Philippians 2 (Published 1984)

Following a summer holiday in a Christian Guest House at which the proprietor, drawing the attention of the guests to the Philippian Epistle, gave some excellent thoughts from it, the present writer’s thoughts were turned to see a contrasting similarity between the second and third chapters in this Epistle. In the following lines these thoughts are shared in the sincere hope that they may be a blessing to others also.

We are rightly familiar with the recurrence of “joy” and “rejoicing” in the Epistle, and so may we also be with the similar recurrence of the word all Further, it must be clear to those who read it that unity of mind must have been bearing in on the apostle as he sent this letter to Philippi.

One-mindedness in the Gospel

The apostle, having addressed himself to this assembly, rejoices in the partnership that they showed him in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. They had become partakers with him of this grace, and he encourages them for their continuance with him in it “from the first day until now”, realizing that, as with himself, it was God who had begun a good work in them and that He would complete, or perfect, it until the day of Jesus Christ. How much he rejoices in this, as he thinks upon it while bound in prison on account of that same gospel. Such was the effect of their partnership, that every remembrance of them brought him much joy, a joy which deepened into an ever-increasing longing after them in the “tender mercies”, the yearning affections of Jesus Christ. What a partnership of “knit-together ones”!

Further, in the qualities nurtured by full knowledge and perception, and by the proving of the things which differ, he desires that love may grow and be deepened, to bring about a reality and blamelessness in the things of the gospel until the day of Jesus Christ. It is the outworking of the inworking of that which God has begun (and both go on to the same time — the day of Jesus Christ).

As the apostle meditates upon this loving kindness shown by these Philippian believers, what encouragement he must have been given in view of his prison experience then! Whilst there were those who were strengthened by the fact that his bonds were known to be for Christ’s sake, and with increased boldness they preached Christ out of love for Him and His apostle, there were others who were prepared to preach Christ from contention, or self-ambition, in order to make things more difficult for the apostle. Perhaps these were of a class with those in Corinth of whom the apostle wrote, “his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible”, 2 Cor. 10. 10. Were these at Rome putting their own qualities and advantages above those of the apostle and so advancing their own self-ambition? Their object was not attained, for the apostle rejoiced that, whether from love or from contention, Christ was preached.

In mentioning these incidents to his beloved at Philippi, the apostle seems to sense that (while he does not have to reprimand any error or wrong doing among them) there is the possibility of a lack of one-mindedness which he seeks to stifle before it can develop into something more serious. So he exhorts them to live as “regarding not each his own [qualities (margin: advantages)], but each those of others also”, Phil. 2. 4 J.N.D. The actions of those in Rome must have been a heavy burden to him, despite his joy that Christ was being preached, for he seeks to turn others from a like condition. “Let this mind be in you”, he says, “which was also in Christ Jesus”, Phil. 2. 5.

The Mind in Christ Jesus

We take a look at this superb passage, Phil. 2. 6-11, in the context of Paul’s desire that each man should not look on his own qualities and advantages, and reverently apply these things to our Lord Jesus Christ.

First, He had the quality of Deity, and the advantage of being equal with God. No other being or intelligence could rank with Him in excellence; none could vie with Him in power, for He is the power of God and by Him all things were made; and more, by Him all things hold together. Yet again, all things were not only made by Him and through Him, but all things were made for Him, so that without Him was not one thing made that was made; and further, He is (not was) before all things — time-wise and status-wise. It was not by power alone that the creation came into being, but also by wisdom, and if we read “Christ the power of God”, we also read “and the wisdom of God”, 1 Cor. 1. 24. The psalmist elicits thanks to the Lord of lords; “to him that by wisdom made the heavens”, Psa. 136. 5, and the wise father told his son, “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens”, Prov. 3. 19.

Creation is not the only sphere in which the wonder of the Deity of Christ Jesus shines forth. Perhaps, if it were possible for degrees of glory to emanate from Him, that of His redemptive sphere has greater emanation, but because of space we leave the reader to reflect on such glories for himself.

