Leaders Focus on Others (Philippians 2:1-4)

Today’s blog post examines Philippians 2:14 and how leaders focus on others. Past posts in my series studying the book of Philippians are:

Leaders Focus on Others (Phil 2:1-4)

1Therefore, since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, any communion by means of the Spirit, any heartfelt sympathy, 2 then complete my joy. Think the same thing, by means of having the same love, by being united in spirit, by thinking the same thing. 3Do not think with selfish ambition nor with personal conceit, but instead think of one another with humility as better than yourselves. 4In everything do not look out only for your own interests, but also look out for the interests of others. (Phil 2:1-4)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, translations used in my blog posts are my own translation[/ref]

Philippians 2:1-4 is included under the heading of what Paul had said in Philippians 1:27, “Only, at all costs, live the Gospel of Christ in a worthy manner.” Living out Phil 1:27 meant suffering for the faith (Phil 1:28-30), focusing on others (Phil 2:1-4), having the same attitude that Christ had (Phil 2:5-11), and shining brightly for Christ (Phil 2:12-18).

“The Philippians needed humility. A humble mind is the key to cooperative unity. Humility is the realization that we are creatures who are totally dependent on God, the Creator. If we are really humble before God, we are totally relying on God. This affects our attitudes toward others, for as equally dependent creatures, we cannot take pride in ourselves” (Comfort, Philippians, 168).


“1Therefore, since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, any communion by means of the Spirit, any heartfelt sympathy, 2 then complete my joy. Think the same thing, by means of having the same love, by being united in spirit, by thinking the same thing.” 

A. What Is in Christ (v. 1)

“1Therefore, since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, any communion by means of the Spirit, any heartfelt sympathy,”

The text of Phil 2:1 is among some of the most complex Greek in all of Paul’s letters. Phil 2:1-4 is one big long sentence in Greek. Verse one features a four-fold condition that concludes with an imperative at the beginning of verse two.

1. οὐν – Therefore,

This is an inferential conjunction. Both the preceding and proceeding content discuss the author’s desire that the Philippian believers suffer in the faith (Phil 1:28-30) and focus on others (Phil 2:2-4).

2. εἴ — since

Four  “if” statements are in this verse. This entire clause is known as a “first class condition” which is why this translation yields “since.” First class condition statements are identified by the “if” section (the protasis) that has εἰ + indicative mood verb in any tense alongside the “then” section (the apodosis) in any mood and tense. First class conditional statements are assumed true for arguments sake (Wallace, Greek Grammar, 689-694).

Blass, DeBrunner, and Funk provide support for this type of conditional statement in Classical Greek, “Εἰ with the indicative of all tenses denotes a simple conditional assumption with emphasis on the reality of the assumption (not of what is being assumed): The condition is considered a ‘real case’” (BDF, A Greek Grammar, 188). They later add that from Classical Greek to now, this use has “lost ground” in that it is mostly used with reference to a present or alleged reality.

The NET renders a great translation of this first class conditional statement, “Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy,” (Phil 2:1, NET).

3. παρακλησις – encouragement

Παρακλησις, εως, ἡ can mean an act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation (1 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:13; Heb 12:5; 1 Cor 14:3; Phil 2:1; Rom 12:8, etc); a strong requeset, appeal, request (2 Cor 8:4); or it can mean the lifting of other’s spirits, comfort, consolation (Acts 9:31; 2 Cor 1:4-7; 7:4, 13; Phil 2:1; Phlm 7; 2 Thess 2:16, etc.) (BDAG, 766).

A good example of this word used elseware in the Bible is in Heb 13:22, “I urge you, dear brothers and sisters, to pay attention to what I have written in this brief exhortation” (emphasis added, NLT).

4. παραμυθιον – consolation

Παραμυθιον, ου, το is only used once in the Bible and explains that which offers encouragement, especially as consolation, means of consolation, alleviation (BDAG, 769).

