Philippians 2:21
For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.
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(21) For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.—Compare our Lord’s words, “Ye shall be scattered every man to his own (things), and shall leave Me alone” (John 16:32). St. Paul’s declaration is startling; for he had certainly some “brethren with him” (Philippians 4:21). But the scanty notice of them in the close of this Epistle contrasts strongly with the detailed and affectionate mention of his companions by name in Colossians 4:7-14; Philemon 1:23-24. It would seem as if at this time he was either separated accidentally from his most trusty disciples, or that there had been a temporary falling away from him, in some degree like that which he describes with so much sadness in 2Timothy 4:9-10; 2Timothy 4:16. His words need not be taken as accusing all of absolute selfishness and unfaithfulness, but they are nevertheless startling enough.

2:19-30 It is best with us, when our duty becomes natural to us. Naturally, that is, sincerely, and not in pretence only; with a willing heart and upright views. We are apt to prefer our own credit, ease, and safety, before truth, holiness, and duty; but Timothy did not so. Paul desired liberty, not that he might take pleasure, but that he might do good. Epaphroditus was willing to go to the Philippians, that he might be comforted with those who had sorrowed for him when he was sick. It seems, his illness was caused by the work of God. The apostle urges them to love him the more on that account. It is doubly pleasant to have our mercies restored by God, after great danger of their removal; and this should make them more valued. What is given in answer to prayer, should be received with great thankfulness and joy.For all seek their own - That is, all who are with me. Who Paul had with him at this time is not fully known, but he doubtless means that this remark should apply to the mass of Christians and Christian ministers then in Rome. Perhaps he had proposed to some of them to go and visit the church at Philippi, and they had declined it because of the distance and the dangers of the way. When the trial of Paul came on before the emperor, all who were with him in Rome fled from him 2 Timothy 4:16, and it is possible that the same disregard of his wishes and his welfare had already begun to manifest itself among the Christians who were at Rome, so that he was constrained to say that, as a general thing, they sought their own ease and comfort, and were unwilling to deny themselves in order to promote the happiness of those who lived in the remote parts of the world. Let us not be harsh in judging them. How many professing Christians in our cities and towns are there now who would be willing to leave their business and their comfortable homes and go on embassy like this to Philippi? How many are there who would not seek some excuse, and show that it was a characteristic that they "sought their own" rather than the things which pertained to the kingdom of Jesus Christ?

Not the things which are Jesus Christ's - Which pertain to his cause and kingdom. They are not willing to practice self-denial in order to promote that cause. It is implied here:

(1) that it is the duty of those who profess religion to seek the things which pertain to the kingdom of the Redeemer, or to make that the great and leading object of their lives. They are bound to be willing to sacrifice their own things - to deny themselves of ease, and to be always ready to expose themselves to peril and want if they may be the means of advancing his cause.

(2) that frequently this is not done by those who profess religion. It was the case with the professed Christians at Rome, and it is often the case in the churches now. There are few Christians who deny themselves much to promote the kingdom of the Redeemer; few who are willing to lay aside what they regard as their own in order to advance his cause. People live for their own ease; for their families; for the prosecution of their own business - as if a Christian could have anything which he has a right to pursue independently of the kingdom of the Redeemer, and without regard to his will and glory.

21. Translate as Greek, "They all" (namely, who are now with me, Php 1:14, 17; Php 4:21: such Demas, then with him, proved to be, Col 4:14; compare 2Ti 4:10; Phm 24).

seek their own—opposed to Paul's precept (Php 2:4; 1Co 10:24, 33; 13:5). This is spoken, by comparison with Timothy; for Php 1:16, 17 implies that some of those with Paul at Rome were genuine Christians, though not so self-sacrificing as Timothy. Few come to the help of the Lord's cause, where ease, fame, and gain have to be sacrificed. Most help only when Christ's gain is compatible with their own (Jud 5:17, 23).

He doth here further commend Timothy, compared with the generality of those who with him did attend the ministry of the gospel at Rome, where it seems (whatever the papists pretend) Peter did not then preside as metropolitan. When he saith

all, he doth not necessarily imply every individual besides Timothy, (though, as before, he knew not one like-minded as he was), but almost all, (as the universal sign is elsewhere synecdochically taken, Jeremiah 6:3 Matthew 10:22 Mark 1:5), or the most part of those then employed in the ministry, who were then at liberty, and whose inclinations, probably, he had inquired into.

Seek their own; did, though not simply and absolutely, yet after a sort, seek their own profit, ease, safety, pleasure, and satisfaction; called their own, in regard of their civil right, and the world’s opinion, but yet at God’s disposal, Haggai 2:8. These they did (as John Mark in another case) prefer to a long and tedious journey, for the service of Christ, unto Philippi.

