Today, I am writing down some ideas that crossed my mind while studying Philippians chapter 2. If you sit down and study the same chapter, you may, and hopefully will, find the Holy Spirit showing you some totally valid points that I have totally failed to mention. That is one of the notable things about scripture. To quote a supposedly clever line I heard somewhere (probably in a traditional sermon, strangely enough), other books we read, the Bible reads us, provided that one is allowing the Spirit of God to speak into one's spirit.
I believe it is Kay Arthur, in How to Study the Bible, that said, correctly, that if you discover something totally new in the Bible, you are probably wrong. Conversely, when conventional wisdom in the church goes astray, bad things can be accepted as good. The notable example is in the Middle Ages, when most Bible commentaries were written by celibate monks, the most written about book was Song of Songs, and they all got it wrong (but in accordance with Catholic doctrine of that time) that that book was not to be understood literally. Also, just for note, along with the fact that I will be bringing this up later, I tend to start out by reading the passage in the New King James, because, from people who I trust who also have the ability to evaluate the job done in translating, I understand that to be the case. From that understanding, NIV is also very good, except on verses which concern spiritual gifts and the role of women, where the translation reflects a point of view I am convinced is an incorrect understanding of scripture. Also, one of my favorite sources for additional information that helps in filling in some of the blanks with regard to the culture in a Bible passage and our culture is the IVP Bible Background Commentary--New Testament, edited by Craig Keener, which I refer to a couple of times below. With all that said, my notes:
Verse 1: "consolation" is the noun form of console, and not the more common modern meaning of non-winner, as in consolation prize. As this verse speaks with words such as comfort, fellowship, consolation, it is very similar to 1 Thess. 5:11. This is important, in that I would guess some outside of simple, organic church may see how 1 Thess. 5:11 is emphasized, and how much of the rest of the church glosses over that verse, as being imbalanced or incorrect. This verse comes close to saying the same thing in different words.
Verse 3: states the converse of verses 1 and 2.
Question for discussion: Can a believer do something out of selfish ambition or conceit and not be aware of it? Can you (or any believer) consistently be able to tell the difference between a person who is deceived or self-deceived from a charlatan?
Verse 4: Paul writes as if it is correct for the believer, at times, to look out for his own interests.
Question: What does, and does not, Paul mean by this phrase, and how can we tell for certain? (this should produce comments about understanding in and out of context, and what context is)
Verse 5: "bondservant" is the Roman love-slave, a person who, when given the chance to be free, chooses to remain a slave of his/her master, with the knowledge that such a choice cannot be reneged on in the future, because the slave loves his master. This structure is archaic to us, and for those of us in the U.S. distorted by this country's highly different history with slavery, but is referred to by Paul in that it is an example of the believer's relationship with God.
Verses 6-11: Keener writes that these verses were part of a song that predates Paul, or that Paul reshaped these thoughts into a form that was more like a song.
Verses 10-11: "should" in the NKJV. The sentence this word appears in is making reference to what a defeated people would do before a victorious ruler. This is the first time I've run into a translation in the NKJV which I (disclaimer: I'm no Greek scholar, so I'm open to be proven wrong) think to less correct than other versions, which tend to say "shall" or "will". In its context, to my thinking, "should" is saying that every person who has in the past or present or future on earth should bow before the lordship of Jesus. "Shall" or "will" is saying prophetically that, sometime between death and the final judgment that every person that did not submit to Jesus as Lord on earth will acknowledge their spiritual error. This is also a reference to Isaiah 45:23. As with anything going on in Heaven, Hell, the mind of God, the relationship between Father, Son, and Spirit, we don't understand very much of it, obviously by God's design.
Verse 12-13: speaks of the church in Philippi obeying God when Paul is not around, and that God is working in them so they can do what He pleases.
Question for discussion: Is obedience only when superiors are watching really obedience? If God loves us, and Jesus called us not servants, but friends, and we are saved by grace, in Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, then what does "work out your salvation with fear and trembling" mean?
What is God doing in us? "To will", i.e. to desire to do what pleases Him, and "to do", i.e. to act on that desire.
Verses 14-17: God, through Paul, tells us to do all things without complaining and disputing. How do we understand this sentence? (context tells us what is meant by all things) They were also warned about their living in a "crooked and perverse generation". Doesn't that describe all generations between the fall and the second coming?
Being "poured out" as a drink offering. To an unbeliever (of anything), a sacrifice is a waste, and Paul is speaking about this attitude about one's life. Can this even be attempted without accepting the "lowliness of mind" in verse 2?
Verse 16: Paul uses "day of Christ" in the same manner as the phrase "day of the Lord" is used in the Old Testament. We need to remember that the early churches had the Old Testament (and maybe not literally, as synagouges owned most physical copies of Tanak), the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the teaching of apostles, but were not to actually have all of the New Testament in their lifetime.
Verse 21: "Let all seek their own"::verse 4 "look out not only for his own interests". How do we reconcile these statements?
Verse 22: Timothy has proven his character to Paul, "will sincerely care for your state." We know from other passages that Tim was a young adult, but Paul highly trusted him and his gifting for leadership and, apparently, teaching and correction.
Verses 25-29: about Epaphroditis: "hold such men in esteem". Why did Paul say this? For Epaph acted, and nearly died, being the representative of the Philippi group to Paul.
Verse 30: According to Keener, "risked his life" was used as a gambling term in that day, and gamblers would call to Venus, the goddess, with a word similar to Epaphroditis, i.e. Paul was making a play on words in this sentence.