sufficient diligence, and simply do not need any encouragement from Him in that direction!82
In fact, the ultimate example of humility, suffering, and then exaltation is Christ. Follow that example.
Paul's command to not be looking out for our own interests, to not be selfish, is certainly not a concept foreign to our faith. It lies at the very core of our faith, at the cross. Paul insists that all who have believed in Christ, who have been saved by His work on the cross, should likewise adopt the attitude that took Him to the cross. We should do this, not to be saved, or to prove we are saved, but in gratitude, because we are saved, thus becoming more effective partners in Gospel ministry for others.
Because of their style and content, verses 6-11 are sometimes presented as poetry or as a hymn. Unlike for instance in Ephesians 5:14, where Paul writes, “Therefore it is said: 'Awake, O sleeper, get up from among the dead, and Christ will shine on you,'” here there are no clues for us in the text as to whether this was an early Christian hymn or poem, well known to the congregation, which Paul then quotes, or something that he himself wrote particularly for this letter. However, if these words were written by someone else and then adopted by Paul, he must have done so because he approved of how they expressed what needed to be said. Verses 6-11, whatever their source, help us understand what our Savior did, so that we can more fully adopt the attitude of selflessness we need to have.
The parallels between Philippians 2:6-11 and the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah 43:13–53:12 are striking. Both speak so powerfully of humiliation all the way to death, and of the exaltation that results from that humiliation. This relationship between these two passages is strengthened by the fact that Philippians 2:10-11 clearly draws from Isaiah 45:23. The substitutionary atonement so obvious in Isaiah 53 is not mentioned in Philippians 2:6-11, but that might simply be because the atonement is outside our humble service, so it would be inappropriate for Paul to write that we should follow Christ's example in that.83
2:5 For you should let this same attitude84 be in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,
The distilled theological truths that follow are abused if their use is limited to building our understanding of the incarnation, death and exaltation of Christ Jesus. These truths are written here as a guide to the attitude of selflessness that we are called upon to have in 2:1-4.
The word order of the following translation of verses 6-11 may seem somewhat stilted in English because some of the Greek word order is preserved, carrying over some of the poetic feel of the original.
2:6 Who in the form of God existing,
did not regard being equal with God
as something to be grasped,85
This verse assumes that Christ was and is the eternal God. Who else could have been existing in the glorious and shining form or outward appearance of God?86
The passage is saying that even though Christ had all the glory of divinity up to the time of the incarnation, He was willing to exchange that for the form of a slave. Thus this is the perfect illustration for the kind of selflessness we are called upon to manifest. We need to imitate the attitude of the glorious Lord of Lords, who was willing to somehow shed all that glory and take on the outward form of a slave, for us.
He did not think that such glory, that outward form of God, was something precious that had to be clung to even at the cost of disobeying “the One who sent Him,” to use the expression so common in the Gospel of John. He was willing to let go of that outward glory for the task set before Him by the Father.
2:7 but Himself He emptied,
the form87 of a slave taking on,
in the likeness of men coming.88
The question of precisely what Christ emptied Himself of has occupied theologians for many centuries. The most straightforward answer might simply be that He emptied Himself of the “form of God” mentioned in the previous verse. That is, He somehow let go of the outward manifestation of the glory of God, and took on the outward form of a slave, the least glorious human status.89
In His incarnation He took on the likeness of men. This expression emphasizes the similarity He had with all men, but does not require a complete match with all mankind. This may be to allow for the fact the Jesus Christ, although He became truly human, was not exactly like everybody else in that He never sinned.
The expression taking on contrasts sharply with existing in verse 6.90 While He eternally exists as God, at one point in time He took on His humanity.
2:8 And in appearance being found as man,
He humbled Himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Here the word appearance91 refers simply to the outward visible appearance. What people saw was a man.
The expression “humility of mind” in verse 3 and the expression He humbled Himself here use the same root word. He did this out of obedience, likewise we need to obey this calling to unity, humility, and love.
When we read verses 1-4 we are likely to ask, “Yes, but to what extent are we to look out for others rather than ourselves? Should not we be looking out for ourselves to some extent?” However, in the example set before us, the example that we are to follow, He was obedient to death, even death on a cross. He was sent to take upon Himself the form of the lowest status of humanity, a slave. He also was sent to the most cruel and shameful form of death known in the Roman Empire, death on a cross.