Nor was Christ Jesus a lower or lesser Person in the Godhead — none of the Three Persons comprising the Trinity is lower or lesser than the Others. Therefore we read He “thought it not robbery to be equal with God”. He had not to reach after Him as an object of possession. He was not inferior, and therefore it was not a quality or advantage to be acquired to be equal with God. Nor having these qualities and advantages did He seek to vaunt them before His creatures. He did not seek to make a vain show of them, but He made Himself of no reputation. His Godhead nature gave Him qualities and advantages beyond any equal, but He stripped Himself of the outward insignia of His majesty (not His Godhead nature) and took upon Him the form of a bondslave. In a household there were many strata of society: sons, stewards, household servants, etc., but least of all, and one who was his master’s complete chattel, was the bondslave. As Christ Jesus undertook His stoop, He did so not to the next step downward in the “household strata”, nor to any intermediate position, but He took upon Him the form of a bondslave — a bondslave not to men but to God, though He did so for our sakes. “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor”. Qualities and advantages beyond degree, yet to poverty beyond degree! Oh, to stop and ponder this so that this mind may be in us.

Not alone a servant’s form did He take, but He was found in the likeness of men. Once again, coming now into the created sphere, there are seraphim, cherubim, archangel, angels that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. Surely, we might ask, He will deign to clothe Himself with a form similar to theirs, for as a bond-slave will He not hearken to the voice of God’s word, and do God’s commandments, and excel in strength in doing so? No, verily He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. He did not look on His own qualities and advantages, for as the children are partakers of blood and flesh, He also Himself likewise took part of the same — He became in the likeness of men.

But what now? Is not this enough to bring home the lesson that we should not look every man on his own things, but every man on the things of others? We read on.

Having become in the likeness of men, and being found in man’s fashion, He humbled Himself. In the strata of society there are kings and governors, philosophers and wise men, etc. Surely, He who is anointed to reign will now reveal Himself as king! But no! He humbled Himself to be born of the poorest of families, albeit of David’s line, and to be cradled in a manger! What a place for Him of whom wise men enquired, “Where is he that is born King?”. And yet more: hear Him say to a would-be follower: “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head”. Qualities and advantages? He emptied Himself — He humbled Himself! Has He not by now stooped low enough that we might have an example to follow? Indeed, can we follow thus far? Humbling thought! Are not the shoes removed from off our feet by now? But he takes us further yet. He became obedient.

In the Father’s bosom and being the Father’s delight, there was no call for obedience, it was irrelevant. Not that disobedience was there — perish the thought! Obedience belongs to subordinates, and He is equal with the Father, so it did not apply; but now He has moved into a sphere of subordinates — man — from whom obedience is the rightful thing. Man is a creature of disobedience now; but that Man gave the rightful thing to His God — obedience. Man is a creature subject to death; and this Man is not subject to death but voluntarily puts aside His qualities and advantages and becomes obedient as far as to death. But what kind of death? A royal “lying in state”? A decent burial? A peaceful passing? No! — that death was the death of a cross, reserved for outcasts from humanity, the cruellest that man could devise and perpetrate — and then burial in a borrowed tomb!

Can He yet go further? The purpose of Paul is to show us the Perfect Example in One who above all had qualities and advantages beyond any other, and yet who had such a mind that for the fulfilling of the divine will in Manhood He made Himself of no reputation. And says the apostle, “Let this mind be in you”. How we need to be conscious of the indwelling Christ, that He might work out that very thing. In chapter 1, God had “begun a good work in you”; in chapter 2, “it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do [the willing and the doing] of his good pleasure”. With what fear and trembling, then, should we work out our own salvation!

The Exaltation of Christ.

Psalm 11. 7 says, “the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright”, and there are many more comparable scriptures. Our meditation has brought before us the Upright One whom God beheld with delight in every step He has taken. Little wonder, then, the Father has “highly exalted him, and given him a (the, lit.) name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.

Two Lesser Examples

Timothy was a younger man of whom the apostle wrote “as a son with the father, he hath served”. Has not the apostle been bringing before us the Son with the Father, and how in that perfect acquiescence of will He took the servant’s place, being likeminded and naturally caring for our state? In Timothy he had comfort when all sought their own (things) — the same word as verse 4 — and not the things which are Jesus Christ’s. Here was one young man who reflected the mind in Christ Jesus.

Epaphroditus also, in a different way, reflected the same mind, for he came nigh unto death that the service of the saints might be brought to Paul. In doing so he looked not on his own things — his own qualities, his own advantages — but on the things of others as they ministered to the apostle to his joy and to their abounding fruit. Hold such in reputation, says the apostle.

To be concluded