In this chapter the Apostle earnestly exhorts the Philippians to mutual charity, humility, and fear. He then proceeds to a warm commendation of St. Timothy and Epaphroditus, both of whom he was about to send to Philippi, though not at the same time.
2:1. If therefore there is any consolation in Christ, if any solace of charity, if any association of spirit, if any bowels of mercy;
2:2. Fulfil my joy, that you think alike, having the same charity, unanimous, united in sentiment,
(verse 1) If therefore there in any consolation in Christ. If you desire to convey to me any consolation and encouragement in Christ’s name at this difficult crisis of my fortunes, when I am a prisoner, awaiting trial, doubtful of my life, expecting with natural anxiety and solicitude the task of pleading the cause of Christ in the presence of the emperor of the Romans ;—if your charity prompts you to do what is in your power to support and aid me by your sympathy; if there exists between us a bond which unites and associates us in spirit, though parted in the body; if you are capable even of the human, ordinary, and instinctive feeling of compassion which urges all mankind to stretch out a helping hand to their fellow-men when they are in peril, perplexity, anxiety;-
I will show you what you can do, which will afford me deeper joy than anything else in your power. Let me know that you all are agreed in the maintenance of the one, holy, Catholic faith, such as I communicated it to you; that you are bound together by the bond of mutual charity; that you are united and unanimous in language and opinion, sentiment and feeling, as in faith and charity. St. Paul does not say (in verse 2), give me joy, but fulfil my Joy. He had already great cause of rejoicing in the faith and charity of the Philippians, as he says in chapter 1, in the extension of the Christian faith in Rome, in the fair and reasonable prospect of victory and success in the arduous controversy in which he was engaged. This joy would be made perfect and complete if the Philippians remained united with him, and among themselves, in perfect unanimity and charity. The solemnity and earnestness with which he introduces this request is suited to the nature of it; he asks nothing for himself, but only for concord among his friends, seeking the good of others, not his own.
2:3. Nothing through contention, nothing through vain glory: but in humility, considering one another as your superiors,
Do nothing from rivalry, jealousy, the wish to excel or humiliate one another, or for the sake of the vain and empty glory of this world. And let everyone treat his neighbour, and consider him, as his superior, that is, in God’s sight better than himself; a supposition which is, at least, in all cases probable.
2:4. Not regarding each his own, but what is of others.
And let each one seek not only his own good, but also that of his neighbour. All solicitude for one’s own good is not wrong, but only that which is oblivious of, or injurious to, the welfare of others. In these suggestions the Apostle has noted four causes of discord, and four opposite causes of harmony and peace. The sources of disagreement are, 1, tenacity of opinion; 2, love of glory; 3, love of power; 4, undue solicitude for our own good. Opposed to these, as elements of concord and agreement, he places 1, humility of mind; 2, contempt of earthly glory; 3, love of dependence; 4, neglect of private interest. United in sentiment; doing nothing for empty glory; in humility considering others superior; not
regarding each his own. How far the Philippian Christians stood in need of these admonitions, we have no means of judging; but this is what the Apostle asks of them as the greatest happiness they could confer upon him, and as what was still remainmg to complete his joy. And he proceeds to enforce his lesson by the supreme Example of humility and of the reward with which God will crown it.
2:5. For let this feeling be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.
2:6. Who though he was in the form of God, not considering it rapine to be equal to God:
Let this feeling be in you. He says feeling, not intelligence. No finite intelligence is capable of conceiving and comprehending the immensity of the humiliation of Deity which the Apostle describes in this wonderful passage, which has been selected by the Church, as is well known, for the Epistle at Mass on Palm Sunday. But though we cannot comprehend this humiliation, we are not altogether incapable of feeling it. St Paul says sentite, not intelligite. Christ Jesus was in the form of God, that is, as all the Fathers understand it, the nature of God. This interpretation is especially and expressly insisted on by St Chrysostom and St Thomas. The writer who assumes the name of St Ambrose understands the form of God to mean, not the nature of God, but the proof or indication of it which Christ offered in his miracles, and he is followed in this interpretation by Grotius and Erasmus. But this is not the view taken by the other ecclesiastical writers, and by the tradition of the Church, the true interpreter of the Apostolic writings, all of which authorities understand the nature of God. Being in the nature of God, Christ thought it no robbery, or undue assumption, to claim to be on an absolute equality with the Supreme Deity. The word equal is expressed adverbially in the Greek το εἶναι ἰσος θεός. Such a claim advanced by any merely created being would be a rapine or robbery inconceivably presumptuous and sacrilegious. (It was advanced by Simon Magus, a circumstance to which it is no impossible that the Apostle incidentally refers). It was attempted by Lucifer, when he said, I will be like the highest (Isa 14:14). But Christ was guilty of no rapine when he said I and my Father are one (Jn 10:30
2:7. Yet emptied himself out, taking the form of a slave, made into the likeness of men, and was found in habit as man.
Yet he emptied himself out, (semetipsum exinanivit). Not that he laid aside his divine nature and infinite perfections, but concealed it under the veil of the creature, which he assumed. This must not be taken as implying that there was nay voluntary and intentional concealment of his divine character in the conduct or language of Christ. There is not a word in the Gospels which favors such an idea, and on the contrary it was through his words, actions, gestures, and aspect, that his Divinity was revealed to his Apostles. He always spoke and acted, if the expression be allowable, in character, and as God. But only to faith and love could this be made manifest, and in the anger of Bethlehem, and in his daily life, he was to ordinary observers like other men. He emptied himself out by assuming a created and inferior nature. Taking the form of a slave, or servant, these two words not being distinguished either in the Greek or Latin. Taking, that is, the nature of man, the lowest order of intelligent and rational beings, capable of knowing God. He was made into the likeness and habit of man, in form, appearance, nature, aspect, reality of body and soul, like all other men, true man.
