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Philippians 2:3-4 (Part II)

 

Philippians 2:2 make my joy complete

by being of the same mind,

by having the same love,

by living harmoniously,

by having the same attitude.

 

3 by doing nothing from selfish ambition,

   by doing nothing from empty conceit,

  

   but with humility, regarding one another as being more important than

   himself;

 

4 so that each person is not simply looking out for their own interests,

but everyone is also looking out for the interests of others.

 

 

Introduction

Our text this morning continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

 

Notice at once the flow of our passage: Remember back in verse 2 Paul told the Philippians to make his joy complete by doing the 4 things that God has given His people to equip them to stand firm in the faith. Not only that, these 4 things that the Philippians are to do directly reflect and are based on what God is already doing in their midst (what we do is to be based on and directly reflect what God does).

 

In verses 3-4 Paul continues this same conversation. That is, every detail of verses 3-4 points back to how the Philippians are to stand firm and thus complete Paul’s joy.

 

However, notice the shift in emphasis: in verses 1-2 Paul prescribes a Christ-centered focus and work. Beginning with verse 3 Paul turns his attention to a Christ-centered attitude/heart. In other words, Paul knows that believers not only need to reflect God’s work, they also need to reflect God’s heart.

 

 

Verse 3 (Review)

Notice at once, Paul tells believers to stand firm and to make his joy complete by doing nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit (empty pride). In other words, the picture here is that of self-centeredness, self-seeking, self-promotion, and a blatant disregard for others. As such, it results in bitter rivalries, back stabbing, indifference, and division. Not only that, notice the reason Paul gives us this urgent warning: Simply put, Paul knows firsthand that selfish ambition and pride stand in direct contrast to the Gospel FN#1. As such, they threaten to undermine the health and ministry of the whole body. In fact, this self-focus and utter disregard for others stand in direct opposition to the mutual love and assistance that define the 4 tools God has given us to stand (vs1-2: mutual help, mutual love, mutual nurture/fellowship, mutual compassion). Bottom line: Paul knows that in order to stand firm and stand together God’s people not only need a Christ-centered focus and work, we also need a Christ-centered attitude/heart

 

Verse 3(b)

Next, notice the contrast: instead of self-centered pride, Paul tells us to make his joy complete by regarding one another with humility. In other words, for Paul humility is essential to standing firm in the Faith. Why? Notice the grounding that humility provides our assessments (our regarding one another): instead of being based on convenience, worldly measures, or destructive self-abasement, true humility basis our evaluation on the values that God holds. As such, true humility does not diminish/deny its own talents, gifts, or self-worth. Instead, true humility maintains its own worth, while acknowledging that there are things beyond itself that are important to God and therefore are worth attending. As such, humility willingly regards others as more important than the self FN#2. That is, instead of pushing to the front of the food line, or insisting on its own way, or making sure it is happy, true humility puts the wellbeing and interests of others first. Notice the result: in place of the destructive rivalry and back stabbing of selfish ambition, humility is willing to put aside what it wants, deserves, or what is its by right in order to serve another. Importance: for Paul, true humility is an essential factor in our standing firm and standing together. In fact, there is a reason Paul only spends 1 verse on what we are to do (2:2) and some 11 verses on our heart (3-13). Why? Paul knows that our attitude will either put us in position to serve or it will be what prevents us from ever serving. FN#3

 

Next notice, for Paul, true humility is not one sided. Instead, true humility is reciprocal and corporate. That is, true humility does not simply offer help, it is also willing to seek and receive help. How do we know? Notice, Paul does not merely say that you are to regard others as more important than yourself. Instead, Paul says that each of us is to regard one another as more important FN#4. In other words, biblical humility is a corporate condition. It frames the individual’s expectation of the Body and the Body’s expectation of the individual. As such, it is both what I do and what I receive. Simply put, true humility is how the whole of God’s people is to interact and to respond to each other. It is the frame of mind that God intends for those He has called to serve others. Notice the result: humility establishes the essential context necessary for the mutual assistance/help that God intends our fellowship to provide. That is, true humility provides the essential context necessary for corporate health (both shared ministry and fruitful walks)

 

Verse 4

Next notice the result of an active, mutual, and corporate humility: Paul says when humility is in place every person is not merely looking out for his own interests. That is, when God’s people share Christ’s humility we avoid the chaotic scenario where each man does whatever seems best in his own eyes. Instead, Paul says that when humility is the order of the day everyone is looking out for the interest of others. Importance: notice the contrast: when selfish ambition rules it is every man for himself. That is, you are on your own and how you fare is entirely up to you. Not only that, you also have to contend with and guard against the ambitions of others. In other words, the picture is one of isolation, mistrust, constant contention and ongoing anxiety. However, when humility governs the day, it is not just that you are helping somebody else. It is that everyone (the whole body) is engaged in mutual, simultaneous, and ongoing assistance. In other words, neither your own needs nor even the help you give to others is ever up to just you. Instead, the picture is of a people who are called to serve one another willingly and constantly having each other’s backs (having each other’s best interest in mind).

 

Bottom line: the true humility that Paul prescribes is not a nice but fleeting sentiment nor is it self-denigration. Instead, it is the active thought process and frame of mind of those who have been sent to serve one another even as Christ came to serve us. As such, it is the basis and the necessary condition for the mutual nurture and assistance provided by our fellowship. In turn, it is the essential mindset necessary for fruitful ministry and service.

