Honor God


Biblical Truth: Conflict situations provide opportunities to please and honor God.

Imitate Christ: Philippians 2:1-8.

[1]  If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, [2]  make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. [3]  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; [4] do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. [5]  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, [6]  who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7]  but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. [8]  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.    [NASU]

[1-4]  Unity in our fellowships is essential to our witness, as Jesus’ high priestly prayer for His people makes clear [John 17:21]. How can non-Christians be convinced that Christ reconciles us to God if we are not reconciled to each other? Disunity always has the effect of turning a Christian fellowship in on itself, wasting energy on itself. When we devour ourselves in that way we have little energy left to be shining light and preserving salt in a needy world. In these opening verses of chapter two, Paul shows us how unity is based on humility. Then in the section that follows [5-11] he sets before us a magnificent portrait of Christ as the source and model of true humility. When we see failures in a Christian or a fellowship our natural tendency is either to be critical or simply to demand improvement. Paul’s response is wiser and deeper. He recognizes that only through grace are we able to change and develop a pattern of transformed attitudes and actions. So he constantly appeals to the privileges of grace before urging us to the obedience of faith. This is obvious in the present passage. Paul argues: if these things are true, then here are the implications that follow. Verse one contains four ‘ifs’ which have the meaning of ‘since’ in this verse. Paul’s logic is as follows: because these Christians have experienced so much blessing, they ought to exhibit the effects of grace in their lives.

He mentions four blessings. (1) Being united with Christ. To be in Christ is to share in all of the blessings He has gained for us. It means to have been chosen in Christ before time began [Eph. 1:3-4]; to have died to the reign of sin and to be raised into a new life of consecration [Rom. 6:2-7]. It means sharing in a new creation altogether in which all things become new [2 Cor. 5:17]. (2) Comfort from His love. Had they not felt the grip of Jesus’ love for them? He had died for them. (3) Fellowship with the Spirit. We are bound to Christ through the gift of the Spirit. And through the Spirit we are also bound together with all believers. (4) Tenderness and compassion. Just as Christ is gentle and humble in heart [Matt. 11:29], so should His followers be. If we belong to His family, it follows that these blessings will be the family characteristics produced in us. Such privileges bring responsibilities. If these things are true, then certain implications follow. If we have received all these blessings in Christ and from Christ, then we are responsible to live to Christ and for Christ.

In this context, Paul spells out that this means being willing to put others first in several important ways: being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Here is the secret of a genuinely united Christian fellowship: its members count each other more important than themselves. Notice the alternative. It is selfish ambition and vain conceit. The alternative to valuing others for Christ’s sake is to become spiritually disfigured ourselves.

[5-6]  Paul introduced the hymn to Christ by looking both backward and forward. Looking back, he picked up the theme of the proper attitude which he commended in verses 2 and 3. Looking ahead, Paul anticipated the epitome of the proper mind, Jesus. Paul commended Jesus’ disposition by appealing to His attitude [6] and His actions [7-8]. The order is both logical and chronological. One led to the other. Paul employed the same order in verses 1-4, where he addressed the attitude [2] first, then actions toward each other [3-4]. In these verses, Jesus’ attitude led to His redemptive actions.  The main verbs are the key to the structure, and Jesus’ attitude is presented in the first. Jesus did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. Precise knowledge of why that was so remarkable comes from the phrases which modify and explain the significance of His attitude. Two parallel statements show the exemplary nature of Jesus’ thoughts. The first is existed in the form of God, which is compared to the second, equality with God. The hymn called the readers to consider the preexistent state of Jesus, when He was in the form of God. The word form means an outward appearance consistent with what is true. The form perfectly expresses the inner reality. The description form of God parallels equality with God. Thus the two statements refer to the same state of existence; that is, Jesus in His preexistent state. Two other matters relate to Jesus’ preexistent state. The first is the meaning and force of the participle existed. The word basically meant “to exist originally”, but later was used as an intensive form which meant “really exist”. The result is that Jesus “really existed” in that form. The second matter is the meaning of a thing to be grasped. Since Jesus already possessed equality with God, He had nothing concerning deity to grasp or try to hold on to.

