(1-4) In this section the hint given above, in the allusion to “one spirit” and “one soul,” is expanded into a direct exhortation to unity of spirit, as shown both by absence of self-assertion and by presence of a genial sympathy.
(1) If there be therefore any consolation . . .—In the four-fold division of this verse we trace, first, a reference to unity with Christ, and to a spiritual effect following from it; next, a similar reference to communion with the Holy Ghost, and a corresponding spiritual result. (1) “Consolation” is properly encouragement—the stirring up of spiritual activity—ascribed in Acts 9:31 to the action of the Holy Spirit, but here viewed as a practical manifestation of the life flowing from union with Christ. Out of it comes naturally the “comfort of love,” that is, as always, the deep and thankful sense of comfort in His love, overflowing into comfort, lovingly given to our brethren. On this “encouragement” in Christ, both received and given out to others, St. Paul dwells at length (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). (2) Next, he speaks of “communion of the Spirit” (the very word used in 2 Corinthians 13:13), by which, indeed, we are brought into that unity with Christ; and of this, still keeping to the main idea of love, he makes the manifestation to be in “bowels and mercies”—that is, both in strong affection, and in that peculiar form of affection which is directed towards suffering, viz., compassion or pity. The whole passage (like Philippians 4:8-9) is full of a grave and persuasive eloquence characteristic of this Epistle. No absolute distinction is to be drawn between the two elements of the sentence; but it may be noted that the “consolation in Christ” is exhibited in the action which visibly follows His divine example, “the communion with the Holy Spirit” is shown by the inner emotion, not seen, but felt.
(1) THE VOLUNTARY HUMILIATION OF THE LORD, first in His incarnation, next in His passion (Philippians 2:5-8).
(2) THE CORRESPONDING EXALTATION OF HIS HUMANITY, to bear “the Name above every name,” which all creation must adore (Philippians 2:9-11).]
(5-8) From a practical introduction, in the familiar exhortation to follow the example of our Lord, St. Paul passes on to what is, perhaps, the most complete and formal statement in all his Epistles of the doctrine of His “great humility.” In this he marks out, first, the Incarnation, in which, “being in the form of God, He took on Him the form of a servant,” assuming a sinless but finite humanity; and next, the Passion, which was made needful by the sins of men, and in which His human nature was humiliated to the shame and agony of the cross. Inseparable in themselves, these two great acts of His self-sacrificing love must be distinguished. Ancient speculation delighted to suggest that the first might have been, even if humanity had remained sinless, while the second was added because of the fall and its consequences. Such speculations are, indeed, thoroughly precarious and unsubstantial—for we cannot ask what might have been in a different dispensation from our own; and, moreover, we read of our Lord as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8; see also 1 Peter 1:19)—but they at least point to a true distinction. As “the Word of God” manifested in the Incarnation, our Lord is the treasure of all humanity as such; as the Saviour through death, He is the especial treasure of us as sinners.
It should be noticed that, whereas in St. Paul’s earlier Epistles, in which he cared not “to know anything save Jesus Christ,” and “Him as crucified,” the main idea is always of our Lord as the mediator between man and God, yet in the later Epistles (as here, and in Ephesians 1:10; Ephesians 1:20-23; Colossians 1:15-19; Colossians 2:9-11; to which we may add Hebrews 1:2-4) stress is laid, sometimes (as in Ephesians 1:10), on His gathering all things in heaven and earth unto Himself; sometimes, even more explicitly, on His partaking of the divine nature, and (as in Colossians 1:17) of His possessing the divine attribute of creation. All this naturally leads up to the great declaration of His true and perfect Godhead in John 1:1-13.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God.—There are two main interpretations of this passage; first, the interpretation given in our version, which makes it simply an explanation and enforcement of the words “being in the form of God”; secondly, the translation thought it not a prize to be grasped at to be equal with God, which begins in it the statement of our Lord’s voluntary self-humiliation, to be completed in the words, “but emptied Himself of glory.” The former preserves the literal translation of the original word “robbery;” the latter, in accordance with a not uncommon usage, makes it equivalent to “the thing snatched at,” and if this be allowed, has abundant examples in other writings to support the meaning thus given to the whole phrase. Either interpretation yields good sense and sound doctrine; neither does violence to the general context. But the latter is to be preferred; first (1) because it suits better the idea of the passage, which is to emphasise the reality of our Lord’s humility, and preserves the opposition implied in the “but” following; (2) because it has the great preponderance of the ancient Greek interpreters in its favour; (3) because it can, on the whole, appeal more confidently to ordinary usage of the phrase. The sense is that, being in the form of God, and therefore having equality with God, He set no store on that equality, as a glory to Himself, compared with the power of giving salvation to all men, which He is pleased to consider a new joy and glory.
