Rejoicing in Purity Before God

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.

Textual Note

“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.

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Rejoicing in Participation in the Spirit

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!

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Rejoicing in the Prospect of Glorification

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.

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Rejoicing in Proclamation of the Gospel

After thanksgiving and prayer Paul turns to his own imprisonment. Some debate exists about which imprisonment: Roman or Caesarean. It seems best to understand this to be Paul’s Roman imprisonment when he also penned Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

The Gospel Advances in spite of Imprisonment (1.12-14)

In spite of Paul’s imprisonment the gospel of God has advanced and brethren all over have been emboldened.

12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

I want you to know, brothers: Paul desires for his Christian brethren to be aware of a certain fact. Perhaps the Philippians had feared that Paul’s imprisonment had hindered the spread of the gospel, a message relayed by Epaphroditus. So Paul writes to assuage that fear.

That what has happened to me: what has happened is he has been imprisoned due to his preaching of the gospel. The latter half of Acts details many events resulting from that imprisonment, but rather than dwell on those, he address a point for rejoicing.

Has really served to advance the gospel: The gospel is not hindered by fetters, chains, or bars. Though Paul is bound as a criminal, “The Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). That is what is most important to Paul and which produces joy in him.

13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Paul introduces two results of the spread of the gospel: 1) outsiders know why Paul is imprisoned (for Christ, v.13), and 2) believers are emboldened by his imprisonment (v.14).

So that it has…my imprisonment is for Christ: He may have seemed like every other prisoner which darkened a prison cell, but it soon became known that he suffered imprisonment not for crimes but for Christ. Word spread through the whole Praetorian regiment (those guards whose barracks were attached to Nero’s palace). This is the cohort connected with “Caesar’s household” (see 4.22). Word also spread “to all the rest” which is to say the whole city of Rome heard about the prisoner for Christ and apparently came to hear him preach while he was under house arrest (see Acts 28.30). Among these are brethren in Rome.

14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  

And most of the brothers: not every brother; some remain timid or half-hearted. But  certainly not just those gifted with preaching and teaching; the majority of the brethren are in view here. Hearing about Paul’s plight in prison had an effect upon these Christians in Rome.

Having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment: The Roman Christians found new courage, courage afresh which came by the Lord through Paul’s imprisonment. Seeing God’s grace in Paul’s life assured them of God’s grace in their life. Since Paul was supported and sustained even during his persecution, God would do likewise for all His saints. “They saw in Paul, as they had never seen before, the presence, power, and sufficient grace of Christ” (Wesley).

Are much more bold to speak the word without fear: the language here denotes that these Christians had had a certain level of confidence and boldness already. But upon hearing of the Paul’s imprisonment, the boldness they had exceeded to a much greater degree enabling them to speak (contrast with “preach” v.15, and “proclaim” v.17, 18) God’s word fearlessly. When these Christians realized they had the authority and power of heaven behind the very words they spoke, boldness came and fear fled. Instead of being silent, more brethren than ever with more courage than ever were fearlessly speaking aloud the Word of God (Lenski).

The Gospel Advances in spite of Impure Motives (1.15-18a)

Paul rejoices that in spite of the impure motives (of some) the gospel of Christ is preached.

15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry: present tense verb indicates this preaching is happening even as Paul writes. Interesting that even those who wished Paul evil were stirred up tp preach the Christ. Though their motivation was wrong, Paul rejoiced that the message of Christ went forth and was “announced” (Gk. from kerusso).

But others from good will: Not everyone was an antagonist; some were benevolent.

[Technical textual note: The KJV & NKJV have verses 16-17 in reverse order than the ESV (and most other versions including the ASV, NASB and NIV). This has to do with manuscript variants—some  manuscripts read 17 then 16; other (older) mss read 16-17.]

16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

The latter do it out of love: those kindly-hearted brethren preach Christ from a heart of love. Love for whom? Paul or Christ? Certainly both! These, then, became apologists not only for Christ but also for Paul, the prisoner of the Lord.

Knowing that…defense of the gospel: here is the theological perspective of Paul. He understands that God has appointed and ordained for him to be exactly where he is. Further, this was a military term indicating that Paul was enduring his imprisonment as a good soldier of Christ. When forced into the fray he will bravely defend the Christian faith. Paul’s supporters are well aware of this.

