Philippians Chapter 2

Philippians 2:1 – 30

2:1-4    Paul connects this section with his previous discussion by the conjunction οὖν, drawing some inference (“so then”) from his prior message. The sentence encompasses vv. 1-4, with the main clause coming at the beginning of v.2 πληρώσατέ μου τὴν χαρὰν.

V.1 consists of four, first class conditional clauses (protases), with εἴ (if) + indicative mood. The writer is assuming the truth of the information in the conditional clauses. Each clause has an indefinite pronoun used adjectivally (e.g. τις παράκλησις). Note that the fourth occurrence of τις is masculine/feminine in gender, even though the initial noun is neuter. No expressed verb occurs in any of these clauses. Given the suffering that will occur in the struggle to be Christian and to maintain unity, Paul emphasizes some of the blessing that they possess because of their connection with the Messiah. This includes παράκλησις ἐν Χριστῷ, παραμύθιον ἀγάπης, κοινωνία πνεύματος, σπλάγχνα καὶ οἰκτιρμοί. While the ideas are parallel, the way in which the second noun relates to the first varies. Whose ἀγάπη – human or divine or both – is the source of encouragement/consolation, presuming the genitive is subjective in force? κοινωνία in relationship to πνεῦμα has the sense of community and in this case it is the community generated by the Spirit, i.e., Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). The fourth combination (two nouns forming hendiadys) perhaps is intended to communicate the idea of “affectionate compassion” (cf. Col. 3:12), but whether this is demonstrated by Paul, by other believers or by divine agency is difficult to determine. Because Paul in 1:29 has discussed the Messianic responsibilities God has given to believers, perhaps in 2:1 he is describing some of the benefits that also God gives and so each of these four expressions defines divinely sourced enablements to carry forward the struggle.

Paul expects that these divine resources will enable these believers to fill up/bring to completion (πληρώσατέ) μου τὴν χαρὰν, as he hears of their persevering unity even though he is in prison and awaiting trial. Πληρώσατε is an aorist imperative, so this expresses an instruction from Paul. The following ἵνα clause perhaps expresses what “fulfilling my joy” means, i.e., denoting the content. This is a rather common use in John’s Gospel, though unusual in Paul’s writings. The main verb in this subordinate clause is φρονῆτε and its object is τὸ αὐτὸ, which puts a premium on a disposition that seeks to serve Christ with common purpose and aligned motive. The verb occurs 10x in Philippians. The sense is of “disposition,” not mere intellectual assent. Unity of perspective and purpose that persists through tension, but not always unanimity. The modifiers that follow, in my view, describe the possibility for this unity. Paul then describes how this disposition will become evident, using a variety of present participles: ἔχοντες, φρονοῦντες, ἡγούμενοι, σκοποῦντες, and the adjective σύμψυχοι. Mutual love, harmonious feelings (σύμψυχοι)[1], oneness in disposition, and giving humble consideration to others, are positively endorsed. Paul rejects party spirit (ἐριθεία), empty opinion (κενοδοξία)[2], and too much attention paid to one’s own affairs to the detriment of others (v.4a).  The last two sequences are expressed as contrasts with μή…ἀλλά as the formation.  ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν is a present participle (ὑπερέχειν) used adjectively with the sense of “better” and related to ἀλλήλους, followed by a genitive of comparison, i.e., “better (surpassing in quality) than themselves” (cf. the use of the neuter form of this participle in 3:8 and the feminine form in 4:7). In v. 4 Paul contrasts τὰ ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστος (each the things of themselves)[3] with τὰ ἑτέρων ἕκαστοι (each the things of others). This creates paranomasia (four words in one sentence beginning with the same letter – aspirated epsilon). One or two negatives followed by the positive (not this but this) creates a common rhetorical pattern used by Paul (and Peter). The present participle σκοποῦντες has the idea of “keeping your eyes on, noticing.”

