Studies in Galatians, Ephesians and Philippians
20. Philippians 2:14-29 - Examples of Humility
“Do everything without complaining or arguing,” Paul writes, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (vv. 14-16). In other words, as you share the gospel, be aware of the example you set (see 1:27). Be content, be peaceable, and you will be seen as points of light. Society doesn’t make it easy to be Christlike, but instead of viewing this as an obstacle, see it as an opportunity to make the gospel attractive.
Paul then makes his appeal personal: “in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.” This will complete his mission, he says, bringing the people toward maturity in Christ.
Paul then elevates the significance of what they are doing — he is a sacrifice for God, and so are they. Their lives are given together as an offering to God. “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (v. 17). Although I am in jail, he says, I rejoice because of the way that you serve the Lord. “So you too should be glad and rejoice with me” (v. 18).
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you” (v. 19). Paul hopes to send a friend to them, who will (if we read between the lines) report on whether the Philippians put Paul’s exhortations into practice.
Without directly saying so, Paul writes that Timothy is a good example, already doing what Paul is exhorting. Timothy “takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (vv. 20-21). Timothy does not act from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility he looks to the interests of others, of Jesus and the gospel.
“But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel” (v. 22). Look to him, and hear what he says. “I hope, therefore, to send him as soon as I see how things go with me” (v. 23). As soon as I find out whether I will get out of prison, I will send him, my son in the faith, to serve your needs. “And I am confident in the Lord that I myself will come soon” (v. 24).
But Paul did not wait. He sent his letter with someone else: “But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent to take care of my needs” (v. 25). Epaphroditus, apparently one of the leaders in Philippi, had come to visit Paul in prison. Now Paul is sending him back with special commendation:
“For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill” (v. 26). In other words, he is looking out for your interests. He is distressed not because he was sick, but because he doesn’t want you to be worried about him.
“Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety” (vv. 27-28). I care for you, too, and I will be less anxious about you when he is there.
“Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him” (v. 29). He is setting a great example, and if you honor people who serve, more people will serve. Epaphroditus put his life on the line: “he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me” (v. 30). Be willing to serve, Paul says, and you will be great. Humble yourself for him, and he will exalt you with Christ!
Things to think about
- If I can’t complain (2:14), what can I say about things that are wrong?
- Can I trust God to do his work within me? Does he sometimes seem to work too slowly?
- What examples of humility do I know locally? Do I honor them?
Author: Michael Morrison, PhD