In chapter two of his letter to the church in the town of Philippi, the Apostle Paul takes us “behind the scenes” to show us the kind of attitude that really honors God and identify some important truths about Jesus Christ.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing” (Philippians 2:3-4).
When the Bible says that you should think of others as better than yourself, it doesn’t mean that you should carry a self-defeating attitude that says, “I’m worthless because everyone is better than me.” Instead, the right understanding of this verse was summed up by Jesus Himself when He said in Matthew 23:11,“The greatest among you must be a servant” (NLT).
This means that everyone should show an attitude of humility and respect towards others, supporting them when they have difficulties and being happy when they are successful. One scholar-type explains the idea like this: “If I am considering you above me, and you are considering me above you, a marvelous thing happens: we have a community where everyone is looked up to, and no one is looked down on.” (1)
“Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God” (Philippians 2:5-6).
These verses begin a short section that reveals some enormous truths about Jesus that we definitely need to stop and take a look at. For example, the New King James (NKJ) version of Philippians 2:6 (quoted above) tells us that Jesus did not consider it robbery to be equal with God. Other translations of this verse say that Jesus viewed equality with God as something that He didn’t need to cling to (Jerusalem Bible) or something that needed to be grasped (NIV). Unlike an athlete who must worry about another player taking his or her position, Jesus never had to grasp, cling to, or hang on to His position as God. Jesus didn’t consider it to be robbery to be equal with God because He already was God.
“…but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
The original language used here indicates that Jesus “emptied” Himself in this act of taking on the outside appearance of a servant. Now this does not mean that Jesus stopped being God at any point- it simply means that He willingly laid aside some of His rights and privileges as God during His time on earth.
A common question that might help to illustrate this idea is this: If Jesus was God, then how could He say things like, “…the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28 NIV) or “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36 NIV)? If Jesus was really God then how could these statements be true?
Well, the answer to those questions is held within the verses from Philippians quoted above. Remember that Jesus willingly dropped some privileges that He held as God during His time on earth. He did this by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (verse 5 NIV). Even though Jesus was God, Jesus was a perfect human being and as a perfect human being, Jesus did everything that a perfect human should do. This included things like praying, trusting God with the unknown future and acknowledging that God was supreme.
“…that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
One day, everyone will eventually realize the truth about who Jesus really is. Some will accept that truth willingly and some perhaps will accept it not so willingly but everyone will accept it in word (every tongue shall confess) and in action (every knee shall bow).
“…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:12b-13 NIV).
When the Bible says work out your salvation, it doesn’t mean, “do something to earn your salvation.” You see, you can’t work out your salvation until your salvation has already been worked in and Philippians 2:13 tells us that “God is at work within you, helping you want to obey him, and then helping you do what he wants” (emphasis added).
So what does it mean to work out your salvation? Well, “working out your salvation” means making the kind of daily decisions that are necessary to live a life that really honors God. This sometimes means doing those things that God would have us to do (which aren’t always easy) instead of those things that we’d really rather do ourselves. Living a God-honoring lifestyle involves real effort and those who “work out” their salvation demonstrate it by exchanging a self-oriented life for a God-oriented life on a daily basis.
(And here’s one more thing- remember that the Bible says to work out your salvation, not somebody else’s salvation [See Matthew 7:1-5 for more on that]).
“If the Lord is willing, I will send Timothy to see you soon. Then when he comes back, he can cheer me up by telling me all about you and how you are getting along. There is no one like Timothy for having a real interest in you…” (Philippians 2:19-20).
Timothy was the type of guy who was “one of a kind” because he was genuinely concerned about the welfare of Philippian church. The reason behind Paul’s confidence in Timothy is found in the following verses: “All the others care only for themselves and not for what matters to Jesus Christ. But you know how Timothy has proved himself…” (Philippians 2:21-22a NLT).
It was Timothy’s attitude that really made him stand out from the crowd. You see, it’s often difficult to find people who really factor Jesus’ teachings into their decision-making process. This is because most people often determine what’s best for them first without really considering what God would want them to do. On the other hand, Timothy appears to be one of those rare people who considered what Jesus would have him do first- then he went and did it.
“Meanwhile, I thought I ought to send Epaphroditus back to you. You sent him to help me in my need; well, he and I have been real brothers, working and battling side by side” (Philippians 2:25).
Epaphroditus (pronounced E-pap-ro-dye-tus) was another guy like Timothy- someone who didn’t conform to the kind of mold that many people fit into. Epaphroditus translated his spiritual beliefs into real action by serving as a fellow worker and fellow soldier (NIV) of Christ right alongside with Paul. Epaphroditus’ example tells us that you don’t always have to do something super-spiritual to follow Jesus- sometimes all you have to do is work on His behalf in whatever situation you find yourself in.
(1) Guzik, Dave Philippians 2 – Humble Living In Light of Jesus’ Humble Example https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/philippians-2/