The church at Philippi was admonished to strive “together for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27b). They were told not to be “terrified by your adversaries” (verse 28a)—but were to humbly follow the Lord Jesus. Then in chapter 2 believers are given an exhortation on humility.
1. The call to humility (2:1-4)
The word “humility” speaks of a modest opinion of oneself. It implies a deep sense of one’s own smallness. People who are humble are aware of their human limitations. Humility is the opposite of arrogance and defiance. God often chose the weak and lowly things to accomplish His purposes: of all the trees, He often chose the vine (a low plant that creeps along the wall)—John 15:1,5; of all the beasts, He chose the soft and patient lamb—on at least 27 occasions in the Bible; of all the fowls, He chose the mild and guileless dove—Matthew 10:16.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27 we read that God chose “the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” God used the tear of a baby to move the heart of Pharaoh’s daughter; He used David’s sling to overthrow the Philistine giant. He used a widow with a handful of meal to sustain the prophet Elijah; He used a little child to teach His disciples a much needed lesson on humility. God uses weak things and lowly persons to accomplish His purposes.
Humility is not “a lack of confidence;” there is no need to “diminish our accomplishments” in order to be humble. Sometimes we say, “I can’t do this” or “I can’t do that”—just to hear others say, “Oh yes you can! I know you can!” Self-diminishment can be a sneaky form of pride.
Philippians 2:1-2 “If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
The persecution experienced at Philippi from the enemies of the Gospel often frayed their emotions—and sometimes led to tensions among the members of the church. These sources of stress had threatened to divide the congregation. And so Paul urges his readers to maintain an attitude of humility, and to remember the interests and needs of others.
The Greek form of the word “if” actually is better translated “since.” That is, since there is consolation in Christ, and comfort in love, and fellowship in the Holy Spirit—and since you have experienced God’s tender mercies—Paul says in verse 2, “fulfill ye my joy” or “You will make my joy complete,” by being like-minded and living harmoniously in one accord with each other. To be “like-minded” (verse 2) means “to work together harmoniously, and forget your petty quarrels.” To be of “one accord” and “of one mind” means to be united in our testimony for Christ. To have “the same love” is a reminder that we are not to love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). Genuine love is not mere sentimental affection (being nice to others); genuine love requires sacrificial service in behalf of others.
The instruction to be “of one accord” (verse 2b) is a call for unity. Unity is not exactly the same as uniformity. Unity can be illustrated by a giant oak tree with branches that differ in many ways. Some of the branches are thick, others are thin; some are long, others are short; some are crooked, others are full of knots—but there are inner cords that bind the branches to the trunk. Uniformity can be illustrated by a stack of 2 x 4’s, all the same length and thickness. With no inner core that binds them together, a pile of 2 x 4’s can much more easily be toppled than can the giant oak tree.
Divisions have always plagued the church. As Dr. Donald Kraybill says, separating from those who continuously adhere to false and unscriptural teachings is a Christian duty; it is not necessarily a sin. However, dividing because of personal ambition, or because of conflict with certain personalities, is always harmful and wrong.
“Though some voices . . . decry all the divisions—separations do sometimes spur renewal and spiritual revitalization. Conflicts may even bring positive fruits—stronger solidarity within groups, sharper group identities, clearer boundaries, and revitalized commitments. Schism and division, albeit painful, reflect the fact that people care enough about their convictions to make hard decisions that may lead to separation. In the end, a world of strong commitments and separation may be more desirable than a wishy-washy world of spineless beliefs” (Anabaptist World USA by Donald B. Kraybill and C. Neslon Hostetter, Herald Press, page 53).
A balanced conclusion might be that we are to unanimously agree in the great things of God, and keep the unity of the Spirit in other differences. There are times, especially related to relatively minor issues, when we must agree to disagree agreeably.
Philippians 2:3 “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”
The word “strife” is knocking others down; the word “vainglory” is setting oneself up! Once again, the appeal is for working together in a spirit of unity.
