Rejoicing in Purity Before God

After the glorious heights of vs. 5-11 which captures in hymnody the exalted nature of Christ, Paul seeks to encourage his brethren toward continued obedience to the Lord in Philippians 2:12–18.

Working Out, Working In (2.12-13)

As Christians are working out their salvation God is working in them.

12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,

Therefore: Lit. “So then” and ties directly back to 2.1-4. Paul is continuing his admonition of how they are look to the interests of others.

My beloved: This not a mere military call-to-arms; Paul includes his personal love for these brethren in his appeal. Paul’s commands are not burdensome, nor are God’s (1 John 5.3).

As you have…in my absence: The Philippians have been a marvelous testament to the missionary efforts of Paul. The greatest tribute a newly formed church can offer the missionary who leaves to continue his work elsewhere is to continue to obey God after the departure of the missionary. Paul encourages these brethren to further faithfulness though he is not there and may not be able to come ever again.

Work out your [own] salvation with fear and trembling: the word “own” is supplied in several English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV). However, in keeping with his continued appeal from 2.1-4, it seems Paul is calling Christians to collectively work out our salvation (which includes not only the act of rescuing but also the state of safety). We are not only working out our own salvation; we are in this struggle for holiness together. Further, that this is a salvation which encompasses the church as a whole is seen in terms of Christ as Savior of His body, the church (see Eph 5.23) and Paul’s mention of “your salvation” (Phil 1.28). As Martin puts it: “After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation” (116). The whole congregation, in fearful trembling before the Lord God Jesus Christ, seeks to help one another on the path to ultimate salvation when Christ returns. Not slavish terror but a reverential desire to do right.

13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

For it is God who works in you: God is ho energon, the Energizer, in you (pl.) or among you, enabling the church’s work at salvation. God began the work; the church seeks to carry on to end what God began. Christ work of atonement is finished; we work from the cross to carry out sanctification by the Holy Spirit. “The grace of God is alleged as a motive for earnest Christian work” (Caffin 62). Not only does God give us the gift, but the means and will to put that gift into practice.

Both to will and to work: God’s inward energy impacts both the decision of the will (volition) and the practical deeds (Gk to energein). “God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power…The power to will and do comes from God; the use of that power belongs to man” (Clarke). “So divine sovereignty and human responsibility time and again meet each other in the life of the redeemed” (Muller 92). “Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both” (Robertson). God does all, and we do all.

For His good pleasure: Even as the self-emptying of Christ was for the “glory of God the Father” (v.11), so the Christian community cooperating with God, who is working within or among us, and with fellow Christians, who are working at carrying out to full completion salvation with one another, is for God’s good pleasure. This pleasing to God.

Blemishes Out, Blameless In (2.14-18)

Holding fast the word of life promotes a life free from impurity and ready to be a (living) sacrifice to God.

14Do all things without grumbling or disputing,

Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Present imperative. In other words, this is a command. Everything we do must be without complaining (NIV, NKJV) or arguing. We should not murmur (like Israel in the OT) or argue (like apostles in the NT—Mk 9.49).

15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,

That we may be blameless and innocent: Herein lies the purpose why we do everything without grumbling and arguing—the preservation of holiness.  Blameless means living a life which does not have an accusatory or critical finger pointed at it—to be faultless. Pure carries the idea of unmixed, like a metal which contains no alloys which could weaken it—no evil should be mixed in the Christian’s life. Together, these words provide somewhat of a commentary on living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1.27).

Children of God…twisted generation: They are to be holy children of the Father in the world but not of it (cf. John 17.15-16). Cf. Deut 32.4-5—Paul adopts and adapts a description of apostate Israel to stimulate these brethren on to faithful living. While the generation around them may be dishonest and engages in serious wrongdoing, these Christians are to be morally upright, even following after the Father who is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.”

Among whom…in the world: like when God created the stars to give light on the earth and shine in darkness (cf. Genesis 1.15, 18). In similar fashion, Christians are “the light of world” (Mt 5.14) which shine forth our own light (our own goodness, ideas, etc.); ours is borrowed light from “the Light of the world” – Jesus (Jn 8.12). We are “light-bearers” in a dark world; we are the vessel or vehicle through which the true Light shines forth.

