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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
A Few Introductory Words.
An Introduction To Philippi.
Philippi was situated on the road that ran from the West of the Roman Empire to the East. It was thus in a crucial position both militarily and politically, which was one reason why it had been fortified by Philip of Macedon, and had finally been made into a Romany ‘colony’. That distinction meant that it was seen as a part of Rome itself, even though it was at some considerable distance from Rome. Its inhabitants wore Roman dress, they were directly under Roman law, and they themselves were seen as Roman citizens, just as though they lived in Rome. Indeed a large number of the male population had served in the Roman army before being honourably retired. Like all such colonies it was a ‘little Rome’.
These Roman ‘colonies’ were spread throughout the Empire, and one purpose of them was in order that the whole empire might see itself as directly under the eye of Rome. Each ‘colony’ was responsible in its area for the maintenance of a Roman presence, and it was by this means that Rome sought to ensure its continual sovereignty. This was why Paul, keeping in mind that picture, called the church in Philippi (and by implication all groups of believers) ‘a colony of Heaven’ (3.20). He saw the true church of Jesus Christ as being placed in this earth in a series of outstations which represented Heaven on earth. They were intended to reveal something of Heaven among men, with the intention of extending God’s sovereignty (the Kingly Rule of God) over all who would respond to Him throughout the whole world.
And Paul saw this as a genuine reality because, as His own people, all true believers have been closely and insolubly united with Christ and made one with Him in His death and resurrection (3.10-13), thus participating in Heaven in Him. For the glory of being a true believer was to be that Christ lives in us on this earth, while we live in our spirits with Him in the spiritual realm, in ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 1.3;2.6; etc). We are seen as having been ‘transported from being under the tyranny of darkness, to being under the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son’ (Colossians 1.13). It was this oneness with Christ that made Paul so confident that if he was absent from the body he would be at home with the Lord (1.23; compare 2 Corinthians 5.8), for he knew that, having fulfilled his service on earth, he would be transferred from the outstation where he was situated, into the very presence of Christ Himself. Meanwhile, until that happened, he would continue to fulfil his responsibility as an ambassador for Christ in the outstation where he had been placed.
The Founding Of The Colony Of Heaven In Philippi.
Acts 16 tells us a little about the founding of the ‘colony of Heaven’ which represented the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Philippi, and brings out the diverse nature of its members. There was the God-fearing Lydia, who would meet with others for prayer by the river outside Philippi, where they would worship according to Jewish custom. She was also a wealthy entrepreneur as a ‘seller of purple’. And then there was the bluff Philippian gaoler, probably an ex-Roman soldier, and almost certainly a ‘Roman citizen’, who represented the middle classes. And finally there was the slave girl out of whom the evil spirit had been cast, a representative of all who were seemingly ‘at the bottom of the pile’. But whatever their status in Philippi, they were all equal as ‘citizens of Heaven’. We have in them a picture of the kind of people who made up the Philippian church.
Paul’s Infectious Joy As He Writes To Them.
Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was a prisoner in Rome, living in his own hired house but constantly chained to a Roman soldier, who was a member of the Praetorian guard. Furthermore he was awaiting trial before Caesar, the outcome of which might well result in death. Alternatively it might result in him being set free again to proclaim the Gospel. He had no way of knowing.
In view of this it is all the more exhilarating that we discover that underlying his letter was the supreme joy that he had in Christ, a joy which he wanted to be shared by others, and was a joy which was the fruit of the Spirit at work within him (Galatians 5.22; Acts 13.52; Romans 14.17). The fact of this joy comes out throughout his letter which, while dealing with very serious matters, is a paean of rejoicing as he rejoices in Christ and His people. Consider in this light the following:
So bleak though his circumstances might appear, Paul was both filled with joy in Christ Jesus, and in His work in His people, and also had confidence that his readers would experience the same joy as they fixed their eyes on Christ. Indeed he saw all his requests to them in the light of that joy. ‘Joy’ is thus one of the threads that runs through the whole letter, a joy enflamed by the fact that shortly he would either be offered up as a sacrifice for Christ by Roman execution, and thus come directly into the presence of his Lord, or would be restored to them again so as to guide them in their Christian lives. The thought of either possibility being so close filled him with rejoicing, for he knew that it would mean that he experienced more of Christ, or accomplished more on His behalf.
It can thus be seen that joy in Christ underlies the whole letter in a way never paralleled in any other letter. This may well partly have arisen because he was so aware of the fact that he might well at that stage shortly be called on to enter more fully into the presence of Christ through martyrdom. It was an indication of the reality of Christ in his experience. But (for he wrote other letters from the same prison which did not quite reflect that joy) it was also no doubt an indication of his real joy in the growth and advancement of the Philippian church, which, while certainly not perfect (e.g. 4.2), were on the whole united and one in their desire to serve Christ.
Other Themes Of Paul’s Letter.
1). Unity in Christ. An important theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians was that of the need for unity and oneness in Christ. To him the oneness of the people of God in the Spirit was of crucial importance. That is something which comes out continually. The need for such unity had been emphasised by Jesus Christ Himself in John 17, and Paul was concerned that it be a unity based on oneness in Christ, and that it be true throughout the Philippian church. It should especially be noted that this unity was not one which was to depend on a central figure (or central figures) in the church, but was to be of each to the other. The whole church were to be as one, and that included the overseers (bishops) and deacons, seen as part of the whole.
Thus he writes to ‘ALL the saints in Christ Jesus --- INCLUDING the bishops and deacons’ (1.1). He thanks God in remembrance of all of them, and because they are ALL partakers of God’s grace (1.3-7). He stresses that they are to ‘stand fast in ONE Spirit, with ONE soul striving for the truth of the Gospel’ (1.27). Thus he pleads with them to be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being of ONE accord, of ONE mind (2.2), looking out for EACH OTHER (2.4). Considering the example of the Lord Jesus Christ they are together to live out their joint salvation, taking the greatest care to do so, because it is God Who is at work within them causing them to will and do of His good pleasure (2.12-13). They are to ‘do all things without murmurings or disputings’ (2.14) for that will distinguish them from the world outside (2.15). His rejoicing is with ‘all of you’ (2.17). He speaks to all of them as ‘brothers’ or ‘my brothers’ (1.12; 3.1, 13, 17; 4.1, 8) and ‘you Philippians’ (4.1.15). Finally he urges two prominent women in the church to be of the same mind in the Lord, (4.2), while commending them for past faithfulness. They too must participate in the oneness of God’s people. And he finally prays (4.23) that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with the Philippians in their joint ‘spirit’. Their unity was to be a unity of the Spirit.
This then leads us on into his warnings against all those who would seek to cause disruption among them. They were not to be frightened by their adversaries who were persecuting them (1.28-29). This probably refers to the members of the secular world around them, who were seeking to turn them away from the salvation which is in Christ to their own ideas about salvation connected with their false religions. They were also to beware of false teachers who may come among them seeking to Judaise them and bring them ‘under the whole law in order to be saved’ (3.2). These may well also be the ones described in 3.18-19, those who pretend to follow Christ but are greedy for wealth and mind earthly things. Thus their unity was being attacked both by the secular powers, and by false teachers. They were to heed neither.
2). Readiness To Face Persecution. There is also an indication in the letter that Paul is seeking to strengthen them against current and future persecution. That this was certainly in view comes out in 1.27-30; 2.15; 4.1, 6. And he bolsters them, both by his own example in the face of possible execution (1.20-25; 2.17; 3.10-14), and by the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who suffered unto death (2.5-11; 3.10-14).
Finally we will discover that Paul was also concerned to thank the Philippians for their generous support of him, to assure them of his well-being in the light of the threat hanging over him, and of the fact that it was actually turning out to be for the good of the Gospel, and in order to satisfy them as to the welfare of Epaphroditus, who had come from the Philippian church to Paul but had been dangerously ill, for he had apparently learned that the Philippian church were very concerned about him. This last he accomplished by returning him to them with his letter, along with his own commendation.
Analysis Of The Letter.
There is a distinct chiastic pattern to the letter which is built up around Paul’s own hope of coming to them and commendation of two faithful men of God who are living examples of what he wants to say. Thus:
Note than in ‘A’ we have the opening greeting, and in the parallel the closing greeting. In ‘B’ he rejoices in their sharing in common with him in the Gospel, and in the parallel we learn something more of their sharing in practical terms. In ‘C’ he rejoices in the fact that his own personal example has caused the Gospel to be preached and expresses concern that he may be able to meet their spiritual needs, and in the parallel He explains how God can meet their spiritual needs, as they learn and hear and see what comes from Paul. In ‘D’ they are called on to live as true citizens in the face of their opponents who are bound for perdition, standing firm in the Gospel, and in the parallel he stresses that their citizenship is in Heaven, and that in light of the enemies they face who are bound for perdition, so that they must stand firm in the Gospel. In ‘E’ they are to have the mind of Christ Who emptied Himself of His glory and went to the cross, with the result that He was exalted to the highest place, and in the parallel Paul describes how he too emptied himself, sharing in Christ’s resurrection and sufferings, with the result that he too would be exalted. In ‘F’ their salvation is something that is inworked by God, an inworking that they must ‘work out’, and in the parallel they are to trust in that inworking, and not in man’s outworking of his own righteousness. In ‘G’ he provides the example of Timothy as a faithful worker, and in the parallel the example of Epaphroditus as a faithful brother. Centrally in ‘H’ he hopes shortly to be with them himself.
Introductory words (1.1-2).
Paul’s opening words follow the normal pattern for writing letters typical of his day. He provides the name of the writer of the letter and in this case a description of his status, the details of the addressees, a wish for their welfare, and an expression of gratitude to a deity for His loving care. We can compare with this such letters as the one from Apion, a soldier writing from Misenum to his father, which was found among the papyri heaps in Egypt. ‘Apion sends heartiest greetings to his father and lord Epimachus. I pray above all that you are well and fit, and that things are going well with you and my sister and her daughter and my brother. I thank my Lord Serapis [his god] that he kept me safe when I was in peril on the sea.’
1.1 ‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.’
Paul includes Timothy in his greeting, presumably because he was with him at the time and was so well known to the Philippians. Note his description of himself and Timothy as ‘slaves of Christ Jesus’ (compare Romans 1.1; James 1.1; 2 Peter 1.1; Jude 1.1). Nothing delighted him more than to acknowledge his total submission to God, and to recognise the fact that he was bound to Him by a debt that he could not repay. He saw his life as thus wholly yielded to His service. Everything that he had, and every moment that was his, belonged to God, and to God alone (compare Romans 12.1-2).
But the word ‘servant’ also translates the Hebrew ebed which in the Old Testament was regularly used of those in an honourable position of service. Thus while an indication of total obedience, it was also a claim to be a special emissary of God. It is interesting to note that while the Old Testament prophet spoke of himself as ‘the servant of YHWH’, the New Testament equivalent speaks of himself as ‘the servant of Christ Jesus’. This is unquestionably equating YHWH and Christ Jesus. No Jewish Christian who thought that Jesus Christ was less than God would have spoken in this way.
‘Christ Jesus.’ The order of the names is a reminder that ‘Christ’ was not just a surname. He was ‘the Messiah Jesus’, although to the Gentiles ‘Messiah’ meant almost the equivalent of ‘Saviour’. The Gentiles were mainly unaware of the thrill that would come into a Jewish heart at the thought of ‘the Messiah’, the ‘Anointed One’ promised by God Who would accomplish the deliverance of His people. But they did recognise that the idea of the ‘anointed One’ signified someone very important to their salvation.
It is noteworthy that he does not feel it necessary to mention his Apostleship, something which he rarely omitted in his other letters (only so in his letters to Philippi and to the ‘neighbouring’ Thessalonians). His relationship with the Macedonian churches was such that it was not necessary. No one in the church at Philippi or at Thessalonika challenged his credentials. And similar authority was conveyed by the idea of being a ‘servant of Christ Jesus’.
The name of the addressees is also significant. He is speaking to ‘ALL’, and they are all ‘sanctified ones (saints) in Christ Jesus’. This refers to their status as having been set apart wholly to God, and as being ‘made holy’ by Him as His special possession (compare 1 Peter 2.9). They were all His own elect people. They belonged to Him. It does not depict them as ‘painted saints’, for he could speak of the unruly Corinthians, in spite of their failings, in the same way (1 Corinthians 1.2). His point was that they were treasured by God and destined for glory.
The description of their leadership as ‘overseers’ (episkopoi - originally ‘bishops’ were joint overseers of individual churches) and ‘deacons (servants)’ reflects the way in which he describes such offices in his letters to Timothy and Titus. There were at this time no monarchical or diocesan bishops. Some churches were watched over by ‘overseers (bishops) and deacons’ (following Gentile patterns) and others by ‘elders’ (following the Jewish pattern; compare Acts 14.23). Conformity would come later. The word for ‘bishop’ (episkopos) means simply ‘an over-seer’. We must not think in terms of ‘bishops’ of our own day. Each city and town church had a number of bishops/overseers who watched over their widespread gatherings. But they needed to be ‘apt to teach’ (1 Timothy 3.2). Thus they were more than just administrators.
Each city church (which was composed of numbers of groups around the city and its environs, which met together as they could) was independent of all others. Their joint unity was on the basis of shared faith, not on the basis of a hierarchy. There were no extended diocese. That would come much later and would not necessarily be a good thing. In many cases it would put the power in the wrong hands. But God intended His church to work in harmony under the Holy Spirit, not to be directed and controlled by powerful men (compare 3 John 1.9).
The overall greeting emphasises that in Paul’s eyes the leadership was to be seen as having no more importance in God’s eyes than the whole congregation. One could not see writers in later centuries addressing a church in this way at a time when bishops had been given an importance to which they were not strictly entitled. However, at this time all were seen as being of equal importance to God Who was seen as having no favourites. It is a reminder that their bishops and deacons were genuinely seen as servants of the church and not as its masters.
1.2 ‘Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’
‘Grace’ (charis) was a Gentile greeting and ‘peace’ a Jewish one. But on Paul’s pen we must not see them just as formal greetings. He had very much in mind the unmerited favour of God (grace) towards them (compare Ephesians 2.8-9; 2 Corinthians 12.9) and his hope for their spiritual well-being in the hands of God (peace, well-being - shalom), for he treasured them in his heart.
‘From God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ The parallel descriptions bring out Paul’s high view of Jesus Christ. The Father is ‘God’, Jesus Christ is ‘the Lord’, which is the Septuagintal equivalent of ‘God’ (YHWH). Both are fully divine (compare 1 Corinthians 8.6), and both are involved in working in grace on behalf of God’s people, and in ensuring their well-being.
Paul Expresses His Continual Concern For Them In The Light Of His Certainty That God Will Preserve his True People To The End (1.3-9).
Paul now proceeded to thank God for every remembrance of them. He had a physical cause for gratitude in that they had sent him a monetary gift (4.10), but far more important to him was their ‘sharing in common’ (fellowship - koinonia) with him in their spiritual lives, of which that gift was a token. What mattered most to him was that they were fellow-labourers in the service of Christ. And what was equally important to him was his recognition that that they were not dependent solely on their own efforts for their salvation. It was God Who had begun a good work in them, and he was confident that it was He would see it through so that in the Day of Jesus Christ they would be presented perfect before Him.
In these introductory words we have a foretaste of what is to come. Paul remembers them prayerfully (he ‘has them in mind’) because they share in common with him a desire for the furtherance of the Gospel. He has them in his heart because he knows that they partake along with him of the grace of God, experiencing the tender mercies of Jesus Christ. And he has them in his prayers as he longs that their love for each other may abound yet more and more, not in a sentimental way but in a caring way, as they seek to spur each other on to fruitfulness in readiness for the Day of Christ.
Note that in ‘a’ he is filled with thanksgiving and prayer at the way in which they have abounded towards him and towards God, and in the parallel prays that through Jesus Christ they will accordingly be filled with the fruits of righteousness to the praise and glory of God. In ‘b’ he is confident that having begun a good work in them God will bring it to completion until the Day of Jesus Christ, and in the parallel prays that this will be manifested by the fruitfulness and purity of their lives, unto that Day of Christ. Centrally in ‘c’ he expresses the depths of his love and concern for them.
1.3-5 ‘I thank my God on all my remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy, for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now,’
Right from the very first day when he had found Lydia by the riverside with the small group of Jewish believers, and had been invited into her palatial home where the needs of he and his companions had been supplied, and a small church had had its beginnings (Acts 16.15), until this time when they had provided for his need in a Roman prison situation, the Philippians had been open-hearted towards him in every way. But to suggest that all that Paul had in mind was their monetary gifts would be to debase Paul. Rather he rejoiced in their gifts because they demonstrated their overall desire to partake in the spread of the Gospel and the extension of the Kingly Rule of God. That was why he thanked God for ‘every’ remembrance of them. And that was why he was able to pray for them with such joy. In their spiritual advancement they were one of ‘his’ major successes. And they were always a joy to him as they looked to Christ.
The word ‘fellowship’ signifies ‘participation in common’. They shared with him in their prayers (1.19), in their monetary support (4.10), in their witness (1.27; 2.15), in their suffering for Christ (1.29-30), in their maintenance of each other’s faith (2.3-4), and in their worship together with him (2.17-18). And it was all as co-partners in furtherance of the Gospel.
Note how Paul continually and abundantly prayed for their spiritual well-being. In the busyness of his daily life (for he had many letters to write, and had on him the care of all the churches (2 Corinthians 11.28), and experienced many regular visitors, at least until near the end - 2 Timothy 4.10-11), he did not forget the Philippians. Furthermore he prayed for them with ‘joy’. This joy of Paul’s as he considered the Philippian Christians comes out constantly throughout the letter as we saw in the introduction, and it was a joy in which he expected them to share. It no doubt partly arose because of his consideration of his own circumstances as the servant of Jesus Christ who was suffering, and even facing death, for His sake, and out of his recognition of the willingness of the Philippians to do the same. For he saw it as a joy to suffer for Christ’s sake (compare James 1.2). But it was more than that for it was also a joy at their whole advancement in Christ.
1.6 ‘Being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ,’
And his prayers were especially aided by the confidence that he had that the God Who had begun a good work in the Philippians, and Who was working in them to will and to do of His good pleasure ( 2.13), would make that good work perfect and complete until the Day of Jesus Christ. For while he could exhort God’s people to faithfulness as urgently as anyone, Paul never had any doubt that, in those who were truly His, God would complete His perfect work. Compare for this 1 Corinthians 1.8-9; 1 Peter 1.5; Jude 1.24; John 10.27-28. And he knew that this must be so, for we who are His are God’s personal gift to Jesus Christ, over whom He constantly watches and prays (John 6.37, 39; 10.29; 17.6, 9, 24; Hebrews 7.25). Jesus Christ is our perfect and complete Saviour from start to finish (Hebrews 2.10), and not one of His own will be lost.
For ‘doing a good work’ in someone we should compare Matthew 26.10. It there refers to the bringing about of an inward personal experience that is spiritually beneficial. The same idea is in mind here. And this work would continue, until it was finally brought to completion in the Day of Jesus Christ. The ‘day of Jesus Christ’ is that day when He will call his own to give account and will, having perfected them, bring them into His eternal kingdom (see 1.10; 2.16; 1 Corinthians 1.8; 5.5; 2 Corinthians 1.14).
The same combination of ‘begin’ and ‘perfect, make complete’ is found in Galatians 3.3 where the work begun by the Spirit is seen as requiring to be completed by the Spirit (as Paul says, it is absurd to think that it will be completed by the flesh). Thus we have in both contexts the idea of God actively beginning and completing His work, in Galatians 3.3 by His Spirit (compare 1.27).
1.7 ‘Even as it is right for me to be minded in this way on behalf of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as, both in my bonds and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace.’
And he considered it right that he should think in this way about them, because he saw them all as partakers along with him of the gracious working of God. That was why he had them in his heart. To be a partaker of God’s grace meant that they were caught up in the whole stream of the working of God’s grace as described in Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.3-14. But it does not stop there. For we notice that ‘being partakers of His grace’ also involved them in showing kindness and generosity to a fellow-Christian in bonds for Christ’s sake, and in a responsibility to defend and confirm the Gospel. Being involved in the grace of God is not the guarantee of an easy ride. It is rather the guarantee of a blessed and secure one whatever the outward circumstances.
We should never overlook the wonder of God’s grace, that is, of His unmerited and undeserved active favour shown towards those whom He has chosen. It is through this that we have been brought to enjoy and experience a salvation which is not at all of our own doing (1.28; Ephesians 2.5, 7-9; Acts 15.11; Romans 3.24; 4.16; 5.2, 15-21; 11.5; etc). It is His work alone (Ephesians 2.8-9). For an overall description of the sovereign grace of God at work see Ephesians 1.3-14; Romans 8.29-30.
Note the reference to ‘my bonds/chains’. Paul was living in his own hired house (Acts 28.30), but he would be constantly chained to a Roman soldier. (The Roman soldiers would be replaced constantly, each having done his shift, with the result that Paul was able gradually to witness to large numbers of the Praetorian guard). This is a reminder that being subjects of God’s grace does not protect us from the problems of this life. Indeed those problems often abound all the more, for they are the very things that God in His grace uses to fashion and shape our lives (e.g. Romans 5.2-5; Hebrews 12.3-11; James 1.2-4).
1.8 ‘For God is my witness, how I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.’
Paul then stresses in the sight of God how much he ‘longed after’ the Philippians Christians, and this was because they along with him were recipients of the tender mercies of Christ Jesus, both of His saving power and of His inward working. He loved them because they were the chosen of Jesus Christ and he yearned for their spiritual advancement, and their spiritual growth. Happy the Christian whose deep concern is for the true spiritual welfare of all his brethren. He has learned something of the tender mercies of Jesus Christ.
1.9-10 ‘And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent; that you may be sincere and void of offence unto the day of Christ,’
And it was because they were within the sphere of the tender mercies of Christ Jesus (compare 2.1) that he prayed that their love might abound more and more, both towards each other and towards their neighbours. But it was nevertheless to be a discerning love and a love that recognised the facts (it was to be ‘in knowledge’), for he wanted it to be a love that made them approve what was excellent, so that they might be genuine through and through. It was to be a love that would make them sincere (a love without any falsity in it) and void of offence (a love that was pure and blameless), with the Day of Christ in view. In verse 6 it was the good work of Jesus Christ within them that would make them ready for that Day, here it is the result of that good work as evidenced in their genuine and constant display of love for all. As John says, ‘we know that have passed from death to life because we love our brothers’ (1 John 3.14). In other words we are to be seen as cooperating with Jesus Christ in His ‘good work’ within us (verse 6), because of what He has wrought within us.
1.11 ‘Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.’
For the purpose of the good work of Christ within them was to fill them with the fruits of righteousness which resulted from their knowing Christ, so that their lives might be to the praise and glory of God. By their fruits they were to be known (Matthew 7.16, 20). In Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5.16, they were to ‘let their lights shine before men that they might see their good works and glorify their Father Who is in Heaven’ (compare 2.15).
These fruits of righteousness are ‘through Jesus Christ’. It is because He has wrought atonement and reconciliation for us, and is at work within us, that these fruits of righteousness will result. It is as we ‘abide in Him’ in a continual response of faith that we will produce permanent fruit (John 15.4-5). The result will be that we will be ‘trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified’ (Isaiah 61.3), and will thus be producing ‘fruits of righteousness’.
Paul Stresses That Though He Is In Chains It Has Turned Out To Be Of Benefit To The Gospel Of Christ, Something Which Causes Him To Rejoice (1.12-18).
It is apparent from what follows that Paul was chained to a Roman soldier, restricting his free movement, although seemingly not hindering his ability to go on ministering. That Paul naturally felt his chains deeply comes out here in his threefold mention of them. But it is clear that he also looked at them positively, as having had a positive benefit.
He must have been well aware of the effect that the news of his arrest would have had on the churches that he had founded. He knew that they were probably in shock at the thought that he, Paul, their mentor, was no longer free and able to minister to them. They may well have been asking, ‘Why has God allowed it?’ But they had reacted well in sending Epaphroditus with a gift to him in his hour of need, and to enquire what the situation was, and now he knew that they were awaiting news of his situation. He knew also that they would learn that he was in chains. Thus he wanted to encourage them by the recognition that his chains were actually advancing the Gospel of Christ. They were not a sign that God’s work was being restricted, but a means by which it was abounding.
Thus he portrays his chains as having:
It made it evident that there was therefore no need for them to despair.
Note that in ‘a’ things have fallen out to the progress of the Gospel, while in the parallel Christ is preached ‘in every way’. In ‘b’ his being in bonds has resulted in the Gospel being preached more abundantly, and in the parallel his being in bonds has resulted in all kinds preaching the Gospel although his situation is being made worse by factions who are seeking by their preaching to add to his afflictions. Centrally in ‘c’ the two types of preachers are analysed.
