Sunday School Lesson for September 21, 2003
Summoned to Unity (2:1-2)
Chapter two commences with an apostolic appeal to unity within the body of Christ—a unity found in relationship with Him that is both prompted and energized by the Holy Spirit. The basis of Paul’s appeal to his brethren was fourfold, with each key phrase being introduced by the word "if" (which should be rendered "since"):
The main point of this verse, then, is to exhort the Philippian church to Christian unity based upon the believer’s common experience of the grace of God. Each follower of Christ has received abundant mercy and unmerited divine favor. Such common blessings link them together as one in a way they could experience in no other connection or relationship.
Here, Paul specifically voiced his call to oneness in Christ. By being of the "same mind," the "joy" of the apostle would be made "complete" as his beloved brethren stood together before the watching world in Spirit-empowered unity. The verb translated "being of the same mind" occurs at least ten times in this epistle and is, therefore, a key component in the structure of the letter. Richard Melick Jr.  describes this concept as a mind-set that "incorporates the will and emotions into a comprehensive outlook which affects the attitude." He continues:
With this word and the contexts in which it occurs, Paul spoke of the values and ambitions which surface through the mind. This is unity. It is not found in an identical life-style or personality. It occurs when Christian people have the same values and loves [ibid.].
Paul presented three essential ingredients for the maintenance of like-mindedness:
Understanding the Basis of Unity (2:3-4)
In these two verses, Paul presented the basis for unity from a negative perspective—more or less by constructing his exhortation upon those things that would surely prevent or destroy such oneness and like-mindedness. Here we find two major exhortations:
Following the Example of Jesus (2:5-11)
Now the apostle pointed his readers to the ultimate example of the kind of humility and self-giving spirit needed within the body. His Philippian friends were to adopt the same "attitude," or way of thinking, as that displayed "in Christ Jesus." Gordon Fee translates this verse as: "This mindset (i.e., that I have just described) have among yourselves" [Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 200]. Melick renders it: "Think this in you which Christ thought in Him" . At any rate, the believers at Philippi were think and behave like true Christians—marked by the same distinguishing characteristics so powerfully displayed in the life of the Savior.
In these amazing verses the apostle Paul provide a picture of the life and ministry of Jesus from eternity past (v. 6) until His glorious Second Advent (vv. 10-11)—all for the purpose of revealing the depth of His condescension, humility, and life of obedient service to God the Father. In this section there are two major points made about the Lord Jesus:
Verse 8 reveals the "second stage" of Christ’s humble obedience to His Father’s eternal plans [Melick, 105]. He obeyed God’s will "to the point of death, even death on a cross." While Christ’s entire life on earth provided ample testimony of His total dedication to the plans and purposes of His Father, the crucifixion serves as the ultimate proof [Martin, 100]. Melick observes that the impact of Christ’s death "on a cross" would have been profound for the Philippians:
No Roman could be subjected to such a death, and the Jews took it as a sign that the victim was cursed (Gal. 3:13). Perhaps it made a point to Paul’s opponents as well, whom he described as "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Phil. 3:18). The cross, so dear to Paul and other devout Christians, was an embarrassment to many. That, in itself, demonstrates the extent to which Jesus went .
In view of Christ’s eternal submission to the redemptive purposes of God the Father, the Son was "highly exalted" and given "a name which is above every name" (v. 9). Here Paul implies that the resurrection and subsequent ascension of Jesus provided the final proof of His divinity and the Father’s acceptance of His atoning work. In response to such love and obedience, the name "Lord" (v. 11), which is based upon the Old Testament name for God (Yahweh), has been conferred on Jesus designating His as the cosmic King. His Lordship encompasses all things in every corner of the universe—"in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth" (v. 10). On the final day—the day of His exaltation and explicit triumph—all knees will "bow" (v. 10) and all tongues will "confess" or acknowledge (v.11) "Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father"(v. 11). With this the ultimate goal of all things will be achieved (Rom. 14:9).
Major Themes for Reflection and Application
One: The faithfulness of Jesus—This passage highlights the ministry of our Lord in two ways. First, He has perfectly accomplished the Father’s will, having done everything necessary for our salvation and entrance into the covenant family. Secondly, He has provided us with the model of covenant life, which is to be characterized by humility, obedience, and selfless service to others.
Two: The power of unity—Think about how the single-mindedness and unity of the body of Christ impacts its worship, missions and evangelism, and overall church health.
Three: Following Christ—Look carefully at Paul’s words regarding the humility, obedience, and servant-ministry of Jesus (vv. 5-8). If we are truly the followers of Jesus, what should our lives look like in practical terms?
Four: Payday someday—There is an obvious and strong eschatological (having to do with the last days) emphasis in this passage. The lesson is that humiliation ultimately gives way to exaltation. Or, we might say that the pathway to glory leads down the road of suffering and death. The Christian, then, looks forward to something greater in the future. How does this go against the flow of modern culture?