Themes in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: Selflessness

Originally I intended to write on the Christ Hymn, highlighting Philippians 2:5-11. I wanted to highlight the presence of “Adam-Christology” and highlight the parallels to the suffering servant in Isaiah 53.  I really wanted to talk about the “temptation” that Christ was presented with, it wasn’t that Christ was grabbing at a “forbidden equality with God” (after all as the 2nd person of the Trinity he is equal to God) rather it was to cling on to his rights and to opt out of the task allotted to him. Basically the “temptation” Christ went through was the temptation to follow the way of redemption planned by the father or to “follow” it according to some other way… the way of the world…the way presented before him in his wilderness temptation. Verse 6 says that Christ did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…. The refusal to “grasp”  was a refusal to use for his own advantage that which was already his. Listen to how N.T. Wright puts it in The Climax of the Covenant:

“Over against the standard picture of oriental despots, who understood their position as something to be used for their own advantage, Jesus understood his position to mean self negation… “Divine equality does not mean “getting” but “giving.”

If I would have picked up on the Christ Hymn I would have talked about Christ’s example… it’s an example of self-giving not taking. Godliness gives up one’s “rights” for the sake of others.” But I won’t focus on that at all this week.

In this post on Philippians Two I want to focus on something a bit more obscure, namely how Paul sends out Timothy and Epaphroditus. And I only want to focus on verse 21:

For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

Paul laments over the fact that many of the others doing ministry with him, don’t have Jesus in mind when doing ministry. They have their own interests. Self-centeredness is the modus operandi. Timothy however is not like that.  He has Jesus’ interests in mind. He has Jesus’ agenda in mind. Timothy’s attitude here parallels Christ’s attitude in the Christ Hymn

Paul exhorts the Philippians to do “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Timothy is a living example of a Christ-like mind. Timothy does not act out of selfish ambition or conceit. Paul says “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Timothy does not consider his own interests ahead of anyone else, rather he places the interests of Jesus Christ above all other interests. Timothy is a model of what a Christ-like life looks like.

But take it back another level… look at the life of Paul. Timothy learns from Paul, and Paul is another model of what a Christ-like life looks like. Notice what Paul says:

“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Notice how this parallels the Christ-hymn. Jesus  “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant.” Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Similarly Paul is being poured out… Paul is being emptied out in order to serve the Philippians. Paul is being obedient to the mission God gave him, by being imprisoned and by putting his life at risk, so that the Philippians would come to know the Gospel and all its implications.

Paul’s actions and Timothy’s actions both are living (at the time) examples of the Christ-Hymn. Both of these men’s lives show us the gospel in a very tangible way.

So as you think about the chapter this week consider the following questions:

  1. Godliness gives up one’s “rights” for the sake of others.” How are you tempted to hold on to your rights?
  2. What other interests in your life are competing with those of Jesus Christ?
  3. Who can you look up to as a model of Christ-likeness in your life? Who are you modeling Christ-likeness for?

Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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