1.12 ‘Now I would have you know, brothers and sister, that the things which happened to me have fallen out rather to the progress of the gospel,’
Paul wants to prevent the Philippians from becoming discouraged at the thought of what has happened to him, so he assures them that what has happened to him, rather than being a hindrance, is actually furthering the Gospel of Christ. And yet even he would have had no idea of the fact that what he wrote from prison would become of such value to so many throughout the centuries. How much we would have lost if he had not been put in prison. Many wondered what God was doing. We know what He was doing.
The translation ‘brothers and sisters’ recognises that adelphoi was intended to include both. Indeed the sisters were quite prominent in the Philippian church (see 4.2).
1.13 ‘So that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest,’
The first way in which things had fallen out well was that it had meant that the fact that he was in bondage for Christ’s sake had become known throughout the Praetorian guard, who would also have learned why it was so. We can indeed be sure that each soldier who had found himself chained to Paul soon found that he was being enlightened as to the Gospel, and would of course be witness to his conversations with Christian visitors and all who entered his ‘prison’. We can be sure that some would even be converted. Thus the word of Christ’s saving work was spreading among people who in normal circumstances would have been difficult to reach with the Gospel of Christ, and all due to Paul’s imprisonment.
‘Throughout the whole Praetorian guard’ does not necessarily have to be taken literally. The thought is rather that it spread widely among them. (We can see someone saying, ‘they’re all talking about you’). ‘All the rest’ may suggest that it had spread also among other soldiers, or alternatively among many private citizens, but the main intention is in order to emphasise the widespread way in which the Gospel was being propagated as a direct result of his imprisonment.
1.14 ‘And that most of the brothers in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear.’
He points out that instead of being discouraged by his presence among them in bonds, it had made most of the church in Rome and its surrounds bolder in the proclamation of the Gospel. It is often the case, especially because at such times the Spirit of God is especially at work, that persecution actually makes God’s people stronger. And it was the case here. They were being spurred on by Paul’s own bravery and confidence, and were boldly proclaiming the word of God without fear.
1.15-17 ‘Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of good will. The one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel, but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds.’
He then brings out two approaches being taken by different people according to their particular attitude towards him, for he does not want to deceive the Philippian church into thinking that all at Rome was necessarily harmonious. Some were preaching Christ out of ‘envy and strife’. In other words they were doing it as rivals of Paul with a view to outdoing him. Their message was right but their motive was wrong. Perhaps they were secretly gloating over the fact that Paul was in bonds, and may well have thought that it served him right because he was not as ‘sound’ in his teaching as he might be. And they seemingly hoped that, when he heard what they were doing and how successful they were being, he would be grieved at heart, in the same way as they were envious of him. But others were doing it out of goodwill, because of their love for Christ and for Paul. These last did it as co-operators with Paul, knowing that his whole life was set on the defence of the Gospel. But the former were doing it thinking that by their so doing Paul would be chagrined and upset. They did not understand the spirit of Paul.
1.18 ‘What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.’
Paul, however, did not mind which way it was. All that he was concerned about was that Christ was being continually and abundantly proclaimed. And when he heard that that was the case, he rejoiced, no matter who the preacher was. This is an indication that these people were truly preaching Christ. Their fault lay not in their doctrine but in their attitude of heart, and their lack of genuine love. Such attitudes are often prevalent today, even among men who have a genuine message. Fortunately for us the Gospel message is not limited by their meanness of spirit. It is rather they who will finally be the losers.
Paul Stresses That He Faces The Future Decision To Be Made By Rome About Him With Confidence. To Live Will Mean That He Can Continue To Serve God’s People. To Die Will Mean That He Enters Straight Into The Presence Of Christ. He Was Equally Ready For Either (1.19-26).
Paul now sought to clarify the situation with regard to his own person. Imprisoned by Rome and awaiting trial, he was filled with confidence that in one way or another Jesus Christ would be glorified, and he wanted them to recognise that because of his confidence in Christ he was not fearful for the future, assuring them that he knew that whatever happened to him would turn out for good, both for him and for God’s people.
We learn in this passage of the very mixed emotions which Paul was experiencing. On the one hand he was looking forward to being with Christ which was better than anything that this world could offer, and thus in one sense he longed for martyrdom. And yet on the other he wanted to remain on earth because he believed that it would be for the benefit of God’s people. Thus he did not know which to assert to be most likely, although he leant towards the probability that God would arrange for his release so that he could once more minister to the Philippians, and others.
Note that in ‘a’ he is satisfied that his case will turn out for the good, either by resulting in his gaining the fruit of God’s salvation by going to be with Christ, or by his being saved from the hands of his judges, through prayer and through the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and in the parallel he expects them to glory abundantly in Christ Jesus because he will be delivered so as to be among them again. In ‘b’ his ‘earnest expectation and hope’ is that Christ will be magnified through what happens to him, and in the parallel he is ‘confident’ that he will remain with them in order to further their spiritual growth. In ‘c’ for him to live in this world is to live for Christ and in Christ, and in the parallel he recognises that to abide in the flesh in this way will be better for the Philippians. In ‘d’ he would see death as being a gain, and in the parallel he explains why. It would be because it would mean that he would depart to be with Christ which would be far better. Centrally in ‘e’ he is in a quandary as to which to prefer because he recognises his importance to them and to the spread of the Gospel.
1.19 ‘For I know that this will turn out to my salvation, through your supplication and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,’
One thing that Paul was certain of was that God was in control, and that his imprisonment would bring ‘salvation’ one way or the other. Either because through death he would enter into the fruits of God’s salvation in Christ, or because through being set free he would experience salvation and deliverance, both in body and in spirit, and be among them again all the better for his experience.
And this would happen firstly because the Philippians and others were praying for him, and upholding him, and secondly because the Spirit of Jesus Christ was active in his case. It was He Who would guide him in his defence as Jesus had promised, and either allow his execution, or arrange for him to be set free (e.g. Matthew 10.19-20). Furthermore he knew that He would strengthen him to meet whatever situation faced him. The verb ‘supply’ has within it the idea of undergirding and strengthening. He knew that he was undergirded and strengthened by the Spirit of God. How then could he be afraid?
‘My salvation.’ Scripture portrays ‘salvation’ from a number of angles. Sometimes it is seen as a once for all thing, guaranteed from start to finish from the moment of believing, as the sole work of Jesus Christ the Saviour (2 Timothy 1.9; Titus 3.5); sometimes as something that had happened and was now having present effects (Ephesians 2.5, 8-9); sometimes as a present process continually going on (1 Corinthians 1.18; 2 Corinthians 2.15; Philippians 2.12; 1 Timothy 2.15); and sometimes as a future prospect when it would be brought to completion (1.6, 28; 1 Corinthians 3.15; 5.5; 2 Corinthians 7.10; 1 Thessalonians 5.9; 2 Thessalonians 2.13).
We are not, however, to see him here as simply concerned with receiving benefit from his own personal salvation, but rather as wanting his ‘salvation’ to be a vindication of God’s word and ways. It is indicating that he was concerned with the fact that that salvation would be a vindication of his ministry and message proclaimed by God Himself. Whether released to continue on in the service of Christ, or whether taken through death to a higher privilege of heavenly service in the presence of Christ, he was confident that his message and stand for Christ would be vindicated and thus be a firm witness. For this use of ‘salvation’ compare Job 13.16 in LXX where the Greek wording is identical with Paul’s (and may well have been in Paul’s mind), ‘though He slay me, yet I will wait for Him, nevertheless I will maintain my ways before Him, this also will be my salvation, for a godless man shall not come before Him’. In other words Job was convinced that whether in life or in death he would be saved and vindicated as a result of his acceptance before God. The same was now true for Paul. If he died and came before God this would be evidence of the genuineness of his salvation, and would vindicate all that he had proclaimed and stood for (compare 2.16-17). If he lived on it would indicate God’s protecting hand upon him, and thus vindicate his message.
Note the combination of man’s prevailing through prayer and God’s sovereignty through the Spirit. It is not a matter of either/or but of both/and. God is sovereign, but it is as we pray and cooperate with God in His work, that God carries out His sovereign purposes.
1.20 ‘According to my earnest expectation and hope, that in nothing shall I be put to shame, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death.’
As he faced his future not a shadow of doubt now crossed his mind. He had come through to a position where he was totally confident that nothing that happened to him would be to his shame (in God’s eyes), or to the shame of his message, as he faced his trial, whether it be his release to fight on having given a good confession, or his execution (shameful in the eyes of men) which would result in his triumphant vindication before the throne of God. Either way his concern was that Christ should be magnified through his weak earthly body. As he had said elsewhere, ‘we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the exceeding greatness of the power may be of God, and not of ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 4.7).
‘As always, so now --.’ What a ringing testimony Paul had. As he looked back on the past he could confidently claim that he had not failed Christ but had ‘always’ boldly proclaimed His Name. That was why he was so confident that he would ‘now’ not fail Christ at the final hurdle.
The idea of being ‘put to shame’ is very much a Scriptural one found constantly throughout the Psalms and in Isaiah and Jeremiah, where it is also constantly paralleled with the idea of vindication (e.g. Psalm 34.3-5; 35.26-27; etc). Not to be put to shame was to be vindicated. Compare also John’s reference to those who in contrast would be ‘ashamed before Him at His coming’ (1 John 2.28), and Jesus’ own words, ‘whoever will be ashamed of Me and of My words ---, of him also will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels’ (Mark 8.38; Luke 9.26). Paul knew that he would not be put to shame in this way because he himself was not ashamed to confess Christ whatever the consequences, with the result that he knew that Jesus Christ would openly ‘confess him before the Father’.
The word for ‘earnest expectation’ indicates an earnest stretching forward to see what lay ahead (compare 3.13), and importantly was accompanied by ‘hope’ (expectant certainty). He had no doubts about the fact that his future was in God’s hands. And it was this that gave him the certainty that, whether he faced life or death, it would result in a bold confession which would magnify Christ. For as he looked ahead the one thing that mattered to him most was that Christ would be magnified.
1.21 ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’
These words in context have two parallel meanings arising out of the context. Unquestionably they include the thought that for Paul and for all true Christians the whole purpose of life is to be that they will be so filled with Christ that they are Christ in the world (1 Corinthians 12.12), both by life and message, letting Christ live through them in accordance with 1 Corinthians 12.12-27; John 14.23; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.16-20; John 15.1-6. They are to ‘live Christ’. As he says in Galatians 2.20, ‘I no longer live but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God Who loved me and gave Himself for me’. And that this actually means ‘Christ living in me’ is confirmed in John 14.23, where we read, ‘if a man love me he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him’. The plural ‘we’ is against the idea that this simply means that they are to receive the Holy Spirit. They are in fact to receive all the fullness of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That is why Paul, so possessed with the thought, could say, ‘I count all things as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (3.8).
So the thought behind ‘to me to live is Christ’ is that we be so one with Christ that we do only His will, and continually have ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2.16; compare Philippians 2.5). But he recognised that on earth this would always be marred by the possible interference of our fleshly natures. Thus to die could only be gain, because then he would be united with Him with all fleshliness done away. This is expanded on in 3.10-14, where the final goal of being ‘involved with the crucified and risen Christ’ is ‘the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (3.14), indicating the time when ‘we will be truly like Him for we will see Him as He is’ (1 John 3.2). We will thus glorify Christ all the more. This meaning is confirmed by verses 22-23. Nor must we overlook the startling nature of his statement, ‘to die is gain’. To most Greeks death could only signify loss. There was nothing to hope for. Thus this proud declaration was a resounding confirmation of the glory of the Gospel, which could only cause the hearts of his hearers to rejoice at the thought that Christ really had taken away the fear of death (compare Hebrews 2.15). Death was no longer an enemy. It had been vanquished. For the Christian to die was gain.
But in view of what lies before it in the previous verses, the thought is surely also included in Paul’s mind that for the true Christian the purpose of living is not only to ‘live Christ’ but also to glorify Christ, by witness, testimony and life (verses 13-18). That is, we are not only to ‘live Christ’ but are also to continually ‘glorify Christ’. And the result is to be that our death by whatever means will therefore glorify Christ even more, for it will be a vindication of the salvation that He has wrought for us and of the satisfactory nature of the ransom that He paid (Mark 10.45). It will result in our being taken into the presence of Christ, thus glorifying Him to the uttermost as it reveals how He has triumphantly completed His saving work in us (3.21). And that was what Paul wanted more than anything else, to glorify Christ in both his life and his death, and all the more so if he suffered a martyr’s death.
Certainly we may also include in it the idea that we gain both in life and in death, firstly by having Christ in this life as the One Who is our ultimate desire, and secondly by coming to so experience Him through death that we enjoy even more of Him. But that is a by-product (although undoubtedly a glorious one) of our main desire which should be the more to fulfil all His will as he lives through us, and to glorify Him both in life and in death as we enter the glory that lies before us.
1.22 ‘But if to live in the flesh, —if this will bring fruit from my work, then what I will choose I do not know (or ‘am unable to declare’).’
The broken syntax in the Greek here emphasises the excitement and perturbation of Paul’s mind at this point. He is in a sense wrestling with himself. He longs to be with Christ and thus to glorify Him the more, but he is then faced with the fact that for him to continue living in the flesh on earth will, in spite of all its disadvantages, enable him to make what God has already accomplished through him more fruitbearing in the lives of his converts, and will result in even more new converts (compare 1.13-17). It will enable him to go on founding, and building on what he has founded, producing gold and silver and precious stones (1 Corinthians 3.10-15) as he carries through ‘the work of God through him’ (in Philippians ‘ergon’ regularly refers to the work of God - 1.6; 2.30). It will be for the continuing good of the churches. And by this also Christ will be glorified. Thus as far as he is concerned, he is ready to be martyred, but if he can produce yet more fruit by it, he is also content to go on living. And that is why he does not know which, if given the opportunity, he would choose (or which to declare as probable). Of course the choice did not finally lie with him. Humanly speaking it lay with the Roman authorities. From the divine viewpoint it lay with God. But Paul was ready for whichever choice was made.
‘I do not know’ or ‘I am unable to declare’. The Greek can be translated either way, and basically they indicate the same thing, that he was in no position to be dogmatic about what his future held because it was in God’s hands alone.
1.23-24 ‘But I am in a pressure situation between the two, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for it is very far better, yet to abide in the flesh is more needful for your sake.’
He thus finds himself in a pressure situation, for when he contrasts living in the flesh for Christ with the glory of actually being with Christ, he has no doubt which will be the better choice for him. His longing is to depart and be with Christ, for by doing so he will not only enter into rest, but also into the fullness of all that Christ is. He will be made like Him, for he will see Him as He is (1 John 3.2). He knows that it will be something so much beyond what he can know in this life, that there can really be no comparison. It is ‘by far the very best’. On the other hand he knows that for his readers his continuing in the flesh is ‘more needful’, for the infant church still needed his guiding hand. They still needed his protection and care as false doctrines (3.2-8) were seeking to break in on the church.
It will be noted that with Paul there is no thought of entering into ‘soul sleep’. He knows that when he passes on he will be conscious in the presence of Christ. His body will ‘sleep’, but not Paul himself. He will be consciously in the presence of Christ until the resurrection. This gives new meaning to the words in Ecclesiastes 12.7, ‘and the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to God Who gave it’. Elsewhere Paul describes it as ‘absent from the body and present with the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 5.8). He had no doubt that when he died he would consciously enter the presence of Christ.
We can compare with this John’s symbolic representation of the same idea when he speaks of the ‘souls under the altar’ (having been offered up as sacrifices through martyrdom) who in full consciousness call on God for the final vindication of His people (Revelation 6.9-11).
But how does this connect with the fact that we are to be ‘with the Lord’ after the resurrection (1 Thessalonians 4.17)? There is no real problem in this. In 1 Thessalonians 4.17 the ‘so shall we ever be with the Lord’ can be seen as primarily referring to ‘we who are alive and remain’. At that stage Paul was numbering himself among the living. Thus through ‘the rapture’, if he were still alive, he and his fellow living believers would join with those who were already ‘with the Lord’ (whom Christ would bring with Him - verse 14), those who had been ‘with the Lord’ since their deaths.
1.25 ‘And having this confidence, I know that I will abide, yes, and abide with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith,’
So the bitter struggle is resolved for him by the recognition of their continuing need of him. That is why he is confident that he will continue living in this world, and will do so in a way which enables him to live continually among them, both so as to ensure their progress in Christ, and to stimulate their growing and continuing joy in Christ and in His Gospel (compare Acts 13.52). His whole desire is for what will be for the greatest benefit of both Christ Himself and of His church.
‘Progress and joy --.’ The first emphasises his desire for their advancement as they move forward to new things, the second has in mind the quality of their spiritual lives. He wants them both to grow, and be qualitatively blessed in that growth.
1.26 ‘That your glorying may abound in Christ Jesus in me through my presence with you again.’
And his expectancy is that the result of his once again dwelling among them will be that they will be filled with exultation in their walk with Christ Jesus, an exultation which will abound more and more in Christ, because he is present with them again. That is at the very heart of what he desires. But note that their glorying is to be ‘in Christ Jesus’ because of what He has done in bringing Paul to them again, and not in Paul himself. Paul is only the earthen vessel which contains within it the glory of the Lord (as the earthenware jar contained the oil-fed wick). See 2 Corinthians 4.7.
Paul Explains What God requires Of Them As His People And As Citizens of Heaven Who As A Result Of Believing Have Been United With Christ In His Humiliation And Exaltation (1.27-2.18).
Having assured them of his prayers and concern for them, and having satisfactorily explained the current situation as it affected him, Paul now turned his attention to exhorting the church to themselves ‘live like citizens worthy of the Gospel’ (1.27). That is, they are to live like citizens of Heaven (3.20) in such a way that they demonstrate that they are worthy of the Gospel, ‘which (through the cross) is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe’ (Romans 1.16). And he did it in terms of what he had commended them for and what he had prayed for them, that is, in terms of their sharing in common (‘fellowship’) with him in establishing the Gospel (1.5; compare 1.27), and in terms of their partaking in the same gracious working of God as he had in defence and confirmation of the Gospel (1.7; compare 1.27b), stressing the need at the same time for them to be established in a wise and righteous love for one another (1.9-10; compare 2.1-2).
Following that he then explains what is required of them as a result of this. They must so respond to the gracious working of Christ and the Spirit (2.2) that they have one united mind (2.2), ‘the mind of Christ’ (2.5) as they walk in the way of the cross and resurrection. And with that in mind he sets before them in context the great example of the One Who Himself trod in God’s way, and died and rose again (2.6-11), an example into which they are to enter fully. He is the Author and Trek Leader of their salvation, leading many sons to glory (Hebrews 2.10), and they are to follow Him in the way of the cross, participating with Him in it, knowing that thereby they will also participate in His glorification (compare Romans 8.29-30). He wants them to recognise that whatever situation or persecution they face, as a result of having died with Christ and having been raised up with Him (see 3.10-13), it will be something that He Himself had already faced, and something which must determine the set of their minds. Thus:
While it is not made explicit here (as it is unquestionably made explicit in Ephesians 1.19-2.7), the inference is clearly intended that they will fully share with Christ, not only in His humiliation, but also in His glorification, an inference confirmed in 1.6, 10; 3.10-13. Having the mind of Christ will have the final result of sharing in the glory of Christ.
Note that, as is evident from an analysis of the passage, the whole passage is carefully balanced, centring around Christ’s own sufferings on the cross, while at the same time emphasising His final vindication and glorification, things which are to be the mainspring of their own behaviour, The whole idea is to focus their eyes on the crucified and exalted Christ Whose lead and example they must follow and participate in, and Whose mind set they must have, recognising that, as in His case, all that would happen to them would then be of God.
Note that in ‘a’ they were to live as true citizens of Heaven, (whether he be present with them or absent), unafraid of earthly sufferings, and striving for the faith of the Gospel, recognising that these things evidenced that their salvation was genuinely from God, because by it was being demonstrated that it had been granted to them both to believe on Him and to suffer on His behalf, thereby sharing with Paul in the sufferings that he endured, and in the parallel they were to show forth the word of life (the faith of the Gospel) as evidence of the fact that Paul’s ministry was genuinely of God, and also to joy in his sufferings if he was to be offered on the sacrifice and service of their faith, (whether in service or in martyrdom) fearlessly joying and rejoicing together with him. In ‘b’ they are to be of one mind and sharing in one love, as a result of the advocacy of Christ and their fellowship with the Spirit, and in the parallel are to do all without murmuring and disputing, as unblemished children of God who are lights in the world. In ‘c’ they are to put all their effort into their concern for one another, and in the parallel they are to ‘work out’ their salvation with greatest care, because it is God Who is at work within them. In ‘d’ they are to follow the example of Christ Who being God by nature did not seek to cling on to His status of quality with God, and in the parallel they are to observe how in consequence every knee would consequently bow to Him and every tongue confess Him as LORD to the glory of God the Father. In ‘e’ they are to observe how He emptied Himself by taking the nature of a servant, and became in all things like a man, and in the parallel God would as a result highly exalt Him, and give Him the Name above every name. Centrally in ‘f’ this was due to His going to the uttermost in being obedient to death, even death on a cross.
It will be noted how the whole of what is expected of them is founded on, and built up around, what Christ Himself had done for them as the true servant of God Who humbled Himself and gave His life a ransom for many (Mark 10.45), for that is the Gospel (1.27) that they are to be worthy of. They are to die with Christ in order that He might live through them (3.10-11; Romans 6.3-11; Galatians 2.20).
Paul Thus Calls On Them To Stand Firm In The Face of Whatever Life May Bring, Especially In The Way Of Persecution, So That Their Lives Might Be Worthy Of The Gospel (1.27-30).
This opening section of the passage (1.27-30) balances neatly with the closing section of the passage (2.17-18) in that both lay emphasis on service and suffering, two things which lie at the very heart of the Gospel, and something which is fully exemplified in Christ as the supreme example of service and suffering (2.5-11). It is in the light of this last that they are to live lives as citizens ‘worthy of the Gospel of Christ’, walking in His footsteps and demonstrating their love for one another. By this means they will clearly reveal the genuineness of their own salvation, and the certain final destruction of their pagan enemies who rebel against such an idea, and reveal it by despising or rejecting believers. Thus will they fulfil his hopes and prayers for them as expressed in 1.3-11.
Note that in ‘a’ he speaks of their need to ‘stand fast’, and of their ‘striving’ for the faith of the Gospel, while in the parallel he likens their position to his own as he is doing the same. In ‘b’ they are not to be frightened by their adversaries, while in the parallel he points out that this is because they know that they are suffering for Christ. Centrally in ‘c’ he points out that the opposition both brings destruction on their opponents, and also demonstrates that they themselves are experiencing the salvation of God and vindication from God (compare verse 19).
1.27 ‘Only let your manner of life as citizens be worthy of the gospel of Christ, that, whether I come and see you or be absent, I may hear of your state, that you stand fast in one Spirit, with one soul striving for the faith of the gospel.’
In the light of what they already know about Christ, and what he is shortly to describe to them concerning Him in some depth (2.5-11), he calls on them to ‘live as citizens’ (politeuesthai), worthy of the Good News of Christ (the Good News that they can partake in His death and resurrection). For just as Philippi was a ‘colony’ of Rome, being seen as a kind of adjunct of Rome (see introduction), so the Philippian church were to see themselves as a colony of Heaven (3.20), and thus living in a kind of adjunct of Heaven. They were therefore to live accordingly, especially in the light of the example of the One to Whom they looked, the One Who was God’s ‘good news’ (Gospel) to mankind (compare Luke 2.10-11) and was now the LORD in Heaven (2.11). And this included their standing fast in one Spirit, striving together as one for the whole message of the Gospel. And they were to do this regardless of whether he was able to visit them or not, as they had in the past (1.5), for it was to be the very mainspring of their lives.
‘That you stand fast, striving for the faith of the Gospel.’ The language is that of the arena, as the gladiator stands firm in the face of his opponent and then strives to obtain the mastery, or of the battlefield where the stout warrior does the same. In the same way they are to stand firm (Ephesians 6.14-17) and strive for the success of the truth of the Gospel (compare Ephesians 6.10-12; 2 Timothy 2.3-5). that Gospel through which they had received forgiveness and life in Christ.