17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

The former…in my imprisonment: Contrast this conduct with the noble and magnanimous spirit of Paul. These rivals of Paul are resentful (based on jealousy toward Paul) and desire to put themselves forward. Their motives are mixed and impure. All this is done to (if possible) kick Paul while he’s down. They stirred up trouble for Paul, seeking to add to his suffering. They sought to aggravate his burden and cause him additional pain.

18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What then? What does it matter? As he assesses his situation and the situation involving the Christian church with these factious brethren, he singles out the main thing and is gladdened by the one all-important fact…

Only that…Christ is proclaimed: the continual proclamation of Christ, free from heresy and perversion, regardless of mixed motives. The full gospel is preached (not an anemic gospel like Judaizers would bring). This is not “Some Christ is better than no Christ” (A.T. Robertson) – Paul would not tolerate another gospel featuring another Christ. This is Paul rejoicing over full proclamation of the full gospel, the true gospel feature the true Christ, regardless of personal motivation.

And in that I rejoice: “In all his affliction and personal grief, in all his disapproval of sinful partisanship and insincerity of action and the preaching under a cloak in the case of some preachers, the joy in the progress of the gospel, in the fact that Christ is preached, ever dominates” (Muller 56).

Special Study—Paul’s Rivals

Who are these men who Paul identifies in vs.15-18 who preached Christ from envy and rivalry, not sincerely, and in pretense? That they are brothers in Christ seems evident from v.14 where “most of the brothers” have been emboldened to speak the word without fear based on Paul’s imprisonment. Paul breaks that group down into two parties: “some” preaching Christ from mixed motives and “others” who preach Christ from good motives (v.15). Most commentators jump on the Judaizer bandwagon (cf. 3.2ff); however, based on what Paul writes in Galatians about Judaizers it doesn’t seem he would rejoice in their perverted doctrine even if Christ is proclaimed. These brother’s motives are mixed, not the message. It seems best to understand these rivals as a factious group who view the imprisonment of Paul as discrediting the Christian message. They appear to be a faction whose strategy is to excel in power and exude success so as to compete in an ancient religious market rife with pagan teachers. Paul’s imprisonment could torpedo their efforts at gaining ground. So they denounce Paul’s imprisonment (“thinking to afflict me”). In short, they were pro-Christ but anti-Paul.

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Rejoicing in Prayer to God

After the customary introduction (verses 1-2), Paul begins to pour forth a description of his prayer life (1.3-11).

The Joy of Praise (1.3-6)

Paul explains how partnership in the gospel of grace produced thanksgiving in his prayers.

3I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,

I thank my God…of you: characteristic of all of Paul’s epistles (except Galatians, 1 Timothy, & Titus) Paul begins with thanksgiving. This thanksgiving is especially warm and earnest since no could of doubt darkened the apostle’s confidence in the Philippians. Paul could have remembered Philippi for the hostility faced there (beating and imprisonment); perhaps that is on his mind too. But in spite of that, he offers thanks (Gk eucharisto, gratitude for blessings and benefits) to God upon every memory of the Philippian church.

4always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

Always in every prayer of mine for you all: prayer is literally “supplication” (Gk deesei) which carries the meaning of petition, entreaty, or request. Thus, every time Paul hits his knees to make petition to God he always remembers his Philippian brethren. Note the repetition of “all” with “you” throughout the letter; Paul is declaring his love for all of these brethren, refusing to recognize any divisions which may exist among these Christians.

Making my prayer with joy: Joy is a key word in this epistle. Suffice to say that making petition to God is a joy to Paul. It causes his heart to dance.

Note: Paul’s supplications are continual (present tense participle and “always”) and comprehensive (“for you all” embraces the whole fellowship).

5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

Because of your partnership in the gospel: here is the reason for Paul constantly thanking and petitioning God—the fellowship (Gk koinonia, a sharing of common objects) of Philippian church in the gospel. Their faith in Christ (which would bring them into fellowship with God, Christ, the whole Christian church including Paul) manifested itself and was embodied in their generous contribution to the apostolic ministry of Paul. As the “real circumcision” (3.3) they knew the what counted was “faith working through love” (cf. Gal 5.6).

From the first day until now: cf. 4.15, “in the beginning of the gospel.” Since the establishment of the church in Philippi (when they first put their faith in Christ) they have been willing to contribute to Paul’s work. Faith prompted action right from the first.

