27Only in a manner worthy of the gospel. We make use of this form of expression, when we are inclined to pass on to a new subject. Thus it is as though he had said, “But as for me, the Lord will provide, but as for you, etc., whatever may take place as to me, let it be your care, nevertheless, to go forward in the right course.” When he speaks of a pure and honorable conversation as being worthy of the gospel, he intimates, on the other hand, that those who live otherwise do injustice to the gospel.
That whether I come As the Greek phrase made use of by Paul is elliptical, I have made use of videam, (I see,)instead of videns(seeing.)If this does not appear satisfactory, you may supply the principal verb Intelligam, (I may learn,)in this sense: “Whether, when I shall come and see you, or whether I shall, when absent, hear respecting your condition, I may learn in both ways, both by being present and by receiving intelligence, that ye stand in one spirit.” We need not, however, feel anxiety as to particular terms, when the meaning is evident.
Stand in one spirit This, certainly, is one of the main excellences of the Church, and hence this is one means of preserving it in a sound state, inasmuch as it is torn to pieces by dissensions. But although Paul was desirous by means of this antidote to provide against novel and strange doctrines, yet he requires a twofold unity — of spirit and soul. The first is, that we have like views; the second, that we be united in heart. For when these two terms are connected together, spiritus(spirit)denotes the understanding, while anima(soul)denotes the will. Farther, agreement of views comes first in order; and then from it springs union of inclination.
Striving together for the faith This is the strongest bond of concord, when we have to fight together under the same banner, for this has often been the occasion of reconciling even the greatest enemies. Hence, in order that he may confirm the more the unity that existed among the Philippians, he calls them to notice that they are fellow-soldiers, who, having a common enemy and a common warfare, ought to have their minds united together in a holy agreement. The expression which Paul has made use of in the Greek (συναθλοῦντες τὣ πίστει) is ambiguous. The old interpreter renders it Collaborantes fidei, (laboring together with the faith.) Erasmus renders it Adiuvantes fidem, (Helping the faith,)as if meaning, that they gave help to the faith to the utmost of their power. As, however, the dative in Greek is made use of instead of the ablative of instrumentality, (that language having no ablative,) I have no doubt that the Apostle’s meaning is this: “Let the faith of the gospel unite you together, more especially as that is a common armory against one and the same enemy.” In this way the particle σύν, which others refer to faith, I take as referring to the Philippians, and with greater propriety, if I am not mistaken. In the first place, every one is aware how effectual an inducement it is to concord, when we have to maintain a conflict together; and farther, we know that in the spiritual warfare we are armed with the shield of faith, (Eph_6:16,) for repelling the enemy; nay, more, faith is both our panoply and our victory. Hence he added this clause, that he might shew what is the end of a pious connection. The wicked, too, conspire together for evil, but their agreement is accursed: let us, therefore, contend with one mind under the banner of faith.
Let your conversation be as it becometh the Gospel – The apostle considers the Church at Philippi as a free or imperial city, which possesses great honors, dignities, and privileges; and he exhorts them to act, αξιως, worthy of or suitably to those honors and privileges. This is the idea that is expressed by the word πολιτευεσθε, act according to the nature of your political situation, the citizenship and privileges which you possess in consequence of your being free inhabitants of Christ’s imperial city, the Church. The apostle resumes the same metaphor, Phi_3:20 : ημων – το πολιτευμα εν ουρανοις υπαρχει· For our citizenship is in heaven; but in this last verse he puts heaven in the place of the Church, and this is all right; for he, who is not a member of the Church of Christ on earth, can have no right to the kingdom of heaven, and he who does not walk worthy of the Gospel of Christ cannot be counted worthy to enter through the gates into the city of the eternal King.
Whether I come and see you – Leaving the matter still in doubt as to them, whether he should again visit them.
In one spirit – Being all of one mind under the influence of the Holy Ghost.
Striving together – Συναθλουντες· Wrestling together, not in contention with each other, but in union against the enemies of the Gospel faith – the doctrine of Christ crucified, and freedom from all Mosaic rites and ceremonies, as well as from sin and perdition, through his passion and sacrifice.
Only let your conversation – The word “conversation” we now apply almost exclusively to oral discourse, or to talking. But it was not formerly confined to that and is never so used in the Scriptures. It means conduct in general – including, of course, our manner of speaking, but not limited to that – and should be so understood in every place where it occurs in the Bible. The original word used here – πολιτεύω politeuo – means properly “to administer the state; to live as a citizen; to conduct oneself according to the laws and customs of a state;” see Act_23:1; compare examples in Wetstein. It would not be improperly rendered: “let your conduct as a citizen be as becomes the gospel;” and might without impropriety, though not exclusively, be referred to our deportment as members of a community, or citizens of a state. It undoubtedly implies that, as citizens, we should act, in all the duties which that relation involves – in maintaining the laws, in submission to authority, in the choice of rulers, etc., as well as in other relations – on the principles of the gospel; for the believer is bound to perform every duty on Christian principles. But the direction here should not be confined to that. It doubtless includes our conduct in all relations in life, and refers to our deportment in general; not merely as citizens of the state, but as members of the church, and in all other relations. In our manner of speech, our plans of living, our dealings with others, our conduct and walk in the church and out of it – all should be done as becomes the gospel. The direction, therefore, in this place, is to be understood of everything pertaining to conduct.
As it becometh the gospel of Christ –
(1) The rules of the gospel are to be applied to all our conduct – to our conversation, business transactions, modes of dress, style of living, entertainments, etc. There is nothing which we do, or say, or purpose, that is to be excepted from those rules.
(2) there is a way of living which is appropriate to the gospel, or which is such as the gospel requires. There is something which the gospel would secure as its proper fruits in all our conduct, and by which our lives should be regulated. It would distinguish us from the frivolous, and from those who seek honor and wealth as their supreme object. If all Christians were under the influence of the gospel, there would be something in their dress, temper, conversation, and aims, which would distinguish them from others; The gospel is not a thing of nothing; nor is it intended that it should exert no influence on its friends.
(3) it is very important that Christians should frame their lives by the rules of the gospel, and, to this end, should study them and know what they are. This is important:
(a) because they are the best and wisest of all rules;
(b) because it is only in this way that Christians can do good;
(c) because they have solemnly covenanted with the Lord to take his laws as their guide;
(d) because it is only in this way that they can enjoy religion; and,
(e) because it is only by this that they can have peace on a dying bed.
If people live as “becometh the gospel,” they live well. Their lives are honest and honorable; they are people of truth and uprightness; they will have no sources of regret when they die, and they will not give occasion to their friends to hang their heads with shame in the remembrance of them. No man on a dying bed ever yet regretted that he had framed his life by the rules of the gospel, or felt that his conduct had been conformed too much to it.
That whether I come and see you – Alluding to the possibility that he might be released, and be permitted to visit them again.
Or else be absent – Either at Rome, still confined, or released, and permitted to go abroad.
I may hear of your affairs … – I may hear always respecting you that you are united, and that you are vigorously striving to promote the interests of the gospel.
Let your manner of life (politeuesthe). Old verb from politēs, citizen, and that from polis, city, to be a citizen, to manage a state’s affairs, to live as a citizen. Only twice in N.T., here and Act_23:1. Philippi as a colony possessed Roman citizenship and Paul was proud of his own possession of this right. The Authorized Version missed the figure completely by the word “conversation” which did refer to conduct and not mere talk as now, but did not preserve the figure of citizenship. Better render, “Only do ye live as citizens.”
Striving (sunathlountes). Rather, “striving together” as in an athletic contest. Late and rare word (Diodorus). “The very energy of the Christian faith to produce energetic individualities” (Rainy). “Striving in concert” (Lightfoot).
For the faith (tei pistei). For the teaching of the gospel, objective sense of pistis (faith).
28And in nothing terrified. The second thing which he recommends to the Philippians is fortitude of mind, that they may not be thrown into confusion by the rage of their adversaries. At that time the most cruel persecutions raged almost everywhere, because Satan strove with all his might to impede the commencement of the gospel, and was the more enraged in proportion as Christ put forth powerfully the grace of his Spirit. He exhorts, therefore, the Philippians to stand forward undaunted, and not be thrown into alarm.
Which is to them a manifest proof. This is the proper meaning of the Greek word, and there was no consideration that made it necessary for others to render it cause. For the wicked, when they wage war against the Lord, do already by a trial-fight, as it were, give a token of their ruin, and the more fiercely they insult over the pious, the more do they prepare themselves for ruin. The Scripture, assuredly, nowhere teaches, that the afflictions which the saints endure from the wicked are the causeof their salvation, but Paul in another instance, too, speaks of them as a manifest token or proof, (2Th_1:5,) and instead of ἔνδειξιν, which we have here, he in that passage makes use of the term ἔνδειγμα This, therefore, is a choice consolation, that when we are assailed and harassed by our enemies, we have an evidence of our salvation. For persecutions are in a manner seals of adoption to the children of God, if they endure them with fortitude and patience: the wicked give a token of their condemnation, because they stumble against a stone by which they shall be bruised to pieces. (Mat_21:44.)
And that from God. This is restricted to the last clause, that a taste of the grace of God may allay the bitterness of the cross. No one will naturally perceive the cross a token or evidence of salvation, for they are things that are contrary in appearance. Hence Paul calls the attention of the Philippians to another consideration — that God by his blessing turns into an occasion of welfare things that might otherwise seem to render us miserable. He proves it from this, that the endurance of the cross is the gift of God. Now it is certain, that all the gifts of God are salutary to us. To you, says he,it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Hence even the sufferings themselves are evidences of the grace of God; and, since it is so, you have from this source a token of salvation. Oh, if this persuasion were effectually inwrought in our minds — that persecutions are to be reckoned among God’s benefits, what progress would be made in the doctrine of piety! And yet, what is more certain, than that it is the highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace, that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction. But more will be found that will rather bid God retire with gifts of that nature, than embrace with alacrity the cross when it is presented to them. Alas, then, for our stupidity!
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries – Adversaries, or opponents, they had, like most of the other early Christians. There were Jews there who would be likely to oppose them (compare Act_17:5), and they were exposed to persecution by the pagan. In that city, Paul had himself suffered much Acts 16; and it would not be strange if the same scenes should be repeated. It is evident from this passage, as well as from some other parts of the Epistle, that the Philippians were at this time experiencing some form of severe suffering. But in what way, or why, the opposition to them was excited, is nowhere stated. The meaning here is, “do not be alarmed at anything which they can do. Maintain your Christian integrity, notwithstanding all the opposition which they can make. They will, in the end, certainly be destroyed, and you will be saved.”
Which is to them an evident token of perdition – What, it may be asked, would be the token of their perdition? What is the evidence to which Paul refers that they will be destroyed? The relative “which” – ήτις hetis; – is probably used as referring to the persecution which had been commenced, and to the constancy which the apostle supposed the Philippians would evince. The sentence is elliptical; but it is manifest that the apostle refers either to the circumstance then occurring, that they were persecuted, and that they evinced constancy; or to the constancy which he wished them to evince in their persecutions. He says that this circumstance of persecution, if they evinced such a spirit as he wished, would be to them an evidence of two things:
(1) Of the destruction of those who were engaged in the persecution. This would be, because they knew that such persecutors could not ultimately prevail. Persecution of the church would be a certain indication that they who did it would be finally destroyed.
(2) it would be a proof of their own salvation, because it would show that they were the friends of the Redeemer; and they had the assurance that all those who were persecuted for his sake would be saved. The gender of the Greek relative here is determined by the following noun (ἔνδειξις endeixis), in a manner that is not uncommon in Greek; see Wetstein, in loc., and Koppe.
And that of God – That is, their persecution is a proof that God will interpose in due time and save you. The hostility of the wicked to us is one evidence that we are the friends of God, and shall be saved.
Affrighted (pturomenoi). Present passive participle of pturo, old verb, to frighten. The metaphor is of a timid or scared horse and from ptoeo (ptoa, terror). “Not startled in anything.”
By the adversaries (hupo ton antikeimenon). These men who were lined up against (present middle participle of antikeimai) may have been Jews or Gentiles or both. See note on 2Th_2:4 for this late verb. Any preacher who attacks evil will have opposition.
Evident token (endeixis). Old word for proof. See note on 2Co_8:24; Rom_3:25. “An Attic law term” (Kennedy) and only in Paul in N.T.
Perdition (apoleias). “Loss” in contrast with “salvation” (soterias).
And that (kai touto). Idiomatic adverbial accusative. “It is a direct indication from God. The Christian gladiator does not anxiously await the signal of life or death from the fickle crowd” (Lightfoot).
