“The biblical idea of perfection is of a state of ideal wholeness or completion, in which any disabilities, shortcomings or defects that may have existed have been eliminated or left behind” (J.I. Packer in The New Bible Dictionary). When applied to God, it speaks of God being complete in Himself, lacking nothing, and without flaw. Thus, God becomes the basis or standard by which all other perfection is measured (cf. Matt 5.48). God is absolute perfection.
When Paul speaks of perfection (Gk from teleioo) in Philippians 3.12, 15, he is obviously not saying that he is absolutely perfect as God is absolutely perfect. The reference to the “resurrection of the dead” in v.11 hints at the fact that Paul looks forward to absolute perfection in the future, though now, in the flesh, he is not “already perfect.” In this single verse, Muller (122-123) says Paul is dismissing three erroneous concepts of perfection:
1) Self-righteous perfectionism—the claim that one has arrived and is already perfect.
2) Self-sufficient semi-perfectionism—though not yet entirely perfect, one has attained much already and is perfect to an extent.
3) Indolent imperfectionism—conscious of the “not yet” but gives in to the sinful desires of flesh with no pursuit of holiness.
However, just a few verses later, he speaks of “those of us who are perfect (Gk teleioi).” Once again, Muller says Paul is speaking “not of ethical perfection, but of perfection in principle” (125). It is similar to how Paul to describes the Corinthian brethren (1 Cor 1.2) as “sanctified” and “saints” despite their being engrossed in several sinful practices. Though their ethical practice needed correction, in principle they were holy (set apart) unto God. Another way of understanding Paul’s use of teleioi is to connect it with what he says in 1 Corinthains 14.20: “in your thinking be mature (Gk teleioi).” Therefore, this has to do with spiritual maturity and readiness to apprehend things divine. Some believe there may have been a self-righteous group which saw themselves as superior to their brethren, as perfect. Paul “is opposing a relative and progressive ‘perfection’ which he expects of every Christian to the impossible claim of final perfection which must ever be future while we are still on earth” (Martin 152).
Paul speaks of “a righteousness of my own that comes from the law” which stands juxtaposed with “the righteousness from God that depends on faith” and is the righteousness “which comes through faith in Christ” (3.9). The former speaks to man seeking right relationship and standing with God through conformity to the demands and obligations of the will of God. The latter is God achieving right relationship between God and man through Jesus Christ. Man attains to that right standing in his obedience to the gospel, namely, denial of self, belief in Christ, and the obedience of faith in immersion where we are put into Christ (Rom 6.3) and we put on Christ (Gal 3.27).
Righteousness is also “holy and upright living, in accordance with God’s standard” (New Illustrated Bible Dictionary 1089). Indeed, John says, “Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as He is righteous” (1 John 3.7). So there are acts of righteousness which Christians are to pursue and put into practice. However, these righteous deeds must never be viewed as a means to gain right standing with God. Christ Jesus, by His perfect obedience, brings us that right relationship and we live accordingly.
We are declared righteous by obedient faith in Jesus and His completed work of atonement.
In light of right relationship with God based upon Christ’s finished work, we live upright and holy according to the Word.
Paul makes it clear that Christ’s righteousness cannot be acquired by human effort in commandment keeping or inherent virtue. Thus, the righteousness from God is a gift from God to the Christian in Christ Jesus. The medium or vehicle by which this righteousness is accepted by man is obedient faith. This new and true relationship between the believer and God involves a new moral standing and a new moral standard to be upheld and championed in the life of the Christian. Further, from this new union with God in Christ comes the impetus and motivation for holy living. God has dealt with not only sin but the consequences of sin I Christ on the cross freeing the Christian to pursue upright and godly living. God makes us righteous through Christ; we, having been declared righteous, will do what is righteous.
After writing about a couple of brothers who have rendered invaluable service to him (2.19ff), Paul turns his attention toward those Judaizing teachers who threaten the faith of the Philippians (3.1-16).
Rejoice in the Lord (3.1)
Once more Paul exhorts his brothers to celebrate and be glad in the Lord.
1Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Finally, my brother: this phrase can also be translated “furthermore.” Paul is not attempting to wrap up the epistle, but commence a warning. This is distinct from 4.8 where he concludes
Rejoice in [the] Lord: A common theme throughout this epistle (2.18; 4.4; cf. 1.4, 25). The command can only be fulfilled in the Lord—Christians in Him and He in us.
To write…safe for you: To repeat himself concerning Christian joy does not bother Paul and for his brethren it will free them from danger. What kind of danger?
Reprove the Lawbreaker (3.2-4a)
Paul warns his brethren about Judaizing teachers and reminds them they are the true Israel.
2Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.
Look out: Beware! Repeated thrice for emphasis and urgency. Keep an eye on them.
For the dogs…mutilate the flesh: Paul uses three phrases to describe the Judaizing teachers. First, they are dogs. The irony here is that Jews viewed Gentiles as dogs because they were outside of the covenant; now they are excluded from the covenant and are dogs. Second, they are evildoers. They are evildoers because of their opposition to the gospel. Third, they are flesh mutilators. This is hyperbole for circumcision.
3For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
For we are the circumcision: Believers in Christ are the spiritual circumcision (see Col 2.11-12), the new Israel (cf. Gal 6.16). Paul presents three identifying markers of believers…
Who worship by the Spirit of God: Worship (Gk latreuontes) should read “serving.” It denotes that Christians render religious service. There is a textual variant: some mss read “God in [the] Spirit” (so reads NKJV); however, the best mss have “by/in [the] Spirit of God.” Some commentators suggest this phrase could also be rendered “serving God’s Spirit.”
And glory is Christ Jesus: that is, Christians boast in the Lord (Jer 9.24; 1 Cor 1.31). Christ alone is our ground for confidence.
And put no confidence in the flesh: The Judaizing teachers would trust in circumcision and other religious rites. To put one’s confidence or trust in anything except Jesus Christ is confidence in the flesh.
4though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.
Though I…also: While Paul may “have reason” to trust in the flesh, he will not use it.
Reasons from Paul’s Life (4b-6)
Paul appeals to his life before Christ in order to compare and contrast with the Judaizers.
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:
If anyone…I have more: “More than anybody else, more than any of the Judaizers themselves, he could have trusted in the flesh and carnal privileges” (Muller 109). Paul will lay out his credentials, not for grounds of boasting, but to show he had every Jewish privilege.
