The Ephesian World
In the 1st century Ephesus was the capital city of the Roman province of Asia. Known as “the first and greatest metropolis of Asia,” the most celebrated feature of the city was the Temple of Diana, counted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. This temple was apparently a rebuild of a previous shrine to an ancient fertility goddess which burned in 356 BC. It was also distinguished for its theater, the largest in the ancient world, capable of seating 20-25,000 spectators. Fights between beasts and men with beasts were staged here.
Ephesus was a port city in Western Asia Minor at the mouth of the Cayster River. Mountains surrounded the town on three sides and the sea was on the west. It was famous for its trade, art, and science. Ephesus enjoyed the height of its prosperity in the first and second centuries a.d. as the fourth largest city in the Empire.
Religion in Ephesus
Religion was of paramount significance to the city of Ephesus. Scholars agree that the primary god of this region was the mother goddess of the Anatolian people who originally peopled this territory. The area was first colonized by Ionian Greeks under the leadership of Androclus of Athens in the tenth century b.c. The Greeks identified the deity with their own Artemis, but the attributes remained those of the ancient fertility goddess. Over time the city became the cult center of the worship of the Ephesian Artemis. Artemis (or Diana, according to her Roman name) was known variously as the moon goddess, the goddess of hunting, and the patroness of young girls. She was the twin sister of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus. When called upon to do so, the city would vigorously defend the goddess against impious detractors [see Acts 19.28].
Artemis was not the only deity in Ephesus. Ephesus’ religious climate was similar to that of many other large cities in the Greek East. There is documentation—including literature, epigraphy, numismatics, sculpture, and architecture—of a plethora of Greco-Roman and, to a lesser extent, Anatolian deities. These include Aphrodite, Apollo, Egyptian gods, gods most high, Hercules, Pluton, & Zeus (among others). They also engaged in hero worship, with a cult devoted to Alexander the Great existing until the 2nd century AD.
Christ’s Church in Ephesus
Into this intensely pagan society the gospel is preached. The history of Christianity in Ephesus began about AD 50, perhaps as the result of Priscilla and Aquila (see Acts 18.18). However, on the day of Pentecost, there were residents from various parts of Asia minor who heard and no doubt were obedient to the gospel (Acts 2.9). Perhaps the earliest roots stretch back to the very beginning of the church. Nevertheless, most scholars point to Paul’s brief stay on his second missionary journey (Acts 18.19-21) as the nexus of the church.
During his third missionary journey Paul reached Ephesus from the “inland country” (Acts 19:1), i.e., from the highland parts of Asia Minor, and stayed there for about three years, Paul’s longest missionary tenure. So successful and abundant were his labors that “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (19:10). Influence from this resident ministry undoubtedly established congregations in the Lychus River Valley at Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae. Scholars also believe he wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus and perhaps Romans.
Ephesus continued to play an important role in early church history. “The consensus of 2nd century sources is in favor of placing John in Ephesus in latter years.” A long of bishops in the Eastern church lived there. Council of Ephesus in AD 431.
Author, Date, & Recipients
This is undoubted an epistle of Paul and those who would deny Pauline authorship stand on very thin ground. The writer identifies himself as “Paul” (1.1; 3.1) who is both an apostle and prisoner of Christ. Further, the similarities between this epistle and Colossians is striking—75 of 155 verses can be connected (in similar form) to Colossians. By the mid-second century, the epistle is in wide circulation and undisputedly considered of Paul. Early church writers (Clement, Ignatius) quote from this epistle. Early canons (Muratorian, Marcion) include this epistle as being of Paul. Scholars overwhelmingly affirm that this epistle was written by Paul during his Roman imprisonment between AD 62-64.