[7]  The hymn moves from attitude to actions. Two verbs describe successive actions as Jesus gave Himself for humanity. He emptied Himself [7] and He humbled Himself [8]. Each has a phrase modifying it. The first of Jesus’ choices was to empty Himself. Historically, interpreters have wondered of what did Jesus empty Himself? The contrasts between “Lord” [11] and “servant” [7] and “very nature of God” [6] and “human likeness” [7] express the emptying. Thus the emptying is that God became human, Lord became servant, and obedience took Him to death. Two ideas modify the verb emptied. They are: taking the very nature of a servant and being made in human likeness. These statements explain both how this took place and what it means. Paradoxically, being emptied means adding humanity to deity rather than subtracting deity from His person. The relationship between these ideas reveals further the movement to death. The attitude of being a servant produced the action of assuming humanity. Jesus’ servanthood issued in humanity and, later, obedience to death.  The description likeness of men really stresses Jesus’ humanity. Likeness does not suggest any degree of unreality in Christ’s humanity; the word is almost a synonym for “form” and “image”; but it leaves room for the thought that the human likeness is not the whole story. It must be seen in light of the next statement, that He was found in appearance as a man [8]. Finally the verb being made [7] contrasts with existed [6]. He existed originally in the form of God; but at a specific point, He became human. The hymn teaches that Jesus added servanthood to lordship as He added humanity to deity.

[8] Having entered the world of humanity, Jesus humbled Himself. This describes a second stage in Jesus humility. Like the first statement, two ideas modify this one, explaining the extent of Jesus’ actions. First, when He was found in fashion like a man, He chose humility. Second, He became obedient to death. As a true servant, Jesus chose to obey even when it cost His life. The cross, so dear to Paul and other devout Christians, was an embarrassment to many. That, in itself, demonstrates the extent to which Jesus went.

Agree in the Lord: Philippians 4:2-3.

[2]  I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord. [3]  Indeed, true comrade, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.   [NASU]

The various themes briefly treated throughout chapter 4 can be summarized under the general topic of Christian attitudes. Paul was convinced that what we think, and the way we think, profoundly influences the way we live. The verb in verse 2 translated to live in harmony literally means to think or to exercise the mind. The conviction that thinking influences living reappears under the guise of a different verb in verse eight: “think about such things” or dwell on these things. Here, in verses two and three, he concentrates on the way Christians should think in the context of their Christian fellowship. The Philippians meant everything to Paul; they were his joy and crown [1]. He wanted them to mean everything to each other. There had been a breakdown in that kind of fellowship at Philippi. It was associated with two of the women in the congregation. Paul was sure they were genuine believers [3]. Nevertheless there was a division between them. This division was, no doubt, affecting the entire church. Paul mentions three things which provide direction about how to handle this disagreement. First, Christians are to learn to agree (literally, to think the same things) in the Lord. How can two people who think differently be brought to think in the same way? By remembering that they are both in the Lord. It would be inconsistent for either of them to insist on her own way, when they both belonged to a Savior who had not insisted on His way nor sought to please Himself. Second, Christians have been given insight into the mind of the Lord. When two Christians disagree, they must both seek to submit their thinking to the teaching of Scripture. That is the litmus test of our real attitude. This challenge will immediately reveal a disagreement that is due to self-centeredness or pride. If the secret of unity is humility, its corollary is that the chief cause of division is pride. Third, Paul makes clear that division between two individuals in a Christian fellowship can never remain a private matter between them. It inevitably affects others.

Trust in God: Philippians 4:4-7.

[4]  Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! [5]  Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. [6]  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. [7]  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   [NASU]

[4]  Relationship to Christ. We are to rejoice in the Lord always. An emphasis on joy runs through Philippians. But two things are distinctive about these words. First, Paul speaks about an ongoing and permanently renewed joy. It is to be theirs always. Second, Paul exhorts, indeed commands them to rejoice. This may strike us as unusual, if not impossible, because we have sometimes been misled into thinking of joy, just as we tend to think of love, as primarily a matter of feelings and spontaneous emotions. These, by definition, cannot be commanded; they simply happen. But that is a distortion of the biblical teaching. God made men and women capable of thinking, willing and feeling. In the divine design, our thinking was meant to be informed, shaped and governed by His revelation. We were created to think God’s thoughts after Him, as it is sometimes put. Such thought processes inevitably inform, influence and direct our powers of volition. We understand what is right and good, and we commit our wills to accomplishing it. In turn our feelings are molded by what we think and will. In a rightly-ordered life, emotions or feelings are directed to what is good and gracious; these things are desired and loved. Our feelings and emotions are not isolated from our thinking and willing but guided by them. That order was overturned by sin; it always is. Our wills now tend to be dominated by our feelings; our thoughts are often ruled by our wills. Because of sin we are able to rejoice only when we feel good. By contrast Paul is telling us to rejoice no matter what we feel. How is that possible? His words, Rejoice in the Lord provide the answer. This joy is not based on how we feel about our personal circumstances, but on the fact of our fellowship with Christ, and on the facts about Him. Think about what it means to you that you are in Christ, and this truth will cause you to rejoice.

