Philippians 2

Philippians 2  •  20 min. read  •  grade level: 9
(Chapter 2:1-30)
At the close of the first chapter we are reminded that, not only is it given to us to believe on Christ, but also, “to suffer for His sake” (ch. 1:29). If Christ had to meet the adversary in His path through this world, we may be sure that the more believers exhibit the character of Christ the greater will be the opposition of the enemy. We must then be prepared for conflict, even as the saints at Philippi, who, marked by so many of the graces of Christ, found themselves for this very reason faced by adversaries.
From this second chapter we further learn that the enemy was seeking to mar their testimony to Christ, not only through adversaries from without, but by stirring up strife within the Christian circle. In the first two verses the Apostle brings before us this grave danger. Then, secondly, we learn from verses 3 and 4 that unity amongst the Lord's people can only be maintained by each one having the lowly mind. Thirdly, to produce this lowly mind, our eyes are directed to Christ as our pattern of lowly grace, as set forth in verses 5 to 11. Fourthly, the blessed result, for those who live according to the pattern of lowliness in Christ, will be that they become witnesses to Christ, as described in verses 12 to 16. Finally, the chapter closes with bringing before us three examples of saints whose lives were fashioned after the perfect pattern, and were thus marked by the lowly mind that forgets self in the consideration of others — verses 17 to 30.
(Vss. 1-2). The apostle gladly owns that, through the devotedness and kindness of these saints to him in all his trials, he had tasted of the consolations that there are in connection with Christ and His own. He had been comforted by their love, and the fellowship that flowed from the Spirit engaging their hearts with Christ and His interests. He had realized afresh the compassion of Christ manifested through the saints for one who was suffering affliction (Phil. 4:1414Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. (Philippians 4:14)). All these evidences of their devotedness gave him great joy. He sees, however, that the enemy was seeking to mar their united testimony to Christ by raising strife in their midst; therefore, he has to say, “Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” With great delicacy of feeling the Apostle refers to this lack of unity, though evidently, he felt its seriousness, for we have four allusions to it in the course of his epistle. Already he has exhorted these saints to “stand fast in one spirit, with one mind” (ch. 1:27). Here he exhorts them to be likeminded. In the third chapter he can say, “Let us mind the same thing” (ch. 3:16); and in the closing chapter we have an exhortation to two sisters to “be of the same mind in the Lord” (ch. 4:2).
(Vss. 3-4). Having with tender consideration for their feelings referred to this weakness in their midst, he proceeds to show that it can only be met by each one cultivating the lowly mind. So he warns us against doing anything in the spirit of strife or vainglory, the two great causes of the lack of unity among the Lord's people. It is not that we are to be indifferent to wrongs that may arise among the people of God, but we are warned against meeting them in an unchristian spirit. Too often, alas! troubles in an assembly become the occasion of bringing to light unjudged envy, malice, or vanity, that may be lurking in the heart. This leads to strife by which we seek to oppose and belittle one another, and vainglory that seeks to exalt self. How we need to judge our own hearts, for, as it has been remarked, “There is not one of us but attaches a certain importance to himself.”
To escape this danger, how needful the exhortation that, “in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.” We can only carry out this exhortation as we look away from ourselves and our own good qualities to those of others. The passage is not speaking of gifts, but the moral qualities that should mark all saints. Moreover, it contemplates saints living in a right moral condition. If a brother is going on with evil, I am not exhorted to esteem him more highly than myself if I am living rightly. But amongst saints living a right, normal Christian life it is easy for each of us to esteem others better than ourselves, if we are near to the Lord; for in His presence, however correct the outward life before others, we discover the hidden evils of the flesh, and see how many are our defects, and what poor things we are before Him, and in comparison with Him. Looking at our brother, we cannot see the hidden defects, but rather the good qualities that the grace of Christ has given him. This surely would keep us humble and enable us each to “esteem other better than themselves”; and we should be delivered from a spirit of vainglory that leads to strife and breaks up the unity of the saints. It is evident, then, that true unity amongst the Lord's people is not brought about by any compromise at the expense of truth, but by each one being in a right moral condition before the Lord, set forth by the lowly mind.
