Following Christ as Ordinary Christians (Philippians 2:19–3:21)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

In fact, Philippians gives us three examples—Paul, Epaphroditus, and Timothy—to show us how all Christians are meant to follow Christ’s model. “Join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us,” Paul tells us (Phil. 3:17). He depicts each of these examples in a framework based on the “Hymn of Jesus” in chapter 2.

Person
Sent to a difficult place
In obedience/ slavery
Taking grave risks
For the benefit of others
Jesus
Found in human form (2:7)
Taking the form of a slave (2:7)
Obedient to the point of death (2:8)
Emptied himself (2:7)
Paul
Live in the flesh (1:22)
Servant of Jesus Christ (1:1)
Imprisonment (1:7) Becoming like Christ in death (3:10)
For your progress and joy (1:25)
Timothy
Send Timothy to you soon (2:19)
Like a son with a father (2:22)
(Not specified in Philippians, but see Rom. 6:21)
Will be genuinely concerned for your welfare (2:20) 
Epaphroditus
Send you Epaphroditus (2:25)
Your messenger (2:25)
Came close to death (2:30)
To minister to my need (2:25)

The message is clear. We are called to do as Jesus did. We cannot hide behind the excuse that Jesus is the only Son of God, who serves others so we won’t have to. Nor are Paul, Epaphroditus, and Timothy supermen whose exploits we can’t hope to duplicate. Instead, as we go to work we are to put ourselves into the same framework of sending, obedience, risk, and service to others:

Person
Sent to a difficult place
In obedience/ slavery
Taking grave risks
For the benefit of others
Workplace Christians
Go to non-Christian workplaces
Work under the authority of others
Risk career limitation for our motivation to love as Christ loves
Are called by God to put others' interests ahead of our own

Are we allowed to temper the command to serve others instead of ourselves with a little common sense? Could we, say, look first to the interests of others whom we can trust? Could we look to the interests of others in addition to our own interests? Is it okay to work for the com­mon good in situations where we can expect to benefit proportionally, but look out for ourselves when the system is stacked against us? Paul doesn’t say.

What should we do if we find ourselves unable or unwilling to live quite so daringly? Paul says only this, “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). Only by constant prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving to God can we get through the difficult decisions and demanding actions required to look to the interests of others instead of our own. This is not meant as abstract theology but as practical advice for daily life and work.