That the reference to ‘standing fast in one Spirit’ is to the Holy Spirit, and not simply to their own spirit, is suggested by the fact that this ‘oneness in the one Spirit’ is a continual theme of Paul’s. It is the Holy Spirit who unites us as one in Christ (1 Corinthians 12.13), and we are one because participating in the One Spirit. See for example 2.1; 1 Corinthians 12.13-27; Ephesians 2.18; 4.4. It must, however, be acknowledged that such a unity of the Spirit does inevitably result in a unified spirit among believers, an idea expressed here in terms of ‘one soul’. We may see the ‘spirit’ as being that in man which experiences and is aware of God, while seeing the ‘soul, life’ as representing his inner being and personality. But here the distinction blurs, for it is also with the inner being (‘the soul’) that we know God and strive for the faith of the Gospel. As elsewhere, spirit and soul both ‘inter-connect’, and with the body make up the whole man (1 Thessalonians 5.23). But we must beware of making too much of a distinction between these descriptions, for they are not separable, but merge into one another making up one man (compare how Jesus could speak of a quadruple ‘heart, soul, strength and mind’ - Luke 10.27, which compared with 1 Thessalonians 5.23 might be seen as indicating that ‘spirit’ equates with ‘heart and mind’, something which however must not be overpressed, just as ‘strength’ is not limited to the body).
‘The faith of the Gospel’ probably refers to the content of the Gospel, centring in the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, not, however, as a cold doctrinal formula, but as a part of their living faith, vibrantly believed. It could, however, equally indicate the faith that results from the Gospel. Both in fact intertwine.
1.28 ‘And in nothing affrighted by the adversaries, which is for them an evident token of perdition, but of your salvation, and that from God.’
Nor, because of their confidence in their salvation, were they to be at all afraid of their adversaries (or, as the word can signify, ‘they were not to shy away from their adversaries’), for their fearlessness and steadfastness in the face of persecution would serve to underline and emphasise both the destruction coming on their adversaries, and their own salvation, in that it was a fearlessness that was from God. The main emphasis in mentioning ‘salvation’ (as is evidenced by the fact that ‘salvation’ is used in parallel with ‘perdition’ on their adversaries) is on the future aspect of their salvation when all will finally have been accomplished and they will be presented before God, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight. But, as 2.12 brings out, salvation is also to be for them a continuing process going on at the present time. God’s salvation is in fact a total process which commences at the moment of first ‘believing’. It is initially permanent, complete and certain from the moment of believing because of the nature of the One Who saves (it is guaranteed), it then results in a continual life process as the Saviour continually carries out His saving work, and it comes to its final completion on that Day (compare Titus 3.4-7) when we are presented perfect before Him.
The word for ‘adversaries’ is a strong one, indicating violent opposition. These would be pagans, although no doubt including some Jews (who although present, were a comparative rarity in Philippi, for there was apparently no synagogue or Lydia and the others would not have met for prayer by the river). The pagans had been stirred into virulence, partly because of their pride in the worship of the god Roma and of the emperor, and partly because of the impact of the Gospel and its message of purity, which both brought their own lives into disrepute, and resulted in the destruction of the reputation of their gods. They were necessarily affected by the ‘fire kindled’ by the presence of Christ (Luke 12.49), which differentiated true righteousness from unrighteousness. The violence in mind here is probably mob violence, rather than of official persecution by the state. It was to be expected, for, as Paul stressed elsewhere, ‘all who would live godly in Christ Jesus, will suffer persecution’ (2 Timothy 3.12; compare Acts 14.22), and we know that he suffered more than his fair share of it.
Note on ‘Perdition (apoleia).’
In 3.19; Matthew 7.13; Romans 9.22 the word signifies ‘destruction’, and in the last case has in mind the idea of vessels which are destroyed. In Acts 25.16 it refers to ‘execution’ by the Roman judiciary. Both Judas and the man of sin are described as ‘sons of perdition’ (John 17.12; 2 Thessalonians 2.3), that is, ‘those fitted for destruction’. In Hebrews 10.39 those who are apostates are described as ‘drawing back to perdition’. They are failing to grasp salvation. In 1 Timothy 6.9 Paul speaks of ‘hurtful desires that drown men in destruction (olethros) and perdition (apoleia)’ because they have caused them to truly respond to Christ. There may thus appear to be an emphasis on the fact that, once having been suitably punished (with many stripes or with few stripes - Luke 12.47-48), they would face final destruction. In Revelation 17.8, however, the beast who comes up from the Abyss will (along with the Devil) ‘go into perdition’, being thrown alive into ‘the lake of fire which burns with brimstone’ where he will be ‘tormented day and night for ever and ever’ (19.20; 20.10). The question then must be as to whether, like Satan himself, the beast, along with the false prophet, must be seen as special cases, for they alone are said to be thrown into the lake of fire ‘alive’.
The fact that these descriptions are not to be taken too literally is apparent both:
The lake of fire is rather, therefore, to be seen as descriptive of the awfulness of God’s judgments, and the certainty of the defeat of all God’s enemies, put in the worst terms that the human mind could think of, but not to be taken too literally.
End of note.
1.29-30 ‘Because to you it has been granted on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer on his behalf, having the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.’
One evidence of the certainty of their salvation was that it had been ‘granted’ to them that they should believe on Christ and suffer for Christ. This belief and suffering are thus seen as being a privilege and a gift from God (compare the ‘gift of repentance’ given to believing Israel - Acts 5.31). It is a reminder that testing and trial is a part of the Christian life, and is indeed a means by which Christians are morally transformed, and experience the love of God shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit Who is given to them (Romans 5.2-5; compare James 1.2-12; Hebrews 12.3-12). It is here described as aligning them with Paul who, as they would know, had suffered for Christ in the past at the hands of lawless men, and was at this time, as they had now heard, suffering for Christ. They were therefore to see themselves as privileged to be experiencing the same conflict against evil and Satan and wicked men as he was. Note how suffering for Christ in one way or another is to be seen as very much a mark of those who have been truly saved.
The Call To Unity And Love In The Way That Had Been Exemplified By Jesus Christ Himself And Which God Will Work Within Them As They Give Attention To Experiencing Their Salvation To The Full (2.1-15).
Along with the call to live worthily of Christ, this call to unity and love now presented pervades the whole letter (1.9-10, 27; 2.1-4, 14; 4.2-3), although without dominating it. As with Jesus Himself in His final words before His death (John 13.14, 34-35; 15.12, 17; 17.21) Paul was concerned that the love that Christians had for one another would be the distinguishing mark of the difference between the Kingly Rule of God and the ever-warring kingdoms of the world. And he saw that this would only be possible when the lesson and mind-set of Christ’s self-humiliation, death, resurrection and exaltation was brought home to his readers as both the example and mainspring of their salvation. Their oneness was to demonstrate the saving work of Christ (‘advocacy in Christ’), their awareness of the love of God and of Christ (‘the encouragement of love’), and the effective working of the Holy Spirit (‘sharing in common with the Holy Spirit’).
We have seen above in the larger analysis how these parallels fit each other, commencing and ending in ‘a’ with the call to unity and oneness, continuing in ‘b’ with the request that they work at humility and submission to one another, knowing in the parallel that God will work it within them, and in ‘c’ onwards making central to His request the self-humiliation, suffering and exaltation of Jesus Christ Who is to be their perfect and effective exemplar (‘c’ to ‘e’), and is to be the One into Whose mind they are to enter. Thus the power that is at work within them bringing about this oneness is to be the very power that was exerted in the incarnation, death, and subsequent resurrection and exaltation of Jesus Christ applied to them by God, something which Paul will further expand on in 3.7-14 where he will make clear precisely why he has used this illustration in 2.5-11. For a further indication of its significance see Ephesians 1.19-2.10. Christ was not only to be the example, but also through His saving activity, the very powerhouse that would effect their salvation (see Romans 6.1-11; 8.29-30; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 1.3-14; 1.19-2.10; etc) as their minds were set on Him.
The Call To Unity (2.1-4).
In the light of the example of Christ into which they are to enter in their minds (‘let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus’ - verse 5), and of the unifying power of love, and of the working of the one Holy Spirit, Paul calls on the Philippian Christians themselves to be fully one, ‘being of one accord and having one mind’, and he desires that that one mind be a mind that partakes in Christ’s mind as He walked in the pathway of total unselfishness and humility. Like Him they are not to be concerned for their own position or status or advancement, but rather to be concerned only with bringing the maximum benefit to their brothers and sisters in Christ. Their ambition was to be that of total selflessness, being centred on the good of the whole, whatever self-sacrifice that involved. Their ambition was to be that they might be concerned ‘only for the things of others’.
He was not, of course, suggesting that they neglect their own spiritual lives. Indeed he had already spoken about that in 1.27-30. Rather he was pointing out that if they were truly following the requirements he had laid down their thoughts would be centred, first on Christ and on the Holy Spirit, and then on the desire for the good of others which was central to Christ’s own ministry.
Note that in ‘a’ the encouragement or comfort resulting from being ‘in Christ’ (the One Who is the exemplar of self-emptying and sacrifice - verses 6-7), is in the parallel to result in total selflessness. In ‘b’ the encouragement of the love of Christ (or of God) is in the parallel to encourage lowliness of mind, and lack of love for themselves as they rather love others. In ‘c’ participating together in the one Spirit is, in the parallel, to result in oneness of mind among themselves. In ‘d’, and centrally, we have the full abundance of tender mercies and compassions, both Christ’s and theirs, which encompass the whole.
2.1 ‘Therefore if there is any exhortation (encouragement, advocacy) in Christ, if any consolation (encouragement) of love, if any sharing in common in and with the Spirit (koinonia of the Spirit, participation in the Spirit), if any tender mercies and compassions,’
The initial ‘therefore’ here looks back to 1.27-30. It is because they have been called on to live lives worthy of citizens of Heaven and lives worthy of the Gospel; because they have been called on to stand firm in one Spirit and strive together for the faith of the Gospel; and because they have been called on to suffer for the sake of Christ, that they are now to consider what resources and spur they have in Christ and the Holy Spirit in order to ensure that they live in full oneness and love together. Note the emphasis on ‘the Gospel’, which is of course the Good News of salvation through Christ crucified and risen. The ‘if’ is not an expression of doubt, but rather one of certainty. It assumes the addition of the words ‘as is the case’. What then are those resources?
We note first that there are three grounds of comfort and strengthening mentioned. These are ‘in Christ’, ‘of love’ and ‘of the Spirit’. Some therefore see ‘of love’ as referring to the love of the Father, thus indicating reference here to the triune God (compare 2 Corinthians 12.14 where similar ideas are also in mind). But while that could be so it is not necessarily so here. The love could equally be the love of Christ (compare Ephesians 3.19). Others have seen ‘of love’ as having in mind the love that was being experienced among them because of their love for Christ, which itself was an encouragement to oneness, as pointing to the spur of Paul’s love for them, but its placement between Christ and the Spirit suggests the love of God and of Christ is primarily in mind.
The fourth phrase, which mentions no grounds, may then be seen as incorporating the other three, summing up the whole. Thus we have four incentives to unity described:
Different interpreters have connected these four statements in different ways. Some connect the first two together (pointing out that the meanings of paraklesis and paramuthion tend to overlap), although it could be argued that they are then almost simply saying the same thing. They then also take the last two together. Some connect 1). with 3). as both mentioning a member of the Godhead, and 2). with 4). as centring on love and compassion. Still others see the first three as referring to different aspects of the Godhead, with the overall impression being summed up more generally in 4).
With this in mind we will first consider the three incentives described (Christ, love and the Spirit), as connected with the three ‘grounds for action’, separately.
1). The first incentive or spur is the ‘paraklesis in Christ’. The idea behind the verb parakaleo is of someone ‘coming alongside to help’. Thus in general Greek paraklesis regularly indicates ‘exhortation’ by someone who is seeking to help, as it sometimes also does in the New Testament. On the other hand in Paul’s more common usage (and in the translation of the Hebrew for ‘comfort’ in LXX) the word indicates ‘comfort’ or ‘consolation’ or ‘strengthening’ resulting from something or someone that comes alongside to comfort or strengthen. However there is a third emphasis in 1 John 2.1 which should not be overlooked. There the noun parakletos refers to ‘Jesus Christ the righteous’ seen as acting as a mediator and ‘advocate’ (parakletos) in becoming ‘the propitiation for our sins’, and this idea may well have already been known to Paul. It would certainly fit the context here, for not only would Christ’s encouragement necessarily include thoughts of the cross (John 17.20-21 was itself in the context of the cross), but the very idea is present in verses 6-8. Furthermore we should note that the idea of sacrifice and offering certainly underlies Paul’s thinking in Philippians (2.17; 4.18).
So the thought may be:
These interpretations are, of course, not necessarily exclusive of each other. The word paraklesis may well have been intended to have a number of nuances, and the cross was so central to the Gospel that the cost paid in order to make His actions possible would hardly at any stage be overlooked, especially as it was clearly in Paul’s mind in what follows.
Whichever way we interpret it the impact is ‘in Christ (‘en Christow’). This well known phrase regularly indicates Christ as the sphere in which they operate, as though they were surrounded and made one by the security and power of His presence, and were made one with Him (united with His resurrection body). But here it may well further indicate ‘by Christ’, seeing Him as the One Who Himself gives such exhortation, encouragement, and strengthening and makes such a sacrificial offering. In other words, because they are ‘in Christ’ their encouragement, etc. comes from Christ, and is therefore ‘by Christ’. What greater spur to unity could there be than this, to know that we are made one ‘in Christ’, and to know that He is acting to make us one through the cross, and through the price that He paid in order that it might be so (Ephesians 2.14)?
2). The second incentive or spur is ‘the encouragement of love’. This raises the question as to whose love is meant. Some see it as simply advancing a little on the first statement and as drawing specific attention to ‘the love’ of Christ. In other words it is not only to be seen as a reminder that Christ dwells in their hearts by faith (Ephesians 3.17) but also as a reminder to them of the vastness of ‘the love of Christ which passes knowledge’ (Ephesians 3.19). Others see it as referring specifically to the love of the Father (‘see what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us’ - 1 John 3.1). This would bring together in the verse the whole triunity of God (in Christ, the Father’s love, of the Spirit) as found also in 2 Corinthians 12.14; Matthew 28.19. Still others see it as referring to the love that is jointly experienced among them because they together loved God (‘we love, because He first loved us’ - 1 John 4.19-20). While others see it as referring to Paul’s own love for the Philippians.
Again we need not necessarily totally distinguish. The love of Christ is one with the love of the Father, and both are freely bestowed upon us if we are His. Paul may thus have had both in mind. Further, the consciousness of Their love then brings us within the sphere of absolute love with the consequence that we love one another (‘we love because He first loved us’ - 1 John 4.19-20). It may then be this overall love that is being seen as the encouragement towards oneness of heart, and oneness of spirit and action, among His people. However, the placement of this phrase between reference to Christ and reference to the Spirit does suggest that we are to see the love of God and of Christ as paramount in his thinking. After all Paul was hardly likely to have seen his own love, or even the love of God’s people, as fittingly coming between ‘paraklesis in Christ’ and ‘participation of the Spirit’.
3). The third incentive or spur is ‘if there be any koinonia of the Spirit.’ The word koinonia has primarily within it the thought of ‘sharing in common’. This being so the idea here is of the sharing in common which results from the sharing of the experience and activity of the one Spirit. Thus God’s people are seen as one because they have all been ‘drenched in/by one Spirit ’ (1 Corinthians 12.13) thereby becoming united with and in Christ’s own body. Some thus translate as ‘if there be any joint participation in the Spirit’. In this case their oneness results from their joint participation in the Spirit.
The emphasis, however, is not to be seen as on the koinonia but on the activity of the one Spirit Who causes it to occur. It is not their ‘fellowship with one another’ that is primarily in mind, but their joint ‘participation with the Spirit’. In other words we are made one because we have all experienced the one Spirit. And Paul’s point is therefore that this should be a further spur to practical, outworked unity.
4). The fourth incentive or spur is ‘If there are any tender mercies (literally ‘bowels’) or compassions’. Here the use of the plural without reference to any particular source may well signify that it is intended to encompass all that has been in mind in the first three, the love and activity of Christ, the love and activity of the Father, and the love and activity of the Holy Spirit, and all other loves besides. In other words it is intended to encompasses every aspect of God’s unmerited favour revealed in so many ways towards us.
The basic meaning of the word translated ‘tender mercies’ is ‘bowels’. This was because emotions such as love and compassion were seen by the ancients as coming from the bowels. Here therefore the word ‘bowels’ indicates such tender mercies as springing forth from the very ‘heart’ of God. We may therefore sum up the totality of the incentives mentioned in this verse in terms of the all-inclusive love of God revealed in the redeeming activity and love of the Saviour, the all-embracing love of the Father, and the active and uniting love of the Holy Spirit. These are to be our spurs to unity and oneness of heart and mind.
2.2 ‘Make full my joy, that you be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind,’
The incentives mentioned are intended to persuade them to be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind’. And if they succeed Paul says that it will fill his cup of joy to overflowing. Like Jesus Paul recognised that ‘by this will all men know that you are His disciples in that you love one another’ (John 13.35), and that was why he longed for it, and why it would fill him with joy. There is indeed no finer incentive towards unity than a recognition that we are all equally made one with Christ through His cross, that we are all caught up in the same love of God and of Christ, and that we all participate in the one Spirit. It is contemplation of these facts, combined with the work of the Holy Spirit within, and Christ’s own exhortations to a unity of love (John 13.34-35; 15.12), that stirs up within us true oneness of spirit. But it cannot in the end just be manufactured by an act of will (although we should certainly seek to play our part). It must rather spring up from the Spirit’s activity within, for the one mind that they are to have is described in verses 5-11, and that can only result from the work of the Spirit giving them the mind of the Spirit, the mind of Christ. We fool ourselves if we think that we can walk that way without Him (see 3.4-14).
It is salutary here to consider the fact that what Paul describes here is still the basis on which God’s people could come together in unity. It indicates that if we would only concentrate our thinking on our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and Who He is and what He has done for us, and in walking in His steps, we would recognise that all else is secondary, (thus avoiding emphasis on the details of eschatology, types of ministry, baptism, and what we see as unique experiences of the Holy Spirit; etc). Then we too would be able to come together with one mind, that of serving Christ and each other in the way described in verses 5-11, because our concentration would be on our oneness in Christ and in the Spirit. It would result in a genuine love for one another. Instead we ignore Paul’s (and Christ’s) injunctions here and put our emphasis on fighting over secondary matters, bristling at each other over the ramparts of our folly. As Paul would say, ‘my brothers and sisters, these things ought not to be’. We need to recognise that when we do this we are not fighting for God’s truth but being deliberately disobedient towards God. According to Jesus, genuine central truth produces unity (John 17.16-22). It is secondary ideas, when we take our eyes off the Christ of 2.5-11, that result in disunity.
2.3 ‘Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself,’
Here indeed is the heart of the matter, ‘faction’ and ‘vainglory’ (empty glory). We need to recognise that raising points of disagreement and having a high opinion of ourselves, and of our own ideas and interpretations, is acting contrary to God’s will and pleasure. What we should rather concentrate on is being lowly in mind, and counting others as better than ourselves, recognising that in eternity their interpretations may well be seen as equally valid (or invalid) as our own.
This will also result in our not seeking our own self-advancement, while always being ready to assist in any way, not in order to be praised, but so as to serve others. Many of the ills of the church through the ages were the result of men who thrust themselves into positions of authority in the church before they had developed sufficiently to be suitable for it. The consequence was that the church became man-ruled, rather then being ruled by the Holy Spirit. (Note how, as we have already seen, in the opening to the letter the leaders were seen as simply a part of the whole church, not as lords over it).
Being ‘lowly in mind’ (in Matthew 5.3 ‘poor in spirit’) was not something that the Greeks admired. Their view was that you were to stand up for yourself and not allow yourself to be trodden on. But the Christian distinguishes between standing up for the truth of the Gospel and standing up for oneself. In the one case he is valiant for truth. In the other his thought is always on what is for the benefit of the other, and not on what is for his own benefit, because he has the mind of Christ (see Matthew 11.28-30; Mark 10.45; Luke 22.27).
2.4 ‘Not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.’
This is then summed up in terms of genuine consideration for others. Not as seen in a determination to make them ‘see the truth’ as we see it, but in a concern for their genuine welfare and growth in Christ. Our concern is not to be for ourselves but for others, and for their spiritual advancement. This will involve avoiding controversy, and going out of our way to be encouraging without ‘picking fault’, while at the same time genuinely seeking to help the weaker brother or sister. It includes the idea of having more admiration for their spiritual gifts, than we have for our own, and encouraging them to develop them. All this indeed is what was meant by living as citizens worthily of the Gospel of God (1.27). It will now be exemplified in the One Who above all was concerned for the things of others.
A Description Of The Pathway Of Humility And Selflessness Followed By Jesus Christ, And Its Final Glorious Consequence (2.5-11).
Paul has previously emphasised ‘the Gospel’ (1.5, 27 (twice)), but now he portrays it in all its fullness. It is that we can and should follow Jesus Christ in denying ourselves, taking up the cross and following Him (Matthew 16.24; Mark 8.34), entering personally into His humiliation and death, and subsequently into His resurrection (3.10-11). For we must not see in these words simply a call to see Christ as a glorious example. Rather they are a call to have the same mind-set of Christ in following Him fully into the full-time, unstinting service of God and men, through our own humiliation, death and resurrection in Christ. They are a commitment to total self-sacrifice in the name of Christ, through entering into His humiliation and death, which will result in new resurrection life and final glorification. They are a commitment to having ‘the mind of the Spirit’ (Romans 8.2-11). And that is that ‘If Christ dwells in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness’, something which will lead on to final resurrection (Romans 8.10-11).
This is stressed here in Philippians by the words, ‘Let this mind be in you ---’ or ‘Be minded in this way’. This is not just a call to consecration, it is a call to constant, unwavering consecration based on the cross. It is a call to enter into the experience of Jesus Christ Himself. It is a call to walk as He walked as we enter spiritually into His death and resurrection (3.10-11; Romans 6.3-11; Galatians 2.20). And it begins with an emptying of ourselves in an act of total self-surrender to the will of God, so that we receive the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16), the mind of the Spirit (Romans 8.4-6, 9-11).
Compare how ‘having the mind of the Spirit’ in Romans 8.4-6, 9-11 involves having the Holy Spirit at work within us producing His mind within us. In the same way here having ‘the mind of Christ’ involves having Christ within us producing His mind within us as he walks the way of humility and the cross.
The background to this portrayal is found in those verses which speak of our personally and experientially entering into Christ’s death and resurrection. Consider, for example, 3.10-16; Romans 6.3-11; Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 2.1-10; 1 Peter 4.1-2. To enter into the mind of Christ is to ‘reckon ourselves as dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6.11). Thereby we are both justified (reckoned as righteous) before God, and sanctified (set apart as holy that we might be made holy) by Him.
It is indeed significant that the greatest portrayal of the true Godhood and manhood of Christ to be found in Scripture (as found here in Philippians) is at the heart of such a call to surrender. It is a reminder that true Christian doctrine, while meanwhile being true in itself, is intended to affect the whole of our lives and to become a part of our living experience. Thus while we can see this as a great Christological statement, it would be a distortion of Paul’s purpose in stating it if we saw it only as that. It is rather also a call for all of us to ‘follow in His steps by full participation in the cross and resurrection’. We are to enter into Christ because He has entered into us. In approaching these verses many simply race on to consider what they tell us about our Lord Jesus Christ, ignoring the context. But it is very important to consider that the verses are equally intended to tell us what we ought to be. Thus every line should hammer its way into our hearts and our experience. It is not only describing the path taken by Christ, it is describing also the path that we must be determined to take from this moment on.
However, if we are to so apply it to ourselves, we must first have a thorough understanding of what it involved for Him, and we intend therefore first to examine what it tells us about Jesus Christ, before we then stress its application to ourselves. But in doing so we must urge that the reader does not overlook the main object of the passage.
Verses 6-11 have been seen as an ancient creed which Paul either himself wrote for the churches, or which he took up from an already well-known creed and fashioned for his purpose. Further than that we cannot say. But there can be no doubt about its credal form and we may paraphrase it as follows;
Our first question then must be, what does this tell us about the essential nature of Jesus Christ? As can be seen the creed divides into two parts, the first describes His deliberate taking of ‘the way down’ until He reaches the very lowest point of all at the cross. The second describes the resultant way up until He attains the pinnacle as LORD.