When it comes to the recipients, the case is not as cut-and-dry. For one, there are no terms of endearment (Beloved, friends, etc.) which is typical for Paul’s epistles to people he has met and known (i.e Philippians 2.12). Also, the language hints that Paul did not personally know (1.15, “I have heard of your faith”) and who do not seem to know Paul (3.2, “assuming you have heard”). This could not be a description of the Ephesian church. Paul had experienced their love while he had lived among them and he had declared to them his ministry from the Lord Jesus Christ (see Acts 20.24). The external evidence is mixed with some early church writers (Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian) citing this epistle as “to the Ephesians” while other early church writers (Origen, Jerome, Basil) had copies of this letter without the words “in Ephesus” in them. The majority of manuscripts contain the phrase en Epheso but the earliest (Beatty, Vaticanus, Sinaticus) do not (though Sinaticus has pasi en Epheso in the margin). This has led some scholars to conclude that this epistle is actually a circular letter to the various churches in Asia Minor. While addressed to “the saints who are faithful,” Ephesus would have been the first stop of this “book tour” since it was the port city, the gateway Asia Minor. Over time, this epistle was recognized as primarily belonging to Ephesus.
Paul writes to explain to his brethren that God has equipped Christ’s church with every spiritual blessing to grow.
Paul concludes this letter to his brethren with a final benediction and blessing (Philippians 4.20-23). It is similar to other farewells he gives in other books, but it does have some variations, especially not naming any saints either in the Philippian church or with him in Rome. It should be noted that he has named some among the Philippians earlier in the letter (4.2-4).
God, the Father, gets all the glory.
20To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
To our God and Father: This is doxology. Out of the sure provision of the Father for His children (v.19) flows praise and adoration.
Be [the] glory forever and ever: Lit. into the ages of the ages. Eternal glory which is particular to God and eludes human understanding (cf. Psalm 113.4). Glory typically has to do with the beauty and perfection of God which makes Him worthy of praise.
Amen: So be it. “Sure and unquestionable!” (Muller 153).
Say “Hello” to everyone there; everyone here says “Hello.”
21Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you.
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus: All saints are “in Christ Jesus” and if we are in Christ Jesus we are saints. Gk haion, holy one(s), a Christian set apart from the world unto God for service, worship, etc. The individual and therefore persona nature of this request is seen in the language—”every saint.” As with the rest of the epistle, Paul is careful not to leave any out. Unlike other epistles, Paul does not specifically name any brothers or sisters in his final greetings, perhaps due to the possible factious environment among the Philippians.
The brothers…greet you: Fellow-Christians who are with Paul, no doubt serving him in his captivity. No doubt Timothy is in view here and also “most of the brothers” who have been emboldened by Paul’s example (see 1.14).
22All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
All the saints greet you: All those holy ones in the church in Rome where Paul is prisoner. None of these are named perhaps because neither the Roman Christians nor the Philippian Christians knew one another (Clarke). No doubt they did care and love one another (cf. Romans 12.10).
Especially those of Caesar’s household: Caesar, at the time of this writing, is Nero, a man described by some as “half beast and half devil.” He was a monster of iniquity, a sensual murderer who had turned the throne into a seat of filth. Yet even here people had heard and obeyed the gospel. No doubt there would have been moral (impure surroundings), spiritual (materialistic atmosphere), and physical (life was cheap in nihilistic culture) danger for them there. But they daily served as shining saints in the darkness (cf. 2.15). Caesar’s household refers not necessarily to the royal family, but the whole imperial establishment: palace officials, secretaries, treasurers, etc. though the family is certainly not excluded. Nevertheless, “Christianity penetrated right into the very centre (sic) of the Roman government…[and] had infiltrated even into the highest positions in the empire” (Barclay 107).
A final expression of the favor of Christ upon their spirits.
23The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
The grace…your spirit: This epistle begins (1.2) and ends with God’s grace. The difference here is it is Christ’s unmerited favor which Paul invokes upon these Christians. The Philippians had sent their gifts to Paul. Paul, in a Roman prison, has only one gift to send them—a blessing of Christ’s grace. This grace reaches into the inner being of the church itself (“your spirit,” sing.). The truth of divine unmerited favor flowing into the body of Christ would serve as a capstone of joy in Christ’s church in Philippi. This is a typical ending for an epistle of Paul (see Gal 6.18; 1 Thess 5.28; 2 Thess 3.18; 2 Tim 4.22 (variant); Philemon 25; see also Eph 6.24; Col 4.18b; 1 Tim 6.21; Titus 3.15).
Here in Philippians 4.10-19, scholars see some nuances here in the text as though Paul is embarrassed by the gift from the Philippians or is at least speaking somewhat reserved as he speaks of finances. There’s an uneasiness as Paul expresses thanks and presents his own contentedness.
Strength from Christ (10-13)
The secret to contentedness regardless of circumstances is realizing Christ’s strength is available to Christians.
10I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.
I rejoiced in the Lord…concern for me: The cause for Paul’s joy was the Philippians’ active interest in him is once more in blossom and the manifestation of this in their monetary gift sent by way of Epaphroditus. As always, the Lord is both Source and Sustainer of joy.
You were…had no opportunity: The Philippians had desired to show their interest in Paul but had not had favorable circumstances to show it. Connected with “revived” (a horticultural term), the season was not right for their concern to blossom, though they always had Paul in mind and wanted to do something for him.
11Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
Not that I am speaking of being in need: As he is writing Paul is not presently lacking in supplies or was suffering want. Paul is “well supplied” (v.18) and…
For I have learned…to be content: When did Paul learn this lesson? Aorist tense seems to indicate a specific point in his past. In fact, some suggest that it was when he became a Christian that Paul learned this. “It broke upon him at his conversion” and his life the outworking of that lesson learned (Morris 178). Robertson suggests that Paul is “looking at his long experience as a unit.” It was “in the school of life” that Paul came to “know” (v.12) contentedness. Either way, Paul learned sufficiency for every situation is possible only in Christ (cf. v.13). He is not self-sufficient but God-sufficient. This is true contentedness.
12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
I know…how to abound: Even as Christ “humbled himself” (2.8) so Paul has shared in humiliation, be it voluntary or forced upon him. Conversely, he has seen an overflow.
In any and every circumstance: Little, much, high, low, and everything in-between…
I have learned the secret: Gk memuemai, (perf. Pass), the root of which we get our English “mystery.” Paul came to eb instructed and is fully instructed (initiated) into the secret of facing life with contentedness, namely, that Christ’s strength is sufficient for every circumstance.
Facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need: cf. 2 Corinthians 6.4-10; 11.21-29
13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
I can do all things through Him Who strengthens me: Lit. I have strength for all things. In every conceivable circumstance (v.12) the Lord empowers “me” by His Spirit in the inner being to be adequate for the situation. Paul’s strength is wholly inadequate; he finds the strength for life and work in Him. Barnes says, “It was not in any native ability which he had; not in any vigor of body or of mind; not in any power which there was in his own resolutions; it was in the strength that he derived from the Redeemer.” See 1 Timothy 1.12
Supply from the Church (14-19)
Fellowship in Christ ensures that all brethren have their needs met by the riches of God’s glory.
14Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.
Yet it was kind of you to share in my trouble: Although in “all things” he is content and capable due to Christ, Paul does not want his brethren thinking their gift was not welcome or wanted. Indeed, they were joint fellowshipping (Gk sugkoinoneo, a compound of sun [with] and koinonia [fellowship]) with Paul in his affliction by means of the gift they sent. This, Paul says, was a good or beautiful thing.
15And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.
And you…beginning of the gospel: cf. 1.5, when the gospel was first preached in Philippi and the church was established these brethren have been willing to help support Paul’s work. Lenski says Paul is remembering back about a decade.
When I left Macedonia: see Acts 17.14, he ends up in Athens (17.16-34).
No church…except you only: Paul’s modus operandi was not to burden churches with monetary support (1 Thessalonians 2.9; 2 Thessalonians 3.7-8). That’s why he worked as a tentmaker (Acts 18.3). He had the right to earn his living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9.14; 2 Thessalonians 3.9), but did not avail himself of that right. Later the churches in Macedonia (which might include Thessalonica and Berea) sent him support so he could work with the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11.8-9). However, at first it was only the Philippians who opened an account with Paul; other churches came along later.
16Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again.
Even in Thessalonica: Paul went there immediately following the establishment of the congregation in Philippi (Acts 17.1ff). No sooner has Paul left the city than the church in Philippi is sending him support for his apostolic work.
