by Sam E. Stone
This week’s topic concludes the unit, “Reasons for Praise.” We have been reminded to “remember Christ” and “remember the warnings” (of Scripture) as we “praise the Lord” and “go and tell.” In the following weeks we will look at John’s vision of worship (in the book of Revelation).
Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is more like a personal letter than a theological treatise. Today’s text, however, ranks as one of the most significant passages in all the New Testament regarding the coming of God’s Son to earth. It is filled with practical lessons for us as well.
The Need for Unity/Philippians 2:1-4
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion. Paul is not questioning whether or not they have these qualities. “If you have” might better be translated “Since you have.”
Paul has already indicated that the Philippians were a source of joy for him (1:4). Now he explains three ways in which they can complete that joy—being like-minded, having the same love, and being one in spirit and purpose. They should do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Instead, in humility they should think first of others (1 Peter 5:5; Mark 10:43-45). When believers share these traits, unity will reign. Then all will follow the church’s one head, Christ.
It is normal to care about yourself and your welfare, but this alone is not enough. We are to look also to the interests of others. Jesus taught that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 19:19). It is not sinful to have a healthy concern for yourself, but Christ commands us to have an equivalent love for others. You must love others as much as you love yourself (see Romans 15:1-4). Frank Thielman wrote, “If we are to put the interests of others ahead of our own . . . we must relinquish our fascination with personalities, including our own, and get busy with the unimpressive tasks of helping our brothers and sisters at their points of need.”
The Example of Humility/Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. In humility, as in everything else, Jesus provides the perfect example for his followers. His self-sacrificing spirit of love for others is a model (John 13:12-17). Any time church members have a rift, whether in Philippi (Philippians 4:2) or in your hometown, maintaining the attitude of Christ will solve it.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Many Bible students consider verses 6-11 to be part of an early Christian hymn written by (or adapted by) Paul. Whether these beautiful lines constitute a poem or not, they provide a dramatic picture of our Savior’s incarnation and exaltation. Even before the foundation of the world, Christ was God.
Jesus emptied himself of the glory he had with the Father before the world was created (John 17:5). He made himself nothing. How much lower could Jesus have gone than taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness? Jesus was truly and absolutely both truly God and truly man (2 Corinthians 8:9). Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Each phrase adds to the description of Christ’s descent (see Hebrews 5:7-10). He came down from Heaven, to earth, lived as man, then died as man by the worst possible kind of death (Galatians 3:13). Both Jews and Greeks were troubled by this (1 Corinthians 1:23).
Humiliation was followed by exaltation, however. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name. While the previous verses point out what Jesus did, these verses show God’s response (Hebrews 2:9). The Father took the initiative. Jesus was “divine in Heaven, no less divine on earth, and no more divine following the ascension,” explains Pat Edwin Harrell. Now, however, he is uniquely honored and recognized by the name “Lord.”
At the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Even those who have opposed him will one day acknowledge him (Isaiah 45:23, 24; Romans 10:9, 10). Note how verses 5-11 are directly tied both to what precedes them and what follows them—Paul’s admonition to humility and unity (vv. 1-4) and his subsequent appeal for obedience and faithfulness (vv. 12-16). Be like Jesus.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.