Veiled In Flesh Appearing, Part One

Philippians 2:5-11

These verses are among the most stunning verses concerning the divinity of Jesus Christ  in the whole Bible.  Of these verses, Barnes has noted-

There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament which has given rise to more discussion than this.

Yet these verses don’t occur in a vacuum, they are part of a larger discussion on humility and unity within the church at Philippi.  And this is very interesting to me.  We all know how important unity in the church is, but here, in these verses, the apostle Paul links it to nothing less than Christ’s pre-existence, His divinity, and His incarnation.  Those things are the “theological lynch pins” of the Christian Church, and here we have this heavy duty theology as the reason for merely getting along with one another.

In this first message of the Advent season, I want to consider this passage in it’s entirety.  I would like to consider the Incarnation, which is what Christmas is all about, but I would like to do it within the framework of the Church and our relationships to one another.  So, with that in mind, let’s begin by looking back to verse one, where we see the reason of the great Christological statements of verses 5 through 11.

1.  Unity Without and Within

In chapter one, Paul concludes with a sincere exhortation to live proper lives, lives becoming a follower of Christ.  Whatever should befall Paul-whether he can get to them or not-he wants them to stand firm in their faith by living lives that glorify God.  He tells them to live right regardless of outside pressures.  They were not to be afraid of those who were opposed to them, and if they should suffer, the Philippians needed to remember that they were suffering for the great cause of Christ.

In chapter two, Paul continues his exhortations, but now he turns to their relationships within the church.  Paul lists four incentives or reasons why they, and we, who are within the Body of Christ, for heeding his words.  These four reasons are introduced with the word “if”.  We are to be like Christ in how we treat one another because-

  • We are united with Christ.  As believers, the Philippians and indeed all believers are living in union with Jesus Christ.  Because of this union, we have certain obligations to our Lord; we are responsible to be obedient to His Word, and His Word calls on us to “love one another.”
  • We have received comfort from His love. The comfort and encouragement we all receive from the love of Christ should compel us to love others.  And so, our love for each other and for God should be enough to diffuse any divisiveness in any form as it may arise.
  • We have fellowship with the Holy Spirit. We are not only bound to God by the Holy Spirit, bound to each other by the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is who makes us all one in spirit and in  purpose.  We are partners with Christ in His work, and therefore we are partners with each other.  When we come to the place in our walks with each other, this truth will manifest itself in a spirit of unity.
  • We have tenderness and compassion. This can be hard to find, but we who are born again are full of tenderness and compassion.  Because we are, unity should be the norm within the Church and the expected behavior from all believer.

Interestingly, the conditional “if” as it is used by Paul in these verses, is understood to mean that the Philippians had all the things Paul listed.  Because they had them, all believers do.

2.  Minding the same thing produces complete joy

With verses 2 through 4, Paul elaborates on what he just written.  He tells his readers that his association with their church has already given him joy.  Note that every time he thinks of them, he is thankful for them and every time he prays for them, he prays with joy (1:3, 4).  Yet he says one thing is needed to make his joy complete:  they needed to become “like minded,” which literally means they needed to learn to “mind the same thing” (Homer Kent).  Of course, we know this means that their unity is to be based on the truth-that the “same thing” is the “right thing.”

Again, in typical fashion, Paul gives us four phrases that will encourage us to put into practice what he is teaching and thus create the climate where true unity will flourish.

  • They should all possess a mutual love. When you think about it, this makes all the sense in the world.  All believers are indwelt by the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and He is the Spirit of love, of God’s love.  Being filled with the Spirit, all believers are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, which begins with love, according to Galatians 5:22.
  • They should be one in spirit and purpose. This phrase is seen only here in the whole Bible and means a union of the soul, or acting as if one soul possessed and motivated all of them.  Paul seems to be stressing this thought in this epistle, which suggests this was a problem in that church.  Barnes notes:  “[T]here is no single thing so insisted upon in the New Testament as the importance of harmony among Christians.”
  • They should put others first. Believers are to do this by doing three things.  First, we are to avoid selfish ambition.  The KJV tells us to do nothing through strife.  That is, with a spirit or attitude of contention.  There is nothing wrong with ambition, but doing something to outdo someone else to get the glory is wrong.  There is no holiness in such actions.  That is not what motivated Christ, and that certainly shouldn’t motive His followers.  Second, they are to avoid “vain conceit” or “vain glory.”  In other words, instead of trying to get noticed for our efforts, we should just do what we are doing for the glory of God.  The Greek word is used only here in the New Testament and refers to “empty pride.”  It is descriptive of a vain or a useless or hollow effort.  The word “shallow” comes to mind.  Don’t be a shallow Christian!  Don’t do things to honor yourself to draw attention to yourself.  If we can avoid such behavior, we will go a long way to eliminating disharmony in a congregation.  Finally, believers are to be humble.  Again, this is a unique word, used only this one time in the whole Bible.  It means to take willingly a lowly position, in both God’s eyes and man’s.  This does not mean that we should have an exaggerated view of our lowliness, that is, we shouldn’t ignore our talents and not use them.  No, moral superiority is not what Paul  has in mind here.  What he’s getting at is this:  Christians ought to consider the needs of others before we concern ourselves with ourselves.
  • They should look out for each other’s needs. Paul makes it very clear in verse four that we shouldn’t ignore our needs, but that we should meet others’ needs as well as our own.  As our grandmothers said, “Stop being so selfish, and share!”  There’s an implicit warning here that a believer shouldn’t ignore the welfare of himself or of his family in order to help others.  On the contrary, a believer who is able to meet his own needs and obligations and then helps others is doing exactly what the Word of God says.

As we look at the first four verses of this deep and remarkable chapter, we see that the believer’s concern should be wide enough to include others in it’s scope.  Paul in no way means that we should be busy-bodies.  Or that we should gossip about a person or a family who has fallen on hard times.  It doesn’t mean that we should become a burden to others if we have problems.  But it does mean that those within the Body  of Christ have an obligation to watch out for each other to such an extent that if I have a need, I can feel free to come to you with it.  And if you  have a need, you don’t need to feel embarrassed when approaching the church.  That’s what being a part of the family of God is all about.

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