Philippians 4

Scripture: Philippians 4:1-23

Overview:

  • Paul tells the Phillys once more, “You’re my family, I love you and wish I could be with you right now. You bring me joy and you are the crowning achievement of the race I’ve run, stand firm in your belief by living a life of self-sacrifice for others.”
  • Then he publicly calls out Eudy and Synty and tells them that they got to get unified in thinking like Jesus.
  • Paul then tells a good friend in Philippi, “help these women out. They’ve been as instrumental in helping spread the gospel as Clement and those other dudes, all of whom have their names written on the registry of the citizens of heaven.”
  • Then he says, “Party on, people, we’re saved. Rejoice! Be self-sacrificing and kind to everyone. God is right next to us. What do you have to be worried about? Whatever the sitch, pray, give thanks, ask God for what you want, and God’s true peace, the peace that comes from knowing he’s already won the fight, will guard your hearts.”
  • Paul lets them to stay focused on anything true, right, pure, lovely, admirable. Learn from him, imitate him so they can be at peace.
  • Paul is stoked that God recently renewed the Philippians concern for him.
  • But he’s quick to remind them that he’s not asking for more generosity . Nope. Paul says he has learned the secret to contentment. He’s been hungry, well fed, needy and having plenty, but regardless of the circumstance he finds his true strength comes from having a relationship with Jesus.
  • But Paul goes on to say, “I still want to say thanks for the gift. When I was on my first missionary journey, you supported me and no other church did. When I was in Thessalonica, you helped me out more than once. But I don’t need more gifts. This last gift from Epaph was plenty.”
  • He then lets them know that all their gifts to him were the same as offering sacrifices to God, and God thinks that’s cool. And just as the Philippians met Paul’s needs, God in turn will meet their needs, because God is awesome like that. Can I get an amen?
  • Finally, Paul gives a shout out to everyone listening to the letter. The peeps with Paul say, “Howdy,” and some of the believers saying “hi” are among the members of Nero’s own household.

Historical Context:

Euodia and Syntyche

It is rare that Paul names names in the context of settling church disputes, so the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche must’ve been severe, especially considering this letter was going to be read publicly,

Little is known about these women. They most likely had a falling out or disagreement over some point of doctrine or practice, and the animosity between them had become a threat to the unity of the whole church.3 They may have represented the “elders” and “deacons” mentioned at the beginning of the letter.

True Companion

“And I ask you, my true companion…” It is not known to whom the apostle refers here. However, whoever it was must have been obvious enough to the Philippians that it would be understood who was referred to.

Several people have been suggested:

  • It may have been one of the ministers or “bishops” of Philippi, who had been particularly associated with Paul when he was there. The epistle was addressed to the “church, with the bishops and deacons,” and the fact that this one had been particularly associated with Paul would serve to designate him with sufficient particularity. Whether he was related to the women referred to is wholly unknown.2
  • Some have supposed that he might be the husband of one of these women.2
  • The term “yokefellow” or “companion”, which in Greek is “suzugov”, has at times been understood to be a proper name, Syzygus.2
  • Some have suggested that it was Timothy, Silas or Luke. Luke had been a close companion of Paul on his first visit to Philippi (Acts 16:12-17), and he may have stayed there until Paul’s return some years later (Acts 20:2-5).1
  • It may also have been Epaphroditus, the man tasked with delivering the letter.3

Book of Life

The phrase, “the book of life” is a Jewish phrase, and refers originally to a record or catalogue of names, as the roll of an army. It then means to be among the living, as the name of an individual would be erased from a catalogue when he was deceased.2

The idea of names inscribed by God in a heavenly book is found as early as Exod 32:32-33 (“blot out my name from the book you have written”); it is actually called “the book of life” in Ps 69:28 (“book of the living”). The term was especially leveraged in apocalyptic  literature (Dan 12:1; 1 Enoch 47:3; Herm. Sim. 29).4

The Philippians, as citizens of Rome living in a Roman colony, would have had their names entered in a civic registry for the Roman government.4 A freed slave that was granted citizenship would have his name added to that scroll.If one of the citizens proved guilty of treachery or disloyalty or of anything bringing shame on the city, he was subjected to public dishonor by the expunging of his name from the register. (The name was, in any case normally obliterated at death.) He was deemed no longer worthy to be regarded as a citizen of the city. If, on the other hand, a citizen had performed some outstanding exploit deserving of special distinction, honor was bestowed upon him, either by the recording of the deed in the city roll or by his name being encircled in gold (or overlaid in gold) in the roll.”6