29. To believe. He wisely conjoins faith with the cross by an inseparable connection, that the Philippians may know that they have been called to the faith of Christ on this condition — that they endure persecutions on his account, as though he had said that their adoption can no more be separated from the cross, than Christ can be torn asunder from himself. Here Paul clearly testifies, that faith, as well as constancy in enduring persecutions, is an unmerited gift of God. And certainly the knowledge of God is a wisdom that is too high for our attaining it by our own acuteness, and our weakness shews itself in daily instances in our own experience, when God withdraws his hand for a little while. That he may intimate the more distinctly that both are unmerited, he says expressly — for Christ’s sake, or at least that they are given to us on the ground of Christ’s grace; by which he excludes every idea of merit.
This passage is also at variance with the doctrine of the schoolmen, in maintaining that gifts of grace latterly conferred are rewards of our merit, on the ground of our having made a right use of those which had been previously bestowed. I do not deny, indeed, that God rewards the right use of his gifts of grace by bestowing grace more largely upon us, provided only you do not place merit, as they do, in opposition to his unmerited liberality and the merit of Christ.
Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ – Υμιν εχαρισθη· To you it is graciously given; it is no small privilege that God has so far honored you as to permit you to suffer on Christ’s account. It is only his most faithful servants that he thus honors. Be not therefore terrified by your enemies; they can do nothing to you which God will not turn to your eternal advantage. We learn from this that it is as great a privilege to suffer for Christ as to believe on him; and the former in certain cases (as far as the latter in all cases) becomes the means of salvation to them who are thus exercised.
For unto you – Unto you as Christians. This favor is granted unto you in your present circumstances.
It is given – God concedes to you this privilege or advantage.
In the behalf of Christ – In the cause of Christ, or with a view to honor Christ. Or, these things are brought on you in consequence of your being Christians.
Not only to believe on him – It is represented here as a privilege to be permitted to believe on Christ. It is so:
(1) It is an honor to a man to believe one who ought to be believed, to trust one who ought to be trusted, to love one who ought to be loved.
(2) it is a privilege to believe on Christ, because it is by such faith that out sins are forgiven; that we become reconciled to God, and have the hope of heaven.
(3) it is a privilege, because it saves the mind from the tortures and the deadly influence of unbelief – the agitation, and restlessness, and darkness, and gloom of a skeptic.
(4) it is a privilege, because we have then a friend to whom we may go in trial, and on whom we may roll all our burdens. If there is anything for which a Christian ought to give unfeigned thanks, it is that he has been permitted to believe on the Redeemer. Let a sincere Christian compare his peace, and joy, and hope of heaven, and support in trials, with the restlessness, uneasiness, and dread of death, in the mind of an unbeliever; and he will see abundant occasion for gratitude.
But also to suffer for his sake – Here it is represented as a privilege to suffer in the cause of the Redeemer – a declaration which may sound strange to the world. Yet this sentiment frequently occurs in the New Testament. Thus, it is said of the apostles Act_5:41, that “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name;” Col_1:24. “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you;” 1Pe_4:13. “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings;” compare Jam_1:2; Mar_10:30; see the notes at Act_5:41. It is a privilege thus to suffer in the cause of Christ:
(1) because we then resemble the Lord Jesus, and are united with him in trials;
(2) because we have evidence that we are his, if trials come upon us in his cause;
(3) because we are engaged in a good cause, and the privilege of maintaining such a cause is worth much of suffering; and,
(4) because it will be connected with a brighter crown and more exalted honor in heaven.
30Having the same conflict. He confirms, also, by his own example what he had said, and this adds no little authority to his doctrine. By the same means, too, he shews them, that there is no reason why they should feel troubled on account of his bonds, when they behold the issue of the conflict.
Having the same conflict – When Paul preached the Gospel at Philippi he was grievously persecuted, as we learn from Acts 16:19-40, being stripped, scourged, thrown into prison, even into the dungeon, and his feet made fast in the stocks. This was the conflict they had seen in him; and now they heard that he had been sent prisoner to Rome as an evil doer, and that he was at present in bonds, and shortly to be tried for his life before the Roman emperor to whom he had been obliged to appeal.
1. It was no small encouragement to these persons,
(1.) That whatever sufferings they met with they were supported under them.
(2.) That they suffered in the same cause in which their illustrious apostle was suffering.
(3.) That they suffered, not because they had done any evil, or could be accused of any, but because they believed in the Son of God, who died for them and for all mankind.
(4.) That all these sufferings were sanctified to their eternal good.
2. And God is able to make the same grace abound towards us in like circumstances; it is for this purpose that such consolatory portions are left on record. He who is persecuted or afflicted for Christ’s sake, is most eminently honored by his Creator.
Having the same conflict – The same agony – αγωνα agona – the same strife with bitter foes, and the same struggle in the warfare.
Which ye saw in me – When I was in Philippi, opposed by the multitude, and thrown into prison; Acts 16.
And now hear to be in me – In Rome. He was a prisoner there, was surrounded by enemies, and was about to be tried for his life. He says that they ought to rejoice if they were called to pass through the same trials.
In this chapter we have a beautiful illustration of the true spirit of a Christian in circumstances exceedingly trying. The apostle was in a situation where religion would show itself, if there were any in the heart; and where, if there was none, the bad passions of our nature would be developed. He was a prisoner. He had been unjustly accused. He was about to be put on trial for his life, and it was wholly uncertain what the result would be. He was surrounded with enemies, and there were not a few false friends and rivals who took advantage of his imprisonment to diminish his influence and to extend their own. He was, perhaps, about to die; and at any rate, was in such circumstances as to be under a necessity of looking death in the face.
In this situation he exhibited some of the tenderest and purest feelings that ever exist in the heart of man – the genuine fruit of pure religion. He remembered them with affectionate and constant interest in his prayers. He gave thanks for all that God had done for them. Looking upon his own condition, he said that the trials which had happened to him, great as they were, had been overruled to the furtherance of the gospel. The gospel had become known even in the imperial palace. And though it had been preached by some with no good will toward him, and with much error, yet he cherished no hard feeling; he sought for no revenge; he rejoiced that in any way, and from any motives, the great truth had been made known that a Saviour died. Looking forward to the possibility that his trial before the emperor might terminate in his death, he calmly anticipated such a result, and looked at it with composure.
He says that in reference to the great purpose of his life, it would make no difference whether he lived or died, for he was assured that Christ would be honored, whatever was the result. To him personally it would be gain to die; and, as an individual, he longed for the hour when he might be with Christ. This feeling is religion, and this is produced only by the hope of eternal life through the Redeemer. An impenitent sinner never expressed such feelings as these; nor does any other form of religion but Christianity enable a man to look upon death in this manner. It is not often that a man is even willing to die – and then this state of mind is produced, not by the hope of heaven, but by disgust at the world; by disappointed ambition; by painful sickness, when the sufferer feels that any change would be for the better. But Paul had none of these feelings. His desire to depart was not produced by a hatred of life; nor by the greatness of his sufferings; nor by disgust at the world.
It was the noble, elevated, and pure wish to be with Christ – to see him whom he supremely loved, whom he had so long and so faithfully served, and with whom he was to dwell forever. To that world where Christ dwelt be would gladly rise; and the only reason why he could be content to remain here was, that he might be a little longer useful to his fellow human beings. Such is the elevated nature of Christian feeling. But, alas, how few attain to it; and even among Christians, how few are they that can habitually feel and realize that it would be gain for them to die! How few can say with sincerity that they desire to depart and to be with Christ! How rarely does even the Christian reach that state of mind, and gain that view of heaven, that, standing amidst his comforts here, and looking on his family, and friends, and property, he can say from the depths of his soul, that he feels it would be gain for him to go to heaven! Yet such deadness to the world may be produced – as it was in the case of Paul; such deadness to the world should exist in the heart of every sincere Christian. Where it does exist, death loses its terror, and the heir of life can look calmly on the bed where he will lie down to die; can think calmly of the moment when he will give the parting hand to wife and child, and press them to his bosom for the last time, and imprint on them the last kiss; can look peacefully on the spot where he will moulder back to dust, and in view of all can triumphantly say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly.”
Conflict (agona). Athletic or gladiatorial contest as in 1Ti_6:12; 2Ti_4:7. The Philippians saw Paul suffer (Acts 16:19-40; 1Th_2:2) as now they have heard about it in Rome.
1If there is therefore any consolation. There is an extraordinary tenderness in this exhortation, in which he entreats by all means the Philippians mutually to cherish harmony among themselves, lest, in the event of their being torn asunder by intestine contentions, they should expose themselves to the impostures of the false apostles. For when there are disagreements, there is invariably a door opened for Satan to disseminate impious doctrines, while agreement is the best bulwark for repelling them.
As the term παρακλήσεως is often taken to mean exhortation, the commencement of the passage might be explained in this manner: “If an exhortation which is delivered in the name and by the authority of Christ, has any weight with you.” The other meaning, however, corresponds better with the context: “If there is among you any consolation of Christ,” by means of which you may alleviate my griefs, and if you would afford me any consolation and relief, which you assuredly owe me in the exercise of love; if you take into view that fellowship of the Spirit, which ought to make us all one; if any feeling of humanity and mercy resides in you, which might stir you up to alleviate my miseries, fulfill ye my joy, etc. From this we may infer, how great a blessing unity in the Church is, and with what eagerness pastors should endeavor to secure it. We must also at the same time take notice, how he humbles himself by beseechingly imploring their pity, while he might have availed himself of his paternal authority, so as to demand respect from them as his sons. He knew how to exercise authority when it was necessary, but at present he prefers to use entreaties, because he knew that these would be better fitted to gain an entrance into their affections, and because he was aware that he had to do with persons who were docile and compliant. In this manner the pastor must have no hesitation to assume different aspects for the sake of the Church.
If there be therefore any consolation in Christ – This, with what is said in the remainder of the verse, is designed as a motive for what he exhorts them to in Phi_2:2 – that they would be of the same mind, and would thus fulfill his joy. To urge them to this, he appeals to the tender considerations which religion furnished – and begins by a reference to the consolation which there was in Christ. The meaning here may be this: “I am now persecuted and afflicted. In my trials it will give me the highest joy to learn that you act as becomes Christians. You also are persecuted and afflicted Phi_1:28-30; and, in these circumstances, I entreat that the highest consolation may be sought; and by all that is tender and sacred in the Christian religion, I conjure you, so to live as not to dishonor the gospel. So live as to bring down the highest consolation which can be obtained – the consolation which Christ alone can impart We are not to suppose that Paul doubted whether there was any consolation in Christ but the form of expression here is one that is designed to urge upon them the duty of seeking the highest possible. The consolation in Christ is that which Christ furnishes or imparts. Paul regarded him as the source of all comfort, and earnestly prays that they might so live that he and they might avail themselves in the fullest sense of that unspeakable enjoyment. The idea is, that Christians ought at all times, and especially in affliction, so to act as to secure the highest possible happiness which their Saviour can impart to them. Such an object is worth their highest effort; and if God sees it needful, in order to that, that they should endure much affliction, still it is gain. Religious consolation is always worth all which it costs to secure it.
If any comfort of love – If there be any comfort in the exercise of tender affection. That there is, no one can doubt. Our happiness is almost all centered in love. It is when we love a parent, a wife, a child, a sister, a neighbor, that we have the highest earthly enjoyment. It is in the love of God, of Christ, of Christians, of the souls of people, that the redeemed find their highest happiness. Hatred is a passion full of misery; love an emotion full of joy. By this consideration, Paul appeals to them, and the motive here is drawn from all the joy which mutual love and sympathy are fitted to produce in the soul Paul would have that love exercised in the highest degree, and would have them enjoy all the happiness which its mutual exercise could furnish.
If any fellowship of the Spirit – The word “fellowship – κοινωνία koinōnia – means that which is common to two or more; that of which they partake together; Eph_3:9 note; Phi_1:5 note. The idea here is, that among Christians there was a participation in the influences of the Holy Spirit; that they shared in some degree the feelings, views, and joys of the Sacred Spirit Himself; and that this was a privilege of the highest order. By this fact, Paul now exhorts them to unity, love, and zeal – so to live that they might partake in the highest degree of the consolations of this Spirit.
If any bowels and mercies – If there is any affectionate bond by which you are united to me, and any regard for my sorrows, and any desire to fill up my joys, so live as to impart to me, your spiritual father and friend, the consolation which I seek.
Paul has spoken, in Phi_1:26, of the Philippians’ joy in his presence. Their joy is to find expression in duty – in the fulfillment of their obligations as members of the christian commonwealth, by fighting the good fight of faith and cheerfully appropriating the gift of suffering (Phi_1:27-29). Phi_2:30, alluding to his own conflicts, marks the transition from the thought of their joy to that of his joy. Therefore, since such is your duty and privilege, fulfill my joy, and show yourselves to be true citizens of God’s kingdom by your humility and unity of spirit.
Rev., comfort. Better, exhortation. See on Luk_6:24. If Christ, by His example, sufferings, and conflicts, exhorts you.