2:5-8    A second command, φρονεῖτε, uses the same verb as that found in the prior ἵνα clause. This command introduces Paul’s wonderful statement of the Messiah’s obedient response in the incarnation, despite the suffering this entailed. This is the third usage in as many verses. Obviously Paul thinks the action defined by the verb is an important spiritual issue. The object τοῦτο precedes the verb, giving it prominence and it is defined by the following relative clause. The accusative demonstrative could be the object of the verb or it might be an adverbial accusative, i.e., “think in this way, the way that was in the Messiah.” The καί in the relative clause is emphatic. Paul frequently uses the double name Χριστὸς  Ἱησοῦς in Philippians (cf. 1:1,5,8, 26; 2:5; 3:3,8,12,14; 4:7,19,21). This word order presumably emphasizes the Messianic role and status of Jesus, i.e., Messiah Jesus. Paul calls these believers to possess and demonstrate the same disposition as Messiah Jesus expressed as he pursued God’s mission for him.

Vv.6-8 form an extended relative clause, the second in this sentence that begins with v.5, that defines the disposition possessed by the Messiah. Three verbs form the backbone of this clause: ἡγήσατο…ἀλλὰ…ἐκένωσεν…καὶ…ἐταπείνωσεν. They are all aorists, reporting what has happened in the past. The Messiah is the subject of each. Paul used a form of ἡγήσατο in v.3. Around this first verb Paul arranged an adverbial participle defining the circumstances of the Messiah (ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων), probably concessive in force. Obviously Paul develops a contrast between μορφὴ θεοῦ and μορφὴ δουλοῦ in the following verse, with the first defining his pre-incarnate existence and the second his incarnate experience. The first of the two objects of ἡγήσατο is an articulated infinitive (τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ) and the second is οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν. Within the articulated infinitive structure ἵσα functions as the complement of the infinitive. The specific meanings of μορφή and ἁρπαγμός are discussed extensively in the literature. In my view Paul affirms that Jesus is God (equal with/to God) and that his incarnational mission, willingly embraced, did not change this reality in essence.

The second section of this relative clause expresses a contrast, explaining in some sense how the Messiah was affected by the incarnation. “made…nothing” (ἐκένωσεν) modified by “taking” (λαβών, aorist participle) – perhaps circumstantial or means;  and “being made, becoming” (γενόμενος, aorist participle) – could be temporal (“when, after”) or circumstantial (‘having been made”).  Aorist participles tend to describe an action that precedes that of the main verb. If this is the case here, it suggests that “having taken the form of a slave” and “having been made in the likeness of a human being” occurred before or explain how he “emptied himself.” The second participial construction gives further explanation for the first. If this is correct then μορφὴν δούλου means that the Messiah is ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων (cf. Rom. 8:3).[4] The constructions ὑπάρχων ἐν…γενόμενος ἐν may signify two different ideas. The first implies existence, and the second expresses the idea of “becoming, transformation.”

The third segment (vv. 7b-8a) again defines the primary verb (ἐταπείνωσεν) with several adverbial participles, namely εὑρεθεὶς…γενόμενος.  In the participial structure σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς,  the verb “found” in this context has the sense of acquiring or obtaining a state or condition. The dative case expresses the state or condition. Σχῆμα means the form or appearance of something, whether real or unreal (i.e., as perceived). Ηere the singular “human being” (ἄνθρωπος) occurs, indicating that the state or condition in which Jesus occurred was “in the form of a human being.” With the verbs ἐκείνωσεν and ἐταπείνωσεν Paul used the singular reflexive pronoun ἑαυτόν as the object, indicating that Jesus is very much in charge of this process and alteration. The one who is “equal with God” is to become ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, obedient to the point of death. ὑπήκοος is nominative as the complementary adjective following γενόμενος. He emphasized the extent of this obedience by noting that this death was θανάτου…σταυροῦ — a most shameful form of execution. Runge indicates that δέ signals some kind of new development and here the note of intensification seems apparent.

2:9-11  Vv. 9-11 form an extended sentence. A compound main clause in v.9 is the primary statement, modified by a compound clause of result (so that) expressed in vv. 10-11.

Paul begins with the particle διό (wherefore), drawing an inference from the data previously presented. The following καί indicates that the inference is self-evident. The focus in 6-8 is on Messiah Jesus. In 9-11 God is the subject.

