Philippians 2:1-18 -- Seek Unity Through Humility

This passage begins (2:1-4) with a call to unity that includes basic tenets of Christianity. This passage links with 1:27 and the concern for how the Philippians live. Again, Paul draws on his relationship with them. It is because of that relationship that he can correct their behaviour and attitude.

The questions are rhetorical: among Christians there is, objectively if not subjectively, encouragement, consolation, sharing, etc. If there is any doubt about this, Paul includes the spiritual presence of Christ and the Spirit to tie these together. Where these are present, there should be unity and the same love, which manifest themselves in humility that looks to "the other." This is, in fact, what Christ did.

In saying they should have the same mind as Christ, Paul draws their attention beyond service to Christ. Many serve Christ and boast of making great sacrifices for Christ, but will not bend their knee to sacrifice for a fellow brother or sister. This attitude, which runs contrary to the traits listed in v. 1-4, cannot be held in tandem with the "mind" of Christ.

Christ's mind is centred on humility and serving others. He did not regard his position with God and his own deity as something to hold over others, but he "humiliated" himself by becoming a servant. He was even humble (and obedient) to the point of death. It was because of his humility that Christ was exalted and given "the Name" Lord (the same word used in the Septuagint to translate YHWH ? LORD).

Christ is Lord. Sooner or later all will bow. Christians know *now* who we serve. Thus, they are exhorted (commanded?-cf. Paul's language in v. 12) to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling." Sanctification (the process of being saved or being made holy; our earthly, human point-of-view and struggle) is in view in these verses (12-13), not justification (salvation from God's end-time point-of-view; the finished/completed act). "Work out" does not mean earn; instead, it means to carry out to completion. Since it is God who IS working within them (presently), they should carry out their salvation to its conclusion-the faithful life that will be rewarded. God enables them (and us) to both desire and carry out obedience. Verse 12 emphasizes the human responsibility and verse 13 emphasizes the divine enablement; together there is mutual co-operation.

When there is murmuring and complaining, though, the divine will is not being carried out, they are not blameless and innocent, and they are not holding fast to the word of life. It is destructive behaviours like these that mar the Christian message and make it ineffective. But Paul's hope is that their faithfulness to the gospel will vindicate him: It will prove, when Christ returns (or on judgment day), that Paul did not labour in vain. Paul's life, combined with their faithfulness, is a pleasing sacrifice to God, and he encourages rejoicing in such a matter.

Jeremy M. Hoover is a writer and book reviewer in Ontario, and the owner of a website that teaches you how to pray.

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