Considering Philippians 2:1-11
A brief exegetical study over a passage centered around unity through humility.
The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul. Paul’s intended audience at the time of writing was the church at Philippi. The city of Philippi was located in Macedonia, and this city has an interesting history. Philippi was a location of a prominent battle where Brutus, one of Julius Cesar's assassins, was defeated by Octavian. Octavian later became Cesar Agustus. This ultimately led to the city of Phillipi becoming a part of the Roman territory. Consequently, those who were full citizens of Philippi were now full citizens of Rome. This is important because Paul expresses this idea of citizenship at the beginning of his letter (1:27, cf. 3:20). The Church of Philippi was quite diverse, and not everyone who lived in Philippi had the privilege of being a citizen.
Nonetheless, Paul planted the church of Philippi during his second missionary journey. Lydia and the Philippian Jailer were the first converts. Lydia was a wealthy merchant at the time of her conversion, she very well, quite possibly, helped Paul and the church with financial resources. On the contrary, the Philippian Jailer and his family were not wealthy at all. The city of Phillipi was centered around social standing. Likely, Lydia and the Philippian Jailer were not in the same social class. It is also quite possible that the demon that Paul exorcised a demon out of, was converted to Christianity as well. However, the bible neither confirms nor denies that claim. The point is, those who were citizens of Philippi all came from different walks of life.
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Although Paul was not a citizen of the city of Philippi, he also came from an interesting walk of life as well. At the time Paul wrote this letter, behind bars in a prison cell. Paul wrote the letter in response to the challenges and blessings the Philippine church has experienced. The Philippians sent Paul a gift of encouragement through Epaphroditus, which was a great blessing and benefit to Paul while he was in jail. There were some concerns Paul wanted to address with the church as well. Paul wrote the letter to the church of Philippi to thank them for the messenger they sent, he wanted to send them some encouragement and also address some concerns they were facing.
In verses 1-4, the letter begins by expressing Paul’s exhortation to pursue unity in Christ Jesus. Paul illustrates this further by addressing the characteristics they need to be unified in, and comparing them to how Christ was able to perfect those characteristics. Paul makes the point that the only way everyone can be unified in those traits is through a common faith in Christ Jesus. This is done through verse five, which is a transitional verse connecting the reader’s mind back to Christ. Verses 6-11 explain how those in the city of Philippi ought to live. These verses are rich in doctrine, however, the placement of the verses is not to show Christ's nature, but to show how those who are in Christ should live their lives. It is important to notice that Paul addresses the call to unity in verses 2-5 in the doctrine of the person and the work of Jesus. This is important to keep in mind as we continue to work our way through this pericope.
In verse one of chapter two, Paul continues his plea for unity that began in verse 27. This will be a continuing plea throughout the chapter. Another thing to note is the term “Therefore” is used. This means that chapter two is connected to chapter one. Since everything that was just said in chapter one was true, then the next things that Paul is about to write in chapter two will be true as well. According to A.R. Faussett's commentary on Philippians 2, “The term, therefore, implies Paul is expanding on the exhortation.” (cf. Phil. 1:27) Furthermore, in verse one, the New King James Version introduces an unfamiliar term, The term “consolation” can be defined by cross-referencing verse one with other translations. The English Standard Version and Christian Standard Bible defines the term “consolation as encouragement. Paul wants the churches at Philippi to look at Christ as an example to live by.
In verse two, we see a command for unity. This comes from the conditional statements mentioned in verse one. This command is based upon the assumed combined experience concluded from verse one. The command is to “fulfill my joy”. The means of fulfilling this command is then given in four clauses that emphasize unity by synonymous expressions (O’Brien, 177). The way the Philippians can fulfill Paul’s joy is to have the same mind, the same love, one soul, intent on one purpose (O’Brien, 177-179).
In verse three, an appeal to humility is addressed, to promote unity. Paul exhorts the Philippians to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”, rather they are to “Let each of you look out not only for his interests but also for the interests of others.” When we value each other's needs and desires before our unity is then brought forth.
Continuing in verse four, there is no new command mentioned in this verse. However, Paul does go back and clarify what he said in verse three. In verse three he commanded to “Look out not only for his interests but also for the interests of others.” It is important to note the participle in this command, “Look out for”, this participle defines how Christians can esteem others as superior to them (Fee, 190).
Paul offers an illustration in verse five regarding what kind of humility should be exhorted. He points the Philippians to them to the ultimate example, Christ. The mindset those in Philippi are supposed to have is a mindset that is focused on Christ.
