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Philippians 2

January 8th, 2012 by Vic

Philippians 2

January 8, 2012

“Learn to be the servant of all”


We’ve delegated others to raise our food, build our shelters, entertain us, educated us, take care of our family, plan for our retirement, find us jobs, heal our diseases, etc.  So we want preachers to appease God for us.  You can’t hire a proxy to produce spiritual joy for you.  Being kingdom citizens is not a life of ease, but a life of joy.


In this chapter, Paul says if you want joy don’t look for a magic formula, but learn from the godly examples of Christians you know.  The Philippians are challenged to follow Paul’s example, follow Jesus’ example, follow Timothy’s example, or follow Epaphroditus’ example.  Each of these men had one major characteristic in common.  They looked after the interests of others rather than their own interests.  One sermon I listened to this week suggested the first chapter of Philippians was about Jesus.  This chapter is about others.  The next chapter focuses on you.  “Jesus and others and you, what a wonderful way to spell joy.”

2:1 There are 4 clauses introduced with “if”.  Paul does not intend to cast doubt, but just the opposite.  A better English translation would be “since” rather than “if”.  Paul is saying, “Since you have received encouragement from being united with Christ, since you have received comfort from His love, fellowship with the Spirit, tenderness and mercies then live like a Christian today.”


The noun in the first clause is ‘paraklesis’ which means to call along side.  The second clause is ‘paramuthia’ or to speak along side.  The third clause is ‘koinonea pheumatos’ spiritual community or as we noticed last week, the citizens of heaven living on earth.  The fourth clause is ‘splagxna and oiktirmoi’ bowels and mercies.  Your bowels were considered the seat of your affections.  Since God has demonstrated his tenderness and mercies to you through Paul’s preaching and his example, you should live accordingly.  If you want real joy, listen to what Paul is telling you.


2:2-4  Paul’s main concern is the unity of the believers.  His greatest joy comes when all his friends are getting along.  Being like-minded is not uniformity but harmony in diversity.  This is the disposition on the mind that honors God and respects all brothers and sisters in Christ.


Paul challenges the reader to have the same self-sacrificing love of Christ.  There are no shortcuts or easy ways to maintain harmony in diversity.


Have the same soul, affections, desires, and passions for living in harmony.  You are all different but united in Christ.  Keep your focus on the Conductor and you will be part of some good music.  Unity and harmony in Christ is essential for the spiritual growth of the church and victory over adversaries.


Stop trying to mold everyone into your likeness.  Not everyone plays a trumpet.  Stop trying to look after your own interests or those of your special little group.  Even the ancients identified selfish ambition and conceit as vices.  The word for conceit is ‘kenodoxia’ which has the root idea of empty opinion, empty glory, or error.  A conceited person is deluded with no evidence to support his opinion.  Unity and harmony cannot coexist with one note, one individual or partisanship.


So humbly ‘consider’ others better than yourselves and be thankful for the grace they have received.  The word ‘consider’ (reckon) is an accounting term.  Take some time to look at all the facts.  Remember what the OT says.  Look at our culture.  In my opinion a low self-esteem would solve a lot more problems than the high self-esteem we are told to have.  Humility was considered the mentality of a slave.  It was not considered a virtue by the Greeks or pagans.  But God has promised grace to the humble.  His face is turned toward the lowly.  Jesus gave us an example with the towel and basin.  Consider the contrasting facts.  Do you believe Jesus or your psychologist?


2:5-11 The attitude of Christ Jesus was sung and celebrated by the early church.  This was an early church hymn.  We sing about Jesus.  Jesus is the supreme example of the humble, self-sacrificing, self-denying, self-giving service that Paul has just been urging the Philippians to practice in their fellowship.  Jesus example should direct our conduct.  Paul is not giving us a systematic theology, but Christian practice.


Christ was in the form (morph) of God.  His very nature and character was God.  He did not consider being equal with God was something to be grasped or snatched.  For Him equality with God is not a matter of getting anything but of giving.  God’s nature is characterized by giving.


Being equal with God does not mean filling oneself up, but emptying oneself out.  It does not mean getting, but giving.  Jesus voluntarily emptied Himself (7).  This is a poetic way of saying He became servant of all.  In contrast to the conceited (kenodoxia) who were demanding their rights and insisting on their own way, Jesus emptied (kenou) Himself and set aside His rights, not insisting His own way.  Paradoxically Jesus’ self-giving was accomplished by taking the form of a slave; His emptying was achieved by adding the likeness of humans.  He became more than He was before by emptying Himself.  Jesus said if you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.


Jesus came with no rights and privileges.  “Being seen in human form (7d).”  The word ‘form’ (schema) is the perceptible outward appearance.  (Romans 12:1-2 contrasts ‘morph’ and ‘schema’)


As a human, Jesus did not strive for some pinnacle of human achievement.  He obeyed God by serving humankind.  He humbled Himself in the most unthinkable way possible.  The Persians had invented crucifixion as the cruelest way to kill a criminal.  The Romans had perfected the art.  It was reserved for the worst criminals.  It was considered the ultimate in human degradation (8).


Jesus had taught that whoever humbles himself will be exalted and that is what happened (9).  Christ, who made himself very low, was made very high by God.  He was placed over all things.  As the OT (Psalms) says, “He was exalted far above all gods.”  Death was defeated.  He was given a new name to reflect His nature:  Lord!  Not only does He have the title Lord, but He is Lord, the Sovereign over Creation.


God did that for a couple reasons.  Because Jesus was completely obedient He must now be completely obeyed.  All must fall on their knees before Him (10).  And secondly all must acknowledge Him as Lord (11).  The desire of God is that every intelligent being in His universe might proclaim openly and gladly that Jesus Christ alone has the right to reign.