(Vss. 5-8). To produce this lowly mind, the Apostle directs our gaze to Christ, as he says, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” He then gives a beautiful picture of the lowly mind set forth in Christ as He took the path from the glory of the Godhead to the shame of the cross. Thus Christ is set before us in all His lowly grace as our perfect Pattern. If the flock is following the Shepherd, the eyes of the sheep will be upon Him, and it is only as we are each looking to Him that unity will be maintained in the flock. The nearer we are to Christ the nearer we shall be drawn to one another.
In Christ we see set forth the lovely traits of One who in perfection had the lowly mind, manifested in His setting aside every thought of self, and taking the path of the servant, and becoming obedient unto death. In tracing this path, the Apostle shows us not only each downward step, but the mind in which Christ took this path — the lowly mind. It is not possible to follow all His steps, for we were never in the height from which He came, nor are we asked to travel into the depths that He went, but we are exhorted to have His mind in taking these steps.
Our gaze is first directed to Christ in the very highest place, “in the form of God”. Then it was that in His mind He “made Himself of no reputation”. He did not consider Himself. To carry out the will of the Father, and secure the blessing of His people, He was prepared to take the lowly place. As He could say, in view of coming into the world, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:77Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)).
Secondly, with this mind the Lord took the form of a servant. When on earth, He could say to His disciples, “I am among you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:2727For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth. (Luke 22:27)). One has said, “Not only does Christ take the form of a servant, but He will never give it up.... In John 1327And after the sop Satan entered into him. Then said Jesus unto him, That thou doest, do quickly. (John 13:27), when the blessed Lord was going to glory, we should have said, there is an end of service. It is not so. He gets up from where He was sitting among them as a companion, He gets up and washes their feet; and that is what He is doing now.... In Luke 1227Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12:27) we learn that He still continues the service in glory — 'He shall gird Himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.'... He never gives up the service. Selfishness likes to be served, but love likes to serve; so Christ never gives up the service, for He never gives up the love” —John Nelson Darby.
Thirdly, not only did the Lord take “the form of a servant”, but He was “made in the likeness of men.” He could still have been a servant had He taken the likeness of angels, for they are sent forth to serve; but He was made a little lower than the angels, and was “found in fashion as a Man”.
Fourthly, if the Lord was made in the likeness of men, He refused to use this condition in order to exalt Himself among men. His lowly mind led Him to humble Himself. He was born in a stable, and cradled in a manger, and lived amongst the lowly of this world.
Fifthly, even if He humbled Himself to walk with the lowly, He might have taken the place of rule in the world — the place that is His by right; but moved by the lowly mind, He “became obedient”. Coming into the world, He said, “Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God” (Heb 10:77Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:7)). Passing through it, He said, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)). Going out of the world, He said, “Not my will, but Thine, be done” (Luke 22:4242Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)).
Sixthly, with this lowly mind, the Lord not only became obedient, but “He ... became obedient unto death”.
Seventhly, with this lowly mind, the Lord not only faced death, but submitted to the most ignominious death that a man can die — “even the death of the cross.”
As we trace this wonderful path, down and down, from the highest glory to a cross of shame, let us not be content with merely being admirers of that which is morally beautiful—for this is possible even for a natural man. We need grace, not only to admire, but that there may be a practical effect produced in our lives according to the Apostle's exhortation, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” In the light of the lowly mind seen in Jesus, we may well challenge our hearts as to how far we have judged the vainglory that is so natural to us, and with the lowly mind have sought to forget ourselves in order to serve others in love, and manifest something of the lowly grace of Christ.
We wonder at Thy lowly mind,
And fain would like Thee be,
And all our rest and pleasure find
In learning, Lord, of Thee.
(Vss. 9-11). If, however, our hearts are drawn out to Christ as we see the lowly grace in His down-stooping from the glory to the cross, we also see in Him the most perfect example of the truth that, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:1111For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 14:11)). “He humbled Himself,” but “God also hath highly exalted Him.” If, with the lowly mind, He went down below all, God has given Him “a Name which is above every name”, and a place of exaltation above all. In Scripture “name” sets forth the fame of a person. There have been others famous in the history of the world, and amongst the saints of God, but the fame of Christ, as a Man, exceeds them all. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the disciples, in their ignorance, would have put Moses and Elias on a level with Jesus. But these great men of God fade from the vision, and “Jesus was found alone”, and the Father's voice is heard saying, “This is My beloved Son.”