Made in the likeness of man.—This clause, at first sight, seems to weaken the previous clause, for it does not distinctly express our Lord’s true humanity. But we note that the phrase is “the likeness of men,” i.e., of men in general, men as they actually are. Hence the key to the meaning is to be found in such passages as Romans 8:3, God sent His own Son in “the likeness of sinful flesh;” or Hebrews 2:17; Hebrews 4:15, “It behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren,” “in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It would have been an infinite humiliation to have assumed humanity, even in unique and visible glory; but our Lord went beyond this, by deigning to seem like other men in all things, one only of the multitude, and that, too, in a station, which confused Him with the commoner types of mankind. The truth of His humanity is expressed in the phrase “form of a servant;” its unique and ideal character is glanced at when it is said to have worn only the “likeness of men.”
Even the death of the cross.—Properly, and that too, the death of the cross; emphasising its peculiar shame and humiliation as an “accursed” death. (See Galatians 3:13.)
Hath given him a name.—Or, rather, the Name above every name. “The Name” (for this seems to be the best reading) is clearly “the Name” of God. It is properly the name Jehovah, held in the extremest literal reverence by the Jews, and it came to signify (almost like “the Word”) the revelation of the presence of God. See Revelation 19:12-13, where “the name which no man knew but Himself” is the “Word of God.” This is, indeed, made clear by the following verse; for the adoration there described is in the original passage (Isaiah 45:23; comp. Romans 14:11), claimed as the sole due of God Himself. The name JESUS, “Jehovah the Saviour” (like “Jehovah our Righteousness,” in Jeremiah 23:6), does contain, as an integral element, the incommunicable name of God, while the addition of “Saviour” points to the true humanity. Therefore in that Name, of Him who is at once God and Man, “every knee is to bow” with direct worship to Him.
Of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.—For “things” we may better substitute beings, for the reference is properly to personal beings; although in some sense “All the works of the Lord bless the Lord, praise Him and magnify Him for ever.” (Comp. here Revelation 5:13, “Every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth . . . heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever.” See also Ephesians 1:20-21, and Notes there.)
To the glory of God the Father.—The acknowledgment of the glory of Christ is the acknowledgment of the glory of the Father, as the Source of Deity, manifested perfectly in Him. (See John 1:18; John 14:9). Note in John 5:19-30, our Lord’s repeated profession that His work on earth was to manifest the Father; in John 17:4, His declaration that He had so done; and in John 17:24, the truth that His glory is the glory given of the Father.
(1) EXHORTATION TO WORK OUT THEIR SALVATION through the in working of God, and so to be lights in the world, and the glory of the Apostle, even in the hour of martyrdom (Philippians 2:12-18).
(2) ST. PAUL’S INTENTION TO SEND TIMOTHY, AND HOPE TO COME HIMSELF SHORTLY (Philippians 2:19-24).
(3) PRESENT MISSION OF EPAPHRODITUS, now recovered from his late sickness, and strong commendation of his zeal (Philippians 2:25-30).]
(12-18) By the word “wherefore” St. Paul connects this exhortation with the great passage above. For the main idea is here of the presence of God in them, working out glory through a condition of humiliation, on condition of their fellow-working with Him; so that they shall appear as the “sons of God” and as “lights in the world.” In all this there is clearly the imperfect but true likeness of the indwelling of Godhead in our Lord’s humanity, exalting it through the two-fold humiliation to the unspeakable glory.
(12) As ye have always obeyed.—It is notable that this Epistle is the only one which contains no direct rebuke. The Philippian Church has the glory of having “always obeyed,” not (like the Galatian Church) “as in his presence only, but now much more in his absence.” This “obedience” was to the will of God as set forth by him. In referring to it, there is an allusion to the “obedience” of Christ (in Philippians 2:8); hence their obedience includes also that willingness to suffer which He Himself has shown. (See Philippians 1:29-30.) To this, perhaps, there is a further allusion in the “fear and trembling” spoken of below. (See 2 Corinthians 7:15; Ephesians 6:5.)
