Philippians 2:1-4 If Only.

There are a lot of ‘ifs’ in this passage, but as always, whenever we see a ‘therefore’ we must ask what the ‘therefore’ is there for. In this case, Paul has given part of his reason for writing here from the striving and suffering that is part and parcel of the Christian life. Given that this is the case, it is very important that we support one another. Paul does not list his ‘ifs’ as though there might be a possibility of there not being any of these, but when we know consolation or encouragement, comfort of love, fellowship of the Spirit, or affection and mercy, we ought to celebrate these in the unity of the body, as each member supports one another (v. 1 Cf. Col. 3:12-14). It would fulfill Paul’s joy, and should for us also, to learn that any body of believers has this attitude of mind, “having the same love.” (v. 2 Cf. 4:2)

It should be evident that one cannot have one or two of these things and not the rest. This is part of a definition of true spirituality. We should also see that word ‘joy’ again. Joy was for Paul a hallmark of the Christian life. C. S. Lewis described real conversion well when he called it ‘Surprised By Joy’. There is also a joy in having “lowliness of mind,” esteeming others better than oneself (v. 3). This does not mean treating ourselves badly, but as Calvin put it, having “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. In others, on the other hand, he will regard with honour whatever there is of excellences.” (p. 53)

There is an important balance here. For Paul does not go on to write that we should have no regard for our own interests, rather, “let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (v.4 Cf. Rom. 12:10) As he wrote elsewhere, “Do not be wise in your own opinion.” (Rom. 12:16) Paul was a true friend of the bridegroom, rejoicing that in all things Christ was exalted (Cf. Jn. 3:29). If we gave God the glory and thanks for all his gifts in each of us, we would avoid becoming conceited, “provoking one another, envying one another.” (Gal. 5:26 Cf. I Cor. 13:5) “But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” (Gal. 6:4) “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” (Rom. 15:2)

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