First Application: Follow Paul's Mindset (3:15-16)
Paul now concludes his story on the same note with which he began the story of Christ in 2:5, returning to the crucial verb (phroneo) that dominated the appeal in 2:1-5 (and will occur again in 3:19 and 4:2). Just as he urged them to a "mindset" (phroneite) in keeping with Christ's, so now he has told his story so that they will take . . . a view [phronomen] of things in keeping with his own. It is thus hardly coincidental that Paul's story corresponds at several crucial points with Christ's. The present application is in three parts: a direct application (v. 15a), a qualification (v. 15b) and a rejoinder to the qualification (v. 16).
Paul begins with an inferential "therefore" (omitted in the NIV), which explains why Paul tells his story. "In consequence of what I have been narrating," he says, "let us now hear the application." Which begins: All of us who are teleioi, a play on "I have not yet arrived at the goal" in verse 12. This appears to be a bit tongue in cheek, since he includes himself in the present designation: he who is "not yet" teleios ("completed") in the sense of eschatological hope is "already" teleios ("mature"), along with them, in terms of how he lives in the present as he awaits the final glory. Such a view of things translates a simple "this," which probably refers to the whole narrative, including the rejection of his Jewish past. But it especially includes his "participation in Christ's sufferings by being conformed to his death" and his eager pursuit of the eschatological prize, since that is the focus of verses 18-19 and 20-21: those who are enemies of the cross and who have set their mind . . . on earthly things are set in sharp contrast to us, whose citizenship is in heaven, from whence we eagerly await the Savior.
But then Paul makes a surprising qualification: And if on some point you think [phroneite] differently, that too God will make clear to you. Although some have seen here a hint of conflict between Paul and some in the community, that is most unlikely since Paul's tone carries not a whiff of the odor of controversy. Indeed, his words are almost nonchalant—a kind of "throwaway" sentence—which makes one think that no great issue can be in view. That not all of them would necessarily see things his way is implied, but that much has been implied throughout the letter.
Most likely this is another matter to be understood in the context of friendship. Paul is especially concerned that they follow his example, which happens also to be part and parcel of a patron-client friendship. But throughout the letter he studiously avoids any hint of this kind of superior-to-inferior expression of friendship; in fact he goes out of his way to make sure that their friendship is understood in terms of mutuality. That seems to be what is also going on here. He really is exhorting them to follow his example (as v. 17 will make even more clear); but exhortation in this case is not command, nor does it assume that all will see eye to eye with him on all matters. The emphasis in this sentence, after all, is on God's continuing to work among them through divine revelation. This would suggest that on some point does not so much reflect specifics that Paul has in mind, but generalities. Here is the offer of friendship; they may freely disagree with him at points—on many matters—and if any matter counts for something, Paul trusts God to bring them up to speed there as well.
Having allowed friends a difference of opinion, but stipulating that God will redirect their collective frame of mind in any case, Paul returns to his first point, expressed now in terms of behavior. "In any case," he rejoins, "on the matter at hand you need not wait for divine revelation." At the same time he returns also to the first-person plural, only let us live up to what we have already attained. Paul seems to be calling them to live in keeping with how they have already followed Christ, before they ever received this letter. Given his longtime—and loving—relationship with this church, and his frequent stops there, it is hard to imagine that in this letter he is telling them anything new. In fact in 3:1 he has said quite the opposite, that it is not burdensome for him to "write the same things" again as a "safeguard." Thus both the Christ narrative, which is foundational for his, and his own story are not new; rather they tell the "old, old story" all over again. This is what he and they have already attained, even if some are now slacking off in some way and for some reason.
The best explanation of the "why" of all this is the one suggested before, that in the face of opposition and some internal dissension, some of the Philippians have lost their vision for and focus on their crucified and risen Lord, including his coming again. Even in a Roman prison Paul has not lost his vision; here he urges them to follow his example and to see their participation in Christ's sufferings as Christ's way of "conforming them to his death," so that they, with Paul, may joyously gain the prize of his eternal presence.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.