Conflict at Philippi was inevitable. As we see from Acts 16, the church there consisted of Jewish business women, Roman soldiers, and a teen girl who had been delivered from a demon and likely had some emotional scars. Their dramatic testimonies produced a fervor for the gospel that was indicated by Paul’s letter to them. He mentioned their “fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5) and gave a report of his evangelistic activities that was sure to embolden their witness. Paul then exhorted them to stay unified so that their walk would match their talk: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (1:27). In the second chapter, he explained that to be of one mind meant to be “in lowliness of mind” (2:3).
As we will see from each of the four examples in chapter 2, the attitude of humility is a first principal in our thoughts about others. But lowliness of mind does not mean moping around like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh who looked at himself in the water and said, “Pathetic.” He then went to the other side of the stream, looked at his reflection again, and said, “No better from this side. But nobody minds. Nobody cares. Pathetic, that’s what it is.” Eeyore demonstrated false humility. His only interest in others was to use them as a scale to weigh his own self-worth. Esteeming others better than ourselves is not done because we have a low estimation of our own worth. It consists in having the mind of Christ, practically looking out for the interests of others instead of simply our own (Php. 2:4).
God lives for others
H.A. Ironside has a great comment on Philippians 2:1-4:
The last word in this section is the keynote – ‘others.’ This was the overpowering dominating note in the life of our Lord on earth, and because of this He died. ‘He came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for’ – others! He lived for others; He died for others. Selfishness He knew not. Unselfish devotion for the good of others summed up His whole life, and all in subjection to the Father’s will. For God, the Father Himself, lives, reverently be it said, for others. He finds His delight, His joy, in lavishing blessing on others. He pours His rain and sends His sunshine on the just and the unjust alike, He gave His Son for others; and having not withheld His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how will He not with Him also freely give us all things? We, who are included in the others for whom the Lord Jesus endured so much. What wonder then that, if we would follow His steps, we find ourselves called on to live for others, and even to lay down our lives for the brethren!
In Philippians 2, Paul gave four examples of sacrificial service to inspire the Philippians toward unity. The first, as we have seen, is our supreme example, Christ Jesus (vv. 6-8). He “gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). Having the mind of Christ is the mindset of sacrificially serving others.
The happy way
The next example Paul gave was himself. He described himself as “being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith” (2:17). Paul didn’t even see his life as the sacrifice; he was only the drink offering on the sacrifice of the Philippians’ faith. Paul esteemed them so much better than himself that he was willing to lay down his life so that they could enjoy a deeper confidence in God. He didn’t do this begrudgingly. In fact, he says that this is the secret to a happy life. He could say, “I am glad and rejoice with you all” (2:18).
Paul didn’t spend much time on himself. He quickly moved on to his protégé, Timothy, in verses 19-24. Paul described him as being more like-minded than anyone else. “For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus” (2:21). Timothy stood in contrast to the rest, who only cared about themselves. Too often, we fall into the trap of worrying about our own interests. When called on to do some sacrificial service for others, we quickly start rehearsing the long list of our “responsibilities” that make it unfeasible for us to help out with that ministry at present. We think of mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, or washing our car on Saturday instead of visiting that elderly saint or going door to door. We decide to put away a little extra this month for our vacation, forgetting our good intentions to give to the missionary the Lord laid on our heart. Timothy was not that way. He served with Paul in the work of the gospel and thus earned the mark of a proven character, the character of Christ (2:22).
Little things with great rewards
Last, but not least, we read of Epaphroditus who, for the love of the saints at Philippi, was willing to risk his life in order to be their errand boy. Epahroditus may have only been a lowly messenger, but Paul gave him the title “fellow soldier.” We may revere the generals in God’s army (like Paul), but the Lord places no less value on those who do the little things, like sending a card with a gift in it for a servant of Christ. Paul gave us a glimpse into what the entrance into heaven will be like for these humble servants when he calls on the Christians to, “Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem” (2:29).
Our Lord won’t be skimpy when He deals out rewards to those willing to serve others in small ways such as hospitality. He Himself said, “He who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward” (Mt. 10:41). He then added that it wasn’t just serving the well-known servants of God that would get us such a reward, but “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward” (Mt. 10:42).
Let us then serve the Lord by serving others. When we do so, we follow His example and bring a sacrifice of praise to God that also produces lasting joy in us. When we forgo our own agenda for the benefit of others, we develop the character of Christ. And when we are willing to do the seemingly insignificant tasks, we earn such an abundant reward that it will take all eternity to calculate it. Being a sacrificial servant in your assembly could do much to resolve discord and strengthen the unity that we have in Christ.
Lord, help me live from day to day
In such a self-forgetful way
That even when I kneel to pray
My prayer shall be for – Others.
Help me in all the work I do
To ever be sincere and true
And know that all I do for You
Must needs be done for – Others.
Let “self” be crucified and slain
And buried deep; and all in vain
May efforts be to rise again
Unless to live for – Others.
And when my work on earth is done
And my new work in heaven’s begun
May I forget the crown I’ve won
While thinking still of – Others.
Others, Lord, yes, others
Let this my motto be
Help me to live for others
That I may live like Thee.
—Charles D. Meigs