Think of the simple task of flying a kite. Who flew the kite? “I did,” said the sticks; “I did,” said the paper; “No, I did,” said the boy; “No, I did,” said the wind. But in reality, they all flew the kite together! If the sticks had broken, or the paper had torn, or the wind had died down—the kite would have fallen to the ground. So it is in the Lord’s work. We each have a task to do—families to nurture; neighbors to visit; finances to give; classes to teach. God expects His people to work together.
The term “lowliness of mind” (middle of verse 3) means that we recognize our inborn sinful tendencies, our daily need for God’s grace. Surely, there is not much room for pride.
The clause “let each esteem others better than themselves” is a difficult command for any person to practice. One of the ways to approach this difficult task is to take a realistic look at our own tendency to sin. Did you ever say a word that you should not have spoken, or think a wrong thought that surely dishonored the Lord?
All of us know far more about our own hearts, than we do about the heart of anyone else. The Apostle Paul viewed himself honestly as “the least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9); he called himself “less than the least of all saints” (Ephesians 3:8); and “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Those who hold such views about themselves, will more quickly “esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3b).
Philippians 2:4 “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.”
The man who lives only for himself is engaged in a very small business! Individuals who are humble will pay attention to those around them, and will ask the Lord how they might minister to the needs of others—perhaps just with a smile, or a brief conversation.
Verse 4 is a reminder that it is our duty to keep an eye open for the burdens which our brothers and sisters in Christ are shouldering—and offer to lend a helping hand. We are to “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2)—and thus we pray that God will save us from being so occupied with our own interests that we are almost totally unconscious of the needs of others.
2. The example of humility (2:5-11)
After encouraging unselfishness and humility among God’s people, Paul next points his readers to the Lord Jesus Christ, who exemplified those qualities.
Philippians 2:5 “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”
The “mind of Christ” is basically opposite of the mind of the worldly person. The mind of the worldly person covets position and power, wants the service of others, shrinks from suffering, and looks at wealth as the supreme good.
Having the “mind of Christ” involves thinking His thoughts, loving what He loves, hating what He hates, and having the same desires and goals that He expressed. Those seeking the mind of Christ will eagerly try to follow in His footsteps. Some expressions of the mind of Christ are these: He stressed obedience to God’s Word (John 8:29); the necessity of forgiving others (Matthew 6:14-15); and that there are two destinies in the hereafter (Matthew 25:46).
Philippians 2:6 “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God.”
The point of the verse is—that even though Jesus existed as God, and enjoyed the glories of Heaven—He willingly and unselfishly gave up His high position to become a servant. The word “form”—being in the form of God, is morphe—which has nothing to do with shape or size, but refers to having full possession of God’s divine nature. Jesus possesses the very nature and essence of God in His own being.
The words “thought it not robbery” can be translated “did not cling to His rights as God.” He who was rich, became poor for our sakes, “that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). We all have friends who will help us in a pinch—but who will become poor that we might be rich? C. S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) says, “If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”
The phrase, “to be equal with God” (verse 6b), is repeating for emphasis the idea of Christ’s being “in the form of God” (6a). When Jesus came to earth, He was God in a human body—but did not in any way diminish His absolute equality with God.
Philippians 2:7 “But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.”
The phrase “made himself of no reputation”—literally says, “He emptied himself.” The theologians speak of the incarnation of Christ as the kenosis (which means “emptying”).
The phrase “in the likeness of men” does not say “he became a man”—He was, in fact, a God-man. His deity was not laid aside. He continued to have the attributes of God.
Jesus did not subtract deity, but He added humanity during His life on earth. Jesus became hungry and thirsty and suffered pain and experienced sadness—but He was still divine after His incarnation. He still possessed deity. He was still omnipotent (Matthew 28:18), and omniscient (Mark 2:8), and omnipresent (Matthew 18:20)—yet at times, there was a voluntary non-use of His divine attributes. For example, Mark 13:32 says that Jesus did not know the time of His return. Jesus was the God-man—having in one person a truly human nature, and a truly divine nature. We will never fully understand this great mystery. When on earth, Jesus set aside His heavenly privilege, and focused on servanthood, humility, and obedience to the heavenly Father.
Philippians 2:8 “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
In the eyes of the Jews (and of the Romans)—universal shame was attached to the idea of death by crucifixion. The Jews were looking for a victorious Messiah who could establish an earthly kingdom that would overthrow the power of Rome. The Gentiles said it was “foolish” to think that the death of an insignificant Galilean named Jesus could offer deliverance from the penalty of death.
