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Philippians 2

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-30


  • In the previous chapter, Paul tells his peeps in Philly-pie to not get spooked and scatter in the face of opposition, but rather stay united.
  • He goes on to say that unity means being one in mind and spirit, not just looking out for “number one.” The Philippians need to be humble, putting each other’s needs over their own, just like Jesus did.
  • Paul tells them to think like Jesus thought. Afterall, Jesus was God, and had every right to all the privileges that came with being God, but he put all those privileges aside to become a man, no, a slave, a slave who died a humiliating death, no less. This self sacrificing, humble attitude, shows us who God really is and that he puts others (us!) first, which is why in the end everyone will come to praise the name of Jesus – the name by which God’s true character is known.
  • So, knowing this, Paul tells them to get the most out of what it means to be saved by being united as a community of people who put other people first. Work hard at being together in awe of the sacrificial attitude God has shown you through Jesus.
  • He reminds them not to grumble and complain about their circumstances like the Jews did in the desert with Moses. Instead, where the Israelites failed to be the children of God by being a generation of complaining jerks, the Philippians can truly embody what it means to be children of God and stand out from the world around them. In fact, their attitude of humble unity should contrast them from their surroundings as much as the shining stars contrast against the night sky.
  • Paul then says, “Even if I die here, it is but a small addition to the larger sacrifice you are making in your community.” Then reminds them that the circumstances they face are good to be in together, and that they should celebrate with him because they are on the winning side (even if it looks like they’re losing).
  • A bit of bad news that Paul has for them is that Timothy, one of Paul’s favs, and a guy who really exemplifies the others-first attitude Jesus has, is someone Paul can’t spare to send back to Philippi yet.
  • Instead, Paul tells them, he’s sending back their pal Epaphroditus (E-Paf for short). E-Paf is an awesome guy, and he exemplifies the martyr-like attitude everyone in Philippi should have, because he almost died just trying to help Paul.
  • “So give E-Paf a high five when he comes back,” Paul concludes. “He risked his life just to be the representative of all that your community has done to help me. That’s cool.”

Historical Context:


Kenosis is a Greek term that comes from the phrase “emptied himself” (2:7 – “made himself nothing” NIV). Kenosis is the word used to discuss what took place in Christ’s incarnation. There have been many different theories used over the centuries to describe this phenomena: 4

  • Apollinarianism: This view stated that the one person of Christ had a human body but a divine mind and spirit. It implied that being human is essentially sinful. This heresy was rejected at the council of Alexandria (362 AD) and the Council of Constantinople (381 AD). 4
  • Nestorianism: This view stated that there are two separate persons in Christ—a human person and a divine person. 4
  • Eutychianism/Monophysitism: This view stated that Christ had only one nature. His human nature was ‘absorbed into’ a divine nature and thus morphed into a third nature. This third ‘mix’ of natures is neither human nor divine.4
  • The Orthodox View: This view states that Christ was fully God and fully Man, one person with two unmixed natures. This perspective was approved by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD).5

A key question in this debate is “of what did Christ empty himself?”

  • Emptied = Poured Out: Paul first emphasizes two realities: one that “being in the form of God” means being equal with God; two, that in Christ’s “being in the form of God/being equal with God” he displayed a mindset precisely the opposite of “selfish ambition” and empty glory. Paul then says Christ did not consider “equality with God” to consist of being “grasping” or “selfish”; rather he rejected this popular view of kingly power by pouring himself out for the sake of others. So, Christ did not empty himself of anything; he simply poured himself out; he “poured himself out by taking on the `form’ of a slave.” The narrative presents “the mind of Christ” in two major parts: his “humiliation” (vv. 6-8) and “exaltation” (vv. 9-11).  Paul shows that in all the self-emptying Jesus did, he never ceases to be God in his “humiliation”–indeed this is the full revelation of God’s essential character.1
  • Emptied = Humbled: Christ first “emptied himself” by stooping from God to humanity, then later “humbled himself” by stooping from humanity to death.7
  • Emptied = Setting Aside: This analogy may help – the “form” (or identity) of a king partially consists of the external marks which indicate a king–his sceptre, diadem, robes, attendants, throne, etc. Thus, Christ, before the foundation of the world, was in the “form” of God. Yet, when he came to earth he set aside these markers of kingship. This did not mean he was not king, rather it meant that he did not appear to be king because the hallmarks of kingship were not readily visible. Yet, one sees that through his death Jesus truly has the right to be king. Just like when the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed, Jesus’ glory was only for a time obscured.8

