Christian Harmony and Humility – Philippians 2:1-4 (Pt. 1)

1 Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

–//–

2:1-4 – The apostle turns to take up the topic of unity, previously expressed in connection with the Christian’s tenacity, but here more explicitly expounded.[1] Being that the transitory οὐν (oun, therefore) in 2:1 is resumptive rather than causal, the reader can see this as an extension, a continuation, and thus a further elucidation of an already presented concept.[2] Nevertheless, though οὐν notes the apparent lexical correspondence, the contextual theme’s emphasis is just as obvious a correlation. One need not be a Greek scholar to see that Paul is developing a theme that he already mentioned. This further exposition, moreover, is not merely more lengthy, but also filled with affectionate vigor. The apostle takes up the theme with a passionate plea. This passion may be one of the reasons for the abundance of phrases in 2:1-4, which often perplexes readers. Silva provides the literal translation and a helpful structure:[3]

Section A:

– if any comfort in Christ (1a)

— if any encouragement of love (1b)

— if any fellowship of the Spirit (1c)

– if any affection and compassion (1d)

Section B:

make my joy complete (2a)

Section C:

-that you may think the same thing (2b)

–having the same love (2c)

–joined in the soul (2d)

-thinking the one thing (2e)

Section D:

-nothing according to selfishness or empty conceit (3a)

–but with humility regarding one another as more important than yourselves (3b)

-not looking out for your own things (4a)

–but also for those of others (4b)

There are many parallels, possible chiasms, and synonymy, but one must observe these structural possibilities by seeking to find authorial intent, and thus intended interpretation. Just because one can see a structure in the paragraph, does not necessarily imply that Paul intended such a structure. Remember that this is an affectionate letter from Paul to his dear friends, not some artistic treatise riddled with secret messages that may lay hidden in the chiastic structures of his paragraphs. As one will see in the following analysis of 2:1-4 (specifically section B, 2:2a), the grammatical syntax can leave one with conclusions inconsistent with the passage’s context. The syntactical analysis has its limits; it is not meant to solely determine interpretive conclusions. One can observe the necessary syntactical inferences within this structure as to move them towards the correct interpretation; but these are only steps in the right direction, not the end of interpretation. This will be a more relevant clarification in the analysis of section B.


[1] It would not be too far fetched to assume that Paul reemphasizes this theme because of a possible disunity arising in the Philippian community

[2] W. Schenk, Die Philipperbriefe de Paulus: Kommentar, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer (1984), 174. Black also notes that this is a transition from “the church’s struggle with its external enemies (1:27-30) to the equally threatening problem of a disunited church.” David Alan Black, “Paul and Christian Unity: a formal analysis of Philippians 2:1-4,” Journal Of The Evangelical Theological Society 28, no. 3: 301

[3] Silva, Philippians, 85-86. D. A. Black puts forth a similar structure, but only has three sections, placing 2:2a with 2:2b-2e; Black, “Paul and Christian Unity,” 301.

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