6And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.

And I am sure of this: perfect tense participle—Paul came to know and continues to know

That He who began a good work in you: God is “He who began” this “good work.” “Began” is an aorist tense verb (snapshot) pointing these Christians back to the very beginning of their Christian life: baptism. It is at baptism that God begins the good work of redemption.

Will bring it…Jesus Christ: In view here is the day of judgment, that final day. It is on that day when God finishes the good work of human redemption. This brings into view the scope of God’s good work: it is not individualistic but holistic. “Each brick in the wall only then attains its destination and goal, and fulfils its purpose, when the whole building has been completed and is dedicated” (Muller 42).

The Joy of Passion (1.7-8)

The Philippians’ partaking of the grace of God with Paul promoted powerful feelings in him.

7It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

It is right…in my heart: the confidence that Paul experiences (v.5) is founded upon good reason. “I hold (or have) you in my heart” is idiomatic of Paul’s affection for this church based on his “feeling” (or lit. concern) for these brethren.

For you are all partakers with me of grace: Lit. the Philippians (every last one of them) are “joint-fellowshipers” in God’s grace with Paul through their sympathy and support.

Both…of the gospel: whether in prison or proclamation, the Philippians were (seemingly) right there with Paul even though they were separated by time and space (“Pauline paradox”).

8For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

For God is my witness:Let God take the witness stand and testify to this fact. Almost as though he can’t find words to express his affection for these brethren so he calls on He who knows the hearts of all men and is the righteous Judge to testify to how he feels.

How I yearn for you all: Paul has a love for all of these brethren (every last one).

With the affection of Christ Jesus: or the “tender-mercies” – lit. the inward parts. The viscera or inward ward parts were considered the seat of emotional life. “He is so united with Christ that he feels with the heart of Christ, he loves with the love of Christ” (Pulpit Commentary 3). “Paul was willing to suffer for them as Jesus had suffered for them” (Lipscomb 160).  He desperately desired to see Christ formed more fully in them—so he prays.

The Joy of Petition (1.9-11)

The following is prayer to the God of glory poured out of Paul for the Philippian’s love, knowledge, discernment, and righteousness so that they be more Christ-like.

9And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment,

And this is my prayer: Gk. proseuchomai, the common word for prayer (speaking to God). The present tense indicates this was Paul’s habitual practice in prayer, his continual prayer.

That your love may abound more and more: Even as Paul’s love abounds. Love is objective—it is the overarching desire to see Christ in others. They presently have this; Paul wants that desire to overflow from these brethren all the more. Literally, Paul wants their love to Christ, His church, one another, and the lost to keep on overflowing, “a perpetual flood of love.”

With knowledge and all discernment: lit. in full knowledge (Gk. epignosis) and all (spiritual) perception, the latter of which can be cultivated (see Heb 5.14). The word used for “knowledge” is stronger than the usual word for knowledge (Gk gnosis) and denotes a deeper, more advanced knowledge of God and His ways which comes from Christ (cf. Col 2.3), Who fills us with it (cf. Col 1.9). “Discernment” has to do with (right) judgment and moral discrimination (NIV depth of insight) which will guard love. “The love of believers must accordingly be able to know rightly and to sense clearly and to distinguish correctly” (Muller 46). Why? Verse 10…

10so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

So that you may approve what is excellent: involved in the idea of approval is to examine and test a thing to determine if it is good or worthwhile. Coupled with the notion of things which excel, Paul prays that the deep knowledge and spiritual perception involved in love will enable these Christians to distinguish between good and evil, but even more what is good, better, and best.

And so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ: Present tense, continue to be pure and blameless. Pure (NKJV sincere) is literally “unmixed, unsullied” and is a rare word in the NT (only other usage is 2 Pt 3.1). Originally it meant to test something by the light of day—held up to the light the object would be seen to be pure, unstained, or clear. When held up to the light of the Son Christians ought to be unmixed and unsullied by the world having pursued that which is excellent. Adam Clark best explains blameless when he writes, “Neither offending God nor your neighbour (sic); neither being stumbled yourselves, nor the cause of stumbling to others.” The day of Christ is that Great Day when all shall be judged at the final coming of Christ.