16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Holding fast to the word of life: Present tense means they are to continue to hold fast what they have. Here is how we “shine as lights” in the “crooked and twisted” world. We are the lamps and God’s word is the flame. Christians are lights because they hold fast and hold forth the word of Life. The world does not have life’s Word and the church fulfills her glorious God-given mission when possessing and presenting God’s word. While the world must hear the word, they must also see the light present in our lives. “Their saintly lives testify to the power of the word of life” (Muller 95).

So that in the day of Christ: Paul’s has skin in the game because they are his fruit prepared for the coming harvest. The phrase “day of Christ” is unique to this epistle. It is more commonly the “day of the Lord” but both phrases appear synonymous.

I may be proud…labor in vain: Paul, looking forward to the final coming of Christ, anticipates glorying in his “joy and crown” (4.1) and in their salvation. He does not want to be disappointed in his brethren because they have not been living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Two images capture the kind of heart-wrenching disappointment: 1) completing a race only to learn of disqualification & 2) planting crops that never produce. Both imply strenuous exertion.

17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

[But] Even if …your faith: “I am poured out as a drink offering” is a single word (Gk spendomai) and appears in only one other place in the NT (2 Tim 4.6) though he captures the same idea elsewhere (2 Cor 12.15). Paul is using highly figurative language to capture the possibility of his martyrdom. Paul would joyfully face a violent, bloody martyr’s death for the Philippians’ faith. If that is what it would take for their faithfulness in “sacrifice and service,” so be it. His life would then be a drink offering poured “upon” their sacrifice and service. Some see here an allusion to the fact that his audience is predominately pagan versus Jewish. Jews would pour a drink offering next to or around the altar and sacrifice; pagan rituals required pouring the drink offering over or upon the sacrifice. Paul will do whatever it takes to stimulate these brethren to faithfulness.

I am glad and rejoice with you: This scene of martyrdom is faced with glad acceptance by Paul for he pleased to have God’s will accomplished in his life. Further, as Paul has already made known, “to die is gain” (1.21). Christ is honored in and through life or death.

18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Likewise…rejoice with me: These are actually imperatives. Paul charges his readers to joyfully face future suffering and persecution even as he faces potential martyrdom.

Textual Note

“Glad and rejoice with” are related terms (Gk chairo kai sunchairo) which should both be translated “rejoice.” Joy is here connected with a proper perspective concerning Christian service.

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Rejoicing in Participation in the Spirit

Having deduced that he will remain in the flesh and possibly reunite with his brethren, Paul’s attention turns to the confidence of sharing in the Spirit with these brethren. How we treat our brethren is contingent upon our assumption of the mind of Christ. This section covers Philippians 1.27-2.11.

Strive for the Faith (1.27-30)

Participation in the Spirit requires striving with the brethren for the faith despite suffering for the sake of Christ.

27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,

Only let your…gospel of Christ: marg. “behave as citizens worthily.” Lit. “Only let your life as citizens be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” “Only” is emphatic and means “above all” or “at all costs.” The Philippians lived in a free Roman colony and would understand what it means to live like citizens. As Christians they were citizens of the imperial city of Christ (cf. 3.20). As members of that holy community they have obligations one to another and to Christ the Lord. A life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” is a frequent theme in Paul’s epistles (cf. Rom 16.2; Eph 4.1; Col 1.10) and denotes the obligations the gospel imposes, the privileges it brings, and the high calling to fulfill. The obligations of the gospel are obedience and holiness; the privileges are salvation and blessedness; the high calling is a manner of life like Christ’s.

The purpose of a holy life as a citizen of God’s kingdom is…

So that whether…am absent: Paul anticipated being reunited with these brethren (v.25-26) having reasoned to this conclusion, but Paul is neither omnipotent nor has he had this knowledge revealed to him as a surety. Hence, his statement here of whether he comes to them or is unable to come to them, whatever happens to him or them.

I may hear of you…in one spirit: though he may not be able to be with these brethren in the flesh, he hopes that news would at least reach him about how they are conducting themselves as worthy citizens and standing firm in one Spirit. This seems to be equivalent to standing firm “in the Lord” (4.1; 1 Thess 3.8) and standing firm “in the faith” (1 Cor 16.13). The idea of standing firm is prevalent throughout Paul’s epistles (see also Rom 14.; Gal 5.1; 2 Thess 2.15) and has roots in the Old Testament (Isa 7.9). This standing is grounded in God.

With one mind striving…of the gospel: These brethren are to be united in “one mind” (Gk psuche). That is, there is not to be any division or rivalry within the body which is characteristic of the opponents (v.15, 17, 28). This is key later to the Euodia-Syntyche argument. United, these Christians were to struggle or wrestle (Gk sunathlountes from which we get “athlete”) against a common enemy for the faith of the gospel (i.e. Christian truth).