Observations:

  • First, Paul refers to them as brothers and sisters. This is the seventh time in this letter—a letter in which the term appears a total of nine times. It not only connotes intimacy, but expresses the family relationship Paul has with these people in Christ.4
  • The ‘crown’ was not the royal crown of kings. The Greek word means a ring of leaves. They put it on the head of an athlete who succeeded in a race. The ‘crown’ was also a sign of honor for guests at a feast (a special meal).1
  • Ever since the times of Origen (185-251 A.D.), who was a disciple of Clement of Alexandria, there has been a positive identification of the Clement mentioned in the above passage with Clement of Rome who lived until the year 101 A.D. and who himself wrote a letter to the Corinthians.3
  • The Greek word “arete,” translated “virtue” is found nowhere else in Paul’s letters and in only two other New Testament references (1 Peter 2:9; 2 Peter 1:3), despite the fact of its being a frequent word in classical and Hellenistic Greek. Some have interpreted Paul’s meaning to be, “Whatever value may reside in your old heathen conception of virtue, whatever consideration is due to the praise of men, etc.”3
  • Paul seems to be drawing upon the cultural background of the Philippians and is saying to them: ‘If there is such a thing as moral excellence, and you believe there is. If there is a kind of behavior that elicits universal approval, and you believe there is,’ then continue to strive for this goodness and to attain to this level of behavior that will command the praise of men and of God.6
  • It is decidedly not Paul’s view that only what is explicitly Christian (be it literature, art, music, movies or whatever) is worth seeing or hearing. Truth and beauty are where you find them. But at all times the gospel is the ultimate paradigm for what is true, noble or admirable.7
  • The Greek word “epieikes” translated “gentleness” is difficult to translate with its full connotation. Such words as gentle, yielding, kind, forbearing, and lenient are among the best attempts, but no single word is adequate. Involved is the willingness to yield one’s personal rights and to show consideration and gentleness to others.4
  • “I have learned the secret..” The Greek word here used “memuhmai” is one that is commonly used in relation to mysteries, and denoted being instructed in the secret doctrines that were taught in the ancient “mysteries.” In those mysteries, it was only the “initiated” who were made acquainted with the lessons that were taught there. Paul says that he had been initiated into the lessons taught by trials and by prosperity. The secret and important lessons which these schools of adversity are fitted to teach he had had an ample opportunity of learning; and he had faithfully embraced the doctrines thus taught.2
  • Stoics viewed contentment as being happy with (i.e., accepting) one’s present circumstances, station in life, etc. It involves a certain resignation to the surrounding circumstances. But, for Paul, contentment comes from a faith-oriented, Christ-centered approach to life’s circumstances; it is not mere resignation, for it involves a deep and abiding joy through an ongoing consciousness of God’s sovereign and good hand in everything.4
  • So, what was the secret that Paul had been learning since his conversion and which had taught him contentment? In 4:13 he says, “I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me.” Paul learned in the context of serving Christ that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength.4
  • When Paul says “renewed” he used a word for a plant that had flowered again. It was not dead, like the way a tree or plant seems in winter. At the right time, we see flowers. The right time for Paul’s friends has now arrived.1
  • When Paul says the Lord is near, he can mean the Lord is near in temporal terms, i.e., his second coming is at hand or that the Lord is near in spatial terms; he is close to every believer and every believer experiences his spiritual nearness.Both are correct theologically and have support in this letter (2:1; 3:20). It is virtually impossible to choose between the two and it may be that both are intended.4
  • The reciprocity of friendship is now back in Paul’s court. But he is in prison and cannot reciprocate directly. So he does an even better thing: Since their gift had the effect of being a sweet-smelling sacrifice, pleasing to God, Paul assures them that God, whom he deliberately designates as my God, will assume responsibility for reciprocity. Thus, picking up the language “my need” from verse 16 and “fill to the full” from verse 18, he promises them that “my God will fill up every need of yours.”7
  • The final “grace” serves to bookend his letters, which begin with “grace and peace” as part of the greeting.7

