A general outline of Philippians informs us that it opens with greetings (1:1-2), thanksgiving (1:3-8) and prayer (1:9-11). This is followed by Paul’s own circumstances (1:12-26) and then encouragement for the Philippian church (1:27 – 2:30). In chapter three Paul warns against false teachings (3: 2-4), after which he moves on to final exhortations (4:2-9), and then the final greetings and closing (4:21-23). The pericope’s (2: 1-18) position in the epistle suggests that Paul intended to build up to it; it is his focal point embedded the middle of the letter. The pinnacle is reached in 2:5-11 where the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus is apparent; according to scholar Ralph Martin this is where the field of Christology begins (Martin, 1992: 128). Also nestled within our pericope there appears to be a hymn (Carson, 2013: 2062). Early Christians would sing these hymns (Phil. 2:6, 1 Cor. 14:26, Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, Rev. 5:9, 14:3, 15:3) in worship of Christ. The hymn within Philippians 2 demonstrates an interest in the memory of Christ as our gospels describe him (Johnson, 1999: 134), whereas the hymns within Revelation (4:11 & 5:9) are entirely songs of worship and praise. This would suggest that Paul wishes to affirm the memory (since he is writing around 62 AD, roughly 30 years after Jesus’ death) of Christ coming down from heaven to die on the cross.
What response this passage would evoke is dependent upon the reader. For historians it is a glimpse into history of a movement founded upon Jesus, yet for Christians it is intimate and personal call to emulate their saviour (2:1-18) and more. For the Philippian church it would be received with fondness. The Philippians were close to Paul and Paul to them, therefore compassion, joy and love appear tangible when one reads the epistle. It would therefor be appropriate to analyse mood and tone within Philippians. For instance, several tones are discernible beyond and within our pericope. Discerning these tones is pivotal in our exegesis as it is a window into the mind of the writer. For example, Paul shows joyfulness through his repeated usage of the word “rejoice” (x10). He encourages the Philippians to partake in his joy at what Christ had done for them on the cross (3:1). They are to take joy that Jesus is alive even though he was once killed and likewise at the prospect of spending eternity with God in heaven. As long as Christ is proclaimed to the people, Paul will rejoice (1:18). In the pericope Paul rejoices over the faith of the Philippians (2:17), and they too will rejoice with him (2:18). Yet, despite Paul’s uncertainty over whether he was going to live or die (2:17), he nevertheless encourages the Philippians to share in his joy. After all, if Paul was to meet his end in the jail from which he penned his epistle, he was confident that he would be with Christ (1:21). Paul also makes use of metonymy when he calls the Philippian church “my joy and crown” (4:1). Thus we can be certain that joy is arguably the most prominent mood in the writing. Furthermore, love is also developed, particularly directed at the Philippian church. Paul refers to the Philippians as “my beloved” (2:12), therefore making it evident that his heart is with them. He also instructs the Philippians to make his “joy complete” (2:2) meaning he is already pleased and only encourages them to continue in this way. This links with the gracious tone discernible in the first chapter where Paul thanks God every time the Philippian church enters his thoughts (1:3), and also admits to praying with great joy over them (1:4). This bond suggests that Paul and the Philippians are partners in furthering the gospel message of Christ. Much of Paul’s intimacy towards this church comes from the support they provided for him, something Paul describes as “gifts” (4:15). Paul furthermore seems hopeful to never “be ashamed about anything” (1:20) of what Christ can do through his life, even if this was to result in death (1:21). Here Paul may fear shame at never achieving that of which Christ has in mind for him, or perhaps he fears that he might make a regrettable decision under pressure. Paul also appears “hard-pressed” and conflicted (1:23) desiring to die and “be with Christ” in heaven, yet in the very next verse he affirms that for the Christians in Philippi it is important that he remains alive (1:24). In other words, Paul is relinquishing his own desires to be there for the Philippians, much like the servanthood “which was also in Christ Jesus” (2:6).
Within our pericope we find several repeated words such as “God” (x6), “your” (x 5), Christ (x6) and love (x2). It is, therefore, clear that Paul focuses on Christ’s close relation to God (2:6), and God’s authority over the acts that unfolded with Christ at the centre (2:9). To Paul, God is in control. The repeated use of “your” within, and beyond, the pericope certainly puts emphasis on the Philippian audience to whom Paul is writing. It is used in relation to the audience’s mind and thoughts (2:5), salvation (2:13), and faith and service (2:17; 2:30). Beyond the pericope it is used in relation to community love (1:9), joy and faith (1:25), rejoicing (1:26), gentleness (4:5), requests and thanksgiving to God (4:6), and the guarding of the heart (4:7).
Furthermore, the pericope undoubtedly intended to evoke a sense of encouragement (2:1), comfort (2:1), love (2:1), joy (2:2), and humility (2:3). Much of it is grounded upon emulating Jesus who voluntarily “made himself nothing” in the form of a servant (2:7), an act of love and compassion. It is further an expression of humility as Christ put aside his power to serve humanity to the point of death on a cross. Paul also encourages the Philippians to continue being active in their proclamation of the gospel message. They are to comprehend the enormity of this task “with fear and trembling” (2:12), thus indicating that it is an important responsibility to have and it must be done “without grumbling or disputing” (2:14). He uses the imagery of stars as a metaphor for the Philippians to be an example, a light, in a “crooked and perverse generation” (2:15). Christians are to expect trials and turmoil living out their faith in such a world, but this must not deter them from preaching the gospel message. However, despite persecution the Christians in Philippi can take comfort in Christ’s unending love for them (2:1) no matter the situation, and this should strengthen and encourage them (2:1).
Although the Philippian church brings joy to Paul’s heart we see concern in his pleading for the unity of the heart and mind of the Philippians (2: 1-4). This would suggest that there was some level of discord, especially between members Euodia and Syntyche (MacArthur, 2001: 100). This could be why he chose to emphasize that he rejoices with “all” of the Philippians (2:17), and why he urges them to prevent grumbling and disputing among each other (2:14). It is possible that he can sense the beginnings of discord and thus wishes to unify the congregation, an act of love and compassion on Paul’s part. Paul wishes to mobilize the Philippian church as a unified body in Christ.
Grappling with the text has revealed several rich details. Repeated word usage emphasises certain points Paul wished to make while we are also able to discern his mood via tones within the text. Although Paul gives hints at concern we can be certain that the Philippians were close to his heart: “This Epistle is a letter of friendship, full of affection, confidence, good counsel and good cheer. It is the happiest of St. Paul’s writings, for the Philippians were the dearest of his children in the faith” (McConkie, 1972: 434).
McConkie, B. 1972. Doctrinal New Testament Commentary: Acts-Philippians. Bookcraft.
Martin, R. 1992. Where Christology began: essays on Philippians 2. USA: Louisville.
Johnson, T. 1999. The writings of the New Testament : An interpretation.
Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Carson, D. 2013. New Testament Commentary Survey. USA: Michigan: Baker Academic.
MacArthur, J. 2001. Philippians MacArthur New Testament Commentary. USA: Chicago: Moody Publishers.