5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;
Circumcised on the eighth day: This was characteristic of all Jewish boys (Lev 12.3). He was a child of the covenant because of his parents’ conformity to the Law.
Of the people of Israel: He was not a proselyte but genetically (Gk genous) of Israel.
Of the tribe of Benjamin: Indeed, he shared his name with Israel’s king who was from the tribe of Benjamin (Saul).
A Hebrew of Hebrews: “The Hebrew son of Hebrew parents” (Moffat). Also, he would have been reared in the ancient Hebrew languages (Hebrew & Aramaic), a sign of faithfulness.
As to the Law, a Pharisee: In regards to his devotion to the Torah (Law), he claimed the strictest sect of the religion—Pharisee (Cf. Acts 26.5; Gal 1.14).
6as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
As to zeal, a persecutor of the church: Zealous for the law and eager to protect the Jewish religion, Saul of Tarsus pursued, persecuted the church with the aim of exterminating it.
As to righteousness under the law, blameless: no charge could be brought against him as pertaining to his obedience and conformity to the Law of God.
Recognize the Lord (3.7-11)
The highest and greatest goal for Paul is to know Christ, His resurrection, and His suffering.
7But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
But whatever gain…the sake of Christ: These “gains” (pl), the seven reasons he could boast in the flesh, were regarded and continue to be regarded (perfect tense) by Paul as one giant loss because of Jesus. Indeed, this statement builds on Jesus’ teaching in the gospels (Matt 16.26; Mark 8.36; Luke 9.25). Paul gained the whole Jewish world but lost his soul for it. “They were loss because confidence in outward things tends to keep the soul from Christ.”
8Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
Indeed…Jesus my Lord: any and every possible thing which might somehow be conceived as a merit or advantage acceptable to God by a pious person is invaluable compared to Christ. That is how much better and greater knowing Christ is—everything else in life is worthless. “Knowing (Gk from gnosis) Christ Jesus” is more than head knowledge; it is heart knowledge based upon experience (i.e. fellowship). The worth of knowing Christ—see John 17.3
For his sake…I may gain Christ: Lit. through Him I lost everything. Paul “lost” (aorist) everything at his conversion; they were taken from him (passive). Paul counts everything he lost as garbage (KJV dung). Not only Paul’s Jewish heritage but anything he might claim as valuable religiously are considered a stinking mess. The purpose of this strong renunciation of everything is that Paul understands to lose all means to gain Christ. “Paul was never satisfied with his knowledge of Christ and always craved more fellowship with him” (Robertson). To gain Christ is to rely upon His all-sufficient merit.
9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—
And be found in Him: that is, at the Day of Judgment when Christ returns. “Be found” (Gk eurisko) is the idea of discovered as though by surprise. No one knows when Christ will return so we must be found in Him now, at the last day, and always.
Not having [a] righteousness…from the law: Lit. not having my righteousness. This kind of righteousness is derived by the bootstrap method of self-effort and commandment keeping which condemns “ because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal 2.16). Even though Paul was “blameless” under the Law (v.6) he was still under the curse of the law (Gal 3.10).
But that which…depends on faith: “but” (Gk alla) draws a sharp contrast—not my righteousness BUT God’s righteousness through faith in Christ. This is the righteousness a Christian puts on through obedient (active) faith in Christ. Paul speaks of “having” (present tense) this righteousness. While he possesses it, it is not his own but God’s.
10that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
That I may know Him: The ever-constant aim for Paul and all Christians—to experience the righteousness of God enabling us to know Christ and His salvation.
And the power of His resurrection: It was the power of God which raised Jesus (Rom 1.4). “The resurrection of Christ was a glorious manifestation of Divine power” (Caffin 113).
And may share in His sufferings: Lit. fellowship (Gk koinonian) His sufferings. The was an honored prized to Paul (cf. Col 1.24) since He bore all our sufferings (Isa 53.4).
Becoming like Him in His death: present passive participle indicates this is continual and progressive “deep, real, inner conformity” through daily self-death (Luke 9.23; Gal 2.20).
11that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
That by any means…from the dead: Paul’s language here does not denote uncertainty about his destiny. Rather, this is the language of humble expectation. In the struggle of faith, Paul uses language to capture the resurrection as arriving at the end of a journey. Here and now Christians are risen with Christ, but we still look forward to the final consummation.
Reach for What Lies Ahead (3.12-16)
Paul continues his discussion (which is intended to indict the Judaizers among the brethren in Philippi) of pursuing perfection or maturity. He just wrote about trusting only in Christ’s righteousness (not his own); now he exhorts these brethren to press on in righteousness.
12Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Not that I…am already perfect: Paul does not want the church to be mistaken about what he just said in v.11—he is not saying he has “obtained” (aorist) the prize at conversion nor is he saying that he attained perfection in the past and stands perfect presently (perfect tense). In other words, Paul is saying that he has not reached the end of his journey and race.
But I press on to make it my own: Rather, the object is before him and with speed and energy he is moving toward it. The word Paul uses was a hunting term as in the pursuit of game. It was also a term for foot-racing. Paul’s whole life is a pressing on to the future goal that he seeks to make His own or overtake and arrest.
Because Christ Jesus has made me His own: When? At his conversion. When he was immersed for forgiveness of sin, that was the beginning of the chase for Paul, not the end. Further, that was when Christ overtook Paul and made him His own possession. NKJV: “laid hold” that is to grasp or seize.
13Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
Brothers: fellow Christians of the Philippian church who are in the same course of pursuit.
I do not consider…in my own: There will come a time when Paul will say, “I have obtained it!” Or God will say, “It has been finished!” Or Paul “I have finished” by God’s grace. But it stands to reason that that time is not right now. Not yet.
But one thing I do: Lit. But—one thing. “I am single-minded” (NET).
Forgetting what lies behind: This includes his Jewish pedigree (v.5-6), his life as a church persecutor, and even that part of his life as a Christian with whatever failures and miseries had come to him. By deliberate and continuous “forgetting” Paul further progresses to the prize.
Straining forward to what lies ahead: the image is of a runner leaning forward as they run. So Paul with great energy reaches for those last Day things (v.11).
14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
I press on toward the goal: exact same word as v.12—with all his being and strength Paul is in pursuit of the prize and crown. This pursuit is continuous.