2:9 Therefore also God Him exalted,92
and gave to Him a Name which is above every name,
The connecting word used, therefore, should not be overlooked here. Jesus Christ obeyed the Father, and because of that obedience, God exalted Him. Likewise we read in passages like Matthew 23:12; James 4:10; and 1 Peter 5:693 that we will be exalted if we humble ourselves. Here too, the Lord Jesus is our example.
God exalted Christ in several stages. The first stage was the resurrection (Romans 1:4). At some time prior to His ascension He received “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He was certainly exalted in the ascension (Ephesians 4:8-10). Finally, as the reference to Isaiah 45:23 in 2:10-11 shows, this exaltation will continue until the Second Coming and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God (Daniel 7:9-27; Matthew 24:29-31; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28; and Revelation 19).94
Before He was obedient to death, He received the name “Jesus,” so that is probably not the name intended in this passage, even though it is mentioned in the next verse. Verse 11 suggests that the name given here is “Lord,” or the related Hebrew name of God in the Old Testament, and Paul would understand that as the most exalted name. This text seems to be saying that despite the equality of the Son with the Father, the Son did not possess the name “Lord” prior to the cross. At any rate, in the Bible and the cultures around the New and Old Testaments, the term name could carry with it the idea of position, dignity, or office, as in 2 Samuel 7:13; Ephesians 1:21 and Hebrews 1:4. Also, in Jewish culture, the term “The Name” was commonly used as a reference to God, as in Acts 5:41 and 3 John 795.
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
The exaltation of verse 9 has already happened, but universal worship in acknowledgment of that exaltation awaits the end of the age.96 Some of those knees will bow with ready thankfulness, and others only by force,97 but all will bow.
2:11 and every tongue should confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This worship is related to Isaiah 45:23, in which God says, “…every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear by Me.” This aspect of Christ's exaltation clearly takes place in an age in which everyone will worship the true God. It awaits the end of the age for fulfillment.
It is to the glory of God the Father that Jesus Christ be glorified. There is no competition between the Son and the Father. This should remind us of our calling to consider one another more important than ourselves.
I am explaining this theology to you now so that you will be Light and Life to the world around you. I will boast and we will rejoice together – are we not partners in Gospel work?
The teaching of how Christ exchanged His glory for the humility of a human being, how He obediently died on a cross, and further, about how He was “super-exalted,” was all given as an example for us to follow. Focusing on that word “obedience,” Paul urges the congregation to more consistent and deeper obedience.
This encouragement to ever more consistent obedience is rooted in the rich theological truths Paul has just written to them. He might have said, “Therefore, since what I have just written is true, don't just obey me, don't just follow this preacher when he is with you, but follow Christ in the great example He has given of putting the interests of others ahead of our own.” While he wants to encourage their Gospel partnership, he also wants to discourage dependence upon him.
So, as the congregation imitates the humility of Christ, they can accomplish their own deliverance in the midst of the trouble and persecution they are experiencing. This is certainly not about eternal salvation.100 It is about some sort of deliverance that they can accomplish through the suffering brought on by those that oppose them. The specific kind of deliverance Paul is writing of is already clear from the other passages in which he has written of deliverance in this letter, that is, 1:19-20 concerning himself and 1:27-30 concerning them. As Gospel partners, Paul and the congregation need to be accomplishing a deliverance from dishonoring Christ, whether in life or in death.
The nature of this task can be seen more clearly from the context of this command. In 2:5 Paul called upon the congregation to “let this same attitude be in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,” then he wrote about the humble obedience of the Lord that led to the suffering of the cross, and then about the exaltation that Christ earned by His humble obedience. After all that, he gives them this command which begins with the word therefore. If because of His humble obedience, God delivered Him to exaltation, you also should be humbly obedient into suffering, and God working in you will deliver you from dishonoring Him and on into an exaltation.
This will only happen with fear and trembling. They need to fear101 God and shudder at the very idea of dishonoring God.
2:13 For it is God who works in you both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
In stark contrast to the fact that they will have to be obedient to produce their own deliverance from dishonoring God, Paul encourages them by reminding them that God is working in them so that they have the will and the strength to do His good pleasure.
2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing,
Most of our grumbling and arguing happens when we put our own interests ahead of the interests of others. Whether concealed grumbling or unconcealed arguing, such disunity is forbidden.
They are children of God. If they will cease their grumbling and arguing, they will be blameless and pure children of God! Of course positionally they are already blameless and pure, but Paul would like to see their heavenly position work its way down to their earthly practice!
