Philippians 2 – The Characteristics of a Servant of Christ

Philippians 2:1-30 – An Outline and Brief Commentary

How do recognize genuine Christianity? What sort of things do you look for in a minister? The Philippians have opponents who are preaching Christ, but instead of being characterized by prison and suffering, they are characterized by glory, satisfaction, and certainly no suffering. These opponents seem to have the same ministry, but they don’t suffer for it. In fact, their fame gets bigger and bigger; they career and ambition just grows.

The Philippians have been the subject of persecution, hardship and affliction. They see Paul their founding apostle now imprisoned and suffering. Paul’s ministry even seems to be characterized by a constant mode of self-sacrifice, one of self-abasement instead of self-exaltation. Epaphroditus, being sent by the Philippians, fell sick and almost died. It might seem that Christianity was a religion of failure and suffering only. The opponents in Philippi apparently have no place for the cross, suffering, or lacking anything (even food) since they “Live as enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, whose glory is in their shame, and whose minds are set on earthly things.” (3:18-19) Where is the glory for Christians? Where is the joy and life? Phil 1:27-2:30 are Paul’s answer to the Philippians: a true Christian is one who follows Christ to the cross. This is Paul’s theologia crucis.


1:27-2:30 – Having the Mindset and Interests of Christ Results in A Ministry of the Cross

  • 1:27-30 – Conduct Yourselves As Good Citizens
    • v.27-28 – Standing firm in one spirit
      • v.27 – striving side by side for the faith of the gospel
      • v.28 – not frightened by opponents (a sign: their destruction, your salvation)
    • v.29-30 – Graced to Suffer
      • v.29 – for the sake of Christ; part and parcel of Christianity
      • v.30 – same agony/conflict (ἀγῶνα) as Paul (which they see and hear about)
  • 2:1-18 – Christ’s Humility as the Foundation for the Church’s Unity and Godliness
    • vv.1-5 – Have the Mindset of Christ
      • v.1 – the benefits of Christ
        • παρακλησις ἐν χριστῳ – encouragement/comfort in Christ
        • παραμυθιαν ἀγαπης – comfort/consolation of/from love
        • κοινωνια πνευματος – fellowship of the Spirit
        • σπλανγχα – affection (lit: bowels, guts)
        • οἰκιτιρμοι – mercies (also used Rom 12:1 and 2 Cor 1:3)
      • vv.2-4 – the mindset of Christ complete Paul’s joy (cf. 2:16, laboring in vain)
        • Do:
          • το αὐτο φρονῆτε –the same mind/posture
          • την αὐτην αγαπην ἐχοντες – the same love
          • συμψυχοι – sharing a soul, heart
          • το ἑν φροθνοῦντες – thinking in one, having one posture
          • τῃ ταπαεινοφροσυνῃ ἁλληλους ἡγουμενοι ὑπερεχοντας ἑαυτῶν – by humility counting each other as superior
          • [σκοποῦντες] τα ἑτερων ἑκαστοι – look towards others’ interests/things
        • Don’t:
          • κατ’ ἐριθειαν – rivalry, selfish ambition; cf. 1:17
          • κατα κενοδοξιαν – “A person, then, who is motivated by κενοδοξια is a person who assertively, even arrogantly, claims to have the right opinion (δοξα), but who is in fact in error (κενος).” (Hawthorne, p.69)
          • τα ἑαυτῶν ἑκαστος σκοποῦντες
    • vv.5-11 – Humble Obedience characterized Christ’s life
      • v.5 – This (φρονεῖτε)mindset should be among you as was in Christ
        • [Paul seems to
          always be subtly asking “Are we better than him? Does the
          servant not need to follow the master?” The Philippians are to
          see in Christ as their Savior the very same pattern of
          self-abasement and God exalting him.]
        • [“The
          Christ-hymn (vv 6-11) present Jesus as the supreme example of the
          humble, self-sacrificing, self-denying, self-giving service that
          Paul has just been urging the Philippians to practice in their
          relations one toward another (vv 1-4). … Paul’s motive in using
          it here is not theological but ethical. … it is quite in
          keeping with Paul’s practice elsewhere of using life/death of
          Christa as a pattern for Christians to follow” (Ibid, pp. 79-80)]
        • [“This verse
          means that the hoped-for attitude outlined by Paul in vv2-4
          corresponds with that exhibited by Christ Jesus, especially in vv
          6-9, and that the Philippians are bound to act in accordance with
          this attitude toward one another if they wish to imitate their
          Lord … and share with him in his exaltation and glory” (Ibid, p.
      • vv.6-8 – Jesus’ humbled himself (Hawthorne helpfully notes the theological parallel with John 13, pp. 77-78)
        • Jesus did not:
          • count equality with God a thing to be grasped
        • Jesus was/did:
          • in the form (μορφῃ) of God
          • made himself nothing/emptied himself (ἐκενωσεν)
          • took the form (μορφῃ) of a servant
          • born in the likeness (ὁμοιοματι) of men
          • found in human appearance (σχηματι)
          • humbled himself to the point of death, even death by a cross
      • vv.9-11 – The Father has exalted him
    • vv.12-18 – Therefore Obey as Christ Obeyed
      • work out your salvation in fear and trembling
      • for it is God who works in you both to will and to energize for his good pleasure
      • lights in the midst of a crooked generation
      • looking forward to the day of Christ
      • Their obedience and humble unity
        • v.12 – Absence and presence of Paul (cf. 1:27)
        • v.16 – Ministry Not in Vain
        • v.17-18 – Even if costly, their faith as acceptable offering is worth it for the sake of rejoicing together.

