In chapter 1, Paul closes with exhortation to stand unitedly together for the gospel in view of external opposition. In chapter two, he gently approaches the need of Christlike thoughtfulness and care, in view of friction and rivalry threatening the unity from within the assembly. Christ is presented as Example and Enabler (vv 1-16); then three of His servants are also brought in as models to imitate (vv 17-30). The key thought in the chapter is “thinking of others!”
2:1-16 Think Like Christ: Serve the Need of Others
Paul begins his appeal for mutual love, unity, and humility (vv 1-4), with an assumed foundation: that we experience encouragement, consolation, companionship, and compassion from the risen Christ (v 1). Paul has already expressed great joy in God’s workmanship in them; now he asks that they complete his joy, to “be likeminded” (v 2). What is he asking for? Simply to adopt the same attitude toward one another in Christ. “Having the same love” suggests mutual care as He cares for us; “being of one accord, one mind” is literally “one in soul, thinking one thing.” Selfish pride and rivalry destroy this unity and corrupt service for Christ. Humility is not belittling ourselves, or considering ourselves inferior, but accepting a lowly place, giving others priority in interest and care ahead of ourselves (v 3). We are not to focus only on our own concerns, but also on the interests and needs of others (v 4).
The exhortation to humbly serve one another is authenticated by the supreme example of Christ Who humbled Himself to serve our desperate need, and His subsequent exaltation by God to supreme glory and authority (vv 5-11). As “subsisting in the form of God,” He eternally shares the nature and essence of Deity; therefore to be on equality with God is not robbery, but His native right (v 6). Yet, He voluntarily relinquished His rightful glory and honor (literally, “emptied Himself”), taking a bondservant’s form and becoming in the likeness of men (v 7).
The majesty and splendor of His Deity were veiled while on earth, except for rare manifestations such as the mount of transfiguration; yet His lowly servant-hood became the fullest manifestation of His inner moral glories. His true nature of pure self-sacrificing love, sincere sympathy, compassion, grace and truth, and meekness found expression in His life of humble obedience to God and service for us, culminating in Calvary’s suffering and sacrificial death (v 8).
God’s honor and integrity guarantee that Christ must be exalted to the highest rank and supreme majesty, in His manhood. “The name of Jesus,” associated with His humility, manhood, and sacrifice, becomes the cause of universal worship, honor, and supremacy as sovereign Lord! Every intelligent being in every realm must be subjugated to Him, and must publicly acknowledge His sovereignty. In the perfect unity and harmony of the Godhead, there is no strife and rivalry. When Christ is honored, God the Father is honored (vv 9-11).
Paul now applies the lesson to the saints: solve your internal assembly problems, conscious of God’s involvement and glory, and avoid perpetuating dissension through complaining or arguing (vv 12-14). As God’s children in the midst of a dishonest and distorted culture, we are now bearers of His light and life: how vital that we seek to be blameless and harmless! Overshadowing our present experience is “the day of Christ” when God’s principles will be vindicated (vv 15-16).
2:17-30 The Mind of Christ Seen In His Servants: Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus
In this section, we see “the mind of Christ” displayed in three of His faithful servants. It is vital that the saints of God have living examples of the teaching of Christ.
Drawing from the Levitical sacrifices, Paul pictures himself as the auxiliary drink offering of wine poured upon “the sacrifice and service of your faith” (v 17), lost sight of, but enhancing the main sacrifice. Their Christian life and service arising out of their faith ascends to God as worship: if his life and death could add something to the fragrance of their faith-produced service, he will be filled with joy. This is love’s mutual reward – joy with, and in, each other (v 18).
Paul’s shepherd heart is evident, as he anticipates sending Timothy shortly to visit, and also expresses hope that he will himself be able to come shortly (vv 19-24). Timothy is highly commended: “I have no man like-minded,” literally “of equal soul” (v 20). Paul had many faithful fellow workmen, but none shared so fully his depth of self-sacrifice and care for the saints. Why are there so few like Paul and Timothy – like Christ? Sadly, personal interests are put ahead of Christ’s (v 21). Do I truly care for His things ahead of mine? That will keep me from sin, and guard my priorities – personal advancement, business interests, family. It will cause me to fulfil responsibilities in the assembly when it may cost me friendships, comfort, and health.
Despite the fact that Timothy was to be sent shortly, Paul considered it essential to immediately send Epaphroditus back to the assembly with this epistle (vv 25-30). Epaphroditus had proven to be a very valuable and precious help to Paul, a faithful fellow-laborer and fellow-soldier for the cause of Christ (v 25). However, he had become very sick while fulfilling the assembly’s mission to care for Paul, and Paul is eager to relieve the anxiety of the saints about his illness. There is a balancing reality evident in this section comparing Paul’s attitude towards possible death in chapter 1:21-24. Here, God’s restoration of Epaphroditus to health is appreciated as a great mercy, not only upon him, but also upon Paul, and the assembly: “lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow” (v 27). Paul exhorts the saints to welcome him joyfully and to honor him highly, as one who had put his own life in jeopardy to fulfil Christ’s care on their behalf (vv 29-30).