2:12-18  Beloved, Christ has set you all an example.  Continue to obey and continue to work together as the body of Christ with respect and reverence.  God is working mightily in your fellowship.  He is changing attitudes and changing conduct.  You can work in harmony because God is working in you creating a desire in your fellowship to work together.


Grumbling and complaining do not promote harmony or purity.  When you refuse to grumble and complain, when you forgive those who sin against you, you receive God’s forgiveness and approval.  You can become better people than you are.  Growth in grace is possible.  You can be without blame, without flaw and without fault.  The Christian community will appear on the outside what they are on the inside.  They can be without fault or blemish while still in the middle of a corrupt and distorted culture.  We also can be lights in this morally corrupt world like stars in the night sky.


Paul states his desire to be able to continue to boast about their work in the Lord.  In vs 17 he pictures his sufferings as the libation wine that is poured out on the sacrificial work they have been doing.  They have been suffering because of their faith.  Paul rejoices that he is able to suffer with them and they can rejoice that they can suffer with him.  Their lives together offered to God a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.


2:19-24  Paul continues to teach us that the mission of a Christian is to serve rather than to be served.  He uses Timothy as an example for them to follow.  He hopes to be able to send Timothy to them soon.  That is less certain than Paul himself coming soon (vs. 24).  Paul was in prison, yet he was more certain that he would be able to come to Philippi than Timothy.  Both expectations were “in the Lord”.


Timothy was like a son to Paul.  He thinks and feels like Paul.  The word is literally ‘of equal soul’.  He was a soul mate.  Whatever decisions Timothy makes will be Paul’s as well.  Whatever Timothy says will not contradict Paul’s thinking.  Timothy was currently being Paul’s right hand man in Caesarea.  He knew Paul’s mind better than anyone else.


Timothy is genuinely concerned about the welfare of others.  No one else cares for the interests of Jesus Christ like Timothy.  This hyperbole is written to enhance Timothy’s status and authority with the Philippians.  For most other Christians the welfare of this church at Philippi, 400-500 miles away, was not as important as their own local community.  Many in Philippi knew Timothy’s worth and his relationship with Paul.  Like all good sons, he had learned the trade of his father.  He had walked in the footsteps of his spiritual father.  He will be coming to them to teach what was on Paul’s mind.


Paul is telling the Philippians that for the time being he really needs Timothy in Caesarea.  There are some situations that Paul cannot take care of from prison.  Maybe Timothy was gathering essential information for Paul’s defense.  Maybe he was involved as a peacemaker or teacher in the local churches.  Often we need to get our own house in order before we travel 500 miles to help someone else.


Paul reaffirms the gracious heart of Timothy.  Timothy is willing to go or stay to help others.  Paul’s other companions did not feel the same sense of urgency or desire to travel.  Timothy trusted Paul’s judgment to identify the will of God in the present alternatives.


2:25-30  Paul hesitated about sending Epaphroditus back to Philippi, because he did not want to appear ungrateful.  The church had raised money and sent Epaphroditus to care for Paul’s needs.  He had received only a one way ticket.  They wanted Epaphroditus to be Paul’s personal servant on their behalf.  But right now Paul needed someone to carry this letter to Philippi and Timothy couldn’t leave just yet.


Paul explains some of the factors that led to his returning their gift.  Epaphroditus has been a ‘brother’, a fellow member of the family of God.  He has been a ‘fellow worker’ with Paul, maybe when the church in Philippi was started he had worked with Paul.  He has been a ‘fellow soldier.’  They have faced conflicts together and fought side by side.  In addition to what he was to Paul, Epaphroditus was ‘your apostle’ and ‘minister’.  The word ‘minister’ is the word used for performing the sacred duties of a priest.  Their monetary offering was a sacrifice and Epaphroditus was their priest that ministered to Paul.


Paul knew that Epaphroditus really wanted to return to Philippi.  “He is anxious that you are anxious about him.  He is kind of homesick and distressed.  He was really sick.  He was a ‘near neighbor to death’.”  Paul does not tell us what his illness was or how he recovered.  But points to the will of God.


“God had mercy on him… and me.”  God delivered Paul from ‘wave upon wave’ of grief.


Paul is sending this letter with Epaphroditus so the church can rejoice and Paul can rest a little easier.  He writes 2 commands to the church.  1)  Welcome him in the Lord with great joy.  Have a party.  He is bringing good news.  2) Honor men like him.  He risked his life to do what you could not do.  He did what you asked him to do and nearly died doing it.


The word for ‘risked’ means to throw down a stake, to start a new venture or gamble.  It was the word used for those who risked their lives to nurse those who were sick with the plague.  It means to daringly expose oneself to danger.  Epaphroditus was no coward.


Paul was challenging the church against an easy-going Christianity which makes no demands, requires no risks, nor calls for self-denial.


There might be a play on words here.  Aphrodite (Venus) was the goddess of gamblers.  Before a person would cast the dice he might say “epaphroditos,” (the favorite of Aphrodite) hoping for luck in the throw.  Epaphroditus gambled with his life to fulfill your lack of service, and he won because God was there.


Having the name Epaphroditus would be like having the name ‘Gay’ today.  If he had been a Jew, he would probably have changed his name to reflect his heart.  But as a Christian he let his life describe his character, not his name.


Paul was concerned about the unity of the church.  He reminded them of Jesus’ example, Timothy’s example, and Epaphroditus example.  These examples thought of others more than themselves.  If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all.





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