Paul continues to preach unity among the Philippians. There must have been something troubling this community for him to worry. Raymond Brown (Introduction to the New Testament, p. 487-488) points to 3 different troubles:
- Later on in Chapter 4, we will see that there is internal dissension among 2 female members of the community, Euodia and Syntyche. We don’t know the nitty gritty, but it sounds like a difference of opinion and perhaps a wanting to be right. Paul wants everyone to keep their eye on the bigger picture…following Christ and spreading the Gospel! Can you think of times when you had a difference of opinion and it prevented you from being your own authentic self, or got in the way of the bigger picture?
- At the end of chapter 1, Paul mentions opponents. Philippi is a diverse community with people praying to all kinds of gods. Why do these Christians think they know better? There is no way to prove who is the “right god”. Worrying about this only weakens them. Paul sees there is strength in numbers. He wants them to hold on to each other in the face of adversity. When have you worried about various tensions in your life, perhaps giving too much attention to things that weren’t good for you? Did it help to go to people you care about to stay on track?
- Another threat were Jewish Christians who insisted on circumcision. For Paul, hanging on to this Jewish law for the New Way was not the answer. He is the voice for the Gentiles. Don’t we all get stuck in doing things the way they have always been done? It is especially hard when it is something so personal and heartfelt. Our example is Jesus.
In 2:6-11, we see one of the earliest indications of an understanding of the Incarnation of Christ. Jesus is in the “form of God”, “in human likeness” and “God greatly exalted him”. Theologians debate whether Paul was truly speaking of preexistence, that Christ existed (in the form of God) before he became the man of Jesus on earth. This would not be resolved until the councils of Nicea (325AD) and Chalcedon (451AD). This passage is often called the “Christ Hymn” because of how poetic it is. It was probably used as a creed or response in early worship, or maybe it was sung. Maybe Paul wrote this piece himself or maybe he was quoting something the Philippians would have been familiar with (Powell, Introducing the New Testament, p. 349-351.
Reflect on some of the other phrases in the hymn…did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. For the words to be closer to the original Greek, it would be translated as, “Jesus did not think it robbery to be equal with God, something to be snatched at.” Jesus didn’t have to snatch his equality with God because it was his right, his being. He didn’t hold it tightly either, keeping it for himself. He offered it freely to ALL(Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series, p. 36). This gift of beautiful life is a constant letting go. We can’t hold on too tightly. We are meant to give ourselves away, like Jesus did. Not to be doormats, or be used by others…it is conscious choice. We find the gift of who we are within ourselves and be that fully, opening ourselves with that intentionality. We find that the gift comes back to us in abundance! We “pour out as a libation”, but it only makes more room for God to fill us.
Why must we work out our salvation with “fear and trembling”? Barclay describes these words as coming from a sense of our own creatureliness and powerlessness to deal with life triumphantly. It is meant to drive us to SEEK God, not hide from God. The underlying feeling is a knowing that God is there to help us, that we want to please God. Salvation is a free gift from God, but we must have eyes to see it and hands to work toward it. It is God that works in us the desire to be saved. Any gift has to be received (p. 41-42).