O’Brien notes that when looking at “comfort, consolation” in this verse the expression is almost equivalent to “salvation” (O’Brien, Philippians, 171).

5. κοινωνια – communion

Κοινωνια, ας, ἡ describes a close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship (1 Cor 1:9; Phil 2:1; 1 John 1:3, 6; Phil 1:5, etc.); it can also mean an attitude of good will that manifests an interest in a close relationship, generosity, fellow-feeling, altruism (2 Cor 9:13; Heb 13:16; Phil 2:1); sign of fellowship, proof of brotherly unity, gift, contribution (Rom 15:26; 1 Cor 10:16); or simply participation, sharing (Phlm 6; 2 Cor 8:4; Phil 3:10; etc.) (BDAG, 552-553).

6. πνευματος – Spirit

This is most likely a mention of the third member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit. See 2 Cor 13:14 where the same two Greek words are together, κοινωνια πνευματος.

Translations different here as the relationship between “communion” and “Spirit” can be seen as an objective genitive “fellowship in/with the Spirit” or subjective genitive “fellowship produced by the Spirit” or genitive of source “fellowship from the Spirit” or attributive genitive “spiritual fellowship” or genitive of agency “fellowship by means of the Spirit.”

O’Brien takes the objective genitive position as “participation in the Spirit” as most likely for four reasons:

  • outside the Bible κοινωνια is described as someone which someone partakes and shares in
  • the Holy Spirit is described by Paul as a state that believers already acknowledge and experience (Gal 3:2; 1 Cor 12:13)
  • a parallel in 1 Cor 1:9 mirrors this example and in that parallel the only “participation” is in Christ
  • this view is also supported by the early church (O’Brien, Philippians, 174).

7. στλαγχανα και οἰκτιρμοι – heartfelt sympathy

Σπλαγχνον, ου, το can mean the inward parts of a body, inward parts, entrails (Acts 1:18); heart  (Luke 1:78; Col 3:12: Phil 2:1; 2 Cor 7:15; 1 John 3:17; Phlm 30); or it can mean the feeling itself, love, affection (Phil 1:8; Phlm 12) (BDAG, 938).

Οἰκτιρμος, ου, ὁ is a display of concern for another’s misfortune, pity, mercy, compassion (Heb 10:28; Phil 2:1; Rom 12:1; 2 Cor 1:3).

These two words used together were “tender mercy” and “compassion” of Christ experienced by the Philippians when they became Christians through the preaching of the Gospel (O’Brien, Philippians, 176).

B. Paul Wanted the Philippians To Complete His Joy (v. 2)

“2then complete my joy. Think the same thing, by means of having the same love, by being united in spirit, by thinking the same thing.”

1.πληρωσατε – complete

Πλεραω means I complete, fulfill. While this verb can mean to make full, fill (full) (Matt 13:48; Eph 4:10; etc.) or to complete a period of time, fill (up), complete (Mark 1:15; John 7:8, etc.); the meaning here is to bring to completion that which was already begun, complete, finish (Col 1:25; Rom 15:19; Phil 2:2; etc.). Other uses are to bring to a designated end, fulfill (Matt 1:22; John 12:38; Rom 8:4; etc.) or to bring to completion an activity in which one has been involved from its beginning, complete, finish (Luke 7:1; Acts 12:25; Rev 6:11; etc.) (BDAG, 827-829).

This verb can be an constative aorist, command imperative, consummative aorist (“bring this to completion”), or ingressive aorist (“begin to do this”). The sense here is that Paul wants something to be completed which has already began.

2. ἵνα – (this Greek conjunction was left untranslated for stylistic reasons)

  • Appositional, “. . . complete my joy by being of the same mind.”
  • Epexegetical, “. . . complete my joy, that you should think the same thing.”
  • Result, “. . . complete my joy so that you would think the same thing.”