The first statement, “Essentially existing continually (huparchown) in the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of God”, makes clear His absolute total divinity. The present tense of the verb huparchown makes clear that His existence was a continual one, and was therefore seen as unrestricted by time, while in such a context huparchow can only refer to essential being. Compare its use in 1 Corinthians 11.7 where man ‘is essentially’ (huparchown) the image and glory of God, being that from the very beginning, whereas the woman ‘is derivably’ (estin) from the image of the man. Morphe thus indicates permanent essential form in contrast with temporary changing form (schema - verse 8). As men look at the morphe, they see the one who has that ‘morphe of God’ as being fully and permanently revealed by it. Morphe reveals the essence. No Greek words could have made Jesus’ divine nature more certain. It is a reminder of His words in John 17.5, ‘And now, O Father, glorify Me, with the glory which I had with you before the world was’. Of Him we can say on the basis of these words in Philippians, ‘From everlasting to everlasting, You are God’.
Elsewhere Paul describes this movement from His pre-incarnate state in terms of ‘being rich’ and ‘becoming poor’, when he declares, ‘You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet He became poor, so that we through His poverty might be made rich’ (2 Corinthians 8.9). In this verse ‘was rich’ can only signify His pre-incarnate state. So these words in Corinthians can be seen as a summary of the application of verses 6-11 to God’s people. He did this so that we could become ‘rich’.
Note how this phrase and the one that follows (He was essentially God and yet was not holding on to Godhead) is paralleled in the passage with the fact that He is declared by all creation to be ‘LORD’, to the glory of God the Father (verse 11). His willing submission is seen as bringing Him final honour, and as bringing glory to His Father.
The second statement, ‘Did not count the being on an equality with God a snatching’ (harpagmos), thus an act of robbery, or a thing to be ‘grasped at’ or ‘taken advantage of’. Thus it could equally be translated as ‘did not think it robbery to be equal with God’. It is literally ‘did not thing equality with God harpagmos’, with harpagmos (a snatching, something which could be snatched for personal advantage, a committing of robbery) indicating something that if grasped would be seen by others as a snatching, or something available to be snatched or taken advantage of, or as an act of robbery. With regard to Him it could not be seen in that way.
Whichever way we take it, it is not saying that Jesus considered equality as a prize which He had not yet obtained. Rather it indicated that it could be seen as something which was His by right so that, if He did decide to bask in it, it would not have been seen as in any way incongruous or unacceptable. Nevertheless it was something that He chose not to do. So the idea is not that He was being commended because, having no right to it, He did not determine to seize it or cling on to it at all costs. It is rather saying that He did have the right, had He wished, to maintain the position and status of equality with God, but in the light of His destiny chose for a time not to do so. He did not snatch at it for personal advantage. To give a lesser illustration, the choice facing every king on his throne is whether to cling on to his exclusiveness, or whether alternatively to descend among his people and be one with them. Jesus chose the latter course to the uttermost.
The third statement, ‘But emptied himself, taking the unchanging revealed nature (morphe) of a servant (doulos)’, demonstrates that the king relinquished His exclusiveness, and, descending among His people, even became a slave among them. Notice what the emptying involved. The One Who had the morphe (essential nature) of God took on Him the morphe (essential nature) of a servant. The One Who was by right the Master became the slave. The Creator became the servant of creation. Thereby He ‘emptied Himself’ of all that distinguished Him from man, and took on Himself the permanent nature and status of a servant, a status which He still enjoys (Luke 12.37). For He had come to serve (Mark 10.45), and to be the Servant King.
We must, however, beware here of too much speculation. It is so easy theoretically to speak of Him ‘divesting Himself of His Godhood’ as though that was something that He could easily do, in the same way as a man divests himself of his clothes at night. But it must be recognised that just as no man does or can divest himself of his essential being, neither could God divest Himself of His essential and eternal Being. In God’s case that would indeed be a contradiction in terms, for the essence of God is that He is and always must be eternal. He cannot cease to be what He is. Thus God could not divest Himself of Godhood. This is both a fact of His nature and is also true by definition.
So Jesus did not cease to be God, nor lose His eternal attributes. Rather He ‘emptied Himself’ by setting aside the use of His eternal attributes, and the outward status that was His, so that He could live as a man among men, and as a slave of all. He turned His back on His exclusivity, and became like the lowest of the low. How far He subsequently used His own divine powers while on earth, as opposed to being the channel of the powers of the Father and the Spirit, must always be indeterminable, although He did make clear that He had those powers (John 5.21). It is not for man to know or discern the full intricacies of the working of the Godhead, for they are one in threeness. What we do know is that He was ‘made in all points like as we are, and yet without sin’ (Hebrews 4.15), walking continually and uniquely in cooperation with His Father (e.g. John 5.17, 19) and with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 10.28). In a very real sense ‘God was there in Christ and was reconciling the world to Himself’ in a unique way (2 Corinthians 5.19). This is the very heart of the Gospel.
The fourth statement, ‘Being made in the very likeness of men’, indicates that He took on Himself true manhood. It is a contrast with Adam’s having been made ‘in the likeness of God’ (Genesis 1.26), that is, as having a spiritual nature. It is confirming that just as Adam’s spiritual nature was genuine, so is Jesus’ human nature genuine, the difference being that Jesus Christ moved ‘downwards’ from Godhood to manhood, while Adam moved ‘upwards’ from being a living creature to having a spirit. Notice the contrast between His being a servant and His being man. He could have come as a servant without becoming man, and He could have come as man without becoming a servant. What He chose to do was to become both. Compare Mark 10.45, where He ‘came not to be served but to serve’, and to perform the greatest of all service in giving His life ‘as a ransom instead of many’. The latter was, of course, only possible because He was God. No finite man would have been sufficient to cover the cost of the whole of redeemed mankind.
The fifth statement, ‘And being found as having a real but temporary form (schema) as a man’, again indicates His essential and genuine manhood. We translate ‘having a temporary form’ because it is in contrast to His permanent form as God. Nevertheless it is still saying that He was revealed as man precisely because He was man. We may translate as, ‘having the appearance of man’ as long as it is recognised that the appearance was seen as demonstrating the underlying reality. He ‘appeared as a man’, NOT ‘He appeared to be a man’. ‘Schema’ does not just mean outward appearance. It indicates a real form which reveals the reality beneath, even though of a temporary nature as compared with morphe which is more permanent. Morphe is the ‘form’ that reveals the essential being, schema is the form that the morphe takes at a particular period in time. Compare how a man is always essentially ‘man’, but may take up different ‘forms’ (schema) throughout life such as infant, child, teenager, adult, and so on. Thus Jesus is God throughout all His existence, but He becomes man at one stage in His existence, remaining so permanently from then on until the final end, although moving from pre-resurrection to post-resurrection manhood meanwhile. As God He sits on His Father’s throne. As man He sits on His own throne at God’s right hand (Revelation 3.21). Note how Paul avoids using the word morphe of His manhood. That might have been to suggest that having become man He was somehow no longer God. But that was not true. In His morphe He was God, but he had taken the form (schema) of man. He was both God and man.
The sixth statement, ‘He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, yes, the death of the cross’, makes absolutely clear His real manhood. He could only die because He had truly become man, for His Godhood could not die. In this regard we can compare how in a man his body may die, but in one way or another his spirit lives on. In the same way the body of Jesus died, but His Godhood lived on. The stress here, however, is on the fact that in dying as a man He also fulfilled His position as a servant (doulos), and followed in the way of obedience. This emphasis on obedience must not be overlooked. Full submission and obedience as a human being was central to what He had come to do (Romans 5.19; Hebrews 5.8; 10.5-10. Being obedient He humbly took the lowest way and died the death of a slave (doulos). Crucifixion was looked on as the way of executing the lowest of the low (slaves and insurrectionists). Thus He became the ultimate servant. We can compare here the description of the Servant in Isaiah 52.13-53.12 who also gave His life as a ransom and as a guilt offering for many (Isaiah 53.10). And while LXX uses pais for servant, doulos is used in parallel to it in other Greek versions and in sources used by the New Testament writers (pais and doulos have been shown to be largely, although not completely, interchangeable). Here Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of the Coming Servant to the utmost. Here we have reached the nadir of His descent into manhood, as He demonstrated through suffering and death that it was true manhood. Notice how these final phrases summarise the depths to which He was willing to go in three emphatic stages. ‘He humbled Himself (compare Isaiah 53.7a) -- and became obedient to death (Isaiah 53.7b) -- even death on a cross’. He humbled Himself as the servant of all, He obediently accepted the path of death (only One Who was God could choose to die, compare John 10.11, 15, 17, while only One Who was man could die), and He finally and most excruciatingly actually suffered death on a cross. In other words in this God was revealed as both true servant who will face up to the fullest demands of servitude, and willing sacrifice Who will offer up Himself, and in this we get to the very centre of the heart of God.
We cannot, however, leave this statement without drawing attention to one more thing which to Paul was central to the Gospel, and that is that to a Jew ‘death on a cross’ was the utmost in shame because it indicated being under the curse of God. To the Jew it was abhorrent. No greater humiliation could be conceived. And in Galatians 3.10-13 Paul takes up the idea in order to illustrate how by His death on the cross Jesus Christ took on Himself the curse that was on all men for breaking the Law. ‘Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us, for it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’ (Galatians 3.13).
The seventh statement begins the second stanza which expresses what would result from His obedience and humiliation. ‘For which reason also God highly exalted him’. ‘For which reason’ stresses the connection with what has gone before. It was because of what Jesus chose to do, and because of the pathway of obedience that He was willing to take (‘Father, not My will but yours be done’ - Luke 22.42), going down even to the lowest possible level, that ‘God highly exalted Him’. What was involved in that is described in what follows. He was to be lifted to the highest possible position. Compare Isaiah 52.13, where this was intended to be the destiny of the Coming Servant of God, and Isaiah 57.15 where it is God Who is ‘the high and lofty One’. Servanthood and Godhood combine for the One who had the form of both God and servant. Nor must we overlook the fact that this exaltation by the Father was necessary as a full vindication of Jesus. By this it was being made clear that far from Jesus’ humiliation reflecting the Father’s displeasure, it was necessarily (‘for this reason’) followed by vindication, indicating that what He had suffered had all been part of a necessary purpose within the will of God.
The eighth statement, ‘And gave to him the name which is above every name,’ raises the question as to what is ‘the Name above every Name’. To a Jew there could be only one answer to that question, it was YHWH (‘the One Who is’), which translates into Greek as ‘LORD’, the Name emphasised by God to Moses in the form ‘I am’ (Exodus 3.13-15), the Name of God from earliest times (Genesis 4.26), the Name that Jesus applied to Himself in John 8.58 as the I AM, for YHWH was what was constantly indicated in the Old Testament when ‘the Name’ was spoken of. And this Name was to be ‘given’ to Jesus. Not because He had not enjoyed it before, but because He had relinquished it on becoming man. He had deliberately chosen to be reduced in status. The giving of a name indicated the approval of the giver. Thus God the Father was by this indicating His approval of the return of the Son to ‘the glory which I had with You before the world was’ (John 17.5) on equal terms with Himself.
A less careful consideration of the passage might suggest to some that the Name above every Name was ‘Jesus’, but a moment’s thought will demonstrate that this could not be so. It is true that in our modern day the name Jesus is in many parts of the world seen as distinctively applying only to Jesus Christ, and such people might thus be prepared to give it this honour. But that is not true, for example, in South America where many males are given the name Jesus, and certainly in 1st century AD the name Jesus (Hebrew - Joshua) was very popular among Jews. It could not have been described therefore as a unique ‘Name above every Name’. It was rather a name borne by tens of thousands of people. In another context ‘the name of Jesus’ could have been seen as signifying ‘what Jesus essentially is’, but in this context a specific Name is required (the Name above every Name). Another possibility might have been the Name Immanuel (Isaiah 7.14). But there is no reason specifically why that should be called ‘the Name above every Name, and Paul clearly expected it to be understood. Everything points to that Name being YHWH.
But what other grounds have we for thinking that ‘the Name above every Name’ is the Name of YHWH? A further reason is that the creed goes on to say that it was the Name at which ‘every knee would bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD to the glory of God the Father’. This is partly a citation from Isaiah 45.22-24 where the words were specifically spoken of YHWH. It was YHWH to Whom every knee would bow, and every tongue would swear. Thus Jesus Christ is here seen as receiving the honour due to YHWH in the very way described in the prophets.
The third reason is because it is specifically stated in verse 11 that Jesus Christ is to be confessed as ‘LORD’. Now ‘LORD’ was the Greek word which was used to translate the Hebrew name YHWH in the Greek Old Testament, and was thus the Name of God. Thus, combined with the fact that YHWH was to the Jews unquestionably ‘the Name above every Name’, the Name which must never be pronounced (which was why LXX used ‘Lord’), there can really be no doubt that this was the Name to be given to Jesus. This is confirmed by verses such as 1 Corinthians 8.6, where we read ‘for us there is One GOD, the Father --- and One LORD, Jesus Christ --’. Here Paul basically equates the God, the Father and our Lord, Jesus Christ, for to the Greeks ‘one LORD’ would undoubtedly have indicated divinity just as ‘one GOD’ did (1 Corinthians 8.5), while, as we have seen, to the Jew ‘LORD’ in a divine context indicated the Name of YHWH. It is a reminder that when Jesus is called LORD in a context with the divine in mind it signifies that He is YHWH just as the Father is God and YHWH.
This fact is further confirmed by the fact that in Isaiah 45.21 we read, ‘Was it not I, YHWH? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour, there is none besides me.’ There YHWH is described as the only Saviour. It is thus all the more significant that Jesus is regularly spoken of as the Saviour, and even as ‘God and Saviour’ (Titus 2.14; 2 Peter 1.1), and we should further note how in Titus 2.10-3.7 ‘God our Saviour’ and ‘Jesus Christ our Saviour’ are spoken of intermittently in parallel terms. Note also how in 1 Timothy 1.1 ‘God our saviour’ is paralleled with ‘Jesus Christ our hope’, both conveying the same basic idea, that they are our Saviour and our Hope for the future.
The ninth statement is ‘That in the name of Jesus every knee should bow.’ As we have seen the citation is from the Old Testament where every knee was to bow to YHWH the Saviour. So the clear thought is that Jesus will receive the honour due to YHWH, and that YHWH is ‘the name of Jesus’ given to Him by God. The picture is of a suzerain lord before whom his people come to pay fealty and yield their submission (compare Revelation 5.8, 12-13). It would have a particularly encouraging significance for the Philippians if they had already had to face challenges to bow the knee to Caesar and to own him as ‘Lord’, that is, as their god. Here then was the antithesis of that, that one day their persecutors themselves would have to bow the knee to Jesus Christ and admit that it is He Who is Lord. It must have given the Philippian Christians a great sense of security.
The tenth statement is, ‘Of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth.’ The description is all inclusive. All heavenly beings, all created things on earth, and all the dead will bow the knee to Jesus, owning Him as LORD. None are excluded. It is absolute victory. ‘Things under the earth’ indicates the bodies of men which have been buried and have not yet risen.
The eleventh statement is, ‘And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD’. Here was the ultimate accolade, the confessing of Him as ‘LORD’, in other words as YHWH, the Creator and Lord of Heaven and earth. Note the description ‘Jesus Christ’ which differentiates Him from any other Jesus. This confirms that the Name above every Name was not simply the name ‘Jesus’, because that name is seen as having to be qualified. Confessing as ‘lord’ was the way in which men swore fealty to their rulers. Here that fealty is being sworn to Jesus Christ as Lord by all in Heaven above, in the earth beneath, and in the underworld below this earth where the bodies of the dead await the resurrection. He is seen as Lord of all.
The twelfth and final statement is ‘to the glory of God the Father’. This is an indication of the absolute unity of the Triune God. Jesus being given the highest honour and acclaimed as YHWH is not seen as detracting from the Father but as giving added glory to the Father as the Son is restored to the glory which He had with the Father before the world was (John 17.5). Indeed this was all a part of the eternal plan which was now in process of fulfilment, bringing increased glory to the whole Godhead. All things were being gathered together in Christ so that ultimately God might be all in all (Ephesians 1.10; 1 Corinthians 15.24-25, 28).
It also answered the question of anyone who asked, ‘if Jesus Christ was declared to be YHWH would that not detract from the glory of the Father?’ ‘Never!’ Paul replies. ‘Rather it adds to His glory.’
Having first examined what the passage tells us about the status and significance of our LORD Jesus Christ we must now consider the ideas in their wider context, for to Paul this was not just a theological statement, important though it was as that, but something into which each Christian must enter as a part of the whole church. It was reinforcing the call to all of them to humility and oneness in verses 1-4.
2.5 ‘Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,’
We may translate more literally, ‘Be thus minded (phroneite) in/among yourselves which also in Christ Jesus’. The thought here is not simply that they were to see what Jesus Christ did as an example which they were to follow, although it included that, but that they were to see it as something into which they were to actually enter by experience. This is made clear in 3.15 where Paul speaks of entering into the resurrection and suffering of Jesus Christ, and calls on them to be ‘thus minded’. This was thus a call to have the mind of Christ and as a result to set their minds so as to enter into His death and resurrection by experience, something which above all would foster oneness among them. We can compare how in Romans 8.5-6 Paul speaks of those who live according to the Spirit as having the mind of the Spirit, and adds that to have the mind of the Spirit is life and peace’, where the idea of having the mind of the Spirit is that they fully enter into the experience of the Spirit at work within them and thus let the Spirit be active through them. In consequence he could similarly say, ‘with the mind I serve the law of God’ (Romans 7.25), indicating that his mind, heart and will were continually set to do the will of God. In other words, with his mind he was committed to God’s principle of direction because he was in Christ, reckoning himself to be dead to sin but alive to God through Jesus Christ his Lord (Romans 6.11).
A further example of this can be found in Colossians 3.2-4 where Paul declared, ‘if then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds (phroneite) on things above, and not on things on the earth, for you are dead and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ Who is our life appears, than shall we also appear with Him in glory.’ Once again the thought was of entering by commitment and experience into the resurrection of Christ and its consequence, having first entered into His death. This was to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus.
Here then was the call to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him (Matthew 16.24), in such a way as to be empowered by His resurrection life, after having submitted themselves to death with Him (compare 3.10; Romans 6.3-11; Galatians 2.20), the final consequence being that they would share the glory of Christ. Indeed as Ephesians 1.19-2.10 makes clear, there was a sense in which they already shared in that glory, for in the spiritual realm (the heavenlies) they had already been raised and seated with Christ. But the assurance here was that one day it would come to full fruit in body as well as in spirit.
2.6-7 ‘Who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men,’
Thus they were to follow the pattern of, and set their minds to walk with, the One Who, although by nature God, set aside His status, refusing to hold on to it, and, setting aside all His rights, took the form and status of a slave, being made truly man. For ‘emptied Himself’ compare verse 3, ‘Doing nothing through faction or through vainglory (keno-doksia = empty glory, vanity, excessive ambition), but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself.’ The point was that they were to enter into His self-humiliation by themselves taking the same path. Note the play on keno-doksia, empty glory which men cling on to, and ekenowsen describing how He emptied Himself of His real glory for a time by taking the form of a slave and becoming man. And also the play of words in that Jesus ‘humbled’ Himself (etapeinosen) as an example which they should follow in ‘lowliness’ of mind (tapeino-phrosune in verse 3). Furthermore by doing this, instead of keno-doksia (empty glory), they would share in the glory (doksan) of the Father (verse 11).
2.8 ‘And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even to death, yes, the death of the cross.’
In the same way as Jesus had done they were to choose the way of humility, deliberately electing in their minds to be ‘crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2.20), to as it were die with Him on the cross, reckoning themselves as dead to sin. This was to be the end of all selfish ambition, of any sense of superiority, of any desire to be exalted over others. They were to die to themselves and their own ways and ideas and ambitions in order that they might become true servants of God and live only unto God, in togetherness following only His ways and desires and ambitions, something which would of course deeply affect their relationship with one another.
2.9-11 ‘Wherefore also God highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things on earth and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’
And they were intended to recognise that the consequence for them would be that just as God highly exalted Jesus, and gave Him great honour, so God would exalt them in a similar way (3.14; Ephesians 2.6). And they had the guarantee in that it had already happened to Him, and in a certain sense also to those who were ‘in Christ’ (Ephesians 2.1-6). Thus Christ was now triumphant and they could know that they too would rise with Christ and be seated with Him on His throne (3.14; Revelation 3.21; compare Revelation 2.26-27) as indeed they already had in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 2.6). The whole tenor of the passage is therefore that they are so to be caught up within the process of Christ’s saving work that with set mind they will share with Him both in His humiliation and in His glory, with only one aim, the glory of the Father.
This idea of becoming a slave resulting in final exaltation is simply an extension of the teaching of Christ Himself to the Apostles, for in Luke 22.25-30, where He exhorts them not to be like Gentile rulers who lord it over their people, but rather to seek to be the least, following His example as the One Who was among them as a servant, He goes on to promise that they will as a result sit on thrones in His Kingdom. He promises that the result for them will then be that they will receive a kingdom, resulting in their eating and drinking with Him in His kingship, and sitting on thrones ruling (judging) the twelve tribes of Israel (i.e. the people of God). This promise also had a twofold significance in that they would first enjoy this position as Apostles in Jerusalem, where they were rulers on behalf of the son of David, remembering however the injunction not to use the privilege for the purpose of lording it over others, after which they would then enjoy it in the eternal kingdom.
As A Result Of Their Participation With Christ In His Death, Resurrection And Exaltation They Are To Put Every Effort Into Together ‘Working Out’ The Salvation That God Was Working Within Them So That, As A Consequence Of Their Resulting Oneness And Unblemished Lives, They Might Be True Lights In The World, Thereby Holding Forth The Word Of Life (2.12-18).
What follows here is the fulfilment of all that has been described in 1.27-2.11. Following the injunction to ‘live as citizens of Heaven’ (1.27) Paul now seeks to constrain them, as a result of their participation in Christ’s self-emptying, death, resurrection and exaltation, to put every effort into ensuring that their salvation (which they have received as a gift from God) is being effective in their lives, knowing all the while that God is working within them to ensure that it will be so (for salvation is of the Lord). They are to put every effort into ensuring that what God is ‘working within them’ is ‘worked out’, that is, is allowed to spring up from within them and have an important impact on their lives day by day as they respond in faith.
Notice his emphasis on the fact that they are themselves to be a sacrifice and worship offering as a result of their believing response, further indicating that being sacrificed is an essential part of the passage, as we have already seen. He has in mind also what he has already said about the conflict that they are facing in the world which might even lead to martyrdom (1.29-30).
We should note that they are to do this together. They are not to be one man bands, but to assist each other as they go forward with Him, although necessarily each is responsible for his own final response. It is therefore not necessary to ask, is this to be seen as for each individual or for the whole? The answer is that it is for both. For the whole is made up of individuals, each of whom is responsible for their own response, while also having responsibility for the whole. And it is as one together that they are to go forward with Him. His desire was that as a whole they would go forward as ‘children of God’ (verse 15), revealing what they are by being without blemish and free from the entanglements of the world (1 John 2.15-16), thus being ‘lights in the world’, and holding forth the word of life (verses 15-16). For it was only if this were true that Paul would have something to glory in, in the Day of Jesus Christ (the Day when He comes to reveal all things, and call men to account e.g. Matthew 7.22-23;10.26; 25.31-46; Romans 14.10-12; 1 Corinthians 4.5; 2 Corinthians 5.10; Revelation 20.11-15), in that it would prove that all his activity and efforts had not been in vain. And as long as this was true he was ready, yes, eager, to be poured out as a libation on the sacrifice of themselves that they were offering (see 1 Corinthians 12.1-2), as they offered themselves to God by faith for whatever He had in store for them, rejoicing with them in the privilege that they were both enjoying. 2.12 ‘So then, my beloved, even as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,’
The words ‘my beloved’ soften Paul’s injunction from being a harsh command to being a loving requirement. It is a reminder that people are far more likely to respond if they are convinced that we genuinely care, and only seek their good, as Paul did. But there is no softening of the requirements. Just as Jesus was obedient to the Father ‘even unto death’ (verse 8), so were they to be obedient in the working out of their salvation ‘with greatest care’ (fear and trembling lest they come short, compare 2 Corinthians 7.15). The injunction was even more important because Paul was now absent from them. While he was present with them he was able to oversee their obedience, but now that he was absent from them they were, humanly speaking, ‘on their own’. Thus it was all the more urgent that together they urged each other on, and so set their minds (verse 5) on their participation in the crucified and resurrected Christ that they ensured that ‘their salvation’, the salvation which was theirs from God through Him, was fully effective in them and through them.