Paul addresses the fact that Jesus preexisted in the old testament in verse six. When he says “form of God” notice how Christ did not regard Himself as a prized possession. Paul uses an interesting word in this verse, the verse says “He did not consider it robbery…” According to Gerhard Kittel, the term robbery was mistranslated in the KJV. He states that this word is a difficult word to translate because it does only appear once in the Old Testament. Kittle states the word should be translated as a highly prized possession.
In verse seven we see the first of two successive actions of Christ in his humiliation. The text says that He first “made himself nothing” and then He “came in the likeness of man, taking on the form of a bondservant.” The phrase “made himself nothing” literally means “He emptied himself.” According to the New Testament Greek Scholar A.T. Robertson, the phrase “He emptied himself” simply means that Christ gave up his environment in Glory. This phrase does not mean that Christ emptied himself of divine nature.
An example of Christ showing the ultimate level of humility is in John 13. In this passage Jesus is gathered with the twelve in the upper room, they are about to partake of the Passover. Before the traditional meal, Jesus went around and washed each of the twelve’s feet. In this culture according to christianity.com, it was a very profound scene and a very humbling act. Washing someone’s feet was something that the lowliest of servants would typically do. Yet Jesus is the Son of God, made himself the lowliest of a servant, “emptied himself” and washed the disciple’s feet to show his love and the ultimate level of humility, in hopes others would follow in His footsteps. John 13 connects with Philippians 2, as it shows Jesus emptying Himself in front of His disciples.
Continuing in verse eight, Paul explains the second successive acts of Christ, “Obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” In this verse, we see Jesus’ final step downward. We see that by Christ dying through the pain, agony, and suffering on the cross, defines what verse seven was talking about when Paul mentions Christ “emptied Himself.” How? Through being submissive to the Father’s will even if it meant being beaten, tortured and humiliated, and hung on a cross for all of humanity.
Paul begins verse nine with a very important transitional word. The word “therefore”, helps connect verses five through eight with the verse(s) nine through eleven. In verses, five through eight Paul describes Christ’s voluntary humiliation, and now in verses (s) nine through eleven, Paul is about to describe Christ’s exaltation. The term exalted is defined in the merriam webster dictionary as “to raise in rank, power, or character”. In the same manner, the Father has given the Son (Christ) glory by stating He is “the name above every name.”
Continuing in verse ten, we are explained why Christ was given a “name that’s above every name.” The subjunctive “so that” connects this verse to the previous verse. God intends “every knee to bow” to the Lord Jesus. This command from the universal authority extends to everyone who is “in heaven and on earth.”
In verse eleven, Paul describes what will happen when God gives Jesus Christ the “name that is above every name.” Not only will every knee bow, but every tongue will confess. The word confesses in this verse means to declare/openly acknowledge. When Christ receives the name which is above every name, everyone will bow, whether they’re in heaven or on earth, and confess that Jesus is Lord.
After looking at these eleven verses in Philippians two, what are some biblical truths we can take away from this pericope? From the passage, I see three important truths we can take away. (1) Humility promotes unity. (2)We should model all aspects of our lives after Christ. (3) Christ wants Unity.
From Philippians 2:1-11 we can gather from the text that when we put others' needs before our own, it can help bring forth like-mindedness, and the one accord that Paul describes in the text. Unity is dying within the church today and it is because there are so many people who think that their ways are the right ways and they think so highly of themselves. Instead of us always thinking highly of ourselves we should strive to model our lives after Christ. He demonstrated the ultimate way, by coming in the form of man, giving up His home in Glory, and humbling himself to show how the Christian life should be lived. When we strive to model our lives after Christ, unity will cultivate among like-minded Christians. However, the key to successful unity among like-minded Christians is a dedication to studying the Gospel.
The application of this pericope should be obvious at this point. This section of text is part of a greater parenthetic section. Paul is exhorting unity through humility. The ultimate goal of this text is for the followers of Christ to realize the importance of walking in unity. We as believers are encouraged from this passage to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Based on the passage we should all be willing to humble ourselves which is by far inferior to what Christ experienced. Paul holds us to this example in Philippians 2:1-11.
O’Brien, Peter T. The Epistle to the Philippians. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.
Kittel, Gerhard. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Translated and edited by
Geoffrey W. Bromiley. 10 vols, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965.
Henry, Matthew. "Commentary on Philippians 2." Blue Letter Bible. 1 Mar 1996. Web. 1 Dec,
Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, . "Commentary on Philippians 2." Blue Letter Bible. 19 Feb 2000.
Web. 1 Dec 2021. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/jfb/Phl/Phl_002.cfm>.
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