28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

Not frightened…by your opponents: either 1) those already mentioned who are rivals of Paul (v.15, 17) or 2) introduction of “enemies of the cross” (3.2ff, 18). Either way the Philippians faced them not frightened (like a skittish horse) since they are standing and striving.

This is…their destruction: The courage these brethren face their adversaries with is evidence and proof of the opponents loss of eternal life unto eternal misery (i.e. destruction).

But of your salvation, and that from God: Standing firm and striving are evidence of these Christians gaining eternal life unto eternity with God. God did this.

29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,

For it…suffer for His sake: God have given the Philippians a marvelous “gifts of grace” (“granted”). First, God granted them to believe in Christ (“not only believe in Him”). A key example from among them is Lydia who’s heart the Lord opened (Acts 16.14). Second, God granted them to suffer for His sake. There is a blessing attached to this (see Matt 5.11-12). Herein is faith in action.

30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Engaged in the same…I still have: “Conflict” here is agon from which we get our English word “agony.” Here it has shades of the military, conflict which an army would engage in. Even as Paul suffers the struggle of persecution, so too the Philippians share in the suffering of persecution. They are soldiers under the same Commanding Officer; each had a share in the conflict.

Paul moves from outside to inside, now explaining the Christian’s relationship to the brethren (2.1-11).

Serve in Humility (2.1-4)

Participation in the Spirit requires humbly serving while regarding others’ interests as greater than our own. There is shift of focus from opponents to brethren.

1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,

So: or “therefore” (NASB, NKJV) indicates Paul is expanding on his exhortation (1.27ff).

If [there is] any encouragement in Christ: That is, if your communion with Christ has the power to stir the heart and emotion. From spiritual union with Christ came divine help.

If any comfort from love: or persuasive power from love. Love is a power motivator and certainly the love of Christ would be a powerful motivator toward unity.

If any participation in the Spirit: if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a true reality.

If any affection and sympathy: could be translated “any merciful compassion” as a hendiadys. “Affection” (Gk splaxchna) means compassion; “sympathy” (Gk oiktirmoi) means mercy.

“If these spiritual experiences with which the Philippians are acquainted are present, they have to serve as basis for the deeper oneness of heart and soul to which the apostle exhorts them.”

2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.

Complete my joy: that is, fill full. Paul’s cup of joy is already quite full, but the Philippians unity in thought and feeling would serve to fill to the brim his cup of joy.

By being of the same mind: lit. contemplating the same thing. Paul’s desire is for these brethren to think the same thing. What thing are these Christians (even all Christians) to contemplate? Whose mind are we to have? Verse 5 give the imperative of this verb.

Having the same love: “towards God and Jesus Christ, and in Him mutually towards each other” (Muller 74). This answers to the love of v.1 which brings motivation for unity.

[Being] in full accord: from a single Greek word (sunpsuchoi) which literally means together in soul. Christians are to be harmonious, with souls which beat together in tune with Christ and with one another. This kind of harmony is connected with…

[And] of one mind: This belongs with the preceding idea and so can be rendered “together in soul contemplating the same (one) thing.” Even as they were with “one soul” (1.27) to stand firm against the opponents of the faith, so they were now to be like-minded in love, soul, and contemplation. This is a lofty of Christian unity, the ideal we continue to strive for even today.

3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Do nothing…conceit: Connected with the idea of what a Christian should contemplate, “selfish ambition” has to do with parties and factions (read: division) in the church. When it comes to division (in order to gain some kind of advantage), don’t even think about it. This is connected with “conceit” or “vainglory” (KJV) which is pride without basis and so is empty. “If selfish ambition is the symptom of the malady the root cause may be seen in vain conceit.” Morris

But in humility…yourselves: How then should the Christian think of him/herself in view fellow Christians? “Humility” has to do with thinking rightly about one’s self—that is, we do not think too highly nor too lowly of ourselves. 1 Peter 5.6 is the best commentary on humility—a right understanding of Who God is will enable us to think rightly about ourselves. “Only by a wise and lowly estimate of ourselves [can] we come to know what is due others” (Lipscomb 179). We honor one another above ourselves (Rom 12.10, NIV). Note how this works: I consider you more significant and you consider me more significant. The church becomes a “marvelous community in which no one is looked down upon but everyone is looked up to!” (Lenski 767)

4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Let each of you look not [only] to his own [interests]: Paul is calling for selflessness rather than selfishness among these brethren. Christ is the supreme example of this (v.5-11).