Comfort of love (παραμύθιον)
Rev., consolation. Only here in the New Testament. From παρά beside, and μυθος speech or word. Παρὰ has the same force as in παράκλησις exhortation (see on Luk_6:24); a word which comes to the side of one to stimulate or comfort him; hence an exhortation, an encouragement. So Plato: “Let this, then, be our exhortation concerning marriage” (“Laws,” 773). A motive of persuasion or dissuasion. Plato, speaking of the fear of disgrace, or of ill-repute, says. “The obedient nature will readily yield to such incentives” (“Laws,” 880). Also an assuagement or abatement. So Sophocles: “Offspring of the noble, ye are come as the assuagement of my woes” (“Electra,” 130). Plato: “They say that to the rich are many consolations” (“Republic,” 329). Plato also calls certain fruits stimulants (παραμυθία) of a sated appetite (“Critias,” 115). Here in the sense of incentive. As related to exhortation, exhortation uses incentive as a ground of appeal. Christ exhorts, appealing to love. Compare Phi_1:9 sqq. See Rom_5:8; 1Co_13:4; 2Co_5:14; Gal_5:13; Eph_5:2; 1Jo_4:16, etc. The two verbs kindred to exhortation and incentive occur together at 1Th_2:11. See on 1Co_14:3. Render here, if any incentive of love.
Fellowship of the Spirit
Communion with the Holy Spirit, whose first fruit is love. Gal_5:22. Participation in His gifts and influences. Compare 2Pe_1:4, and 2Co_13:13.
Bowels and mercies (σπλάγχνα καὶ οικτιρμοί)
For mercies, see on 2Co_1:3, and compare Col_3:12.
2 Fulfil ye my joy. Here again we may see how little anxiety he had as to himself, provided only it went well with the Church of Christ. He was kept shut up in prison, and bound with chains; he was reckoned worthy of capital punishment — before his view were tortures — near at hand was the executioner; yet all these things do not prevent his experiencing unmingled joy, provided he sees that the Churches are in a good condition. Now what he reckons the chief indication of a prosperous condition of the Church is — when mutual agreement prevails in it, and brotherly harmony. Thus the 137th Psalm teaches us in like manner, that our crowning joy is the remembrance of Jerusalem. (Psa_137:6.) But if this were the completion of Paul’s joy, the Philippians would have been worse than cruel if they had tortured the mind of this holy man with a twofold anguish by disagreement among themselves.
That ye think the same thing. The sum is this — that they be joined together in views and inclinations. For he makes mention of agreement in doctrine and mutual love; and afterwards, repeating the same thing, (in my opinion,) he exhorts them to be of one mind, and to have the same views. The expression τὸ αὐτὸ, (the same thing,) implies that they must accommodate themselves to each other. Hence the beginning of love is harmony of views, but that is not sufficient, unless men’s hearts are at the same time joined together in mutual affection. At the same time there were no inconsistency in rendering it thus: — “that ye may be of the same mind — so as to have mutual love, to be one in mind and one in views;” for participles are not unfrequently made use of instead of infinitives. I have adopted, however, the view which seemed to me less forced.
Fulfil ye my joy – Ye ought to complete my joy, who have suffered so much to bring you into the possession of these blessings, by being like-minded with myself, having the same love to God, his cause, and me, as I have to him, his cause, and you.
Being of one accord – Being perfectly agreed in labouring to promote the honor of your Master; and of one mind, being constantly intent upon this great subject; keeping your eye fixed upon it in all you say, do, or intend.
Fulfil ye my joy – Fill up my joy so that nothing shall be wanting to complete it. This, he says, would be done by their union, zeal, and humility; compare Joh_3:29.
That ye be like-minded – Greek That ye think the same thing; see the notes at 2Co_13:11. Perfect unity of sentiment, opinion, and plan would be desirable if it could be attained. It may be, so far as to prevent discord, schism, contention and strife in the church, and so that Christians may be harmonious in promoting the same great work – the salvation of souls.
Having the same love – Love to the same objects, and the same love one for another. Though their opinions might differ on some points, yet they might be united in love; see the notes at 1Co_1:10.
Being of one accord – σύμψυχοι sumpsuchoi – of one soul; having your souls joined together. The word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament. It means a union of soul; or an acting together as if but one soul actuated them.
Of one mind – Greek “Thinking the same thing.” The apostle here uses a great variety of expressions to denote the same thing. The object which he aimed at was union of heart, of feeling, of plan, of purpose. He wished them to avoid all divisions and strifes; and to show the power of religion by being united in the common cause. Probably there is no single thing so much insisted on in the New Testament as the importance of harmony among Christians. Now, there is almost nothing so little known; but if it prevailed, the world would soon be converted to God; compare the notes at Joh_17:21 – or see the text itself without the notes.
Fulfil (plerosate). Better here, “fill full.” Paul’s cup of joy will be full if the Philippians will only keep on having unity of thought and feeling (to auto phronete, present active subjunctive, keep on thinking the same thing).
Being of one accord (sunpsuchoi). Late word here for the first time, from sun and psuchē, harmonious in soul, souls that beat together, in tune with Christ and with each other.
Of one mind (to hen phronountes). “Thinking the one thing.” Like clocks that strike at the same moment. Perfect intellectual telepathy. Identity of ideas and harmony of feelings.
3Nothing through strife or vain-glory. These are two most dangerous pests for disturbing the peace of the Church. Strife is awakened when every one is prepared to maintain pertinaciously his own opinion; and when it has once begun to rage it rushes headlong in the direction from which it has entered. Vain-glory tickles men’s minds, so that every one is delighted with his own inventions. Hence the only way of guarding against dissensions is — when we avoid strifes by deliberating and acting peacefully, especially if we are not actuated by ambition. For ambition is a means of fanning all strifes. Vain-glory means any glorying in the flesh; for what ground of glorying have men in themselves that is not vanity?
But by humility. For both diseases he brings forward one remedy — humility, and with good reason, for it is the mother of moderation, the effect of which is that, yielding up our own right, we give the preference to others, and are not easily thrown into agitation. He gives a definition of true humility — when every one esteems himself less than others. Now, if anything in our whole life is difficult, this above everything else is so. Hence it is not to be wondered if humility is so rare a virtue. For, as one says, “Every one has in himself the mind of a king, by claiming everything for himself.” See! here is pride. Afterwards from a foolish admiration of ourselves arises contempt of the brethren. And so far are we from what Paul here enjoins, that one can hardly endure that others should be on a level with him, for there is no one that is not eager to have superiority.
But it is asked, how it is possible that one who is in reality distinguished above others can reckon those to be superior to him who he knows are greatly beneath him? I answer, that this altogether depends on a right estimate of God’s gifts, and our own infirmities. For however any one may be distinguished by illustrious endowments, he ought to consider with himself that they have not been conferred upon him that he might be self-complacent, that he might exalt himself, or even that he might hold himself in esteem. Let him, instead of this, employ himself in correcting and detecting his faults, and he will have abundant occasion for humility. In others, on the other hand, he will regard with honor whatever there is of excellences, and will by means of love bury their faults. The man who will observe this rule, will feel no difficulty in preferring others before himself. And this, too, Paul meant when he added, that they ought not to have every one a regard to themselves, but to their neighbors, or that they ought not to be devoted to themselves. Hence it is quite possible that a pious man, even though he should be aware that he is superior, may nevertheless hold others in greater esteem.
Let nothing be done through strife – With a spirit of contention. This command forbids us to do anything, or attempt anything as the mere result of strife. This is not the principle from which we are to act, or by which we are to be governed. We are to form no plan, and aim at no object which is to be secured in this way. The command prohibits all attempts to secure anything over others by mere physical strength, or by superiority of intellect or numbers. or as the result of dark schemes and plans formed by rivalry, or by the indulgence of angry passions, or with the spirit of ambition. We are not to attempt to do anything merely by outstripping others, or by showing that we have more talent, courage, or zeal. What we do is to be by principle, and with a desire to maintain the truth, and to glorify God. And yet how often is this rule violated! How often do Christian denominations attempt to outstrip each other, and to see which shall be the greatest! How often do ministers preach with no better aim! How often do we attempt to outdo others in dress, and it the splendor of furniture and equipment! How often, even in plans of benevolence, and in the cause of virtue and religion, is the secret aim to outdo others. This is all wrong. There is no holiness in such efforts. Never once did the Redeemer act from such a motive, and never once should this motive be allowed to influence us. The conduct of others may be allowed to show us what we can do, and ought to do; but it should not be our sole aim to outstrip them; compare 2Co_9:2-4.
Or vain glory – The word used here – κενοδοξία kenodoxia occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, though the adjective – κενόδοξος kenodoxos – occurs once in Gal_5:26; see the notes at that place. It means properly empty pride, or glory, and is descriptive of vain and hollow parade and show. Suidas renders it, “any vain opinion about oneself” – ματαία τις περὶ εαυτου οίησις mataia tis peri eautou oiesis. The idea seems to be that of mere self-esteem; a mere desire to honor ourselves, to attract attention, to win praise, to make ourselves uppermost, or foremost, or the main object. The command here solemnly forbids our doing anything with such an aim – no matter whether it be in intellectual attainments, in physical strength, in skill in music, in eloquence or song, in dress, furniture, or religion. Self is not to be foremost; selfishness is not to be the motive. Probably there is no command of the Bible which would have a wider sweep than this, or would touch on more points of human conduct, it fairly applied. Who is there who passes a single day without, in some respect, desiring to display himself? What minister of the gospel preaches, who never has any wish to exhibit his talents, eloquence, or learning? How few make a gesture, but with some wish to display the grace or power with which it is done! Who, in conversation, is always free from a desire to show his wit, or his power in argumentation, or his skill in repartee? Who plays at the piano without the desire of commendation? Who thunders in the senate, or goes to the field of battle; who builds a house, or purchases an article of apparel; who writes a book, or performs a deed of benevolence, altogether uninfluenced by this desire? If all could be taken out of human conduct which is performed merely from “strife,” or from “vain-glory,” how small a portion would be left!
But in lowliness of mind – Modesty, or humility. The word used here is the same which is rendered “humility” in Act_20:19; Col_2:18, Col_2:23; 1Pe_5:5; humbleness, in Col_3:12; and lowliness, in Eph_4:2; Phi_2:3. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It here means humility, and it stands opposed to that pride or self-valuation which would lead us to strive for the ascendancy, or which acts from a wish for flattery, or praise. The best and the only true correction of these faults is humility. This virtue consists in estimating ourselves according to truth. It is a willingness to take the place which we ought to take in the sight of God and man; and, having the low estimate of our own importance and character which the truth about our insignificance as creatures and vileness as sinners would produce, it will lead us to a willingness to perform lowly and humble offices that we may benefit others.
Let each esteem other better than themselves – Compare 1Pe_5:5. This is one of the effects produced by true humility, and it naturally exists in every truly modest mind. We are sensible of our own defects, but we have not the same clear view of the defects of others. We see our own hearts; we are conscious of the great corruption there; we have painful evidence of the impurity of the motives which often actuate us – of the evil thoughts and corrupt desires in our own souls; but we have not the same view of the errors, defects, and follies of others. We can see only their outward conduct; but, in our own case, we can look within. It is natural for those who have any just sense of the depravity of their own souls, charitably to hope that it is not so with others, and to believe that they have purer hearts. This will lead us to feel that they are worthy of more respect than we are. Hence, this is always the characteristic of modesty and humility – graces which the gospel is eminently suited to produce. A truly pious man will be always, therefore, an humble man, and will wish that others should be preferred in office and honor to himself. Of course, this will not make him blind to the defects of others when they are manifested; but he will be himself retiring, modest, unambitious, unobtrusive. This rule of Christianity would strike a blow at all the ambition of the world. It would rebuke the love of office and would produce universal contentment in any low condition of life where the providence of God may have cast our lot; compare the notes at 1Co_7:21.
Let nothing be done (μηδὲν)
Rev., doing nothing. The Greek is simply nothing, depending either, as A.V. and Rev., on the verb to do understood, or on thinking (φρονουντες) of the preceding verse: thinking nothing. The latter is preferable, since the previous and the following exhortations relate to thinking or feeling rather than to doing.
Through strife (κατὰ εριθείαν)
Rev., correctly, faction. Lit., according to faction. See on Jam_3:14; and Phi_1:16. According to indicates faction as the regulative state of mind.
Vain glory (κενοδοξίαν)
Only here in the New Testament. The kindred adjective κενόδοξοι desirous of vain glory, occurs only at Gal_5:26. In the Septuagint the word is used to describe the worship of idols as folly (see Wis. 14:14), and in 4 Macc. 5:9, the verb κενοδοξέω is used of following vain conceits about the truth. The word is compounded of κενός empty, vain, and, δόξα opinion (but not in the New Testament), which, through the intermediate sense of good or favorable opinion, runs into the meaning of glory. See on Rev_1:6.