The main clause is a compound clause, with θεός as subject of both and Jesus as the object or indirect object of both. ὑπερύψωσεν is aorist, indicating a past action and defines exaltation to an exceptional degree. The second verb ἐχαρίσατο, also aorist (and used in 1:29), affirms that God has given Jesus τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα. The repetition of the article places the prepositional phrase in an adjectival relationship with the preceding noun. As well the preposition ὑπέρ picks up the prior use in the compound verb ὑπερύψωσεν. What name might this be other than the name of Yahweh himself! God’s purpose in doing this is defined in the ἵνα clause. The two aorist subjunctive verbs used (κάμψῃ…ἐξομολογήσηται) indicate the homage that will be paid to Jesus as κύριος. This is God’s intent in establishing the Messiah as equal with Yahweh in all respects. The three adjectives in the genitive plural define whose knees are bent in submission, i.e., the knees of beings of those inhabiting the heavens, inhabiting the earth, and inhabiting the area beneath the earth. In other words this is universal submission to this κύριος. Note that in the Greek OT κύριος is the default renderning for יהוה, the divine name. The repeated use of πᾶς (πᾶν γόνυ…πᾶσα γλῶσσα) emphasizes the totality of involvement.

The final ὅτι clause details what these beings should confess, “that Jesus Messiah is Lord/Yahweh to the glory of God, the father.” The title κύριος in the Greek Old Testament is the consistent translation for Yahweh. Paul may be paraphrasing Isa. 45:23 in this passage: “Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (ὅτι ἐμοὶ κάμψει πᾶν γόνυ καὶ ἐξομολογήσεται πᾶσα γλῶσσα τῷ θεῷ), also cited in Romans 14:11. In the Isaiah passage Yahweh is the object of submission and worship. Jesus has the name, the essence, and the authority of God. All of these events that relate to Jesus add to God “glory,” i.e., enhance his reputation.

2:12     Paul identifies his readers as “my beloved” – references to the verb ἀγαπᾶν occur in 1:9,16.  But he usually addresses them as “brothers.” The change here may be in response to his exhortation to love in 2:2. He picks up where he left off at the beginning of the chapter, acknowledging his exhortation whether he is able to visit and be present (παρουσία) or not (ἀπουσία) (cf. 1:26-27). Paul reflects back to their enthusiastic response to him when he was present and urges a similar but even better response (ἀλλὰ νῦν πολλῷ μᾶλλον) in his absence.

The main verb – κατεργάζεσθε – is an imperative, meaning “bring to achievement, accomplish.” This continues the series of instructional imperatives in v.2 and v.5.The object is σωτηρίαν – salvation, deliverance.  Presumably the sense is to work it out by living it. This is consistent with everything Paul knows about them — πάντοτε ὑπηκούσατε – you have always obeyed.  Further it is done μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου — with fear (reverence?) and trembling (same combination in 1 Cor. 2:3; 2 Cor. 7:15; Eph. 6:5). The reflexive pronoun ἑαυτῶν though third person in form, links with the second person plural subject to function as the second person reflexive pronoun in sense.

2:13     Paul provides a rationale, signaled by the initial γάρ.  The substantive participle ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν is the subject of the clause and “God” is the complement, i.e. “The One Who is at work in you is God.” There is a play on words here, I think, linking back to κατεργάζεσθε. The participle is followed by two infinitives joined by two conjunctions meaning “both…and.” The articulated infinitives function as the direct objects of the participle – τὸ θέλειν…τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας.[5] So God produces both the willingness and ability to act in ways that accomplish his desires either in accord with God’s benevolence (cf. 1:15) or human goodness. The only occurrences of this verb in Phil. are in this verse.

2:14     The sentence continues until the end of v.16. The fourth imperative — ποιεῖτε – has as its object “all things” and this is inclusive of every action.  What they must avoid are γογγυσμῶν…διαλογισμῶν.[6] The first word describes Israel’s rebellious speech against God in the Wilderness Period. The second suggests disputes (cf. Mark 2:6-7). χωρίς functions here as a preposition governing the genitive case, meaning “without.”