There were many ways by which Jesus could have been killed. He could have been stoned, beheaded, or hanged. But He was destined—not for just any kind of death—but for “death [on] the cross.” Crucifixion was the most cruel, excruciating, painful, and shameful form of execution ever devised by man. It was reserved for slaves, and for the lowest of criminals.
Frederick Farrar (in his Life of Christ) explains that death by crucifixion includes everything that’s horrible—pain, dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, torment—all this along with the unnatural position of being stretched out on a cross, which made every move painful. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having been made a curse for us (Galatians 3:13).
Philippians 2:9 “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name.”
God highly exalted Jesus, and bestowed on Him the Name which is above every name—that is, God lifted up His beloved Son in several ways—first, through His resurrection from the tomb; then, by His ascension into Heaven; and finally, by His being seated in an honored place at the right hand of the Father in Heaven (Ephesians 1:20).
The “Name” which is “above every name” is supplied in verse 11. It is the Name “Lord”—a title of majesty and authority and honor. In fact, that Name will be expanded even further—to become “King of Kings” and “Lord of Lords” (Revelation 19:16).
Philippians 2:10-11 “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
There are those today who say, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” But the time will come when the question is not, “What will you do with Jesus?”—but “What will He do with me?” The prophecy of verses 10-11 has not yet been fulfilled, but some day every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus. His glory will penetrate every dark corner of earth! Every person who has ever lived on this planet will someday recognize Jesus for who He is!
Verse 10 (which says that “every knee should bow”), does not necessarily imply universal salvation, but it does says that there will be universal recognition of Christ’s authority. Those “in heaven” are the holy angels and the redeemed believers from all ages. Those “on earth” are the saved and the lost still living on earth. Those “under the earth” must be the fallen angels and the unsaved dead who are awaiting the final judgment.
3. The fruit of humility (2:12-13)
Jesus is our supreme example of humility. Verse 12 describes the result of acknowledging Jesus Christ as Lord. We are to “walk even as [Jesus] walked” (1 John 2:6).
Philippians 2:12-13 “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
A common view of sanctification is that holy living cannot be accomplished. Some say that only God can work in the life of the believer the kind of life that should be lived. I’ve heard preachers say, “Let go and let God.” That sounds pious, but that is not what the text says. The words in verse 12b (“work out your own salvation”)—mean that we are to put forth a genuine effort to live by God’s standard as given in His Word. The subject of the clause is “you.” You work out your salvation—and do it with seriousness—with “fear and trembling.”
The words “fear and trembling” speak here of being aware of our weaknesses, and of the power of temptation—and the need to constantly be on guard lest we fall into sin.
Verse 12 says that we must resolve to do what is right—but we do it with a sense of our human frailty. Verse 13, in essence, says that God will supply the desire and the energy.
We are responsible for living the Christian life—yet it is really God who is working in us. To grow in likeness to Christ (to experience increasing sanctification day by day), requires the individual’s own personal effort—yet that effort is empowered by God, who longs to work out His will in our lives.
In 2 Peter 1, beginning at verse 5, we are told to “add to your faith, virtue, and to virtue, knowledge”—and then temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. But it starts out with the words “giving all diligence”—or “Do your level best” or “Put forth every effort.” That is, we are to let a combination of Holy Spirit power and sincere human resolve—blend together to produce the beautiful character described in verses 5-7 of that passage.
Paul is not speaking about attaining salvation by human effort, but about what it takes to live out the inner transformation which God has (by His grace) granted to us. Salvation is a gift from God to those who repent of their sins—but it is your responsibility as a believer to live your life in a way that is consistent with the gift of salvation.
One of the marks of a genuine Christian is humility—a modesty and meekness that does not quickly boast, but is willing to be a servant to benefit others:
- Humble persons keep on working even when nobody praises them.
- Humble persons remain calm even when they are falsely accused.
- Humble persons are teachable and ready to do small things.
- Humble persons are not envious of those who surpass them in ability and achievement.
- Humble persons are willing to hear another person’s point of view.