Having once committed himself to the way ahead, Jesus had Himself ‘worked out’ His vindication through obedience, suffering, death and resurrection, and they were to do the same. He Who knew no sin but was ‘made sin’ (2 Corinthians 5.21) had fulfilled His work of salvation and had borne the sins of others in the way described above (no one who knew Paul’s teaching would fail to understand the import of the words). Now they were to lay their sins on Him, partaking in His sacrifice by faith (verse 17) and ensuring also that the resurrection life of Christ was lived out through them (3.10; Romans 6.3-11; Galatians 2.20). They were to ‘continue working out their salvation.’ And they were to do it with greatest care, remembering that they had to give account. It was not that they had to save themselves, but that they were to benefit by the salvation that God had given them in Christ, which was therefore now their own, by ensuring that it was allowed to ‘work out’ through them. Compare how women were to ‘be saved’, that is were to work out their salvation, by bringing up children while continuing in faith and love and sanctification with sobriety (2 Timothy 2.15).
‘With fear and trembling.’ That is fearful lest they fall short in any way and thus hinder the work that God is doing (compare Hebrews 12.15, 25). It is a reminder that ‘it is a fearful thing to fall onto the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10.31). In the Greek Old Testament (LXX) ‘fear and trembling signifies awe and concern in the face of God’s activity (see Exodus 15.16; Isaiah 19.16; Psalm 2.11). The fact of our confidence and boldness in our approach towards God (Ephesians 3.12; Hebrews 10.19) must not take away from our recognition that we are dealing with a holy God. But the ‘fear and trembling’ is not so much on the individual’s behalf, although it is also that, as on behalf of the whole church, being as concerned for the things of others (verse 4) as they are for their own salvation in the light of what God is. They are to watch for each other with greatest care as in the presence of God, as those who must give account (Hebrews 13.17), for they are involved in the working out of God’s eternal purpose (verse 13). The salvation of God’s people (including themselves) is to be their all absorbing interest and their great concern (compare 2 Corinthians 7.15). In Ephesians 6.5 it is paralleled by ‘singleness of heart’.
‘But now much more in my absence.’ While he was hoping to be with them shortly (verse 24), he knew that it could not be guaranteed. He was not absolutely sure which way his trial would go (1.20, 22). Thus they were not to allow his absence to prevent them from going forward ‘full steam ahead’ with Christ. (It would have been so easy to put the brakes on). He wants them to stand firm and go forward whatever the circumstances, for it is God’s work and not his.
2.13 ‘For it is God who works within you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure.’
And they are not to think that they are on their own in this. This verse is crucial to the whole injunction (the separation of the verses must not be allowed to disguise that fact). Had Paul stopped short with verse 12 we might well have been left in fear and trembling, but he now assures them that the enabling and power for what he has required from them will come from God. It is God Who is working powerfully within them both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Nothing therefore can in the end prevent it. Once again we are reminded that while God is sovereign in His activity we are called on to put every effort into ensuring that it is successful.
‘It is God.’ There is no mention here of the Holy Spirit (although see 1.27; 2.1). But that does not mean that we are to exclude His working. Indeed in all the Spirit’s activity the Father and Son are ever present. It is the Father and the Son Who indwell us when we become Christians (John 14.23) and that in the context of the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 14.26). Note the ‘we’ which make the multiple presence quite clear. And when Jesus promised the coming of the Paraklete (Comforter, Strengthener, Helper - John 14.16-17), He also promised ‘I will come to you’ (John 14.18). When we are strengthened with power by His Spirit in the inner man, it is Christ Who dwells in our hearts by faith (Ephesians 3.16-17). Thus we are indwelt by the Triune God. And it is as we have within us the mind of Christ, that the experience of Christ in His death and resurrection becomes ours (2.5-11).
‘Who works within you.’ The word used here is regularly used by Paul to signify the effective power and working of God. It is God Who ‘works all things according to the counsel of His own will’ (Ephesians 1.11), Who is at work within them. It was the effective working of His power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead (Ephesians 1.20), that also raised ‘us’ up when we were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians (2.1), and it is the same power which is still available to us through prayer (Ephesians 1.19; 3.20). Thus it is a working that is both effective and irresistible, and yet to some extent very much requires our response.
‘For His good pleasure.’ Some see this as meaning ‘in fulfilment of His benevolent purpose’. Others see it as indicating bringing about in them what pleases him. Both are, of course, true. For He works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1.11), and it is His will that we should do what pleases Him.
Note the twofold ‘to will and to work’. The inner motivation and the actual outworking will result from this powerful activity of God. He will be the mainspring of their willing and working, and that is why they are to take the greatest care to ensure that they do not hinder the process in any way, either as individuals or as a church. He then goes on the demonstrate how this is to be ‘worked out’.
This contrast of ‘working out’ what God has ‘worked in’ is common in Paul. He knew very well the distinction between Christians being ‘sanctified’ (1 Corinthians 1.2) and yet being lacking in holiness (as the Corinthians clearly were), and those who were both sanctified and holy. Thus he regularly urged Christians to ‘become what you are’ (see for example Romans 6.2-6; 8.1-11; Ephesians 4.20-24; Colossians 2.20; 3.1-4, 9-10), and it is significant that having told Christians that they had died with Christ (Romans 6.2-7; Galatians 2.20; 5.34), he then called on them to start putting themselves to death (Romans 8.13; Colossians 3.5). But he was nevertheless confident that God would by His inward working finally ensure that His true people did become holy. For in the end, ‘if you live according to your sinful nature you will die, but if you through the Spirit do put to death the misdeeds of the body you will live’ (Romans 8.12-13). Thus he could say to the weak and failing Corinthians, ‘Who will confirm you to the end that you may be unreproveable in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’. And he based this on the fact of the faithfulness of the God Who had called them, ‘He is faithful Who promised’ (1 Corinthians 1.8-9. For he was confident that ‘He who had begun a good work in them would bring it to completion until the Day of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 1.6). In the same way the writer to the Hebrews confirms that ‘whom the Lord loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. -- If you be without chastening, of which all are partakers, then are you illegitimate children and not sons.’ (Hebrews 12.6, 8). Indeed Jesus Himself made clear that in the end ‘by their fruits you will know them’, which is the constant message of the New Testament (Matthew 12.33-37; Luke 6.43-45; 1 Corinthians 6.9-11; Galatians 5.20-22; Hebrews 10.39). The wise man who built his house on the rock heard His words and DID them (Matthew 7.24-25). Salvation is invalid that does not result in obedience.
2.14-15 ‘Do all things without murmurings and questionings, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you are seen as lights in the world,’
And part of the working out of this salvation would be that it would result in unity among themselves, so that all murmuring and questioning was done away. This is not so much referring to questioning the truth about things, but to the questioning of other people’s faith, purposes and motives. We could translate as ‘disputes and quarrels’. Here we get back to what has up to now been a theme of the letter, the desire for them to walk in unity and love (1.9, 27; 2.1-4; compare 4.2), and it will be brought about by their fulfilling the injunctions of 2.5 and 2.12.
The importance of this unity and love comes out in that this is to form a large part of their presenting a blameless front to the world at which no finger can be pointed. The word rendered blameless was used in LXX in Genesis 17.1. where Abraham was commanded to be blameless, and of Job in Job 1.1, 8; 2.3 where we learn that Job was a blameless man, even in God’s eyes. Both lived their lives by faith with a view to pleasing God (Genesis 15.6; Job 1.1; 13.15; Hebrews 11.8-10). Furthermore they were to be ‘harmless’. In other words they must be make clearly apparent that they are not ‘causers of harm’ (are harmless as doves - Matthew 10.16), and that they are truly children of God undeserving of rebuke, before a world outside which is both crooked and perverse. Indeed it will make them lights in the world as they shine out before their fellow-men (compare Matthew 5.16; John 8.12). The word rendered harmless can also mean ‘undiluted’, containing the thought that they are to be pure through and through.
‘Without blemish.’ Comparison with verse 18 may suggest that here Paul has in mind the unblemished lamb which was offered for sacrifice (1 Peter 1.19), with the thought that even though they are lights in the world, it will not prevent their being offered up as a sacrifice to God by their persecutors. It was precisely the unblemished lamb that was offered up. Being without blemish was also God’s aim in choosing them out for Himself (Ephesians 1.4), and it was as those who were without blemish that they would be presented to Christ as His bride-wife (Ephesians 5.25-27).
In contrast the unbelievers are ‘crooked (not straight, unscrupulous, dishonest) and perverse (depraved)’. Their lives are questionable at every point, even when they appear to be doing good. And this includes the Jews who have rejected Christ and have therefore been cut out of Israel, being replaced by Gentile converts (Romans 11.17-28).
The combination of the ideas ‘children of God -- blameless -- without blemish -- crooked and perverse generation’ may suggest that Paul has Deuteronomy 32.5 in mind. ‘They have dealt corruptly with Him, they are not His children because of their blemish, a perverse and crooked generation’. Thus the Philippians are to demonstrate that they themselves ARE His children as is to be evidenced by their unblemished lives in contrast with those who demonstrate that they belong to a crooked and perverse generation. It is the church who are to be revealed as the true Israel, the true children of God
2.16 ‘Holding forth the word of life, that I may have of which to glory in the day of Christ, that I did not run in vain nor labour in vain.’
As lights in the world (the word for ‘lights’ was used of beacons) they are to ‘hold forth the word of life’. The witness is to be both practical and verbal as they offer the word of life to the world, thus like Jesus Himself becoming the light of the world (John 8.12). Elsewhere Paul calls them ‘children of light’. ‘You were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, for the fruit of light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth’ (Ephesians 5.8). They were there as lights so that those who walked in darkness might have the light of life (John 8.12). And it is of great importance to Paul for it will provide him with something in which he can glory in the Day of Jesus Christ, in order to demonstrate that he had not run in vain, or laboured in vain. He wants them to be such that he can be proud of them in that Day.
‘That I did not run in vain nor labour in vain.’ As so often Paul calls on the sporting arena to provide his illustration. His life is like a long distance race which has involved heavy training. He does not want it to have been in vain. But is it possible that Paul really thought that his running and his labouring might be in vain? In view of 1.6 and 2.13 the answer must be ‘no’ if we are considering the church as a whole, for his confidence was not in them but in God. It is thus a theoretical possibility mentioned in order to ensure that it remained theoretical. Humanly speaking it could happen and they were being urged on to ensure that it did not (although it would happen in some individuals). Divinely speaking it was not possible, except possibly for the hangers on, those whose hearts were ‘stony ground’ (Mark 4.16).
Some translate as ‘hold fast the word of life’ (paralleling ‘stand fast’ in 1.27; 4.1) but the aim of being a witness is apparent in what follows, whether they hold if forth or hold it fast..
2.17-18 ‘But also if I am offered as a libation on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all, and in the same manner do you also joy, and rejoice with me.’
In the midst of his confidence he again recognises that he may possibly never see them again if his case goes against him. And he therefore wants them to recognise that he is not dismayed at the thought of possible martyrdom. If instead of release he is to complete their sacrifice of themselves, by himself being offered up as a libation on it by the shedding of his blood (like the pouring out on it of wine as an additional offering) he will have joy and rejoice with them all, and if it does happen he wants them also to rejoice with him. There is to be no thought of gloom. He has the mind of Christ in regard to suffering, willing even for martyrdom to be his lot. To be offered up to God in martyrdom is a privilege not a trial. Thereby he will share Christ’s sufferings and also share His reign in Heaven (Revelation 20.4). It is a reminder of the solemn words in 1.28 that they are still in the midst of conflict and may be required to suffer on His behalf.
‘On the sacrifice and service of your faith.’ These words demonstrate the truth of what we have seen before, that they are to be seen as offered up as a sacrifice along with Christ. Their responsive faith to Him has involved them in sacrifice and priestly service, as they offer themselves up to have their part in His sacrificial death. It was hinted at in verse 1a, was made clear in verses 5-8 and was emphasised in their need to be ‘without blemish’. While sacrifice is not specifically mentioned in verses 5-8 a voluntary obedience to death could indicate nothing else. He was the willing sacrifice on behalf of many (Mark 10.45; Hebrews 10.5-10). So having called on them to share the mind of Christ in this regard, Paul is willing to put the final seal on their sacrifice by himself being offered as a libation. He recognised that unless the corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone, but if it die it brings forth much fruit (John 12.24).
Paul Now Gives Two Examples Of Men Who, Like Himself, Have The Mind That Is In Christ Jesus (2.19-3.1).
Having expressed his own willingness to be ‘poured out as a libation’ in the furtherance of the salvation and blessing of the Philippians, thus demonstrating that he was willing to fulfil the injunction to have the mind that was in Christ Jesus, Paul now gives two examples of fellow-workers who also readily tread that way, the first being Timothy, who is the example of the true servant, and the second is Epaphroditus, who is the example of someone who was willing to hazard his life for the Gospel, thus walking in the shadow of Jesus Christ. Timothy is mentioned first because he wants them to recognise that he is seriously concerned to put right anything that is wrong in the church, but meanwhile he is sending Epaphroditus with his letter so as to prepare the way for Timothy. But he clearly see Epaphroditus as unable to fulfil the task that he will expect of Timothy, possibly both because he lacked the specific gifts needed, and because he would not carry Timothy’s authority as one of Paul’s lieutenants.
The delicacy of Paul’s writing style comes out in the introduction of this theme here. Having given a deep theological exposition he now wishes, as it were, to take his foot off the theological pedal for a while and provide two simple but effective illustrations which will illuminate what he has said, after which he will go into a second deep theological exposition, which will parallel the first.
The section is, however, important in that it demonstrates Paul’s practical concern for the Philippians, and provides two of the reasons for the writing of the letter, the return of Epaphroditus to Philippi and Paul’s desire to discover how they are faring.
The Promise To Send Timothy, A Prime Example Of A True Servant (2.19-23).
Paul’s first example is of Timothy, the true servant, who is like-minded to Paul (or to Jesus Christ), in contrast with those who seek their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ. He is sending him in order to underpin the Philippian’s spiritual state (‘who will truly care for your state’), and so that he can learn how they are going on (‘that I also may be of good comfort, when I know of your state’). He is seemingly not expecting Epaphroditus to return.
Note how in ‘a’ he hopes to send Timothy, and in the parallel he is sending him to them forthwith. In ‘b’ he is depicted as likeminded with Paul and a true carer, and in the parallel he is to Paul like a son who serves his father in the furtherance of the Gospel. Centrally in ‘c’ this is in contrast with those who seek their own things rather than the things of Jesus Christ.
2.19 ‘But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be of good comfort (literally ‘well in soul’), when I know your state (literally ‘having known the things concerning you’).’
Paul was aware of how circumstances at that time were constantly changing, and speaks therefore rather of a ‘hope’ than a certainty, for it would depend on the intention of the Lord Jesus (‘I hope in the Lord Jesus’; compare 1 Corinthians 4.19, ‘I will come to you shortly if the Lord wills’). It reveals his uncertainty about what was coming next. Nevertheless he is intent on sending Timothy if at all possible because he is concerned to know their spiritual state, so that he will be comforted (made well in soul). As he sat in prison, Paul still had on him ‘the care of all the churches’, and at that time his great concern was for Philippi because he had learned of the disagreements among them, partly as a result of strong personalities in the church (4.2) (compare Diotrephes in 3 John 1.9). .
2.20 ‘For I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your state.’
His reason for sending Timothy was because, of all whom he had available to him at that time, Timothy was the one whom he considered to be nearest to his own mind and soul (isopsuchos - ‘with the same soul’, and therefore sharing his concerns), one who had the same caring heart as he had, and the ability to be a good watcher over their souls. He was the example of a true servant.
Note the play on words between ‘well in soul’ (eupsuchos) in verse 19, and ‘like-souled’ (iso-psuchos) here. Both were rare words expressing the very depths of their inner being.
2.21 ‘For they all seek their own, not the things of Jesus Christ.’
That this phrase is not to be applied too widely comes out in what he goes on to say about Epaphroditus, nevertheless it reveals a sad state of affairs in that it brings out that there were few who were with him at that time whom he could really trust as being wholly concerned with ‘the things of Jesus Christ’. We can compare ‘Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world’ (2 Timothy 4.9), indicating not total backsliding, but a mind that placed the things of this world before the things of God. It may well be that Paul had sounded out one or two possible candidates and had been rebuffed by them because they were ‘too busy’. (The choice was probably not wide as the lack of mention in the closing salutations suggests that Paul had none of his faithful lieutenants with him). Sadly it is a description of the state of the majority of church members today. While they are not totally unconcerned about the Gospel and the spiritual state of people, it is by no means their primary concern. Other things take precedence. They are busy about ‘their own things’. This is in total contrast to the One described in 2.6-11 Whose sole concern was to please His Father, and also in contrast to Timothy.
2.22 ‘But you know the proof of him, that, as a child serves a father, so he served with me in furtherance of the gospel.’
He is aware that the Philippians were already acquainted with Timothy, for Timothy had been with him on his first visit to them, so he reminds them that they themselves had sufficient evidence of the way in which he had been like a faithful son to Paul, serving with him in the furtherance of the Gospel. The verb ‘serving’ (edoulesen) connects back to the One Who took on Himself the form of a ‘doulos’ (servant). The noun ‘proof’ (dokime) indicates that he has ‘stood the test’.
This not an attempt by Paul to make Timothy acceptable to them, but simply an assurance confirming his adequacy in every way for the task. Paul has every confidence that he is up to the job, which was no easy one. It behoves us all to ensure that we are like Timothy.
2.23 ‘Him therefore I hope to send forthwith, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.’
And it was because Timothy was in every way trustworthy that he hoped to send him in the near future, as soon as he knew how his own legal case would go, at which point Timothy would be able to tell them the result of the trial.
Meanwhile Paul Himself Trusts That He Will Shortly Be Able To Be With Them As Well (2.24)
As will be apparent from our initial analysis of the whole letter there are good grounds for considering that this statement is the pivot around which the letter is based, the expectancy that he has to be with them personally. This suggests that, at least temporarily, he had shelved his idea of going to Spain (Romans 15.24, 28). ‘In the Lord’, however, makes clear that he recognises that all is subject to the Lord’s will, especially as he knows that his case can go either way.
2.24 ‘And I trust in the Lord that I myself also will come shortly.’
The mention of ‘trust’ (being quietly confident) indicates Paul’s uncertainty. He hopes to be with them, but is not certain of how his trial will go. Nevertheless he is pretty confident that he will soon be able to follow Timothy in his visit to them.
Meanwhile He Is Sending His Letter With Epaphroditus Their Fellow-Countrymen Who Has Been Close To Death ‘For The Work Of Christ’ (2.25-30).
Epaphroditus is pictured as having the mind of Christ Jesus in that having served Paul faithfully in his imprisonment for Jesus Christ, he followed in the way of the cross by hazarding his life for the work of Christ. He was another example of the true followers of the Servant King in accordance with what was depicted in 2.6-11.
He had been sent to Paul with a gift from the Philippians (see 4.18), probably with the intention that he remain with Paul as his helper, but he had eventually become seriously ill, and news of his illness appears to have reached Philippi, something which troubled Epaphroditus greatly when he heard about it, because of his love for them. Indeed his illness turned out to be so serious that it was nearly fatal, and appears to have been caused because of his service for Paul. But Paul expresses his gratitude that God had mercy on him so that Epaphroditus did not die, thus sparing Paul from great distress. He appears to have served Paul faithfully. Now, however, Paul intended to send him back to the Philippians and took the opportunity to write them this letter, seemingly partly in order to vindicate Epaphroditus’ return. This would appear to have been one of the main reasons for the letter. We do not know the nature of Epaphroditus’ illness, but it would appear to have been directly connected with his service for Paul, for Paul speaks of him as suffering ‘for the work of Christ’. Analysis.
Note that in ‘a’ he intended to send Epaphroditus, a fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, who had been their messenger and minister for his need, and in the parallel called on them to receive him because he had served Paul (fellow-servant) at the risk of his life (fellow-soldier) supplying their lack of service towards him. In ‘b’ he expresses their concern for Epaphroditus, and in the parallel he pictures them as rejoicing at the sight of him. Centrally in ‘c’ he expresses his gratitude at God’s mercy in sparing Epaphroditus.
2.25 ‘But I counted it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow-worker and fellow-soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,’
Paul stresses that his sending of Epaphroditus was ‘of necessity’. These words may have been put in lest they got the idea that Epaphroditus had let the side down by leaving Paul in the lurch (note how he builds Epaphroditus up and stresses the reason for his being sent), or may have been simply because he felt it necessary to send Epaphroditus in person in order to allay their fears. Combined with this may have been the necessity arising from the fact that 1). until he could release Timothy he had no other reliable messenger, 2). there was a necessity arising from the dissensions that had arisen in Philippi (4.2) and 3). there was a necessity to advise them in respect of the false teachers that had come among them, or were expected to come among them (3.2, 18-19).
We should note that the name Epaphroditus was a common one around that time, possibly connecting his family with the one-time worship of Aphrodite. It abbreviates to Epaphras, but it was common enough for us not necessarily to connect him with the Epaphras in Colossians 1.7; 4.12; Philemon 1.23.
Paul provides a fourfold description of him. Firstly he was ‘my brother’, a term of affection and endearment, demonstrating the close relationship that he had with Paul. Secondly he was a fellow-worker, that is, he had faithfully served with Paul in the trying and dangerous circumstances of his activities in his prison in Rome. Thirdly he was a fellow-soldier, because he had bravely faced up to danger and even the possibility of death for Paul’s sake. And fourthly he had been their messenger (apostolos; compare 2 Corinthians 8.23) and minister (leitourgos - one commissioned to serve, minister in religious matters, great benefactor) in the meeting of Paul’s need. He had been a true follower of the Servant King.
2.26 ‘Since he longed after you all, and was sorely troubled, because you had heard that he was sick,’
But he was also a man who loved his fellow-Christians in Philippi, and had been deeply troubled that they had heard about his serious illness, so much so that his heart had reached out to them in longing, and he wanted them to know that all was well.
2.27 ‘For indeed he was sick, nigh to death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only, but on me also, that I might not have sorrow upon sorrow.’
Paul stresses that Epaphroditus had genuinely been seriously ill. Indeed his illness had been so serious that it had nearly proved fatal. But God’s mercy had been such that he had recovered, and Paul stresses that that mercy had not only benefited Epaphroditus, but had also benefited Paul himself who would otherwise have had another burden of sorrow added to the trials that he was already facing. Paul’s contentedness with his lot did not mean that he did not feel deeply the sorrows with which he was burdened. Contentedness, confidence and sorrow can go hand in hand.
We are given no indication of what the illness was or what caused it. It may have been an illness contracted on the way to Paul which he refused to allow to hinder his fulfilling his commission to take the Philippians’ gift to Paul. Or it may have been something contracted in Rome as a result of his service for Paul, possibly the dreaded Roman fever. There was much disease in Rome, and he may have contracted it as he moved around on Paul’s behalf among poverty stricken Christians, or even among Christians in filthy prisons (not all were Roman citizens enjoying immunity from bad treatment). Or it may have resulted from he himself being arrested, imprisoned in bad conditions, and examined by the Roman authorities as a possible criminal because of his obvious sympathy with Paul’s aims. While the authorities left it to friends to see to the wellbeing of prisoners, it could always be dangerous to be associated with them, especially for men. (It may well have been because he could not stand the pressure involved in being with Paul that Demas had gone to Thessalonica to save his own skin, in total contrast to Epaphroditus). This may well have been part of the reason why it was such a necessity for him to return to Philippi, in that he had become a marked man who was being kept under observation, something which might well have put other visitors in danger.
There is an indication here that the healing of disease was by this time no longer looked on as a foregone conclusion, even with a man like Paul present. The days when the Apostles healed instantly all who were sick were seemingly past. It is true that healing did in fact take place in the end, but it was clearly recognised that it might not have done.
There is an interesting contrast between this verse and 1.21, ‘to me to live is Christ, to die is gain’. If the latter is true, how then was it in God’s mercy to keep Epaphroditus alive? Would it not have been more merciful for him to go immediately to be with the Lord? The answer may lie in the fact that, as with Paul and other fellow-workers, Epaphroditus’ continuance in this life was seen as important for the churches, and for Paul. Alternatively it might simply be seen as a natural reaction against premature death when it was not by martyrdom (where clear testimony could be given). Nothing was gained by dying of disease.
2.28 ‘I have sent him therefore the more diligently, that, when you see him again, you may rejoice, and that I may be the less sorrowful.’
It would appear that Paul’s fatherly heart had also been burdened because he had shared Epaphroditus’ burden (verse 26), and because of the grief of the Philippians, so that he was eager to send Epaphroditus personally in order that they could see for themselves that he was now well again, in order that they might thus be filled with rejoicing. It was constantly his desire that Christians should have cause to be joyful (something deeper and longer lasting than happiness) as part of their testimony.