Discussion:

  • What does contentment look like in our consumer-driven society? Our economy runs on buying more things, capitalism works on constant fulfillment of “want” over “need.” How do we find contentment without total abstinence or total indulgence?
  • Paul thanked the Philippians again and again in this letter. Who has been kind and generous to you? How can you thank them? What would your letter say?
  • Paul says to focus on “whatever” is lovely and true. There are many things that are “non-Christian” that meet this standard. What are some examples in our culture? How do they incidentally or even overtly overlap with Christian beliefs? What are the upsides and downsides to being to focused on only Christian products (music, books, etc.) vs. focused on whatever is lovely and true in the world?

References:

  1. Easy English commentary
  2. Barnes’ commentary
  3. Coffman’s commentary
  4. Herrick’s commentary
  5. Hagelberg’s commentary
  6. Constable’s commentary
  7. IVP commentary
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Philippians 3

Scripture: Philippians 3:1-21

Overview:

  • Paul’s all, “Look here, crew, keep a stiff upper lip. Rejoice! Let me tell you one more time all about how God wins so that you can be stalwart in the face of opposition.”
  • Then Paul tells them that the punks in Philippi giving them a hard time are, in reality, just garbage-eating junkyard dogs who think their doing good but actually doing evil, and who might as well be advocating body-scaring mutilation when they promote circumcision.
  • Paul reminds them, “We’re the ones who are members of God’s true nation (because our hearts are circumcised, not our… you know), and it’s us who truly serve God, and we serve God in spirit (not by doing things to our bodies and thinking that’s holy), and we don’t need to have national pride, or even care what nation we’re from, because we’re all one in Christ.”
  • Then Paul says that if the Jews in Philippi think they have the right qualifications for holiness, then Paul has more. He lays down the smack down like this:
  • Circumcised on the eighth day, according to the law? Check. Born of two Jewish parents? Check. Born in one of the coolest, most faithful, king-producing tribes? Check. A Jew among Jews? Yep. Faithful to the Law? Yeah, super strict, every day adherence kinda faithful. Passionate about Judaism? So passionate he hunted down Christians. Ever broke the Law? Nope. Time to drop the mic? Booyah.
  • Yet, despite all his credentials, Paul says he’d willingly tossed them all overboard for Jesus. Everything is garbage compared to knowing Christ.
  • Paul tells them that just as God was “found” in human form, so Paul wants to be “found” in Jesus’ form. Real rightness with God comes from having faith in Jesus, not by obeying a bunch of rules.
  • Paul goes on, “I want to be like Jesus so much that I’m okay suffering like he did and dying like he did, because one day I will rise from the dead like Jesus did.”
  • Paul reminds the Philippians that he hasn’t reached his goal of fully being like Jesus yet, but like a runner in a race he stays focused on reaching towards Jesus, because that was the reason Jesus reached out to Paul.
  • “Like an athlete being called to the podium to get a prize,” Paul says, “God is calling me to heaven to receive mine.”
  • Mature people will agree with Paul, he’s sure, or else God will make it clear to them at some point. Regardless, Paul hopes for his Philly peeps to continue to live up to the status they’d been given by Jesus.
  • Paul wants them to follow his example in pursuing Jesus-likeness. He tells them that he’s saddened by those who think the Cross is not important, because it is the very defining attribute of God’s love.
  • Those that don’t believe in a suffering, self-sacrificing God are destined for destruction, Paul says. “Their real god is their own human desire, and the things they think will bring them glory will actually bring them shame, and they think they’re focused on heaven, but they’re really focused on earth.”
  • Paul tells the Philippians–people living in a Roman outpost who act as if they are in Rome itself–that they are actually citizens of heaven–people living in an outpost of the kingdom of God who should act as if they are living side-by-side with God himself.
  • “The real emperor, Jesus, is coming,” Paul says, “and he will rule over everything and transform our lowly, temporary bodies into eternal, glorious bodies like he has.”