2:15     Continues with a purpose clause explaining why this behaviour is desired.  Paul uses three predicate adjectives here with γένησθε, all with negative connotation –ἄμεμπτοι…ἀκέραιοι…ἄμωμα and beginning with the same alpha-privative formation and creating a rhetorical flourish (another example of paronomasia). The first means “blameless”; the second means “pure, innocent”;[7] the third means “spotless.”  This terminology often is used with sacrificial victims in the OT, i.e., a victim that is worthy of sacrifice. This identifies them as τέκνα θεοῦ (children of God) in contrast to this γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης “a dishonest and deformed generation.” The first word describes a crooked road (Luke 3:5 = Isa. 40:4), a bad slave-owner (1 Peter 2:18) and a particular generation (Acts 2:40). The term διεστραμμένης means to pervert (cf. Acts 13:10 and Matthew 17:17 — Jesus used this same term). μέσον in the neuter form can function as a preposition meaning “in the middle of, among”. In such usage it is completed by a noun in the genitive case as it is here.

Within the purpose clause is a relative clause that defines the singular noun γενεᾶς (generation), even though the relative pronoun is plural. The referent is viewed as a collective noun. The verb φαίνεσθε (shine) is present, indicating a continuing action. ἐν κόσμῳ (in the world) is unusual as one might expect “heavens” as the logical place for stars to shine. However, the noun can mean universe, not just created earth.

2:16     The initial participle is adverbial and modifies either the verb “shine” in relation to the “stars” or goes back the verb γένησθε in v. 15. ἐπέχοντες as present active participle can mean either “hold onto” or “offer to another.” Is Paul defining their role in the world or their difference from the world? “word/message of life” defines the gospel (cf. 1:14). Is Paul in some sense defining his own witness too by these words? The genitive ζωῆς imply what the word produces (note previous references to fruit in 1:11).

Their faithfulness in Christ provides Paul with something to boast about “in the day of Christ.” εἰς καύχημα ἐμοὶ is a compressed construction “for a boast to me,” indicating purpose. The following prepositional phrase describes the occasion when this boast will be made. Note that both phrases begin with the preposition εἰς. The first describes purpose and the second has a temporal meaning (at, to; cf. 1:10). The final clause in this verse (ὅτι) provides the content of the boast. Two aorist verbs (compare Gal. 2:2; 4:11) “I did not run” and “I did not labour,” both modified by the same prepositional phrase εἰς κενὸν “in vain, for nothing, to no purpose,”  define what Paul desires to boast about – as he sits in prison he knows his work has meaning because God is at work in him.

2:17     The initial condition is a first class condition, assuming the reality of what is supposed, but expressed concessively (εἰ καὶ, “even if”). σπένδομαι is present active “I am being poured out as a libation sacrifice.” Pagans regularly poured out a small amount of wine at the beginning of major meals as a sacrifice to the deity, a libation sacrifice. Paul considers his work as a drink-offering whose offering serves to foster the faith of the Philippians. Thus even though his apostolic mission may result in his death, the change in the lives of the Philippian Christians indicates that his work has eternal significance. Note the present tense, with probable reflection back to chapter 1 and his reflections on his possible death. ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ literally means “with reference to the sacrifice and service.” One article defines both nouns linking them closely together, perhaps to be construed as another example of hendiadys meaning “with reference to the sacred/sacrificial service.”  Their faith is what this service aims to support and sustain. Note the use of λειτουργία in v.30.

2:17b-18.         Paul used the same verbs in both clauses — one with reference to himself (“I rejoice”) and one with reference to the Philippians (“you rejoice”). The implication is that they similarly are sacrificially serving him in the support of his faith by their generosity and prayers. τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ “in the same way also.”

