These small group studies of Philippians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications. Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.
Philippians 2:1-11 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Teaching Points
I. Paul’s exhortation to unity and unselfishness (1-5)
A. If God has blessed you in any of these areas, and He has then…
B. Be unified in love and purpose (2)
C. Do nothing out of selfishness (3)
D. Put others first (4)
E. Follow Christ’s ultimate example (5)
II. Christological doctrinal passage on the incarnation of Christ (6-8)
A. Christ was/is the same essence as the Father in every way (6a)
B. Christ did not hold onto all of the privileges that this honored position provides (6b)
C. Christ chose to set aside for a time some of these privileges (7a)
D. Christ became the essence of a true servant (7b)
E. Christ became a man (7c)
F. As a man, Christ submitted Himself to the Father (8)
G. This resulted in the most shameful kind of death, death on a cross (8b)
III. Christological doctrinal passage on the exaltation of Christ (9-11)
A. God exalted Him and gave Him the highest name (9)
B. Every single being will bow to Christ one day (10)
C. Every single tongue will confess that Christ is Lord one day (11)
I. Paul’s exhortation to unity and unselfishness (1-5)
- Why does Paul make so many “if” statements in verse 1?
- Knowing that these things are true, what response does Paul hope they will invoke in the Philippians?
- What gave Paul joy? What gives you joy?
- What is a summary of his goal for them in verse 2?
- How do divisions affect a church? Its effectiveness? Its testimony? Its growth?
- When does Paul say it is allowed to be selfish?
- How would you define selfishness?
- Share an example of an area you are tempted to be selfish.
- What does the term “empty conceit” mean?
- Why should we consider others are more important than ourselves?
- Share an example of how you can put others first this week.
- Why is this theory of “I am number one” wrong?
- What is people’s biggest need?
- How are people’s real needs and perceived needs sometimes different?
- How can you help to meet other people’s real needs?
- How does verse five connect to Paul’s instruction not to be selfish?
Mark 12:30-31 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
3 John 1:4 – I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Romans 12:10 – Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
1 Peter 5:5 – In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.”
Galatians 5:13 – You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.
Matthew 11:29 – Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
1. Verse 1-2 – “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”
Paul is saying, ‘If any of these things are true, then respond in the right way by unifying together.” You have all been encouraged in Christ. You have all been comforted by His love. You have all received the Holy Spirit. You are all recipients of this grace, so don’t be divided, serve the Lord together.
So to paraphrase Paul’s words, “If Christ has done anything for you, if you have received His love, if you have benefited from the Spirit, if you have received any compassion from Christ, then make my joy full by being unified.”
Certainly all of these things were truth. Christ had done so much for them, they should respond by realizing that they were all equal recipients of God’s grace and decide to work together for the Lord.
2. We see again where Paul’s heart is. His joy does not come from materials, achievements, awards, or compliments. His joy is to see believers growing to be more Christlike.
Application: What kind of things make you happy? Real happiness does not come from wealth or materials. Joy is found in serving God and seeing others serve Him.
3. Paul’s exhortation to unity – It seems almost every epistle by Paul stresses unity. Not everyone places a high value on unity. Many people focus more on doctrines and creeds. While these are important, unity cannot be ignored.
Jesus Himself prayed for unity for believers in John 17:20-22, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.”
Jesus knew that the future church would be fractured and divided so he prayed for unity. Paul knew that unity is extremely difficult to maintain so believers have to diligently maintain it. Note that he says “preserve.” Unity already belongs to believers based on our mutual relationship to Christ. We just need to maintain what is already there.
Unity is important because the church can accomplish a lot more as a team working together than a bunch of individuals doing their own thing and disagreeing while they are at it.
Thinking of a soccer team, imagine that it is full of divisions and arguments. The forwards like one style of play and argue with the midfielders who in turn are arguing with both the forwards and the defenders who are blaming the goalie. Even in the middle of the game and before and after the game, they are voicing their loud disagreements. What will the result be?
They won’t have any cohesion or teamwork. They won’t be in the right places and their team will lose games even to much less talented teams. They will have the most success if they all put aside their own preferences for how to play the game and follow who? The coach. The team needs one cohesive plan of action. They need unity.
Arguments among believers keep us from the more vital task of sharing the gospel and making disciples. Besides that, division hurts the testimony of the church so that others don’t want to listen as much to what we say.
Application: What are some specific examples of how you can work hard to maintain unity? Is there anything that you should divide with others over? What kinds of things should you not divide over?
4. Verses 3-4 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
These are two of the most well known verses in the New Testament. Imagine what the world would be like if everybody following this verse, doing “nothing from selfish ambition,” but looking after the interests of others.
Selfishness is the root of almost all sin. Greed, envy, murder, adultery, lying, stealing, and gluttony are just a few of the sins that stem from selfishness. We could go on and on. If just believers would follow this principle the world would be a much better place!