Work out your own salvation.—To “work out” is (as in Ephesians 6:13) to carry out to completion what is begun. This is the function of man, as fellow-worker with God, first in his own soul, and then among his brethren. God is the “beginner and perfecter” of every “good work” (see Philippians 1:6); man’s co-operation is secondary and intermediate.
The word “worketh in you” is constantly applied to the divine operation in the soul (see 1 Corinthians 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 2:8; Ephesians 1:11; Ephesians 1:20; Ephesians 2:2); rarely, as here (in the word rendered “to do”) to the action of men. It must necessarily extend to the will as well as the action; otherwise God would not be sovereign in the inner realm of mind (as, indeed, Stoic philosophy denied that He was). We are familiar with the influence of one created will over another—an influence real, though limited, yet in no sense compulsive. From this experience we may catch a faint glimpse of the inner working of the Spirit of God on the spirit of man. Hence, while we cannot even conceive the existence of freedom under an unbending impersonal law or force, the harmony of our will with a Supreme Personal Will is mysterious, indeed, but not inconceivable.
Of his good pleasure.—Literally, on behalf of His good pleasure; that is, in harmony with it. On the double sense of “good pleasure” see Note on Ephesians 1:5. Here, probably, the meaning is His “gracious will” for our salvation.
The sons of God, without rebuke.—The word “without rebuke” is, according to the best MSS., the same as that which is used in Ephesians 1:4 (where see Note), and elsewhere, to signify “unblemished.” The whole passage seems certainly a reminiscence of Deuteronomy 32:5, as it runs in the Greek version, speaking of the Israelites as “no children of God, full of blemish, a crooked and perverse generation.” The word “crooked” is similarly applied to the unbelieving Jews by St. Peter in Acts 2:40, and the epithet “faithless and perverse generation” used by our Lord in Matthew 17:17; Luke 9:41.
Lights.—Properly, luminaries; so used in the Old Testament, and probably in Revelation 21:11. Christians are as the lesser lights of heaven, dim in comparison with the Sun of Righteousness, perhaps shining by His reflected light, and seen only in the night of this life, till He shall rise on us again in the “day of Christ” spoken of in the next verse. The word, therefore, stands half-way between “light” itself, as in Matthew 5:14, and the merely artificial “light” (or, candle) of John 5:35.
The word of life.—The phrase “the word of life” is remarkable. Here it signifies, of course, the gospel of Christ. But the gradual progress of this expression should be noted. Of Him His disciples declared that He “has the words” (i.e., the expressed words; see Note on Ephesians 6:17) “of eternal life” (John 6:68); He Himself goes further, and declares that His words are themselves spirit and life (John 6:63); here the gospel, as giving that knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ which is “eternal life” (John 17:3), is a “word of life;” and all these lead up to the final declaration that He Himself is “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).
Run in vain, neither laboured in vain.—St. Paul’s usual metaphor includes the “race” and the “struggle” of wrestling or boxing (as in 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In Galatians 2:2 he speaks only of the “running in vain.” Here, perhaps, the more general word “labour” (united in Colossians 1:29 with the word “struggling”) may be taken to express at any rate that element of endurance and watchfulness which the struggle in the arena represents.
The sacrifice and service of your faith.—The word here rendered “service,” with its kindred words, properly means any service rendered by an individual for the community; and it retains something of this meaning in 2 Corinthians 9:12, where it is applied to the collection and transmission of alms to Jerusalem (comp. Romans 15:27; and see below, Philippians 2:25; Philippians 2:30), and in Romans 13:6 and Hebrews 1:7, where “the powers that be” and the angels are respectively called “ministers of God.” But the great preponderance of New Testament usage appropriates it to priestly service (see Luke 1:23; Romans 15:16; Hebrews 8:2; Hebrews 8:6; Hebrews 9:21; Hebrews 10:11), which is obviously its sense here. The simplest interpretation of the whole passage would be to consider the Philippians merely as priests, and to suppose “sacrifice” to describe the chief function, and “ministration” the general function, of their priesthood. But the word “sacrifice,” though it might etymologically mean the act of sacrifice, has universally in the New Testament the sense, not of the act, but of the thing sacrificed. Accordingly, here it would seem that, following afar off the example of the great high priest, the Christian is described as at once sacrifice and priest, “offering” (see Romans 12:1) “his own body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” and with it the “sacrifice of praise” and the “sacrifice of doing good and communicating” (Hebrews 13:15-16, and below, Philippians 4:18). This union of sacrifice and ministration, being the work “of faith,” is in St. Paul’s view the thing really precious; his own death the mere preparation for it, in which he rejoices “to spend and be spent” for them.