Paul wants them to be blameless, pure, and unblemished on the day when we will receive what is due us for what we have “done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The beautiful image of the congregation as stars shining in a black sky is reminiscent of Daniel 12:3 which reads, “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those who bring many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.”104 Some have suggested that this figure of speech refers to evangelistic activity, in that the stars are shining Gospel light upon a dark world. However, Paul speaks of the unblemished congregation (like stars) being in the midst of the crooked generation (like the night sky). The stars do not illumine the night sky. They do just the opposite, showing how dark it is. Just as stars stand in contrast to the dark sky, so the unblemished congregation is to be in stark contrast to the perverted generation. This is not particularly about evangelism, it is about being utterly different from the sinful society around us. Part of the difference we have with the world is the Gospel we proclaim, but that is not the emphasis of this image.
The verb translated being intent upon has about eleven definitions listed for it in the Greek lexicon.108 Among them all, the two that might fit this context are “to hold out, present, offer”109 and “to direct one's mind to a thing, to attend, to be intent upon.”110 Basically this phrase here either means “holding forth the Word” or “holding fast to the Word,” so it is either about doing evangelism or being steadfastly faithful to the Word of God. Because the verb itself could easily have either meaning, the near and more distant contexts must be considered to decide which of these meanings is meant here.
The near context speaks of not grumbling, of being blameless, and of shining like stars in contrast to a dark night sky. That certainly fits well with the idea of being intent upon the word of life. If this phrase were to be translated “holding forth the word of life,” it would be introducing a new concept. It is not likely that Paul would introduce a new concept with a verb that is so ambiguous.
The more distant context is the entire letter to the Philippians. In it there are many calls to serious discipleship entailing obedience, but in the whole letter 1:27 is the closest thing to an actual command that the congregation be preaching the Gospel, and it only says, “that you are standing firm in one spirit, struggling together as one for the faith of the Gospel," or perhaps, “that you are standing firm in one spirit, struggling together in Gospel faith.”
So, given the context of the passage and the context of the entire letter, it seems best to translate this passage being intent upon the word of life.111
As Paul draws near the end of these exhortations to his Gospel partners, he reflects personally on the impact their obedience will have on him. Their obedience will be his boast in the Day of Christ. The success of this Gospel partnership will bring God-glorifying boasting in the Day of Christ.
If the Greek war heroes of Homer’s Iliad were devoted to battle and contest to collect the war trophies with which they were honored by men and in which they boasted, the Jewish apostle Paul was devoted to serve in such a way that on that Day he would be honored by the one Man whose approval he sought, the One who had died and obtained perfect righteousness for Paul, for the Philippians, and for every believer in Christ.
So Paul was motivated by the anticipation of the Day of Christ. He clearly wants to have his boasts ready for that day. He writes a great deal about that Day in his letters. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15; 9:24-27; Colossians 2:18; 2 Timothy 2:3-6, 11-13; and also 4:8 are all about how motivated he is because of that expectation, or how he motivates others by reminding them of that coming Day when believers' actions will be assessed, not to demonstrate that they are really believers, but so that rewards for fruitful labor are properly allocated by the King.
In Philippians 1:6 he wrote, “the One who began among you a good work will bring it to completion all the way until the Day of Christ Jesus.” Perhaps rewards for them and for him is the completion of the “good work” that Paul mentioned in 1:6.
There is also a hint of a negative side here. Paul implies that if they grumble and argue, if they are not blameless, pure, and unblemished when their works are evaluated in the Day of Christ, then sadly he will have run in vain and labored in vain. Paul feels that he would be bringing an empty boast to that Day, if all his running and laboring in Philippi only produced a grumbling and arguing congregation. As he wrote in 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, he hopes for himself and for the congregations that the “fire” of that Day will reveal “gold, silver,” and “precious stones” rather than “wood, hay, or straw.” What a joy that will be!
Paul was motivated in his life and ministry by the prospect of having his Lord and Savior rewarding him for his faithful ministry on that Day. However, that motivation would be one of several motivations which would all be secondary to the motivation of thankfulness for the grace of God which qualified him to even be present on that Day. Paul never said, “The Gospel has completed the joy that I have because you are living for the Lord.” What he did write in 2:2 was “make my joy complete by being like-minded....” This would seem to indicate that joy in effective ministry should be secondary or supplemental to our joy in the Gospel.