The problem is that we all love ourselves. We all have the selfish tendency to put our wants and desires above others. While it is difficult to immediately eradicate all selfishness from our lives, how can we start to achieve this goal?
Firstly, we can make it a habit to examine our actions. Stop to think about why we are doing what we are doing. Sometimes we react and just do things without really thinking them through. So if we would evaluate our own thoughts we could recognize selfish ones and then actively decide not to pursue those original selfish ideas.
Secondly, we can think of specific areas where we tend to be selfish.
Application: What is one area you tend to struggle with selfishness? What can you do this week to put others first in this area?
Thirdly, we can come to the Word to see ourselves as we really are and pray to the Lord for strength to be more like Him.
Fourth, we can actively look for ways to serve others. Serving others does not normally happen naturally. We need to keep our eyes open and be observant to watch for opportunities to serve. This is exactly the opposite of human tendency, which is to try to remain in ignorance about what we can do to help others out.
While riding the public transport, on many occasions I have seen young me notice the elderly out of the corner of their eyes and then close their eyes and pretend to sleep so that they don’t have to give up their seat.
Application: How about in your home? Do you ever notice a full trash can or a sink full of dishes and then walk along, hoping that your spouse will see and take care of it first? Write out five specific ways you can look out for others’ interests in the coming week.
5. The phrase “do not merely” tells us that in fact everyone will look out for their own interests. This is natural. Some will teach we should make sure to love ourselves, but this is not a problem for anyone. Everybody does this already. The problem is that we love ourselves to the exclusion of others or more than others. We are commanded in Mark 12:31 to love others as we love ourselves. This also implies that everyone does love himself.
Looking out for number one will not give you joy. The word JOY can be taken as an acronym.
J – Jesus
O – Others
Y – Yourself
To have true joy, you should put Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.
Jesus is our ultimate example. Of all people who ever lived, He gave up the most in service of others. He actually was more important than others (whereas we are equal to others in God’s sight). He had a much higher rank than anyone He served. He actually had inherent rights and privileges whereas we only think we have rights. Yet of all people, He was the one who was truly humble. Considering others more important than Himself, He gave up His own divine rights in order to serve others.
II. Christological doctrinal passage on the incarnation of Christ (6-8)
- What does it mean “he existed in the form of God”?
- Was Jesus equal with God?
- Was He still equal with God when He came to earth and became a man?
- What does it mean that he didn’t regard equality with God a thing to be grasped?
- Explain the phrase “emptied himself”. Did Christ empty Himself of deity? Did He exchange deity for humanity?
- Did Jesus truly become a man? Why is the doctrine of the incarnation important?
- What does the phrase “found in appearance as a man” imply? (There was something more, not less, to His humanity. That is, He was also deity at the same time.)
- What was unique about death on a cross that it was singled out here?
- Share one area you can imitate Christ’s example of service and humility in the coming week.
Colossians 1:15-17 – The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Hebrews 1:2-3 – But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
John 5:18 – For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
John 10:33 – “We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
Matthew 20:28 – Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
1 Timothy 2:5 – For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.
Hebrews 4:15 – For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
1. Who is Jesus? – This passage is one of the most important doctrines in the Bible. It tells us the nature of Jesus, both His divine and His human nature. It tells us the details about the incarnation, addressing fundamental theological questions. “Who is Jesus?” is a very important question as the whole crux of the gospel is to believe in Him. Who are we believing in? This passage gives us not only the answer to this question, but also some very practical points as to how we need to model the humility He showed in our own lives.
2. Verse 6 –
In the NASB version, it says that He “existed” in the form of God. The word “existed” denotes Jesus’ continuous state both then and now. He is eternally existent and there was never a time when He didn’t exist.
The “form of God” doesn’t just mean that Jesus looks like God or is the same shape, but rather teaches that Jesus’ very essence is the same as God’s. In other words, Jesus is eternally God. There was never a point in time when He wasn’t God and became God, neither is their a point in time when He was God and then ceased to be God. How is this possible? God is a Trinity with three distinct, but unified and equal beings. Although Jesus is eternally God, He didn’t hold on to His rights as God.
One of the most important teachings of the gospel is that Jesus is 100% God and 100% man.
3. Jesus emptied Himself –
These words are very important to the doctrine of the incarnation. First of all, there was no outside power at work that overcame Jesus and weakened Him. It was a voluntary decision to set aside certain aspects of His deity for a time and purpose. It doesn’t mean He didn’t have these divine abilities or that He could not use them. Otherwise the logical conclusion of that would be that He ceased to be God for a period of time.
Rather, He chose not to make use of certain aspects of His deity. For example?
- His glory – The disciples caught a glimpse of this glory during the transfiguration when He revealed His true state to them.
- His own authority – On earth He submitted Himself fully to the Father’s will.
- Extreme riches – In heaven, He owned everything, but on earth He was poor.
- Omnipresence – He was still aware of everything happening everywhere and could heal over distance but at the same time limited Himself to existing in one physical location.
