It is not easy to see what Paul was trying to do in Chapter 2. In verses 1 to 11 St Paul had used the example of Jesus in His life and death as the pattern for the humility to be displayed by the people of God. He had shown how the humility of Jesus was followed by His exaltation to the highest heights. Php 2:9-11 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. This we looked at briefly in the last article. However it seems strange to read that Paul went on from that lofty language about Jesus to what seems to be more mundane talk about two of his friends.
It makes sense though when we realise that Paul is continuing on with the theme of humility in the remainder of chapter 2. In the next section from verses 12 to 16 he shows how it should be displayed in the lives of believers. He follows that up in verses 17 to 30 to show how two of his friends and fellow workers Timothy and Epaphroditus were outstanding examples of true humility.
1). Humility In God’s People. They Work Out In Practice What He Is Working In Them
i). Believers humbly working for God. Php 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is working “out” and not working “for” salvation, for salvation is by the grace and mercy of God. (Eph 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Salvation is received as a gift in receiving Jesus into one’s life as Saviour and Lord. However the implications of that free salvation have to be lived out in the lives of the recipients. It is the same concept Paul wrote about in 2 Cor 5:14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
ii). God powerfully working in His humble people. Paul expresses that truth in a number of ways
- He gives them the willingness and the ability to do what He wants them to do. Php 2:13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. What a relief to know that God can motivate us AND can also empower us to do His will as we humbly rely on Him.
- His people humbly trust Him with their lives. Php 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning. Why do they need to grumble when they know God is on their side? Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Why do they need to question when they have the answers in Jesus as THE way, THE truth and THE life, John 14:6 and knowing that for those who love God, “ …all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”.. Rom 8:28.
- His people shine in the darkness with a light not their own. They shine with the light of God. Php 2:15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. John expressed it as walking in the light of God, 1Jn 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.
- They humbly hold fast to Jesus and to His word. Php 2:16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labour in vain. John also used the same expression “word of life” in making the connection between Jesus and His word in 1John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (These are the only two references to that term in the New Testament.)
2). Humility in Timothy
Paul now narrows his remarks to the humility shown by two of his friends. The first he speaks of is Timothy. Paul shows that Timothy was a truly humble man of God.
i). Genuine humility seen in his concern for others. Php 2:19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. “Genuinely” (gnēsiōsis) is found only here in the New Testament. It comes from (gnēsios) which was used for a genuine birth, not a spurious one. His concern was the real thing and not a fake.
ii). Genuine humility seen in his motivation to seek the interests of others. Php 2:21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also. Here there are a number of elements describing Timothy’s humility. Timothy’s focus was on God and His will and not on his own interests. He cared for them as though Christ was caring for them through him. His “proven worth” (dokimē) meant that he had proven himself in practical ministry. He was the “genuine article”.
He and Paul were fellow servants in mission but Paul was aware how Timothy had humbled himself to serve as a son with a father. He didn’t insisting on stressing his status as an equal in Christ.
3). Humility in Epaphroditus
i. Humility in serving Paul. Php 2:25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. Epaphroditus was the agent for the Philippians in humbly bringing help to Paul. He took his responsibility seriously. He wasn’t a loner who didn’t need his brothers and sisters in Christ. He longed for his brothers and sisters in Christ whom he had left behind in Philippi. When they became upset at his illness, he in turn was upset for them that they had been upset! In his humility he could “picture himself in their shoes” and knew how they would have felt about him.
ii. Humility in obedience almost unto death. Php 2:27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me. Because the saints in Philippi could not directly assist Paul, Epaphroditus humbly tried to do it all for them. (With almost fatal results). However it was for the work of Christ that he did it. In the mercy of God he was spared to continue in his ministry to Paul.
So what a wonderful integrated chapter on humility. First the big picture with the perfect pattern of Jesus in His humility in coming to earth and dying for the sin of the world. His humility rewarded by His exaltation as Lord of all. Then the examples of people whom they knew and respected, Timothy and Epaphroditus. Paul’s mention of them would show the Philippian believers that humility was a real possibility for those humble enough to walk that path. But they needed the grace of God to do so. His grace was available because as verse 12 puts it, Php 2:13 For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose. (Holman Christian Study Bible).
A Prayer That We Might Be Humble In Serving God And One Another
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your amazing grace in calling us to know You and to follow You. We thank You that You have saved us by Your grace so that we can have forgiveness and new life in You. We thank You that You are at work in us by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Enable us by Your grace to work out in our everyday lives what You are working in us. We thank You too that You give us the willingness and the ability to serve You and to serve one another in fulfilling Your will for us.
Help us to see people with Your eyes and to feel about them as You feel about them in Your love. Motivate us by Your Spirit to be what You want us to be and to do what You want us to do for every moment of our lives. We ask these things in Jesus’ name, AMEN
Blog No. 065. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Thursday 15th March 2012
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