I joy, and rejoice with you all.—That is, I joy, and that in sympathy with you. First, “I joy” absolutely, in the feeling that “to depart and be with Christ,” following Him in His own way of suffering, is far better. Next, “I joy in sympathy with you,” in the sense of community of sacrifice, and brotherhood in suffering, for the sake of the one Lord. The emphasis laid on the latter clause harmonises with the old proverb, that sorrow is halved, and joy doubled, when it is shared with others.
(19) We note that here Timothy is spoken of in the third person; hence, though he is joined with St. Paul in the salutation (see Philippians 1:1), the Epistle is the Apostle’s, and his alone. The same is the case in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians (comp. Philippians 1:1 with Philippians 3:2; Philippians 3:6).
That I also may be of good comfort.—The words express some anxiety, but greater confidence, as to the news which Timothy on returning was likely to bring. We have instances of a similar but far stronger anxiety of affection in 2 Corinthians 2:13; 2 Corinthians 7:6-7, and 1 Thessalonians 3:1-9. In regard to the Philippians it might exist in detail, but was swallowed up in confidence on all main points.
As a son with the father.—The original construction is curiously broken here. It runs, As a son to a father—as though St. Paul was going to speak of Timothy’s dutiful ministration and following of his example; but then the sentence changes, in a characteristic humility, and makes Timothy and himself merely fellow-servants—he served with me in the gospel. If we may judge of Timothy’s character from the general character of St. Paul’s directions to him in the Pastoral Epistles, and especially the significant exhortation, “Let no man despise thy youth, (1 Timothy 4:12), it would seem to have been gentle and warm-hearted rather than commanding. Hence, perhaps, the necessity for this singularly emphatic commendation of him. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 16:10, “If Timotheus come, see that he be with you without fear.”)
In the Lord.—So above, Philippians 2:19. The expression, connected in both cases with matters of practical life and even of detail, is one which (like “the bowels of Jesus Christ” in Philippians 1:8) belongs to the consciousness of a life so absorbed in Christ, that it cannot think or live in hope except “in the Lord.” But it carries with it, perhaps, also the idea suggested by St. James (James 4:15) “If the Lord will, we shall do this or that.” Just so far as a hope or prayer is really “in the Lord,” it will be accordant with the Divine will, and will therefore be realised.
Philippians 2:25-30 contain the immediate mission and commendation of Epaphroditus, who had been sent from Philippi with supplies, had fallen sick, and now in convalescence was longing for home, and fearful lest the report of his sickness should cause them anxiety.
Your messenger.—The original word is apostle; and by some interpreters, ancient and modern, it has been thought that it is intended here to designate the chief pastor—or, in the modern sense, the bishop—of the Philippian Church (as probably is the case with the “angels” of the churches in the Apocalypse); and the word “your” is then explained in the same sense as the words “of the Gentiles” in Romans 11:13. But this is very unlikely, (1) because there seems to be no example to confirm the statement that the chief pastor of a church was ever called its “apostle;” (2) because the character of the apostolate, being general and evangelistic, was very different from that of the local and pastoral episcopate; (3) because in this passage the word is inseparably connected with the following “and minister to my needs,” showing the latter phrase to be explanatory of the previous word; (4) because the style of commendation in Philippians 2:29 is hardly suitable as applied to one whose office alone should have commanded respect. Our version is, therefore, correct in rendering it “messenger,” just as in 2 Corinthians 8:23 (“the messengers of the churches”), where there is a similar reference to the transmission of alms.
Sorrow upon sorrow.—That is, probably, upon the sorrow of captivity the sorrow of losing one who had (see Philippians 2:30) risked his life in the ardour of service to the captive.
I may be the less sorrowful.—There is a peculiar pathos in this expression, as contrasted with the completeness of joy described above in Philippians 2:17-18. Epaphroditus’ recovery and safe return would take away the “sorrow upon sorrow;” but the old sorrow of captivity, enforced inactivity, and anxiety for the condition of the gospel, would remain. The expression of perfect joy belongs to the “spirit which was willing” indeed; the hint of an unspoken sorrow marks the weakness of the flesh.
To supply your lack of service.—There is not in the original the touch of reproach which our version may seem to imply. Epaphroditus’ presence and activity are said to have “filled up the one thing wanting” to make the service of the Philippians effective for its purpose.