Philippians

A book of joy in the midst of suffering, Philippians is a treasure for any believer. These lessons consist of rich commentary and are paired with observation and application questions. Full of historical context and careful interpretation, each study is designed to be completed in 20 minutes.

Philippians is an in-depth study of the entire book, broken up into 12 studies.

Sample Study

Study 6: Philippians 2:5-15

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Observation Questions

1. What “mind among yourselves” is Paul wanting for the Philippians?

2. What was Christ’s mindset about equality with God?

3. What did Jesus do in human form?

4. What has God given to Jesus as a result of his humility?

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Verses 5-8

Though scholars still debate whether these verses were a hymn that existed in the early church before Paul, he makes his theology clear here. Jesus, our elder brother, is a self-sacrificing lover of people who willingly puts privilege aside to liberate those he loves.

But first, where did Jesus begin? As the sovereign, the ruler, God himself. He had every advantage in existence. He gave orders to the morning, showed the dawn its place, and said to the sea, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther” (Job 38:11). There is no power or authority available that he did not already possess. Therefore, no one could ever coerce him into giving anything away. Whatever he did, he did willingly, as the one who rules. Instead of protecting his privileges, he chose to lay them down, set them aside. He stepped down, condescended, relinquished his power.

He made himself nothing. Literally, he emptied himself. This was not a change in his essential nature. His “God-ness” did not and could not be changed. Rather, this was a change in his role, a voluntary shift in his status. Notice the pattern: down, down, down. Down from the ultimate status of almighty to that of a man. Down from omnipotence and blinding glory to the limitations of a human body—hunger, fatigue, disease. He was born in the likeness of men, fully human but “not entangled in our sinful nature” (Chapman, 131). And his condescension didn’t stop at the incarnation. As a human, he chose the place of a servant, a doulos. In first-century Middle Eastern culture, a doulos was “one who [was] devoid of even basic human rights and [was] subject to the will of others” (Garland, 220). Jesus submitted himself to a mother’s authority, Roman laws, temple rules. He became obedient, voluntarily limiting the exercise of his rightful authority, to the point of being forsaken, tortured, killed. Down, down, down.

He did not die in an honorable way, the way of a soldier or a good citizen dying for his cause. There was no dignity in his death nor celebration of his life. Crucifixion was reserved for “violent thieves, rebels, slaves” (Chapman, 133). Even in his death he took the lowest place, the position of shame. His death was the opposite of what the Romans would have counted as noble, the opposite of the vain glory against which Paul warns these believers. This is the conduct of the kingdom, the practice of the servant king. “God’s power is demonstrated in shame and weakness, which underscores the contrast between the wisdom of the cross and the wisdom of the world” (Garland, 220). Shame and weakness. Dependence, humility, yielding. Voluntary submission. This is the pattern of Christ’s dominion. This is what Jesus calls us to, if we claim to belong to him. And so we first must realize what privileges we have been given in this world. In what arenas do we have pull or advantage? Where does our privilege protect us, our status save us? Paul commanded the Philippians to have the mind of Christ, to be willing to put all advantage aside for the sake of their brothers and sisters, specifically in the context of conflict. This is God’s call to us, his church, in the midst of conflict and disunity in our lives. In our marriages, our churches, our friendships, our neighborhoods. Christ the King who condescended for our good calls us to do the same.

 

Verses 9-11

But stopping there is like closing the book after the crucifixion. It’s not over! The pattern of the Christian life is always death then life, burial then resurrection, always the kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying to produce many seeds. Jesus’s absolute humiliation was followed by supreme exaltation; there is no higher standing he could attain. There is not a more prestigious name, and a name in Semitic culture means more than just what you call someone. It is their capacity, their job, their basis for existence. Jesus alone now holds this place and this name. Why? Because God put him there in response to his complete self-sacrifice.

Paul makes clear reference in verse 10 to Isaiah 45:22-23, where we read, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’” Jesus is being named as the Lord (Yahweh) and God (El), the only God. If they had not yet understood Jesus’s equality with the God of the Old Testament Israel up to this point, they can’t miss it here. Paul explains that all those now living and those dead (“under the earth”) and all angels and all demons will one day bow. He is not predicting a “mass conversion occurring at the end of the age” (Garland, 222). Rather, he explains that all will finally admit Jesus’s true identity and authority. Some will do so with joy; others will surely do so on their way to agony. Even those who are currently opposing these brothers and sisters, perhaps making their lives complicated and even dangerous, will bow in deferential respect.

Remember again the context—division, persecution, suffering. This little church needed to hear that at the end of the day, when all of the battles are over and the powers that seem so unmovable on this earth are made to finally come face to face with the Lord, none will be left standing. All will bow to the true king. For us, the message is the same. All who work with us, all who work against us; every friend and every enemy; our teachers, mothers, pastors, friends, and children; all will take the posture of a servant and say the words with their lips that they have been made to say: You are the Lord. There is no other.

And so the kingdom life pattern of death and life, shown so clearly in the life of Jesus, is the pattern of his followers as well. Paul explained this suffering that leads to glory in Romans when he wrote, “if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:17-18) Oh, Lord, let us see clearly the glory that is coming, that we may consider our present struggle not even worth comparing to that great day.

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Reflection Questions

5. What is your reaction to this thought from the commentary: “There is no power or authority available that he did not already possess. Therefore, no one could ever coerce him into giving anything away. Whatever he did, he did willingly, as the one who rules. Instead of protecting his privileges, he chose to lay them down, set them aside”?

6. Jesus was placed in human history with no power, a doulos, someone who had to submit to authority in every area of his life. How does this affect your view of his sacrifice for us? Your view of humility?

7. Paul wants the Philippians to take on this mindset of Christ as they interact within the church. How does this mindset currently affect areas in your heart as you relate to brothers and sisters around you?

8. Paul describes a day when every person and all authority will submit to the name of Christ. What about this is exciting and comforting to you? What part is scary?

 

Focus verse

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. Philippians 2:9-10

Reflections, curiosities, frustrations: