Paul spent several verses at the beginning of Philippians chapter 2 describing the attitude and humility of Christ. He explained how Christ left His glory and became “obedient unto death.” He began the chapter by 25 obedienceexhorting his readers to think like Christ. And now, in Philippians 2:12 he exhorts his readers to obey like Christ. He writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence…”

The Greek word for “obey” is a compound verb. It begins with a preposition which is affixed to the verb for hearing; akouo. We get our English word “acoustics” from this word. With the preposition it means not only to hear but to act upon what is heard. Thus we find it used to answer a door, to follow a law, or to obey an instruction. It’s in the last sense here, to obey an instruction, that Paul uses it. It’s interesting to me that this verb is a transitive verb expecting an object in order to know what or who to obey. There is no object here. Many argue that “God” should be supplied as the object. Others suggest it is Paul who should be obeyed because he speaks and writes authoritatively for God. Actually, to obey the exhortations in Scripture is to obey God and to Obey God is to obey His exhortations through Paul’s writings in the Scriptures. It comes down to the same thing.

We don’t like the idea of obedience! To obey is to be somewhat less than we think we should be. The handbook for Bible Translators prepared by the United Bible Society recognized this difficulty and recommended using a phrase like, “in the same way as you always took my advice when I was with you.” To take someone’s advice is much less offensive than “obeying.” But Jesus’ example just given in the first eleven verses of Chapter two doesn’t say that “Jesus took God’s advice unto death.” No, it clearly says Jesus became “obedient” unto death. Obedience is often what we call for from our children. As they mature and grow we find we’re much better off giving advice rather than calling for obedience. But isn’t it the mark of the most profound humility for an adult to obey when they don’t have to? Isn’t that why Paul used that word for Jesus’ action? Isn’t it true that Jesus, as the God-man, didn’t have to obey, but did anyway. And this marked the reason for his great exaltation? There is a law that says what goes up, must come down. But God has another law; what goes down in humble obedience will go up!