The Letter To The Philippians, Part 5

Philippians 2: 1-4
Begin with intentional reading:

  • Read Philippians 2:1-4 slowly and carefully.  Consider the following:
  • Did you notice anything in this set of scripture you have never noticed in the Bible before?
  • Did you read any familiar verses? Which ones?
  • Were any of the verses you read particularly meaningful to you today? Why?

No words in scripture are unnecessary or unimportant, even tiny little words like “if”. Almost every English translation of scripture begins Philippians chapter 2 with the word “if”.  Opening chapter 2 this way makes it seem like what follows is optional for believers when in fact, it is quite the opposite.  The little Greek word ei presented to English readers as “if” is a conjunction that means the ideas that follow are “assumed to be true” or “thought of as real.”  Paul’s letter to the Philippians was meant as an encouragement and to share his joy in their continued faithfulness.  The Philippian fellowship would have certainly found encouragement, comfort, and fellowship in their growing discipleship. For Paul and the Philippians, this was a certainty not an option.  So while the English word “since” may not be the precise translation of the Greek word ei, it conveys the heart of the sentiment Paul was communicating.

  • Read Philippians 2: 1-2.  Every time you read the word if, replace it with the word since.  How does replacing if with since make Paul’s statement a more confident and encouraging one?
  • How does being united with Christ bring you encouragement? How does Christ’s love comfort you? How do you find fellowship with Holy Spirit? 

After reminding his readers of the rich blessings relationship to Christ brings, Paul directly ties those benefits to humility and unity in verses 3-4.  We learn in Acts 16 that the church in Philippi was made up diverse people from diverse backgrounds both culturally and socio-economically. The secular world of the 1st century justified treating people differently based on external factors like socio-economics and ethnicity, wealthy business owners, Roman officials, slaves, independent women, Greeks, and Jews all found unity and common purpose in Christ.  The church established by Jesus himself, praise God, taught that all people were welcome and of equal worth in the eyes of the God.  This was a radically different ideology to what the people of the time were used to.

  • How easy or hard do you think it would have been for 1st century disciples to accept one another in Christian fellowship?  What challenges do you imagine these disciples faced?  What challenges do we face as 21st century disciples with the same issues?  How do racial, socio-economic, and cultural differences threaten the unity of modern churches?
  • Read Matthew 22:37-40 and Mark 12:30-31.  How does Jesus use the Greatest Command to establish equality among his disciples?

With so many different backgrounds coming to worship together in the Philippian church, unity would have been a powerful testament to the Gospel of Christ.  What better way to demonstrate the redeeming power of Christ’s love than for people who had been socially separated to work together for a common cause of Christ? Unity, however, is always threatened by pride, and Paul knew this, which is why he cautions this young church to be on guard against it.  The root of the Greek word that is translated into English as humility mean “modest in thought.” When thinking about both pride and humility, it’s important to note that both start in the mind – with our thoughts about ourselves and others.  Pride allows us to think more highly of ourselves than others.  Humility helps us see ourselves with a Godly perspective: that we are sinners in need of the redemption only available through Jesus Christ.  When we have the proper perspective on our own lives, then pride has no ground to take root.

  • How does humility ward off pride?
  • Read Philippians 2:3-4. What part of Paul’s instructions to the Philippians are mental actions or deal with monitoring our attitude? Read Proverbs 4:23. What should we guard our hearts from to avoid selfish ambition and vein conceit? 
  • What is the difference between having Godly goals for a church and the selfish ambition and vain conceit that Paul warns against? In what ways do selfish ambition and vain conceit show up in the body of Christ? As brothers and sisters, how can we work to resolve conflict in the body using Philippians 2:3-4 as guiding verses?

In these 4 short verses, Paul reminds his readers of their blessings in Christ and encourages them to stay unified.  His message applies equally to us as it did to them.  We live in a culture that prizes individualism over collective consideration, and in this climate, pride can quickly spring up in our hearts.  Remembering Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians, let us also “consider others better than [our]selves and also the interests of others” to promote unity and share the Gospel.

Be blessed. Be a blessing.

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