In each of the four chapters of Philippians, we are given a glimpse of the supreme sovereignty of the Lord Jesus in the life of Paul. To Paul, Christ was everything.
Sadly, the main point of chapter 2 is often lost sight of. The truth of the self-humbling, and exaltation to glory of the Lord Jesus is clearly taught, and believers have thrilled to the majestic words of verses 6-11. However, the context of these verses is not only doctrinal; it is intensely practical.
The object of Paul’s letter is, in the main, to teach believers two vitally important truths. In chapter 1, for the believer it must be Christ first, ‘For to me to live … Christ’, v. 21. In chapter 2, for the believer it will then be others next, ‘Look not every man on his own things [interests], but every man also on the things [interests] of others’, v. 4.
As we come to consider the third mention of our word ‘nothing’, we might think of its context:
The unity of the church was threatened because there was disagreement among the saints. There was a need to maintain unity.
Example of the Saviour, vv. 5-11.
The problem among the saints at Philippi was not only serious it was spiritual, and spiritual problems can never be solved by rules, and certainly not by a spirit which brings ‘strife and vainglory’. In these verses the mind of Christ is our pattern.
Expected of the saints, vv. 12-16.
We often overlook the truth that every church belongs to God. They are His witness to a godless world. They are required to manifest light in a dark world.
Expressed in God’s servants, vv. 17-30
In these verses we observe three men who ministered selflessly in the interests of others. To these men the Christians at Philippi were especially dear.
In the first verse, he lists four wonderful qualities that they had displayed.
‘If [since there is] there be any consolation in Christ’. Here Paul mentions the first thing they showed to him. This word ‘consolation’ is from the Greek word paraklesis, and speaks of the encouragement they gave him because of their common relationship with Christ.
‘If [since there is] any comfort of love’. This is the only time this word ‘comfort’ is used in the New Testament. It refers to the persuasive power of love. Paul urges the Christians in Philippi to use that same love to settle their dispute.
‘If [since there is] any fellowship [communion] of the Spirit’. The word ‘fellowship’ has already been mentioned in chapter 1 when he thanked them for their ‘fellowship in the gospel’, v. 5. That fellowship had been a miracle of grace.
‘If [since] any tender compassions and mercies (heart feelings)’. What Paul is calling for is a display of their hearts’ affections and tender compassions towards their fellow believers. After all, they had shown such feelings towards him when he had passed through difficult times. He reminded them, ‘you have me in your heart both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the glad tidings’, 1. 7 JND.
Surely, they should be able to show these features of spiritual character towards their fellow Christians, and restore the unity of the church. Loyalty and love shown to saints far away is one thing, but unless it is shown to the saints we live with it is worthless. May God give us all the capacity to manifest love to our brethren and sisters by responding to their needs!
The unfolding of the four-fold truth of verse 1 was intended to produce a response from the Philippians. Again, Paul displays spiritual wisdom; he is both tender and gracious. He asked them to do something for him personally. Love always asks. It never orders.
‘Fulfil ye my joy’. What lovely words! They were already a joy to him, 1. 4; 4. 1. Now he desires them to fill his cup full in one overwhelming, decisive act, rather than a gradual process.
‘Be like minded’. In the matter of fulfilling his joy, he seeks the whole church to be unanimous.
‘Having the same love’. As Paul beseeches in chapter 4 verse 2, Euodias and Syntyche included! Paul wanted the power of spiritual love to be put into action among them now, just as it had been when he was in need.
‘Being of one accord’. That is, be joined in soul, rather than split into parties and cliques. Let all your aims and affections for each other be seen in deeds, and not word only.
‘Being of one mind’. Be focused in mind upon one thing, the unity of God’s church.
The problem of disharmony in the church had produced a spirit of rivalry, factions, and a bitter spirit.
‘Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory’. Avoid self-esteem! Don’t make it your ambition to be in the chief place. Paul warns the Christians that unity will never be achieved that way. Equally, he appeals to them not to bring strife and squabbling into the church in pursuit of self-promotion. The word ‘vainglory’ is used as it is about lifting me up, even though it means putting my fellow believers down, and bringing hurt to them. ‘Strife’ is the end result.
‘But in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves’. This is hard! Not in a display of false humility, but in a genuine display of a lowly disposition.
‘Let each esteem others better’. Put simply, it means ‘consider others more important than yourselves’, not in ability, nor in the matter of God-given gift, but in the matter of personal value.
One has beautifully said: ‘Lowliness of mind does not mean that a person thinks meanly or lowly of himself and a lot of others. He simply does not think of himself at all’. Similarly, Andrew Murray wrote, ‘Humility is that grace that when you know you have it – you have lost it!’
The closing verses of chapter 3 teach us about the very high standard that God expects from every believer as they live each day in this world. It is spoken of as our walk, ‘our conversation’, or manner of life. We should also notice the moral order required for harmony among Christians:
We notice, first, that chapter 4 begins with the word ‘therefore’ which refers us back to what has already been said. In particular, on the basis of the glorious hope detailed in chapter 3 verses 20-21, Paul makes a number of appeals to the church.
’rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say rejoice’, v. 4
Paul wanted the saints at Philippi to display a spirit of happiness, an atmosphere of rejoicing in the Lord. The fact that Paul said ‘rejoice’ twice shows that he knew the Lord cared for His saints.
‘let your moderation be known unto all men’, v. 5
The word ‘moderation’ can be rendered ‘patience’, ‘forbearance’, or ‘sweet reasonableness’. The yieldingness here is in the realm of people and their circumstances.
‘The Lord is at hand’, v. 5
This thought will always make us more considerate and thoughtful of the needs of others. People are more important than private principles. One translation puts it, ‘the Lord is at your elbow’, watching your conduct, and observing your behaviour.
'be careful for nothing’, v. 6
These words bring the challenge to rest more upon the Lord in dependency and prayer. Anxiety is the central thought of this short portion, and it is a most distressing condition for any believer. In our everyday language it is worry.
The Lord knew that we, like the disciples, would worry about the necessities of daily life.1 The disciples had left all to follow the Lord, and Jesus knew that they would worry because they had too little. The Lord had to teach them to ‘take no (anxious) thought for your life’, Luke 12. 22. It is the same word that Paul used here.
'but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’
A prayerful attitude is demanded. Although our requests are known to God already, He loves to hear us ask for them in our prayers and manifest our dependence upon Him. As we bring this short series to a close:
‘In nothing I shall be ashamed’, Phil. 1. 20;
In the trying circumstances of life, let us see what God may achieve through us, and through the prayers of His people.
In nothing afraid, v. 28;
In the midst of persecution and trial, let us be steadfast in the gospel as those whose citizenship is in heaven.
In nothing conceited, 2. 3;
In a world that applauds self-interest, let us be characterized by humility, desiring to put the things of God first in our lives.
In nothing anxious, 4. 6.
As we seek to serve God, let us be confident of the sovereignty of God and His provision for His children.
As Paul closes this chapter and epistle, he tells the Philippians that what is maintained must also be clearly manifested. The result will be that ‘the God of peace shall be with you’, v. 9.