International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Philippians 2:1-11Lesson Title: Praise and Submission
The epistle of Paul to the Philippians is an epistle of the heart, a true love letter, full of warmth and friendship. Written from a Roman jail around A.D. 61-63, it is thought to be the last of Paul’s four prison epistles (Philippians 1:7-13). The gospel was first preached at Philippi by Paul while on his second missionary journey (Acts 16). Philippi was Paul’s first harvest field in Europe. Three notable conversions took place during Paul’s visit to Philippi. Lydia, a wealthy business woman, a demoniac girl, and the Philippian jailor were all saved through the ministry of Paul.
The purpose of Philippians as a letter was to acknowledge the generosity of the Philippians on several occasions (Philippians 4:10). Epaphroditus had brought a contribution to Paul from the church in Philippi for which Paul was thankful (Philippians 4:8). Paul also wrote to assure the church that conditions in Rome had not put an end to his ministry and to admonish and appeal to the Philippians to maintain unity and joy even while dealing with enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:18-19; 4:2, 4).
The key verse of Philippians is Philippians 1:21. The theme is “joy.” The words “sin” and “sins” are not found in this epistle. The words “joy” and “rejoicing” are used eighteen times. The letter shows us that the normal Christian experience should be a life of joy and fellowship. Having presented that truth in the first chapter, Paul calls for a daily expression of it in our walk, work, and witness in chapters 2-4.
Paul’s Appeal (Philippians 2:1-4)
Paul’s message in the opening verses of chapter two is closely connected with the theme of the closing verses of chapter one, unity and humility. Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that loss of joy is often caused by selfishness, which is a result of pride. In these opening four verses of chapter two, we have the true measure of joyful living and how our praise is connected with submission. Praise and worship is not limited to what we do on Sunday’s. It is inseparably linked to our daily attitude and our relationship to Christ and to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
“If” means “since” or “because.” The fourfold occurrence of the phrase “if any” reveals those characteristics which in the eyes of Paul mark a Christian experience as genuine. Here we have a first class conditional sentence expressing the condition as a fact in the Greek language. Since these things are blessed realities, the Philippians as well as you and I should not live as if they are non-existing. We have received “consolation in Christ.” The word “consolation” means “encouragement.” If the Philippians had experienced any encouragement from Christ, and surely they had, then that should challenge them to live in unity with each other. We have received “comfort of love.” “Comfort of love” refers to the love of God’s Son. Since we have experienced the love of Christ, we ought to love Him back; and we ought to love one another. The moment Christ ceases to be real to us, we lose our affection for others. We have received the “fellowship of the Spirit.” “Fellowship of the Spirit” is from the Greek word koinonia, and in this context means “joint participation with the Holy Spirit.” More than anything else the Holy Spirit desires to help us live out the commandments of Christ. If we are to live lives of submission then we are dependent upon the work of the Holy Spirit.
“If any bowels and mercies” refers to “pity, sympathy, and compassion” (Mark 6:34). Considered separately the word “bowels” is the same word as in Philippians 1:8 and means “tenderness.” “Mercies” means “compassionate yearnings and actions.” These two graces in the lives of the Philippian believers will result in submission. Unity will prevail and petty differences will not be a part of the fellowship.
“Fulfill ye my joy” are words urging the Philippians to cause Paul’s cup of joy to be full by heeding his words and demonstrating in their daily lives the virtues he is writing about. The words “fulfill ye my joy” are similar in meaning to the words of the Apostle John written to Gaius, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” (3 John 4). In a series of sharp contrasts verses 2, 3, and 4 describe precisely what it would take on the Philippians part to fill Paul’s cup of joy to overwhelming: unity (Philippians 2:2), humility (Philippians 2:3), and love (Philippians 2:4).
“That ye be likeminded” means “continually thinking the same thing.” It also carries the thought of having the same goals and desires, oneness in aim and feeling. This fulfills the purpose for every local church which is ultimately the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So many people have their own little agenda in life. It’s sad but even Sunday School teachers and preachers often are more interested in creating their own little turf or enterprise rather than having the attitude of Christ and ministering humbly and sacrificially.
“Having the same love” is the result of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). To “have the same love” means to love everybody the same. Paul is saying if you are “likeminded” then you will have the “same love” or love of Christ in your attitudes and actions toward everyone. “Love” is a mark of spiritual maturity and spiritual unity (Romans 12:10). “Love” is not talking about emotions because none of us can be emotionally attracted to everyone. “Love” is speaking here about sacrifice (John 15:13). We are to meet one another’s needs just as Christ meets our spiritual needs.