Historical Context:

Jeremiah 9

Paul echoes Jeremiah 9:23-26, where the Lord says that the truly wise will boast in the Lord (thus not put confidence in such “flesh” matters as wisdom, strength, wealth), in a context where “the whole house of Israel” is judged as being “uncircumcised in heart.” Jeremiah says that true boasting in the Lord means to “understand and know me,” in the sense of knowing God’s true character—which is exactly the point Paul will pick up in Philippians 3:8-11. As in Jeremiah, “boasting” here carries the nuance of putting one’s full trust and confidence in Christ.6

Dogs 

Dogs in the First Century were mostly without masters; they wandered at large in the streets and fields, and feed upon garbage, corpses, etc. They were considered unclean. The Jews called the heathen dogs.1

Paul is saying that the Jews causing problems in Philippi think that they are adhering to the law, but in doing so they have so broken the intent of the law and so have become ritually unclean, just like the Gentiles.

The Jews often spoke of themselves as banqueters seated at the Father’s table. The Gentiles would be dogs greedily snatching up the refuse meat which fell therefrom. Here Paul reverses the image.7

Evil workers

The Jews thought that they were good workers. They obeyed all their laws. And so, they thought that God would approve of them. Paul said that, in fact, they were evil.3

In trying to make Gentiles submit to Torah observance, Judaizers (and their contemporary counterparts, the legalists) do not work “righteousness” at all but evil.6

Circumcision

It is likely that the people causing problems in the Philippian church were Jews who thought all Gentile converts had to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses (i.e. become Jewish) to believe in the Messiah.

In this letter, Paul does a bit of wordplay between the Greek word “katatomē” (off-cutting” or “down-cutting”), and the word “peritomē (“around cutting” or “circumcision”) to show his disdain for their beliefs. Cutting of the body was also a pagan form of worship, so Paul is drawing a negative parallel with both Jewish and Gentile customs.6

Paul is essentially saying the Jews were causing injury to the true faith. It was as if they were cutting it to piece.3

Paul emphasizes that the physical cutting of the body to join the nation of Isreal will not save the Philippians. The church in Philippi must realize that the spiritual circumcision of the heart through faith in Jesus is what truly admits one to God’s real Isreal, his kingdom, the church. They are a part of the redeemed covenant community by a circumcision done not with human hands, but by Christ himself.4

Paul’s further comments using the word “flesh” may be a very derogative term referring to the actual flesh cut away in circumcision.

Tribe of Benjamin

The Tribe of Benjamin was well regarded for several historical reasons:

  1. Benjamin was the child of Rachel, the wife whom Jacob loved most
  2. Benjamin was the only son of Jacob  born in the promised land (Genesis 35:16-18)
  3. Benjamin was untainted by the sin of Judah against Tamar (Genesis 38)
  4. The tribe of Benjamin was located near the temple, and indeed it has been said that the temple was on the dividing line between them and the tribe of Judah
  5. The tribe of Benjamin provided Israel their first king (Saul)
  6. Jerusalem was in the territory of Benjamin.
  7. They provided a very wise man, Mordecai, who saved the Jews during Esther’s time (the reason for the Feast of Purim)
  8. Benjamin remained loyal to David’s family when the Israel split and became two countries
  9. Benjamin held the post of honor in the Israelite army
  10. After the Exile, Benjamin and Judah formed the core of the restoration community

Paul imitating Jesus

Paul parallels his description of Jesus in chapter 2 with his own experience in chapter 3.

Jesus (Philippians 2:6-11) Paul (Philippians 3:7-11)
 [Jesus] being in very nature God I, myself, have reasons for such confidence… circumcised on the eighth day… of the tribe of Benjamin… a Hebrew of Hebrews…
 He made himself nothing by taking on the very nature of a servant Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss… I consider them garbage
 And being found in appearance a man he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!  …I may be found in [Christ]… [I want] participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in death
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place  I want to know Christ–yes, to know the power of his resurrection

Citizenship

The word Paul uses for “citizenship” (Greek: politeuma) is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means, any public measure, administration of the state, the manner in which the affairs of a state are administered; and then the state itself, the community, commonwealth, those who are bound under the same laws, and associated in the same society.1