St Thomas observes, on the word exinanivit: empty is opposed to full. It is of Deity to be all fullness. Humanity and all that is created is merely dependent existence, and relatively nothing. Divinity includes all good; humanity is a tabula rasa, in a sense empty. Christ therefore emptied himself out; from full, became empty; from all, nothing; he hid from sight all his majesty, eternity, infinity, omnipotence, and became and was seen as an infant, a feeble and mortal man.
It is to be observed that exception might possibly be taken to the comprehensive nature of the precept given by the Apostle in verse 3, let each consider every other his superior. There are incontestably some differences of gifts, endowments, disposition, education, and the like, which make some men superior to others, and which are real, and not assumed. Are these not to be taken into account? And if they are, how can the injunction of St Paul be carried out? This objection, which the Apostle had foreseen, falls to the ground, crushed and annihilated, in presence of the supreme example of humility which he here adduces. What is any earthly greatness, and limited superiority, in comparison with the greatness of him who was equal with God, and yet emptied himself out, fully and entirely, took the lowest place in his own rational creation, and was found in habit as man in the manger of the stable at Bethlehem? After this, any fancied superiority was may arrogate to ourselves becomes entirely worthless and insignificant, absolutely beneath regard. At last, St Augustine says, let man blush to be proud, for whom God made himself humble. That pride is indeed incurable which the consideration of this humiliation will not cure.
2:8. He humbled himself, being made obedient even to death, and the death of the cross.
Being made obedient even unto death. Having given the great Example of humility in the preceding words, the Apostle now adds the Example of charity. As in verse 3 he said, Consider each one a superior, so he had added in verse 4, regarding not only your own, but what is of others. Christ was for the salvation of man obedient to the will of God; not as I will, but as Thou (Mt 26:39). More than this, he condescended to be obedient also to man, into whose hands he surrendered himself, to be apprehended, tortured, condemned to death, and crucified; and this for the salvation of the lost race of man. To this also is applicable the word used by the Apostle, sentite. The mind cannot grasp this extent of charity, nor the tongue express it, but the heart can feel, in a degree, how great charity it was which led Almighty God to obey, to suffer and to die for man. And to die the death of the cross, ordinarily reserved for criminals who were also slaves, or by their conduct had merited no better treatment. This was the completion of humiliation, the completion of obedience, and the completion of charity.
2:9. On which account also God exalted him, and gave him the name which is above every name;
On which account also God Exalted him. On account of his obedience, God exalted, in the Greek superexalted, raised him to the highest place in the universe, above all creation. The inference is that the highest advancement in the life to come will be assigned to those who have most closely imitated Christ in his humiliation, obedience, and charity. It is to be understood that Christ is exalted as man, and in his human nature, for in his Divine nature, in which he is equal to the Father from all eternity, he cannot be exalted. He is placed, as man, at the head of God’s creation. And gave him the name which is above every name. That is, the name of God, in which he receives divine adoration from angels and from men, being one Person, though existing in two natures. Mary’s Son is God forever. God conferred this name upon him by making known his Deity to the world, by the preaching of the Apostles. Some writers, however, not unreasonably suppose St Paul to refer to the name of Jesus, or the Savior. This term is constantly used in the Hebrew idiom to signify a king, leader, or prince, whose direction of public affairs renders a nation safe from attack or invasion from outside. They called upon the Lord, and he raised up for them a savior (Judges 3:9). Thou didst give them saviors, (2 Esdras 9:27ff). Thus the Savior, guardian, lord, and protector of all creation is the name which is above every name, because from him all other power and authority in heaven and earth is derived.
2:10. That in the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of celestial, terrestrial, and infernal:
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bend. The celestial, the angels of heaven, the terrestrial, man on earth, the infernal, all the souls in the limbus patrum, in purgatory, even the fallen spirits in hell, however reluctantly, all rational and intelligent creatures in the universe, bend the knee to the Man whose name is Jesus, adore Jesus, acknowledge Jesus as their God and Lord. There is a reference to Isa 45:23-24. I have sworn by myself, the word of justice shall come out of my mouth and not return, that to me every knee will bend, and every tongue will swear. This is in part fulfilled even now, and will be fully accomplished at the last day.
2:11. And every tongue confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father.
Every tongue must confess. The meaning of the next words in the Greek appears to be, that Jesus Christ is Lord, in the glory of God the Father. That he shares the same glory with God the Father, and is Lord of all creation, to all eternity. This will be finally accomplished at the great day when Christ will come in the glory of his Father, and attended by the holy Angels (Mt 16:27).
The truth stated in this passage, that the attribute of humility is an integral and essential part of the nature of God, was entirely unknown to the pagan world, before the coming of Christ: nor indeed was it revealed even in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Even to the holy Angels it was not, until that time, made known in its full extent. The pride of Lucifer was shocked by the partial revelation of it. It is commonly thought that Satan refused to believe in the Incarnation of the Son of God, until convinced by the miracles of Christ. It must always remain, when reflected on, a cause of wonder and astonishment. Nevertheless some indication or confirmation of it may be gathered from the consideration of God’s providence in the care of creation, which descends to the minutest particulars, and provides continually for the wants and necessities of the least and humblest of his creatures. The charity and humility of God are commensurate, both far transcending any mental powers we possess to fathom or comprehend. Jesus Christ has given the proof and example equally of both; and by doing so earned and merited the inconceivable exaltation to which he is raised in glory, at the right hand of God. And of that divine glory you, Philippians, will also be partakers, if you will become imitators of the humility and charity of Christ.