 

Epilogue FN#5

 

 

 

Footnotes

Verse 3 (Review)

1] Paul’s firsthand experience with the dangers of selfish ambition and pride was seen just a few verses earlier. In 1:17 Paul tells us that while he has been in prison, the majority of believers in his area have picked up the slack and have been proclaiming the Gospel in Paul’s absence. However, there are some who,

1:17 proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment

 

Verse 3(b)

2] Notice this willingness to regard others as more important than the self is central to Paul’s understanding of humility. Throughout this passage, Paul presents humility as a gift between equals. Notice then, for Paul, what makes the second person more important is not his greater ability, position, status, or wealth. Instead, his primacy is granted to him. That is, it is based solely on the willing decision/regard of the first person. Simply put, it is a gift of service from one image bearer to another that reflects the value/worth of both (I have something worth giving. You are worth giving it to).

It is interesting to note that there can be no submission without equality. That is, unless equality is the case, submission will be no more than subjugation (being conquered/overcome) or subordination (conceding to one of greater ability or prowess). It is only an equal who can freely defer/submit to another.

With the above in mind, is worth reflecting that the Biblical dynamics of marriage (headship and submission) must assume the equality of both parties. As such, this dynamic is founded upon the notion of authority as a tool to serve God’s will (not the husband’s whim) and submission as a gift/offering of service intended to facilitate the family’s pursuit of God’s will (not something that demeans or diminishes the value of the one offering that gift). Unfortunately, chauvinism exchanges the male’s task of God directedness for selfish domineering while feminism exchanges the equality of submission for a paltry contest of abilities. The result is a relationship built on a fundamental principle of conflict versus one based on equality and mutual God directed service.

 

 

3] Notice: the difficulty in ministry/service is seldom not knowing what to do (we all know how to pray for someone, or listen to them, or simply to be there for them when no one knows what to do). Instead, the real difficulty in ministry/service is overcoming our selfishness. A second difficulty is knowing the true balance that humility requires. Self-worth and responsibility prevent humility from becoming self-neglect. If we completely ignore our duties, our limits, and our need to recoup, we are ultimately not helping matters. Instead, we are creating a second crisis. A humble balance then requires the wisdom to distinguish one’s conveniences and wants from one’s real needs, limits, and responsibilities. Notice then, humble deference to another and faithfulness to one’s own duties are both expressions of service (as is the rest and downtime necessary for both). However, selfishness, laziness, and convenience are not.

 

 

4] The way that we know Paul intends humility to be reciprocal is grounded in the grammar he uses:

1.     the participle ἡγέομαι (regarding) is a 2nd person plural (thus it means, “you all regarding one another…”)

2.     the direct object of this participle, ἀλλήλους (one another) is a reciprocal plural pronoun. It has reciprocal built right into its core meaning

3.     the participle itself is an adverbial principle modifying the head verb of the passage, which is 2nd plural imperative (you all make complete). Thus, the passage woodenly reads, “you all make my joy complete by you all regarding one another as being more important”.

Simply put, for Paul humility is both individual as well as a corporate and reciprocal condition

 

Verse 4

5] Epilogue (The Picture of Humility Paul Presents)

3 but with humility, regarding one another as being more important than himself;

Notice at once the picture of humility that Paul provides in verses 3-4. Frist, notice the word that Paul uses here for regard (ἡγέομαι) at its most basic level means to lead/govern. By extension, it comes to mean the decision of a leader or the way he regards a matter. Next, notice the word that Paul uses here for more important (ὑπερέχω) literally means to be above or over another. As such, at its most basic level it is used to mean “to be in authority over”. Notice then the picture of true humility that emerges: far from being self-deprecating, true humility requires the worth of both parties. That is, the picture that Paul provides is that of the willing submission of one leader (the one who considers/decides/regards) to another leader who is his equal (the one who is counted over/above/more important) In fact, for Paul, what makes the second leader more important is not his greater ability, position, status, or wealth. Instead, his primacy is granted to him. That is, it is based solely on the decision/regard of the first leader. Importance: already, Paul is preparing us to see the willing submission of the Son to His Divine equal, the Father, that he may serve man and fulfill His father’s plan. In fact, the account of the Son’s humility, service, and submission in verses 5-11 is given to illustrate and ground the very attitude Paul is prescribing here for God’s people. Thus, in the very next verse of our text we will hear Paul say:

2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,

Bottom line: the humility Paul prescribes assumes the worth and equality of both parties. In turn, it is the very same humility Paul is preparing us to see in Christ, who

6 although He existed in the very form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be clung to, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant,

 

 

*********************************************************************

 

Structural Note: For those who wish to geek out:

You may have noticed that my translation varies somewhat from the New American Standard (and others). I thought an explanation for this worth repeating (it was provided first in the Structural Note in Part I of the series)

(NAS Translation) 2:2 make my joy complete… 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself;

 4 (you) do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

 

(My Translation) 2:2 make my joy complete… 3 by doing nothing from selfish ambition, by doing nothing from empty conceit, but with humility, regarding one another as being more important than himself;

4 so that each person is not simply looking out for their own interests,

but everyone is also looking out for the interests of others.

 

The main difference is that the NAS takes the participle ἡγούμενοι (regard) as an example of the quite rare use of the participle as an independent imperative. However, right above in verse 2 we have already seen Paul use his participles in a dependent adverbial manner.  Therefore, one would assume that if Paul intended an imperative, he simply would have used the imperative form of this word and avoided the needless confusion of repeating a form but changing its use without notice. As such, I have translated the participle is an adverbial epexegetical participle (by regarding), which continues Paul’s use of the participle from verse 2 and thus sees verse 3 as a continuation of Paul’s explanation of how the Philippians are to complete his joy.

 

The second difference is how the NAS translates the word ἕκαστοι (each/every)- Here it is used as the subject of the verbal idea “looking out for”. The NAS and other translations understand the participle σκοπέω (looking out for) as a 2nd plural imperative, which then requires the pronouns to be 2nd person. However, as just mentioned, we do not take the governing participle as an imperative.  Therefore, my translation maintains the third person consistently throughout the passage.

 

 

 

 

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