We now come upon a section of Scripture which has been
variously interpreted. In this particular lesson we have chosen to provide an
overview which sometimes is missing from the more detailed treatments. The section
includes some of the most soaring words in the Bible. For that reason, many
authors miss the major point of the first half of this chapter: the unity of
Philippians 2:1-4 NASB
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation
of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and
compassion, (2) make my joy complete by being
of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one
purpose. (3) Do nothing from selfishness or
empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important
than yourselves; (4) do not merely look out for your own personal interests,
but also for the interests of others.
A bit of historical reflection must come first. The usual
method of looking at this section of Scripture focuses on either the nature of
Christ or the perceived dilemma between faith and works. It is a fact that the
"faith only" aspects of the Protestant Reformation produced one of
the great divide in Christianity. One of the effects this is had in recent
times is that the church no longer teaches on the subject of the unity of the
church. We have accepted the great divisions in the church as being something
which cannot be overcome. This will come as something of a surprise to our
ancestors, who regularly strived to reunify the church.
But it is clear today, at least for the evangelical
churches, that the unity of the church in any sense is no longer a priority.
Church leaders split and establish new denominations fairly often. This is
rather a new thing; not so much that we split, but that we consider it such a
trivial thing to do. Our ancestors would've been appalled at this behavior.
They might've come to the same conclusions we have, and participated in such a
split, but they would have taken the subject much more seriously. There are
many factors in this, but may I suggest one factor which is predominant? The
Scripture says of Satan:
Isaiah 14:12-14 NASB
"How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth, You who have weakened the nations! (13) "But you said in your heart, 'I will
ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit
on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. (14) 'I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make
myself like the Most High.'
Perhaps this is the difference: our ancestors understood
that humility is a virtue, and that pride is the sin of Satan. Today, when a
leader in the evangelical church is offended, it seems nothing to go off and
establish your own denomination. Indeed, the growth of the mega-church has
encouraged this. The church to which your author belongs previously was
accustomed to hosting gatherings for all the other churches in our movement in
the local area. This was considered a blessing, particularly by the smaller
churches who could not afford to put on the training being given. We have since
become a mega-church whose pastor is clearly a celebrity. We no longer have any
public interaction with those other churches. It is left to the reader to weigh
whether this is, on balance, good or bad.
Is Unity Important?
You might well ask: is unity all that important? After all,
our church seems to get along quite well without it. The only unity we are
concerned with is within our own congregation. And things are going well; so
why should we worry about this?
On the night in which he was betrayed, Christ prayed for the
unity of the church.
Over and over again, the Scripture proclaims that the church is
one body — the body of Christ.
This unity is so strong that Christ proclaims it to be a
characteristic of his disciples — that they love one another.
Far from being an unnecessary item, the unity of the church
is the heartfelt desire of all who love her. Paul, in this passage, is no
exception. We may now consider his appeal for the unity of the church.
Paul bases his appeal upon the common bond he has with the
Philippians. In so doing he cites the following things:
- Encouragement – the same
root word that is translated “comforter” for the Holy Spirit, it means
coming along side (paraklesis). It is the sensation of one who comes to
you with a hug when you are down.
- Comfort – (the word “his”
in front of “love” is supplied – it is not unique to Christ’s love) – the
word comes from two Greek words. The first is para, from which we get
our word “parallel.” The second is the root of our word “myth.” It means
one who shares the same or similar story with us. Have you ever received
comfort from someone who’s been through the same trouble you are having?
- Fellowship – it
is koinonia – meaning that deep and abiding companionship of an
- Tenderness and
compassion – Sometimes “tough it out” is distinctly the wrong advice.
Even the tough need to know when to be tender.
These things are the basis of the friendship and love he
holds with them, and therefore the basis on which he appeals for their unity.
Notice please that he asks that they make his joy complete — Paul is not trying
to solve a problem here. He is trying to make things better; it's the act of
the teacher raising his students to the next level.
If you want to see the practical side of the virtue of
humility, consider what Paul asks them to do. He tells them to be humble, and
consider themselves as less important than others — but he follows that with
his instruction to look out for the interests of others. It's not just a
question of attitude, but action. Let me give you an example. My wife, who
completely understands my total inability to pick out the right clothes, will
at interval come home with a new shirt for me. She loves me and therefore she
looks out for my interests. Left them I own devices I would probably be wearing
the same shirt for 30 years. She does not ask me to come to the store and try
it on, or even look at it, but goes ahead and does what is in my best interest.
It is that kind of love that Paul is encouraging here. To answer the ancient
question, yes, you are your brother's keeper.
The Example of Christ
Philippians 2:5-11 NASB
(5) Have this attitude in yourselves which was
also in Christ Jesus, (6) who, although He
existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be
grasped, (7) but emptied Himself, taking the
form of a bond-servant, and being made
in the likeness of men. (8) Being found in
appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of
death, even death on a cross. (9) For this
reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is
above every name, (10) so that at the name of
Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under
the earth, (11) and that every tongue will
confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Much of the work of Jesus Christ is to be taken in the
concept of Christ as our exemplar. For those of you unfamiliar with the
concept, an exemplar is defined in these two possible ways:
An exemplar is an ideal model. This carries with it the idea that
you can look at the model, follow the model, and be right in your conduct.
Shipwrights used to work this way; they would make a model of the ship they
intended to build, show it to a potential purchaser, and then use the model to
determine the dimensions of the actual ship. Military officers will be familiar
with the example of Robert E Lee. Evangelists will be familiar with Billy
Graham. The idea is simply that you look at what that person would do, and you
do the same.