Not the things which are Jesus Christ’s; so that they did postpone the glory of Christ, the safety and edification of the church there, to their own things. Wherefore he doth not mean it absolutely, that they did not seek the things of Christ, or that they did deny Christ, for it is apparent, even when he penned this Epistle, Philippians 1:13,14, with Acts 28:14,15, and Romans 1:8, there were many that did seriously seek Christ; but comparatively, and in a sort, they did not seek the things of Christ so intently as they should, 1 Corinthians 10:24,33, but failed as others did in other cases, Matthew 26:58 2 Timothy 4:16: not as if all minding of their own things were denied to Christ’s ministers, 1 Timothy 3:4,5 5:8; but they did slip their necks from under the yoke, and did not mind the glory of Christ in the church of Philippi, as he did.

For all seek their own,.... Meaning not every individual, but the greatest part; and not merely such as were manifestly false teachers, but such as were with the apostle, as ministers of the word; and we may suppose him to be stripped, by one means or another, of the more valuable preachers of the Gospel, and to be in much such a case as he describes himself to be, in 2 Timothy 4:10. He had none with him, excepting a very few, but such as he speaks of in the preceding chapter, that preached Christ of envy, strife, and contention; and these chiefly sought their own worldly interest and advantage; they sought great things for themselves, and looked every man for his gain from his quarter, Demas like, loving this present world, 2 Timothy 4:10; they sought for dominion and authority over men, and their faith, to lord it over God's heritage, as Diotrephes, who loved to have the preeminence, 3 John 1:9; they sought for popular applause, for honour and glory of men, as the Pharisees of old did; and particularly their own ease and health, and did not choose to undertake such a fatiguing journey as from Rome to Philippi:

not the things which are Jesus Christ; they had no true regard to the Gospel of Christ, to the continuance, establishment, and spread of it in the world, or in any particular place; nor any hearty affection for the ordinances of Christ, and the retaining and preserving of them in their purity and simplicity; nor for the churches of Christ, and their spiritual good and welfare, as the Jews formerly, they cared not if the house of God lay waste, provided they dwelt in their ceiled houses; nor had they any concern for the honour and glory of Christ. But Timothy was a man of a quite different spirit and complexion; and which is another reason of the apostle's sending him to this place and people.

For {r} all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's.

(r) The most part.

Php 2:21. Οἱ πάντες] all (except Timothy), of those whom I now have with me and at my disposal for sending; see Php 2:20. We have the less warrant to modify this judgment in any way, expressed, as it is, so very clearly and decidedly by the absolute antithesis τὰ ἑαυτῶν ζητοῦσιν, οὐ τὰ Ἰ. Χ., seeing that we are unacquainted with the circle surrounding the apostle at that particular time, and do not know to what extent the anti-Pauline tendency, Php 1:15; Php 1:17, had then spread in the immediate neighbourhood of the apostle. The only limitation of the general expression, which is in accordance with the text, lies in the fact that Paul does not mean the Christians generally in Rome, but such assistant teachers as would otherwise, if they had been pure and honest, have been qualified for such a mission. The trustworthy ones among these otherwise qualified fellow-labourers must have been absent at the time, especially Luke, who could by no means have been included among οἱ πάντες (in opposition to Wieseler, Chronol. d. apost. Zeitalt. p. 427); hence the Philippians are not saluted specially either by Luke or by any other, and the omission of such salutations by name at the end of this epistle receives in part its explanation from this passage. Consequently, οἱ πάντ. cannot be understood as many or the most (Beza, Wolf, Hammond, Drusius, Estius, Grotius, Cornelius a Lapide, and others, including Heinrichs, Rheinwald, Flatt); nor is it: “all, whom I can spare” (Erasmus), or: “who are known to you” (van Hengel). Neither is the negation to be taken relatively: they seek more their own interest, etc. (Erasmus, Calvin, and many others, also Flatt, Hoelemann, comp. the reservations of Weiss), to which Hofmann’s view [138] also ultimately comes; nor is it to be explained by assuming an intention of distinguishing Timothy (Matthies); nor yet is the judgment to be restricted, with Chrysostom, Oecumenius, and Theophylact, to the hardships of the long journey, to which they preferred their own repose. Bengel rightly defends the full seriousness of the utterance, and adds: “subtilissima erat αἴσθησις, qua hoc percepit Paulus.” But Baur erroneously discovers here merely an exaggeration, which arose from the subjectivity of a later author. What an uncalled-for fiction that would have been!

[138] The latter says: they allow themselves to be influenced in the direction of their activity, even though it be consecrated to the kingdom of God (?), by special personal aims, instead of devoting themselves ALWAYS ONLY (?οὐ τὰ Ἰ. Χ.). to that which is MOST ADVANTAGEOUS for the cause of Christ (οὐ τὰ Ἰ. Χ.!). Thus there is imported into the passage what is not at all to be found in it.