2.29-30 ‘Receive him therefore in the Lord with all joy, and hold such in honour, because for the work of Christ he came nigh to death, hazarding his life to supply that which was lacking in your service toward me.’
So he calls on the Philippian church to receive Epaphroditus joyfully ‘in the Lord’ (i.e. because he is a true servant of the Lord, or because they are all one in the Lord), and hold him in honour on the grounds that, far from being a quitter, he had had a near death experience, willingly gambling his life his life for the work of Christ, in order that he might provide the service to Paul that they were unable to offer. It is doubtful if ‘lacking in your service towards me’ directly refers simply to their giving, for that was indeed a service that they had provided through Epaphroditus. It is far more likely that he is referring to the service that Epaphroditus had performed for him once he was in Rome, something which necessarily those who were far away could not provide however much they may have wished to do so.
3.1a ‘And so, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.’
This may be seen as closing off this passage with a final exhortation to rejoice, and as linking back to ‘receive him in the Lord’, conveying the same idea of them all being ‘in the Lord’ together, especially in their joint rejoicing (2.28, 29). It clearly also echoes Paul’s constant calls for joy, now stressing that such joy must be ‘in the Lord’. Compare how he ended the section 1.27-2.18 with a similar injunction to joy.
The words translated ‘finally’ by many versions (to loipon) are equally used in koine Greek to conclude a passage with the significance ‘and so’. Here it is a fitting conclusion to a passage where joy is emphasised (2.28, 29). These words therefore satisfactorily conclude his words about Epaphroditus, while also leading into the new subject that he is about to bring up.
3.1b ‘To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not irksome, but for you it is safe.’
There is a good deal of disagreement as to what this phrase refers to. The main difficulty is as to the meaning of ‘the same things’. Some see it having in mind his exhortation to ‘rejoice’ in 3.1a and as referring back to the constant call on the Philippians to rejoice and be joyful (1.25; 2.18, 28, 29; 3.1a). On this view he has clearly been seeking to lift their spirits and fix their eyes on the Lord and on the Gospel, which are their grounds of rejoicing, and lest they feel that he is overdoing the call to rejoice he is now stressing that it is not a bother to him, but is safe for them, for as Jesus Christ Himself had taught, joy is the antidote to facing testing and trial and bad news (compare Matthew 5.12; James 1.2). He knows that if they maintain their joy in the Lord they will be able to withstand great pressures, and will not themselves get depressed.
Others see it as having in mind something previously taught to them, either when Paul was with them, or by letter or emissary, to do with the subject that follows, with ‘the same things’ referring to the warning concerning false teachers, and the counter to their ideas.
The Philippians Are To Recognise That The Way Of Salvation Is Not To Be Found Through Striving To Keep The Law, But Through Oneness With Christ In His Death, Resurrection and Exaltation (3.1b-21).
In 2.5-23 the Philippians have been told to ‘work out their salvation’ (2.12) by having the mind of Christ and partaking with Him of His self-emptying, His obedience unto death, and in His resurrection and exaltation (2.5-11) while recognising that success will be the result of the fact that it is God Who is at work within them to will and do of His good pleasure (2.13). Now they are warned against any attempt to achieve that salvation by self effort, something illustrated by Paul from his own experience, and the passage concludes with the idea that he had chosen the way of suffering loss, and of partaking in Christ’s death and resurrection because there was no other way of sharing in His exaltation.
We may divide the passage into two parts, the first countering the ideas of the Judaisers (verses 2-9), and the second emphasising participation with Christ (verses 10-21).
A Warning To Beware Of The Judaisers, Who Taught That Salvation Was Through the Works Of The Law, Is Backed Up From Paul’s Experience In Which He had Discovered That All Such Efforts Were In Vain (3.2-9).
The passage appears to commence abruptly because Paul moves into his subject without preparation. But we may see this as an intentional way of shocking them into taking notice. In it he warns them against the Jews/Judaisers in no uncertain terms. Having rejected their Messiah they have become dogs of Gentiles, doers of evil, and mutilators of the flesh, their ‘circumcision’ now having become a meaningless mutilation in view of the coming of Christ. For in Christ the true circumcision are the true church of Jesus Christ, and circumcision is that of the heart (Romans 2.29; compare Leviticus 26.41; Deuteronomy 10.16; Jeremiah 4.4). It was the old Israel’s failure to be circumcised in heart that had resulted in their rejection. This recognition that the church are the true continuation of the Israel of old (they ‘are Israel’) is found constantly throughout the New Testament.
Jesus Himself likened His followers to ‘branches of the true Vine’ (John 15.1-6) and explained that in the face of His opponents’ intransigence, ‘the Kingly Rule of God will be taken away from you (the unbelieving Jews), and will be given to a nation producing its fruits’ (Matthew 21.43). In Matthew 16.18 He had confirmed the building of the new congregation of Israel on Peter’s statement of His Messiahship. Acts 1-12 clearly demonstrates the foundation of that true Israel and in Acts 4.25-27 the Gentile peoples of Psalm 2 have become the cast off people of Israel, confirming that the latter were no longer to be seen as Israel. That Gentile proselytes were then grafted in (Acts 10-11) is seen to be the work of God (compare Romans 11.17-28), which consequently led to the great debate as to whether they should be circumcised (had they not been seen as becoming a part of the true Israel that question would never have arisen). Paul’s argument against the need for circumcision was not that they were not becoming Israel (indeed he thought that they were), but that physical circumcision has been replaced by ‘the circumcision of Christ’ (Colossians 2.11), the shadow being replaced by the reality. The gathering at Jerusalem dispensed with the need for circumcision on the basis that Scripture had prophesied the introduction of the Gentiles into Israel without any mention of circumcision (Acts 15.16-21).
When writing to the Galatians Paul informs them that they are Abraham’s seed and therefore heirs according to the promise (Galatians 3.29), for in Christ there is no distinction between Jew and Greek (Galatians 3.28), an idea further dealt with in Ephesians 2.11-22. All are now part of the true Israel (Ephesians 2.18-21). That is why in Galatians 6.16 he refers to them as ‘the Israel of God’ just as in Galatians 4.21-31 they are the new Jerusalem. All the Old Testament promises about Israel and Jerusalem will now therefore find their fulfilment in the church of Jesus Christ, for they are the true Israel. As he says here in Philippians, it is now the church who are ‘the Circumcision’ (in contrast to the Mutilators - 3.2-3). Compare also Romans 11.17-28; 9.6; 1 Peter 1.1; 2.9; James 1.1.
Paul then demonstrates the uselessness and invalidity of any hope of seeking to obtain acceptance with God by works of the Law and adherence to the now false Israel, by describing his own attempts at doing so which had proved a devastating failure. It was only when he had counted those as loss having found Christ, that he discovered what he was looking for, full salvation.
Note that in ‘a’ it is not the Jews/Judaisers whose righteousness is unacceptable who are the true circumcision, but those who truly worship God in the Spirit and glory in Christ Jesus, and do not trust in fleshly righteousness, while in the parallel Paul has found his acceptance, not by false righteousness and works of the Law, but through faith in Christ, which has provided him with true righteousness. In ‘b’ he had been such that he could have had the greatest possible confidence in his fleshly make up and activities, and in the parallel he counted them all as loss that he might gain Christ. Centrally in ‘c’ he counts as loss all that he had once prided himself in as hopefully achieving his salvation.
3.2 ‘Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the concision,’
The rapid change of subject without introduction was probably designed to wake up those who were hearing his words read out, as they were listening, and may possibly have begun to flag. It was a warning against the activities, either of the Jews, or of the Judaisers. The Jews may well have been seeking to win over the Philippian church on the grounds that Paul was a Jew, (although a little misguided), and that they were therefore bound to follow all Jewish customs, including circumcision. They probably saw the chance of making proselytes, as well as obtaining the ‘re-conversion’ of people like Lydia. The Judaisers were those who, while believing that Christ was the Messiah, still sought to bind people to the full requirements of the ritual Law, seeing them as necessary for salvation.
It is an open question whether these were Jews who did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah, or whether they were Jews who did, but still considered that all the requirements of Judaism, including physical circumcision, still had to be followed. Either way the Philippians are warned to beware of them. They are to be seen as unfit to mix with (dogs were seen as unclean by Jews), their deeds (which were the foundation of their claim righteousness) were in fact evil (not springing from true faith in God), and their circumcision was now no longer valid, but was simply a bodily mutilation. The Jewish position was to be seen as no longer valid.
We should especially note the contrast between ‘the mutilated’ in verse 2 and ‘the Circumcision’ in verse 3. The Jews are no longer the Circumcision, and thus brought within the covenant. They are rather those who have been ‘cut off’ from the true Israel (compare Romans 11.17-28). They are no longer Israel. They are the mutilated ones.
The description of them as ‘dogs’ was not as offensive then as it is today. In those days dogs tended to gather outside the walls of cities, scavenging on what they could, and were thus seen by the Jews as an apt picture of the Gentiles who were outsiders and not within the Jewish community, and ate what was unclean. It was thus descriptive rather than insulting although certainly indicating that they were despised. Its application to Jews or Judaisers here was basically an indication that they were not truly of Israel (see Romans 9.6).
3.3 ‘For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God, and glory in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.’
The position of such people is now seen as in contrast with those who make up the true Israel (‘the Circumcision’), who are detectable not by the mutilation of their flesh, but by a recognition of the fact that that they worship by the Spirit of God (rather than by dead ritual), glory in the true Messiah Jesus, and have no confidence in fleshly achievement. Such people are truly circumcised in heart. Notice Paul’s emphasis on the fact that all is of God. It is He by His Spirit Who enables their worship. Their glorying is in Him, in the person of the Messiah Jesus. They do not believe that they can become acceptable to God by fleshly achievement. It is such people who constitute the true Israel. They are people who have had the truth revealed to them by their Father in Heaven (Matthew 16.17; 11.25). They worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4.24). They acknowledge Christ Jesus as ‘LORD’ and exult in the fact (2.11; Romans 10.9; 1 Corinthians 8.6; 12.3; Ephesians 4.5). They are circumcised in heart (Romans 2.29; compare Leviticus 26.41; Deuteronomy 10.16; Jeremiah 4.4). They come to God with a broken and contrite heart and thus have their spirits and hearts revived (Isaiah 57.15; 1 John 1.7-10). They have no confidence in the satisfactory nature of their own righteousness, which they recognise as coming short of the glory of God (Romans 3.23). They are totally dependent on the grace of God.
The emphatic ‘we’ refers to the church made up of all believers, whether former Jew or former Gentile, as encapsulated in Paul and the Philippians (who were mainly former Gentiles) to whom he is writing. Their ‘boasting’ in Christ Jesus is probably to be seen as in contrast with those who boast in the works of the Law. And their lack of confidence in ‘the flesh’ has in mind both the irrelevance of physical circumcision, and of man’s efforts to make himself acceptable to God by what he does.
3.4 ‘Though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If any other man thinks to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more,’
Paul then points out that if it came to ‘works of self-righteousness’, then when he was a Jew he had had far more to rely on as making him acceptable to God than their present visitors, for he had been a Jew from his earliest days, and circumcised as such, had been of pure descent and training, and as a Pharisee had been as zealous after works of righteousness as it was possible to be. And the implication is that yet it had been insufficient. By this he is cutting the ground from underneath anyone who might suggest that they had some kind of superiority that others should follow. He had had that superiority, but it had failed him, and having come face to face with the risen Christ he had counted all his self-effort as worthless in contrast with knowing Christ, which he had discovered to be all that he needed.
3.5a ‘Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews,’
Paul now lists the things that had marked him off as ‘perfect’ in the eyes of the Jews. He had been properly circumcised at the right time, he could trace his descent backwards to prove that he was a genuine true-born Israelite (which, in spite of their best efforts, comparatively few Jews could do), he was a recognised member of the tribe of Benjamin, one of the tribes which had preserved its wholeness and identity and had remained faithful to Jerusalem all the way through, and he was brought up strictly as a Hebrew and Aramaic speaking Jew, being born of Hebrew parents. He had all the right credentials.
3.5b-6 ‘As touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless.’
Furthermore as a Pharisee he had meticulously sought to follow the Law (as interpreted by them), while his zealousness as a Jew had been proved by the way in which he had persecuted those Jews who were considered to have gone astray, the new-born church. And as regards the righteousness of the Law he had been able to tick off every box demonstrating that he had fulfilled all that was required of him by the Rabbis. No finger (apart from God’s) could have been pointed at him, because he had been found blameless (by men; compare the rich young ruler’s view of himself in Matthew 19.20, and yet he too was still dissatisfied and aware of something missing). We may see this blamelessness in the eyes of men as in contrast with his requirement of the Philippians in 2.15. They were to seek to be blameless in the eyes of God.
His persecuting of the new-born church would have been seen by his fellow-Pharisees as especially revealing his righteousness. Here was a man who was zealous for the Lord of Hosts. When Phinehas had slain the offending Israelite in Numbers 25.6-13 it had been ‘accounted to him for righteousness to all generations for evermore’ (Psalm 106 30-31). In Jewish eyes it had established him among ‘the righteous ones’. The same was true of Mattathias, the father of the Maccabees, for he too had slain an apostate Jew in the act of offering a false sacrifice, and his action had been described as being ‘Zealous for the Law’ (1 Maccabees 2.24-28). Thus Paul, in persecuting the church, had seen himself as aligning himself with the zeal of his fathers.
3.7 ‘Howbeit what things were gains to me, these have I counted loss for Christ.’
The things that he has described were the things that he had treasured and relied on. They had been his life. They had meant everything to him, and he had hoped that eventually they might result in him finding eternal life. He saw them as his great assets, his ‘gains’, assiduously built up bit by bit. But then he had faced up to Jesus Christ and had recognised their folly. From then on he had seen all his gains as simply one great loss. In the face of Jesus Christ all else fell away as dross. He had recognised that all that his actions could do before God was leave him bankrupt, and that his only hope of eternal life was through Jesus Christ (Romans 6.23). And so he had turned from all that he had treasured in the past, to Christ. He had counted his past activities to be what they were, fictitious and worthless assets. As a result of responding to Christ he had looked on them as a ‘loss’.
This language of ‘gain’ and ‘loss’ was typically Rabbinic and so would be recognised by his opponents. It was also typical of the teaching of Jesus Christ. ‘He who will save his life will lose it. He who will lose his life for My sake and the Gospel’s (by yielding all to Christ) will gain it’ (Mark 8.35; Matthew 16.25; Luke 9.24; John 12.24-25). ‘For what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his life?’ (Mark 8.36; Matthew 16.26; Luke 9.25). Paul had taken Jesus at His word. He had forfeited his whole religious world for Christ’s sake, and had thereby found eternal life.
The verb for ‘counted’ is in the perfect tense indicating something done in the past the effect of which continued to the present time. He had renounced his past once and for all.
3.8 ‘Yes truly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ,’
Yes, truly, he had counted, and now did count, all his past achievements and struggles as loss, all that he had held dear as dross, for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his LORD. And for His sake he had experienced the loss of all things, counting them as rubbish fit only for the garbage bin, in order that he might gain Christ, because he had recognised that in Christ alone all that was good could be found. Once he had Christ he needed nothing more.
‘The excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD.’ The ‘knowledge’ spoken of here is not academic knowledge (oida) but personal knowledge by experience (gnosis). He had not just learned about Christ, he had come to know Him personally in his own experience and to build on that knowledge by further experience (compare Jeremiah 31.34; Hosea 6.6) And it was something so wonderful that he could only speak of ‘excellency’. God had said, ‘let light shine out of darkness’ and He had seen the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4.6). And it was the knowledge of Him as perfect sacrifice, personal Saviour and sovereign Lord. It was true saving knowledge.
3.9 ‘And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, even that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (or ‘the faithfulness of Christ’), the righteousness which is from God by faith,’
For in Christ he has been provided with a righteousness that surpassed any righteousness that he himself had built up, a righteousness that was total and complete, the very righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5.21; 1 Corinthians 1.30; Romans 3.24-28). It was a ‘gift of righteousness’ based on Christ’s obedience (Romans 5.17, 19). He had now been robed with the robe of righteousness and covered with the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61.10). He no longer therefore sought to call on or point to his own righteousness, a righteousness precariously built up by striving to obey the Law, but trusted wholly in the righteousness that had resulted solely from believing in Jesus Christ, the righteousness provided by God through faith. And as a consequence the only thing that he desires is to be found ‘in Him’. Christ is all that he needs.
‘Through the faithfulness of Christ.’ Strictly speaking in Pauline literature pistis (faith, faithfulness) followed by a genitive always indicates the person whose pistis it is (compare e.g. Romans 3.3; 4.16). That being so we would have to translate here ‘through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ’, indicating that it is because He was obedient (2.8) that we can be covered with His righteousness (Romans 5.19). It was His faithfulness that made Him all sufficient as a satisfactory sacrifice (compare Hebrews 10.5-10). Thus we have here the idea that it was because of His faithfulness that we can have the righteousness which is from God by faith.
His Knowing Of Christ Involves Participation With Him In The Power Of His Resurrection, And Equal Participation With Him in His Sufferings, By Himself Recognising That He Has Died With Christ. And His Aim Is To Participate In The Resurrection From The Dead (3.10-21).
In The New Testament the power of Christ’s resurrection is seen as an effective transforming power. It is through that power that in Christ God will, from start to finish, bring about the whole salvation of the whole body (‘the church’) of true believers (Ephesians 1.18-2.10). It was by the power of the Spirit of holiness that Christ was raised from the dead (Romans 1.4), and it is that same Spirit Who gives us renewed life and makes us ‘new creatures’ (Romans 6.4, 8-11; 2 Corinthians 5.17; Ephesians 4.24; 1 Peter 1.3-4), united with Him in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6.5). It is through His life that we receive eternal life (Romans 6.23; 1 John 5.12-13).
And it only as a result of knowing Him and the power of His resurrection, that we can truly enter into His sufferings and death and as a result ‘attain to the resurrection from the dead’. Having experienced resurrection life (John 5.24) it is through suffering and death to ourselves that we must enter into the full experience of resurrection life, which will culminate in the final resurrection. Some see this ‘resurrection from the dead’ in verse 11 as indicating the new life that is ours once we have died with Christ and risen with Him (Romans 6.3-4; Ephesians 2.1-10). It is then seen as the ‘first resurrection’ of John 4.24. Others see it as the final resurrection as described in John 4.28-29, and described here in verse 21. Whichever be the case both are true. Here indeed we are having the mind which is in Christ Jesus (2.5)
Note that in ‘a’ his aim is to know the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common with him of His sufferings, and in the parallel the body of our humiliation will be fashioned to be like unto the body of His glory by His sovereign power. In ‘b’ his aim is to attain to the resurrection from the dead, and in the parallel our citizenship is in Heaven from where we await our Lord Jesus Christ. In ‘c’ he is aware that he is not perfect, but presses on towards the goal, while in the parallel others fall short and their destiny is perdition. In ‘d’ he describes his intention to press on towards the goal of the prize of the high calling of God, and in the parallel he calls on others to follow his example. Centrally in ‘e’ he calls for all to be ‘thus minded’.
3.10 ‘To know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the sharing in common of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death,’
In these words Paul’s whole desire is summed up, to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. In other words he wants to have the mind of Christ (2.5) more and more in such a way as to be a continual partaker with Him of what He Himself experienced, recognising that by setting his mind in this way he will continually experience the effective power of God (2.6-11), in the same way as having the mind of the Spirit goes along with having the work of the Spirit within. This is ‘knowing Christ’ in the ultimate way, by entering in to all that He has provided and made possible. It is walking in intimate fellowship with Him. It is growing in the knowledge of the love of Christ which passes all knowledge (Ephesians 3.19). And it is recognising and desiring more and more of the power that was revealed in His resurrection so that it might be effective through him (Galatians 2.20). This is the power that has made him alive when he was dead in trespasses and sins and a child of disobedience (Ephesians 2.1-4). It is the power that has given him newness of life (Romans 6.4). It is the power that seeks constantly to maintain possession of his life so that he might live fully for Christ and enjoy all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3.14-12). It is the power of the resurrection. And he wants more and more of it as he comes to know Christ in a deeper and deeper way.
But it is power that comes with a cost, for it involves sharing with Him in His sufferings and being conformed to His death. From now on he must see himself as crucified with Christ, so that he no longer lives but Christ lives through him (Galatians 2.20; Ephesians 3.15-18; John 14.23). He must reckon himself as dead to sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ his LORD (Romans 6.11). He must put off the old man and put on the new, which is created in the likeness of God, in righteousness and holiness of truth (Ephesians 4.22-24; Colossians 3.10). He must be ready to ‘fill up that which is behind in the sufferings of Christ’ (Colossians 1.24), not a lack in sufficiency for salvation, but a requirement for the spread of the Gospel. For all who follow Christ truly, and would preach the Gospel, will in one way or another share His sufferings. It is through much tribulation that we must enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14.22; compare Hebrews 12.3-13).
‘The power of His resurrection.’ This phrase includes both the power of Christ by which He was able to raise Himself from the dead (John 10.18, compare John 2.19), the power of the Holy Spirit by which He was ‘declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead’ (Romans 1.4), and the ‘mighty power’ of ‘the God of our Lords Jesus Christ, the Father of glory’, ‘which He wrought on Christ when He raised Him from the dead’ (Ephesians 1.17-20; compare Acts 2.24, 32; 3.15; etc. 13.33, 37; 1 Corinthians 15.15). It represents the total power of the Triune God at work through the resurrection.
‘To know Him (tou gnownai).’ The article with the infinitive can indicate purpose ‘in order that I might know Him’ or consequence ‘so that I might know Him’. Others suggest that it often indicates only a loose connection with what has preceded. This last idea might be appropriate here as the previous sentence has been concentrating on the obtaining of imputed righteousness. Thus here we are entering into a new realm of ideas, the knowing of the Christ experience, which does not result from being accounted as righteous, but rather results in it. Any link back is rather then to verse 8 where he speaks of ‘the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my LORD’, but here there is an advancement of thought as he visualises entering genuinely and fully into Christ’s own experience (as detailed in 2.5-11). We may see the aorist as signifying that this knowledge is on the one hand once for all, for once having known Him He cannot be unknown, and yet is a knowledge that will expand and grow as he knows Him more and more. More and more he will experience the power of His resurrection and the sharing in common with His sufferings, being made more and more conformable to His death as the old man within slowly expires.
3.11 ‘If by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.’
‘If by any means’ indicates that Paul was ready for anything as long as it resulted in his attaining the resurrection from among the dead. He did not mind what was demanded of him as long as he achieved his goal. (He had had the same desire as a Pharisee, but had then been going about it the wrong way).
Some people are baffled by the word ‘attain’ used here because their minds think in terms of trying to achieve it by merit of some kind. But the verb does not necessarily carry this meaning. In everyday terms it meant ‘to come to’, and that is basically what Paul means here. He is not doubting whether he will in the end attain it, but is not sure of the way through which he will attain it, whether by living on or through martyrdom. He is, however, certain that he will achieve it (compare 1.6). What he is not sure of is how.
‘To the resurrection from the dead.’ If we translate literally this is ‘the out-resurrection out from among the dead’. He visualises the glory of being raised up from among the dead along with all God’s true people. That is not to deny the resurrection of all, both the righteous and the unrighteous (John 5.29; Revelation 20.12-13). It is rather to see the experience of the Christian as special. This special nature of the resurrection of God’s people is regularly brought out. When Christ comes and takes up living believers who will be transformed in the twinkling of an eye (1 Thessalonians 4.17; 1 Corinthians 15.52), it will only be after He has first resurrected believers who have died and whose bodies ‘sleep’ (1 Thessalonians 4.15-16). It is only then that the rest of the dead are raised to meet their judgment (Revelation 20.12-13 where they are called ‘the dead’). Of course we must beware of trying to fit Christ’s activity at His coming into our limited earthly ideas and time-scale. This is a moment when time and eternity meet with eternity taking over. It is pictured in many ways throughout Scripture, but the pictures must not be over-pressed. They are given in order to provide us with a vivid understanding of what He will do, but are not intended to be applied absolutely literally. By such folly men have argued for many comings and many resurrections. See for example Matthew 24.30-31, 36-41; 25.31-46; John 5.28-29; 1 Corinthians 15.20-58; 1 Thessalonians 4 13-18; 2 Peter 3.10-13; Revelation 6.12-17; 11.11-19; 14.14-20; 19.11-21; 20.11-15 all of which depict the final end.