Paul goes on to say that “we await a Savior… the Lord…” This is a play on the Philippians; Roman citizenship and what that entailed. The primary title for the Roman emperor was “lord and savior”; Paul now puts those two words side by side: “our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ .”6 This verse is saying, “Jesus is Lord, and Caesar isn’t. Caesar’s empire, of which Philippi is a colonial outpost, is the parody; Jesus’ empire, of which the Philippian church is a colonial outpost, is the reality.”1

Observations:

  • The word “flesh” in Philippians seems to refer to every advantage which a person may have of birth and/or to any external conformity to the law, such as circumcision.1
  • The Mosaic law required that circumcision should be performed on the eighth day (Genesis 17:12; Leviticus 12:3).1
  • When Paul says he regards his past as “loss in comparison with the knowledge of Christ,” the comparison he is making is to sailors throwing cargo overboard in a storm to save their own lives. Valuable as the shipment may be, they are willing to throw it all overboard to save themselves.1
  • “I consider them garbage.” The word “garbage” (Greek: skubalon) occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It means, properly, dregs, refuse; what is thrown away as worthless; chaff, feces, or the refuse of a table or of slaughtered animals; and then filth of any kind.1
  • The  expression “in Christ,” or “in him,” is found more than one hundred fifty times in Paul’s letters.2
  • in the New Testament Greek, the word for “faith” almost never has the sense of subjective, cognitive believing. The true meaning is nearer to our word “fidelity” or “faithfulness,” which carries with it a sense of obedience, action, thought as shown by deed.2
  • Paul says that he has abandoned works as a way to secure favor with God and has turned instead to faith in Christ as the only means by which one may be justified before God. He wants to “be found in him,” that is, when God is judging mankind, he doesn’t want to be “found” in any other way.4
  • The idea of “partaking of Christ’s sufferings,” “taking up the cross,” and being “crucified with Christ,” as stressed throughout the New Testament (1 Peter 4:13; Romans 8:17; 2 Corinthians 1:5; Colossians 1:24; 2 Timothy 2:11). It was expected that every Christian should suffer as a result of his faith.2
  • Paul is not referring here to our participation in Christ’s sufferings on the cross as if somehow our sufferings could contribute to Christ’s atoning work.  What he means is that we share in Christ’s sufferings since he too lived and walked in a fallen world. The relationship between experiencing resurrection power and suffering is that the former becomes most evident in the context of the latter. His power through us is seen most strikingly in the midst of our struggles.4
  • There are two ways to look at the phrase “[I] take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” A) Paul wants to take hold of Christ because Christ had already taken hold of him. This translation indicates the ground on which Paul can pursue Christ. B) Christ laid hold of Paul for the purpose of Paul pursuing him. Though both interpretations are certainly true, this latter one seems to be better. Paul’s point is not that it is because of Christ that he can seek Him, but that Christ saved him for this purpose. Thus the reason Christ took hold of Paul—undoubtedly a reference back to his Damascus road experience—was so that Paul might know him fully.4
  • When Paul says “God has called me heavenward,” the word “called” refers to the First Century “call” of the official presiding over of the athletic games for the victorious athlete to step up unto the podium and receive their prizes. The “prize” Paul expects to receive is the ability to know Christ perfectly.4
  • It is interesting that Paul calls the Philippians’ opponents “enemies of the cross of Christ.” This group of people obviously had a major problem with the cross in particular. They likely opposed the idea itself—or at least the centrality of the idea—of the cross, most likely because they thought it demonstrated weakness.According to 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, the cross stands as God’s utter contradiction to human wisdom and power, and therefore inevitably creates enemies of those who refuse to go that route.6
  • hen Paul says that “their god is the belly,”  he may be referring to the Judaizers who held a strong belief in ritual purity and adherence to certain Jewish food laws. The problem with this is that the term belly seems to connote some degree of licentiousness and an inordinate attentiveness to one’s sensual needs. If this is true, then the ascetic practices of the Judaizers would hardly come under such a rebuke. It may be, as many have suggested, that Paul’s use “belly” is roughly equivalent to his use of “flesh” in other contexts.4
  • Paul stresses imitation of Jesus now because just as knowing Christ now means being conformed into the likeness of his death (v. 10), so in our final glory we will be conformed into the likeness of his resurrection.4
  • Paul’s description of his past and how that relates to his present circumstances is an echo of Paul’s hymn in Chapter 2 about Jesus lowering himself to become a slave. Formerly, Christ did not consider God-likeness to accrue to his own advantage, but ‘made himself nothing,’ so Paul now considers his former ‘gain’ as ‘loss’ for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ. As Christ was ‘found’ in ‘human likeness,’ Paul is now ‘found in Christ,’ knowing whom means to be ‘conformed’ (echoing the morphe of a slave, 2:7) to his death (2:8). Finally, as Christ’s humiliation was followed by God’s ‘glorious’ vindication of him, so present ‘suffering’ for Christ’s sake will be followed by ‘glory’ in the form of resurrection. As he has appealed to the Philippians to do, Paul thus exemplifies Christ’s ‘mindset,’ embracing suffering and death. This is what it means ‘to know Christ,’ to be ‘found in him’ by means of his gift of righteousness; and as he was raised and exalted to the highest place, so Paul and the Philippian believers, because they are now ‘conformed to Christ’ in his death, will also be ‘conformed’ to his glory.7