Lowliness of mind (ταπεινοφροσύνη)
The word has a history. In the classics it is used commonly in a bad and degrading sense, of meanness of condition, lowness of rank, and cringing abjectness and baseness of character. Still, even in classical Greek, this is not its universal usage. It is occasionally employed in a way which foreshadows its higher sense. Plato, for instance, says, “To that law (of God) he would be happy who holds fast, and follows it in all humility and order; but he who is lifted up with pride, or money, or honor, or beauty, who has a soul hot with folly, and youth, and insolence, and thinks that he has no need of a guide or ruler, but is able himself to be the guide of others, he, I say, is left deserted of God” (“Laws,” 716). And Aristotle says: “He who is worthy of small things, and deems himself so, is wise” (“Nich. Ethics,” iv., 3). At best, however, the classical conception is only modesty, absence of assumption. It is an element of wisdom and in no way opposed to self-righteousness (see Aristotle above). The word for the Christian virtue of humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη), was not used before the Christian era, and is distinctly an outgrowth of the Gospel. This virtue is based upon a correct estimate of our actual littleness, and is linked with a sense of sinfulness. True greatness is holiness. We are little because sinful. Compare Luk_18:14. It is asked how, in this view of the case, the word can be applied to himself by the sinless Lord? “The answer is,” says Archbishop Trench, “that for the sinner humility involves the confession of sin, inasmuch as it involves the confession of his true condition; while yet for the unfallen creature the grace itself as truly exists, involving for such the acknowledgment, not of sinfulness, which would be untrue, but of creatureliness, of absolute dependence, of having nothing, but receiving all things of God. And thus the grace of humility belongs to the highest angel before the throne, being as he is a creature, yea, even to the Lord of Glory himself. In his human nature he must be the pattern of all humility, of all creaturely dependence; and it is only as a man that Christ thus claims to be lowly; his human life was a constant living on the fulness of his Father’s love; he evermore, as man, took the place which beseemed the creature in the presence of its Creator” (“Synonyms,” p. 145). The Christian virtue regards man not only with reference to God, but to his fellow-man. In lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself (Phi_2:3, Rev.). But this is contrary to the Greek conception of justice or righteousness, which was simply “his own to each one.” It is noteworthy that neither the Septuagint, the Apocrypha, nor the New Testament recognize the ignoble classical sense of the word.
Look not every man on his own things – Do nothing through self-interest in the things of God; nor arrogate to yourselves gifts, graces, and fruits, which belong to others; ye are all called to promote God’s glory and the salvation of men. Labor for this, and every one shall receive the honor that comes from God; and let each rejoice to see another, whom God may be pleased to use in a special way, acquiring much reputation by the successful application of his talents to the great work.
Look not every man on his own things – That is, be not selfish. Do not let your care and attention be wholly absorbed by your own concerns, or by the concerns of your own family. Evince a tender interest for the happiness of the whole, and let the welfare of others lie near your hearts. This, of course, does not mean that there is to be any improper interference in the business of others, or that we are to have the character of “busy-bodies in other people’s matters” (compare the 2Th_3:11, note; 1Ti_5:13, note; 1Pe_4:15, note); but that we are to regard with appropriate solicitude the welfare of others, and to strive to do them good.
But every man also on the things of others – It is the duty of every man to do this. No one is at liberty to live for himself or to disregard the wants of others. The object of this rule is to break up the narrow spirit of selfishness, and to produce a benevolent regard for the happiness of others. In respect to the rule we may observe:
(1) We are not to be “busybodies” in the concerns of others; see the references above. We are not to attempt to pry into their secret purposes. Every man has his own plans, and thoughts, and intentions, which no other one has a right to look into. Nothing is more odious than a meddler in the concerns of others.
(2) we are not to obtrude our advice where it is not sought, or at unseasonable times and places, even if the advice is in itself good. No one likes to be interrupted to hear advice; and I have no right to require that he should suspend his business in order that I may give him counsel.
(3) we are not to find fault with what pertains exclusively to him. We are to remember that there are some things which are his business, not ours; and we are to learn to “possess our souls in patience,” if he does not give just as much as we think be ought to benevolent objects, or if he dresses in a manner not to please our taste, or if he indulges in things which do not accord exactly with our views. He may see reasons for his conduct which we do not; and it is possible that be may be right, and that, if we understood the whole case, we should think and act as he does. We often complain of a man because be does not give as much as we think he ought, to objects of charity; and it is possible that he may be miserably niggardly and narrow. But it is also possible that he may be more embarrassed than we know of; or that he may just then have demands against him of which we are ignorant; or that he may have numerous poor relatives dependent on him; or that he gives much with “the left hand” which is not known by “the right hand.” At any rate, it is his business, not ours; and we are not qualified to judge until we understand the whole case.
(4) we are not to be gossips about the concerns of others. We are not to hunt up small stories, and petty scandals respecting their families; we are not to pry into domestic affairs, and divulge them abroad, and find pleasure in circulating snell things from house to house. There are domestic secrets, which are not to be betrayed; and there is scarcely an offence of a meaner or more injurious character than to divulge to the public what we have seen a family whose hospitality we have enjoyed.
(5) where Christian duty and kindness require us to look into the concerns of others, there should be the utmost delicacy. Even children have their own secrets, and their own plans and amusements, on a small scale, quite as important to them as the greater games which we are playing in life; and they will feel the meddlesomeness of a busybody to be as odious to them as we should in our plans. A delicate parent, therefore, who has undoubtedly a right to know all about his children, will not rudely intrude into their privacies, or meddle with their concerns. So, when we visit the sick, while we show a tender sympathy for them, we should not be too particular in inquiring into their maladies or their feelings. So, when those with whom we sympathize have brought their calamities on themselves by their own fault, we should not ask too many questions about it. We should not too closely examine one who is made poor by intemperance, or who is in prison for crime. And so, when we go to sympathize with those who have been, by a reverse of circumstances, reduced from affluence to penury, we should not ask too many questions. We should let them tell their own story. If they voluntarily make us their confidants, and tell us all about their circumstances, it is well; but let us not drag out the circumstances, or wound their feelings by our impertinent inquiries, or our indiscreet sympathy in their affairs.
There are always secrets which the sons and daughters of misfortune would wish to keep to themselves.
However, while these things are true, it is also true that the rule before us positively requires us to show an interest in the concerns of others; and it may be regarded as implying the following things:
(1) We are to feel that the spiritual interests of everyone in the church is, in a certain sense, our own interest. The church is one. It is confederated together for a common object. Each one is entrusted with a portion of the honor of the whole, and the conduct of one member affects the character of all. We are, therefore, to promote, in every way possible, the welfare of every other member of the church. If they go astray, we are to admonish and entreat them; if they are in error, we are to instruct them; if they are in trouble, we are to aid them. Every member of the church has a claim on the sympathy of his brethren, and should be certain of always finding it when his circumstances are such as to demand it.
(2) there are circumstances where it is proper to look with special interest on the temporal concerns of others. It is when the poor, the fatherless, and the afflicted must be sought out in order to be aided and relieved. They are too retiring and modest to press their situation on the attention of others, and they need that others should manifest a generous care in their welfare in order to relieve them. This is not improper interference in their concerns, nor will it be so regarded.
(3) for a similar reason, we should seek the welfare of all others in a spiritual sense. We should seek to arouse the sinner, and lead him to the Saviour. He is blind, and will not come himself; unconcerned, and will not seek salvation; filled with the love of this world, and will not seek a better; devoted to pursuits that will lead him to ruin, and he ought to be apprised of it. It is no more an improper interference in his concerns to apprise him of his condition, and to attempt to lead him to the Saviour, than it is to warn a man in a dark night, who walks on the verge of a precipice, of his peril; or to arouse one from sleep whose house is in flames. In like manner, it is no more meddling with the concerns of another to tell him that there is a glorious heaven which may be his, than it is to apprise a man that there is a mine of golden ore on his farm. It is for the man’s own interest, and it is the office of a friend to remind him of these things. He does a man a favor who tells him that he has a Redeemer, and that there is a heaven to which he may rise; he does his neighbor the greatest possible kindness who apprises him that there is a world of infinite woe, and tells him of an easy way by which he may escape it. The world around is dependant on the church of Christ to be apprised of these truths. The frivolous ones will not warn the fools of their danger; the crowd that presses to the theater or the ballroom will not apprise those who are there that they are in the broad way to hell; and everyone who loves his neighbor, should feel sufficient interest in him to tell him that he may be eternally happy in heaven.
5. He now recommends, from the example of Christ, the exercise of humility, to which he had exhorted them in words. There are, however, two departments, in the first of which he invites us to imitate Christ, because this is the rule of life: in the second, he allures us to it, because this is the road by which we attain true glory. Hence he exhorts every one to have the same disposition that was in Christ. He afterwards shews what a pattern of humility has been presented before us in Christ. I have retained the passive form of the verb, though I do not disapprove of the rendering given it by others, because there is no difference as to meaning. I merely wished that the reader should be in possession of the very form of expression which Paul has employed.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus – Christ labored to promote no separate interest; as man he studied to promote the glory of God, and the welfare and salvation of the human race. See then that ye have the same disposition that was in Jesus: he was ever humble, loving, patient, and laborious; his meat and drink was to do the will of his Father, and to finish his work.
Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus – The object of this reference to the example of the Saviour is particularly to enforce the duty of humility. This was the highest example which could be furnished, and it would illustrate and confirm all the apostle had said of this virtue. The principle in the case is, that we are to make the Lord Jesus our model, and are in all respects to frame our lives, as far as possible, in accordance with this great example. The point here is, that he left a state of inexpressible glory, and took upon him the most humble form of humanity, and performed the most lowly offices, that he might benefit us.
Have this mind in you (touto phroneite en humin). “Keep on thinking this in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (ho kai en Christōi Iēsou). What is that? Humility. Paul presents Jesus as the supreme example of humility. He urges humility on the Philippians as the only way to secure unity.
6Inasmuch as he was in the form of God. This is not a comparison between things similar, but in the way of greater and less. Christ’s humility consisted in his abasing himself from the highest pinnacle of glory to the lowest ignominy: our humility consists in refraining from exalting ourselves by a false estimation. He gave up his right: all that is required of us is, that we do not assume to ourselves more than we ought. Hence he sets out with this — that, inasmuch as he was in the form of God, he reckoned it not an unlawful thing for him to shew himself in that form; yet he emptied himself. Since, then, the Son of God descended from so great a height, how unreasonable that we, who are nothing, should be lifted up with pride!
The form of God means here his majesty. For as a man is known by the appearance of his form, so the majesty, which shines forth in God, is his figure. Or if you would prefer a more apt similitude, the form of a king is his equipage and magnificence, shewing him to be a king — his scepter, his crown, his mantle, his attendants, his judgment-throne, and other emblems of royalty; the form of a consul was — his long robe, bordered with purple, his ivory seat, his lictors with rods and hatchets. Christ, then, before the creation of the world, was in the form of God, because from the beginning he had his glory with the Father, as he says in Joh_17:5. For in the wisdom of God, prior to his assuming our flesh, there was nothing mean or contemptible, but on the contrary a magnificence worth of God. Being such as he was, he could, without doing wrong to any one, shew himself equal with God; but he did not manifest himself to be what he really was, nor did he openly assume in the view of men what belonged to him by right.
Thought it not robbery. There would have been no wrong done though he had shewn himself to be equal with God. For when he says, he would not have thought,it is as though he had said, “He knew, indeed, that this was lawful and right for him,” that we might know that his abasement was voluntary, not of necessity. Hitherto it has been rendered in the indicative — he thought, but the connection requires the subjunctive. It is also quite a customary thing for Paul to employ the past indicative in the place of the subjunctive, by leaving the potential particle ἄν, as it is called, to be supplied — as, for example, in Rom_9:3, ηὐχόμην, for I would have wished; and in 1Co_2:8; εἰ γὰρ ἔγνωσαν, if they had known. Every one, however, must perceive that Paul treats hitherto of Christ’s glory, which tends to enhance his abasement. Accordingly he mentions, not what Christ did, but what it was allowable for him to do.
Farther, that man is utterly blind who does not perceive that his eternal divinity is clearly set forth in these words. Nor does Erasmus act with sufficient modesty in attempting, by his cavils, to explain away this passage, as well as other similar passages. He acknowledges, indeed, everywhere that Christ is God; but what am I the better for his orthodox confession, if my faith is not supported by any Scripture authority? I acknowledge, certainly, that Paul does not make mention here of Christ’s divine essence; but it does not follow from this, that the passage is not sufficient for repelling the impiety of the Arians, who pretended that Christ was a created God, and inferior to the Father, and denied that he was consubstantial. For where can there be equality with God without robbery, excepting only where there is the essence of God; for God always remains the same, who cries by Isaiah, I live; I will not give my glory to another.(Isa_48:11.) Form means figure or appearance, as they commonly speak. This, too, I readily grant; but will there be found, apart from God, such a form, so as to be neither false nor forged? As, then, God is known by means of his excellences, and his works are evidences of his eternal Godhead, (Rom_1:20,) so Christ’s divine essence is rightly proved from Christ’s majesty, which he possessed equally with the Father before he humbled himself. As to myself, at least, not even all devils would wrest this passage from me — inasmuch as there is in God a most solid argument, from his glory to his essence, which are two things that are inseparable.