Some see the aim here as being to attain to a spiritual resurrection in line with the dying-rising experience of a Christian so constantly spoken of in Paul e.g. Romans 6.1-11; Ephesians 2.1-6; etc. The thought then is that the out-resurrection has in mind the spiritual resurrection of believers from among those still dead in trespasses and sins as described in John 5.24; Ephesians 2.1-4. But while that experience is certainly taught in Scripture, Paul had already certainly experienced that, and while it was undoubtedly still possible for his knowledge of Christ to grow ever deeper, he already essentially possessed resurrection life. Thus the greater probability is that here he is speaking of the physical resurrection at Christ’s coming. He is moving on from the experience of spiritual resurrection in verse 10, to the future literal resurrection here, and has the expectancy of it constantly before his eyes. And this would appear to be confirmed in what follows.
If, as has been suggested, some of the false teachers against whom he warns the Philippians were saying that ‘the resurrection is past already’ (2 Timothy 2.18) because they saw it simply as a spiritual resurrection obtained through special ‘knowledge’ (gnosis), which was already theirs so that they needed no other, we can see very clearly why Paul was so emphatic on the fact that the resurrection was yet future, and was something that no one had yet attained to (apart from Jesus Christ Himself).
3.12 ‘Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect, but I press on, if indeed I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’
These words would seem to confirm the view that the final resurrection is in mind, for verse 21 describes when it is that he and all God’s true people will become perfect, and that is at the second coming of Jesus Christ. Thus while he has certainly experienced a spiritual resurrection (John 5.24; Ephesians 2.1-4), he recognises that that does not mean that he has obtained the fullness of what God has for him. He is fully aware that he has not yet obtained the resurrection from the dead, and that he is not yet ‘perfect’. There is something better that yet awaits him (compare Ephesians 5.27). And he is therefore pressing on towards that goal, so that he may lay hold on that ‘for which also I was laid hold on by Jesus Christ’. One again we have both sides of the equation (compare 2.12-13). On the one hand he is putting every effort into laying hold of resurrection life by fully following Christ, and on the other he knows that it will be his because Christ Himself has laid hold on him for that very purpose.
‘Not that I have already obtained.’ The change of verb (from ‘attain’ to ‘obtain’), together with the lack of a direct object, may well indicate that we are to look wider for what he has ‘not obtained’ than simply to the resurrection mentioned in the previous verse. Thus we may see it as referring to ‘knowing Christ in all His fullness’, which has been his declared objective (3.8-10). However, the very vagueness may indicate that both ‘knowing Christ in all His fullness’ and ‘the attaining of the resurrection’ are both to be included. Both are his final aim, and indeed are very much interconnected.
‘Or am already made perfect.’ It is generally agreed that Paul is here deliberately attacking the views of his opponents who considered that they had achieved a kind of spiritual perfection. They considered that their ‘experiences’ had signified their achievement of spiritual perfection. But Paul wants his readers to know that, whatever they have experienced, there is yet better ahead, as clearly expressed in verse 21. Salvation is of the total man, spirit, soul and body.
‘If indeed I may lay hold on that for which also I was laid hold on by Christ Jesus.’ Paul’s doubt is not as to whether he will achieve his goal, but a humble recognition that to speak of laying hold of what in fact Christ has determined to bestow on him is a little presumptious. He wants it to be clear that really the work is Christ’s and not his. He is pressing on precisely because Christ has laid hold of him and will not let him go (John 10.27-28). For the glorious truth is that his salvation is not of his achieving, but through the election, calling and direct activity of Jesus Christ.
3.13-14 ‘Brothers, I count not myself yet to have laid hold, but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.’
In contrast with the false teachers Paul does not see himself as having laid hold of the totality of salvation. But what he does see himself as having done, and as continuing to do, having put out of his mind what is in the past, ‘the things that are behind’, is to stretch forward to the things which are before. He is putting in every effort to achieve his goal. He is pressing on toward the goal, to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The language is that of the athlete in the marathon. The hard and arduous miles that have been achieved with all their pain are now put out of his mind, for he does not look back but is concentrating his effort on what lies ahead. He sees the stadium ahead in the distance. And he is putting every effort into those last few miles. For his eye is on the prize that lies before him, and that prize is the one that the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (His effectual calling) has called him to, as described in verse 21, when total salvation will have been accomplished and he will know Christ in all His fullness (we will see Him as He is - 1 John 3.2) and is presented before God, holy, unblameable and unreproveable in His sight (Colossians 1.22). But it is a future prize and not one that he has already accomplished. For the race is not yet over.
‘Forgetting the things which are behind.’ The thought is not one of total forgetfulness of what is behind. Foolish is the runner who ignores or forgets the rivals who are just behind him (many a runner has failed to qualify because he slowed down as he approached the tape). But they are to spur him on towards the finish, not act as an obstacle to the successful completion of his race. He must not be taken up by what is behind in such a way that it hinders his total commitment to winning. He must not allow the past to be a burden. He must not allow past sufferings to hinder him. He must not allow past failures to weigh on his mind (once of course they have been forgiven). On the other hand foolish is the person who does not learn from the past (including the runner), for that very memory might well enable him to stretch forward towards the finish with even greater concentration. What are to be forgotten are any of the things that might hinder his forward impetus.
Some see ‘the high calling of God’, not as looking back to the ‘high call’ to attain to higher things, but as signifying the receiving of the prize by mounting the steps to where the judges will bestow his prize. In this interpretation it signifies the receiving of the eternal glory. Both are, of course true representations of the situation, although only one can be correct as an interpretation here. On the other hand the original call of God is certainly what finally leads to the call to receive the prize, so that either view has a lesson to teach us.
3.15 ‘Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded, and if in anything you are otherwise minded, this also will God reveal to you,’
In verse 12 Paul declared that he was not already ‘perfect’ (teteleiowmai - to be finished, fully complete). But now he appears to contradict himself. For here he links himself with those who are teleios (perfect, complete, mature). This apparent contradiction arises, however, because while the verb predominantly indicates perfection, it is not always so with the nouns and adjectives from the same root. Thus the verb is used in the New Testament predominantly to indicate what is finished, what is perfect, what is wholly complete. Indeed its only other use in Paul is in 2 Corinthians 12.9 where we read, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power (strength) is made perfect in weakness’, where the idea is that God’s power takes Paul’s weakness and results in a complete solution. However, the noun teleios is regularly used to indicate maturity rather than perfection, and in Paul spiritual maturity. Jesus tells us that we are to be ‘teleios because our Father in Heaven is teleios’ (Matthew 5.48). Jesus did not expect perfection from us, but a true representation of what the Father is, a spiritual maturity which would be recognised as we demonstrated His beneficial love. A person who does not offend in his words is teleios (James 3.2), that is, he reveals his full growth and maturity. In 1 Corinthians 2.6 those who are spiritually mature (teleios) recognise true spiritual wisdom. In 1 Corinthians 14.20 we are to be mature (teleios) in understanding as adults, as opposed to having the immaturity of children. Thus Paul regularly uses the adjective to indicate those who are mature, or fully grown. Here then Paul is using a play on words to indicate that while he is not yet the finished product, he is mature and fully grown in the faith. And he calls on all who are the same (which is potentially all of them) to be ‘thus minded’, that is, to have the mindset which causes them to press on towards the goal that Paul has described, recognising that they have not yet attained to it. Note how being ‘minded’ results in positive spiritual action as in 2.5. It refers to taking up a mindset which results in participation in what the mind has been set on.
Then he warns against having any other mindset. For if anyone has a different mindset it will require God to reveal the truth to him (as He did to the disciples and to Peter - Matthew 11.2; 16.17; compare Ephesians 1.17). The false teachers would have a different mindset, even though they claimed special spiritual illumination. Thus his remark is primarily to them. If they truly claim God’s inspiration let them recognise that that inspiration would inevitably cause them to see things as Paul saw them. For all who see things differently are indicating thereby that they are not fully mature in their understanding. They are not truly illuminated.
Some see here a sideswipe at the ideas of the false teachers. If they claim to be ‘perfect’ let them reveal it by recognising the truth of what Paul has said.
3.16 ‘Only, whereunto we have attained, by that same standard let us walk.’
He then exhorts them all that, once they have attained to spiritual maturity, and see things as he does (as the Father has revealed them to him), they must ensure that they continue to walk in accordance with what they have learned. There is to be no slacking off in their spiritual efforts. Christians must be on guard at all times against a diminution in their spiritual state, which can be aided by constant Bible Study, prayer, worship and obedience to God’s known requirements.
3.17 ‘Brothers, be you imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as you have us for an example.’
Having sought to establish a proper mindset, Paul points out that a further aid in godly living is the example of mature Christians of repute, whose example they are to follow. Here Paul calls on the Philippians as a whole to be imitators of him, and to note those who walk as he walked. It is such people who should be taken as their example. Note the important twofold step towards Christian living. First the mindset must be firmly and properly established, and then it must affect the practise.
It is possibly significant that he does not point to Christ as the example, which might militate against 2.5-11 being set up simply as an example. It would be strange, if his intention in 2.5-11 had been to give an example to follow, that he did not mention it here.
They would know something of Paul’s behaviour from the time when he had been with them, and that would have been expanded on by visiting teachers and Christians, and especially by Epaphroditus. Furthermore previously in this letter he has already indicated different aspects of his walk e.g. verses 4-14. By this we are assured that what was true of Paul in 8-14, is to be equally as true of us in our walk with Christ. We must be sharers together, along with Paul, of a similar experience. We should note therefore that Paul is not calling them to a slavish imitation of himself as though he was some great one whose way of life was to be copied, but to a following of him in his wholehearted commitment to participation in Christ’s death and resurrection, and in his total dedication to single-heartedness in the Christian race, as described above.
3.18 ‘For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ,’
In contrast with Paul and his fellow-workers are those whose walk is extremely unhelpful as an example, a fact which moves the Apostle to tears. They profess to follow Christ but are in their examples and lives ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’. They are against all that the cross of Christ stands for. They do not take the ‘way of the cross, by dying with Christ and walking as He walked. Rather they choose their own road, a road of self-enjoyment and self-propagation. They do not want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, and the sharing in common with Him of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death. They want to express themselves and have people looking up to them while they benefit materially from it.
‘Enemies of the cross of Christ.’ We might ask, in what way were they enemies of the cross of Christ? In context the answer is given in verse 19, that it was by their behaviour and their aims. They rejected the call to participate in His sufferings and to reckon themselves as dead with Him to the world and all that it offers, and chose rather the pathway of self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement. Whatever their professed beliefs, they lived a crossless life.
3.19 ‘Whose end is perdition, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.’
The people in mind, who were seemingly visiting preachers (for Paul indicates no exceptions when he praises the Philippian church as a whole - 1.3-11), have their belly as their god, glory in what is shameful, and have their minds totally set on earthly things. They were the total opposite of the One Who emptied Himself, chose the way of sufferings and the cross, and Whose whole career and life were focused on heavenly things, all to the glory of God the Father (2.5-11). And for such people their destiny is not to be raised and exalted with Christ, but is eternal destruction (apoleia - perdition). They are the opposite of all that Paul has been teaching throughout the letter.
Note the contrasts:
It is possible that we are to see here an amplification and contrast with verses 2-3.
If this is so it confirms that the same people are in mind.
3.20 ‘For our citizenship is in heaven, from where also we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ,’
Paul now contrasts with the descriptions just given the viewpoint and mindset of the Christian. Rather than ‘minding earthly things’, they recognise that their citizenship is in Heaven (in contrast with being in Rome). In other words, as it has been so aptly put, ‘they are a colony of Heaven’. As representatives of Heaven, following Heaven’s laws, subject to Heaven’s justice, supported by Heaven’s power and acting on Heaven’s behalf in the area where they are (compare what was said in the introduction about a Roman ‘colony’), they await the coming of their Heavenly King, their Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. They are a ‘military camp of the saints and the beloved city’ (the heavenly Jerusalem - Galatians 4.22-31; Hebrews 12.22), surrounded by the enemy, but knowing that they have nought to fear, because their Lord and Saviour is coming to finalise their salvation and set all right (Revelation 20.9).
‘A Saviour.’ In the New Testament the title Saviour is used of God and of Jesus Christ on an equal basis. It signifies the Saviour of the Old Testament Who will deliver His people (e.g. Psalm 106.21; Isaiah 43.3, 11; 45.21; 60.16; Jeremiah 14.8; Hosea 13.4), but was also used of Caesar in an earthly sense, thus indicating that while great Caesar reigned on earth, God and the Lord Jesus Christ reign in Heaven. It is particularly apt therefore in Philippians where citizenship in Heaven is seen as being superior to that in Rome. Prior to this the word Saviour had only been used once by Paul, in Ephesians 5.23, but it would be commoner in the Pastorals (1 Timothy three times of ‘God’; 2 Timothy once of ‘Jesus Christ’; Titus six times, three of ‘God’ and three of Jesus Christ). It occurs also in Luke 1.47; 2.11; John 4.42; Acts 5.31; 13.23; 1 John 4.1; Jude 1.25; 2 Peter - 5 times).
Alternately we may see politeuma (citizenship) as signifying ‘our commonwealth (colonial rule) is in Heaven’, with the emphasis being on the source of rule. The consequence is little different. Each church on earth is still seen as an outpost or military camp under Heaven’s rule. ‘From where (which) --.’ That is from the commonwealth of Heaven.
3.21 ‘Who will fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby he is able even to subject all things to himself.’
And in that day he will take our humble and earthly body, the body of our earthliness which limits us to earth and makes us ‘lower than the angels’ (Psalm 8.4-5), and leaves us prone to sin, and will conform it to His ‘glorious’ body, as a result of the mighty working by which He is able to subdue all things to Himself. The thought includes our whole selves, not just the outward shell, and this on top of the fact that our inner man has already experienced an amazing initial spiritual transformation (Romans 6.4; 2 Corinthians 5.17). For while, if we are His, we have to some extent already enjoyed the experience of His saving power (Romans 6.4-11; Ephesians 2.1-10; Colossians 1.13), then in that Day, to a far greater extent, we will share with Him in the fullness of His glory and exaltation, wholly transformed by His mighty power (2.9-11), the power not only of His resurrection (Ephesians 1.19) but also of His sovereignty as Life-giver and LORD (2.11; 1 Corinthians 15.24-25, 28; John 5.21, 26). As so often each individual is in mind here, but as a part of the whole body of Christ (Ephesians 1.22-23 in context).
In Ephesians this transformation is pictured in terms of a wife being presented to her husband, ‘that He might present the church to Himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish’ (Ephesians 5.27). 1 Corinthians 15.42-44 puts it this way, ‘So it is with the resurrection of the dead, what is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.’ While those who are alive and remain will be changed ‘in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye’ (1 Corinthians 15.52), but in no way preceding those are ‘in Jesus’ whose bodies sleep in the grave (1 Thessalonians 4.13-17).
There is a striking contrast here in Philippians between those who will receive a body of glory in respect of which they will have no need to be ashamed because their eyes are fixed on Heaven, and those whose glory was in their shameful actions and behaviour because their eyes are fixed on earth (verse 19). It was for the reception of this great blessing that Paul had his eyes fixed on the goal, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (compare Colossians 3.1-4). And it should be there also that we should fix all our attention, looking not at the things that are seen but the things that are unseen (2 Corinthians 4.17-18). For in that day all that will matter will be what we have accomplished in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Final Words Of Admonition And Guidance (4.1-9).
Approaching the end of his letter on the glorious note found in the previous verses Paul now takes them back in 4.1 to that revelation, and also at the same time to his admonition in 1.27 to ‘stand fast in one Spirit’, although now wording the admonition as to ‘stand fast in the Lord’. Thus the urge to ‘stand fast’, and the basis on which to do so, can be seen as one underlying theme of the letter. Indeed we have been given every reason for standing fast in that way based on the power available to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The paralleling of ‘the Spirit’ with ‘the Lord’ in this way is similarly prominent also in 2 Corinthians 3.16-18, which warns us against making too separate a distinction between Their activities. Indeed Jesus Himself makes clear that we make a grave error if we distinguish the Spirit from the Lord too decisively or vice versa, for in John 14.16-17, where He promises the coming of the Holy Spirit as ‘the Helper (Paraclete)’ Jesus also promised that, ‘I will not leave you without help, I will come to you’ (John 14.18). And He then went on to point out that ‘he who loves Me will be loved of My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him’ (John 14.21), immediately adding, ‘and WE (the Father and the Son) will come to him and make our abode with him’ (John 14.23). This should cause us to recognise with joy that while the Spirit has come, and we have all been united together in one Spirit, Jesus Christ Himself is not an absent landlord. In His own words both He and the Father also dwell within us (the plurality emphasised by the ‘we’) and live through us. And in Matthew 28.20 He emphasises, ‘Lo, I am with you always’.Thus we are not only the Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3.16; 6.19), but also the temple of the Triune God. This is emphasised in 2 Corinthians 6.16-18 where we are told that we are ‘the temple of the living God, as God has said, “I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they will be by My People” --- and I will receive you and will be a Father to you, and you will be My sons and My daughters, says the Lord God Almighty.’ Thus while there are certainly personal distinctions within the Godhead, there is also a unity of action, with all acting together.
Meanwhile we should note again that, while certainly looking back to 1.27 and what follows, 4.1 also specifically connects back with 3.10-21, indicating that one reason why they can stand fast in the Lord with the utmost confidence is because they are empowered by His resurrection and are citizens of Heaven, looking for their Lord and Saviour to come visibly from Heaven to transform them beyond their dreams.
Furthermore, we may see the whole of this passage in 4.1-9 as a kind of summing up of the letter, for it very much has in mind many of the things that have been said in it. Consider, for example, the following:
With this in mind we can now consider the verses in more detail.
Analysis Of 4.1-9.
Note that in ‘a’ they are to have their attention fixed on the Lord as they stand fast in Him, while in the parallel in typical Pauline fashion they are to use Paul as a living example by which they can do this. In ‘b’ they are to be of one mind and to help each other, and in the parallel their minds are to be on all that is good, while considering one another’s praiseworthiness. In ‘c’ they are to doubly rejoice in the Lord, and in the parallel they are to rely wholly on Him, avoiding anxiety by keeping in close touch with Him. Centrally in ‘d’ they are to live remembering that that ‘the Lord is at hand’.
4.1 ‘For which reason, my brothers, beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my beloved.’
‘For which reason.’ This means, ‘Because of what I have just been saying, and because of what is in the whole of this letter --.’ Paul then follows this by stressing his deep affection for them as he puts his whole heart into calling on them to ‘stand fast in the Lord’. The affection is emphasised in a fourfold way, ‘my brothers (and sisters)’, ‘beloved and longed for’, my joy and crown’, --- ‘my beloved’. He is holding nothing back. It is quite clear that the Philippians were very close to his heart, and that he thus wanted the very best for them.
‘My brothers and sisters.’ The word adelphoi, while masculine, was inclusive of both male and female Christians. It was a term which indicated the close tie that he felt for his fellow-believers. They were united with him in one Spirit, and together with him were ‘in Christ’, made one by participation in His body (1 Corinthians 12.12-27). They were his kin in Christ (Galatians 3.28), with Jesus in His humanity as their elder brother (Hebrews 1.11-14). And as such he loved them.
‘Beloved and longed for.’ He had described them as beloved in 2.12, and had spoken of his longing to be with them once again, and for their spiritual growth, in 1.8 (compare 1.7 ‘and have you in my heart’). And it was this that moved him to pray so earnestly for their spiritual wellbeing (1.9-11). Furthermore it was a love that he wanted them also to have for each other (2.2).
‘My joy and crown.’ We must not see this as simply indicating Paul’s hope that he would receive recognition and applause for himself on the day of judgment because they were his trophies. He did not see it like that. Rather he saw them as coming with him into the Lord’s presence daily (as he lifted them up before God) as his cause for joy, and as the crown on his work for God. As he prayed they were the cause of his joy, and the crown on his prayers. For he is delighting in the fact that they are at present ‘his joy’ as he approaches the Lord, and as he enters in prayer and praise for them into the presence of the Lord, and are the crown on his ministry, the extra garnish which gives it extra taste, as they come in triumph together. And he rejoices that ‘in that Day’ he will also be able to joy in them and ‘show them off’, as they too enjoy the blessing of the Day (see 1 Thessalonians 2.19). They will be there with him as evidences of the Lord’s triumphant work (1.6; 2.13). They will be his cause for rejoicing because of the steadfastness of their faith, and they will be his crown because he sees them as coming with him into the presence of the Lord, acting as a seal on God’s activity through his ministry, adding to the glory that comes to the Lord as a result of it. They were the present proof that he had indeed not run in vain, and were the guarantee of the genuineness of God’s work through him. And in the future when he came before God’s judgment seat he would joy in them and as it were ‘wear’ them (by their presence along with him) as a token of the Lord’s victory through him, so that God might be glorified, and they might all be blessed.
‘My beloved.’ Note the twice repeated beloved. He yearns for them to recognise the love that he has for them.
And because of his love for them he wants them to ‘stand fast in the Lord.’ ‘In/by the Lord’ could indicate standing fast along with Him, in His strength (Ephesians 1.19; 3.16-17), or their standing fast because they are one with each other and with Him ‘within the sphere of Christ’ (in Christ). But if we take the latter meaning we must not overlook that fact that to be ‘in the Lord’ (or ‘in Christ’), is to be as closely united with Him as it is possible to be (‘Your life is hid with Christ in God’ - Colossians 3.3). Standing fast has in mind their opponents, both spiritual (Satan and his minions - Ephesians 6.10-18) and physical (including worldly persecutors and heretical teachers). He is not promising that life will be easy, only victorious if they are truly ‘in the Lord’.
There is a reminder here that we are in a warfare during which we often have to plant our feet firmly and stand up to what is thrown against us (compare 1 Corinthians 16.13). There is no promise that being a Christian will be easy, rather the opposite. But as Paul makes clear, at such times we are never alone. We stand fast ‘in the LORD’. And we are provided with the wherewithal to stand (Ephesians 6.10-18). And this standing fast also includes standing fast against false teaching, and holding firmly to the truth (Galatians 5.1; 2 Thessalonians 2.15), which in view of chapter 3 may well be in mind here.
4.2 ‘I exhort Euodia, and I exhort Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord.’
His love now spills over in his exhortation to two women who were clearly prominent in the church. In that area of the Empire women had a special prominence and held positions of leadership and authority. Thus in neighbouring Thessalonica there were ‘chief women’ (Acts 17.4), while in Berea there were ‘honourable women’ (Acts 17.12). Thus for these two women to be prominent in the church should come as no surprise in such an environment. Indeed wealthy and influential Christian women contributed much to the respectability and success of the church in the early days, often making available a large house at which the church could meet. Sadly, however, these two appear to have been causing a certain amount of friction (although not serious division), and so Paul calls on them to share the mind of the Lord, as in 2.5. Then they will be united in humility and love. Note how prominent ‘the Lord’ is in the passage (4.1, 2, 4, 5, 10). In the Old Testament ‘the Lord’ was YHWH. In Empire worship ‘the Lord’ was the divine Emperor. Its application to Jesus Christ without any accompanying explanatory phrase is therefore very significant. He is Lord over all. It confirms Him as the One to Whom every knee will bow, and of Whom every tongue will confess that He is the LORD YHWH (2.10-11). It is a reminder that wherever we find Him called ‘Lord’ it indicates both His total sovereignty and His divine nature. It is the New Testament (and Greek Old Testament) equivalent of YHWH.
The names Euodia and Syntyche are recognisable Greek names, but we know nothing about these two women except for the fact that they had laboured with Paul in the Gospel (verse 3), how we are not told. Possibly it was by using their influence to bring others to hear him when he was at Philippi, and by urging them to respond; possibly it was by helping to finance his work; or possibly it was by using their influence with the authorities. We can compare the influence of Lydia (Acts 16.1-15). His appeal to them is gently, but firmly, put, as became a friend. He, as it were, calls each of them to his side (parakaleo - to call alongside) in his earnest appeal to them, seeking to direct their minds firmly on the Lord so that they may be of one mind with Him (2.5). The same call comes to us. There should be no conflict in the body of Christ.
4.3 ‘Yes, I ask you also, true yoke-fellow, help these women, for they laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.’
Paul now seeks a mediator in one whom he calls ‘a true yoke-fellow ’ (gnesie sunzuge) or alternatively one whom he names as Syzygos, (but if so the name is not witnessed anywhere else in the Greek world). We do not know who this was. Perhaps Luke had gone to them again. He was certainly Paul’s yoke-fellow. In this regard note how the ‘we’ passage in Acts 16 becomes ‘they’ in chapter 17, returning to ‘we’ when Paul returned to Philippi (Acts 20.6), possibly suggesting that Luke remained at Philippi for a time assisting the infant church, although we should note that he joined Paul again later. However, he may well have been a native of the area, and thus now labouring among them again. But however that may be, the important thing for us to note is that Paul expected a true yoke-fellow to strive for the unity of the church. This is one test of a true yoke-fellow of Christ. And Paul’s plea was that he would help these women who had laboured with him in the Gospel, labouring alongside Clement (otherwise unknown. It was a very common name) and ‘the rest of my fellow-workers’. This possibly refers to the whole church of believers, for they are identified as those whose names are in the book of life. This is the book of life in which the names of all true believers were written from the foundation of the world (Revelation 17.8, compare 13.8). Compare how the disciples were to rejoice because their names were ‘written in Heaven’ (Luke 10.20).
