A. Victory Through Sacrifice (2:5-16)
We have in these verses an outstanding illustration of the grace of God in using a problem situation in a local assembly of the first century as a starting point to give to believers throughout the church age one of the most detailed expositions of the sacrifice of Christ in laying aside His glory to become man, and to be our Redeemer.
1. Humiliation (2:5-8)
a. The Essence of His Humiliation — Self-Abnegation (2:5-7b)
The humiliation of the Lord began with His MIND in eternity past. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” This mind was concerned with our needs and planned the riches of grace for us before the foundation of the world and continued to motivate Him during His earthly sojourn when He said, “The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
(1) His Essential Deity
“Who being in the form of God”—This is a statement of the fact of Christ’s eternal deity. He was in the form of God, that is, of the very essence and nature of God. Bishop Moule says He was “seeming divine because He was divine, in the full sense of Deity.” Dr. Kenneth Wuest comments:
Our Lord was in the form of God. The word “God” is without the definite article in the Greek text, and therefore refers to the divine essence. Thus, our Lord’s outward expression of His inward being was as to its nature the expression of the divine essence of deity. Since that outward expression which this word “form” speaks of, comes from and is truly representative of the inward being, it follows that our Lord as to His nature is the possessor of the divine essence of Deity, and being that, it also necessarily follows that He is absolute Deity Himself, a co-participant with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in that divine essence which constitutes God, God.
(2) His Equality With God
“Thought it not robbery to be equal with God.” We do well to look at these words in several other translations. The New International Version gives us, “did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Dr. Wuest’s expanded translation reads, “… who did not after weighing the facts, consider it a treasure to be clutched and retained at all hazards, this being on an equality with deity.” Weymouth translates it, “He did not reckon His equality with God a treasure to be tightly grasped.” He did not consider equality with God something He had seized. He did not feel it was something to be grasped and held at all costs. He did not grasp after something which was not truly His. He was with God, and He was God (John 1:1).
(3) His Emptying of Himself
“He made Himself of no reputation.” This expression literally means He emptied Himself. Theologians have long debated over what was involved in this “kenosis,” or self-emptying. We may be sure He did not lay aside His Deity but only the outward expression of His pre-incarnate glory. Some have seen an analogy in His laying aside His outer garment to wash His disciples’ feet as a servant (John 13:1-17). In becoming incarnate, He laid aside the “outer garment” or outer manifestation of His deity in order to become a servant. Pastor Charles F. Baker said it well in his DISPENSATIONAL THEOLOGY:
He divested Himself of the form of God and of the independent exercise of His divine attributes. He did not divest Himself of His divine Person. He was just as much a divine person while incarnate on earth as He was before or as He is now at the right hand of God.
b. The Expression of His Humiliation — Incarnation (2:7b)
“Was made in the likeness of men.” He took the very essence of humanity, apart from sin. Dr. Lehman Strauss expresses it beautifully:
He took upon Him a body like ours and faced a limited human existence on earth. The world has never witnessed a truer expression of self-renunciation. When we ponder that God became Man, labored with His hands, faced life in every respect as Man, served, sorrowed, and suffered, we stand in holy awe and wonder at so great condescension. The Sovereign of all became the Servant of all.
c. The Extent of His Humiliation — Crucifixion (2:8)
“And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
Our Lord, though equal with God the Father, “humbled Himself,” brought Himself low in a voluntary humiliation. He became obedient unto death, that is, He deliberately chose to die for us. This was the way He proved His triumph over death. Greenway says, “If the innocence of the cry of the Babe in Bethlehem announced His arrival to take the form of a servant, it required the submissive cry of the Man in Gethsemane to reveal His obedience.” He willingly chose to die, and chose a form of death reserved for the worst of criminals, death by crucifixion. Dr. Strauss reminds us, “It was a long way down from Heaven’s throne to Calvary’s cross. Do we catch a glimpse of what true humility is? Let this mind be in you.” Dr. George Williams, in his STUDENT’S COMMENTARY ON THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, summarizes our Lord’s humiliation in these words, “The first Adam exalted himself and was humbled; the Second Adam humbled Himself and was exalted.” We must remember the Holy Spirit led Paul to write this doctrinal truth because of a practical need. In exhorting the Philippians to renounce their selfish interests, He brings to their attention this greatest of all Examples.
2. Exaltation (2:9-11)
a. Past Exaltation (2:9a)
“Wherefore, God hath highly exalted Him.” The verb “exalted” is in the aorist tense, which indicates a completed action in the past. God, after Christ finished His work here on earth, lifted Him up above all that can be known. Ephesians 1:20-23 describes this exaltation, “… which He wrought in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but, also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.”
b. Present Exaltation (2:9b)
“A name which IS above every name.” Literally, His is THE NAME (there is the definite article in the Greek) ABOVE every name. How many song writers have given us songs about that Wonderful Name. He is presently exalted as Head over all things to the church which is His body, and His name fills Heaven and earth!