Furthermore, serving to gain a reward from the Lord would be quite different from serving to gain salvation, or even to gain God's love. This can be illustrated easily enough if we think about a child and his parents. A child that grows up feeling that he must perform well to earn his parents' love grows up with a painful burden that may never be lifted. However, in a healthy family parents love their children simply because they are their children, not because they perform well. The children know this and they perform well, not to earn their parents' love, but because their parents love them. Their parents reward them in their successes, and discipline them when they do wrong, but always out of a heart full of love. That rewarded or disciplined child never doubts his or her place in the family, and the effects of reward or discipline are heightened by the love the child senses. He or she will say, “My daddy loves me and he was happy that I did that!” When disciplined, he or she may say, “My daddy loves me and he doesn't want me to do that anymore, so I won't ever do that again….”
Likewise in our relationship with our heavenly Father, if we feel that we must work harder to experience God's love, we place ourselves under a burden that can never be satisfied, because our hard work does not bring God's love. However, if we delight in God's love as expressed in the Gospel, if we rejoice in the Lord, then the power of His discipline and His reward is heightened by the love we enjoy.
As the Day of Christ and Paul's boasts on that Day come to his mind, he considers his own death. He uses a wonderful figure of speech to tell his readers how he views that prospect. He looks at himself as a drink offering which is poured out. The figure of speech is extended: this drink offering is being poured out upon the sacrifice and service of your faith. This might also be translated upon the sacrifice even114 the service of your faith. As he builds them up in their faith, that is, as he works towards drawing them to a more mature faith, his life is like a drink offering that infuses into a grain offering and disappears there. In this way he and they are living according to the model of Christ that is explained in 2:5-8.
This for Paul is a joy not a burden or a loss, and he wants to rejoice together with all of them. Here Paul restates what he wrote in 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”115
2:18 Have that same joy, and rejoice together with me.116
His view of death is so different from the normal human way of viewing death. For Paul the idea of being utterly “poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service” of their faith is a cause for rejoicing, and he is calling his Gospel partners into that same joy. He wants his rejoicing to be mirrored with their rejoicing. He wants to draw them into this celebration of their partnership in the Gospel and the end times boasting it should entail.
Yes, it is true that I may soon die, so I think of my protégé, Timothy, who serves the Lord selflessly. I want to send him to you, to strengthen our partnership. He will assure me of how you all are doing. But right now, in my situation, I just cannot spare this man until I know how it will go with my imprisonment.
2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I myself might be encouraged knowing your situation.
Paul has been writing quite a bit about himself, and he seem to realize that it has been too long since he heard an accurate assessment of how the Philippian congregation is doing. He writes as if he is sure the report will be encouraging, but we are left to wonder if he himself is just being optimistic, or whether he himself might have some doubt the report will be positive. At any rate, Timothy would be the right man to go and assess the situation.117
Timothy really stood out among the disciples who were on Paul's team. Perhaps there were others of similarly good heart and mind, but for whatever reason they were not available. Perhaps they had been sent out on other tasks.
Paul, who spoke so positively of how the Gospel was advancing even though he was in chains, was not just putting a “positive spin” on everything so that the Philippians would not feel bad about him being under arrest again. He was no blind optimist. It must have deeply grieved him to write this verse. Although he knew that Timothy had a deep understanding of and commitment to “the things that really matter,” Paul could not say that the other believers around him had that commitment. Although capable of being Paul's emissary to Philippi, we can almost imagine that one brother felt he really should stay in Rome to help with the family business, another could not leave because he was preoccupied with romance, another thought Philippi too distant from home, and yet another thought he could not live in the primitive environment of a colony. Another, though he was very diligent in getting the Gospel to his own people in Rome, was not interested in getting that same benefit to “those people off in the colony.” They were all seeking after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus. They did not have that understanding of “the things that really matter.” May we all understand the things that really matter, and may these excuses never be heard in our congregations when we are challenged to follow Paul’s footsteps as missionaries.
Timothy is brought on to Paul's missionary team in Acts 16 during Paul's second journey, and he is mentioned by name in every subsequent chapter of Acts except the very last chapter, in all six times. Paul also mentions Timothy by name eighteen times in his own letters, including the two that he wrote directly to Timothy.