11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Filled with…through Jesus Christ: “Filled” is a perfect passive participle—passive for it is God who fills and perfect tense means they were filled (past completed action) and continue to be full (present continuing results). These Christians were made full and stand full of the fruit of righteousness. “The fruit of righteousness is sanctification, which springs from justification, and manifests itself in holy living” (Caffin 4). Simultaneously in view is 1) that right standing before God attained for us through Christ and 2) the evidence of such relationship through morally upright living (a life empowered by Christ, see John 15.4-5).

To the glory and praise of God: everything that Paul prays for these Christians is aimed at this sole and solemn purpose: God’s glory and praise. Compare Jesus’ desire (John 15.8). God is honored and praised when Christians by His grace seek to live like Christ.

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Introduction & Greetings

They were only there to help, not hurt. But their help turned out to be hurt for them. Paul and his companions enter Philippi to preach the gospel and win souls. And souls they won until some did not approve when the help Paul offered affected their pocketbook. Accusations came followed by arrest (Acts 16.19). As if that were not enough, they were dragged into the center of town, stripped of their clothing, and beaten with rods (16.22). Many blows are inflicted (16.23). Once finished, they are handed over to the jailer who puts them in the prison within the prison, shackling their feet (16.24).

Time passes. Those events become an unforgettable memory. A letter is written and Paul recalls “every remembrance…from the first day” of that place. What does he say? What does he remember? How does that shape his worldview? How does that shape his view of the Philippians? Where does he begin? What kind of words does he use to describe those memories? Is he angry? Is there angst? Or is he merely apathetic to the whole thing?

He says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil 1.3-4). Joy? Joy?!? But the accusations and incarceration! But the beating and belittling! But the dungeon and the shackles! Paul…Joy!? Notice too it is joy coupled with thanksgiving to God. But how?

The book of Philippians is a key to unlocking the secret of facing any and all circumstances with joy (cf. 4.11-12). What Paul is communicating in these 104 verses is that God gives/empowers servants (slaves) joy/to rejoice regardless of circumstances.

Philippians 1:1–2 (ESV)

1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Paul: Paul does not use his official title of “apostle” as he does elsewhere (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, et al). His style of writing to the Macedonian churches (Philippi & Thessalonica) illustrates the difference of relation to them—deep personal affection & no formal introduction.

And Timothy: Paul’s “son in the faith” who is associated with Paul in every epistle in which some other person is mentioned in the address except 1 Corinthians (Sosthenes). He could have been Paul amanuensis (like Tertius in Romans 16.22) but it is highly unlikely that he was a co-author (Paul speaks in the first person singular throughout the letter). He was, though, Paul’s companion and co-worker in the evangelistic work to the non-Jews (Gentiles).

Servants of Christ Jesus: Perhaps here we find the “official” title he wishes for his readers to know him by. Lit. slaves or Christ. They were those who belonged to Christ who was their Master (Gk. kurios & despotes) as well as the Father—they were those “bought with a price.” The slave did not have his won will but adopted the will of His master. So too Paul and Timothy have abandoned their will for the will of God and Christ. Further, regardless of how they differed—in age, in spiritual maturity, in circumstances of conversion, in official activity (apostle and evangelist respectively) – in Christ they are equals. Both are slaves, both have the same ministry, calling, and Master.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus: “all the saints” – not just those who may have contributed to the “gift” sent to Paul; no group is specially identified (though some divisions might be present); no person is singled out (though two women were disagreeable). All alike are loved by Paul and all of them love him. Further, they were all “in Christ Jesus” – a position attained by being immersed into Him (see Romans 6.3).

Note: Paul and Timothy are “slaves of Christ Jesus” and the Philippians are identified as “saints in Christ Jesus.” Both of these terms identify Christians: the former points to the work assigned and the latter points to the spiritual blessings that are ours. Work and holiness identify us.

At Philippi: see Introductory Material

With [the] overseers and deacons: no definite article(s). Bishops (Gk episkopois) were equivalent to elders (Gk presbuteros) in the first century church (see Acts 20.17, 28). Their responsibility was nourishing and protecting the “flock of God.” They were drawn from the full number of the church. Deacons (Gk diakonios) were responsible for certain welfare duties in the church and possibly certain administrative tasks. One writer sees a possible hendiadys reading “serving-shepherds.”  In no other letter does Paul greet specifically the elders and deacons. Why does he do it that in this letter? Martin suggests (42) that they were instrumental in gathering the funds of the “gift” that was sent by way of Epaphroditus.

