In the closing portion of the first chapter (1:27) the Apostle made a plea for unity among the Philippians. He warned them a faithful walk might entail suffering, but in the midst of the warning we find an appeal to stand together. He seems to have come upon a weakness in the Philippian assembly. As we begin chapter 2 we note what was extended as a plea in 1:27 becomes a strong urge in 2:1-4. Bishop H. C. G. Moule comments:
… there was a tendency towards dissension and internal separation in the Mission Church; a tendency which all through the epistle betrays its presence by the stress which the Apostle everywhere lays upon holy unity, the unity of love, the unity whose secret lies in the individual’s forgetfulness of self.
A. The Appeal (2:1)
It is an appeal based on:
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ …”
The word “if” carries the thought of “since” rather than raising a doubt. Dr. Kenneth Wuest says, “The word ‘if’ is the translation of a conditional particle referring to a fulfilled condition. One could translate ‘since,’ or ‘in view of the fact.'”
“Therefore” points back to 1:27 and is the bridge linking the plea with the strong exhortation.
The word translated “consolation” in the King James Version of the Bible is one of those Biblical words which is inexhaustible in its riches. It is from the word translated “Comforter” in the gospel of John, where it refers to the Holy Spirit; it is translated “Advocate” in 1 John, in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. In its verb form, it is translated “beseech” in Romans 12:1 and other places. Literally it means “to call to one’s side, or to one’s aid.” Dr. Wuest expresses it well when he says of the word “consolation” in Philippians 2:1.
The word “consolation” is the translation of a Greek word which has various meanings; “imploration, supplication, entreaty, exhortation, admonition, encouragement, consolation, comfort, solace,” the meaning to be used in any particular case being determined by the context in which the word is used. What these Philippians needed right here was not consolation but exhortation, in view of the lack of unity among them. Our translation reads, “In view of the fact that there is a certain exhortation, admonition, encouragement in Christ.”
Dr. J. Dwight Pentecost explains the word in its context as follows:
The relationship of the believer to Jesus Christ is established by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit at the moment of belief. This unites him to Christ as a member of His Body; by the baptizing work of the Holy Spirit he is placed in Christ. Paul says,—if we may paraphrase—”If your experiences in Christ speak with any persuasive eloquence; or if your experience of being in Christ appeals with any force, then complete my joy.” The relationship we have with Jesus Christ is an eloquent appeal to the believer to be like Christ and to manifest His love.
“if any comfort in love …”
The word rendered “comfort” in this verse is so similar in meaning to the word translated “consolation” that we find some versions of the Bible giving us “comfort” for the first word and others translating the second word “comfort” also. Dr. Kenneth Wuest says:
The word “comfort” is the translation of a Greek word which means literally, “a word which comes to the side of one to stimulate or comfort him.” It speaks of persuasive address. Lightfoot translates it by the words “incentive, encouragement.” It is almost equivalent to the word rendered “consolation,” but has an element of tenderness and persuasion involved in its meaning.
“if any fellowship of the Spirit …”
The word for “fellowship” is the Greek word koinonia, and it is a word the Holy Spirit has lifted from the ordinary and raised into the very heavenlies. Its root meaning is “common.” It meant what was common or ordinary, not extraordinary. From this it came to mean that which was shared by all, sharing in common. The Holy Spirit has lifted this to mean that which one believer shares with another, and which we share individually and corporately with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Paul’s third appeal for unity is from the reality of their fellowship in the Spirit. Some scholars do not believe this refers to the Holy Spirit because there is no definite article before “pneuma,” Spirit. But the context surely indicates the reference is to Him. Moule says in a footnote, “With a word so great and conspicuous as ‘pneuma’ it is impossible to decide by the mere absence of the article that the reference is not to the (personal) Spirit.” Dr. Pentecost paraphrases, “If there is any such thing as communion with the indwelling Spirit, or if your consciousness of fellowship with the Holy Spirit within is a reality in your life, and it most certainly is, then fulfill my joy by your love for one another.”
“if any bowels and mercies …”
This is an exact and literal translation. People of Paul’s day referred to the “bowels” as the seat of the emotions. Even today physicians know there is a strong link between emotions and the digestive tract. Doctors tell us most stomach or duodenal ulcers are caused by worry or negative emotions.
To express Paul’s thoughts in contemporary language we might say, “if any tenderness and compassion,” or, “if any compassion and pities.” If these virtues are present in the lives of believers, they are able to live in peace and harmony with each other. They will not “major on minors” but will overlook little differences and work together to heal estrangements which may come about. Murmurings and debatings will disappear. The unity of the Spirit will prevail. This can only come through a knowledge of our position in Christ (one body in Him), the incentive of divine love, the fellowship in and control by the Holy Spirit, and the display of the fruit of the Spirit, namely, compassion and pity.
B. The Approach (2:2)
1. Be Likeminded
a. Unity of Affection
Paul defines “likemindedness” under a dual unity, affection and accord. To be likeminded, Paul says, is to have the same love one for another. This needs no explanation.
b. Unity of Accord
“… being of one accord.” This phrase translates a rather strange word in the Greek. It literally means “soul with soul,” or “one in soul.” The New International Version gives us, “one in spirit and purpose.” Dr. Wuest translates it “being in heart agreement.”
2. Be Singleminded
This is a literal translation. It involves a repetition of the imperative, “be likeminded,” using an even stronger expression.
C. The Antitheses (2:3-4)
1. Expressed Negatively
Paul continues his exhortation to unity by drawing certain contrasts or antitheses. He says nothing must be (done, or even thought, the word is supplied, and we can only speculate) through strife, or a sectarian spirit. The apostle says if he is to have full joy there must not be competition among the saints based on a party spirit. He also says nothing must be done through vainglory. This is personal vanity, pride, or self promotion. It deals, not so much with what is done, but with the motive for doing it.
2. Expressed Positively
Here Paul appeals for consideration of others, “in lowliness of mind, let each esteem others better than themselves.” Dr. Pentecost has well expressed it, “Love properly manifests itself when the one doing the loving becomes a channel through which God loves someone else.” This is a solemn reminder that believers should be more like the One Who is “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28,29). He concludes the positive portion of the admonition with the words “each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” If believers had obeyed this injunction, the history of the church and our society might be quite different.