But also to the [interests] of others: whatever efforts we exert to gain insight into the lives of our brethren ought to be so that we respond appropriately to their needs.

Seize the Mind of Christ (2.5-11)

Fellowship (unity), in the Spirit and in the church, is rooted in having the mind of Christ.

5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,

Have this mind…in Christ Jesus: This is an imperative command—keep on thinking. This calling to think like Christ will enable Christians to serve one another in humility (v.1-4). Paul presents Jesus as the supreme example of humility.

6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,

Who, though He was in the form of God: Lit. who is existing in [the] form of God. The present tense indicates He continues to be God. “Form” (Gk morphe) means the essential attributes, nature, and character. Hence, Christ Jesus was/is possessor of the essential attributes, nature, and character of God.

Did not count…to be grasped: Though He is eternally in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a prize to be tenaciously retained or something He had to desperately cling to. It was always His by right of being God the Son. Unlike the1st Adam who sought to grasp equality with God through pride and disobedience, the 2nd Adam sought the pathway of lowly obedience on His way to exaltation (v.9-11).

7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

But emptied Himself: “But” in the Greek (alla) draws a sharp distinction. “Emptied” (Gk. ekenosen) is where scholars debate. What did Christ empty Himself of? Divine prerogatives such that He would have to depend on the Spirit during His life (as must we in His footsteps). This was His own voluntary act; He chose to suspend His divine privileges and prerogatives. It must be noted that Christ never ceases from being God; He suspends His glory (see John 17.5).

By taking the form of a servant: He empties Himself of the manifestations of His Godhood (i.e. glory, which is rightfully His) and takes up the essential attributes, nature of a slave.

Being born in the likeness of men: He was/is God; He became man. He took on human nature. Hence, He is one Person with two natures in perfect harmony and balance.

8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

And being found in human form: “Form” (Gk schemati) is different than v.6, 7 and has to do with His external outward appearance. He was a man like others. “The Word became flesh” and Jesus says, “I became dead” (John 1.14; Revelation 1.18). The word “became” is indicative of behavior and action which is not normative for deity. That is, it is not the nature of deity to have flesh or die. Yet, Jesus died.

He humbled himself…death on a cross: The humiliation of Christ extends from His entrance into this world all the way to the inglorious climax on the cross. In His empting, in His incarnation, in His becoming a servant, in His dying, and that in the most ignoble way! And so we have gone from the highest height (God in eternity) to the deepest depth (God on a cross). Consider the humiliation of Christ 1) in becoming a man (Paul mentions the humanity of Jesus four times) and 2) in dying like a man. This is our example for it is the mind of Christ which is ours.

9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

Therefore: Since Christ was willing to condescend through humble emptying servitude…

God has highly exalted him: Exaltation is what follows His humiliation. In fact, the word is a superlative: He is exalted beyond a high status, even to the right hand of God (Acts 2.33).

And bestowed…above every name: God has “graced” Jesus with the highest name—Lord (v.11), the term used to translate the divine name in the LXX (YHWH=kurios).

10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

So that…should bow: This is universal recognition and acknowledgement of the majesty and might of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the connection to Isaiah 45.23; the same worship given to YHWH God in the Old Testament is now rendered unto Christ.

In heaven and on earth and under the earth: All rational beings are classed into thre groups: (1)  the whole host of heaven recognize Jesus’ Lordship, (2) all people living on earth should recognize His Lordship, & (3) all those in the Hadean realm acknowledge His Lordship.

11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord: The “name above all names” is here revealed as the name which all must agree with God concerning Jesus as Lord. Angels and demons, living and dead, saved and unsaved—every tongue will acknowledge His Lordship.

To the glory of God the Father: This is the grand end of the Son’s humiliation—the glory of the Father. This is the unique purpose of all things. Since Jesus Christ is Lord we owe him worship, praise, and adoration as the second person of the Godhead. He is absolutely worthy of our worship. Further, we owe Him our confession of His lordship. Either we will render that confession to Him now to our benefit and for our eternal salvation or else we render our confession to Him later on the day of judgment to our detriment and eternal condemnation.

It is to our advantage that we bow the knee and loose our tongue to the Lord Jesus Christ now rather than later!