You sent me…once and again: Lit. “both once and twice” the Philippians sent Paul what was needed, supplies necessary to maintain his work. They supplied his needs not greeds.
17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.
Not that I seek the gift: Paul does not want to be misunderstood as though he is prodding the Philippians to send him more support. He is not wishing for a monetary or material gift.
But I seek the fruit that increases to your credit: Gk alla (strong contrast). Paul does desire a spiritual increase of fruit in the account of the Philippians. Paul “desired that when they came to appear before God, they might reap the benefit of all the acts of kindness which they had shown him” (Barnes). See Proverbs 11.25
18I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.
I have received full payment and more: Or I have more than enough. The generosity of the Philippians had more than met his needs.
I am well supplied: This continues the thought of Paul having all his physical needs met. He has had all his needs met and at the time of his writing his needs are still met (perf. Tense).
Having received…the gifts you sent: Mentioned earlier in the epistle (2.25-30), Epaphroditus once more enters the scene as the gift-bearer. He delivered the Philippians contribution.
A fragrant offering: The phrase “fragrant offering” or “sweet-smelling aroma” (NKJV) occurs often in the Old Testament in connection with sacrifices (e.g. Gen. 8.21; Exo. 29.18, 25, 41; Lev. 1.9, 13, 17; et al). “The true sweetness of [the burnt sacrifices] consisted in the spiritual condition of the persons bringing the sacrifice” (Lenski 896). The Philippians contribution was an act of worship, the scent of which rose to God in heaven and in which he took pleasure.
A sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God: “Given to the servant of God, it is in truth offered to God himself” (Caffin 159). God received the gift through Paul (cf. Matthew 25.40). Through these allusions, Paul is essentially saying that what the Old Testament Jewish sacrifices performed at the temple were, the Philippians (New Testament church) gift is (cf. Hebrews 13.16). When Christ’s church gives to support ministry we engage in sacred sacrifice.
19And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
And my God will…in Christ Jesus: Even as Paul’s needs were met by them and with abundance so the Philippians’ “every need” would be met by God. In Paul’s case, God used the agency of the church to meet Paul’s need. How God would meet the needs of the Philippian Christians is not stated, though it makes no difference; Paul is emphatic that God will do it. Further, all (“every”) need would be met, indicating not only physical but also spiritual needs. And abundantly as well! It will be according to God’s “glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Christ is both head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1.22) as well as the supplier of every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1.3). “In Him there is full provision for all the needs of God’s people” (Muller (152).
As Paul nears the end of this epistle, he has some final exhortations concerning certain members of the Philippian congregation and for the members in general, especially pertaining to joy (4.2-9).
Peace in the Church (2-3)
Paul requests for the church to help two sisters agree in the Lord.
2I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.
I entreat Euodia: a lady who is a member of the Philippian church whose name means “fragrance.” Unfortunately, it seems she is not spreading the fragrance of Christ since she is involved in a divisive dispute with her sister in Christ.
I entreat Syntyche: another female member whose name means “good luck.” Some suggest these ladies may have hosted (rival) house churches—one Jewish, the other Gentile. However, this is mere speculation for precious little is said about who exactly these women were. What we do know is that Paul earnestly pleads with these two women to…
Agree in the Lord: This is something which needs to characterize the entire Body of Christ (1.27; 2.2, 5). Employ the mind and think the same thing. Whatever it is that is causing this friction, bury it. Both are “in the Lord” and the double “entreat” may indicate both are at fault.
3Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Yes, I ask you also, true companion: or Syzygus (ESV footnote). Scholars differ over whether this is a proper name or not. Many ideas exist as to who this person is: Paul’s wife (though this is a masculine noun with masculine adjective), some leader among the Philippians, a husband or brother of the two ladies (Chrysostom), Timothy or Epaphroditus or Lydia (if not a proper name). The Philippians and the person himself knew who Paul meant.
Help these women: “Help” indicates that both the women will do their best to work for peace in addition to what “true companion” will do. Indeed, he merely joins work in progress.
