Philippians 2 Commentary
2:1–4 Appeal for unity through personal humility
These verses bring us the strongest possible appeal for Christian unity, the kind of appeal that many Christians seem prone not to take very seriously today. In v 1 Paul gives four reasons for such unity; in v 2 four ways to describe it; in v 3 two negatives to avoid and two positives to follow; and in v 4 a negative and a positive.
2:1–2 Paul is not doubting that encouragement, participation in the Spirit, affection, and sympathy are realities in Christ and are present in the congregation at Philippi. He uses a conditional sentence (if) to provoke the Philippians so that they will reflect on whether these qualities are evident in their lives. The Philippian believers must make sure they continue to progress in the absolutely critical area of love for one another. As Paul emphasizes, they must be of the same mind. This does not imply a drab intellectual uniformity; rather, the Philippians are to use their diverse gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 12) in an agreeable, cooperative spirit, with a focus on the glory of God.
2:3–4 There is always a temptation to be like Paul’s opponents in 1:17 and operate in a spirit of rivalry, looking to advance one’s own agenda. Such conceit (lit., “vainglory”) is countered by counting others more significant than yourselves. Paul realizes that everyone naturally looks out for his or her own interests. The key is to take that same level of concern and apply it also to the interests of others. Such radical love is rare, so Paul proceeds to show its supreme reality in the life of Christ (2:5–11).
2:5–11 Christ’s Example of Humble Service. This passage is often referred to as the “hymn of Christ.” Paul depicts Christ’s example of service in a stirring poem that traces his preexistence, incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. Paul wrote this magnificent theology to encourage the Philippians to consider other people’s interests first (see v. 4). Jesus is the paradigm of genuine spiritual progress: not a self-aggrandizing struggle for supremacy, but a deep love for God and neighbor shown in deeds of service. Verses 6–11 have some clear indications of poetic structure, leading some to believe that this is a pre-Pauline hymn adapted by Paul. It is just as likely, however, that Paul composed the hymn for this setting. In view of the myriad theological questions that arise in these verses, it is critical to keep two things in mind: (1) these verses were written not to spur Christians to theological debate but to encourage greater humility and love; and (2) the summary of Christ’s life and ministry found here is not unique: the same themes are evident throughout the NT. 
2:12–13 The Philippians have obeyed (cf. Christ’s obedience, v. 8) in the past and should continue to do so as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling. They cannot be content with past glories but need to demonstrate their faith day by day as they nurture their relationship with God. But while God’s justice is a cause for sober living (“fear and trembling”), it is not as though Paul wants the Philippians to be anxious that they can never be good enough to merit God’s favor. Rather, it is God’s love and enabling grace that will see them through: it is God who works in you. They can rejoice in God’s empowering presence even as they work hard at living responsible Christian lives. While v. 12 may seem to suggest salvation by works, it is clear that Paul rejects any such teaching (cf. 3:2–11). In 2:12 Paul means “salvation” in terms of progressively coming to experience all of the aspects and blessings of salvation. The Philippians’ continued obedience is an inherent part of “working out” their salvation in this sense. But as v. 13 demonstrates, these works are the result of God’s work within his people. both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Even the desire (“to will”) to do what is good comes from God; but he also works in the believer to generate actual choices of the good, so that the desires result in actions. (On fear of God, see notes on Acts 5:5; 9:31.)
2:14–15 Paul continues the theme of “working out” one’s salvation (vv. 12–13). The Philippians should shine as lights amid a crooked and twisted generation. Paul’s choice of words recalls the wilderness generation of Israel, who in Deut. 32:5 are described by these very words (“crooked and twisted generation”) and whose spiritual progress was thwarted by grumbling and questioning (cf. 1 Cor. 10:1–12). Shining “as lights” probably alludes to Dan. 12:2–3. Those who express their faith by living in this way will be raised to eternal life (see Dan. 12:2), to Paul’s great joy.
2:16 The Philippians’ obedience to the word of life is not merely a matter of private concern. As an apostle and fellow sharer in the gospel, Paul’s own labor would be in vain if they failed to hold fast until the day of Christ (cf. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:2–11; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 20:11–21:8) and thus proved not to be genuine believers. Holding fast means both believing God’s Word and following it. Since the Greek epechō can mean either “hold fast” or “hold out to, offer,” some think that Paul may have in mind “holding forth,” i.e., proclaiming, the word of life.
 Carson, D. A., France, R. T., Motyer, J. A., & Wenham, G. J. (Eds.). (1994). New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1252). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2282). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
 Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2284). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.