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Philippians 1:272:11comment (0)

March 17, 2011

By Cecil Taylor

Related Scripture: Philippians 1:272:11

Explore the Bible
Dean, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile

Philippians 1:27–2:11

General Appeal (1:27–2:4)

“Live worthy of the gospel.” “Worthy” pictured the balance beam of a pair of scales. An item’s “worth” was found with a counterweight that moved the beam to horizontal. The point? How a believer behaves must be as heavy as what he or she says he or she believes.

A gospel-worthy life calls for a believer to “stand” his or her ground under attack. In “with one spirit contending as one man,” Paul reached the core of his appeal — agreement of heart and mind. Further those who strive to advance “the faith of the gospel” must not be “stampeded” (literally) by their adversaries. Persecution is a double-edged sword. It seals the fate of the persecutor as an enemy of the gospel and confirms the ultimate bliss of the persecuted. Suffering is not to be courted but, when it comes for Jesus Christ’s sake, is to be counted a blessing. A hotel guest complained about loud piano noises next door. The manager explained that it was renowned Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski practicing for a concert. She not only stopped complaining but also invited friends to her room to enjoy it with her. Learning the source of her irritation changed her whole attitude. When a Christian sees suffering for Christ as God’s gift, he or she can rejoice in it.

Paul offered four grounds for his plea for unity. In the original language, here “if” means “since.” There is “encouragement in Christ” (literally), who practiced unity (e.g., Mark 9:40) and prayed for it (John 17:11). There is “tender persuasiveness” (literally) in love, probably Christ’s love for all of them. There is “fellowship in the Spirit,” who binds together those of faith. And there are “tenderness” (“splagchna”), the organ of compassion, and “pity” (“oiktirmoi”), the compassion itself. “Since you have a heart and it has compassion.”

There is no need to make distinctions in Paul’s language in 2:1. However, he clearly called for unity of both thought and affection.

One sin that hinders unity is “selfish ambition,” i.e., taking sides for personal advancement. Another is “vain conceit,” i.e., a proud spirit, desire for prestige. Both partisan spirit and pride endanger unity. The antidote to these evils is “humility.” Most of the ancient world considered humility weakness. Jesus made humility a virtue. What is humility? It is not a beautiful woman insisting she is ugly, a smart man declaring he is dumb or a person who is 6 feet tall vowing he or she is only 5 feet 8 inches. The humble person knows his or her abilities and lives within them. He or she can even take pride in achievements so long as he or she does not compare them to others. Here Paul defined humility as putting other’s interests ahead of one’s own.

Specific Example (2:5–11)
Paul held up Christ as the example of humility, i.e., thinking more of others than of self. “In very nature God” means that Christ was God. However, He did not consider His state of “equality with God,” i.e., His glory at the Father’s right hand, something to be held on to at any cost. He surrendered it by becoming man. He “made Himself nothing” (NIV; literally “emptied Himself” — a voluntary action on His part — not of His essential deity but of the heavenly majesty associated with it). Taking “the form of a servant” explains “emptied Himself.” He could have become a king but entered the race as a slave. Made in the “real likeness of men” and “found in appearance as a man,” He humbled Himself still further. He “became obedient to death” even “death on a cross,” i.e., the lowest rung in this ladder of humiliation.

His point? Had the Son of God thought more of Himself than of others, He would never have traded the brightness of heaven for the blackness of earth and given His life as a criminal on a cross.

Jesus is the best illustration of His own saying, “He who humbles himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11; 18:14). God has “superexalted” the Crucified One and “granted Him the favor” of a new name. Someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the Father’s glory.

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