- His intimate relationship with the Father – He gave up this fellowship with the Father on the cross when He took on the sins of the world and said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
While Jesus was on earth and living as one of us, He set aside certain divine rights.
It is something akin to the tail of the Prince and the Pauper, a famous story in which a prince leaves the castle to become a commoner for a period of time. During that time, he doesn’t have access to his money, his authority, or his army. The prince becomes poor and needs to work for food. He doesn’t cease to be a prince, but he does set aside those privileges for a while.
4. Jesus became a bond-servant – He did not come the first time to rule or demand people to serve Him. He did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45). Jesus gave us the ultimate example of service when He stooped down to wash the disciple’s feet. If Jesus can lower Himself to serve others, how much more should we.
Application: What is one way you enjoy other people serving you? What is one way you can serve others in the coming week?
5. Jesus was made in the likeness of men – Jesus literally became a man. This is the essence of the incarnation. He became the God man, 100% man, 100% God. This is one of those doctrines in the Bible that are difficult to comprehend because of our limitations. It will never be possible for us to completely comprehend God, who is so far beyond our own understanding. It is hard for us to fathom how Jesus could be fully God and man at the same time. Yet it is true. God is eternal spirit. Man is a body, plus a spirit. Jesus came as a body plus an eternal spirit. So He satisfies the definition of both God and man.
We see that Jesus had both a human nature (he grew tired, ate, slept, walked, talked, etc.) and a divine nature (healed over distance, healed outside of time, wine, power over nature, power over sickness, power over death, etc.)
One of the first places to look if you are unsure if a certain fellowship has right teaching or is a cult is their view of Jesus. It is one of the key places cults tend to go off. Some of the common heresies about Christ include:
1. He is only a god (Arianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses).
2. He was created by God and is the highest of all God’s creation.
3. He was only a man that was somehow indwelt by the Spirit of God. Kind of like a shell taken over by something else.
4. He was not actually a man, his body was a kind of apparition.
5. He somehow became God later in His life when he reached a certain spiritual level, perhaps at His baptism.
All of these are heresies taught by people who deny the Word of God and we should watch out for them or any other variation that denies either Jesus’ deity or His humanity..
6. The purpose of the incarnation was for Jesus to die on the cross (verse 8) –
Dying to take away our sins was the whole purpose for Jesus to become a man. It wasn’t because He wanted to see what it was like or experience something new. It was to save us from our sins. Becoming a man was a necessary part of God’s plan by which Christ could act as our representatives as Adam did in the garden. His death was not just a normal death, but the most shameful and torturous kind. This is where His obedience and humility led Him. Jesus looked into the future and knew exactly where His decision to become a man would take Him, still choosing to follow that path, even knowing the pain that it would bring.
Application: Are you willing to obey God even if it leads to personal sacrifice?
III. Christological doctrinal passage on the exaltation of Christ (9-11)
- Is there any relationship between Jesus’ humiliation and His exultation?
- What general Biblical principle does this teach?
- What is the name that Paul refers to here?
- Will atheists bow the knee to Christ? When?
- How about Buddhists, Muslims, agnostics, demons, Satan?
- What does bowing the knee signify?
- What will happen to unbelievers after they bow the knee and confess if that doesn’t take place until after their death?
- What happens if we confess now instead of later?
- What then should our response be to these truths?
Revelation 20:11-13 – Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.
Romans 10:9-10 – If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
Philippians 2:12 – Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling
James 4:10 – Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
1. Jesus’ exaltation – Christ’s humiliation and subsequent exaltation are connected together and predestined before the world even began. It is the ultimate example of the principle taught in James 4:10 that if you “humble yourselves before the Lord…he will lift you up.”
No one went from higher to lower than Jesus. And no one will ever go from lower to higher. He started off in the highest position in the universe. And He lowered Himself to the lowest position (becoming all sin of all time for us), after which He was once again raised to the highest position. The Father did this to exalt His son and to show us through action how important humility is.
It is not immediately clear what the “name which is above every name” refers to. Some scholars believe it refers to the name, “Lord,” which signifies Jesus’ position over all things and people. This interpretation fits with verse 11 which says that one day “every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
2. One day every person will be a believer – All people will finally admit that Jesus is Lord. Many defy Him now and say the most horrid things about God. Yet one day, they too will bow the knee to Jesus. Hitler will bow. Stalin will bow. Richard Dawkins will bow his knee to Jesus and say, “You are Lord.” Your relatives who laugh at your beliefs and your co-workers who scoff at you will all bow the knee to Jesus. All Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, evolutionists, and atheists will proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
Application: Every person must do this. There is no escaping it. You can either do this voluntarily in your life now and receive eternal life or by force right before the final judgment. Bowing the knee to Jesus is also not a one time thing. Yes, salvation happens at a specific point when we first bow our knee to Jesus and confess that He is our Lord. But after that, living a life to please God requires bowing to His will daily. We must live each day and make each decision acknowledging His authority over our lives. How can you bow the knee to Jesus this week?
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