And exemplar is also a standard of comparison. The idea here is
to ask whether or not you measure up to the person who is your exemplar. It's a
We might cite one example from Jesus Christ. You will recall
that he was baptized by John the Baptist. John, rather puzzled by Christ's
request, said something to the effect that Christ should baptize John the
Baptist, not the other way around. Christ told him it was fitting to do this to
fulfill all righteousness. It's an answer that doesn't seem to answer.
Chrysostom laid out a very good reason for the answer. He imagined that a
person of royalty might object to being baptized on the grounds that this was
for peasants. After all, they bathe once a year, he bathes every day. The
answer that the evangelist should give is that the King of Kings and Lord of
Lords, ruler of Heaven and Earth, went through this same baptism. He set the
example; he is the exemplar. I leave it to the reader to work out the moral
Exemplar of Humility
In this passage Paul is using Jesus as the exemplar of
humility. To understand just what a great example this is, you need first to
understand the nature of Christ. He is a person of the Trinity, sharing the
very essence of God the Father — his existence. He is in no sense inferior to
God. He is equally divine.
Consider therefore what happens to him when he becomes a
man. He didn't arrive and pop out of the spaceship; he was born just like the
rest of us. He grew up just like the rest of us. For our sakes, he died on a cross;
suffering the penalty we should pay. It is the greatest come down in the
history of the universe. He did this willingly. Now you know what humility
For that exact reason — the humility demonstrated at the
cross — God has exalted him. The last is now the first. It is a general
principle in the kingdom of God that those who humble themselves before God
will be lifted up. The more humble, the higher the lift is. If he is willing to
do that for us, what part of "look out for the other guy's interest"
is so difficult?
Christ Among Us
There are three words here that are used to describe Christ.
You can understand the completeness of the transformation in looking at these
- Form – the Greek
is morphe – it means the external likeness, that which is
- Likeness – the Greek is
rooted in the prefix homo, from which we get our word homogenized –
it means the internal workings.
- Fashion – the Greek
is schema, which is related to the fitting into circumstances –
meaning the external circumstances.
So you see that Christ became completely like us. The
formula to remember is simply this: fully God, fully man. The one who is fully
God became fully man for our sakes; therefore it is said that he humbled
Paul now reaches the height of his argument for church
Philippians 2:12-13 NASB
(12) So then, my beloved, just as you have
always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence,
work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (13)
for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
This passage is famous as being that closest and most
accurate expression of the dilemma between faith and works. It has been a cause
of division in the church for hundreds of years. How can works be required if
faith is all that is necessary? It is a puzzle that is occupied the best minds
of Christendom for a long time.
So how does the average stupid clod in the pew deal with
such a thing? The question is more general than that; how does the man in the
pew deal with any problem for which he has neither the training nor intellect
to solve? What you do when Christ commands don't fit in your logical way of
doing things? The answer is also well known. The solution to a dilemma is
always obedience. Do what Christ commands you and leave the theology to others.
It's not that these positions don't have some common ground;
- Faith without works is
dead. So says St. James, so say both debaters. One views it as an
essential element, the other as a natural outcome of living faith. But
both agree: if your faith is real and living, it will produce good works.
- Reward is to be distinguished
from salvation. When reading the Scripture we must be careful of
context. If the passage is talking about blessings in heaven, we must not
confuse that with salvation. Reward for good works is also a common
- God provides a task and gift
for each Christian. This implies a responsibility to do something
with that gift, namely that task. Our Lord makes this clear in the parable
of the Talents.
- Growth in the faith comes, at
least in part, by works. If you are not performing the works of the
Lord, you are not growing in the faith. But if you are growing in the
faith, you cannot help but grow in the works you perform.
- There is also a sense of works
as the completion of faith. That is the sense used here; the good
ship Faith is launched by Grace, but fitted out by Works – for whatever
purpose God might have.
As you can see, there is plenty of agreement — and your
duties as a Christian are clear. With a little look at the Greek, we shall see
that Paul himself disambiguate this passage by the verbs he used.
Work Out Your Salvation
We are told to "work out" our own salvation. The
word used here is katergazomai. It carries with it the connotation of finishing
something, or fashioning it into something useful out of a more general-purpose
item. Perhaps an example will make this clearer:
If you decided you wanted to build your very own battleship,
you would discover that the standard method for building a battleship starts
with building the hull. Once you have the hull with the engines and armor, you
shove the thing into the water and finish working with it there. The process is
called "fitting out." There are a number of reasons for doing it this
way, not the least of which is that if you wait any longer, the thing gets heavier
and harder to push. That's the sense that is being used here; by grace God
launches the good ship Faith, by works he fits her out.
You are to do this in fear and trembling. The fear of the
Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we are told. Here's a good example of it. If
you take your salvation by grace as a casual thing, no big deal, and no real
reason for you to get to work – you've missed the point. Understand that God
does not wish to launch that ship and have it idle in the basin. Ships are
meant to sail; Christians are meant to work.
God Working in You
The word used for work that God does is energeo, from which
we get our word energy. There's a big difference between working out a math
problem, and working in the yard. The Greek makes that distinction; the English
uses only the one word for both situations. It is clear then that God is at
work within us. To repeat previous metaphor, once God has launched the good
ship Faith, by his work he fits her out for service. This carries with it some
The first is that God works, and therefore we can work. If God
launched us in faith and then did nothing, we just sit there. But he does not
just launch, he works to perfect this. Therefore we are able to work ourselves
because of what God has enabled us to do.
The second is that God works, and therefore we must work. He did
not design his people to sit around and watch; we are not spectators in the
football stands, but players on the field.
This lesson has been about the unity of the church. One of
the most destructive forces opposing the unity of the church is laziness. It is
so easy for many Christians simply to sit in the pew, tell a preacher what a
great sermon he delivered, and then go home and do nothing. There is nothing of
obedience in that. The solution to the dilemma of faith and works is in