2:19-24             The focus is on Paul’s intention to send Timothy, providing words of recommendation so that the Philippian Christians would accept him as Paul’s representative. The verbal phrase ἐλπίζω … ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ (I hope in the Lord Jesus), cf. repetition of the verb in v.23, gives an interesting insight into how Paul made decisions. The verb is completed here and in v.23 with the infinitive of purpose πέμψαι. The dative ὑμῖν does not indicate direction, but benefit or advantage, i.e., for you, as those receiving what or whom is sent. Note the use of theaccusative τοῦτον in v.23, which parallels Τιμόθεον in v.19.

The purpose clause indicates what Paul hopes to achieve, presuming that Timothy will return and share what he has discovered about the situation of the Philippian Christians. Εὐψυχῶ means to be encouraged, to feel good inside and was used to convey comfort to people in distress, i.e., condolences. Note again the substantivizing use of the article with the prepositional phrase to form the object of γνοὺς. Just as the Philippian Christians will rejoice when they hear of Paul’s expectations, so too Paul will rejoice when Timothy returns and shares the good news of their Christian advancement.

Paul says that he has no one like Timothy who is ἰσόψυχον, i.e., “of equal spirit”, that is like-minded (note previous formations with ψυχή in this letter). Only occurrence in NT and rarely used elsewhere. Just like Paul he has a “genuine” (γνησίως) care (μεριμνήσει) for these believers (v.20). Note the relative clause introduced by ὅστις that describes Timothy. This relative pronoun has the sense “who is of the sort that….”

Several times in this section we have the idiom of the article (neuter plural) substantivizing a prepositional phrase such as τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν (vv.19, 20, 23) or a genitive such as τὰ ἑαυτῶν or τὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ (v.21). The sense is in the first instance “the things concerning you” and in the second instance “their own affairs” or “Jesus Messiah’s affairs.” Paul commends Timothy for his care and concern for Philippians, when most are focused on their own matters and pursuits (v. 21). The γάρ clause in v. 21 explains why Timothy’s care is commendable.

What was the nature of Timothy’s δοκιμή (testing, proven value) (v. 22)? How did the Philippian believers γινώσκετε this? The content of their knowledge about Timothy is probably expressed in the ὅτι clause. He serves with Paul both as child does with a father and as colleague (σὺν ἐμοὶ = with me), acting as a slave for the gospel purpose (εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον). Paul described himself and Timothy in 1:1 as δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ and here the same idea is expressed by the verb and the prepositional phrase σὺν ἐμοί.

V. 23 begins with μὲν οὖν which intimates continuation of the previous idea. Paul indicates that he hopes to send Timothy ὡς ἂν (plus the subjunctive) = “whenever” he knows the outcome of his personal situation. The adverb at the end of the sentence means “immediately, at once.” The verb ἀφίδω means to see or find out. The clause has the sense “as soon as ever I find out my affairs.” This seems to contradict the criticism Paul has just made of those who are too concerned with their own affairs to come to some other person’s aid. However, Paul may be suggesting that sometimes this might be justified for serious reasons, as is occurring in his case.

In v. 24 the perfect πέποιθα (cf. 1:6) overlays the apparent uncertainty of the previous sentence, with confidence ἐν κυρίῳ (in the Lord, cf. 2:19) that “I, even myself, will come quickly.” The δέ adds a further aspect of what he anticipates. The subject about which he is confident is expressed in the ὅτι clause. The subject of the verb ἐλεύσομαι is emphasized by καὶ αὐτὸς.

2:25-26            ἠγησάμην is the main verb (aorist middle deponent – ἠγέομαι – think, regard, consider), which he has used several times already. Paul places the adjective ἀναγκαῖον first for emphasis. It forms by itself the object of the main verb (“I regard it as necessary….”), but is completed by the infinitive πέμψαι (“it as necessary to send….”).

Ἐπαφρόδιτον is the object of the infinitive πέμψαι. It is modified by a long string of appositional nouns (“brother, fellow-worker, fellow-soldier; your representative and servant of my need”).

ἀπόστολον καὶ λειτουργὸν — a good example of the diverse meanings of ἀπόστολος in the NT. Here it defines Epaphroditus as a representative or agent of the Philippian church. The other term describes someone who offers service on behalf of a community or cult. The possessive pronouns μου, ὑμῶν form a deliberate contrast (aided by the δέ) to define what Epaphroditus is to Paul and to the Philippian church respectively. He has become “your” servant τῆς χρείας μου (of my needs).