For the prize…in Christ Jesus: The prize for which Paul is striving for he has named in v.11—the resurrection of the dead and that unto eternal blessedness in heaven. Hence, this calling is “upward” to the heavens (cf. Heb 3.1—”heavenly calling”). Notice it is God who calls Paul “in/by Christ Jesus.” In these last days [God] has spoken to us by His Son who is the Word of God (Heb 1.2; Jn 1.1).
15Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.
Let those of us…think this way: “Mature” is a word related to “perfect” in v.12. Some see a wordplay here where the “perfect” ones are those who know perfection is not possible in this life. Others make a distinction between absolute perfectionism (where no further striving is necessary) and relative perfectionism (being full-grown, see Eph 4.15-16). So maturity is bound up in pursuit of fuller maturity.
And if…you think otherwise: Those among the Philippians who believed perfection in this life was/is attainable or Paul’s general opponents who were just anti-Paul.
God will reveal that also to you: Paul “invokes the aid of God to illuminate the minds and correct the behaviour (sic) of those who do not share his conviction” of the truth he has stated.
16Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
Only let us…attained: “Let there be no falling back; let us, at each point in our Christian course, maintain and walk according to that degree of grace at which we arrived” (Caffin 115). “Hold true” lit. means to walk in a line. In other words, stay the course.
After explaining how the Philippians can maintain pure conduct before God (Philippians 2.12-18), Paul turns his attention to two brothers in Christ who have meant a great deal to him during his ministry: Timothy and Epaphroditus. These passages are often overlooked by Christians, but they communicate the deep heartfelt affection of Paul for his fellow laborers in the faith.
Timothy’s Service (2.19-24)
Timothy is an example of selfless service in the gospel with Paul pursuing Christ’s interests
19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.
I hope…to you soon: His hope was not in himself—his power, intelligence, abilities, etc. Paul’s confident expectation in the Lord Jesus was to send Timothy to the Philippians. Even as he was convinced of his remaining, coming, and helping of the Philippians (1.25-26), so he was expecting to send Timothy.
So that…news of you: Here is the purpose for sending Timothy—Paul wants to hear about how the Philippians are doing. Timothy will help the Philippians by his presence and counsel and will help Paul with his report of their Christian life.
20For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.
For I have no one like him: Lit. like-minded or equal in soul. Paul and Timothy are of the same mind and attitude. Think of all the traveling companions the apostle Paul and then consider this statement. Timothy was a man after Paul’s own heart.
Who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare: Paul’s heart was for the Philippians; so too was Timothy’s. They shared the same concern and interest in the Philippians’ spiritual wellbeing. They faced the daily anxiety for all the churches (cf. 2 Cor 11.28).
21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.
For they all…of Jesus Christ: That is, all those available to him. It seems doubtful that Luke would fall under this category; perhaps he was minister elsewhere and was not with Paul. While those around Paul are “brothers” (4.21), they are apparently not as willing as Timothy to spend and be spent for the sake of others. Another theory: this is a sorrowful statement about the present condition of the world (full of selfishness and self-seeking) and having a brother like Timothy is a rare thing.
22But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.
But you know Timothy’s proved worth: “know” is the kind of knowledge which comes by experience (Gk root ginosko). In fact, he had been to Philippi at least once (Acts 16).
How as a son…in the gospel: It was fitting for Timothy to labor (lit. slave, from Gk douleuo) like this with Paul since he was Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1.2; 2 Tim 1.2; 1 Cor 4.17). The kind of service mentioned here is done in a humble manner at the demands of another, i.e. slave. This is the kind of work Paul and Timothy engaged in as father and son. Timothy “was both a son and servant of St. Paul, and also a fellow-worker with St. Paul, both being slaves of God” (Caffin 63).
23I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,
I hope therefore to send him: Whenever Paul wanted information about a congregation or wanted to encourage and build-up brethren and he personally could not go, Timothy went.
Just as soon…with me: Whether he will be released from prison or face a martyr’s death. This way Timothy would bring the report of Paul’s fate. This indicates there is no certainty about his future at the time of his writing.
24and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
And I trust…will come also: This is similar to what he said in 1.25-26. Paul is persuaded that what is needful is for him to continue in the body. He has come to this conclusion and holds to it (perfect tense). Only in the Lord can he look to the future with such confidence. “We do not know certainly what he meant by the term shortly. The uncertainty as to what whim might strike Nero was an uncertain thing to count upon” (Lipscomb 193). Coffman thinks this hope was probably fulfilled, pointing to Titus 3.12 as evidence.
Epaphroditus’ Sickness (2.25-30)
God spared Epaphroditus so that he could render further service to Paul & his brethren
25I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,
I have thought…Epaphroditus: Epaphroditus is known only by this verse and 4.18. He is a different person that Epaphras, another co-worker of Paul’s—Epaphroditus was from Philippi, Epaphras was from Colossae. This man Paul was compelled to send back home.
My brother…minister to my need: Paul uses five (5) phrases to describe the usefulness of Epaphroditus. First, he is Paul’s (“my”) brother in Christ. Second, he is Paul’s fellow worker (Gk sunergon); he worked with Paul in the furtherance of the cause of Christ. Third, he is Paul’s fellow soldier; they had been through severe trials and tests together. Fourth, he is the Philippians’ (“your”) messenger (Gk apostolon); that is, he had been sent by the church. Fifth, he was Paul’s minister (Gk leitourgon, cf.v.17) on behalf of the Philippians. By conveying their contribution which is “a fragrant offering” (4.18) he renders a sacred service.
26for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.
For he has…he was ill: Barclay gives a reconstruction of the events surrounding this narrative. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the Philippians with their gift (see 1.5, 4.17-18) and in Rome he became sick (possibly with fever, which was common then). The sickness is not stated. Epaphroditus is eager to get back (and Paul eager to send him, v.28) to assuage the brethren’s fears. He longs for these Christians as Paul does (1.8); he is distressed as the Savior was (Mt 26.37).
27Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.
Indeed, he was ill, near to death: Whatever Epaphroditus came down with was serious.
But God had mercy on him: “But” draws sharp contrast (Gk alla) – not death, but life from God. Paul recognizes that God is the giver of life and health.
Not only on him…sorrow upon sorrow: There is the sorrow of his brother’s illness and, if he had died, the sorrow of his death which would have affected Paul. God’s mercy spared him these sorrows and made him “unsorrowful” (“less anxious,” v.28).
28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.
I am the more eager…I may be less anxious: the reunion of the Philippian saints with Epaphroditus would be a time to rejoice. Thus, Paul is sending back his brother to them, wanting them to experience the joy God gives at such reunions. Also, the reunion of the Philippians and Epaphroditus would give occasion for Paul to be “less anxious” (Lit. more un-grief).
29So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,
So receive him in the Lord: Since Epaphroditus fulfilled his mission, his life spared by God, and he’s coming back home—welcome this broth back with arms wide open as the Lord Jesus welcomes us into His presence (cf. Rom 15.7).
With all joy, and honor such men: With heartfelt, unalloyed joy they are to welcome him. But also they are to esteem Epaphroditus and recognize how invaluable he is. Why? V.30
30for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
For he nearly died for the work of Christ: because when it comes to the work of Christ, Epaphroditus is a man who will risk life and limb to get the job done.
Risking his life: lit. handing life over. He was willing to expose himself to hazard.
To complete…your service to me: Epaphroditus risked his life so act as a ministering priest, presenting the sacred offering of their contribution to Paul. Others point to the presence of Epaphroditus as making up for the lack of presence of the Philippians (cf. 1 Cor 16.17).
Special Study—Why didn’t Paul heal Epaphroditus?
Paul had healed others miraculously (see Acts 28.8). Why not Epaphroditus? First, maybe he did. The text is relatively ambiguous and God could have used Paul as a conduit of his mercy (v.27). But the consensus among scholars is that Paul did not heal Epaphroditus and the why-question remains. Epaphroditus is not the only companion of Paul who was not healed (Trophimus in 2 Tim 4.20). Even though he had miraculous powers, the exercise of those powers were for a specific purpose (Mk 16.20) and were to be used at the discretion of God. That’s why certain companions were not healed and why Paul did not heal himself when afflicted (cf. 2 Cor 12.7-9).
Every year, researchers publish their results of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) identifying the happiest countries in the world. Right now (2014) the happiest country on the planet is Costa Rica. To discover a country’s happiness quotient, researchers multiply life expectancy by something called “Experienced Well Being” and divide by “Ecological Footprint.” An interesting note: the top ten countries were almost all Central or South American countries (although Vietnam was 2nd). The US ranks near the bottom at 115th.
The question everyone wants answered is “How do I be happy?” Barnes & Nobel stays in business selling shelf-fulls of books explaining how to be happy. Consider several authors’ take on how to be happy:
In his book Your Best Life Now:
- Enlarge your vision
- Develop a healthy self-image
- Discover the power of your thoughts and words
- Let go of the past
- Find strength through adversity
- Live to give
- Choose to be happy
Happiness for Dummies
The author offers 4 ingredients:
- Feeling of safety
- Sense of satisfaction
- Sense of perspective
Plus, other “ingredients”… Satisfaction, pleasure, gratitude, serenity, and well-being
From his book The Thinker’s Way, he offers 8 steps:
- Think critically
- Live creatively
- Choose freely
- Solve problems effectively
- Communicate effectively
- Analyze complex issues
- Develop enlightened values
- Think through relationship
The Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult” (1978)
Further Along the Road Less Traveled: “Life is complex” (1993)
The Road Less Traveled and Beyond: Failure to think is “the problem” (1998)
While all these attempt to offer solutions to the happiness crisis many people face in life, there is truly only one Book – the Book of books – that can explain how to satisfy man’s deepest craving which is joy and not happiness. But first, let’s discuss the difference…
The root word of “happy” is “hap” which is defined as one’s luck or accidental. Thus, when circumstances and situations are good, one is happy; when they are not, one is unhappy. What all of these writers fail to discover is that it is not positive thinking which will counter negative thinking; it is truth thinking which trumps both (all) thinking patterns. The Biblical paradigm is one which seeks to guide and shape people’s thoughts. Very rarely is happiness used to describe the state of the saint. Instead, New Testament writers often speak of “joy.” While happiness is influenced and affected by circumstances, joy is not. That is why Paul can repeatedly write from a Roman prison cell, “Rejoice!” Positive thinking will only get one so far down the happiness trail since happiness is rooted in circumstances. But the psychological significance of truth-thinking transcends circumstances and situations. Now for some background…
The Philosophical Idea of Joy
The philosophers spoke of “joy” (Gk chara) to express certain Hellenistic ideas. Plato saw joy as being equal with hedonism. Aristotle, though, saw hedonism as being greater than joy. Then, the Stoics got the idea that hedonism is nothing more than a special kind of joy but it, like other self-gratifying emotions, was bad. It should be evident that the only thing to change in the secular understanding of happiness and joy is the time and date.
The Biblical Idea of Joy in the Old Testament
The Biblical writers introduce a vastly different concept of joy. David speaks of “the joy of Your presence” (Psa 21.6). Several times, God’s work in salvation is a chief reason for joy (see Psalm 5.11; 9.2; 16.9). There is singing associated with the joy of salvation. Indeed, the whole being is summoned to rejoice. When people are faithful to God’s word there is joy (Isaiah 65.13-14) causing God Himself to rejoice (65.19). Perhaps Jeremiah is the most explicit when he writes, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy (chara) and the delight of my heart” (15.16). Here one finds a direct correlation between joy and the word of God. When people (especially God’s people) consume the word of God, are faithful to His law, and are thereby saved, joy is manifested. This joy is not merely internal and inward; it has a cause and finds expression, especially in singing.
The Biblical Idea of Joy in the New Testament
Much of these ideas get carried over into the New Testament and are amplified at the realization and fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption. In Matthew, chara carries an eschatological emphasis (see especially 25.21, 23). Mark only uses the word once but it is significant because chara comes because of the reception of the word of God (4.16, parable of the soils). Joy shows up in the final discourse of Jesus recorded by John; it is used 6 times in the span of three chapters (15.11; 16.20, 21, 22, 24; 17.13). It is Luke, though, who uses chara the most (8 times). It is joy which is a theme running through his gospel narrative from Jesus’ arrival (2.10) to His ascension (24.52). The overarching connection seems to be with the coming of the King into His kingdom.
Paul and Joy
No New Testament writer used the word chara more than Paul. It is never used in a secular sense but is usually connected with his work as an apostle. In other words, Paul never uses the word group in a mundane way, but in a majestic way. Philippians is no doubt Paul’s treatise on joy. This book is riddled through with chara. Early in the epistle Paul sets the stage for the entire letter by explaining that he is a joyful servant (Philippians 1.1, 4). The joy Paul has is reciprocal in nature, from him to his brethren in Philippi through his fellow worker Timothy (2.28-29). Indeed, the Christians at Philippi are the embodiment of Paul’s joy (4.1). Over and over, Paul exhorts his brethren through command to “rejoice in the Lord” (3.1; 4.4). This kind of rejoicing should be the Christian’s disposition at all times (or “always” see 4.4). Even when confronted by a situation in which Christ is preached out of envy and rivalry with the intent of somehow harming Paul, so long as Christ is preached Paul has joy (1.18). The source of this kind of supernatural joy is faith in Christ (1.25). So Paul presents the Biblical and psychological significance facets of joy in this short epistle.
After the glorious heights of vs. 5-11 which captures in hymnody the exalted nature of Christ, Paul seeks to encourage his brethren toward continued obedience to the Lord in Philippians 2:12–18.
Working Out, Working In (2.12-13)
As Christians are working out their salvation God is working in them.
12Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Therefore: Lit. “So then” and ties directly back to 2.1-4. Paul is continuing his admonition of how they are look to the interests of others.
My beloved: This not a mere military call-to-arms; Paul includes his personal love for these brethren in his appeal. Paul’s commands are not burdensome, nor are God’s (1 John 5.3).
As you have…in my absence: The Philippians have been a marvelous testament to the missionary efforts of Paul. The greatest tribute a newly formed church can offer the missionary who leaves to continue his work elsewhere is to continue to obey God after the departure of the missionary. Paul encourages these brethren to further faithfulness though he is not there and may not be able to come ever again.
Work out your [own] salvation with fear and trembling: the word “own” is supplied in several English translations (KJV, NKJV, ESV). However, in keeping with his continued appeal from 2.1-4, it seems Paul is calling Christians to collectively work out our salvation (which includes not only the act of rescuing but also the state of safety). We are not only working out our own salvation; we are in this struggle for holiness together. Further, that this is a salvation which encompasses the church as a whole is seen in terms of Christ as Savior of His body, the church (see Eph 5.23) and Paul’s mention of “your salvation” (Phil 1.28). As Martin puts it: “After the great passage of 2:5-11 it would be singularly inappropriate to stress personal salvation” (116). The whole congregation, in fearful trembling before the Lord God Jesus Christ, seeks to help one another on the path to ultimate salvation when Christ returns. Not slavish terror but a reverential desire to do right.
13for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
For it is God who works in you: God is ho energon, the Energizer, in you (pl.) or among you, enabling the church’s work at salvation. God began the work; the church seeks to carry on to end what God began. Christ work of atonement is finished; we work from the cross to carry out sanctification by the Holy Spirit. “The grace of God is alleged as a motive for earnest Christian work” (Caffin 62). Not only does God give us the gift, but the means and will to put that gift into practice.
Both to will and to work: God’s inward energy impacts both the decision of the will (volition) and the practical deeds (Gk to energein). “God gives power to will, man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power…The power to will and do comes from God; the use of that power belongs to man” (Clarke). “So divine sovereignty and human responsibility time and again meet each other in the life of the redeemed” (Muller 92). “Paul makes no attempt to reconcile divine sovereignty and human free agency, but boldly proclaims both” (Robertson). God does all, and we do all.
For His good pleasure: Even as the self-emptying of Christ was for the “glory of God the Father” (v.11), so the Christian community cooperating with God, who is working within or among us, and with fellow Christians, who are working at carrying out to full completion salvation with one another, is for God’s good pleasure. This pleasing to God.
Blemishes Out, Blameless In (2.14-18)
Holding fast the word of life promotes a life free from impurity and ready to be a (living) sacrifice to God.
14Do all things without grumbling or disputing,
Do all things without grumbling or disputing: Present imperative. In other words, this is a command. Everything we do must be without complaining (NIV, NKJV) or arguing. We should not murmur (like Israel in the OT) or argue (like apostles in the NT—Mk 9.49).
15that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
That we may be blameless and innocent: Herein lies the purpose why we do everything without grumbling and arguing—the preservation of holiness. Blameless means living a life which does not have an accusatory or critical finger pointed at it—to be faultless. Pure carries the idea of unmixed, like a metal which contains no alloys which could weaken it—no evil should be mixed in the Christian’s life. Together, these words provide somewhat of a commentary on living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” (1.27).
Children of God…twisted generation: They are to be holy children of the Father in the world but not of it (cf. John 17.15-16). Cf. Deut 32.4-5—Paul adopts and adapts a description of apostate Israel to stimulate these brethren on to faithful living. While the generation around them may be dishonest and engages in serious wrongdoing, these Christians are to be morally upright, even following after the Father who is a “God of faithfulness and without iniquity.”
Among whom…in the world: like when God created the stars to give light on the earth and shine in darkness (cf. Genesis 1.15, 18). In similar fashion, Christians are “the light of world” (Mt 5.14) which shine forth our own light (our own goodness, ideas, etc.); ours is borrowed light from “the Light of the world” – Jesus (Jn 8.12). We are “light-bearers” in a dark world; we are the vessel or vehicle through which the true Light shines forth.
16holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.
Holding fast to the word of life: Present tense means they are to continue to hold fast what they have. Here is how we “shine as lights” in the “crooked and twisted” world. We are the lamps and God’s word is the flame. Christians are lights because they hold fast and hold forth the word of Life. The world does not have life’s Word and the church fulfills her glorious God-given mission when possessing and presenting God’s word. While the world must hear the word, they must also see the light present in our lives. “Their saintly lives testify to the power of the word of life” (Muller 95).
So that in the day of Christ: Paul’s has skin in the game because they are his fruit prepared for the coming harvest. The phrase “day of Christ” is unique to this epistle. It is more commonly the “day of the Lord” but both phrases appear synonymous.
I may be proud…labor in vain: Paul, looking forward to the final coming of Christ, anticipates glorying in his “joy and crown” (4.1) and in their salvation. He does not want to be disappointed in his brethren because they have not been living a life “worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Two images capture the kind of heart-wrenching disappointment: 1) completing a race only to learn of disqualification & 2) planting crops that never produce. Both imply strenuous exertion.
17Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.
[But] Even if …your faith: “I am poured out as a drink offering” is a single word (Gk spendomai) and appears in only one other place in the NT (2 Tim 4.6) though he captures the same idea elsewhere (2 Cor 12.15). Paul is using highly figurative language to capture the possibility of his martyrdom. Paul would joyfully face a violent, bloody martyr’s death for the Philippians’ faith. If that is what it would take for their faithfulness in “sacrifice and service,” so be it. His life would then be a drink offering poured “upon” their sacrifice and service. Some see here an allusion to the fact that his audience is predominately pagan versus Jewish. Jews would pour a drink offering next to or around the altar and sacrifice; pagan rituals required pouring the drink offering over or upon the sacrifice. Paul will do whatever it takes to stimulate these brethren to faithfulness.
I am glad and rejoice with you: This scene of martyrdom is faced with glad acceptance by Paul for he pleased to have God’s will accomplished in his life. Further, as Paul has already made known, “to die is gain” (1.21). Christ is honored in and through life or death.
18Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
Likewise…rejoice with me: These are actually imperatives. Paul charges his readers to joyfully face future suffering and persecution even as he faces potential martyrdom.
“Glad and rejoice with” are related terms (Gk chairo kai sunchairo) which should both be translated “rejoice.” Joy is here connected with a proper perspective concerning Christian service.
Having deduced that he will remain in the flesh and possibly reunite with his brethren, Paul’s attention turns to the confidence of sharing in the Spirit with these brethren. How we treat our brethren is contingent upon our assumption of the mind of Christ. This section covers Philippians 1.27-2.11.
Strive for the Faith (1.27-30)
Participation in the Spirit requires striving with the brethren for the faith despite suffering for the sake of Christ.
27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,
Only let your…gospel of Christ: marg. “behave as citizens worthily.” Lit. “Only let your life as citizens be worthy of the gospel of Christ.” “Only” is emphatic and means “above all” or “at all costs.” The Philippians lived in a free Roman colony and would understand what it means to live like citizens. As Christians they were citizens of the imperial city of Christ (cf. 3.20). As members of that holy community they have obligations one to another and to Christ the Lord. A life “worthy of the gospel of Christ” is a frequent theme in Paul’s epistles (cf. Rom 16.2; Eph 4.1; Col 1.10) and denotes the obligations the gospel imposes, the privileges it brings, and the high calling to fulfill. The obligations of the gospel are obedience and holiness; the privileges are salvation and blessedness; the high calling is a manner of life like Christ’s.
The purpose of a holy life as a citizen of God’s kingdom is…
So that whether…am absent: Paul anticipated being reunited with these brethren (v.25-26) having reasoned to this conclusion, but Paul is neither omnipotent nor has he had this knowledge revealed to him as a surety. Hence, his statement here of whether he comes to them or is unable to come to them, whatever happens to him or them.
I may hear of you…in one spirit: though he may not be able to be with these brethren in the flesh, he hopes that news would at least reach him about how they are conducting themselves as worthy citizens and standing firm in one Spirit. This seems to be equivalent to standing firm “in the Lord” (4.1; 1 Thess 3.8) and standing firm “in the faith” (1 Cor 16.13). The idea of standing firm is prevalent throughout Paul’s epistles (see also Rom 14.; Gal 5.1; 2 Thess 2.15) and has roots in the Old Testament (Isa 7.9). This standing is grounded in God.
With one mind striving…of the gospel: These brethren are to be united in “one mind” (Gk psuche). That is, there is not to be any division or rivalry within the body which is characteristic of the opponents (v.15, 17, 28). This is key later to the Euodia-Syntyche argument. United, these Christians were to struggle or wrestle (Gk sunathlountes from which we get “athlete”) against a common enemy for the faith of the gospel (i.e. Christian truth).
28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.
Not frightened…by your opponents: either 1) those already mentioned who are rivals of Paul (v.15, 17) or 2) introduction of “enemies of the cross” (3.2ff, 18). Either way the Philippians faced them not frightened (like a skittish horse) since they are standing and striving.
This is…their destruction: The courage these brethren face their adversaries with is evidence and proof of the opponents loss of eternal life unto eternal misery (i.e. destruction).
But of your salvation, and that from God: Standing firm and striving are evidence of these Christians gaining eternal life unto eternity with God. God did this.
29For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake,
For it…suffer for His sake: God have given the Philippians a marvelous “gifts of grace” (“granted”). First, God granted them to believe in Christ (“not only believe in Him”). A key example from among them is Lydia who’s heart the Lord opened (Acts 16.14). Second, God granted them to suffer for His sake. There is a blessing attached to this (see Matt 5.11-12). Herein is faith in action.
30engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Engaged in the same…I still have: “Conflict” here is agon from which we get our English word “agony.” Here it has shades of the military, conflict which an army would engage in. Even as Paul suffers the struggle of persecution, so too the Philippians share in the suffering of persecution. They are soldiers under the same Commanding Officer; each had a share in the conflict.
Paul moves from outside to inside, now explaining the Christian’s relationship to the brethren (2.1-11).
Serve in Humility (2.1-4)
Participation in the Spirit requires humbly serving while regarding others’ interests as greater than our own. There is shift of focus from opponents to brethren.
1So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
So: or “therefore” (NASB, NKJV) indicates Paul is expanding on his exhortation (1.27ff).
If [there is] any encouragement in Christ: That is, if your communion with Christ has the power to stir the heart and emotion. From spiritual union with Christ came divine help.
If any comfort from love: or persuasive power from love. Love is a power motivator and certainly the love of Christ would be a powerful motivator toward unity.
If any participation in the Spirit: if the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is a true reality.
If any affection and sympathy: could be translated “any merciful compassion” as a hendiadys. “Affection” (Gk splaxchna) means compassion; “sympathy” (Gk oiktirmoi) means mercy.
“If these spiritual experiences with which the Philippians are acquainted are present, they have to serve as basis for the deeper oneness of heart and soul to which the apostle exhorts them.”
2complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Complete my joy: that is, fill full. Paul’s cup of joy is already quite full, but the Philippians unity in thought and feeling would serve to fill to the brim his cup of joy.