“Being of one accord” has the idea of harnessing our energies so there is no waste. It means no one pulling in different directions. “One accord” is the Greek word sumpsuchos, which means “one-souled.” The idea is that of being “knit together.” It’s when one person has a desire and plan and ambition different from another that results in a collision. This is true in relationships, families, governments, and especially churches. “Of one mind” means to mind one thing and to be united in purpose which is for the Christian and the church, the spread of the gospel. It is not our differences that hurt us. It is our attitude toward those who have different views. If these four truths sound the same it is because they are. Paul is saying one thing in four different ways. He wants these truths buried deep in our hearts and minds.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory…” means whatever we do or practice should not be from “strife.” “Strife” is the desire to put oneself forward, self-seeking. It refers to asserting your rights in the world, church, or the home. “Strife” is a work of the flesh listed in the same verse in Galatians 5 with “idolatry and witchcraft (Galatians 5:20). “Vainglory” is empty pride or self-esteem that has no ground to stand on. Preacher D.L. Moody said, “Strife is knocking another down…vainglory is setting oneself up.” “…But in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” means that whatever we do we should have a deep sense of our smallness or littleness. This reminds us of the willingness to serve others which was characteristic of Christ. What a blessing it would be if the church were filled with people in which no one is looked down upon but everyone looked up to. Not only would that have brought the Apostle Paul great “joy,” but likewise the Lord Himself!
“Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.” The thought in these words is that every believer should practice unselfishness and proper consideration for others, especially in the family of God (Galatians 6:10). “Look” is a Greek term from which we get our idea of “scope.” It carries the idea of “special attention.” Therefore, Paul is telling us that we should show fellow Christians sympathetic consideration. “Others,” should be at the very heart of everything we do. That was certainly true of Christ. Paul told the Romans, “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me” (Romans 15:2-3).
Christ’s Example (Philippians 2:5-8)
“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” means in order to know how God expects us to believe and behave, as Christians, we must learn, and then live, the mind of Christ. “Let this mind be in you” means “let Christ be your example as to what your attitude should be.” Believers are to constantly be emulating in life the distinctives which were found in Christ.” The Old Testament emphasis is on the difference between God and man (Isaiah 55:8-9). But the New Testament emphasizes that God in Christ is make like us (Hebrews 2:14, 17). Since Christ is divine, we humans cannot be like Him in all ways. We cannot imitate His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, or countless other of His attributes. On the other hand, we can live out by His grace mercy, love, humility, longsuffering, holiness, and many other qualities by thinking like Jesus.
Philippians 2:5 commands us to have the “mind” of Christ. We are to think like Jesus thinks, or “to think or to be minded in a certain way.” We are to live the attitudes Christ lived. Our mind is to have the same characteristics that Christ’s mind has in attitude and actions. That’s the purpose for which God saved us (1 Corinthians 2:16). Being Christlike is more than just outwardly obeying His commands. The inner attitudes are crucial to our submission, service and praise.
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God” are words that reminded the Philippians that Jesus was not just a man who was born to Mary and lived out a good life in the flesh. “Being in the form of God” is the anchor of Christianity. The word “being” denotes that which a person is in his very essence...that which a person is in his nature. In other words, that which is true of a person that cannot be altered, it cannot be changed (John 8:58; Colossians 1:15). In relation to Christ it denotes prior existence (John 1:1; Colossians 1:17). “Form” isn’t speaking about material shape. The word in the Greek is the word morphe and morphe has to do with a deep inner essential abiding nature of something. It is not referring to the external. Christ is God is Paul’s message in this verse.
“Thought it not robbery to be equal with God” means Christ did not think His equality with God was something “to be grasped, or a prize to hold onto.” That’s the thought in the word “robbery.” Doctor John MacArthur has a most in depth and revealing illustration of this phrase in his comments on Philippians 2:6. He writes, “Satan was a created angel. Satan was created by God, he was inferior to God, he was less than God. But in Isaiah 14, he said, “I will...I will...I will...I will...I will,” five times and the substance of what he was saying was “I will be like...whom?...God.” Satan thought it something to be grasped at to be equal with God. He thought it something to seize, something to grasp at. Jesus didn't. Why? He was already equal to God. There was nothing for Him to seek. There was nothing for Him to grasp. He is in contradistinction to Satan.”
Because of His selflessness, Christ “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” This speaks of Christ’s incarnation. “Made” and “reputation” is the same Greek word, kenoo which means “emptied.” It means to pour everything out until it’s all gone. “Himself” is accusative in Greek. Christ did not empty something from Himself, but He emptied Himself from something, i.e. the “form of God.” Christ emptied self of self. He “poured out” His sovereign position mentioned in verse 6. “Made Himself of no reputation” does not mean that Christ emptied Himself of His deity. He was, is, and shall forever be God!
By taking “upon himself the form of a servant” Christ expressed Himself in His humanity as a slave. He who was Sovereign manifested Himself as a slave. Although Christ was God, He did not insist upon being served, but temporarily laid aside the exercise of the Sovereign and served humanity. What a valuable lesson and example for believers today in an age where personal rights are demanded and many people live to be served instead of serving. We cannot offer proper praise to God while we are unwilling to be servants and submit to others in humility and love.