Note: Paul follows the conventional format of letters in his day—(1) identification of the sender(s), (2) identification of the recipient(s), (3) greetings.

2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Grace to you: Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We don’t earn it or deserve it. Paul invokes God’s grace upon this community (pl. “you”).

And peace: not merely the absence of war but the subtle understanding that God is in control of everything. Peace must come from the “God of peace “ (4.9). Grace brings peace.

Note: grace is the Greek form of greeting and peace is the Hebrew form of greeting. Taken together they are Paul’s customary form of greeting (see Rom 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; 2 Cor 1.2).

From God our Father: God is the Author and Initiator of salvation. As the Father He sends the Son. By sending the Son for human redemption He manifests His grace and desire for peace.

And the Lord Jesus Christ: The Son is our Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere He is called “the grace of God” (Titus 2.14) and by His sacrifice He brings peace between man and God.

Grace and peace are upon the church of Christ because God the Father sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to accomplish the salvation of mankind. This greeting is rich with theology.

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Philippians – Introductory Material

Writer

Paul. So much could be said about him. Paul is his Greco-Roman name (Saul was his Jewish name). From this correspondence we learn that Paul is clearly of Jewish descendent (3.5): an Israelite, a Hebrew, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee who had been circumcised on the eighth day (cf. 2 Cor 11.22; Rom 11.1). He was an educated man who perhaps had elementary education growing up in Tarsus (cf. Acts 22.3) and received secondary education as a Pharisee under Gamaliel. Thus, his claim “under the law blameless” (Phil 3.6). He excelled past his fellow countrymen in his orthodox observance of the Law. Prior to his conversion, he was a church persecutor (see 3.6). During a trip to Damascus he has an encounter with the resurrected Jesus and is struck blind (Acts 9). A man named Ananias explains to him how to obey the gospel (Acts 22.16) and he is converted. “This experience had dramatic consequences, changing his entire life, self-understanding, theological views, and goals.”[1] He went from being a persecutor of the church to a propagator of Christ.

His letters reflect a brilliant intellect, skillful in rhetoric, careful in composition, and elaborate in theological argumentation. Indeed, Paul was competent to defend himself in court while his opponents, Jewish priests, needed an orator (Acts 24.1). Through his letter writing he codified much Christian doctrine and beliefs of the church concerning Christ and Christian conduct. Through this medium he became a prominent champion for orthodox Christian theology. Often his zeal and passion for true Christology, orthodoxy, or orthopraxy comes through the page of Scripture.

From later Christian sources we know that Paul was martyred for his faith. 1 Clement 5.5-7 records that Paul “showed the way to the prize for patient endurance” and that he “departed from the world and went to the holy place.” Tradition holds that he was beheaded in Rome in AD 69 with the exact site of the beheading and subsequent burial being disputed.

Paul writes this epistle to a church he helped establish in Philippi (Acts 16). Some time has passed since first preached the gospel in Philippi.

Date

Caffin (Pulpit Commentary) says this epistle was written about 30 years after the ascension of Christ and about decade since Paul established the church in Philippi. This places the epistles composition around AD 63-64 during Paul’s Roman (Neronian) imprisonment. However, there is a school of thought which argues for an earlier composition during Paul’s Caesarean imprisonment (Acts 23.33-35).[2]

Destination

Philippi

Originally founded as Krenides (or Crenides) by residents of the nearby island of Thasos in 360-59 BC, Philippi is a city in E Macedonia, NE Greece. Philippi was named after Philip II of Macedonia who was the father of Alexander the Great. Philip enlarged the city and renamed it in 356 BC. It is located on a plain surrounded by mountains about 10 miles from the Aegean Sea. The main route of trade between Asia and the West called the Egnatian Way ran through the city. Philippi was made into a Roman colony when Marc Anthony and Octavian (who would later become Augustus Caesar) defeated Brutus and Cassius there in 42 BC. This entitled the residents to the rights and privileges that were specially reserved for residents of Italy. Along with this came the settling of veterans in the town, giving it a Latin military heritage which would last into Paul’s day. The city of Philippi was the urban political center of the colony and with its proximity to the Via Egnatia also dominated the colony’s commercial life.[3] Thus the historian Luke is right in calling Philippi “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16.12).

