The occasion of this letter was tied in with the activity of Epaphroditus—whose name incidentally means “dedicated to Aphrodite.” He had brought news to Paul in prison about the church at Philippi, and he had delivered their gift to Paul (2:30; 4:18). Once he got to Paul he nearly died of a severe illness, but was now recovered and ready to return to Philippi (2:26-27).
“If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies, Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1–5).
Summary of the Text
All Scripture reveals God to us, but this particular letter reveals a lot of Paul to us. This is a very personal letter, and a great deal of what makes Paul tick comes through to us in it. The two great themes in it are preparation for suffering, and avoidance of strife within the body. In both cases, the way to prepare is through cultivation of the mind of Christ, that which is found in our text. The mind of Christ is what enabled Him to take the form of a servant and to become obedient to the point of death. And the mind of Christ is that which enables us to defer to our brothers and sisters in the body, even when things are tense and awkward, angular and difficult. I mean, you know that look that Syntyche can get . . . she’s a handful. Or maybe it was Euodia. We don’t know (Phil. 4:2).
Background on Philippi
The city itself was founded by Caesar Augustus in Macedonia as a place to settle some of his veterans. Their loyalty to their emperor, their “lord and savior” was, not surprisingly, intense. The emperor cult was strong here in this city, and this brought them necessarily into conflict with the Christians, who confessed a greater Lord and Savior (Phil. 3:20). Try to imagine yourself at a pagan VFW meeting, saying the Apostles Creed instead of the Pledge.
The Philippian church was founded by Paul in the neighborhood of 48-49 A.D. This letter was written just over a decade later, somewhere around 62 A.D. The story of the church’s founding is recorded in the latter part of Acts 16. There we read about the conversion of Lydia and her household, the Philippian jailor and his household, and possibly the conversion of the girl who told fortunes by the power of the python (Acts 16:16).
The Right Kind of Like-mindedness
This letter from Paul is not about like-mindedness considered as an abstraction. It is not as though “agreement” is a good thing in itself. But we tend to lurch in the opposite direction, and think that “disagreement” is a good thing in itself. But what is good, the only thing that is good, is having the mind of Christ. If we have the mind of Christ, it is good to pursue like-mindedness with anyone who shares that mind of Christ. If someone else does not have the mind of Christ, then our goal should be to sharpen the disagreement.
Think about a board or a steering committee. Some people want to stack the board with people who all nod at the right times, usually in response to the prodding of a strong leader. What they get is not like-mindedness, but rather a pack of yes men. But others simply react in the opposite direction, with just as little reflection and thought. And they get disagreements just for the sake of disagreements. Agreement or disagreement by themselves are meaningless. What counts is the principle of agreement or disagreement.
When you take certain passages from this book, and line them up side by side, you can only come to two possible conclusions—either that Paul was a hypocrite, or that love and tender mercies are not the vats filled with sentimental goo. Take these for examples:
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Phil. 2:3). “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision” (Phil. 3:2).
For another example, compare the highs and lows here:
“Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:8–9).
The Kingdom Does Not Run On Air
The apostle had entered into a partnership with the Philippians, a partnership or fellowship that revolved around financial support.
“Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only” (Phil. 4:14–15).
The apostle did not believe in doing “all the Jesus stuff” on the one hand, and then later, in a completely different category, dealing with the mundane, board of trustee stuff. No, it was all a matter of fellowship, koinonia. Understood the right way, all of our lives together are a matter of fellowship. It is not an accident that after the offering is presented to God, our money, our checks, our donations, will be resting on the same table as the wine and bread. We partake together in all these ways.
If we believe in all of Christ for all of life, and we do, this extends to our bank accounts, and our participation in the ministry that our money makes possible elsewhere. Christ is present in all of it.