Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:
Last week Paul wrote to the Philippians so they would know his suffering had a purpose. It was to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was imprisoned when he wrote yet somehow Paul could find joy in his situation. As a result of Paul’s faithful witness, “many of the brethren in the Lord wax confident by Paul’s bonds and are more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14). Paul is in bonds for the cause of Christ. Even as others preach Christ out of envy and strife, and some out of goodwill, Paul informed us that the motive behind what you do is important. Why do you do, what you do? Even if people are trying to hurt him, Paul recognized that the cause of Jesus Christ is bigger than his situation. His expectation and hope is based on the prayers of the saints and the provision of the spirit of Jesus Christ. But what is more important is his complete confidence in the final result. For Paul, living meant serving Jesus Christ and dying meant being delivered from his suffering.
Last week’s lesson connects to this week’s lesson through the continuing themes of submission and love. We see in this week Paul addressing the problems of contentious attitudes of strife and vainglory and he provides a better way to deal with contention and disagreement. Townsend and Boyd’s Commentary title this week’s lesson “Devote All to Christ”. Standard Commentary titles it “Imitate Christ”. The Scripture text comes from Philippians 2:1-11.
Paul is noted for having established the church at Philippi. This letter is one of the 13 books of the New Testament credited to Paul. There are only 27 New Testament books so Paul has an extraordinary influence on the Christian faith. The date this letter is written is not known precisely but likely between 52CE and 62CE.
The Apostle Paul writes this epistle expressing his joy to the Philippians partly because he wanted them to know of his joy in Christ. He also writes because the Philippians had heard of his imprisonment and suffering. Some people believed that an Apostle of Jesus Christ was not supposed to suffer. In other words, if you are suffering either your God is not real or you have committed some sin to cause your suffering. So after all of these years of service for Jesus Christ Paul is still dealing with credibility issues. His credibility is at stake and he writes to also set the record straight. He is not suffering because of sin but because of his love for Jesus Christ.
This letter is remarkable because when it is written Paul is in prison potentially facing the death penalty. Even in prison Paul finds joy in Christ. It is one of his “prison epistles,” the others being Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon (Townsend). Throughout Philippians Paul exhorts the ideas of joy, affection, loyalty, and sharing. In this letter Paul helps us to understand that even when we cannot control what happens to us, we can control how we respond. Paul’s example is to respond with trust, confidence, and joy in Christ.
What takes place in this passage:
This second chapter begins with a sort of “if – then” or conditional statement. For example, when writing code for a computer program a conditional statement with an “if-then” structure means if “A” occurs then “B” will occur. Verse one is the “if” statement, and verse 2 is the “then” portion. Paul is telling the Christians at Philippi that if they have experienced encouragement in Christ, if they have experienced comfort from Christ’s love, if they have experienced sharing in the Holy Spirit and comfort and compassion THEN “make my joy complete being like-minded and having the same love being one in spirit and of one mind. What is important is Paul’s exhortation to have the mind of Christ and to operate on one accord.
Verse 3 returns to the warning against selfish ambition and vainglory or vain conceit. Instead Paul encourages us to “value others above yourselves”. Humility is the key and Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of humility that Christians should follow. Verse 4 tells us to consider the interests of others above and before our own interests. That in itself is an act of humility and maturity. It takes a mature person to consider others above themselves as an act of love.
Verses 5 through 8 deals with our relationships with one another and Jesus Christ as well as Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of humility – taking human form and ultimately sacrificing himself for humanity. We should remember that our relationships are both horizontal and vertical. Horizontal relationships are with our everyday encounters with family, friends, coworkers and even strangers. People we have the privilege of knowing and interacting with day to day. Vertical relationships deal with our relationship with God. If the horizontal relationship is unbalanced, the vertical relationship is likely unbalance also.
Verses 9 through 11 deals with the ultimate authority of Jesus Christ and are often quoted by Christians. God has given Jesus a name which is above every name. Names are important and throughout Scripture Jesus and God are referred to by many different names. Do you have a favorite name you use to refer to God or Jesus? Not only has Jesus been given a name above every name, but at that name everyone will confess that Jesus is also Lord. “The term Lord is not just a formal name for Jesus. It is a title that describes the power and authority that belongs to God” (Boyds).
Luke 14:8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited… 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests”. Here’s the point of that scripture and the central point of today’s text – Be humble and consider others before you consider yourself. We would all do well simply to begin with practicing the golden rule. Matthew 7:12 tells us “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”. It is a great start towards humility and acts of love in the way that Jesus demonstrated love for us.
Key Characters in the text:
Paul – He is an Apostle of Jesus Christ because he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. The most prolific writer of New Testament books and martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ.
Key Words (not necessarily in the text, but good for discussion):
Humble – not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive 2: reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission.
Selfishness – concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.
Themes in this Lesson:
- The Golden Rule
- Horizontal and vertical relationships
- Consider others first
- What name do you call Him?
1. We are told in this text to consider others before ourselves. How do we do this without allowing others to take advantage of us?
2. Being humble does not mean being a “door mat” – letting others walk over you. In what ways can we be humble and still be true to our own needs?
Paul urged Christians to be unified. Yet so often we see Christian organizations doing the work of division. Some support public policies that harm others, some cause harm to the body of Christ through violations of trust, and others cause division within the body through usurping power in the church. This can be discouraging. But if we follow Paul’s advice by “doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above ourselves,” we can be comforted that after we have done all we know how to do, in the end Jesus will still be Lord.
Preview of Next Week’s Lesson: Next week’s lesson continues in Philippians. Paul addresses the proper attitude toward our accomplishment and again deals with the idea of personal sacrifices for the cause of Christ.