[5]  Relationships to others. Our gentleness is to be extended to all in the way we are patient and kindly in our dealings with others. This command seems unrelated to the exhortation to rejoice; but there is a connection. The people who are joyful are those who have been delivered from an obsession with themselves and their immediate circumstances. But that is also a prerequisite to being gentle. The joyless person can never be a gentle person. Paul gives us a specific reason for this quality: The Lord is near. But in what sense? Usually these words are understood as a reference to Christ’s return. His coming is near at hand. Paul is then saying: Live daily with the expectation that the Lord will return as your Savior, and also as the Judge of the world. Let that thought create a spirit of gentleness in you. But Christ is near in another sense: in the presence of the Spirit in the lives of believers. Paul could then be referring to the power of the Spirit enabling us to have a forbearing spirit.

[6-7]  Relationship to ourselves. Be anxious for nothing Paul urges us. Within the space of three verses he appears to present us with two impossible tasks: constant rejoicing and now the rejection of anxiety! But the two are related; the joyful person is not likely to be dominated by anxiety; the anxiety-ridden spirit cannot be a joyful one. But how can we be delivered from anxiety? The prescription is prayer. Anxiety cannot continue to breathe easily in an atmosphere immersed in prayer. Paul is speaking about the careful, patient spreading of our needs before God, detailing our situation and our anxieties. This is what it means to cast our burdens on the Lord in the assurance that He will sustain us. It is clear why paralyzing anxiety cannot co-exist with prayer; the heart that has unburdened itself, and has been retuned to a spirit of praise cannot remain permanently anxious. Paul speaks about this peace as though it were a military garrison protecting us from anxiety. In our modern world many people seek freedom from anxiety by trying to empty their minds. Paul teaches us that true peace can be ours only when our minds are properly filled. He points the Philippians to the store from which they can furnish their minds in verses 8 and 9.

Pursue Excellence: Philippians 4:8-9.

[8]  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. [9]  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you.    [NASU]

Paul turned his thoughts to providing an environment of peace by unified thought. The church was to make these matters its collective goal, and God would rule in them. Individual Christians were to also conduct their lives in this way. This speaks to the need of rearranging life and thought through discipline so that the God of peace can freely work. These verses have a definite structure. They contain two lists, each introduced by its own verb. The first list completes a clause with the main verb dwell on these things. The church was to count on these things and to chart its course according to them. The second list completes the verb practice these things. By using these two verbs, Paul combined the mental and ethical concerns of his Jewish background with Christian thought. For him, knowledge always led to responsible Christian living. Paul addressed the thought life first. He identified seven qualities which should characterize Christians. True, in the ethical sense as used here, means truthfulness, dependability. Honorable translates a rare word which has a broad meaning. Used primarily by Paul in the Pastoral Epistles, it has the idea of worthy of respect, honor, noble. It is primarily used of church leaders, where various persons are urged to be respectable. Right is a translation of the Greek word normally translated just. It implies giving to God and people a justness that is worthy of them. This definition differs from Paul’s normal use, but it well describes the ideal Christian virtue. Pure translates a word meaning pure or holy in relation go God. Lovely is found only here in the New Testament and has a fundamental meaning of that which calls forth love. It covers a host of qualities but basically means that the person should be attractive, lovable. Good repute occurs only here in the New Testament, and it means whatever is praiseworthy, attractive, therefore likely not to offend. Excellence means morally excellent. Finally, worthy of praise means worthy of praising God. These characteristics would unite the church and present a good testimony to the world.

After presenting the standard for the thought life, Paul turned to Christian practice. The church was to cultivate the things it saw in Paul. Again the theme of imitation predominates. Recalling 3:1-16, Paul urged the church to use him as a model of effective Christian living. This kind of living would result in the God of peace being with them. Often Paul greeted his friends with a prayer for peace, such as in the salutation of this epistle [1:2]. In this passage the means to the answer of that prayer appear. God’s peace especially resides in those who have ordered their lives in accordance with God’s will. This includes proper and disciplined thoughts and good Christian living. Thus the two sets of instructions on peace complement each other. When anxiety appears, the cure is prayer. When the life is disorderly, the cure is mental and practical discipline.

Questions for Discussion:

1.     In 2:1-2, Paul calls the Philippians to reflect on the blessings of their common life in Christ. Think about the relationship between the four blessings in verse 1 and the four commands of verse 2. How do the commands flow out of the blessings? Can you successfully obey the four commands without having the four blessings in your life?

2.     How is it possible to have your attitude or mind changed [compare Romans 12:2; Psalm 119:33-40]? Why is this change necessary before we can follow Christ’s example of humility?

3.     Why is it important for us to focus our minds on true and excellent things? What is the relationship between our actions and our thoughts? Reflect on how your behavior flows out of your thinking.


Let’s Study Philippians, Sinclair Ferguson, Banner of Truth.

Philippians, Richard Melick, Jr., NAC, Broadman.

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