Who have labored…the book of life: These women played a prominent role in the spread of the gospel in Philippi. In the face of opposition, the locked arms with the apostle and his co-workers and advanced the kingdom. Clement, someone known to the Philippians (why name him if they didn’t), could verify this. Indeed, Euodia and Syntyche have their names written in the book of life, “the roll of the citizens of the heavenly kingdom” (Caffin 156; see also, Ex 32.32; Dan 12.1; Rev 3.5; 13.8; 17.8; et al).
Peace from God (4-7)
All anxiety and worry is to be given to God in prayer so that God’s peace can permeate our entire life.
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
Rejoice in the Lord always: cf. 3.1; 1 Thess 5.16. Paul returns to the central theme of this epistle. Only “in the Lord” can people find true joy—Christ in us and we in Him. Since Christians have fellowship with God and God lives among and with us, joy abides with us as we keep these objective truths ever before us. It comes down to what we think (see 4.8).
Again I will say, rejoice: Paul “never wearies of repeating that holy joy is a chief Christian duty” (Caffin 156). “The purest, highest, truest joy is to fill the Christian life like sunshine” (Lenski 874). “I will” is future tense—this will be Paul’s constant theme in life.
5Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
Let your reasonableness…to everyone: or “gentleness” (NIV, NKJV). This is a characteristic of Christ (see 2 Cor 10.1). It is an attitude of gracious forbearance which does not insist upon it’s own rights or way. Refusing to retaliate when attacked is allowing the joy of the Lord to shine forth. “Everyone” indicates that more than just church is in view; non-Christians need to experience (root Gk ginosko) the magnanimity of Christians (cf. 2.15).
The Lord is at hand: Psa 119.151. Cf. 1 Cor 16.22 (“Maranatha”); James 5.8. Proximity or parousia? Either. God is present with His people, ever mindful of them as they live with gentleness toward all. Also, He is coming back one day and this should be a motive of our magnanimity. Further, His nearness promotes within the Christian the incentive to pray (v.6).
6do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
Do not be anxious about anything: present imperative (command), “stop being anxious.” Worry “betrays a lack of trust in God’s care” (Martin 171). Lit. the word means to have a divided mind, pulled in different directions. “Anything” (lit. nothing) means any man, any woman, anything (ex. Spouse, kids, job, health, bills, economy, etc.).
But in everything…known to God: “But” (Gk. Alla) is a sharp contrast. Not worry BUT prayer. “Prayer is the cure for care” (Spurgeon). “Everything” menas…everything. Develop the habit of referring all things, both great and small, to God in prayer. Four (4) prayer words: 1) prayer (Gk proseuche) is general invocation of God; 2) supplication (Gk deesei) is a request as a result of need; 3) thanksgiving (Gk eucharistias) springs from the remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy; 4) requests (Gk aitemata) are specific things asked for. We can talk to the cosmic sovereign Ruler of everything about everything.
7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
And the peace of God…understanding: Here is the result attached of taking all things to God in prayer: He gives us His peace. The God of peace (v.9) gives peace; the Son left His peace (Jn 14.27); the Holy Spirit produces peace (Gal 5.22). The entire Godhead is at work to bring us peace which eludes the minds of natural men, but floods the mind of the spiritual.
Will guard…in Christ Jesus: “guard” is a military term which would conjure an idea familiar to the Philippians who lived in a garrisoned city. They were used to seeing Roman soldiers on guard. That is what the peace of God does to the hearts and minds of Christians (“in Christ”).
Peace of Mind (8-9)
Pondering and practicing things which bear the eight (8) characteristics listed will bring peace of mind to the Christian and invoke the presence of God.
8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Finally, brothers: Paul seeks to conclude his letter to these Christians in Philippi. Some see a continuation of thought—if peace would abide then certain steps must be taken.
Whatever is true: as opposed to false. Things honest and in keeping with historical fact.
Whatever is honorable: or noble. Things of dignity, respect, and reverence.
Whatever is just: or right. Things that duty demands. Same word for righteous.
Whatever is pure: clean things, thoughts, words, deeds. Free from moral defect. Unmixed.
Whatever is lovely: used only here in the NT. Things pleasing, beautiful, or winsome.
Whatever is commendable: Things well spoken of and praiseworthy.