2:19-30 – Timothy and Epaphroditus are humble servants and thus are to be received well vv.19-24 – Timothy as Paul’s Messenger v.19 – Timothy is sent for Paul’s joy vv.20-22 – Timothy’s humble servitude like Christ v.20 is genuinely concerned for their welfare v.21 seeks the interests of Christ v.22 is of proven worth in light of his service in the gospel as a son v.23-24 – Timothy is beloved and helpful to Paul vv.25-30 – Epaphroditus as the Philippians Messenger Epaphroditus’ humble servitude like Christ v.25 – Paul’s brother, fellow worker, fellow soldier v.25 – Their messenger and minister to Paul v.30 – Nearly died for the work of Christ Paul is eager to send Epaphroditus: v.26 – he has been longing to see them (because of their worry over his illness) v.28 – so that the Philippians might rejoice in reunion v.28 – so that Paul may be less anxious v.29 – Receive in the Lord and Honor such men

Paul then moves on to show that his own ministry is characterized by the cross of Christ. In fact, his warning against the false teachers, the dogs, is largely based on the fact that their ministry is not characterized by the cross but by boasting. Whatever it is they are boasting in is of little significance, since the cross renders all human contribution as dung (σκύβαλα). Paul’s boast and earnest desire is that he “might be found in him, not having his own righteousness from the law, but rather that which is through the faithfulness of Christ, the righteousness of God on the basis of faith, knowing him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering, being co-conformed to his death, if thereby somehow I might attain to the resurrection from the dead.” (3:9-11; my translation) Paul does not hope in glory in this life, but in resurrection glory in the next. In fact, his continuing in this life is for the sake of the church; he understands his ministry as self-sacrificial (2:17).

The following table illustrates the difference between servants of Christ, and those who serve themselves (εριθεια). It could certainly be filled in more, but as it is provides the broad outlines of what I think Paul is hoping to accomplish with his letter.

Christ Paul Timothy Epaphr. Opponents Philippians
φρονητε 2:7 took the form (μορφη) of a servant/slave2:8 humbled

2:6 did not count equality

2:8 obedient unto death


2:9 God highly exalted him

1:1 servant/slave3:10 being conformed (συμμορφιζωμαι) to his death

4:12 brought low

2:17 Poured out on offering of their faith

4:11 in whatever situation I am content

3:10 know the power of his resurrection

2:20 genuinely concerned for your welfare2:21 seeks Christ’s interests 2:27, 30 risked death for service to Christ2:26 longing for them 1:15,17 – strife, ambition (some from good will)3:19 glory is their shame

3:19 enemies of the CROSS

3:19 their god is their belly

3:19 end is destruction

2:3 – Not selfish ambition2:4 – by humility

1:29 graced to believe and suffer

2:12 obeying, working out salvation

2:4 looking out for each others interests, not their own

1:10 pure and blameless on the day of Christ

For Further Reading see: Gerald Hawthorne Word Biblical Commentary vol.43

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