Philippians 2:1-4, Unity through Humility

This Tuesday, we will be discussing Philippians 2:1-11. This reading (vv. 5-11), contains the earliest and most profound statement as to who Jesus is. These readings put flesh (pun intended) on what it means to have our citizenship in Christ Jesus. The first part of readings (vv.1-4) introduces and leads up to this great Christological hymn.

Unity in Everything: (vv.1-2)

Paul, of course, did not write in chapters and verses. As we discussed last week, Paul puts forth the thesis statement or theme of his letter which is that our calling is to “live as citizens worthy of the good news of Christ.” Phil. 1:27. Paul uses the imagery of a military unit to describe the unity that the church should have.

In these opening verses of our reading this week, Paul continues with this theme of unity. Paul is not looking for a false unity of mere toleration, but a true unity where we share the same mindset. Paul is writing from Rome, where there are certain divisions. A good summary of the divisions that that congregation is facing is found in Romans 14.

These opening two verses have an if/then structure whereby Paul appeals to what the Philippians already know and then showing how those things necessarily lead to a unity in everything. Paul begins (1) if there is any encouragement in Christ (2) if there is any persuasive power of Love, (3) if there is any fellowship of the Holy Spirit, (4) if there is any affection and compassion, THEN complete by joy by (1) by being of one mindset, (2) having the same Love, (3) being of the same soul, and (4) minding the same thing.

When we look at these verses notice a few things. First, the first three “if” statements are very close to the benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:14 giving these statements a trinitarian patina. Second, we also see Paul’s request that this unity will complete his joy. The Philippians caused Paul to rejoice, but in their unity, this rejoicing will find its perfect end. Finally, see the parallels between the “if” statements and the “then” statements. (1) Christ in the logos, and therefore brings them to the same logical outlook, (2) the Love (of the Father) brings them to that same Love, and (3) the Spirit knits their souls together.

Humility in All Things: (vv.3-4)

For Paul, the secret to achieving unity is humility. If we count others better than ourselves and put the interests of others above our own, then unity and fellowship will naturally result. When we remember Paul’s military analogy from 1:27, this type of humility fits right in with Paul’s overall teaching.

For a good Roman, like the residence of Philippi, however, this teaching on humility would have been counter to how a good Roman citizen would have operated in the world. Humility was not a virtue. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle taught that the just and ethical course of action was always the mean between the extreme. For example, courage is the mean between the extremes of recklessness and cowardice. For Aristotle, “The proud (“great-souled”) man, then, is an extreme in respect of the greatness of his claims, but a mean in respect of the rightness of them; for he claims what is accordance with his merits, while the others go to excess or fall short.” Book IV, ch.3. Therefore, if you are a great person (based primarily on social class) Aristotle even writes that a great-souled person is justified in looking down on his lessers. Being proud is the virtuous mean. The two extremes are conceit – when someone thinks of themselves as greater than they are – and being “small-souled” or unduly humble when someone thinks of themselves as lesser than they actually are. 

Paul’s teaching on humility is telling his audience to reject the good as they would have learned it. Paul is asking those of a higher social class to humble themselves to the level of everyone else. 

Dinner is at 6. The menu is beef kababs with orzo and watermelon salad. Discussion about 6:45. All are welcome.

He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matt. 23:11-12.

1 thought on “Philippians 2:1-4, Unity through Humility”

  1. Pingback: Philippians 4:2-7, “Again, I say Rejoice” – Ancient Anglican

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