Who, being in the form of God – This verse has been the subject of much criticism, and some controversy. Dr. Whitby has, perhaps, on the whole, spoken best on this point; but his arguments are too diffuse to be admitted here. Dr. Macknight has abridged the words of Dr. Whitby, and properly observes that, “As the apostle is speaking of what Christ was before he took the form of a servant, the form of God, of which he divested himself when he became man, cannot be any thing which he possessed during his incarnation or in his divested state; consequently neither the opinion of Erasmus, that the form of God consisted in those sparks of divinity by which Christ, during his incarnation, manifested his Godhead, nor the opinion of the Socinians, that it consisted in the power of working miracles, is well founded; for Christ did not divest himself either of one or the other, but possessed both all the time of his public ministry. In like manner, the opinion of those who, by the form of God understand the Divine nature and the government of the world, cannot be admitted; since Christ, when he became man, could not divest himself of the nature of God; and with respect to the government of the world, we are led, by what the apostle tells, Heb_1:3, to believe that he did not part with even that; but, in his divested state, still continued to uphold all things by the word of his power. By the form of God we are rather to understand that visible, glorious light in which the Deity is said to dwell, 1Ti_6:16, and by which he manifested himself to the patriarchs of old, Deu_5:22, Deu_5:24; which was commonly accompanied with a numerous retinue of angels, Psa_68:17, and which in Scripture is called The Similitude, Num_12:8; The Face, Psa_31:16 : The Presence, Exo_33:15; and The Shape of God, Joh_5:37. This interpretation is supported by the term μορφη, form, here used, which signifies a person’s external shape or appearance, and not his nature or essence. Thus we are told, Mar_16:12, that Jesus appeared to his disciples in another μορφη, shape, or form. And, Mat_17:2, μετεμορφωθη, he was transfigured before them – his outward appearance or form was changed. Farther this interpretation agrees with the fact: the form of God, that is, his visible glory, and the attendance of angels, as above described, the Son of God enjoyed with his Father before the world was, Joh_17:5; and on that as on other accounts he is the brightness of the Father’s glory, Heb_1:3. Of this he divested himself when he became flesh; but, having resumed it after his ascension, he will come with it in the human nature to judge the world; so he told his disciples, Mat_16:27 : The Son of man will come in the glory of his Father, with his angels, etc,. Lastly, this sense of μορφη Θεου, is confirmed by the meaning of μορθη δουλου, Phi_2:7; which evidently denotes the appearance and behavior of a servant or bondman, and not the essence of such a person.” See Whitby and Macknight.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God – If we take these words as they stand here, their meaning is, that, as he was from the beginning in the same infinite glory with the Father, to appear in time – during his humiliation, as God and equal with the Father, was no encroachment on the Divine prerogative; for, as he had an equality of nature, he had an equality of rights.
But the word αρπαγμον, which we translate robbery, has been supposed to imply a thing eagerly to be seized, coveted, or desired; and on this interpretation the passage has been translated: Who, being in the form of God, did not think it a matter to be earnestly desired to appear equal to God; but made himself of no reputation, etc. However the word be translated, it does not affect the eternal Deity of our Lord. Though he was from eternity in the form of God – possessed of the same glory, yet he thought it right to veil this glory, and not to appear with it among the children of men; and therefore he was made in the likeness of men, and took upon him the form or appearance of a servant: and, had he retained the appearance of this ineffable glory, it would, in many respects, have prevented him from accomplishing the work which God gave him to do; and his humiliation, as necessary to the salvation of men, could not have been complete. On this account I prefer this sense of the word αρπαγμον before that given in our text, which does not agree so well with the other expressions in the context. In this sense the word is used by Heliodorus, in his Ethiopics, lib. vii. cap. 19, etc., which passage Whitby has produced, and on which he has given a considerable paraphrase. The reader who wishes to examine this subject more particularly, may have recourse to Heliodorus as above, or to the notes of Dr. Whitby on the passage.
Who, being in the form of God – There is scarcely any passage in the New Testament which has given rise to more discussion than this. The importance of the passage on the question of the divinity of the Saviour will be perceived at once, and no small part of the point of the appeal by the apostle depends, as will be seen, in the fact that Paul regarded the Redeemer as equal with God. If he was truly divine, then his consenting to become a man was the most remarkable of all possible acts of humiliation. The word rendered “form” – μορφή morphe – occurs only in three places in the New Testament, and in each place is rendered “form.” Mar_16:12; Phi_2:6-7. In Mark it is applied to the form which Jesus assumed after his resurrection, and in which he appeared to two of his disciples on his way to Emmaus. “After that he appeared in another form unto two of them.” This “form” was so unlike his usual appearance, that they did not know him. The word properly means, form, shape, bodily shape, especially a beautiful form, a beautiful bodily appearance – Passow. In Phi_2:7, it is applied to the appearance of a servant – and took upon him the form of a servant;” that is, he was in the condition of a servant – or of the lowest condition. The word “form” is often applied to the gods by the classic writers, denoting their aspect or appearance when they became visible to people; see Cic. de Nat. Deor. ii. 2; Ovid, Meta. i. 37; Silius, xiii. 643; Xeno. Memora. iv; Aeneid, iv. 556, and other places cited by Wetstein, in loc. Hesychius explains it by ιδέα ειδος idea eidos. The word occurs often in the Septuagint:
(1) as the translation of the word ציי – Ziv – “splendour,” Dan_4:33; Dan_5:6, Dan_5:9-10; Dan_7:28;
(2) as the translation of the word תּבנית tabniyth, structure, model, pattern – as in building, Isa_44:13;
(3) as the translation of תּמונה temuwnah, appearance, form, shape, image, likeness, Job_4:16; see also Wisdom Job_18:1.
The word can have here only one or two meanings, either:
(1) splendor, majesty, glory – referring to the honor which the Redeemer had, his power to work miracles, etc. – or.
(2) nature, or essence – meaning the same as φύσις phusis, “nature,” or ουσία ousia, “being.”
The first is the opinion adopted by Crellius, Grotius, and others, and substantially by Calvin. Calvin says, “The form of God here denotes majesty. For as a man is known from the appearance of his form, so the majesty which shines in God, is his figure. Or to use a more appropriate similitude, the form of a king consists of the external marks which indicate a king – as his scepter, diadem, coat of mail, attendants, throne, and other insignia of royalty; the form of a counsul is the toga, ivory chair, attending lictors, etc. Therefore Christ before the foundation of the world was in the form of God, because he had glory with the Father before the world was; Joh_17:5. For in the wisdom of God, before he put on our nature, there was nothing humble or abject, but there was magnificence worthy of God.” Commentary in loc. The second opinion is, that the word is equivalent to nature, or being; that is, that he was in the nature of God, or his mode of existence was that of God, or was divine. This is the opinion adopted by Schleusner (Lexicon); Prof. Stuart (Letters to Dr. Channing, p. 40); Doddridge, and by orthodox expositors in general, and seems to me to be the correct interpretation. In support of this interpretation, and in opposition to that which refers it to his power of working miracles, or his divine appearance when on earth, we may adduce the following considerations:
(1) The “form” here referred to must have been something before he became a man, or before he took upon him the form of a servant. It was something from which he humbled himself by making “himself of no reputation;” by taking upon himself “the form of a servant;” and by being made “in the likeness of men.” Of course, it must have been something which existed when he had not the likeness of people; that is, before he became incarnate. He must therefore have had an existence before he appeared on earth as a man, and in that previous state of existence there must have been something which rendered it proper to say that he was “in the form of God.”
(2) that it does not refer to any moral qualities, or to his power of working miracles on earth, is apparent from the fact that these were not laid aside. When did he divest himself of these in order that he might humble himself? There was something which he possessed which made it proper to say of him that he was “in the form of God,” which he laid aside when he appeared in the form of a servant and in the likeness of human beings. But assuredly that could not have been his moral qualities, nor is there any conceivable sense in which it can be said that he divested himself of the power of working miracles in order that he might take upon himself the “form of a servant.” All the miracles which he ever did were performed when he sustained the form of a servant, in his lowly and humble condition. These considerations make it certain that the apostle refers to a period before the incarnation. It may be added:
(3) that the phrase “form of God” is one that naturally conveys the idea that he was God. When it is said that he was “in the form of a servant,” the idea is, that he was actually in a humble and depressed condition, and not merely that he appeared to be. Still it may be asked, what was the “form” which he had before his incarnation? What is meant by his having been then “in the form of God?” To these questions perhaps no satisfactory answer can be given. He himself speaks Joh_17:5 of “the glory which he had with the Father before the world was;” and the language naturally conveys the idea that there was then a manifestation of the divine nature through him, which in some measure ceased when he became incarnate; that there was some visible splendor and majesty which was then laid aside. What manifestation of his glory God may make in the heavenly world, of course, we cannot now fully understand. Nothing forbids us, however, to suppose that there is some such visible manifestation; some splendor and magnificence of God in the view of the angelic beings such as becomes the Great Sovereign of the universe – for he “dwells in light which no map can approach unto;” 1Ti_6:16. That glory, visible manifestation, or splendor, indicating the nature of God, it is here said that the Lord Jesus possessed before his incarnation.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God – This passage, also, has given occasion to much discussion. Prof. Stuart renders it: “did not regard his equality with God as an object of solicitous desire;” that is, that though he was of a divine nature or condition, be did not eagerly seek to retain his equality with God, but took on him an humble condition – even that of a servant. Letters to Channing, pp. 88-92. That this is the correct rendering of the passage is apparent from the following considerations:
(1) It accords with the scope and design of the apostle’s reasoning. His object is not to show, as our common translation would seem to imply, that he aspired to be equal with God, or that he did not regard it as an improper invasion of the prerogatives of God to be equal with him, but that he did not regard it, in the circumstances of the case, as an object to greatly desired or eagerly sought to retain his equality with God. Instead of retaining this by an earnest effort, or by a grasp which he was unwilling to relinquish, he chose to forego the dignity, and to assume the humble condition of a man.
(2) it accords better with the Greek than the common version. The word rendered “robbery” – ἁρπαγμος harpagmos – is found nowhere else in the New Testament, though the verb from which it is derived frequently occurs; Mat_11:12; Mat_13:19; Joh_6:15; Joh_10:12, Joh_10:28-29; Act_8:29; Act_23:10; 2Co_12:2, 2Co_12:4; 1Th_4:17; Jud_1:23; Rev_12:5. The notion of violence, or seizing, or carrying away, enters into the meaning of the word in all these places. The word used here does not properly mean an act of robbery, but the thing robbed – the plunder – das Rauben (Passow), and hence something to be eagerly seized and appropriated. Schleusner; compare Storr, Opuscul. Acade. i. 322, 323. According to this, the meaning of the word here is, something to be seized and eagerly sought, and the sense is, that his being equal with God was not a thing to be anxiously retained. The phrase “thought it not,” means “did not consider;” it was not judged to be a matter of such importance that it could not be dispensed with. The sense is, “he did not eagerly seize and tenaciously hold” as one does who seizes prey or spoil. So Rosenmuller, Schleusner, Bloomfield, Stuart, and others understand it.
To be equal with God – τὸ ειναι ισα Θεω to einai isa Theo. That is, the being equal with God he did not consider a thing to be tenaciously retained. The plural neuter form of the word “equal” in Greek – ισα isa – is used in accordance with a known rule of the language, thus stated by Buttman: “When an adjective as predicate is separated from its substantive, it often stands in the neuter where the substantive is a masculine or feminine, and in the singular where the substantive is in the plural. That which the predicate expresses is, in this case, considered in general as a thing.” Greek Grammar, section 129, 6.
The phrase “equal with God,” or “equal with the gods,” is of frequent occurrence in the Greek Classics; see Wetstein in loc. The very phrase here used occurs in the Odyssey:
Τον νυν ίσα Θεω Ιθακήσιοι εισορόωσι Ton nun isa Theo Ithakesioi eisoroosi
Compare Joh_5:18. “Made himself equal with God.” The phrase means one who sustains the same rank, dignity, nature. Now it could not be said of an angel that he was in any sense equal with God; much less could this be said of a mere man. The natural and obvious meaning of the language is, that there was an equality of nature and of rank with God, from which he humbled himself when he became a man. The meaning of the whole verse, according to the interpretation suggested above, is, that Christ, before he became a man, was invested with honor, majesty, and glory, such as was appropriate to God himself; that there was some manifestation or splendor in his existence and mode of being then, which showed that he was equal with God; that he did not consider that that honor, indicating equality with God, was to be retained at all events, and so as to do violence, as it were, to other interests, and to rob the universe of the glory of redemption; and that he was willing, therefore, to forget that, or lay it by for a time, in order that he might redeem the world. There were a glory and majesty which were appropriate to God, and which indicated equality with God – such as none but God could assume. For how could an angel have such glory, or such external splendor in heaven, as to make it proper to say that he was “equal with God?” With what glory could he be invested which would be such as became God only? The “fair” interpretation of this passage, therefore, is, that Christ before his incarnation was equal with God.
