Epistle to the Philippians, Chapter 2

Pekka Jauhiainen
Ulriikka Kanniainen

Christ's actions as an example and a foundation - Philippians 2:1-11

In the beginning of the admonitions in the second chapter Paul mentions the foundation of Christian life: Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. This foundation Paul has emphasized for example in the Letter to the Galatians which had already reached the Philippians at this point. Paul’s letters were copied and they were taken to other congregations as well. Paul assumes that Philippians already know the basics of Christian faith. He uses these basics to encourage the growth of love.

The connection to Christ, or Christ’s presence in Christians and the consolation of his love is the foundation for everything. Christ has loved us, giving his life on the cross for us. The same Christ supports and strengthens our new life as Christians. Having received the Holy Spirit, Christians also have the fruits of the Holy Spirit. This basic assumption is also a prerequisite for the growth of love, which is the main theme in the letter (Philippians 1:9-11).

In the letter to Philippians Paul directs his words to “the perfect” (Phil 3:15). The word ‘perfect’ can also be translated as ‘mature’ or ‘full-grown’. In his letter to Galatians Paul writes that he suffers pain for them until Christ can be seen living in them (Galatians 4:19). In the first letter to Corinthians Pauls sees the Corinthians as small children (1. Corinthians 3:1-3). In the letter to Philippians, however, Paul assumes that the basic questions are clear and that they can move on. A reminder of the basics is sufficient at this point, because they are ¨perfect’ or ‘full grown’ after all.

When Paul urges Philippians to adopt a similar mind as what Christ has, it does not happen in our own strength, detached from Christ. In verse 5 Paul uses the Greek phrase ‘en Khristo’, which could be translated as ‘in Christ’. We can thus say that Paul tells us to think about this in Christ and from the point of view that Christ loves us, lives in us and strengthens us. There will be no growth if we are on our own.

It can be concluded from the letter it seems that there were no such problems in the Phillippian congregation as there were in the congregation in Corinth when the First letter to Corinthians was written. At that time the congregation in Corinth was divided into parties and there were various problems there. Even though there were none of these sort of large problems in Philippi, Paul wishes for the Phillipians to think deeper about their relationships within the congregation. Even in captivity, Paul had thought of the best of the Phillipians. This he did by writing the letter and wishing that he could see them and support them in their growth (Philippians 1:24-26). Now Paul asks the Phillipians to do the same - to see others as more important and to think of their best. The example for all of this is Jesus Christ’s own actions for the best of mankind.

Jesus himself would have had all the reason to demand to be served. He did have the form of God before coming down to earth. When he becomes human, he comes to walk with people and to serve them. Moreover, he lowers himself to die on the cross, serving and thinking of what is best for man. The same attitude should be seen in Christians, in whom Christ lives. Paul urges all of us to adopt this attitude. Such willingness to serve others is based on how Jesus continually serves and loves each one of us. This is why we all learn to serve each other ever more stronger, according to the example that Jesus has set us.

As Christians we do not have the divinity of Jesus Christ, from where we could lower ourselves to serve. However, we do have the honorary title of Child of God. This title is the greatest honor given to man and from there we may lower ourselves to serve, as the true Son of God has served us.

Paul has not written the text about the work of Jesus Christ on his own (Philippians 2:6-11). Scholars think that Paul is quoting a hymn which has been generally used in the services of different congregations. Hence also the Philippians would know the hymn.

The beginning of the hymn tells about how Jesus lowered himself to serve as a human until his death on the cross. This was already briefly talked about above. The latter part of the hymn deals with Jesus being exalted and all authority being returned to him. This power is manifested in three ways:

1) He is given the highest name. There is no other name higher than that which belongs to God himself.

2) All must obey him. The entire creation will have to submit to Jesus in one way or another. This creation includes all spirits, angels, as well as visible creatures that live on earth. Those who are already dead will also have to submit to Jesus’ power.

3) In the end, in heaven, there will be people from all nations and languages, recognizing Jesus as their Lord.

In the Old Testament, Lordship is only reserved to God. This is how these three aforementioned things support the fact that Jesus is God. Only God can receive such respect and honor.

The pure deeds of the children of God - Philippians 2:12-18

The word ‘therefore’ begins the chapter. This is how Paul continues his admonitions based on the previous text. The Philippians had now come to contact with Christ and received the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:1). This connection with Christ and the Holy Spirit should be visible in actions. This is what it means to work to be saved. A good way to put it is to say that you are “carrying your own salvation into effect” - to make it visible and to make it count. The connection with Christ is there and the goal is to grow in it and to work to make it more visible. This is what Paul prayed for in the opening of the letter (Philippians 1:9-10). When the connection to Christ is visible in a Christian’s life, it attracts new people to come and join. In other words, it saves people.

In unity with Christ, a person’s inner mind changes to match the thoughts brought up by Christ and the Holy Spirit. The mind changes to receive the way the Holy Spirit guides through life. Due to this change and because of the guidance of the Holy Spirit it is possible to influence your own life and actions. The motive and starting point for this is the fact that God makes us do good deeds. God influences our will and our actions. Paul talks about this in the beginning of the letter saying we may be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:11). This is how the entire trinity works in people.

The trinity of God has one mind and direction. We know the trinity by actions that are always in line. These Persons may have different tasks but they all have the same goal. Paul encourages the congregation to have a similar unity (Philippians 2:2). A unified congregation is based on the unity that is the trinity of God. The trinity as a whole takes part in the work that happens in a Christian. This is work that Paul urges individuals to do together with the whole congregation.

