A note from Kelly King: One of my favorite genres in the Bible is the letters and writing of the apostle Paul. And if I drilled down further to one of my favorite letters of Paul, Philippians always rises to the top. Chapter 2 of this letter is one that I never tire of studying. It is rich and full of truths about Christ and how we respond to the gospel. In today’s article, Courtney Veasey takes a deep dive into this passage and how we can learn from the leadership of Paul. If you would like to hear Courtney teach, she will be at our You Lead event in Oklahoma City on October 11. For more information, click here.
Through his writings in the New Testament we discover in the Apostle Paul a man who is bold as he is tender, strong as he is weak, ever committed to advancing the gospel and glorifying God. We benefit not only from his exhortations but also from the marks of leadership we find along the way in observing Paul. One such instance is demonstrated in Philippians 2:1-11. As we examine this passage together, note the practical applications of leadership we find that may prove useful for our own ministry settings.
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, make my joy complete by thinking the same way, having the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
In vintage Greco-Roman style, Paul sets up a request for unity by way of four “if” statements. With each “if” is represented the idea of “since,” as in since these characteristics are true, Paul expects they will receive his further request with maturity.1 As ministry leaders, we can easily fall into a pattern of demanding more from our teams and volunteers (as well as family members), without also remembering to affirm their previous good work. Rather than issue a demand, Paul speaks to who the Philippians are and gives affirmation to what is true about their fellowship, making this his starting point for asking more.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Paul then beckons that they live with utmost consideration of others. Knowing the human tendency to self-preserve, he instructs they do nothing from selfish ambition. The word in Greek here is eritheia, meaning “rivalry.” He adds to that conceit. In Greek, kenodoxia
combines two words: keno, meaning “to empty,” and doxia meaning “glory.” This important concept of “empty glory” serves as a standard against which our motives and actions should be weighed. He further instructs that they be secure—so secure that the willingness to consider others above themselves is no threat to their own worth or value. In fostering unity and creativity within the ministries we serve, it will be crucial for every voice around the table to be valued and considered.
“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth and under the earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Finally, Paul does what we as Christian leaders should always do—point to the example of Christ in whom our ethics as Christians are fundamentally rooted. And here Paul so beautifully drives home in the language the point that rather than live for “empty glory,” we are to be as Christ who emptied Himself (v. 7) unto the glory of God the Father (v. 11).
Overall, we have observed in this text:
- An effective way of making requests
- A key to unity is mutual consideration of one another
- The practice of pointing to and emulating Christ in our lives and leadership
As you engage with his further writings, be on the lookout for more of what you can borrow and apply from Paul’s ministry leadership!
Courtney is a PhD candidate in biblical interpretation at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the former Director of Women’s Academic Programs and faculty member also of NOBTS, and she has also served on a number of church staffs and in parachurch organizations including the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Young Life. Courtney currently resides in Florida where she loves spending time on the water and cheering for her beloved Florida State Seminoles.
1. Peter T. O’Brien, The New International Greek Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Philippians(Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1991), 165.