Being in the form of God (εν μορφη Θεου υπάρχων)
Being. Not the simple είναι to be, but stronger, denoting being which is from the beginning. See on Jam_2:15. It has a backward look into an antecedent condition, which has been protracted into the present. Here appropriate to the preincarnate being of Christ, to which the sentence refers. In itself it does not imply eternal, but only prior existence. Form (μορφή). We must here dismiss from our minds the idea of shape. The word is used in its philosophic sense, to denote that expression of being which carries in itself the distinctive nature and character of the being to whom it pertains, and is thus permanently identified with that nature and character. Thus it is distinguished from σχημα fashion, comprising that which appeals to the senses and which is changeable. Μορφή form is identified with the essence of a person or thing: σχημα fashion is an accident which may change without affecting the form. For the manner in which this difference is developed in the kindred verbs, see on Mat_17:2.
As applied here to God, the word is intended to describe that mode in which the essential being of God expresses itself. We have no word which can convey this meaning, nor is it possible for us to formulate the reality. Form inevitably carries with it to us the idea of shape. It is conceivable that the essential personality of God may express itself in a mode apprehensible by the perception of pure spiritual intelligences; but the mode itself is neither apprehensible nor conceivable by human minds.
This mode of expression, this setting of the divine essence, is not identical with the essence itself, but is identified with it, as its natural and appropriate expression, answering to it in every particular. It is the perfect expression of a perfect essence. It is not something imposed from without, but something which proceeds from the very depth of the perfect being, and into which that being perfectly unfolds, as light from fire. To say, then, that Christ was in the form of God, is to say that He existed as essentially one with God. The expression of deity through human nature (Phi_2:7) thus has its background in the expression of deity as deity in the eternal ages of God’s being. Whatever the mode of this expression, it marked the being of Christ in the eternity before creation. As the form of God was identified with the being of God, so Christ, being in the form of God, was identified with the being, nature, and personality of God.
This form, not being identical with the divine essence, but dependent upon it, and necessarily implying it, can be parted with or laid aside. Since Christ is one with God, and therefore pure being, absolute existence, He can exist without the form. This form of God Christ laid aside in His incarnation.
Thought it not robbery to be equal with God (ουχ αρπαγμὸν ηγήσατο τὸ ειναι ίσα Θεω)
Robbery is explained in three ways. 1. A robbing, the act. 2. The thing robbed, a piece of plunder. 3. A prize, a thing to be grasped. Here in the last sense.
Paul does not then say, as A.V., that Christ did not think it robbery to be equal with God: for, 1, that fact goes without. saying in the previous expression, being in the form of God. 2. On this explanation the statement is very awkward. Christ, being in the form of God, did not think it robbery to be equal with God; but, after which we should naturally expect, on the other hand, claimed and asserted equality: whereas the statement is: Christ was in the form of God and did not think it robbery to be equal with God, but (instead) emptied Himself. Christ held fast His assertion of divine dignity, but relinquished it. The antithesis is thus entirely destroyed.
Taking the word αρπαγμὸν (A.V., robbery) to mean a highly prized possession, we understand Paul to say that Christ, being, before His incarnation, in the form of God, did not regard His divine equality as a prize which was to be grasped at and retained at all hazards, but, on the contrary, laid aside the form of God, and took upon Himself the nature of man. The emphasis in the passage is upon Christ’s humiliation. The fact of His equality with God is stated as a background, in order to throw the circumstances of His incarnation into stronger relief. Hence the peculiar form of Paul’s statement Christ’s great object was to identify Himself with humanity; not to appear to men as divine but as human. Had He come into the world emphasizing His equality with God, the world would have been amazed, but not saved He did not grasp at this. The rather He counted humanity His prize, and so laid aside the conditions of His preexistent state, and became man.
Being (huparchon). Rather, “existing,” present active participle of huparcho. In the form of God (en morphei theou). Morphe means the essential attributes as shown in the form. In his preincarnate state Christ possessed the attributes of God and so appeared to those in heaven who saw him. Here is a clear statement by Paul of the deity of Christ.
A prize (harpagmon). Predicate accusative with hegesato. Originally words in mos signified the act, not the result (ma). The few examples of harpagmos (Plutarch, etc.) allow it to be understood as equivalent to harpagma, like baptismos and baptisma. That is to say Paul means a prize to be held on to rather than something to be won (“robbery”).
To be on an equality with God (to einai isa theoi). Accusative articular infinitive object of hegesato, “the being equal with God” (associative instrumental case theoi after isa). Isa is adverbial use of neuter plural with einai as in Rev_21:16.
Emptied himself (heauton ekenose). First aorist active indicative of kenoo, old verb from kenos, empty. Of what did Christ empty himself? Not of his divine nature. That was impossible. He continued to be the Son of God. There has arisen a great controversy on this word, a Kenosis doctrine. Undoubtedly Christ gave up his environment of glory. He took upon himself limitations of place (space) and of knowledge and of power, though still on earth retaining more of these than any mere man. It is here that men should show restraint and modesty, though it is hard to believe that Jesus limited himself by error of knowledge and certainly not by error of conduct. He was without sin, though tempted as we are. “He stripped himself of the insignia of majesty” (Lightfoot).
7Emptied himself.This emptying is the same as the abasement, as to which we shall see afterwards. The expression, however, is used, ευμφατικωτέρως, (more emphatically,) to mean, — being brought to nothing. Christ, indeed, could not divest himself of Godhead; but he kept it concealed for a time, that it might not be seen, under the weakness of the flesh. Hence he laid aside his glory in the view of men, not by lessening it, but by concealing it.
It is asked, whether he did this as man? Erasmus answers in the affirmative. But where was the form of God before he became man? Hence we must reply, that Paul speaks of Christ wholly, as he was God manifested in the flesh, (1Ti_3:16;) but, nevertheless, this emptying is applicable exclusive to his humanity, as if I should say of man, “Man being mortal, he is exceedingly senseless if he thinks of nothing but the world,” I refer indeed to man wholly; but at the same time I ascribe mortality only to a part of him, namely, to the body. As, then, Christ has one person, consisting of two natures, it is with propriety that Paul says, that he who was the Son of God, — in reality equal to God, did nevertheless lay aside his glory, when he in the flesh manifested himself in the appearance of a servant.
It is also asked, secondly, how he can be said to be emptied, while he, nevertheless, invariably proved himself, by miracles and excellences, to be the Son of God, and in whom, as John testifies, there was always to be seen a glory worthy of the Son of God? (Joh_1:14.) I answer, that the abasement of the flesh was, notwithstanding, like a vail, by which his divine majesty was concealed. On this account he did not wish that his transfiguration should be made public until after his resurrection; and when he perceives that the hour of his death is approaching, he then says, Father, glorify thy Son. (Joh_17:1.) Hence, too, Paul teaches elsewhere, that he was declared to be the Son of God by means of his resurrection. (Rom_1:4.) He also declares in another place, (2Co_13:4,) that he suffered through the weakness of the flesh. In fine, the image of God shone forth in Christ in such a manner, that he was, at the same time, abased in his outward appearance, and brought down to nothing in the estimation of men; for he carried about with him the form of a servant, and had assumed our nature, expressly with the view of his being a servant of the Father, nay, even of men. Paul, too, calls him the Minister of the Circumcision, (Rom_15:8;) and he himself testifies of himself, that he came to minister, (Mat_20:28;) and that same thing had long before been foretold by Isaiah — Behold my servant, etc.
In the likeness of men Γενόμενος is equivalent here to constitutus— (having been appointed.) For Paul means that he had been brought down to the level of mankind, so that there was in appearance nothing that differed from the common condition of mankind. The Marcionites perverted this declaration for the purpose of establishing the phantasm of which they dreamed. They can, however, be refuted without any great difficulty, inasmuch as Paul is treating here simply of the manner in which Christ manifested himself, and the condition with which he was conversant when in the world. Let one be truly man, he will nevertheless be reckoned unlike others, if he conducts himself as if he were exempt from the condition of others. Paul declares that it was not so as to Christ, but that he lived in such a manner, that he seemed as though he were on a level with mankind, and yet he was very different from a mere man, although he was truly man. The Marcionites therefore shewed excessive childishness, in drawing an argument from similarity of condition for the purpose of denying reality of nature.
Found means here, known or seen. For he treats, as has been observed, of estimation. In other words, as he had affirmed previously that he was truly God, the equal of the Father, so he here states, that he was reckoned, as it were, abject, and in the common condition of mankind. We must always keep in view what I said a little ago, that such abasement was voluntary.
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
made himself of no reputation, and … and — rather as the Greek, “emptied Himself, taking upon him the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” The two latter clauses (there being no conjunctions, “and … and,” in the Greek) expresses in what Christ’s “emptying of Himself” consists, namely, in “taking the form of a servant” (see on Heb_10:5; compare Exo_21:5, Exo_21:6, and Psa_40:6, proving that it was at the time when He assumed a body, He took “the form of a servant”), and in order to explain how He took “the form of a servant,” there is added, by “being made in the likeness of men.” His subjection to the law (Luk_2:21; Gal_4:4) and to His parents (Luk_2:51), His low state as a carpenter, and carpenter’s reputed son (Mat_13:55; Mar_6:3), His betrayal for the price of a bond-servant (Exo_21:32), and slave-like death to relieve us from the slavery of sin and death, finally and chiefly, His servant-like dependence as man on God, while His divinity was not outwardly manifested (Isa_49:3, Isa_49:7), are all marks of His “form as a servant.” This proves: (1) He was in the form of a servant as soon as He was made man. (2) He was “in the form of God” before He was “in the form of a servant.” (3) He did as really subsist in the divine nature, as in the form of a servant, or in the nature of man. For He was as much “in the form of God” as “in the form of a servant”; and was so in the form of God as “to be on an equality with God”; He therefore could have been none other than God; for God saith, “To whom will ye liken Me and make Me equal?” (Isa_46:5), [Bishop Pearson]. His emptying Himself presupposes His previous plenitude of Godhead (Joh_1:14; Col_1:19; Col_2:9). He remained full of this; yet He bore Himself as if He were empty.
But made himself of no reputation – This translation by no means conveys the sense of the original According to this it would seem that he consented to be without distinction or honor among people; or that he was willing to be despised or disregarded. The Greek is ἑαυτον ἐκένωσεν heauton ekenōsen. The word κενόω kenoō means literally, to empty, “to make empty, to make vain or void.” It is rendered: “made void” in Rom_4:14; “made of none effect,” 1Co_1:17; “make void,” 1Co_9:15; “should be vain,” 2Co_9:3. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament, except in the passage before us. The essential idea is that of bringing to emptiness, vanity, or nothingness; and, hence, it is applied to a case where one lays aside his rank and dignity, and becomes in respect to that as nothing; that is, he assumes a more humble rank and station. In regard to its meaning here, we may remark:
(1) that it cannot mean that he literally divested himself of his divine nature and perfections, for that was impossible. He could not cease to be omnipotent, and omnipresent, and most holy, and true, and good.
(2) it is conceivable that he might have laid aside, for a time, the symbols or the manifestation of his glory, or that the outward expressions of his majesty in heaven might have been withdrawn. It is conceivable for a divine being to intermit the exercise of his almighty power, since it cannot be supposed that God is always exerting his power to the utmost. And in like manner there might be for a time a laying aside or intermitting of these manifestations or symbols, which were expressive of the divine glory and perfections. Yet,
(3) this supposes no change in the divine nature, or in the essential glory of the divine perfections. When the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed. His luster is only for a time obscured. So it might have been in regard to the manifestation of the glory of the Son of God. Of course there is much in regard to this which is obscure, but the language of the apostle undoubtedly implies more than that he took an humble place, or that he demeaned himself in an humble manner. In regard to the actual change respecting his manifestations in heaven, or the withdrawing of the symbols of his glory there, the Scriptures are nearly silent, and conjecture is useless – perhaps improper. The language before us fairly implies that he laid aside that which was expressive of his being divine – that glory which is involved in the phrase “being in the form of God” – and took upon himself another form and manifestation in the condition of a servant.
And took upon him the form of a servant – The phrase “form of a servant,” should be allowed to explain the phrase “form of God,” in Phi_2:6. The “form of a servant” is that which indicates the condition of a servant, in contradistinction from one of higher rank. It means to appear as a servant, to perform the offices of a servant, and to be regarded as such. He was made like a servant in the lowly condition which he assumed. The whole connection and force of the argument here demands this interpretation. Storr and Rosenmuller interpret this as meaning that he became the servant or minister of God, and that in doing it, it was necessary that he should become a man. But the objection to this is obvious. It greatly weakens the force of the apostle’s argument. His object is to state the depth of humiliation to which he descended, and this was best done by saying that he descended to the lowest condition of humanity and appeared in the most humble garb. The idea of being a “servant or minister of God” would not express that, for this is a term which might be applied to the highest angel in heaven. Though the Lord Jesus was not literally a servant or slave, yet what is here affirmed was true of him in the following respects:
(1) He occupied a most lowly condition in life.
