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Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-5

Philippians Bible Study, Week 8

Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-5

1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and [one in] purpose [or mind]. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition [envy/strife] or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .  Philippians 2:1-5 (NIV)

Things to Think About

What will make Paul’s joy complete (2:2)?
What is the basis for Paul’s appeal for unity (2:1)?  Are you experiencing these blessings from God?
What features does Paul encourage in relationships (2:3-4)?  Generally speaking, how does this compare with your interactions in society?

Unity and Union

The beginning of chapter 2 is a continuation of Paul’s call for unity in the Philippian church. Paul begins this section with several rhetorical questions: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ; if any loving comfort; if any fellowship with the Spirit; if any tenderness and compassion . . . ? The tacit assumption is that the Philippian Christians have indeed been encouraged by being in union with Christ, they have been comforted by his love, they do enjoy fellowship with the Holy Spirit,[1] and they do experience tenderness and compassion, all because they belong to Jesus Christ; because they are in Christ. This important phrase “in Christ” (or “in the Lord”, or “in him”, etc) is a frequently used formula in Philippians,[2] and it is used over 170 times in the New Testament, particularly in Paul’s letters.

Union with Christ is the basic reality of salvation for Paul. “To be in Christ is to be saved. It is to be in an intimate personal relationship with Christ the Saviour. From this relationship flows all the particular benefits of salvation . . .” (NIV Study Bible, note on 2:1) These benefits include the blessings that Paul lists in Philippians 2:1.

Paul makes the clear connection between unity and union in Christ, with the unity and union of believers. As mentioned last week, true unity in the church cannot occur unless people are genuinely united with Jesus Christ and have a genuine, experiential knowledge of him.

Opinions and Attitudes

In view of the tremendous blessings that the Philippians have received in Christ, Paul urges them to be united in harmony. Paul calls for this unity in four ways: he wants the Philippians (i) to have the same mind (or the same “thinking”–phroneō), (ii) to have the same love (as in Phil. 2:1), (iii) be joined together in spirit[3] (as in Phil. 1:27), and (iv) be of one mind.

Paul uses the word phroneō and its cognates many times in Philippians;[4] twice in 2:1. Phroneō is much more than just a mental exercise. “It is the outworking of thought as it determines motives; and through motives, the conduct of the person involved.” (Martin 1983:62) Paul wants the Philippians to think the same way and have the same mind, that is, to have similar attitudes, concerns and intentions.

It seems that the disunity among the Philippians was caused by some differences of opinion. Paul wants the Philippians to have the same mind (attitudes, concerns, intentions) and be in harmony on some undisclosed subject. (More on this “same thinking” here.) This does not mean that it is necessary for us to always have the same opinions on matters of faith, church polity, or practice. Even Paul disagreed with other apostles at times.[5] Often it is good to have differences of opinion as this will stretch our understanding of God, his word, his mission, and his world. However, we must be very wary not to let differences of opinion destroy an individual’s faith,[6] or the mission and testimony of the church.

Like-mindedness, harmony and unity among the Philippian believers are what will make Paul’s joy full and complete.

Our Attitudes to Others

Selfishness and its relatives—envy, jealousy and contentiousness, conceit, pride and arrogance—have no place in any Christian’s personality. Selfishness and self-centeredness are the antitheses of being like Jesus. To follow Jesus Christ means to “die to self”, to our selfish and sinful passions and desires.[7] This can be a tough call, one that has challenged Christians throughout most of the past two millennia. However “dying to self” is not necessarily grim.[8] “Dying to self” means living for God and his will, which can often be joyful, satisfying and rewarding. Part of our journey towards spiritual maturity is that we continue to live for God and for other people, instead of following other, ultimately empty and meaningless ambitions.

Jealousy and rivalry may have been behind some discord in the Philippian church. Instead of being envious and contentious (cf. Phil. 1:16), or following empty ambitions, we are to be humble (Phil. 2:3a). The personal quality of humility is a quintessential characteristic of Jesus Christ and his true followers!

Paul gives us clear and practical advice on how to live with humility towards others. Firstly he says: “Regard one another as more important [or better] than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3b NASB), and secondly: “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4 NASB).

This straightforward advice is something that we can put into practice immediately. If you haven’t done so already, realise now that other people are more important than you are, and begin to show a real interest in the interests and welfare of those around you.

Our Attitudes about Ourselves

Paul writes that we should have the same humble and selfless attitude as Jesus Christ. (More on this next week.) How does Christ’s attitude express itself in our attitudes about ourselves? Allowing for differences in personalities, Christians should feel neither timid nor arrogant; we should feel neither inferior nor superior to anyone. Nevertheless, we should regard others as more important.

We have been adopted as children of God, heirs of an incomprehensibly glorious future. God wants his fullness displayed in us, and he wants us to be partakers in his divine nature—this is what humankind was created for. While our status as God’s image-bearers has been sullied by sin, we should not go around moping and feeling defeated. We should simply receive God’s forgiveness with profound gratitude, and keep walking humbly but surely into the newness of life that Jesus has secured for us.

Timothy Keller writes,

The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and snivelling.  From The Reason For God.


[1] This statement may be translated and interpreted in different ways depending on whether it is taken as objective or subjective. If objective: “fellowship/partnership with the Spirit”; if subjective: “fellowship/partnership produced by the Spirit”.

[2] Encouragement is “in Christ” (2:1). Paul rejoices “in the Lord” (4:10) and calls upon his readers to do the same (3:1, 4:4). Paul hopes “in the Lord Jesus” (2:19) and trusts “in the Lord” (2:24). He hopes to glory “in Christ Jesus” (1:26), be found “in him” (4:13), and stand firm “in the Lord” (4:1). (Martin 1983:45)

[3] Sumpsychoi: literally, people (or things) joined together in soul or spirit.  It can also be interpreted as people who are joined together in heart or mind.

[4] Phroneō: 1:7 (once); 2:1 (twice); 2:5 (once); 3:15 (twice), 3:19 (once); 4:2 (once); 4:10 (twice).

[5] Acts 15:39; Galatians 2:11ff.

[6] Romans chapter 14; 1 Corinthians chapter 8.

[7] Romans 6:6; Galatians 2:20, 5:24.

[8] The idea of “dying to self” has taken on some bizarre, misguided and downright dangerous expressions for some. It most definitely does not mean that we should practise self-mortification or extreme austerities such as wearing irritating undergarments made of rough wool and nails, whipping ourselves, or wearing painful tourniquets, etc. Furthermore, leaders should be cautious about “testing people” with difficult and unpleasant trials.  The Holy Spirit is the best agent for testing, purifying and sanctifying Christians. We should leave the methods to him.

© 8th of July 2010, Margaret Mowczko

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Week 7: Suffering and Standing – Philippians 1:27-30
Week 9: The Creed/Hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 

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