Discussion:

  • When we think of dying, we wish to have our departure made as comfortable as possible1, yet Paul challenges the Philippians to be willing to die in humiliation like Jesus. What do you think of this challenge? Why shouldn’t we be comfortable? What does suffering accomplish?
  • Paul asks the Philippians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. Who would you tell to imitate you? In what way?
  • Paul set aside all his cultural credentials in pursuit of Jesus. What cultural credentials do we hold onto today? What defines us that we don’t want to let go of? Jobs? Nationality? Social economic class?
  • Paul tells them to be citizens of God’s realm, not Rome and to believe in Jesus as the true emperor, not Nero. How does this concept of “heavenly citizenship” play out in modern day America? What defines us as Americans that opposes our definition as members of the kingdom of God? Politics? State/national pride? Consumerism? Democracy? Manifest destiny? Just as if we lived abroad today, which laws of the country we’re temporarily living in should we adhere to to and which should we realize don’t apply to us based on our true homeland?

References:

  1. Barnes’ commentary
  2. Coffman’s commentary
  3. Easy English commentary
  4. Herrick’s commentary
  5. Hagelberg’s commentary
  6. IVP commentary
  7. Constable’s commentary

Philippians 2

Scripture: Philippians 2:1-30

Overview:

  • In the previous chapter, Paul tells his peeps in Philly-pie to not get spooked and scatter in the face of opposition, but rather stay united.
  • He goes on to say that unity means being one in mind and spirit, not just looking out for “number one.” The Philippians need to be humble, putting each other’s needs over their own, just like Jesus did.
  • Paul tells them to think like Jesus thought. Afterall, Jesus was God, and had every right to all the privileges that came with being God, but he put all those privileges aside to become a man, no, a slave, a slave who died a humiliating death, no less. This self sacrificing, humble attitude, shows us who God really is and that he puts others (us!) first, which is why in the end everyone will come to praise the name of Jesus – the name by which God’s true character is known.
  • So, knowing this, Paul tells them to get the most out of what it means to be saved by being united as a community of people who put other people first. Work hard at being together in awe of the sacrificial attitude God has shown you through Jesus.
  • He reminds them not to grumble and complain about their circumstances like the Jews did in the desert with Moses. Instead, where the Israelites failed to be the children of God by being a generation of complaining jerks, the Philippians can truly embody what it means to be children of God and stand out from the world around them. In fact, their attitude of humble unity should contrast them from their surroundings as much as the shining stars contrast against the night sky.
  • Paul then says, “Even if I die here, it is but a small addition to the larger sacrifice you are making in your community.” Then reminds them that the circumstances they face are good to be in together, and that they should celebrate with him because they are on the winning side (even if it looks like they’re losing).
  • A bit of bad news that Paul has for them is that Timothy, one of Paul’s favs, and a guy who really exemplifies the others-first attitude Jesus has, is someone Paul can’t spare to send back to Philippi yet.
  • Instead, Paul tells them, he’s sending back their pal Epaphroditus (E-Paf for short). E-Paf is an awesome guy, and he exemplifies the martyr-like attitude everyone in Philippi should have, because he almost died just trying to help Paul.
  • “So give E-Paf a high five when he comes back,” Paul concludes. “He risked his life just to be the representative of all that your community has done to help me. That’s cool.”