3. φρονετε – Think

Φρονεω means to think or consider. When used with ἵνα plus the subjunctive mood it is a customary present. In this way, a customary present is a single action that regularly occurs (Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 521-522). In this way the Philippians were to think the same thing on a regular basis. This was not a one time action to do once (like a decision that is made). Instead, it was to be an ongoing state in their minds. (Other examples of customary presents are clearly seen in Luke 18:12; John 3:16; 14:17; 1 Cor 11:26; Heb 10:25.)

This verb “speaks to the intellect (i.e., a way of thinking), but it goes beyond that. It incorporates the will and emotions into a comprehensive outlook which affects the attitude” (Richard Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991], 94).

O’Brien notes that the clause, ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ φρονῆτε “that you might think the same thing,” as epexegetical indicating the method by which the action of the verb will be completed (O’Brien, Philippians, 177-178).

4. ἔχοντες – having

This adverbial particle connects back “you might think” earlier in the verse.

5. σύμψυχοι – by being united in the spirit

The word συμψυχος, ον is used only once in the New Testament and means literally, “united in spirit” or “harmonious” (BDAG, 961). Similar idea as was shared in Phil 1:27.

6. φρονουντες – by thinking

This is an adverbial participle of means connected back to “you might think.” This is indicating a life to be directed to a single goal. And that goal is others!

  • First, to the Gospel and the preaching of Christ (Phil 1:5, 7, 12, 14-18, 27).
  • Second, Phil 1:27 as the heading for the focus on others with suffering for the faith (Phil 1:28-30), focusing on others (Phil 2:1-4), having the same attitude for Christ (Phil 2:5-11), and shining brightly for Christ (Phil 2:12-18).
  • Third, later exhortations in the book as examples of someone focusing on others. Examples of these men start with Timothy (Phil 2:19-24) who was a good example of someone who genuinely cared for the Philippians welfare (Phil 2:20), and served with Paul preaching the Gospel (Phil 2:22). Another example was Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-30) who was described by Paul as a true brother, coworker, soldier, and messenger (Phil 2:25). Epaphroditus risked his life for the work of Christ (Phil 2:30) at the point of death while working with Paul (Phil 2:30). Christ was the best example (Phil 2:5-11) for he gave up his divine privileges (Phil 2:7), took the position of a slave (Phil 2:7), and he humbled himself in obedience to God (Phil 2:8).


“3Do not think with selfish ambition nor with personal conceit, but instead think of one another with humility as better than yourselves. 4In everything do not look out only for your own interests, but also look out for the interests of others.”

A. Think of Others as Better than Yourselves (v. 3)

“3Do not think with selfish ambition nor with personal conceit, but instead think of one another with humility as better than yourselves.”

1. μεδεν κατ’ εριθειαν – Do not think with selfish ambition

O’Brien does not believe that the verb, πληρωσατε – complete my joy, should be transferred here.

a) μεδεν – do not

This is a negative neuter accusative singular pronoun which is serving as the direct object of an understood imperative such as ποιειτε (“do”) or φρονητε (“you might think” from verse two). Or, it could be the direct object of an understood participle such as φρονουντες or ποιουντες.

b) κατ’ ἐριθειαν – with selfish ambition

This is the first of two negative statements in Phil 2:3.

The word, ἐριθειαν is the same word used in Phil 1:17 to discuss the rival preaching being done by people with false motives. This term is also included among Paul’s “social evils” as seen in 2 Cor 12:20 and Gal 5:20.

  • “For I am afraid that when I come I won’t like what I find, and you won’t like my response. I am afraid that I will find quarreling, jealousy, anger, selfishness, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorderly behavior” (2 Cor 12:20, NLT, emphasis added).
  • “When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, outburst of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division” (Gal 5:20, NLT, emphasis added).

2. μηδε κατα κενοδοξιαν – nor with personal conceit

This is the second negative standard of Phil 2:3.

3. ἀλλα – but instead

This conjunction provides a contrast between the first half and second half of Phil 2:3.