By being of the same mind: lit. contemplating the same thing. Paul’s desire is for these brethren to think the same thing. What thing are these Christians (even all Christians) to contemplate? Whose mind are we to have? Verse 5 give the imperative of this verb.
Having the same love: “towards God and Jesus Christ, and in Him mutually towards each other” (Muller 74). This answers to the love of v.1 which brings motivation for unity.
[Being] in full accord: from a single Greek word (sunpsuchoi) which literally means together in soul. Christians are to be harmonious, with souls which beat together in tune with Christ and with one another. This kind of harmony is connected with…
[And] of one mind: This belongs with the preceding idea and so can be rendered “together in soul contemplating the same (one) thing.” Even as they were with “one soul” (1.27) to stand firm against the opponents of the faith, so they were now to be like-minded in love, soul, and contemplation. This is a lofty of Christian unity, the ideal we continue to strive for even today.
3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Do nothing…conceit: Connected with the idea of what a Christian should contemplate, “selfish ambition” has to do with parties and factions (read: division) in the church. When it comes to division (in order to gain some kind of advantage), don’t even think about it. This is connected with “conceit” or “vainglory” (KJV) which is pride without basis and so is empty. “If selfish ambition is the symptom of the malady the root cause may be seen in vain conceit.” Morris
But in humility…yourselves: How then should the Christian think of him/herself in view fellow Christians? “Humility” has to do with thinking rightly about one’s self—that is, we do not think too highly nor too lowly of ourselves. 1 Peter 5.6 is the best commentary on humility—a right understanding of Who God is will enable us to think rightly about ourselves. “Only by a wise and lowly estimate of ourselves [can] we come to know what is due others” (Lipscomb 179). We honor one another above ourselves (Rom 12.10, NIV). Note how this works: I consider you more significant and you consider me more significant. The church becomes a “marvelous community in which no one is looked down upon but everyone is looked up to!” (Lenski 767)
4Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Let each of you look not [only] to his own [interests]: Paul is calling for selflessness rather than selfishness among these brethren. Christ is the supreme example of this (v.5-11).
But also to the [interests] of others: whatever efforts we exert to gain insight into the lives of our brethren ought to be so that we respond appropriately to their needs.
Seize the Mind of Christ (2.5-11)
Fellowship (unity), in the Spirit and in the church, is rooted in having the mind of Christ.
5Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
Have this mind…in Christ Jesus: This is an imperative command—keep on thinking. This calling to think like Christ will enable Christians to serve one another in humility (v.1-4). Paul presents Jesus as the supreme example of humility.
6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
Who, though He was in the form of God: Lit. who is existing in [the] form of God. The present tense indicates He continues to be God. “Form” (Gk morphe) means the essential attributes, nature, and character. Hence, Christ Jesus was/is possessor of the essential attributes, nature, and character of God.
Did not count…to be grasped: Though He is eternally in the form of God, He did not regard equality with God a prize to be tenaciously retained or something He had to desperately cling to. It was always His by right of being God the Son. Unlike the1st Adam who sought to grasp equality with God through pride and disobedience, the 2nd Adam sought the pathway of lowly obedience on His way to exaltation (v.9-11).
7but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
But emptied Himself: “But” in the Greek (alla) draws a sharp distinction. “Emptied” (Gk. ekenosen) is where scholars debate. What did Christ empty Himself of? Divine prerogatives such that He would have to depend on the Spirit during His life (as must we in His footsteps). This was His own voluntary act; He chose to suspend His divine privileges and prerogatives. It must be noted that Christ never ceases from being God; He suspends His glory (see John 17.5).
By taking the form of a servant: He empties Himself of the manifestations of His Godhood (i.e. glory, which is rightfully His) and takes up the essential attributes, nature of a slave.
Being born in the likeness of men: He was/is God; He became man. He took on human nature. Hence, He is one Person with two natures in perfect harmony and balance.
8And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
And being found in human form: “Form” (Gk schemati) is different than v.6, 7 and has to do with His external outward appearance. He was a man like others. “The Word became flesh” and Jesus says, “I became dead” (John 1.14; Revelation 1.18). The word “became” is indicative of behavior and action which is not normative for deity. That is, it is not the nature of deity to have flesh or die. Yet, Jesus died.
He humbled himself…death on a cross: The humiliation of Christ extends from His entrance into this world all the way to the inglorious climax on the cross. In His empting, in His incarnation, in His becoming a servant, in His dying, and that in the most ignoble way! And so we have gone from the highest height (God in eternity) to the deepest depth (God on a cross). Consider the humiliation of Christ 1) in becoming a man (Paul mentions the humanity of Jesus four times) and 2) in dying like a man. This is our example for it is the mind of Christ which is ours.
9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,
Therefore: Since Christ was willing to condescend through humble emptying servitude…
God has highly exalted him: Exaltation is what follows His humiliation. In fact, the word is a superlative: He is exalted beyond a high status, even to the right hand of God (Acts 2.33).
And bestowed…above every name: God has “graced” Jesus with the highest name—Lord (v.11), the term used to translate the divine name in the LXX (YHWH=kurios).
10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
So that…should bow: This is universal recognition and acknowledgement of the majesty and might of the Lord Jesus Christ. Note the connection to Isaiah 45.23; the same worship given to YHWH God in the Old Testament is now rendered unto Christ.
In heaven and on earth and under the earth: All rational beings are classed into thre groups: (1) the whole host of heaven recognize Jesus’ Lordship, (2) all people living on earth should recognize His Lordship, & (3) all those in the Hadean realm acknowledge His Lordship.
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord: The “name above all names” is here revealed as the name which all must agree with God concerning Jesus as Lord. Angels and demons, living and dead, saved and unsaved—every tongue will acknowledge His Lordship.
To the glory of God the Father: This is the grand end of the Son’s humiliation—the glory of the Father. This is the unique purpose of all things. Since Jesus Christ is Lord we owe him worship, praise, and adoration as the second person of the Godhead. He is absolutely worthy of our worship. Further, we owe Him our confession of His lordship. Either we will render that confession to Him now to our benefit and for our eternal salvation or else we render our confession to Him later on the day of judgment to our detriment and eternal condemnation.
It is to our advantage that we bow the knee and loose our tongue to the Lord Jesus Christ now rather than later!
