Summary: The obedience of Christ elicits, draws out, the obedience of Christians.
A CONTEXT FOR THE HYMN
The word “If” that opens this passage might better be translated as “Since” (Philippians 2:1). The sense is, “If there is any encouragement in Christ (and there is), if any consolation in love (and there is), if any fellowship (sharing) in the Spirit (and there is), if any affection and compassion (and there is) …” This is not a hypothesis, implying doubt; but an affirmation, expecting a response.
It is interesting to notice the Trinitarian structure of Philippians 2:1. It echoes the order of the ‘grace’ at the end of 2 Corinthians 13:13-14. Since we are in Christ, then we know His encouragement; since we know the love of God, we know His consolation; since we are in communion with the Holy Spirit, then it surely follows that we are in fellowship one with another.
Since this affirmation is true, says Paul, “Complete my joy …” (Philippians 2:2). This follows on from Philippians 1:27 - ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel.’ Paul is calling us to like-mindedness (Philippians 2:2) - not indeed as clones of one another, but as sharing the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:5).
Since we have the same love (Philippians 2:2) - ‘the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 8:39) - then be who you are: “of one accord, of one mind” (Philippians 2:2). This is the duty of each one of us: but also, collectively, the responsibility of the whole church.
The reference to “strife and vainglory”, or “selfish ambition and conceit” (Philippians 2:3) possibly anticipates the naming of two women in Philippians 4:2-3. However, the details elude us, and it is best to learn the lesson: that even those who labour in the gospel, whose names are in the book of life, do sometimes fail. Be patient, God hasn’t finished with me yet!
Gradually Paul is calling us to lowliness of mind, to esteeming others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). To humility, to the looking out for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). This leads us to the example of Christ (Philippians 2:5), and the wonders of the hymn of Philippians 2:6-11, both of which I have preached on before.
The obedience of Christ (Philippians 2:8) elicits, draws out, the obedience of the Christians. As in Philippians 1:27, Paul’s presence or absence should make no difference to the people’s obedience (Philippians 2:12). And the order of the day is, “work out your own salvation.”
What is surprising here is that this is not addressed to the individual, but to the whole community. The “you” is plural! So, we should be “working out our own salvation” TOGETHER, perhaps?
How do we do this? “With fear and trembling.” Not indeed the fear that fears failure, but the fear that reverences God, as the ensuing verse makes clear.
“For it is GOD who is working in us, both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). So, we are being called to work OUT what He has already been working IN! We do not work to earn salvation, but we work because we have already had salvation gifted to us (cf. Ephesians 2:4-8).