Php 2:21. οἱ πάντεςζητ. This verse has roused surprise. Where were all Paul’s faithful brethren in the Lord? Has he no one but Timothy to fall back upon? It must be borne in mind that we have to do with a simple letter, not a treatise, or history of Paul’s work. The Apostle speaks in an outburst of strong feeling, for he is a man of quick impulses. He does not for a moment mean that he has no genuine Christian brethren in his company. But he had found, in all probability, that when he proposed to some of his companions, good Christian men, that they should visit far-distant Philippi, they all shrank, making various excuses. Timothy alone is willing, the one man he can least afford to spare. It is hard to part with him at such a critical time. No wonder that he should feel hurt by this want of inclination on the part of the other brethren to undertake an important Christian duty. No wonder that he should speak with severity of a disposition so completely opposed to his own. Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:33, μὴ ζητῶν τὸ ἐμαυτοῦ σύμφορον ἀλλὰ τὸ τῶν πολλῶν. See esp[11] Calvin’s excellent note ad loc.Χ. . The authorities are almost equally balanced as to the readings. See on chap. Php 1:1 supr.


21. all] The Greek would be more exactly represented by they all, or all of them; all of a definite group in question. This is a severe censure on the persons really indicated. St Paul must have suffered grave disappointments where he had a special right to expect ready help. Demas (2 Timothy 4:10) had his precursors; indeed he may have been included in this censure, for he was at Rome about this time (Colossians 4:14; Philemon 1:24). But we must not assume that St Paul here (or even 2 Timothy 4:10) excommunicates, so to speak, those whom he refers to; the true disciple may have his weak, because faithless and selfish, hour. See Acts 13:13, with Acts 15:38, and contrast 2 Timothy 4:11. And again common sense bids us interpret the “they all” with a reserve. He must mean not “all the Christians around me,” but “all the possible Christian messengers around me.” “The saints of Cæsar’s household” (Php 4:22), for example, could not be in question; nor was Epaphroditus (Php 2:25, &c).

seek their own] things, literally; their own ease or safety; perhaps their own preferences in toil and duty. See 1 Corinthians 13:5 for the opposite choice as the choice of holy Charity.

the things which are Jesus Christ’s] The interests of His disciples laid upon them by His Apostle.

Php 2:21. Οι πάντες, they all [the whole mass of men]) If at that time, so distinguished as it was, Paul quite approved of only one out of, as it were, his own band (ch. Php 1:14; Php 1:17), speaking of those who were then present, ch. Php 4:21, and that too writing at such a distance to the church of the Philippians, how many do we suppose in our times approve themselves unto God? [This fact may be put to the test, when a man ought to have given his assistance to a laudable undertaking, either near or at a distance, which either he has not under his charge, or which he does not perceive will be of advantage to him, Jdg 5:23; Jdg 8:6. Nay, even it sometimes happens, that he who possesses some extraordinary gift or endowment, if in any way he has found an opportunity of refusing the benefit of it to others, derives much self-gratification from this very fact. O Christians, unworthy of the name!—V. g.] It was a very nice αἴσθησις, sense, by which Paul perceived this.—τὰ ἑαυτῶν, their own) Php 2:4. O how many are godly on their own account! although they are not enemies, Php 3:18.—ζητοῦσι, seek) A godly intimation may be given to godly hearers as to the character of these or those ministers.—οὐ τὰ[24] ΧΡΙΣΤΟῦ ἸΗΣΟῦ, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s) They experience this, who from their heart seek to promote the common edification. They find few to assist them, Jdg 5:17; Jdg 5:23; Jdg 8:6; Jdg 8:8. They are abandoned, when there is no obligation close in view, no hope of reward or fame. When the advantage of the kingdom of Christ is consulted by most persons, it is generally done in the way of a safe or secure expediency.[25] When some sacrifice must be made, the man does not fight, but flees, and excuses himself with the hope of fighting at another time.

[24] The marg. of both Ed., and also the Germ. Vers., give their decision in favour of the reading Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ in this passage.—E. B.

[25] i.e. Where consulting Christ’s advantage is consistent with consulting their own, so as to be free from hurt or loss: “per modum innoxiæ utilitatis.”—ED

Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ is the reading of ACD(Δ)Gfg Amiat. MS. of Vulg. But Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ, B (judging from silence) Memph. and later Syr. Ed.—ED.

Verse 21. - For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ's. All of them, he says (οἱ πάντες); Timothy is the one exception. He calls those about him brethren in Philippians 4:21; but, it seems, they were like St. Paul, not willing to spend and to be spent for the salvation of souls. It was a great sacrifice in one who so yearned for Christian sympathy to submit to the absence of the one true loving friend. St. Paul's spiritual isolation increases our wonder and admiration for the strain of holy joy which runs through this Epistle. Philippians 2:21All (οἰ πάντες)

The all; that is, one and all. The expression, however, must have limitations, since it cannot include those spoken of in Philippians 1:14, Philippians 1:17. It probably means, all except Timothy, that he has at his disposal of those who would naturally be selected for such an office.

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