The Name of Jesus expresses the fame of this lowly Man. It means, as we know, Saviour, and as such it is a Name that is above every name. May we not say it is the one Name that the Lord had to come down from the glory to a cross of shame to secure? Over the cross it was written, “This is JESUS”. Men in their scorn said, “Let Him now come down from the cross.” Had He done so, He would have left the Name of JESUS behind Him. He would still have been the Creator, the mighty God, but never more would He have been JESUS — the Saviour. Blessed be His Name, His lowly mind led Him to be obedient to the death of the cross, and in result every knee will bow to the Name of Jesus, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
(2:12-13). Our gaze having been directed to Christ in all His lowly grace, we are exhorted to obey the Apostle's exhortations to judge all the tendencies of the flesh to strife and vainglory, and seek to walk in the lowly spirit of Christ our Pattern, and thus resist the efforts of the enemy to sow discord among the saints. When present with these believers, the Apostle had kept them from the attacks of the enemy, but now, much more in his absence, they needed to be on their guard against adversaries without the Christian circle, and strifes within. Walking in the lowly spirit of Christ, they would indeed work out their own salvation from every effort of the enemy to break up their unity and mar their testimony to Christ: but let them work out their deliverance from the enemy with “fear and trembling.” Realizing the alluring character of the world around us, the weakness of the flesh within us, and the power of the devil against us, we may well fear and tremble. But is not the fear and trembling connected also with what follows? The apostle immediately adds, “For it is God which worketh in you”. While not forgetting the mighty power that is against us, we are to fear lest we undervalue, and thus slight, the almighty power that is for us, and works in us, “both to will and to do of His good pleasure.” God leads us not only to “do” but also to “will” to do His pleasure. This indeed is liberty. Apart from being willing, the doing would be mere servile legality. Naturally we like to carry out our own will for our pleasure, but God's work in us leads us to be willing to do His pleasure, and thus have the lowly mind of Christ our Pattern, who could say, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God” (Psa. 40:88I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)).
(Vss. 14-16). With our eyes upon Christ, and in as far as we have His lowly mind, we shall in this measure, not only be saved from the allurements of the world and the power of the enemy, but we shall become a witness to Christ before the world. This, surely, is the “good pleasure” of God that has been perfectly expressed in Christ, who could say, “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:2929And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. (John 8:29)). Thus the exhortations that follow present a lovely picture of Christ.
We are to “do all things without murmurings and reasonings” (JND). The Lord, indeed, groaned over the sorrows of men, but no murmur ever escaped His lips. It has been truly said, “God permits a groan, but never a grumble.” Again, we are to beware of “reasonings”, which might call in question God's way with us. However painful the Lord's path, no “reasoning” as to God's ways arose in His mind, or fell from His lips. On the contrary, when all His ministry of grace had failed to touch the hearts of men, and He was charged with doing His works by the power of the devil, He could say, “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt. 11:2626Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. (Matthew 11:26)). Good for us, when faced with any little insult or trial, to follow in His steps, and without reasoning submit to what God allows, in the spirit of the Lord's lowly mind. Acting in this spirit we shall be “blameless” before God, and “harmless” before men. This again expresses something of the perfection of Christ, for He was “harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:2626For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; (Hebrews 7:26)). Following in His steps, we should be “irreproachable children of God” (JND). The Lord could say, “For Thy sake I have borne reproach” (Psa. 69:77Because for thy sake I have borne reproach; shame hath covered my face. (Psalm 69:7)); but no reproach could be brought against Him for any evil way. On the contrary, men had to say, “He hath done all things well” (Mark 7:3737And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak. (Mark 7:37)). We, too, are privileged to suffer reproach for His Name, but let us beware of anything in our ways and words unbecoming the children of God, and that would thus give occasion for reproach. By a right walk that cannot be rebuked we should manifest that we are the children of God in the midst of a generation whose crooked and perverted ways clearly show that they are not in relationship with God. Moses, in his day, could say that God is “a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He”; but immediately he has to add that he finds himself in the midst of a people who “have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of His children: they are a perverse and crooked generation” (Deut. 32:4-54He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he. 5They have corrupted themselves, their spot is not the spot of his children: they are a perverse and crooked generation. (Deuteronomy 32:4‑5)). In spite of the light of Christianity, the world has not changed. It is still a world in which men “rejoice to do evil... whose paths are crooked, and who are perverted in their course” (Prov. 2:1515Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths: (Proverbs 2:15) JND). In such a world we are left to “shine as lights”, and to be found “holding forth the word of life”, and thus again follow in the steps of the Lord, who was “the Light of the world” (John 8:1212Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)), and who could say, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:6363It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life. (John 6:63)). The light presents what a person is, rather than what he says. Holding forth the word of life speaks of testimony rendered by proclaiming the truth of the Word of God. Our lives must reflect something of the perfection of Christ if our words are to tell forth the way of life.