This name of exaltation, we believe, is not JESUS. That was the name of His earthly humiliation. Over and over in the gospels He is referred to by this earthly name, Jesus. After His ascension to Heaven the Apostle Peter announced to the people of Israel, “… that God hath made that same Jesus, Whom ye have crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). We do not give Him His due respect when we refer to Him merely as Jesus. He is the LORD JESUS CHRIST!
c. Promised Exaltation (2:10,11)
When our Lord returns as King of kings and Lord of lords, EVERY KNEE shall bow, and EVERY TONGUE shall confess JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! This does not indicate universal reconciliation, but the universal power and Lordship awaiting our Risen Head.
3. Application (2:12-16)
“Let this mind be in you.” Having given us the wonderful truth about the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord, Paul goes back to his injunction to believers to practice this humility, and then shows us how it can be done.
a. The Power — Divine Personality
God working in you (2:12,13). Dr. Norman B. Harrison says this is “not imitation, but implantation.” He calls attention to:
(1) Divine Enablement (2:13)
It is God that worketh in you, that energizes you. Only the living God can energize us by His indwelling Holy Spirit and enable us to live the Christ-like life. The tenses are present, indicating a continuous operation.
(2) Human Responsibility (2:12)
But we are also taught we must “work out” what God has worked in. We cannot work for salvation, but we must work out the salvation God has worked in us. We are not saved by works, but we are saved unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). This salvation is to be worked out with fear and trembling, that is, a genuine concern about pleasing God.
b. The Product — Divine Performance: “do all things”
(1) Harmony in Conduct
“Do all things without murmurings (mutterings) and disputings (doubtings).” The first of these words indicates moral rebellion against God. It refers to under-the-breath murmurs of disgruntled people. It is a word used many times of Israel’s rebellions in the wilderness. The disputings, or doubtings, have to do with intellectual rebellions; attempts to reason out events while leaving God and His revelation out.
(2) Holiness in Character
We are challenged to be (literally, become) blameless and harmless … without rebuke. This implies Christian growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior. As we behold Him in the Word we become more like Him. The word “blameless” means “faultless.” “Harmless” means “unmixed, unadulterated, pure.” “Without rebuke” means “unblemished in reputation and reality.”
(3) Holding Forth in Consecration
We are to appear as luminaries, holding forth the Word of Life. The expression “holding forth” strongly suggests we must first of all give heed, hold on to the Word ourselves, as our source of strength, and then hold it out to others, as we would hold out food or drink.
c. The Prospect — Divine Praise
Rejoicing in rewards for faithful service at the Judgment Seat of Christ. “In order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing” (NIV). “That will give me ground for boasting on the day of Christ, because neither my career nor my labor has been a failure” (Williams).
B. Victory Through Service (2:17-24)
In these verses, three references are made to “service.” The words used, though indicating different types of service, are interesting in the light of the context out of which these verses grew. Paul is giving us examples of victory through allowing the mind of Christ to be in the believer. He speaks of the “service” of the Philippians (2:17). The word used here refers to a worship service and gives us our word “liturgical.” In verse 22 he reminds them of the manner in which Timothy served with him in the gospel; he “entered into bond-service” for the furtherance of the gospel. In verse 25 we are told Epaphroditus “ministered” or did service unto the needs of Paul. This verb is closely related to the noun “service” in verse 17. Taking all of these into consideration, we see:
1. The Service of the Philippians (2:17-18)
Paul mentions the sacrifice and service of their faith. The word “sacrifice” is used uniformly in the New Testament to mean “the thing sacrificed.” The word for service means a priestly work. It is the word used in the Septuagint for the ministry of the priests and Levites. Thus we find another word in one of the prison epistles showing even as members of the body of Christ we are, in a sense, “priests” rendering a “priestly service.”
Upon this sacrifice and service of the Philippians Paul considers his own possible martyrdom as merely the libation or “drink offering” poured out upon their offering. The background of this is the Old Testament drink offering referred to in such passages as Exodus 29:38-41 and Leviticus 23:12,13. It is a testimony to his humility that Paul considers his own sacrifices, not as the main offering, but merely the wine poured upon it, or around it, as the drink offering. He uses the same word “drink offering” in 2 Timothy 4:6. Dr. Kenneth Wuest tells us this could be translated, “For my life’s blood is already being poured out.”