“…And was made in the likeness of men” conveys the idea of similarity. Christ shared our human nature in all its frailty (Romans 8:3). To all outward appearances, Christ was a Man among men, as the Gospel writers describe. The word “likeness” is the Greek word homoioma which means “the same.” Homogeneous means something that is the same. Christ was in every sense in the sameness as men. He was a genuine man. He had the essential attributes of humanness. He wasn't just God in a shell. He was fully man in all parts and dimensions. He had everything that all men have except for sin. But that doesn't mean He wasn't a man. Adam was a man before he was a sinner. And you and I will be glorified men throughout all eternity when our sin is forever gone. One writer said, “Christ was all that a man could be that we could never know a man to be because of His sinlessness.”
“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” “Being found in fashion…” refers to what men discovered and recognized about Jesus as a man. “Fashion” doesn’t mean Christ just appeared as a man, it means He was a man. In Himself, Christ is God. Appearing to others he appeared as a man. “He humbled himself” is not the same as “he made himself of no reputation” in verse 7, but shows how the self-emptying manifested itself. The wording suggests that Christ’s humbling took place all at one time; while the action He took was free and voluntary. It is not that Christ was humbled by someone else or something else, but that He “humbled himself.” His love for us prompted Him to voluntarily do this.
How much did Christ humble Himself? Paul says, even to “the death of the cross.” “And became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” means that Christ was willing to lay down His life for the sins of the world. The individual with a submissive mind does not avoid sacrifice. Christ’s submission was proven by His obedience. Hebrews 5:7-8 says, “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared; Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” As believers we must also live humble and submissive lives even in the face of danger. Christ is our perfect example.
The “death of the cross” literally reads “death on a cross.” Nothing was more horrible, painful, and shameful than to die on a cross. Add to that truth that Christ was “cursed by God” because He died on a tree and the picture is more horrifying (Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13). And so, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the Lord of heaven left His sovereign position, accepted a servants place, identified with sinful people, and was willing to die, even death on a cross. Christ’s example should help us live in submission.
God’s Reward (Philippians 2:9-11)
Exaltation is the reward of humiliation. This principle is found numerous times throughout the Scriptures. The Psalmist said, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalm 75:6-7). Jesus declared, “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:11). The Apostle James said, “Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). The principle in these verses is that the believer who is prepared to live a humble life of Christlikeness, Christian service, love and unity, will be rewarded by the heavenly Father.
“Wherefore” means, because of His voluntary submission to the death of the cross, “God also hath highly exalted him…” “Exalted” speaks of the preeminence of Jesus Christ. God has rewarded His Son the highest position that the universe affords. Christ came all the way down and God took Him all the way back up. Paul is not promising the Philippians that if they live unselfish lives they will automatically be rewarded like Christ was. However, in his words concerning Christ’s exaltation the underlying truth is that when you live unselfishly, God doesn’t forget you!
“Given him a name which is above every name” is probably the name “Lord” mentioned in verse 11. Jesus was His earthly name (Matthew 1:21). “Lord” is His resurrection name (Acts 2:32-36).
“That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth” is stating that when the name that belongs to Jesus is mentioned or heard, “every knee” or every person will ultimately bow before Him. Three categories are mentioned in this verse. “Heaven, earth, and under the earth.” Please note that “things” is in italics in the King James text which means it isn't in the original. Those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth are people and all created beings. And it's as if the Apostle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is just collecting the whole universe and saying they all will bow the knee, they all will confess Jesus Christ is Lord. “In heaven” refers to angels and redeemed believers. “In earth” refers to the saved (Romans 10:9-10). It also includes the unsaved that will be living at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. “Under the earth” refers to the damned demons and lost men and women who are in the place of eternal torment the Bible calls hell.
“And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” “Every tongue” corresponds to “every knee” in verse 10. “Confess” is the Greek word exomologeo which means “to acknowledge, affirm, or agree.” Everyone will agree that Jesus Christ is Lord! Because of Christ’s submission to the Father’s will and to death on the cross, the entire universe will bow in one final act of submission. Some will bow to eternal life and others will bow in eternal condemnation. Either way, everyone will acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. The One who became a universal servant through His submission is universal Lord to whom everyone will one day submit. Doctor Vance Havner once said, “I’d rather bow here in salvation than to be forced to bow there in condemnation.”
True submission is not a result of rules or a strict religious lifestyle. It is only when believers look at Jesus that we see the example of humility, service, and submission. We should not submit just to be rewarded. However, true submission is rewarded by our Heavenly Father as seen in His exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Christ knew the will of the Father and fulfilled His will. His desire was to glorify the Father in all things (John 12:28; 13:32; 17:1). If we are to be able to praise the Lord through submission to His will, we must know the mind of Christ and live His attitude and actions daily. The end result will lead to the glory of God.
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