If, as the result of the Apostle's ministry, the saints were brought to have the lowly mind of Christ, and thus become a witness to Christ, he would indeed rejoice that he had “not run in vain, neither labored in vain.” Here, in his own case, he would seem to distinguish between “life” and “testimony”, for does not “running” speak of his manner of life, and the “labor” speak of his ministry?
In these seven exhortations of the Apostle, do we not see a lovely picture of a life lived according to the perfect pattern set forth in Christ? — a life in which there is no murmur as to our lot; no reasoning as to why God allows this, or that, trial by the way; no blame for anything we say or do; no harm to others by our words or ways; with nothing in our lives that would call for rebuke as being inconsistent with a child of God; shining as a light in a world of darkness; and holding forth the word of life in a world of death. So living we should be for the pleasure of God, the glory of Christ, the help of saints, the blessing of the world, and have our reward in the day of Jesus Christ. If all the saints, with their eyes on Christ, were living this beautiful life, there would be no strife in the Christian circle. We should be one flock following one Shepherd.
(Vss. 17-18). In the remaining verses of the chapter there pass before us three examples in actual life of believers, who, in large measure, exhibited the lowly mind of Christ that forgets self to serve others, and so shone as lights in the world and held forth the word of life.
First, in the Apostle himself the Spirit of God surely intends us to see one who lived according to the pattern of Christ. The faith of the Philippian saints, in helping his necessities, had made a sacrifice to serve him. But, if in spite of this service, his imprisonment was to end in his death, he would still rejoice that he had been allowed to suffer for Christ, and for this cause he calls upon these saints to rejoice. He thus exhibits the lowly mind that in consideration for others can forget self and follow Christ even to death.
(Vss. 19-24). Paul passes on to speak of Timothy, one who was “like-minded” with him, as being marked by the lowly mind that forgets self in thinking of the good of others. Alas! the general condition of the primitive church, even in the Apostle's day, had fallen so low that, so far from being marked by this self-denying love, he has to say, “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.” In Timothy the Apostle found one who cared for others, and served with him in holding forth the word of life in the gospel. Seeing that Timothy was marked by the lowly mind of Christ, Paul could use him in the care of the saints, and hoped to send him to the Philippian assembly as soon as he knew how his trial would end.
(Vss. 25-30). Finally, in Epaphroditus we have a striking example of the lowly mind that forgets self in longing after the good of others. He was not only a brother in Christ, but a companion in the work of the Lord, a fellow-soldier in contending for the truth, a messenger of the saints and a minister to meet the Apostle's needs. In his unselfish love he longed after the saints, and was full of heaviness lest they should be over-anxious as to himself owing to his illness. He had indeed been nigh unto death, but in the mercy of God he had been spared. Now Paul, not thinking of himself, and how he would miss such a valued companion, sends this loved servant to the Philippians for their joy. Such an one they can receive in the Lord with all gladness, and hold in reputation. The apostle adds a word which so blessedly shows the kind of reputation that is of such value in the sight of God.
Epaphroditus was marked by faithfulness in the work of Christ, and with the lowly mind was prepared, after the pattern of Christ, to face death in his service for others.
Seeing that in those early days all were seeking their own and the saints were no longer like-minded with the Apostle, we need hardly be surprised if in these last days the people of God are divided and scattered. As Samuel Rutherford could say in his day, “A doubt it is if we shall have fully one heart till we shall enjoy one heaven.” Nevertheless, encouraged by those bright examples of saints marked by the lowly mind, how good for us to look away from all the ruin around us to Christ our Pattern, and seek to walk with His mind, and thus become in some small measure a testimony to Christ, and so pass through this world according to the good pleasure of God.
O patient, spotless One!
Our hearts in meekness train,
To bear Thy yoke, and learn of Thee,
That we may rest obtain.