The new way of thinking of the inner mind is also depicted by Paul’s words “fear” and “trembling”. A Christian is subject to Father God and His actions. A Christian must respect and understand Father God’s greatness. The same is true for Jesus Christ. As mentioned before, every knee should bow before Christ and acknowledge that He is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). This way the entire trinity of God will be shown the same respect.

A person cannot bear perfect fruit by himself. Only the deeds that are influenced by God will be like that - only He is perfect. In order for these perfect deeds to happen, one needs to be exposed to the word of God and to live from it.

A person may grumble or argue. This matches the mindset of an ungodly and twisted mankind. A Christian will still possess some of this old and twisted mindset, which is why Paul has to warn the Philippians not to leave space for this wrong way of thinking.

Yet again Paul takes himself as an example of how he has worked and keeps working for the Philippians. Paul is even ready to face a martyr's death doing this work. This brings him great joy and he wishes that the Phillipians could rejoice with him. The greatest form of care and work is, if necessary, to be ready to give one’s life for the new Christians. This reflects Christ’s mind, which Paul has depicted in the previous Christ-hymn (see also Romans 5:6-8)

Extraordinary workers - Philippians 2:19-30

Timothy is mentioned in the beginning of the letter as he sends his greetings. Now Paul talks about Timothy and his ability to serve. Here Paul also brings up Epaphroditus who the Philippians have sent out to help Paul. One of the main themes in this chapter is how Paul is meaning to one day send Timothy to Philippi and Epaphrodius now already along with this letter. At the same time Timothy and Epaphroditus serve as examples of Christ-like mentality to serve, which Paul has already written about in the Christ-hymn (Phil 2:6-8; 3:17). Later Paul says that himself and others who work like him should be seen as role models (Philippians 3:17).

Paul worries about all the congregations whose founding he has been a part of. He cannot always be present to take care of the spiritual state of the congregations which is why he sends his fellow workers there instead. He gladly sends Timothy there to see the state of the congregations and, if needed, to teach some basics (1. Thessalonians 3:1-3; 1. Corinthians 4:17). Paul has heard all kinds of good things about the Philippians but he wants to make sure that things are going well in Phillippi. Good news is important for Paul - if things are well in Phillippi, he has one less thing to worry about.

Timothy is an exceptional helper for Paul. At the time of writing the letter, Paul does not have such people around who he can trust in the same way or who he can send out to take care of the Phillipians. When Paul says that people are only thinking of themselves, it depicts various situations that he has faced. In the letter to Galatians he had to write about very basic things. In the letters to Corinth arise diverse problems. Now he is in a town where some proclaim Christ out of a will to scheme and with impure hearts. Phillippi, at least, has such maturity that they have sent out Epaphroditus to help Paul. A congregation or church shows a level of maturity when they send missionaries abroad - especially if these missionaries have the mind and the will to serve like Christ.

Putting another person’s needs first was one of the main themes in the exhortation which precedes the Christ-hymn. Timothy has proven to be a servant who does this. Phillippians have also seen this attitude, when they have seen Timothy teaching and taking care of others. At this point in his imprisonment Paul is not ready to send out Timothy. Paul is waiting for the court’s sentence where one of the possible outcomes is death penalty. Perhaps Paul has been able to send Timothy when he was in house arrest. (Acts 28:30-31).

The kind of disciple who carefully follows his master’s teachings and ways of life can be called ‘son’. By the way he behaves and appears, the son resembles his father, in this case his teacher Paul. Behind all of this there is the example of Christ whose example is above Paul. By the way he lives and acts Paul wants to assume the attitude and love of Christ in every way.

The Philippians sent Epaphroditus to help Paul. Paul makes Epaphroditus his comrade for the case of the gospel. This shows that the work of Epaphroditus has been truly beneficial. Later in that letter we see that Epaphroditus has brought the donations of the Philippians (Philippians 4:18). One cannot store money in captivity, which is why Epaphroditus has kept the money outside the prison. Outside the prison Epaphroditus has been able to bring Paul anything that he has needed, for example food and writing supplies. We do not know how else Epaphroditus has helped Paul and the case of the gospel.

Epaphroditus has fallen ill while helping Paul. This should not lower his status in the eyes of the Phillippians - on the contrary, actually. He risked himself in this way while other Philippians could not leave. Often a preacher who has fallen ill may wonder what others are thinking of him and so did Epaphroditus. Paul wants to lift Epaphroditus in his speech so that the Phillippians would not think badly of him and so that he would feel better as well. This is the kind of support we all need.

Even though Epaphroditus was a highly thought-of Christian, he fell ill. We can see that falling ill is not an indication of being a bad Christian. According to the text, there has been no healing miracle through the hands of Paul - even the charismas received by apostles could not always help with sickness. Often the biggest of miracles happened at times of transition where new congregations were formed. Paul had prayed for Epaphroditus and finally God did have mercy and He healed Epaphroditus. This way Paul had one less thing to worry about.

Epaphroditus is most likely still recovering. At home he can fully recover - the right place for a patient is in an easier place and not in difficult circumstances. Coming back home from the hardships could be a relief for Paul as well. On the other hand Epaphroditus has already completed his most important job in supporting Paul and it is time to return home.