(2) he condescended to perform such acts as are appropriate only to those who are servants. “I am among you as he that serveth;” Luk_22:27; compare Joh_13:4-15.
And was made in the likeness of men – Margin, habit. The Greek word means likeness, resemblance. The meaning is, he was made like unto people by assuming such a body as theirs; see the notes at Rom_8:3.
Made Himself of no reputation (εαυτὸν εκένωσεν).
Lit., emptied Himself. The general sense is that He divested Himself of that peculiar mode of existence which was proper and peculiar to Him as one with God. He laid aside the form of God. In so doing, He did not divest Himself of His divine nature. The change was a change of state: the form of a servant for the form of God. His personality continued the same. His self-emptying was not self-extinction, nor was the divine Being changed into a mere man. In His humanity He retained the consciousness of deity, and in His incarnate state carried out the mind which animated Him before His incarnation. He was not unable to assert equality with God. He was able not to assert it.
Form of a servant (μορφὴν δούλου)
The same word for form as in the phrase form of God, and with the same sense. The mode of expression of a slave’s being is indeed apprehensible, and is associated with human shape, but it is not this side of the fact which Paul is developing. It is that Christ assumed that mode of being which answered to, and was the complete and characteristic expression of, the slave’s being. The mode itself is not defined. This is appropriately inserted here as bringing out the contrast with counted not equality with God, etc. What Christ grasped at in His incarnation was not divine sovereignty, but service.
Was made in the likeness of men (εν ομοιώματι ανθρώπων γενόμενος)
Lit., becoming in, etc. Notice the choice of the verb, not was, but became: entered into a new state. Likeness. The word does not imply the reality of our Lord’s humanity, μορφή form implied the reality of His deity. That fact is stated in the form of a servant. Neither is εικών image employed, which, for our purposes, implies substantially the same as μορφή. See on Col_1:15. As form of a servant exhibits the inmost reality of Christ’s condition as a servant – that He became really and essentially the servant of men (Luk_22:27) – so likeness of men expresses the fact that His mode of manifestation resembled what men are. This leaves room for the assumption of another side of His nature – the divine – in the likeness of which He did not appear. As He appealed to men, He was like themselves, with a real likeness; but this likeness to men did not express His whole self. The totality of His being could not appear to men, for that involved the form of God. Hence the apostle views Him solely as He could appear to men. All that was possible was a real and complete likeness to humanity. What He was essentially and eternally could not enter into His human mode of existence. Humanly He was like men, but regarded with reference to His whole self, He was not identical with man, because there was an element of His personality which did not dwell in them – equality with God. Hence the statement of His human manifestation is necessarily limited by this fact, and is confined to likeness and does not extend to identity. “To affirm likeness is at once to assert similarity and to deny sameness” (Dickson). See on Rom_8:3.
8 He became obedient. Even this was great humility — that from being Lord he became a servant; but he says that he went farther than this, because, while he was not only immortal, but the Lord of life and death, he nevertheless became obedient to his Father, even so far as to endure death. This was extreme abasement, especially when we take into view the kind of death, which he immediately adds, with the view of enhancing it. For by dying in this manner he was not only covered with ignominy in the sight of God, but was also accursed in the sight of God. It is assuredly such a pattern of humility as ought to absorb the attention of all mankind; so far is it from being possible to unfold it in words in a manner suitable to its dignity.
And being found in fashion as a man – Και σχηματι εὑρεθεις ὡς ανθρωπος. This clause should be joined to the preceding, and thus translated: Being made in the likeness of man, and was found in fashion as a man.
He humbled himself – Laid himself as low as possible:
1. In emptying himself – laying aside the effulgence of his glory.
2. In being incarnate – taking upon him the human form.
3. In becoming a servant – assuming the lowest innocent character, that of being the servant of all.
4. In condescending to die, to which he was not naturally liable, as having never sinned, and therefore had a right in his human nature to immortality, without passing under the empire of death.
5. In condescending, not only to death, but to the lowest and most ignominious kind of death, the death of the cross; the punishment of the meanest of slaves and worst of felons.
What must sin have been in the sight of God, when it required such abasement in Jesus Christ to make an atonement for it, and undo its influence and malignity!
And being found – That is, being such, or existing as a man, he humbled himself.
In fashion as a man – The word rendered “fashion” – σχημα schema – means figure, mien, deportment. Here it is the same as state, or condition. The sense is, that when he was reduced to this condition he humbled himself, and obeyed even unto death. He took upon himself all the attributes of a man. He assumed all the innocent infirmities of our nature. He appeared as other people do, was subjected to the necessity of food and clothing, like others, and was made liable to suffering, as other men are. It was still he who had been in the “form of God” who thus appeared; and, though his divine glory had been for a time laid aside, yet it was not extinguished or lost. It is important to remember, in all our meditations on the Saviour, that it was the same Being who had been invested with so much glory in heaven, that appeared on earth in the form of a man.
He humbled himself – Even then, when he appeared as a man. He had not only laid aside the symbols of his glory Phi_2:7, and become a man; but when he was a man, he humbled himself. Humiliation was a constant characteristic of him as a man. He did not aspire to high honors; he did not affect pomp and parade; he did not demand the service of a train of menials; but he condescended to the lowest conditions of life; Luk_22:27. The words here are very carefully chosen. In the former case Phi_2:7, when he became a man, he “emptied himself,” or laid aside the symbols of his glory; now, when a man, he humbled himself. That is, though he was God appearing in the form of man – a divine person on earth – yet he did not assume and assert the dignity and prerogatives appropriate to a divine being, but put himself in a condition of obedience. For such a being to obey law, implied voluntary humiliation; and the greatness of his humiliation was shown by his becoming entirely obedient, even until he died on the cross.
And became obedient – He subjected himself to the law of God, and wholly obeyed it; Heb_10:7, Heb_10:9. It was a characteristic of the Redeemer that he yielded perfect obedience to the will of God. Should it be said that, if he was God himself, he must have been himself the lawgiver, we may reply that this rendered his obedience all the more wonderful and all the more meritorious. If a monarch should for an important purpose place himself in a position to obey his own laws, nothing could show in a more striking manner their importance in his view. The highest honor that has been shown to the Law of God on earth was, that it was perfectly observed by him who made the Law – the great Mediator.
Unto death – He obeyed even when obedience terminated in death. The point of this expression is this: One may readily and cheerfully obey another where there is no particular peril. But the case is different where obedience is attended with danger. The child shows a spirit of true obedience when he yields to the commands of a father, though it should expose him to hazard; the servant who obeys his master, when obedience is attended with risk of life; the soldier, when he is morally certain that to obey will be followed by death. Thus, many a company or platoon has been ordered into the “deadly breach,” or directed to storm a redoubt, or to scale a wall, or to face a cannon, when it was morally certain that death would be the consequence. No profounder spirit of obedience can be evinced than this. It should be said, however, that the obedience of the soldier is in many cases scarcely voluntary, since, if he did not obey, death would be the penalty. But, in the case of the Redeemer, it was wholly voluntary. He placed himself in the condition of a servant to do the will of God, and then never shrank from what that condition involved.
Even the death of the cross – It was not such a death as a servant might incur by crossing a stream, or by failing among robbers, or by being worn out by toil; it was not such as the soldier meets when he is suddenly cut down, covered with glory as he falls; it was the long lingering, painful, humiliating death of the cross. Many a one might be willing to obey if the death that was suffered was regarded as glorious; but when it is ignominious, and of the most degrading character, and the most torturing that human ingenuity can invent, then the whole character of the obedience is changed. Yet this was the obedience the Lord Jesus evinced; and it was in this way that his remarkable readiness to suffer was shown.
Being found in fashion as a man (σχήματι ευρεθεὶς ως άνθρωπος)
Some expositors connect these words with the preceding clause, thus: being made in the likeness of men and being found in fashion as a man; a new sentence beginning with He humbled Himself. The general sense is not altered by this change, and there is great force in Meyer’s remark that the preceding thought, in the likeness of men, is thus “emphatically exhausted.” On the other hand, it breaks the connection with the following sentence, which thus enters very abruptly. Notice being found. After He had assumed the conditions of humanity, and men’s attention was drawn to Him, they found Him like a man. Compare Isa_53:2. “If we looked at Him, there was no sightliness that we should delight in Him.”
Fashion (σχήματι). That which is purely outward and appeals to the senses. The form of a servant is concerned with the fact that the manifestation as a servant corresponded with the real fact that Christ came as the servant of mankind. In the phrase in the likeness of men the thought is still linked with that of His essential nature which rendered possible a likeness to men, but not an absolute identity with men. In being found in fashion as a man the thought is confined to the outward guise as it appealed to the sense of mankind. Likeness states the fact of real resemblance to men in mode of existence: fashion defines the outward mode and form. As a man. Not being found a man not what He was recognized to be, but as a man, keeping up the idea of semblance expressed in likeness.
He humbled Himself (εταπείνωσεν εαυτόν)
Not the same as emptied Himself, Phi_2:7. It defines that word, showing how the self-emptying manifests itself.
Became obedient unto death (γενόμενος – μέχρι)
Became, compare Rev_1:18. Unto. The Rev. very judiciously inserts even; for the A.V. is open to the interpretation that Christ rendered obedience to death. Unto is up to the point of. Christ’s obedience to God was rendered to the extent of laying down His life.
Of the cross
Forming a climax of humiliation. He submitted not only to death, but to the death of a malefactor. The Mosaic law had uttered a curse against it, Deu_21:23, and the Gentiles reserved it for malefactors and slaves. Hence the shame associated with the cross, Heb_12:2. This was the offense or stumbling-block of the cross, which was so often urged by the Jews against the Christians. See on Gal_3:13. To a Greek, accustomed to clothe his divinities with every outward attribute of grace and beauty, the summons to worship a crucified malefactor appealed as foolishness, 1Co_1:23.
9Therefore God hath highly exalted. By adding consolation, he shews that abasement, to which the human mind is averse, is in the highest degree desirable. There is no one, it is true, but will acknowledge that it is a reasonable thing that is required from us, when we are exhorted to imitate Christ. This consideration, however, stirs us up to imitate him the more cheerfully, when we learn that nothing is more advantageous for us than to be conformed to his image. Now, that all are happy who, along with Christ, voluntarily abase themselves, he shews by his example; for from the most abject condition he was exalted to the highest elevation. Every one therefore that humbles himself will in like manner be exalted. Who would now be reluctant to exercise humility, by means of which the glory of the heavenly kingdom is attained?
This passage has given occasion to sophists, or rather they have seized hold of it, to allege that Christ merited first for himself, and afterwards for others. Now, in the first place, even though there were nothing false alleged, it would nevertheless be proper to avoid such profane speculations as obscure the grace of Christ — in imagining that he came for any other reason than with a view to our salvation. Who does not see that this is a suggestion of Satan — that Christ suffered upon the cross, that he might acquire for himself, by the merit of his work, what he did not possess? For it is the design of the Holy Spirit, that we should, in the death of Christ, see, and taste, and ponder, and feel, and recognize nothing but God’s unmixed goodness, and the love of Christ toward us, which was great and inestimable, that, regardless of himself, he devoted himself and his life for our sakes. In every instance in which the Scriptures speak of the death of Christ, they assign to us its advantage and price; — that by means of it we are redeemed — reconciled to God — restored to righteousness — cleansed from our pollutions — life is procured for us, and the gate of life opened. Who, then, would deny that it is at the instigation of Satan that the persons referred to maintain, on the other hand, that the chief part of the advantage is in Christ himself — that a regard to himself had the precedence of that which he had to us — that he merited glory for himself before he merited salvation for us?
Farther, I deny the truth of what they allege, and I maintain that Paul’s words are impiously perverted to the establishment of their falsehood; for that the expression, for this cause, denotes here a consequence rather than a reason, is manifest from this, that it would otherwise follow, that a man could merit Divine honors, and acquire the very throne of God — which is not merely absurd, but even dreadful to make mention of. For of what exaltation of Christ does the Apostle here speak? It is, that everything may be accomplished in him that God, by the prophet Isaiah, exclusively claims to himself. Hence the glory of God, and the majesty, which is so peculiar to him, that it cannot be transferred to any other, will be the reward of man’s work!
Again, if they should urge the mode of expression, without any regard to the absurdity that will follow, the reply will be easy — that he has been given us by the Father in such a manner, that his whole life is as a mirror that is set before us. As, then, a mirror, though it has splendor, has it not for itself, but with the view of its being advantageous and profitable to others, so Christ did not seek or receive anything for himself, but everything for us. For what need, I ask, had he, who was the equal of the Father, of a new exaltation? Let, then, pious readers learn to detest the Sorbonnic sophists with their perverted speculations.