If there is any excellence: A word used by Peter (1 Pt 2.9; 2 Pt 1.3, 5) which seems to denote anything which the Philippians would find best and good morally.
If there is anything worthy of praise: anything generally or universally deserving praise. Anything which Paul might have missed but are morally excellent and praiseworthy…
Think about these things: NKJV “meditate on these things.” Present imperative. Reflect upon these virtues and allow them to shape your conduct. Keep on thinking about these things with logic and in detail. Give careful attention and study to them. “Let these be the considerations which guide your thoughts and direct your motives” (Caffin 157-158).
9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
What you have…in me: Cf. 1 Cor 11.1. Paul had lived among these brethren for a short time but his example lingered in their minds. They had been taught both formally and informally; the traditions had been passed on; they had heard his preaching; they had witnessed his life.
Practice these things: present imperative. From contemplation to transformation. Reflection should produce a response. The Philippians were to put into action the pattern Paul had given in his words and deeds. These things should comprise their habitual practice (career).
And the God of peace will be with you: God lives among people who are holy in thought and holy in lifestyle. Herein lies the incentive to ponder and practice holiness. Not just His peace, but God Himself “will be with you.”
There apparently were some (“the enemies”) who might have charged that the standard of conduct was not clear. So Paul responds to these with a living pattern of behavior by which their lives could be formed and fashioned. Imitation of this apostolic example assures Christians of their citizenship in heaven and the coming resurrection. This is Paul’s main point in 3.17-4.1 of Philippians.
17Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.
Brothers: fellow Christians in Philippi who are citizens of the heavenly kingdom (v.20).
Join in imitating me: as Paul imitates Christ (1 Cor 11.1). Or this imperative is a call for the Philippians to be fellow imitators of Christ or God (cf. Eph 5.1).
And keep your eyes…in us: “keep your eyes on” (Gk skopeite) is to scope them out. Fix your eyes on them and pay attention; observe, contemplate. There is a metaphor change from the Christian life being compared to a race to now a walk. Watch those who daily tread the Christian path of life. The “example” (Gk tupon), either imprint or image, is the Philippians (“have,” present tense) in “us.” Who? Certainly Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus contextually speaking. In a more general sense, the apostolic college at large.
18For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.
For many…walk as [the] enemies of the cross of Christ: No definite number is given and very little is said about their manner of life. But that they tread an unchristian path of life is evident by their conduct. These enemies have given themselves over to their evil passions, evading the obligations Christ’s death lays upon them concerning holiness. They are therefore hostile to the cause of Christ though they move around in Christian circles.
Of whom…with tears: “I have often told you” is past tense. This is not news to the church in Philippi. Paul had constantly warned them of the erroneous enemies among or around them. Through tear laden eyes Paul acknowledges that even as he writes they are still enemies. “So true is his sympathy, so deep his care for all men.” – Chrysostom
19Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Their end [is] destruction: The destiny of these “many” enemies is destruction for they have cut themselves from salvation in Christ. “They have no prospect except the doom which awaits unsaved humanity” (Martin 161). “Destruction” is the same word found in 1.28. Lenski says, “The word never means annihilation as has, in view of the translation ‘destruction,’ been claimed by those who attempt to abolish hell.” It does mean the loss of eternal life unto eternal misery and death. It is the kind of ruination that would happen to a sunk ship.
Their god [is] their belly: Elsewhere Paul speaks of those who “serve…their own belly” to describe divisive brethren who must be avoided (Rom 16.18). Perhaps here the Judaizers are in mind who by their regulations regarding clean/unclean food and “Taste not—touch not” doctrines (cf. Col 2.21) were literally serving their belly while causing dissension in the church
They glory in their shame: Glory, in the Bible is often used of God and in this case answers to “god” in the previous phrase. “Their shame” are their evil practices. This seem to be an allusion to Hosea 4.7 where shame is a “devastating caricature of false gods” (Martin 161). So their sensuality, carnality, all-around earthly-mindedness is condemned.
With minds set on earthly things: All of the preceding is merely indicative that the enemies of the cross of Christ are living their life without a thought of eternity. Their attentions and affections are given over to on a continual basis (present tense) to earthly things. Further, their conduct carries out what they have their minds set on. “It is not so much those who deny the doctrines of the cross, as it is those who oppose its influence on their hearts” (Barnes).