Isaiah 45

When Paul says “every knee will bow” and “every tongue confess” he is referencing Isaiah 45:23. The context of the quotation from Isaiah is taken up with the uniqueness of Yahweh in contrast to lifeless idols (45:14 “he has no peer; there is no other god”). In the Isaiah passage, Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is unique and the only god who creates, redeems, and sustains.10

What is notable here is that Isaiah 45:23 refers to the world acknowledging Yahweh as the one true god, but Paul substitutes in the name of Jesus. Paul is asserting that at Christ’s exaltation God has transferred this right to obeisance to the Son; he is the Lord to whom every knee shall eventually bow.1


Paul tells the Philippians to do everything without “grumbling and complaining” thus evoking images of the “grumbling” and “complaining” done by the Israelites in the desert (Exod 15:24, etc.). He then goes on to quote Deuteronomy 32:5 in which Moses talks about the Israelites being “a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.”  However, here Paul designates the unsaved world in Philippi as “crooked and perverse” whereas Moses referred to the Israelites as “crooked and perverse,” and he contrasts the Philippians being “blameless and pure” children of God with the Israelites whom Moses called unfaithful children.

In Deuteronomy, Moses states that Israel “no longer” has the right to be called children of God. They are “blameworthy,” (Greek: moma) a term from the sacrificial system ( “full of blemishes”). Paul picks up this adjective, negates it (Greek: a-moma, “without fault”) and adds “in the midst of” before continuing the rest of the quotation. He thus converts the whole phrase into its opposite with regard to the Philippians. Over against Israel, they are God’s children, and by refraining from internal bickering they will be without fault.1

“Become blameless” is also the exact language used by God to begin the renewal of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:1). The word refers to conduct with which one (probably God in this case) can “find no fault.”1

Overall, Paul expects the Philippians to succeed where Israel failed. The underlying theology in all of this is that God’s own character can now be reflected in his children when they bear the likeness of Jesus.1

Daniel 12

The image of the Philippian congregation as stars shining in a black sky is reminiscent of Daniel 12:3 which reads, “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those who bring many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.” Some have suggested that this figure of speech refers to evangelistic activity, in that the stars are shining Gospel light upon a dark world. However, Paul speaks of the unblemished congregation (like stars) being in the midst of the crooked generation (like the night sky). The stars do not illumine the night sky. They do just the opposite, showing how dark it is. Just as stars stand in contrast to the dark sky, so the unblemished congregation is to be in stark contrast to the perverted generation. This is not particularly about evangelism, it is about being utterly different from the sinful society around them.3

Drink Offering

Drink offerings were common in both Jewish and Gentile religions. It is unclear here which type Paul is alluding to, since he was Jewish and his audience was most likely Greek.

The Jews poured their gifts of liquid around the table, or beside the alter, on which they put their gift to God (Numbers 28:1-7).2

The Greeks poured their drink offerings over the sacrifice itself.

The meaning is the same both ways. In either case, Paul is comparing all of his own sacrifices to the drink offering (which was the tiniest part of the offering) to their labors (the main sacrifice).Paul is connect his circumstances with theirs, humbly.