4. τῇ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι – think of one another with humility

a)       τῇ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ — with humility

Why such a focus on humility and loving others? This is because the Philippians were “proud of their city, proud of their ties with Rome, and proud to observe Roman customs and obey Roman laws, proud to be a Roman citizens” (Hawthorne, “Philippians, Letter to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 707).

The city of Philippi was old and historic when Paul was addressing them. The city had been built by Philip of Macedon in 358-357 BC. It was one of the main stations along the main overland route that connected Rome and the East. After having been destroyed by wars it was rebuilt by Emperor Octavian who established it as a military outpost, populated the city with veterans of his wars, made it a Roman colony, and gave it what was called, ius italicum which was one of the highest privileges attainable by provincial municipality (Hawthorne, “Philippians, Letter to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 707).

Ταπεινοφροσύνη, ης, ἡ is a rare word in the New Testament that means humility, modesty as seen in Phil 2:3 and 1 Peter 5:5. Also, of other virtues (Col 3:12); in all humility (Acts 20:19; Eph 4:2); humility wrongly directed (Col 2:18, 23).

“This term expresses humility as a quality that stands in contrast to pride or arrogance” (“Humility” in Douglas Mangum, Derek Brown, Rachel Klippenstein, et al., eds. Lexham Theological Wordbook [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014]).

In the Greek and Hellenistic world, the word seemed to imply some type of “weakness.” The word is found only once outside of the Bible used by a man named Epictetus, a Phrygian slave of Hierapolis in the days of Nero (50-130 AD). Epictetus was freed of the imperial palace and was a Stoic of the younger school and preacher of ethics tinged with religion. His lectures were collected into eight books. In his Disserationes, he said, “He also is not tied by things man cannot control but despises them, and judges aright, and keeps his impulses and desires in reign, is incapable of flatteries and a mean and petty disposition ταπεινοφροσυνη” (Walter Grundmann, “ταπεινοφροσυνη” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing, 1962), 8:5).

According to O’Brien, this term “signifies the grace of ‘lowliness’ or ‘humility’” (O’Brien, Philippians, 180). He also notes that the term rarely occurs in profane Greek literature (as I shared above) but when it does it occurs in a derogatory sense of servility, weakness, or shameful lowliness (Melick, Philippians, 94).

While this term is rare (as has been shown already) the word ταπεινος (“lowly”, “humble”) and its cognates occur more than 270 times on Greek version of the Old Testament. Often this word was used when describing the Lord’s acting in history to bring down the proud and arrogant while bringing up the lowly. This can be seen in four ways:

  • the process expressed in warning judgements in the prophets (Amos 2:6, 7, 13; 8:6, 7; Isa 2:9, 11, 17; 5:15; Zeph 2:3; 3:12)
  • the historical books describe the bringing down of proud and exalting of lowly with reference to events (Judg 4:23; 6:15; 1 Sam 1:11, 16; 7:13; 2 Sam 22:28)
  • the psalmists express it in their prayers (Pss 10:17, 18; 25:18; 31:7)
  • humility is spoken as the rule for life in proverbs and wisdom literature (Job 5:11; Prov 3:34; 11:2; 15:33) (O’Brien, Philippians, 180-181)

Yet here, in Phil 2:3 the word is used as a motivating cause or manner in which the Philippians were to live and look at others.

B. Not Only Your Interests, but Also Others (v. 4)

4In everything do not look out only for your own interests, but also look out for the interests of others.” 

The idea of Paul telling his readers to look out for the interests of others was not a new idea for the Philippians. He provided similar commands in 1 Cor 10:24, 33; 11:1; 13:5 (cf. Phil 2:21).

1. μὴ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστος σκοποῦντες – In everything do not look out only for your own interests

a) μὴ — not

b) τὰ ἑαυτῶν – your own interests

c) ἑκαστος – everything

Literally, “each, every.”

d) σκοποῦντες – look out for

Adverbial participle of means related to φρονητε in Phil 2:2. From the verb, σκοπεω which can mean to pay attention to, look (out) for, notice. Examples are to look out for one’s own interests (Phil 2:4), to notice how Paul conducts his life (Phil 3:17), to keep one’s eyes on what can be seen (2 Cor 4:18), to look at oneself (Gal 6:1), to consider whether the light be darkness (Luke 11:35) (BDAG, 931).