Although presently in prison and afflicted by rivals in the faith (v.12-18a), Paul was rejoicing. Paul now turns from the present predicament and considers the future prospect of possible deliverance, either from his bonds or his body. In this passage, Paul rejoices knowing that Christ is magnified in ministry by life or by death.
Yes, and I will rejoice,
Yes, and I will rejoice: future tense verb—Paul turns attention away from the present and considers potential deliverance from either his bonds or his body.
19for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,
For I know that through your prayers: Note that Paul recognizes two sources of aid, one human, the other divine. The first is in this clause: the prayers of the saints. Here is Paul’s human aid—the supplications of the saints. Paul knows these brethren are true Christians, true children of God who have the Father’s ear in prayer. He prays for them; they pray for him.
And the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: Herein we find the second (divine) source of aid: the support of the Spirit. “Help” is translated from a word meaning “assistance which undergirds and supports” not unlike what a ligament does with a joint (cf. Eph 4.16). The connection between prayer and the Spirit is evident: as supplication ascends, the Spirit descends. As Christians cry for comfort, God sends the Comforter.
This will turn out for my deliverance: “This” means either his imprisonment or the preaching from impure motives. Given his rejoicing in verse 18b of future deliverance, it seems best to understand his imprisonment as what is in view. So by means of the petitions of these saints and the provision of the Spirit Paul was confident that he would be freed (lit. rescued) from his bonds.
Note: Commentators point out that Paul is quoting from the LXX Job 13.16, indicating that Paul is identifying with Job. Job wanted his integrity vindicated (cf. 13.18); Paul wants his apostleship vindicated against his detractors (v.15-17).
20as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
As it is my eager expectation and hope: expectation with uplifted head and outstretched neck as though in suspense. It is Paul’s confident expectation (hope)…
That I will not be at all ashamed: Paul is not disgraced by suffering, affliction, imprisonment, or even the voices of rivals. Looking forward to when he takes the stand in his defense of the gospel (v.16), that too will not be a time of disgrace but rather…
But that with full courage now as always: “courage” or “boldness” (NKJV, NASB) carries the idea of freedom to speak especially in times of intimidating circumstances. For Paul circumstances made not difference: whether free or in bonds (cf. Acts 28.31), Paul spoke with liberty “as always” even “now” under Roman guard.
Christ will be honored in my body: It is not enough to have liberty to speak; what one speaks matters. Not a single word, expression, or utterance was to hurt the cause of Christ and fall short doing Him perfect justice. “Boldness of speech was to be his [Paul’s] part, the glory should be Christ’s” (Caffin 5). Christ would be praised whatever Paul did in the body.
Whether by life or by death: Whether the verdict rendered frees him from imprisonment or send him to a martyr’s death, Christ would be glorified. If his freedom led to a furtherance of his apostolic ministry, Christ was glorified. If his captivity led to his faithfulness unto death, Christ would be glorified. These alternatives may seem vastly different, but to Paul they brought the same end: the glorification of Christ in, by, and through him.
21For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain: In life or in death, in either event “to exalt and glorify Christ was his only incentive in life” (Lipscomb 168). While he lives, he is Christ’s property and Christ is his portion. To die (the act of dying) “is to cash in both principal and interest” thereby gaining a profit (Robertson). “Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service.”
22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.
If I am to live in the flesh: Paul (or any apostle) was not omniscient; while there are instances where certain future events in his life are revealed by the Spirit (eg. Acts 20.22-23), he (and the other apostles), like we, had to exercise the same faith and patience concerning the future. “In the flesh” amplifies the transitory nature of life in the body.
That means fruitful labor for me: Should he continue to live, it would mean he could do more work as an apostle and through that ministry he would bear more fruit for Christ.
Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell: the dilemma is between the continuance of his apostolic ministry (a good work) or sealing his testimony of Christ in blood (a good witness). This indecision is based on v.21—to live is Christ, to die is gain.
23I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
I am hard pressed between the two: between dying now and being immediately with God, Christ or living longer to preach and spread the gospel, glorify God in the flesh. Life or death…
My desire…be with Christ: the word for “desire” (Gk epithumian) is nearly always used of evil desires (i.e lust), however, used in this context means a deep desire. The idea of this departure is that of a ship loosing anchor; thus, Paul’s heart’s desire is to raise anchor on this life and set sail into the vast ocean of eternity and “be with Christ” infinitely.
For that is far better: Why does Paul desire this? This option is “by much very far better.” It is as if he is unable to find the words necessary to describe the glory of this hope.
24But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.
But to remain…on your account: while Paul has a deep desire to be with Christ. However, Paul understands the difference between wants and needs. What is more needful, what is required given the current situation, is for Paul to remain in his body, alive. Personally, death is the “far better” option; for the sake of his brethren, though, he must stay “in the flesh.”
25Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,
Convinced of this: That it is indispensible for him to remain in the flesh for his brethren. Paul reasons to this conclusion based on his assessment of the situation.
I know…with you all: Paul’s knowing is based upon his assessment of the situation and drawing conclusions. “His knowledge was not necessarily derived from special revelation or from mere presentiment, but represents firm personal conviction that he would survive his present imprisonment” (Caffin 19). Since what is needful is for him to remain in the flesh, he will not depart (“remain”) and survive (“continue with”) you all. Paul doubles synonyms here to emphasize this point. Some see a somewhat poetic statement here, especially the latter part which literally says Paul will “remain by the side” of these brethren.
For your progress and joy in the faith: Paul’s survival through all his trials is for the purpose stated here. Paul remaining in the flesh was for the joyful progress of the faith of these brethren. Joy springs when Christians advance and grow in the faith. “The farther a man proceeds in the way of truth, the stronger his faith will be; and the stronger his faith, the greater his joy or happiness” (Clarke).
26so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
So that in me…in Christ Jesus: Herein lies the ultimate design of Paul’s continuance in the flesh: that at some future point he would return and these Christians would overflow with praise and glory to Christ Jesus. After all the prayers and petitions to God, to have their brother released and returned would be a joyous occasion. Certainly this would a time when the church could advance even further (joyfully) in the faith as Paul imparted apostolic teaching, applied old truth to new circumstances, impart spiritual gifts, and deepen the dependence of these Christians on the Lord.
Because of my coming to you again: lit. because of my presence (Gk parousias), a word used often in the New Testament to speak of the second coming of Christ. It is Paul’s personal presence back with the Philippians which is in view.