Philippians 2 Commentary

v.2 “On the basis of what they have in Christ, Paul now appeals to the Philippians to behave in such a way as will ‘make [his] joy complete’ (v.2).  The Philippians have already brought him joy (1:4; cf. 4:1), and if their behavior reflects their common life in Christ, they will fulfill Paul’s joy.  The underlying exhortation is to ‘be what you are,’ to live ‘in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’ (1:27).  They are to ‘be of the same mind’(NRSV), literally, to ‘think the same.’ […] the verb refers to attitude, rather than intellectual thought.”[1]

vv.2-5 “To be like-minded need not suggest a lock-step, cloned behavior.  This is instead a call to have attitudes like Christ – loving and accepting one another, even when we’re different.  In fact, God delights in our diversity; he made every single person unique.  But we should all be like-minded in our obedience to Christ and in our care for others.”[2]

vv.6-11 “Most scholars believe that verses 6-11 are from a hymn sung by the early Christian church.  Paul was using this hymn to show Jesus as a model of servanthood.  The passage holds many parallels to the prophecy of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53.”[3]

v.6 …something to be grasped (2:6) God-likeness, contrary to common understanding, did not mean for Christ to be a ‘grasping, seizing’ being, as it would for ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ whom the Philippians had previously known;  it was not ‘something to be seized upon to his own advantage,’ which would be the normal expectation of lordly power – and the nadir of selfishness.  Rather, his ‘equality with God’ found its truest expression when ‘he emptied himself.’”[4]

v.7made himself nothing. Lit. ‘emptied himself.’ He did this, not by giving up deity, but by laying aside his glory (see John 17:5) and submitting to the humiliation of becoming man (see 2 Co 8:9).”[5]

v.8 “Christ emptied himself by taking the form of a slave, but he stooped even lower when his human condition and his obedience led him to the cross.  In the world Paul shared with the Philippians, this was the lowest that one could stoop socially.  Crucifixion was the cruelest form of official execution in the Roman empire, and although a Roman citizen might experience it if convicted of high treason, it was commonly reserved for the lower classes, especially slaves.”[6]

vv.9-11 “[Apostle Paul’s] emphasis is not on the name itself but on the status of the name as ‘above every name.’  This can only mean that at Christ’s exaltation the process began by which the equality with God that Jesus always possessed would be acknowledged by all creation.

“Why did God exalt Jesus and grant him the name above every name?  At first glance God seems to have done this as payment for Christ’s obedience […] The key to understanding this sentence, however, lies in noticing that God takes the initiative.  Jesus does not force God’s hand, nor is the exaltation and granting of the name a payment for deeds performed.  Instead God initiated the exaltation of Jesus and ‘freely gave’(echarisato) to him the most superior of names.”[7]

v.11 Will every person eventually be saved? – Even though God will bring all things… together under…Christ (Eph. 1:10), not all people will be saved.  Some will go away to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46) because they belong to [their] father, the devil (John8:44).  Those who do not obey the gospel will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord (2 Thess. 1:8-9). What this passage teaches is that all will eventually recognize and confess Christ’s lordship.  For many, however, it will be too late for salvation.”[8]

“Does this passage imply that all will confess Christ willingly or only that all will acknowledge him, some willingly and others unwillingly? The key to answering this question lies in realizing that verses 10b-11a refer to Isaiah 45:23-24:

Before me every knee will bow;

by me every tongue will swear.

They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone

are righteousness and strength.’

All who have raged against him

will come to him and be put to shame.

In this passage, some of those who bend the knee and confess the greatness of the Lord are opponents who will now be put to shame.  If this passage informed Paul’s thinking as he penned verses 10-11 – and the clear echoes of Isaiah 45:23 show that it did – then it would be unwise to assume that, according to this passage, all those who will bow before Jesus at the final day and confess his Lordship will do so gladly.”[9]

vv.12-13 Why does this sound like we have to work to be saved? – Because, even though God planned for and initiated the work of our salvation, he calls us to respond to his grace.  The work of salvation, though finished on the cross, is still being completed in individuals (Philippians 1:6).  God’s grace is fully accomplished in our lives as we learn to follow Christ, acknowledging his call by our surrender and obedience to him.  Because God works within us we are able to work out our salvation.”[10]

“After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation; and the following verses are best understood if their reference is to the attitude of the Philippians towards one another in the fellowship of the church.