As he opened this letter, Paul wrote of himself and Timothy as “slaves of Jesus Christ.” Going into more detail here, he tells us they have something like a father-son relationship.125 The Philippian congregation already knew Timothy and his relationship with Paul from the times they had been together in Philippi, but Paul reminds them, perhaps so that they will be even more open to his ministry, despite his lesser status and younger age.
2:23 So on the one hand he is the one I hope to send as soon as I see how my situation turns out.126
As Paul summarizes his plans about sending Timothy, the delicate issue of his situation in chains has to come up. As he writes, he cannot imagine being without the help of his protégé, and despite the assurances he has already given and gives in the next verse, it is hard to be absolutely sure about what the authorities will do with his case.
2:24 On the other hand, I am convinced in the Lord that even I myself will come quickly.
Though not complete, this is the same assurance Paul expressed in 1:19, 24, and 25.127
But I have to send back to you Epaphroditus, your missionary to me. Although I appreciate his willingness to serve, even to die, he is just too worried about you all. Honor him.
In striking contrast, Paul now tells them of one of their own number whom he is sending back to them because he is hard to have around.
For reasons that he will make clear, Paul has deemed it necessary to send back to them one whom they had sent to serve Paul's needs. This man is only mentioned in Philippians (in this verse and in 4:18), so we do not know for certain that the Philippian congregation sent him to take care of Paul because Paul was under house arrest, but that would have been a reasonable thing for them to do. He probably had not been with Paul for too long, because his coming and the gifts he brought seem to be what Paul was referring to in 4:10 when he wrote, “Now I rejoice greatly in the Lord that now at last you have renewed your concern for me.”
Paul certainly does not speak ill of Epaphroditus. He refers to him as his brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier. He is also called minister of my need. It is possible that the congregation found a suitable young man and sent him simply to see to it that Paul was well fed while he was under house arrest. There is no evidence to support the idea that Epaphroditus was an elder or pastor in Philippi, and the man's unacceptable worrying seems to indicate something of a lack of spiritual depth.
2:26 because he is longing for you all and troubled, because you heard that he was ill.
Here Paul gives the problem, but only in the next two verses do we learn why his past illness, his longing, and his being troubled are the reasons Paul actually has to send him back to his sending church.
2:27 For indeed he was ill, he was130 near death. However, God had mercy on him – not only on him but also on me, so that I might not have grief upon grief.
Paul confirms what they had already heard, their missionary was ill, in fact he was near death. Then he immediately relieves their concern by telling them that God had mercy on him.
He does not say what grief he is already experiencing. Perhaps he is indirectly reminding them that it is already hard enough to be under house arrest and facing a capital trial in Rome. However, since in the very next verse he says he will be “more free of grief” when Epaphroditus is gone, it may be that the grief he has was brought on by Epaphroditus’s worry. In other words, he has enough grief with Epaphroditus’s worry, but the Lord spared him the further grief he would have endured had Epaphroditus died.
Epaphroditus worried that the church at Philippi was continually worrying about him. Epaphroditus’ worrying was excessive and inappropriate for that situation, and Paul wanted to quickly return him to his sending church. Paul saw that Epaphroditus just would not entrust the Philippian congregation to the Lord's care. That servant was fretting too much about their worries over him, so Paul graciously but firmly sent him home. If, as some suppose, the reason Paul sent him back was simply so that they could see that he was no longer ill, Paul could have simply told them that Epaphroditus had recovered, and they would have believed him. No, Paul sent him back so that he might be more free of the grief or pain of mind Paul experienced having Epaphroditus around.
2:29 Therefore receive him in the Lord with all joy, and hold such as him in honor,
Although Epaphroditus was too troubled for Paul to have on his team, he is nevertheless very clear that Epaphroditus should be honored by the congregation, and he expects them to welcome him joyfully.
There are honorable men that are just not qualified for high stress cross-cultural Gospel work, and Paul was not afraid to say so.
2:30 because on account of the work of Christ he came near to death, having no concern for his own life133 so that he might fulfill what was lacking in your service to me.
Paul speaks highly of this man, never questioning his devotion or willingness to suffer. The man just had a serious problem with worry, so serious a problem that it brought too much trouble on Paul and he had to send him home.
Nevertheless, the Philippians – of all people – should give their missionary a warm and honorable welcome. After all, he was just fulfilling what was lacking in their service to Paul. The details behind this reminder to the congregation are now enigmatic. Philippians 4:15-16 indicates that the Philippian congregation had been financially generous to Paul in the past, so it does not seem likely that what was lacking in your service to me refers to lack of financial support. Since the same word for lacking134 was used in 1 Corinthians 16:17 concerning the “lack” that was made up for by the arrival of three men from Corinth,135 it seems like the “lack” that Paul refers to here was the lack of their ability to care for him while under house arrest.