V. 26 continues the previous sentence first with a causal clause introduced by ἐπειδή (because) with the indicative tense. ἐπιποθῶν ἦν…καὶ ἀδημονῶν may be periphrastic constructions (he was desiring… and was distressed), indicating the duration of these feelings. Both are present participles connected with the imperfect form of εἰμι.

Paul concludes by giving the reason for the distress of Epaphroditus (διότι clause with indicative verb). Within this second causal clause Paul uses ὅτι to introduce the indirect discourse, recounting that the Philippian Christians heard about the illness of Epaphroditus.

2:27     This verse has several independent clauses that explain the nature of Epaphroditus’ weakness and his astonishing recovery. The initial καὶ γάρ marks this as explanation and also emphasizes how sick (“indeed”) he was. Παραπλήσιον is probably adverbial, functioning as an improper preposition (“very near”), i.e., he almost died apart from God’s intervention. ἀλλά as a conjunction defines a difference (but). Οὐκ αὐτὸν δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐμέ emphasizes that God’s mercy was also directed towards Paul in this healing (“but not only him, but also me”). The ἵνα μή subordinate conjunction (followed by aorist subjunctive) indicates the reason why God intervened (“lest I should have grief added to grief”). σχῶ is the aorist subjunctive of ἔχειν.

2:28     Again Paul begins with a form other than a verb. In this case it is a comparative adverb σπουδαιοτέρως.  The adverb suggests haste, earnest activity. The conjunction οῦν implies a response to the situation, i.e., “then.” The ἵνα clause explains why Paul sent him home. Again note how Paul reflects both benefit to the Philippian Christians and also benefit to himself in this clause. The adverbial participle ἰδόντες αὐτὸν πάλιν defines what will bring them joy. It could have a temporal significance, i.e., “when you see him again.” When this happens then Paul will be ἀλυπότερος, more free from grief (cf. v.27).  Paul begins and ends this sentence with a comparative form.

2:29-30             The initial οῦν again marks this sentence as a conclusion or inference based on what has preceded in v. 28. Paul gives two commands, both in the present imperative. προσδέχεσθε, ἔχετε. They are to welcome Epaphroditus “in the Lord” and “hold all such as he in high regard (ἐντίμους).”

v.30     The initial ὅτι is causal explaining why the imperatives of v. 29 are the required response. The two adverbial prepositional phrases define the action of the main verb ἤγγισεν. One phrase describes cause (διά + accusative) and the other defines extent. The adverbial participle παραβολευσάμενος adds further explanation either as a temporal clause (when) or circumstantial clause (in the case that). The participle is aorist middle in form and indicates its action may have preceded that of the main verb. The meaning of this verb is uncertain because this is its only occurrence in the NT. The verb is used in contemporary Hellenistic writers to describe actions that expose a person to danger, to venture to the point of personal danger. The sense here is that Epaphroditus, having accepted and carried out the mission of the Philippian church was willing to risk his life in order to serve Paul and the Lord.

The second subordinate clause indicates the purpose for his actions – ἵνα + aorist subjunctive. ἀναπληρώσῃ – bring to completion (cf. Galatians 6:2). ὑστέρημα has the sense of deficit and in this instance defines how his τῆς πρός με λειτουργίας (“service for me”) fulfilled some of the gospel obligations the Philippian Christians had towards Paul, at least in his view. Consider how Paul used the cognate verb in Romans 3:23 (“fall short of”).





[1] This is the only occurrence in the NT.

[2] This is its only occurrence in the NT. The adjective is used in Gal. 5:26 with a similar negative connotation.

[3] Note the lack of concord in number with the following participle, which is plural.

[4] In the textual tradition there is some diversity as to whether the genitive is singular or plural. I suspect some influence from the following singular ἄνθρωπος

[5] Cf. # 26

[6] Cf. Internet Moments with God’s Word # 60

[7] Cf. Internet Moments with God’s Word # 81