  • This chapter begins with a “therefore” ( “for this reason”), which connects Paul’s discussion about the Philippians’ struggle and suffering in 1:27-30 to his appeal for unity.1
  • A key word in Paul’s plea for unity is the Greek verb phroneo which indicates that one should set of one’s mind, or how one is overall disposed toward something. He uses it in 2:2, “be likeminded”, in 2:5, “have this same mindset, as Christ did” and in 4:2, where he urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mindset.1
  • Grammatically, Paul set up “selfish ambition or vain conceit” against “one in spirit and one in mind.” It is also important to note that “selfish ambition” is precisely what Paul in 1:17 attributes to those who are trying to afflict him in his imprisonment, while “vain conceit” is conceptually related to their “envy and rivalry” (1:15).1
  • The Greco-Roman world of the First Century generally considered humility to be a shortcoming, not a virtue. In the Old Testament the term indicates lowliness in the sense of “creatureliness.”1
  • Paul thought of salvation not in terms of the individual, but in terms of the community. One was saved “into” a group of people by joining them in “rightness” with God. The concept of the individual being “saved” from themsleves was secondary, if considered at all. Thus, when Paul says the Philippians should “work out your own salvation” he meant “in your relationships with one another live out the salvation Christ has brought you.” This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community.1
  • The Greek word translated “work out” that Paul uses when he tells the Philippians to “work out” their own salvation, comes in the works of Strabo, a First Century Greek, who uses the same word to describe the Romans “working out” the great silver mines of Spain. In other words, they were getting all the silver that they could from the mines. Thus, Paul implies that Christians must work hard to get all the wonderful riches that their salvation in Christ has for them.2
  • Paul uses the term “fear and trembling” to describe how the Philippians should “work out” their salvation. This does not mean the terror of a slave in front of a cruel master. It means the honor that we should give to our holy and powerful God.2
  • Why is Timothy mentioned before Epaphroditus? Chronologically, it is the reverse of what one would expect since Epaphroditus is going back to the Philippians before Paul sends Timothy. Structurally, however, it reinforces Paul’s point: he first urges the Philippians to look out for the interests of others (2:3-4) and then turns right around and gives them the example of Timothy, who looks “out for the interests of others.” Paul then talks about the sacrifice they are making for their faith (2:17), and uses Epaphroditus as an example of one of their own community who has already risked his life for the gospel.10 Thus, Paul uses Timothy as a model of one serving the gospel by selflessly caring for the needs of others, and Epaphroditus as a model for the suffering that accompanies serving the gospel.1
  • Epaphroditus was a brave man, for anyone who proposed to offer himself as an attendant of a man waiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to the risk of facing the same charge.9
  • It is possible that the Philippians wanted a visit from Paul (after his release) or Timothy (now). So they sent Epaphroditus to relieve Timothy so he could be freed up to come and see them. But Paul was not willing to send Timothy at the moment. The apostle, however, does not want the Philippians to think that Timothy is not interested in them. Therefore, he commends Timothy highly and explains that the latter has a genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy meant a lot to Paul and it seems that the apostle needed him present. Thus, he thought it better to send Epaphroditus back. Besides, Epaphroditus was longing to see the church because he knew that they had found out that he had been ill (2:26). The church, however, was not to think of Epaphroditus as second best. On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25). Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life.10
  • Paul said Epaphroditus “risked” his life. The Greek verb used here, paraballesthai, means to literally “to throw down a stake,” “to make a venture.” The noun form implies “gambling,” “rash,” “reckless.” It is a term that was used to describe persons who risk their lives to nurse those sick with a plague.10


  • How do the concepts of humility and community go together? In our individualistic culture, why do we see humility as an personal, inner virtue, separate from a social context? How do we make humility a virtue that only finds meaning in a communal context, as Paul implies Jesus did through his death on a cross, and as the Philippians need to do in their present circumstance?
  • Why do you think Paul might be worried that the Philippians wouldn’t welcome Epaphroditus back? What do you think their expectations where in sending him to Paul? What do you think their response was when they saw Epaphroditus return from Rome with a letter, not Paul or Timothy?
  • How does Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ “emptying himself” make you think differently about how God sees victory? How was Paul relating this view of God’s triumph to his own situation? To the situation of the Philippians? How can we apply this to our present circumstances?
  • How united–in one mind, one spirit–is the church today? What about in our local church? Our home community? Why? Why not?


  1. IVP Commentary
  2. Easy English Commentary
  3. Hagelberg’s Commentary
  4. Wallace’s Commentary
  5. Buntin’s Commentary
  6. Musick’s Commentary
  7. McClain’s Commentary
  8. Barnes’ Commentary
  9. Coffman’s Commentary
  10. Herrick’s Commentary

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