The appeal does not appear to suggest a serious situation, only one that could have developed into one if left to fester. It is one of concern for the unity of the church.
Paul Now Gives Final Instructions To His Beloved Philippians (4.4-7).
Paul now commences a series of injunctions in staccato form which are not directly connected in the Greek. In a sense each is separate so as to give it emphasis, although we should recognise that that does not necessarily mean that Paul wanted them to be seen as totally independent of each other. The first is ‘upward’, looking towards the Lord (verse 4), the second is outward, looking towards the world (verse 5), and the third is inward, looking at themselves (verse 6). Verse 7 possibly applies to them all.
His rapid-fire statements are:
And the consequence will be that ‘the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard their hearts and minds by faith in Christ Jesus’ (verse 7).
4.4 ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.’
The first exhortation is a call to ‘rejoice in the Lord’. It is addressed to the whole church, being repeated from 3.1. It is not a call just to sing a few hymns, but one that calls on them to face the hardships of the future with confident joy (compare Acts 13.52). Note especially the dual emphasis. Paul did not want to be seen as giving simply an idle exhortation, but desired rather to emphasise the perseverance in rejoicing that would be required. For he was well aware that the Philippians were facing trials and persecution. On the other hand he knew that they were facing these precisely because of the value that they put on knowing the Lord. Thus he turns their eyes from their troubles to the One in Whose Name they will be suffering. The point he is making is that Christ Jesus and what He has done for them is worth it. Let them then consider all that Paul has written to them concerning Him, and all that they have learned from his fellow-workers, and rejoice continually in Him, as they press on towards the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (3.14). Let their eyes be fixed firmly on the LORD.
And as their eyes are fixed on the Lord they are especially to be fixed on His own triumphant progress of faith in the face of suffering (2.5-11), a progress into which they are to enter by setting their minds in line with His, and receiving His mind, taking the way of humility and the way of the cross so that finally they might receive the crown (2.5-11; 3.10-21). Having their minds set on Him involves entering in to all that He entered into, just as having the mind of the Spirit involves full participation in the Spirit (Romans 8.1-16).
4.5 ‘Let your forbearance be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.’
The second exhortation is that their forbearance and neighbourliness and unjudgmental attitude in the face of persecution should be demonstrated towards the whole world. In one sense this command stands by itself as the equivalent of the command to love their neighbours as themselves, but there is also a very real sense in which it connects up with their rejoicing in the Lord. It will be their rejoicing in the Lord, and their fixing their eye on Him, which will affect their whole behaviour and attitude towards all men in this way, for they will walk as He walked. It should result in them behaving with forbearance, gentleness and due regard for others (epieikes). And this because ‘the Lord is at hand.’ The idea behind the word for ‘forbearance’ is of a balanced, intelligent and decent outlook which will be admired by all right thinking people, as pre-eminently revealed in Christ (2 Corinthians 10.1; compare Matthew 11.28-30), for the church is not just to be caught up with itself, it is to be open in its attitude to the world (compare 2.15-16).
‘The Lord is at hand (‘ho kurios eggus’).’ It has been suggested that this may be a citation from Psalm 144.18 LXX (145.18), although in LXX the Psalm reads ‘eggus kurios’ (however, other Greek texts may have been closer to the Hebrew) and makes it part of a longer sentence, ‘the Lord is at hand to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth’. The idea would then be that because the Lord was beside them and with them it should affect their daily attitude towards the whole world. This would certainly tie in with the surrounding context, and with the exhortation to pray in verse 8. On the other hand the phrase could equally be a reminder of the closeness of the Lord’s return, as in 3.20, as though he was saying, ‘the Lord’s coming is imminent’, possibly being seen by him as echoing the apocalyptic language of Zephaniah 1.7, 14 ("the day of the LORD is near" - ‘eggus he hemera tou kuriou’), language which is picked up in James 5.8 (‘the day of the Lord is at hand’) and is probably in Paul’s mind in Romans 13.12. Such a significance would provide a powerful incentive to them in respect of their behaviour towards the world, and it would tie in with the idea expressed in the Aramaic ‘marana tha’, ‘the Lord comes’ (1 Corinthians 16.22).
It may indeed well be that the Lord’s imminence in both ways is in mind. Compare Revelation 3.20 where the true believers are to recognise that He is continually at the very door to succour and comfort them, while they are also to look for His return when they would eat and drink with Him at His table.
4.6 ‘In nothing be anxious, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’
The third exhortation is that they should not be filled with anxiety about anything. That too would go with rejoicing in the Lord, and with the recognition that He was coming. Note the contrast, ‘in nothing be anxious -- in everything by prayer’. Thus freedom from anxiety was to be on the basis of dependence ‘God’, that is on their Heavenly Father Who had promised to supply all their real needs (see Matthew 6.25, 31, 34). Notice also the threefold combination of ‘prayer (general prayer and worship), supplication (asking in respect, especially, of spiritual needs) and thanksgiving’. Worship and gratitude were not to be forgotten or sidelined, and would aid their supplication and increase their rejoicing. And the implication was that as they made their requests known to God, and worshipped and expressed their gratitude, they could be sure that He would hear them and respond. Furthermore, if we take Matthew 6 as our guide the emphasis is on supplication in respect of spiritual things (as in the Lord’s prayer), for in Matthew 6.8, 31-34 Jesus made clear that, if our minds are set on His Kingly Rule, we can leave our need for physical things in the hands of our Heavenly Father without needing to ask because He is fully aware of what we really need (Matthew 6.31-32). Our great concern is rather to be one of asking for God’s Name to be hallowed, for God’s Kingly Rule over men’s hearts to come, and for God’s will to be done on earth as in Heaven, then everything else would be added to them.
Thus the emphasis here is on the fact that we do not have to be anxious about anything, because we know that having committed everything to Him, we can leave it all in the hands of our heavenly Father.
4.7 ‘And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus.’
This may well be intended to apply to all three exhortations. By continually rejoicing in the Lord and His nearness to them, by living rightly before the world, and by making their requests known to God with all prayer, supplication and thanksgiving, they could avoid anxiety and let the peace of God possess their lives. Take away one pillar and the situation might well be different.
‘The peace of God’ is that peace which is in the heart of God. In God there is no anxiety or worry, for He is over all and all things are under His total control. So the thought is that His peace should become our peace as we rest content in the fact that He has full control and all things will finally work according to His will. That is why we can recognise that ‘all things work together for good to those who love God, even to those who are called according to His purpose’ (Romans 8.28). Nothing can ultimately go wrong with God in charge.
This ‘peace which passes all understanding’ is a special peace from God spread abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (compare the love in Romans 5.1-5). It is beyond this world’s ability to comprehend, just as God is beyond the world’s ability to comprehend. But it comes to those who rejoice in Him, who obey Him in all their ways, and who entrust to him their needs in genuine faith. They also do not fully understand, but they do know Him and that they are yoked together with Him, and they therefore do not need to understand. They can safely leave the worrying to God. All they have to do is walk beside Him and trust Him (as sheep trust their shepherd - John 10.27-28). As a result they will:
This is seen as a peace which ‘stands guard’ over their lives, so that nothing can throw them, guarding their hearts and minds, (their whole inner being of emotions, thoughts and will), ‘in Christ Jesus’ (Who is their citadel in which they are safe) from all the attacks of the Enemy. And they know that they need not doubt in anything because, ‘if God be for us, who can be against us? He Who spared not His own Son but freely gave Him up for us all, how will He not with Him freely give us all things?’ (Romans 8.31-32). Having been willing to give His Son He will not withhold anything.
4.8 ‘Finally, brothers, whatever things are true , whatever things are honourable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are winsome (of good report); if there be any excellence, and if there be any praise, think on these things.’
And all this will be maintained continually as they set their minds on what is good, righteous, true and pure. The true Christian does not allow his mind and heart to wander after what is unsuitable and displeasing to God. He rather concentrates his thoughts on what is true (genuine through and through - Proverbs 22.21 LXX; John 7.18), and honourable (highly thought of morally - Proverbs 15.26 LXX), and just (right according to God’s Law - as often in Proverbs; a word regularly used by Jesus of ‘the righteous’), and pure (chaste, innocent and morally upright - Proverbs 15.26; 20.9; 21.8 LXX; James 3.17), and lovely (delightful and spiritually desirable, spiritually and morally attractive, especially in speech - Ecclesiasticus 4.7a; 20.13) and winsome (the winsomeness that results from ‘speaking well of others’ i.e. is ‘well speaking, a giver of good report about others’, consider Proverbs 15.26; 16.24 for the idea), all this rather like the teacher of wisdom in Proverbs who sought to turn men’s minds from what was base, but above all, like Jesus Christ Himself. While Paul may well have called on the ideas of current ethical wisdom for some of the terminology, for much of it was current at the time, the whole concept is transformed for Paul on the basis of the finest teaching of the Old Testament and Jewish tradition, and of the teaching of Jesus. He has in mind the walk of the truly righteous man, ‘the way of holiness’ (Isaiah 35.8). He is not urging that they follow the path of the moral philosopher, but rather urging that they walk in accordance with Old Testament precepts, and that they walk as Jesus walked, Who was the perfect exemplar of all such ideas.
Similarly today, whatever the Christian reads, whatever he watches on TV, whatever he talks about, should all be determined by what he knows will please his Father. He should not be doing anything that he would not want to be caught doing if the Lord comes unexpectedly at such a time as he does not expect. Indeed if there is anything that is ‘morally excellent’ (Isaiah 43.21 LXX; 1 Peter 2.9; 2 Peter 1.3, 5), or if there is anything that is ‘worthy of praise’, he is to think on these things. For he is to be a light shining among men as one who is blameless, and who causes no harm (2.15). Thus he does not ask, ‘how can I find enjoyment or benefit for myself?’ He rather asks, ‘what can I do that will please the Lord?’, often in terms of ‘what would Jesus do in my place?’, and ‘how can I encourage my brothers and sister in Christ’. His whole concern is for others.
The idea behind ‘continually thinking’ is that the Christian continually sets his mind on such good things and continually keeps good things and good thoughts in view. Such an attitude almost becomes second nature to him as he prays and reads God’s word, and seeks first God’s Kingly Rule (Matthew 6.33). But he must never become complacemt. Anything that will mar the picture, or that he would not want Jesus to catch him doing, he must deliberately turn his back on. His one aim must be to please the Master.
4.9 ‘The things which you both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do, and the God of peace will be with you.’
Paul then makes a practical application by pointing them to what he and others have taught them and to his own example, something only possible because he knows that his whole life is aimed only at pleasing God. We may perhaps analyse I as follows:
So what they must do is ‘the things that they have learned and ‘received’ from him and others’, based on the Scriptures and the life and teaching of Jesus (what has been ‘received and handed on’ has in mind the Apostolic teaching concerning Jesus, now found in the Gospels), and what they have heard about him, and seen in him as he has carried such things into practical living. He wants them to imitate him as he imitates Christ (1 Corinthians 11.1). Then, he assures them, the God of peace will be with them.
A Final Expression Of Gratitude For Their Concern About Him As Revealed In The Gift That Epaphroditus Had Brought (4.10-19).
Paul has taken the opportunity provided by Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi, to send what was very much a pastoral letter, and one which was also partly to smooth the way for Epaphroditus’ return to Philippi (2.25-30). But in it he now expresses his gratitude for their thoughts concerning him, especially as it was revealed in a practical way by the gift that they had sent to him through Epaphroditus. But while doing so he appears to go out of his way to make sure that they recognise that his dependence was not on them but on the Lord, and that what he rejoiced in most was the credit that would be put to their account for their generosity to the Lord’s servant. It was not that he was ungrateful. It was because he wanted them to recognise that their gift had been given to God, and should be seen in that light. Thus he himself had received it as from God, and he wants them to recognise that had they not sent it God would have ensured that he was provided for in another way. He was not to be seen as alone. He was a prisoner of the Lord (Ephesians 4.1). So he fluctuates between assuring them of his gratitude, and assuring them that God would certainly have made provision for him in some way or other to the extent that it was necessary. He wanted their giving to be to the Lord, and their dependence to be on Him.
What a difference there is between Paul’s attitude and our modern ways of raising money from Christians. Here he was, very much dependent in his prison on the generosity of God’s people (for prisoners of Rome received no official provision by Rome. They had to rely on the generosity of friends) and yet he has written the whole letter without once directly referring to their gift (although it might unquestionably be seen as indirectly included in 1.5), and now, rather than giving the hint that he would be pleased to receive more, he makes sure that they recognise that what pleases him most about the gift is the love that it reveals in their hearts. His words are almost off-putting, making absolutely clear where his true dependence lies. He wants them to recognise (and to inculcate in them the same attitude) that he is far more delighted with their standing and progress in the Gospel, than he is with monetary considerations, while at the same time wishing to commend them because of their right attitude of heart.
As we saw he began his letter by expressing his gratitude to God for their spiritual maturity and manner of life, and for their working together with him in the Gospel. There he rejoiced that they ‘shared in common with him’ in the Gospel (1.5). And while the Philippians would no doubt have seen this as including a reference to their gift, his comments here make absolutely clear that that was not what he wants them to see as having been uppermost in his mind. His joy had rather been concerning their wellbeing and growth as the people of God (1.7c;9-11) as they lived out their heavenly citizenship (1.27; 3.20), and gave of themselves in the cause of Christ. Their giving was only a small part of that, and, while gratefully received, was not the most important part. What was more important was the giving of themselves.
Now, however, having satisfactorily fulfilled his pastoral responsibility in this regard, he does make absolutely clear what joy their gift brought him, firstly because he knew that it was the expression of the love in their hearts, and secondly because it had been the right thing for them to do. It was an indication that they had not forgotten him, and that they were sharing with him in his outreach for Christ. But he was equally concerned that they recognise that his physical dependence was not on them but on God, partly because if they ever entered into a similar experience he wanted them to have confidence that God would supply any need, and partly because he wanted to build up a right attitude within them. Furthermore he wanted them to know that his joy was as much in the credit that they would receive from God, and in what it actually revealed about them, as it was in the actual gift.
It would almost have been off-putting (it might appear so to the world) were it not for the fact that they would recognise what he was trying to say, and would no doubt have agreed wholeheartedly with him. It was a reminder to them all that what they gave, they gave to the Lord and not to men, while still having love in their hearts for His true servants).
Note that in ‘a’ he rejoices in the Lord greatly at what they had done, and in the parallel he gives glory to ‘our God and Father’. In ‘b’ he assures them that he is not in want because he has learned to be content whatever outward circumstances might be in the certainty that God will provide, and in the parallel he assures them that God will ensure that the same will be true for them out of His riches in glory. In ‘c’ he declares that he knows both how to be abased and how to abound, and in the parallel he declares that he has all things and abounds. In ‘d’ he commends their right attitude of heart, and in the parallel he assures them that what he is concerned about is that it will be set to their account. Centrally in ‘e’ he describes the extent of their generosity as being something that was outstanding.
4.10 ‘But I rejoice in the Lord greatly, that now at length you caused your thought for me to blossom, in which you did indeed take thought, but you lacked opportunity.’
Paul commences his expression of gratitude by pointing out what joy it had brought him in the Lord because it had demonstrated that they were thinking of him, and had not forgotten him, although he assures them that he had never doubted that they had been thinking of him, and knew that they had simply lacked the opportunity to show it. There may have been a number of reasons for this;
Whatever was the case Paul assured them that he accepted that they had had a good reason for their failure. There is no suggestion in the Greek of any dissatisfaction with their lack of response.
‘You caused your thought for me to blossom.’ The picture is of a plant blossoming after a period of dryness. There had necessarily been an arid time, but as soon as the opportunity came, they burst into flower in their attitude towards him
‘I rejoice in the Lord greatly.’ ‘Greatly’ is in an emphatic position demonstrating how great his joy had been, something which brings out how much the Philippians meant to him. ‘In the Lord’ brings out that he sees everything in the light of his association with the Lord. All that he did was ‘in the Lord’. The use of ‘rejoice’ instead of giving the expression of gratitude that we might have expected, emphasises that Paul’s major concern was for what it demonstrated about their spiritual status. He was genuinely grateful, but it meant far, far more to him that what they had done had demonstrated their spiritual nature and their outflowing love.
4.11 ‘Not that I speak in respect of want, for I have learned, in whatever state I am, therein to be content.’
Thus he makes clear that his rejoicing was not because of the benefit that it had brought to him, for he had in fact been quite content with his situation whatever it was. After all, it was that situation that was the one that his Father in Heaven had determined was best for him (Matthew 6.8, 25-34), and how could he argue with that? In view of that, physical hardship meant little to him. And that is why he could be content whatever the situation might be.
4.12-13 ‘I know how to be abased, and I know also how to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.’
And he takes the opportunity to strengthen the resolve of the Philippians in terms of his own example. Let them learn from his own behaviour, for who could know when they might be called on to face something of what he had faced? So he points out that he knows how to be abased (how to be humbled - compare 2.8) without it affecting him unduly or upsetting him too much, and in contrast how to abound without it being a hindrance to his work. The latter indeed could have been more spiritually dangerous, for he would often have been feted and adulated by the churches that he visited. But he had learned to cope with it. Indeed he had learned to cope with whatever situation he had to face. He had ‘learned the secret’ (the word regularly means being initiated into something as a novitiate) of both being filled (well feasted by those who had provided him with hospitality) and being hungry (when no hospitality was available), without it making any difference to him. It was something that God had initiated him into. And thereby he had learned to cope with ‘abounding’ at times when there was no shortage of money, (money which he could have called on for himself, but would not), and with being in want, when money was lacking and he had to fend for himself. Neither situation affected him, because he was able to do ‘anything’ through Christ Who strengthened and provisioned him whatever the circumstances. (And the indication was that the same was true for them). In that indeed lay his secret. It was that he had the mind of Christ. And all that he did, he did as one who walked continually with the all-sufficient Christ, so that he could boldly say, ‘I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me’.
‘I have learned the secret.’ The word was used of the initiation of a novitiate into the mysteries. Others boasted of divine mysteries learned. His boast was that God had taught him not to be concerned about whatever situation he was in, because God was active in the world.
4.14 ‘However that may be, you did well that you shared in common with my affliction.’
On the other hand he did not want that to hide the fact that what the Philippians had done had been something worthy of praise. Thus he now makes clear that in sharing in common with him in his affliction as a prisoner, they had done well, and that he fully appreciated it.
4.15-16 ‘And you yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church had sharing in common with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only, for even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need.’
Indeed he wanted them to know that he had never forgotten that when he had begun his mission in Europe and had left Philippi for Thessalonica, it had been the Philippians alone who had provided him with support, not once but a number of times. He was thus emphasising that rather than being ungrateful he looked on them with especial gratitude.. ‘Giving and receiving’ may signify that they gave and Paul received. Alternately it might mean that they had given him material things and in return they had received from him spiritual things, probably through the ministry of his deputies.
‘In the beginning of the Gospel’ is looking at the beginning from the Philippian (and European) viewpoint (compare ‘from the first day until now’ in 1.5). ‘You Philippians’ is an affectionate expression indicating the special feeling that he has for them. Far from wanting them to feel that he disapproved of their action, he rather wanted them to recognise that he saw them as partners from the beginning, and acknowledged wholeheartedly their contribution to the European venture. Nevertheless overall it is apparent that he was very concerned that no one should feel that God had been dependent on them and could not have managed without them. That is why he makes clear that in Christ he had known that he had all-sufficiency, whoever sent him gifts (and even if no one did).
4.17 ‘Not that I seek for the gift, but I seek for the fruit which increases to your account.’
So he stresses that they must not think from what he had said that he was one who sought for a gift. As we see from his other letters he was very concerned lest anyone thought that he was seeking to benefit materially from preaching the Gospel. He thus lets them know that his great hope in the matter was rather that their giving should be seen by God as ‘fruit which increased to their account’. In the end it was reward for them that he was seeking, not benefit for himself, something which is always the test of the true man of God.
4.18 ‘But I have all things, and abound. I am filled, having received from Epaphroditus the things that came from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.’
Nevertheless he finishes by acknowledging what a great blessing their gift has been to him in his current situation. He wants them to know that, in spite of his reservations previously expressed, he has not been unmindful of the benefit that he had received from them. It had meant that now he had ‘all things and abounded’. In consequence, rather than his imprisonment resulting in hardship from a physical point of view, it had resulted in plenty, and it was all thanks to the generous gift sent by the Philippians at the hands of Epaphroditus, a gift which could be likened to the odour of a sweet savour resulting from a dedicatory sacrifice (a whole offering), something which was acceptable and well-pleasing to God (compare Genesis 8.21; Exodus 29.18, 25,41; Leviticus 1.9, 13, 17). There is a reminder for us here that our gifts also, when given for the extension of the Gospel and coming from a true heart, become in God’s eyes a dedicatory offering pleasing in His sight.
4.19 ‘And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.’
So as they had supplied his need as a servant of God, they could now be sure that God would supply all their needs in accordance with His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. They would find that God too would be more than generous, and that was because by their generous attitude towards those in God’s service they had proved themselves to be His people. Furthermore God’s generosity would far outweigh theirs. For no greater riches could in fact be imagined than those described here, in which the source was ‘His riches in glory’ given to them as those who were ‘in Christ Jesus’. All that He had in eternity would be available to them, in the same way as they were available to His Son, and this would include both material and spiritual blessing. They had thus made the best of bargains. By giving little they would receive much, and that of a heavenly nature.
And this would be so because the same God Who supplied his needs as previously described, continually supplies the needs of all His true people because they are in Christ. That is in fact what he has been emphasising all the way through the passage, that God supplies the deepest needs of His own, whether it be Paul or the Philippians, or whoever, if they are walking faithfully with Him.
4.20 ‘Now to our God and Father be the glory for ever and ever. Amen.’
The very thought arouses him to praise and he immediately prays that everlasting glory be given to ‘our God and Father’, Who as a true Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6.8), and will surely supply all our need as we seek first His Kingly Rule and His righteousness (Matthew 6.33). As Paul says, ‘To Him be glory for ever and ever, (because of His generosity and because of what it reveals Him to be). Amen.’ The joy which has been expressed throughout the letter now bursts out in this final declaration of praise.
Final Greetings (4.21-23).
His letter nearly completed Paul finishes it off in his usual manner with greetings and salutations, first those addressed to the addressees, and then the salutations from those who were with him in the place from which he was writing. He begins with a salutation to the whole Philippian church.
4.21a ‘Salute every saint in Christ Jesus.’
The salutation is to ‘every saint (every true believer set apart to God) in Christ Jesus.’ As throughout this letter the whole church is seen as being as one on equal terms. Each one is thus to be equally ‘saluted’ in Christ Jesus Who is their common LORD. It is all-inclusive. He is confident that they are all welcoming his words, and he sees them all as on the same level.
4.21b ‘The brothers who are with me salute you.’
He then passes on greetings from ‘the brothers who are with me’. This would indicate those who in one way or another were attendant with him in his imprisonment, and whom he saw especially as ‘his brothers’. As with the Philippian church itself no one person is selected out. All are on ‘common ground’ and are equally precious. And there is equal warmth from them to the Philippians as there is from Paul.
4.22 ‘All the saints salute you, especially those who are of Caesar’s household.’
The greeting then widens to encompass the whole church in the city from which he was writing, probably Rome. ‘All the saints (true believers) salute you.’ It is noteworthy that no ‘notable’ is separated out. There was no separate hierarchy. They were all ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ. And he then adds, ‘especially those of Caesar’s household’. This was a bold declaration that even in the wider household of Caesar there were those who acknowledged Jesus Christ. This description would be a wide one and would include soldiers, servants and slaves who directly served Caesar, and wore his ‘uniform’. There would be such in many large cities throughout the empire. It was a reminder that the Kingly Rule of God had even extended over many in Caesar’s household. God was active at the very heart of the empire, and wooing even Caesar’s servants to Himself.
4.23 ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.’
Compare Galatians 6.18. In this final greeting they are seen as sharing in one Spirit Who is the source of God’s grace (unmerited active favour) towards them, something which is manifested in their communal ‘spirit’. They are all one in Christ.
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