There is an interesting comparison between these men on Paul’s team. Paul simply could not spare Timothy, but he quickly sent back worrying Epaphroditus, with an honorable discharge. To think in modern terms, one wonders what Paul might have put in these two men's personnel files.
75 It is sometimes said that the word used here for these four “if's” (ει/ei) could also be translated “since.” However, the grammar here means that if the first part (“if there is any encouragement in Christ”) is true, then so is the second part (you should “complete my joy”). See James L. Boyer’s article, “First Class Conditions: What Do They Mean?” in Grace Theological Journal, 2:1, pp. 75-114. The other first class conditions in Philippians are in 1:22; 2:17; 3:4, 11, 15; and 4:8.
76 This is the word κοινωνια/koinōnia. This and similar words are usually translated “partner” or “partnership” in this letter. See endnotes 28 and 224.
77 Literally, “take the same attitude.” See the explanation of this verb, φρονεω/phroneō, in endnote 84.
78 The actual Greek term here, συμψυχοι/sumpsuchoi, might literally be translated “with-souls,” and seems to say that their souls are bound together in the same purpose.
79 This word (φρονεω/phroneō) is also translated mind in this verse.
80 This word (κενοδοξια/kenodoxia), which literally means “empty glory,” refers to “a vain or exaggerated self-evaluation” or “empty conceit” (BDAG ad loc).
81 1 Tim. 5:8 is a clear reminder of this responsibility.
82 That verse, quoted from Mt. 22:39, is sometimes interpreted as a command to love oneself, but that is simply an abuse of the verse. The command is in fact to love others with the same diligence that we already have for loving ourselves.
83 Feinberg, Trinity Journal of Theology 1:1, Spring 1980, pp. 36-40.
84 This verb, φρονεω/phroneō, is used ten times in the four chapters of this epistle. It usually refers to taking an attitude of mind, a point of view, or a mindset, but it can also mean “concentrating on” or “being concerned with.”
85 This noun, ἁρπαγμος/harpagmos, has been the subject of much debate. Some say it means “the act of grabbing” so that Paul is saying Christ did not think He had to grab anything to gain equality with God, but it was enough for Him to give away all He had, and thus He gained equality with God. Another view is that it means “something to be grabbed,” again as if Jesus did not already have equality with God. A better interpretation is “something to be held onto,” or grasped. Christ was able to release the outward glory of God, and humble Himself. (See Feinberg's discussion of this noun in Trinity Journal of Theology 1:1, Spring 1980, pp. 30-36.)
86 While it is true that the NIV, RSV, and NEB all imply in their translations that μορφη θεου/morphē theou means “outward form that corresponds to the inner reality of God," so that in those translations this phrase explicitly affirms the divinity of the Lord Jesus, they are relying too heavily upon a technical definition of μορφη/morphē which Plato used, and then Aristotle developed, and ignoring the use of μορφη/morphē in the LXX and other texts outside of Classical Greek philosophy. While it is certainly completely true that up to the point of the incarnation (and upon being exalted) the Lord Jesus was and is God in outer form and in inner reality, in order to claim that this Greek phrase says that you have to say that here Paul was more influenced by Aristotle's terms than the Greek Old Testament's use of terms (Feinberg, Trinity Journal of Theology 1:1, Spring 1980, p. 30).
87 The use of μορφη/morphē here again in this verse confirms the fact that it refers simply to outward form, and does not require that the outward form correspond to an inner reality. That is very clear here in this verse, because while we agree that the Lord Jesus had the outward form of a slave, it would be hard to say that that outward form corresponds to the inner reality of a slave. He was not born as a slave, He was born the free son of a carpenter, although one might say He was figuratively a slave just as Paul was figuratively a slave. It would be better to say that He had the outward form of God, but exchanged that for the outward form of a slave, all the while never abdicating the inner reality of being God. In fact the definition of μορφη/morphē outside of Plato and Aristotle seems to be simply form. The fact that the Lord Jesus was and is fully divine is better proved from the expression “equality with God” in verse 6. Even though μορφη/morphē does not really have the full Aristotelian meaning of “outward form that corresponds to the inner reality,” verse 6 strongly implies Christ was fully God because He had all the outward form of God, that is, the glory of God, which nothing and no one in all creation would ever come close to having.