20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
But our citizenship is in heaven: present tense. It exists there now, therefore, we are even now enjoying the benefits of being kingdom citizens. Though Paul was a Roman citizen and leveraged that privilege to his advantage (Acts 16.38; 22.25-29); though the Philippians, by virtue of the fact that they lived in a Roman colony, enjoyed the rights and privileges of citizenship—Christians are citizens of a kingdom not of this world (John 18.36). “Our” citizenship is above which requires certain behavior (cf. 1.27) stands in contrast to those who have their “minds set on earthly things” (v.19). Christians are looking toward the imperial city of Christ. All we have is in the heavens: our Savior, our city, whatever a man can name (Chrysostom).
And from it…Lord Jesus Christ: this waiting is appropriate behavior of the kingdom citizen. Eager expectation of the imminent return of Christ is the normal attitude of the Christian. Even as right now our citizenship is in heaven, we are also presently waiting for Him who will deliver us from this world to our home. While Christians are saved in the present there is yet a future full and final realization of salvation to come.
21who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
Who will transform: the root for “transform” is the word we get our English words “scheme” and “schematic” (Gk metaschematisei). A scheme is a plan or design. In this case, coupled with the prefix, the original design is changed .
Our lowly body…glorious body: lit. our body of humiliation, which refers to our present mortal, carnal, broken by sin, subject to pain, destruction, and death body. This body will be changed to be like (lit.) the body of His glory. This refers to an immortal, spiritual, heavenly, indestructible, undying body. Whether dead or alive at the time of Christ’s return, “we shall all be changed” (1 Cor 15.51). This new body will be suitable for life in the afterlife and to associate with Christ in His glory.
By the power…to himself: How much power does Christ have? Plenty, and then some. His power enables Him to bring under firm control everything—the cosmos, angels, demons, Satan, death, hell. The whole universe and beyond. “Nothing is to hard for you” (Jer 32.17). “If anyone doubts the power of Christ to do this transformation, Paul replies the he has power ‘even to subject all things unto himself’” (Robertson).
1Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
Therefore: This is the conclusion of the third chapter (cf. 2.12). In light of the foregoing…
My brothers: fellow citizens of the kingdom of Christ, born again into that kingdom (Jn 3.3,5)
Whom I love and long for: a few words later they are also “my beloved.” No other congregation associated with Paul is referred to in this manner. “Paul lets all his love, all his joy in the Philippians, all his pride in them, speak at once” (Lenski). It his love and affection for these brethren which should act as motivation to carry out what he commands.
My joy and crown: As noted, joy runs throughout this epistle. These brethren had been nothing but a joy to Paul. Further, their steadfastness would indicate he had not “run in vain” but had run and won the victors crown (Gk stephanos).
Stand firm thus in the Lord: This is an admonition oft repeated by Paul (1 Cor 16.13; Gal 5.1; 2 Thess 2.15). Earlier in the epistle, Paul said of his brethren that they are “standing firm in one spirit” (1.27). This is further behavior becoming citizens of the kingdom of Christ. Here, the call is to stand “in the Lord” as opposed to outside of the Lord like the enemies of the cross would. Since our citizenship is “in [the] heavens” Christians must keep standing (present imperative), unmoved by the errors and attacks of enemies and the defection of the panicked.
Special Study – Savior
The word “Savior” appears 24 times in the New Testament. Interestingly, Paul only refers to Jesus as “Savior” about nine (9) times in all his epistles (Eph 5.23; Phil 3.20; 1 Tim 1.1; 2.3; 4.10; 2 Tim 1.10; Titus 1.3, 4; 2.10, 13; 3.4, 6). Some argue he uses the term infrequently because gods and even the emperor were referred to as “saviors.” By comparison, John refers to Jesus as Savior only twice (Jn 4.42; 1 Jn 4.14) and Luke only 4 times (Luke 1.47; 2.11; Acts 5.31; 13.23). Arguably, Paul uses it more than all other New Testament writers.
“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.