Hath given him a name Name here is employed to mean dignity — a manner of expression which is abundantly common in all languages — “Jacet sine nominetruncus; He lies a headless nameless carcass.” The mode of expression, however, is more especially common in Scripture. The meaning therefore is, that supreme power was given to Christ, and that he was placed in the highest rank of honor, so that there is no dignity found either in heaven or in earth that is equal to his. Hence it follows that it is a Divine name. This, too, he explains by quoting the words of Isaiah, where the Prophet, when treating of the propagation of the worship of God throughout the whole world, introduces God as speaking thus: —“I live: every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will swear to me,” etc. (Isa_45:23.)
Now, it is certain that adoration is here meant, which belongs peculiarly to God alone. I am aware that some philosophise with subtlety as to the name Jesus, as though it were derived from the ineffable name Jehovah. In the reason, however, which they advance, I find no solidity. As for me, I feel no pleasure in empty subtleties; and it is dangerous to trifle in a matter of such importance. Besides, who does not see that it is a forced, and anything rather than a genuine, exposition, when Paul speaks of Christ’s whole dignity, to restrict his meaning to two syllables, as if any one were to examine attentively the letters of the word Alexander, in order to find in them the greatness of the name that Alexander acquired for himself. Their subtlety, therefore, is not solid, and the contrivance is foreign to Paul’s intention. But worse than ridiculous is the conduct of the Sorbonnic sophists, who infer from the passage before us that we ought to bow the knee whenever the name of Jesus is pronounced, as though it were a magic word which had all virtue included in the sound of it. Paul, on the other hand, speaks of the honor that is to be rendered to the Son of God—not to mere syllables.
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him – If by his humiliation he has merited pardon and final salvation for the whole world, is it to be wondered that the human body, in which this fullness of the Godhead dwelt, and in which the punishment due to our sins was borne upon the tree, should be exalted above all human and all created beings? And this is the fact; for he hath given him a name, το ονομα, the name, which is above every name: το is prefixed to ονομα here by ABC, 17, Origen, Dionysius Alexandrinus, Eusebius, Cyril, and Procopius. This makes it much more emphatic. According to Eph_1:20, Eph_1:21, the man Christ Jesus is exalted to the right hand of God, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come. From which it appears that no creature of God is so far exalted and so glorious as the man Christ Jesus, human nature being in him dignified infinitely beyond the angelic nature; and that this nature has an authority and pre-eminence which no being, either in heaven or earth, enjoys. In a word, as man was in the beginning at the head of all the creatures of God, Jesus Christ, by assuming human nature, suffering and dying in it, has raised it to its pristine state. And this is probably what is here meant by this high exaltation of Christ, and giving him a name which is above every name. But if we refer to any particular epithet, then the name Jesus or Savior must be that which is intended; as no being either in heaven or earth can possess this name as he who is the Redeemer of the world does, for he is the only Savior; none has or could redeem us to God but he; and throughout eternity he will ever appear as the sole Savior of the human race. Hence, before his birth, Gabriel stated that his name should be called Jesus; giving for reason, he shall Save his people from their sins. The qualifications of the Savior of the world were so extraordinary, the redeeming acts so stupendous, and the result of all so glorious both to God and man, that it is impossible to conceive a higher name or title than that of Jesus, or Savior of the world.
Wherefore – As a reward of this humiliation and these sufferings. The idea is, that there was an appropriate reward for it, and that that was bestowed upon him by his exaltation as Mediator to the right hand of God; compare the notes at Heb_2:9.
God also hath highly exalted him – As Mediator. Though he was thus humbled, and appeared in the form of a servant, he is now raised up to the throne of glory, and to universal dominion. This exaltation is spoken of the Redeemer as he was, sustaining a divine and a human nature. If there was, as has been supposed, some obscuration or withdrawing of the symbols of his glory Phi_2:7, when he became a man, then this refers to the restoration of that glory, and would seem to imply, also, that there was additional honor conferred on him. There was all the augmented glory resulting from the work which he had performed in redeeming man.
And given him a name which is above every name – No other name can be compared with his. It stands alone. He only is Redeemer, Saviour. He only is Christ, the Anointed of God; see the notes at Heb_1:4. He only is the Son of God. His rank, his titles, his dignity, are above all others; see this illustrated in the notes at Eph_1:20-21.
10Every knee might bow. Though respect is shewn to men also be means of this rite, there can nevertheless be no doubt that what is here meant is that adoration which belongs exclusively to God, of which the bending of the knee is a token. As to this, it is proper to notice, that God is to be worshipped, not merely with the inward affection of the heart, but also by outward profession, if we would render to him what is his due. Hence, on the other hand, when he would describe his genuine worshippers, he says that they have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.(1Kg_19:18.)
But here a question arises — whether this relates to the divinity of Christ or to his humanity, for either of the two is not without some inconsistency, inasmuch as nothing new could be given to his divinity; and his humanity in itself, viewed separately, has by no means such exaltation belonging to it that it should be adored as God? I answer, that this, like many things else, is affirmed in reference to Christ’s entire person, viewed as God manifested in the flesh. (1Ti_3:16.) For he did not abase himself either as to his humanity alone, or as to his divinity alone, but inasmuch as, clothed in our flesh, he concealed himself under its infirmity. So again God exalted his own Son in the same flesh, in which he had lived in the world abject and despised, to the highest rank of honor, that he may sit at his right hand.
Paul, however, appears to be inconsistent with himself; for in Rom_14:11, he quotes this same passage, when he has it in view to prove that Christ will one day be the judge of the living and the dead. Now, it would not be applicable to that subject, if it were already accomplished, as he here declares. I answer, that the kingdom of Christ is on such a footing, that it is every day growing and making improvement, while at the same time perfection is not yet attained, nor will be until the final day of reckoning. Thus both things hold true — that all things are now subject to Christ, and that this subjection will, nevertheless, not be complete until the day of the resurrection, because that which is now only begun will then be completed. Hence, it is not without reason that this prophecy is applied in different ways at different times, as also all the other prophecies, which speak of the reign of Christ, do not restrict it to one particular time, but describe it in its entire course. From this, however, we infer that Christ is that eternal God who spoke by Isaiah.
Things in heaven, things on earth, things under the earth. Since Paul represents all things from heaven to hell as subject to Christ, Papists trifle childishly when they draw purgatory from his words. Their reasoning, however, is this — that devils are so far from bowing the knee to Christ, that they are in every way rebellious against him, and stir up others to rebellion, as if it were not at the same time written that they tremble at the simple mention of God. (Jas_2:19.) How will it be, then, when they shall come before the tribunal of Christ? I confess, indeed, that they are not, and never will be, subject of their own accord and by cheerful submission; but Paul is not speaking here of voluntary obedience; nay more, we may, on the contrary, turn back upon them an argument, by way of retortion, (αντιστρέφον,) in this manner: — “The fire of purgatory, according to them, is temporary, and will be done away at the day of judgment: hence this passage cannot be understood as to purgatory, because Paul elsewhere declares that this prophecy will not be fulfilled until Christ shall manifest himself for judgment.” Who does not see that they are twice children in respect of these disgusting frivolities? (117)
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown
at the name — rather as Greek, “in the name.”
bow — rather, “bend,” in token of worship. Referring to Isa_45:23; quoted also in Rom_14:11. To worship “in the name of Jesus,” is to worship Jesus Himself (compare Phi_2:11; Pro_18:10), or God in Christ (Joh_16:23; Eph_3:14). Compare “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord (that is, whosoever shall call on the Lord in His revealed character) shall be saved” (Rom_10:13; 1Co_1:2); “all that call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (compare 2Ti_2:22); “call on the Lord”; Act_7:59, “calling upon … and saying, Lord Jesus” (Act_9:14, Act_9:21; Act_22:16).
of things in heaven — angels. They worship Him not only as God, but as the ascended God-man, “Jesus” (Eph_1:21; Heb_1:6; 1Pe_3:22).
in earth — men; among whom He tabernacled for a time.
under the earth — the dead; among whom He was numbered once (Rom_14:9, Rom_14:11; Eph_4:9, Eph_4:10; Rev_5:13). The demons and the lost may be included indirectly, as even they give homage, though one of fear, not love, to Jesus (Mar_3:11; Luk_8:31; Jam_2:19, see on Phi_2:11).
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow – The knee should bow, or bend, in token of honor, or worship; that is, all people should adore him. This cannot mean merely that at the mention of the name of Jesses we should bow; nor is there any evidence that God requires this. Why should we bow at the mention of that name, rather than at any of the other titles of the Redeemer? Is there any special sacredness or honor in it above the other names which he bears? And why should we how at his name rather than at the name of the Father! Besides, if any special homage is to be paid to the name of the Saviour under the authority of this passage – and this is the only one on which the authority of this custom is based – it should be by bowing the knee, not the head. But the truth is, this authorizes and requires neither; and the custom of bowing at the name of Jesus, in some churches, has arisen entirely from a misinterpretation of this passage. There is no other place in the Bible to which an appeal is made to authorize the custom; compare Neal’s History of the Puritans, chapter 5. Ninth 5. The meaning here is, not that a special act of respect or adoration should be shown wherever the name “Jesus” occurs in reading the Scriptures, or whenever it is mentioned, but that he was so exalted that it would be proper that all in heaven and on earth should worship him, and that the time would come when he would be thus everywhere acknowledged as Lord. The bowing of the knee properly expresses homage, respect, adoration (compare the notes at Rom_11:4); and it cannot be done to the Saviour by those who are in heaven, unless it be divine.
Of things in heaven – επουρανίων epouranion – rather of beings in heaven, the word “things” being improperly supplied by our translators. The word may be in the neuter plural; but it may be also in the masculine plural, and denote beings rather than things. Things do not bow the knee; and the reference here is undoubtedly to angels, and to the “spirits of the just made perfect” in heaven. If Jesus is worshipped there, he is divine; for there is no idolatry eta creature in heaven. In this whole passage there is probably an allusion to Isa_45:23; see it illustrated in the notes at Rom_14:11. In the great divisions here specified – of those in heaven, on the earth, and under the earth – the apostle intends, doubtless, to denote the universe. The same mode of designating the universe occurs in Rev_5:13; Exo_20:4; compare Psa_96:11-12. This mode of expression is equivalent to saying, “all that is above, around, and beneath us,” and arises from what appears to us. The division is natural and obvious – that which is above us in the heavens, that which is on the earth where we dwell, and all that is beneath us.
And things in earth – Rather, “beings on earth,” to wit, people; for they only are capable of rendering homage.
And things under the earth – Beings under the earth. The whole universe shall confess that he is Lord. This embraces, doubtless, those who have departed from this life, and perhaps includes also fallen angels. The meaning is, that riley shall all acknowledge him as universal Lord; all how to his sovereign will; all be subject to his control; all recognize him as divine. The fallen and the lost will do this; for they will be constrained to yield an unwilling homage to him by submitting to the sentence from his lips that shall consign them to woe; and thus the whole universe shall acknowledge the exalted dignity of the Son of God. But this does not mean that they will all be saved, for the guilty and the lost may be compelled to acknowledge his power, and submit to his decree as the sovereign of the universe. There is the free and cheerful homage of the heart which they who worship him in heaven will render; and there is the constrained homage which they must yield who are compelled to acknowledge his authority.
And that every tongue should confess – That all those before mentioned should acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, or absolute governor, and thus glorify God the Father, who has exalted this human nature to this state of ineffable glory, in virtue of its passion, death, resurrection, and the atonement which it has made, by which so many attributes of the Divine nature have become illustrated, the Divine law magnified and made honorable, and an eternal glory provided for man.
Others by things in heaven understand the holy angels; by things on earth, human beings generally; and by things under the earth, fallen spirits of every description. Perhaps the three expressions are designed to comprehend all beings of all kinds, all creatures; as it is usual with the Hebrews, and indeed with all ancient nations, to express, by things in heaven, things on earth, and things under the earth, all beings of all kinds; universal nature. See similar forms of speech, Exo_20:4; Deu_4:17, Deu_4:18; Psa_96:11; and Eze_38:20. But intelligent beings seem to be those which are chiefly intended by the words of the apostle; for it appears that nothing less than absolute rule over angels, men, and devils, can be designed in these extraordinary words, and by confessing him to be Lord we may understand that worship which all intelligent creatures are called to pay to God manifested in the flesh; for all should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. And the worship thus offered is to the glory of God; so that far from being idolatrous, as some have rashly asserted, it is to the honor of the Divine Being. We may add, that the tongue which does not confess thus, is a tongue that dishonors the Almighty.
And that every tongue should confess – Everyone should acknowledge him. On the duty and importance of confessing Christ, see the notes at Rom_10:9-10.
That Jesus Christ is Lord – The word “Lord,” here, is used in its primitive and proper sense, as denoting owner, ruler, sovereign; compare the notes at Rom_14:9. The meaning is, that all should acknowledge him as the universal sovereign.
To the glory of God the Father – Such a universal confession would honor God; see the notes at Joh_5:23, where this sentiment is explained.