Unity and Humility – Philippians 2:1–13

Read the Passage: Philippians 2:1-13

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Philippians 2:1-13

Unity of the Church (2:1–4)

In Phil. 1:27–30 Paul exhorted the Philippian church toward worthy Christian conduct, as he reminded these believers that they were of one spirit and one mind, for they held to one gospel. Amid trials, it is easy for the church to fragment; however, Paul encouraged unity here among the believers as he referenced the common reason for their suffering, which is their belief in Jesus Christ. Just as he had appealed to one spirit and one mind in Phil. 1:27, so here in Phil. 2:2 Paul wrote of believers having one “love, being of one accord, [and] of one mind.” Indeed, as Paul later writes in Phil. 3:10, there is a fellowship of suffering that comes when Christians face trials. This oneness is between believers and Christ, as well among members of the church itself. In a similar manner to John (cf. 3 John 4), Paul writes that when the church was sanctified and unified, it fulfilled his joy (cf. Phil. 2:2).

Sanctification is a process, and for some Christians it is a painfully slow journey. Yet, no one can rightfully claim to be in Christ and never produce spiritual fruit. Since Paul recognized that Christian growth is gradual and deliberate, especially in the less-than-ideal context of his readers, in Phil. 2:3–4 Paul encouraged these new believers in Christ-likeness. These two verses are parallel in that Paul begins each verse with a personal exhortation and ends each verse with a command about others. The personal counsel that Paul gives here is, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit . . . Let each of you look out . . . for his own [spiritual] interests” (Phil. 2:3a, 4a). The neighborly counsel that Paul gives is, “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. . . . [Look out] for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3b, 4b). These commands depict person and ministry of Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 2:5).

Humility of Christ (2:5–11)

Phil. 2:5–8 is one of the richest descriptions of the incarnation of Jesus in all of Scripture. While the first two chapters of Matthew and Luke narrate the external event of Jesus’ incarnation, Phil. 2:5–8 details the internal mind of Christ in His incarnation. Paul writes that Jesus “did not consider it robbery to be equal with God” (Phil. 2:5). The term “robbery” means to grasp or to clutch. The idea here is that Jesus did not selfishly hold on to the rights, honors, and privileges of His deity, but during His incarnation He willingly laid them aside. Indeed, Christ “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:8). Note that during His incarnation Jesus did not exchange His divinity for humanity, nor did He empty Himself of His deity; rather, Jesus willingly set aside the privileges of His deity, being fully God and fully man, for the sake of the redemption of the church.

Observe that Jesus did not just humble Himself by willingly setting aside His privileges of deity, but also Christ set aside His rights as an innocent man as He willingly submitting to death on the cross. Because of His incarnation, crucifixion, and ascension, Jesus now has been given “the [new] name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). This new name is “Lord” (Phil. 2:11) and, as Luke earlier wrote, Jesus “will be called Son of the Highest” (Luke 1:32), which means Christ is ruler of all. Additionally, as Isaiah prophesied, “His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, [and] Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). Because Jesus is Lord of all, every knee will eventually bow in submission to Him, including all of the angels, all of redeemed mankind, all of the unregenerate, and even all of the demons. Furthermore, every tongue will ultimately confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Sanctification of Christians (2:12–13)

In Phil. 2:12 Paul commended the Philippian church for their obedience, both in his presence and during his absence. This indicates that Paul’s exhortation in Phil. 2:1–4 was not because of present waywardness but in order to prevent future disobedience. The last phrase in Phil. 2:12 has troubled some, as Paul exhorted the church to “work out your own salvation.” Of course, Paul is not teaching works-based salvation here; rather, he is using the term “salvation,” which means “to fulfill or to complete,” in reference to the entire work of the gospel in one’s life. This includes both justification and sanctification. The idea here is that Christians are to actively pursue holiness, but as they do, believers must keep in mind, “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13; cf. Eph. 2:10; Phil. 3:12). Note the concept that God providentially works through the free will of man is called concurrence.

Application Questions:

  1. Do you value the unity that the gospel produces in believers, as well as the fellowship that comes by being a part of the Body of Christ?
  2. Can someone be a believer and not manifest love, enjoy fellowship, have affection, and display mercy?
  3. How can we explain Jesus’ being fully God and fully man? How can we explain Jesus’ willingness to redeem mankind at the expense of His own life?
  4. How does the submission of every intelligent being to Jesus Christ bring glory to God the Father?
  5. Is the teaching that God works in you both to change your will (or desires) and your ways (or deeds) comforting or troubling to you?