Rev. VanBaren is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Hudsonville, Michigan.
The church at Philippi was surely one of the favorites of the apostle Paul. He had labored there under great duress. He had been imprisoned in the city for healing of the demon-possessed fortunetelling slave girl. But here also he had the joy of observing the first converts: Lydia the seller of purple, and the jailor.
In the first chapter, and again in the fourth, Paul has fine words in commending the church. In Philippians 1:3, he expresses thanks to God for “every remembrance” of them. In Philippians 4 Paul calls them “my joy and crown.” Again, he extols their kindness shown to Paul himself (Philippians 4:10, “your care of me hath flourished again…”). One might begin to think that this church was some kind of an ideal one. With such great words of commendation, who would not want to be part of such a church?
But all was not perfect at Philippi. There was a tendency toward, if not open expression of, dissatisfaction of members of the church to each other. It appeared that there was elevation of some above fellow members. There was not all peace and unity in the church at .Philippi.
Perhaps this sounds bizarre to our ears. Why should there be disunity in this newly established church? Its members must have spoken often of the fact that they had been saved from the evils of heathendom and from idol worship. They must have rejoiced in the deliverance through the cross of Jesus Christ. So should not they live in close unity and Christian love? One would surely think so.
Yet notice what Paul writes to this church—and to every church. In verse 1 he speaks of the “consolation in Christ.” The word “consolation” could also be translated “comfort.” There is a close correlation between this word and that name given the Spirit: the Comforter. In John 14:26, Christ calls the Spirit Whom He will send, the Comforter. So here, there is “comfort in Christ,” that is, the Comforter has worked within their hearts according to Christ’s promise. That Comforter has regenerated and converted His people at Philippi. He has applied Christ’s Word to their hearts. They have confessed together that wonderful “consolation.” Paul speaks of this in a conditional form: if this be present in them. He does not doubt or question its presence. He only affirms in the strongest possible way that since (if) it is present, then the conclusions of verses 2 through 4 must surely follow.
If the church enjoyed the “comfort of love,” the same humility should follow. God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son. His Son loved us even unto death. That love shows itself also within the church: there is the love of brother for brother. Those who reveled in this glorious love of God and confessed that this love was shed abroad in their hearts should also display that love properly in their relationships within the church.
These too claimed the fruits of “bowels and mercies,” or otherwise translated, “tender mercy and compassion.” The members of the church had experienced these mercies of God Who saved them. They insisted that the fruit of mercy and compassion was present in their own lives. And if that were true (Paul will not deny or question it), then this also must be seen in the humility within their lives.
When these three fruits of salvation are present, then Paul can rightly expect that they will “fulfill his joy.” The beginning of joy for Paul was their conversion and early zealousness within the church. The joy of Paul is “fulfilled” or “filled up” when he sees appropriate and continuing fruit in their lives. He looks for that as well as prays for it.
Paul’s joy is fulfilled when three things become seen within the church at Philippi. He expects first a proper oneness (vs. 2: “like-minded”); secondly, ‘lowliness of mind” (vs. 3); thirdly, that they assist one another (vs. 4).
There must be in the church a proper unity—not a unity which is based on indifference to doctrine, but unity of faith and confession. This is of vital importance within the church.
But that unity can exist only where there is proper “lowliness of mind.” Where there is constant fighting (strife) about non-essentials, or where members seek a “vain glory” (an honor which is essentially empty or selfish), there will be no unity either. Each must consider the other better than himself. With Paul, each confesses, “I am the chief of sinners.” There is no room for boastfulness or pride.
And in the church there is the willingness to assist one another. Each ought not look on “his own things,” that is, be so concerned with his own affairs that he has no time for other members of the church. Rather, each is interested in assisting the various members of the body.
In verse 5, Paul points to that great example, Jesus Christ. The “mind of Christ” must be seen in His people. The mind of Christ is to save His people from their sins in the way of His great humiliation unto death and hell itself.
The Son of God is in the “form” of God. This “form” is not simply a resemblance to God, but the very likeness or Being of God (cf. Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15, 17). He is God Himself. Infinite are His perfections: eternal wisdom, almightiness, infinite love. Christ did not consider it robbery to be equal with God—for He was God. If any would exalt himself, Christ could. If any would seek his own things, Christ could. But He Who justly could maintain that He is Lord over all, Creator of all things, was ready to humble himself even to death in our flesh.
That Christ “emptied Himself” is a thought which has often been debated. How can God “empty” Himself? Does this mean that Christ gave up His Divinity? But that can never be. He must be very God when He bears God’s wrath on the cross. This is the great wonder-work of our God. Christ was ready to conceal His infinite power and glory so that He could come into our flesh in the form of the servant. He made Himself of no reputation. He is born of a virgin, in a manger. He had no place where to lay His head. He came to serve, giving His life for His people.
The death He must face is that of the cross. It is the accursed death (Deut. 21:23). The crucified One is suspended between heaven and earth. He is rejected both by God and man. We can never begin to fathom the wonder of this great work of our God. Still, it is the only possible way of delivering from sin and death.
God exalted this same Christ over all things. Every moral, rational being must also be subject to Him. He is given a “name above every name.” His “name” is the revelation of His perfections. Our names merely distinguish us from one another. God’s names and Christ’s names are revelations. The “name” is the way in which we can know God and Christ.
Even wicked men and the devil with his hosts must finally bow before Him. These confess too His divinity and glory. They are constrained to do this in the day of judgment. Though now they would deny His existence and power, the time comes when they are forced to say what now they deny. They shall then see and grant that He is truly Jesus Christ the Lord. In this way God Himself receives all the glory.
When we see this great wonder of grace, that Christ humbled Himself to death for us, ought not that same mind be in us? He washed His disciples’ feet. Ought we not willingly serve in order that brethren may be properly assisted? When we exactly understand all that Christ has done for His people, can there still be division and trouble in the church because of our own sinful natures when Christ purchased that church with His own blood?
1. Paul shows his great interest in the church at Philippi. Why was he so attached to this church?
2. Can you explain how it is possible that one could be on very friendly terms with Christians in distant places—but not show that same consideration for those within the same church?
3. What are some of the things which give rise to divisions and disagreements within the church?
4. Do you see in yourself anything which corresponds with what Paul writes of in verses 2-4?
5. Does not the unity which Paul sets forth require also that we be one with Lutheran, Roman Catholics, and others?
6. In what ways are we to be “likeminded”? Can all be identical to others?
7. In what ways can something be done “in strife and vainglory”?
8. How can one esteem a lazy, indifferent Christian “better than himself”?
9. Discuss examples of “looking every man on the things of others.”
10. How was Christ “made in the likeness of man”? How “like” was He?
11. Why was it necessary that hour Savior be in the likeness of man?
12. Mention several reasons why the cross was the way Christ MUST die.
13. If Christ is God, in what sense is He highly exalted? Is not God eternally exalted?
14. What is the significance of a “name above every name”?
15. Do the wicked in hell confess Christ’s name?
16. What is the meaning of the names: Jesus, Christ, and Lord?