Philippi was the site of Paul’s extensive missionary activity in Europe. He walked into a town which hosted a sanctuary for Egyptian gods and a cult which was considerably popular. In fact, the sanctuary enjoyed a prominent place in the town and was probably supported by some of the wealthy members of the city based on the costly marble used in its construction. Other inscriptions show that many gods were prominent in Philippi and that most of religious activity surrounded the cultic activities of women (cf. Acts 16.16ff). “Roman gods such as Jupiter and Mars had their cults, but the Thracian goddess Bendis remained very popular, and sanctuaries to gods from Egypt and to Cybele, a Phrygian goddess, are also known.” [4] Paul set foot into this unique polytheistic culture on his second missionary journey (c. AD 49). Perhaps aware of the high percentage of women involved in religious duties, he found a group of women praying outside the city and upon converting one lady (Lydia) and her family, they became the core group of the church. Some suggest that the reason starts by the river is because there were no synagogues because they didn’t even have the necessary number of males (ten) to form one.[5] However, some argue that the women were meeting at a synagogue located outside the city (Harper).

Neverthless, Paul visits Philippi on his second missionary journey, establishes a congregation and proceeds from there to Thessalonica, leaving Luke in Philippi (from 1st person to 3rd). Paul and Silas (probably with Timothy also though he is not mentioned) will not return to Philippi until Acts 20.5 when they are reunited with Luke (3rd to 1st person). The time span is one of about 5 years and no doubt the presence of Luke helped to strengthen and mature that congregation. This may help explain why Paul’s letter is not harsh and corrective as some of his other works.

Occasion & Purpose

Lenski points out that neither the dispute between sisters (4.2) nor the gift from the Philippians (4.18) prompted this letter. Lenski says the two-fold occasion for writing is the recovery of Epaphroditus (who Lenski says became sick when he delivered the Philippians’ gift to Paul) and the positive progress of his case in the imperial court (including those in the imperial court hearing the gospel). Paul isn’t correcting grave error or developing a theme – he is simply writing a letter.

Muller agrees: “The frank, hearty tone, the artless form, the cheerful mood even under oppressive circumstances, the practical purport – these all bear a very personal stamp, and make it – to a measure surpassing any other of the apostle – a letter, the effusion of the heart to a Church he loved.”[6] It was written for personal reason without dogmatic intention. Those personal reasons include the gift from the Philippians: “For this token of love he wished to express his thanks.”[7]

Martin offers a couple occasions for writing: 1) recognition of the generosity of the church in their gift (monetary support, 1.3, 5; 4.10, 14ff), 2) Epaphroditus, very much acquainted with the church, informs Paul of various troubles within the body (2.2-4, 14; 4.2; possibly 1.27) – there may have been divisions and certainly were quarrels and possibly a “perfectionist faction” to which Paul explains that not even has arrived and those who “think otherwise” (i.e. that they have arrived) are not mature in their thinking.

Barclay offers four (4) reasons for Paul’s writing: 1) thanksgiving for the gift sent, 2) information about Epaphroditus who became sick, 3) encouragement for the Philippians during trials, 4) appeal for unity in the body.

Paul writes to a group of Christians who are at a crossroads. They are beset by Judaizer teachers who no doubt want them to adopt into their Christian walk the Law and Jewish customs. The pure practice of the Christian is thereby threatened. Their faith also needs refining in certain fine points of following Christ and how to be a Christian. Further, the minds of the Philippians are troubled over Paul and Epaphroditus, one imprisoned and the other ill. Their joy has been threatened by all of these besetting factors.

The purpose of this book is to stimulate the Philippian Christians to live a life worthy of the gospel.

Theme

Paul seeks to remind his brethren that God empowers servants (slaves) to rejoice regardless of circumstances.


[1] Hans Dieter Betz, “Paul (Person)”, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992). 187.

[2] See Ralph Martin, Phillipians, Tyndale New Testament Commentary, 26-28.

[3] Holland L. Hendrix, “Philippi (Place)”, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992). 314.

[4] Paul J. Achtemeier, Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature, Harper’s Bible Dictionary, 1st ed. (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). 786.

[5] Ronald F. Youngblood, ed., “Philippi,” New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, (Nashville: Nelson, 1995). 984.

[6] Jac. Muller, The new International Commentary on the New Testament. Philippians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1955). 20-21.

[7] Ibid. 14

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