2. The Service of Timothy (2:19-24)
Paul tells the Philippians he is about to send Timothy to visit them. They knew Timothy well, having had him in their congregation on at least three earlier occasions (see Acts 16:1-13; 19:22; 20:3ff). Paul reminds them of:
a. Timothy’s Care (2:19-21)
He tells them Timothy’s coming to them will make Paul’s state one of good comfort; literally, “good souled,” or of “good cheer.” He says he has absolutely no other “like minded” or “like souled” or “of equal character” with Timothy. According to verse 21, apparently Paul attempted to send several others to Philippi, but they all found excuses not to go. But Timothy was willing to go; the only one it seems. He is described as one who will “naturally care for you.” The word “naturally” means “truly” or “sincerely.” It comes from a word meaning a genuine son in contrast with an illegitimate child.
The wording is very strong and it may be paraphrased as, “I have no man—not even one—of equal character with Timothy; he is one who will naturally, genuinely and sincerely take anxious care about your circumstances. For all the rest—the whole of them—are seeking their own things, not the things of Jesus Christ.” The pastor today who has tried to persuade someone to assume a responsibility in the Lord’s work and has heard all the excuses that are given can surely identify with Paul in this situation. But Timothy is not only one with a burden of care, he also has the background for such an assignment.
b. Timothy’s Credentials (2:22-24)
Timothy has proved himself; he had been put to the test and passed it. The Philippians, knowing him well, recognized this fact. As evidence of Timothy’s credentials, Paul reminded them Timothy had worked with him as a son with a father. Paul does not say “as a son with a father, Timothy served me,” but “as a son with a father, Timothy served with me,” thus making their service a co-working.
So many times we find Timothy serving with Paul by going places Paul was unable to go, or finding out about the saints in different places to ease Paul’s mind. Paul sent him to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 4:17), he sent him to see about the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 3:2,6), and now he is sending him to minister to the Philippians.
When Paul had to flee from Thessalonica to Berea and finally to Athens, he sent for Timothy to come to him at Athens “with all speed” (Acts 17:15). Even though Timothy was apparently weak and sickly (1 Timothy 5:23) and may have had a tendency to be timid and fearful (2 Timothy 1:6-8), he surely was a faithful co-worker with Paul and had the background or “credentials” for the mission upon which Paul was sending him.
C. Victory in Sickness (2:25-30)
Paul moves from the example of Timothy to that of another brother who was dear to his heart and to the hearts of the Philippians. His name, Epaphroditus, means “charming.” It is derived from the name of the goddess Aphrodite (Venus), and thus speaks of his pagan background. He had been sent by the Philippian church as their messenger to their beloved Paul, and he is the one who brought their love gifts to him. He had become quite ill. In fact, he almost died. The Philippians heard of his illness, but they did not know he had recovered. The fact they knew about his ill health and were worried about him was the main cause of his despondency. We learn he was distressed in mind, diseased in body, but divinely raised back to health.
1. The Designation of Epaphroditus (2:25)
This speaks of their common cause for Christ, their membership in His body and their relationship in Him.
b. Companion in Labor
This refers to their common service for the Lord; they were fellow-workers.
c. Fellow Soldier
This is a reminder of the common dangers they shared as soldiers in the Lord’s warfare.
d. Your Messenger
Literally, he was their apostle to Paul, the Lord’s apostle.
2. The Depression of Epaphroditus (2:26)
“He longed after you all, and was full of heaviness.” This can literally be rendered, “he was homesick and deeply oppressed,” or “sorely depressed.” The reason for this depression was his concern for their worry about his sickness. How many of us could take a lesson from Epaphroditus! When we are sick in body we want people to fuss and fret over us and we get our feelings hurt if they don’t. But Epaphroditus did not want them to worry over him. His knowledge of their worry was the cause of his depression.
3. The Disease of Epaphroditus (2:27)
We do not know what had caused the illness of this man of God. Some think the long journey from Philippi may have been too much for him. This is based on verse 30, “for the work of Christ, he was near unto death, not regarding his life, to supply your lack of service toward me.” Paul literally says, “he gambled his life” to supply your lack of service toward me. He is not rebuking the Philippians for not sending him more. He praises them for their generosity. Rather, he is saying, “he did the service which you could not do, thus completing your loving purpose in regard to your fellowship with me in the gospel.”
4. The Divine Healing of Epaphroditus (2:27)
Paul’s explanation of Epaphroditus’ recovery is that “God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” There is nothing to indicate a sign healing, or even an instantaneous healing. The implication is that he had a very serious, possibly a very long illness. But God, in accordance with His will, raised him up.
This is how divine healing works today. During the transitional period recorded in Acts, healings were a part of the program of signs. With the setting aside of national Israel, the sign program ceased. Nevertheless, God still heals the sick when it is in accordance with His good and acceptable and perfect will. The believer today who understands God’s program for this dispensation can truly say, “I believe in divine healing, but I do not believe in divine healers.”