Used in Phil 3:17 this way, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (ESV).

Therefore, believers are to “look at attentively” or “fix their attention on” others (O’Brien, Philippians, 185).

2. ἀλλα [και] – but also

Pay careful attention to the different translations and how they subtly say that it is okay to attend to your basic needs and desires, but that we need to most of all pay attention to the needs of others:

  • “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too” (NLT).
  • “Be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well” (NET).
  • “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (ESV).
  • “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (NASB).

O’Brien notes that Paul’s inclusion of και (“and”, “also”) “does not prohibit any interest in one’s own affairs. It is the selfish preoccupation with them that he condemns (O’Brien, Philippians, 185). Therefore, it is okay to have a slight concern for ourselves. We need to have a place to live, a car to drive to and from work, and health insurance. But, when we become so infatuated with ourselves, that is the issue Paul was hoping to combat. Yet, Paul knew that as humans we have a sinful nature that would always look to ourselves and try to satisfy ourselves first, and others later.

3. τὰ ἑτέρων ἕκαστοι – look out for the interests of others

Conclusion and Application

Paul’s overall message here is not to think in a selfish way, but instead to think of others as better than yourselves. Paul, as the writer of Philippians, had already modeled this for his readers. Every time he thought about the Philippians he gave thanks (Phil 1:3). Whenever he prayed, he made his requests with joy for the Philippians (Phil 1:4). The Philippians had a special place in Paul’s heart (Phil 1:7). Paul said that he loved the Philippian believers (Phil 1:8). Paul shared that living is Christ but dying was gain (Phil 1:21), and even though his desire was to depart from his life and be with Christ (Phil 1:23), he decided it was necessary to remain on earth for the benefit of the Philippians (Phil 1:24). In that way, Paul would remain alive in order to help the Philippians in their progress and joy in the faith (Phil 1:25). Most of all, Paul was in a “struggle” which was his imprisonment in Rome because of his focus on others to spread the Gospel (Phil 1:1, 7, 12-14, 30; 4:14).

So, what does this look like for us as believers? Let’s take one modern day example.

In 1996 a college athlete was dominating his sport. So much that he decided he would turn pro. And, when turning pro he signed an endorsement deal with Nike that provided him with 63 million dollars. He was 20 years old, a national celebrity, and incredibly rich. Yet, one of the first things that he did when he received his enormous endorsement deal from Nike was to start his own foundation that would provide scholarships for inner city kids to go to college and build “learning centers’ where kids could go to complete their homework after school. Later in his career his fame continued to grow and he signed another endorsement deal with Nike, this one was worth more than 100 million dollars! Yet, this athlete continued to donate money to good causes that focused on others by helping youth. He continued to give most publicly by donating his earnings from three of his athletic events every year. In 2011, his earnings from those events was 12 million dollars! All of that money went to charity. This individual has continued to use his athletic fame and fortune to serve the needs of others. One “What Athletes Are Giving” compilation I found from Forbes Magazine listed a 35 foundations started by athletes. This athlete’s foundation was at the top of the list with 81 million dollars in assets which was more than twice the amount of the closest charity at 34 million (numbers as of 2004).

You might have expected this athlete to be some strong outgoing Christian such as Tim Tebow or someone like that. But, the athlete is actually a non-practicing Buddist: Tiger Woods. If Tiger Woods, someone who has admitted to his own flaws as a human being, has placed so much emphasis on serving others (much without the media’s attention), how much more should we focus on others as the basis of our Christian faith? (Information on Tiger Woods’ philanthropy was taken from “What the Athletes Are Giving” in The Wall Street Journal. And “Tiger Woods ears $12 million in tournament money for foundation” in USA Today Sports. 

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at