88 The term coming is literally “becoming.”
89 Scholars debate whether the emptying was merely metaphorical (that is, He made Himself of no reputation), or actually literal (that is, He somehow actually divested Himself of glory). However, since this passage speaks of an actual incarnation, where the God of Glory becomes a man that in outward appearance is just like any other man, it is hard to limit the idea to a metaphor.
90 “Imitating the Incarnation,” David J. MacLeod, Biblioteca Sacra 158:631 (July 2001), p. 322.
91 Two millennia before Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, this word, σχημα/schēma, is used in an ancient text that mentions “a king who exchanges his kingly robes for sackcloth and takes on a σχημα ταπεινον/schēma tapeinon,” that is, “a humble appearance” (BDAG ad loc.). That king (and Mark Twain’s prince) did not become a peasant in fact, but only in appearance. The Lord Jesus became a man in appearance and in fact.
92 Without the preposition ὑπερ/huper attached, this word (ὑψοω/hupsoō) means “to physically lift up” or “to honor.” With the preposition, ὑπερυψοω/huperupsoō means “to lift up over” or “to raise to a high point of honor” (BDAG ad loc).
93 Each of these passages use the related Greek word ὑψοω/hupsoō.
94 Feinberg, Trinity Journal of Theology 1:1, Spring 1980, p. 44.
95 EBC ad loc.
96 See Rev. 5:13.
97 In 2 Sam. 22:40 all of David's adversaries bow at his feet.
98 This word, κατεργαζομαι/katergazomai, means “to produce or accomplish a state or condition” (BDAG ad loc.), or “to commit.” It is fairly common, being used 22 times in the NT. In this passage the KJV, the ASV, the NASB, the NIV, and the NET all translate it “work out.” However, that translation of this word is not found in the BDAG lexicon and is not supported by NT usage. This text is calling for the Philippian congregation to “achieve,” “produce,” or accomplish their own σωτηρια/sōtēria. If they are being called upon to produce their own eternal salvation, then Paul has radically altered the kind of Gospel he is preaching! No, in fact σωτηρια/sōtēria here has a different, although quite common, meaning.
99 Although this noun, σωτηρια/sōtēria, and the related verb certainly can refer to eternal salvation (as in Eph. 2:8), they very often refer to physical deliverance in the NT. Mt. 8:25; 9:21; 14:30; 27:40; John 11:12; 12:27; Acts 4:9; 27:20; 1 Tim. 2:15; 4:16; Heb. 11:7; Jms. 1:21; 2:14; and 5:19-20 is a partial list of verses in which this noun or the related verb have this physical sense of deliverance.
100 Zane Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, pp. 96-100, and Robert Wilkin, “Working Out Your Salvation: Philippians 2:12,” The Grace Evangelical Society News, May-June 1993, pp. 2-3.
101 This word, φοβος/phobos, really does mean fear, and not merely “reverence.” The Scriptures call upon us to both love and fear God.
102 This word, ακεραιος/akeraios, literally means “unmixed” but has a figurative sense here.
103 The standard lexicon gives sky, as one of the philosophical meanings of κοσμος/kosmos (BDAG ad loc).
104 Daniel wrote chapter 12 in Hebrew, but when it was translated into Greek in the LXX, the word “brightness” was translated with the word φωστηρ/phōstēr, which is the word translated star in Phil. 2:15. It literally means “light giving body” (BDAG ad loc.)
105 The verb here is επεχω/epechō.
106 The expression which means is used to translate εις/eis, which literally means “into,” or “to.”
107 See the comments about this word, καυχημα/kauchēma, in the discussion about 1:26.
108 Liddell and Scott, ad loc.
109 This meaning is not present in the NT, but is common enough in ancient Greek literature outside the NT.
110 Four out of the five times this verb is used in the NT, it has this meaning. Note especially 1 Tim. 4:16, which reads, “Watch your life and doctrine closely…,” but see also Luke 14:7; and Acts 3:5. In Acts 19:22 it means “stay” or “remain.”
111 That would be against the KJV, the NEB, and the NIV, but with the RSV, the ESV, the NASB, and the NET translations. Swift (p. 245) agrees.