“The attitude with which they are to face this task is one of humility, with fear and trembling, and complete reliance upon God for his strength in carrying it through (v.13).  The apostle uses the identical phrase in 2 Corinthians 7:15 and Ephesians 6:5, where again it is the attitude to men which is described.  So here it denotes the spirit which should characterize the mutual relationships of the Philippians.”[11]

vv.12-18 “[…] unity is often broken by precisely the verbal kinds of activity that Paul attempts to curb at Philippi:  complaining and arguing.  At the bottom of this flurry of discontented words is nearly always the desire of each side in the dispute to dominate the other, to see that their concerns are addressed even if the interests of others are neglected. […]

“What is the remedy? Paul’s solution is to issue a warning.  Those who belong to God’s people demonstrate their membership by working out their salvation.  Their aim should be to avoid the mistakes of the ancient Israelites, who allowed complaining to stand in the way of their inheritance and whose subsequent historical failure to be a light to the Gentiles meant that God gave this privilege to others.  The Philippians should rejoice in working for the advancement of the gospel and consider the energy expended in that work to be a sacrifice to God. […]  Any good that we as believers accomplish is the result of God’s work in us.  This is a deeply humbling truth, one that should give anyone pause who is bent on having his or her way.  We do not deserve to have our own way.  We deserve hell.  But God in his grace has drawn us to himself by his Holy Spirit and by that same Spirit has worked within us to accomplish his good purpose.  If we have grasped the truth that God justifies the impious – that Jesus came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance – then we will immediately understand how foolhardy it is to break fellowship with others for selfish reasons.  ‘Self-justification and judging belong together,’ said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘as justification by grace and serving belong together.’”[12]

vv.17-18 “Paul’s reference to being poured out like a drink offering was an allegory for martyrdom.  The drink offering was an important part of the Jewish sacrificial system.  It involved wine being poured out on an altar as a sacrifice to God (see Genesis 35:14; Exodus 29:40-41; Numbers 28:24).  Because the Philippian church had little Jewish background, Paul may have been referring to the wine poured out to pagan deities prior to important public events.  Paul regarded his life as a suitable offering to complete the Philippians’ sacrifice of faithful service, and he willingly offered it for the sake of Christ’s gospel and for the many who believe in Christ because of his preaching.

“Yet even through these somber words a ray of light was shining.  If Paul were indeed to die, he would rejoice and desire that they would share his joy.  Paul was content, knowing that he had helped the Philippians live for Christ.  Paul was able to have joy, even though he faced possible execution.”[13]

v.19 “Epaphroditus would leave immediately and deliver Paul’s letter (2:25-30); then Timothy would arrive later after Paul learned the verdict of his trial (2:23).  Paul hoped that in the meantime the Philippians would take to heart his call to unity in their church and would iron out their difficulties.  Timothy would be able to see their progress and then could come back to Rome with news that would bring Paul good cheer.”[14]

v.26 “Communication happens so quickly in our world, but Epaphroditus couldn’t just pick up the phone or send an e-mail saying all was well.  The Philippians had heard that Epaphroditus was ill, and word of their concern about him had gotten back to Rome (again, weeks elapsed as the news traveled the forty-day journey between the two cities).  When he recovered, Epaphroditus was longing to see his friends and family in Philippi so they would know that he was well.  So Paul figured the best way to do that would be to send him home again.”[15]

v.28 “With Epaphroditus’s[sic]  unexpected return, the church might think that his mission to minister to Paul had failed.  They might be concerned that Epaphroditus was leaving Paul alone in Paul’s most desperate time of need.  Instead, Paul took full responsibility for Epaphroditus’s[sic] return to Philippi, and encouraged the believers to rejoice that he had come back to them.  As he planned to do with Timothy (2:19), Paul willingly sent away those closest to him, if their ministry were required elsewhere.  Epaphroditus had certainly been an encouragement to Paul, as Paul’s description of this brother indicates (2:25).  Yet Paul knew that the Philippians needed to see Epaphroditus for themselves.  This would ease Epaphroditus’s[sic] distress (2:26) and lighten Paul’s cares.”[16]


[1] Mrona D. Hooker, “The Letter to the Philippians,” New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XI (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998) 499.

[2] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1685.

[3] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001) 851.

[4] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996) 208.

[5] The NIV Study Bible, study notes  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985)  1805.

[6] Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 119.

[7] Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 120-121.

[8] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1685.

[9] Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 121.

[10] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1685.

[11] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity, 2000) 116.

[12] Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 150-151.

[13] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001) 853.

[14] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001) 853.

[15] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001) 854.

[16] Bruce Barton, et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001) 854.

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