112 This entire phrase, being poured out as a drink offering, translates the verb σπενδω/spendō. This verb occurs 19 times in the LXX, describing proper drink offerings to the Lord God of Israel, as well as pagan libations to the gods of the surrounding nations. Drink offerings were also common as acts of worship among the Greeks. The only other place this verb is found in the NT is in 2 Tim. 4:6-8, where Paul also anticipates his death and the reward for his service.
113 Literally translated, this last clause reads, “rejoice and I with-rejoice with all of you.”
114 Και/kai normally means and but it can sometimes be translated “even,” when what follows the και/kai is equivalent to what precedes it.
115 See comments on boasting and rejoicing in the discussion of 2:2.
116 Literally translated, this verse likewise reads, “The same also rejoice and with-rejoice with me.”
117 Paul sent Timothy on a similar mission to the Thessalonian congregation, as he mentions in 1 Thes. 3:1-6. See comments under 1:1 concerning Timothy.
118 The word ισοψυχος/isopsuchos is literally “equal soul,” and is translated here like heart and mind.
119 This verb, μεριμναω/merimnaō, is used 19 times in the NT, only by Jesus and Paul. Jesus uses it 12 times, always reminding the disciples not to worry, as in Mt. 6:25, 27, 28, 31, and 34. Paul uses it 7 times (especially in 1 Cor. 7:32, 33, and 34), sometimes of worry (as in Phil. 4:6), and sometimes of concern (as here in Phil. 2:20).
120 It would seem that the brothers that fearlessly preach Christ out of goodwill (1:14-15) and the brothers that send their greetings with Paul's to Philippi (4:21) would be exceptions to this criticism.
121 The word interests is not there in the original, but it is supplied for clarity in English.
122 The majority of manuscripts of this passage read Christ Jesus, but some older ones read “Jesus Christ.” This is the reverse of the situation of 1:8.
123 This word, δοκιμη/dokimē, which here is translated proven character, emphasizes not just character, but the testing process that proves character.
124 This verb, δουλευω/douleuō, is the verb “to slave,” and is a part of the same word family as the word “slaves,” which Paul used to describe himself and Timothy in 1:1.
125 In 1 Cor. 4:17 Paul even refers to Timothy as “his beloved child.”
126 The expression how my situation turns out is literally “the things concerning me.”
127 See comments on 1:25 about Paul's travels after this imprisonment.
128 This is the word αποστολος/apostolos. Although it was used of the original Twelve Missionaries whom the Lord sent out, it could also be used of missionaries sent out by the churches, including Epaphroditus. Although translated “representatives” in the NIV, this very word is used in 2 Cor. 8:23 to speak of the “missionaries of the churches.” In Heb. 3:1 Christ Himself is referred to as an αποστολος/apostolos, because He was sent as a missionary by God to this world.
129 Paul uses this word, λειτουργος/leitourgos, of himself in Rom. 15:16 and of government officials in Rom. 13:6. It is used of angels in Heb. 1:7 and of Christ in Heb. 8:2. It refers to people that serve for others' benefit. Here it seems to simply mean that Epaphroditus was sent to be Paul's “aide.”
130 The words he was are supplied because of the needs of English grammar.
131 This word, σπουδαιοτερως/spoudaioterōs, might also mean “with more haste.”
132 This key word, αλυποτερος/alupoteros, seems to be Paul's clearest expression of the reason he is returning Epaphroditus to the church in Philippi. The word is composed of three parts. The root is λυπη/lupē, which means “pain of mind or spirit, grief, sorrow” (BDAG ad loc.) That very word is used twice in the previous verse. The suffix is -τερος/-teros, which generally adds the element “more.” Finally, the prefix is α-/a-, meaning “without,” or “free of.” When all three parts are then “reassembled,” the meaning is clear: Paul is sending Epaphroditus back so that he can be relieved of the pain of mind or grief that he has while Epaphroditus is there! This does sound harsh to our ears, but it has to be taken in the context of the generosity of Paul's other comments about the man. Neither Paul's negative nor his positive comments should be softened.
133 Most of manuscripts read παραβουλευσαμενος/parabouleusamenos, meaning having no concern for, but several of the older manuscripts read παραβολευσαμενος/paraboleusamenos. Not only are these two readings very close in spelling, they are also very close in meaning. The majority reading means having no concern for, while the older and uncommon reading has the almost identical meaning of “risking.” It is very easy to see how the original could have been with or without that first υ/u, and the issue simply has very little practical significance.
134 The Greek word is ὑστερημα/husterēma.
135 EBC ad loc.