Historical Context:

Kenosis

Kenosis is a Greek term that comes from the phrase “emptied himself” (2:7 – “made himself nothing” NIV). Kenosis is the word used to discuss what took place in Christ’s incarnation. There have been many different theories used over the centuries to describe this phenomena: 4

  • Apollinarianism: This view stated that the one person of Christ had a human body but a divine mind and spirit. It implied that being human is essentially sinful. This heresy was rejected at the council of Alexandria (362 AD) and the Council of Constantinople (381 AD). 4
  • Nestorianism: This view stated that there are two separate persons in Christ—a human person and a divine person. 4
  • Eutychianism/Monophysitism: This view stated that Christ had only one nature. His human nature was ‘absorbed into’ a divine nature and thus morphed into a third nature. This third ‘mix’ of natures is neither human nor divine.4
  • The Orthodox View: This view states that Christ was fully God and fully Man, one person with two unmixed natures. This perspective was approved by the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD).5

A key question in this debate is “of what did Christ empty himself?”

  • Emptied = Poured Out: Paul first emphasizes two realities: one that “being in the form of God” means being equal with God; two, that in Christ’s “being in the form of God/being equal with God” he displayed a mindset precisely the opposite of “selfish ambition” and empty glory. Paul then says Christ did not consider “equality with God” to consist of being “grasping” or “selfish”; rather he rejected this popular view of kingly power by pouring himself out for the sake of others. So, Christ did not empty himself of anything; he simply poured himself out; he “poured himself out by taking on the `form’ of a slave.” The narrative presents “the mind of Christ” in two major parts: his “humiliation” (vv. 6-8) and “exaltation” (vv. 9-11).  Paul shows that in all the self-emptying Jesus did, he never ceases to be God in his “humiliation”–indeed this is the full revelation of God’s essential character.1
  • Emptied = Humbled: Christ first “emptied himself” by stooping from God to humanity, then later “humbled himself” by stooping from humanity to death.7
  • Emptied = Setting Aside: This analogy may help – the “form” (or identity) of a king partially consists of the external marks which indicate a king–his sceptre, diadem, robes, attendants, throne, etc. Thus, Christ, before the foundation of the world, was in the “form” of God. Yet, when he came to earth he set aside these markers of kingship. This did not mean he was not king, rather it meant that he did not appear to be king because the hallmarks of kingship were not readily visible. Yet, one sees that through his death Jesus truly has the right to be king. Just like when the sun is obscured by a cloud, or in an eclipse, there is no real change of its glory, nor are his beams extinguished, nor is the sun himself in any measure changed, Jesus’ glory was only for a time obscured.8

Isaiah 45

When Paul says “every knee will bow” and “every tongue confess” he is referencing Isaiah 45:23. The context of the quotation from Isaiah is taken up with the uniqueness of Yahweh in contrast to lifeless idols (45:14 “he has no peer; there is no other god”). In the Isaiah passage, Yahweh, and Yahweh alone, is unique and the only god who creates, redeems, and sustains.10

What is notable here is that Isaiah 45:23 refers to the world acknowledging Yahweh as the one true god, but Paul substitutes in the name of Jesus. Paul is asserting that at Christ’s exaltation God has transferred this right to obeisance to the Son; he is the Lord to whom every knee shall eventually bow.1

Deuteronomy

Paul tells the Philippians to do everything without “grumbling and complaining” thus evoking images of the “grumbling” and “complaining” done by the Israelites in the desert (Exod 15:24, etc.). He then goes on to quote Deuteronomy 32:5 in which Moses talks about the Israelites being “a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful.”  However, here Paul designates the unsaved world in Philippi as “crooked and perverse” whereas Moses referred to the Israelites as “crooked and perverse,” and he contrasts the Philippians being “blameless and pure” children of God with the Israelites whom Moses called unfaithful children.

In Deuteronomy, Moses states that Israel “no longer” has the right to be called children of God. They are “blameworthy,” (Greek: moma) a term from the sacrificial system ( “full of blemishes”). Paul picks up this adjective, negates it (Greek: a-moma, “without fault”) and adds “in the midst of” before continuing the rest of the quotation. He thus converts the whole phrase into its opposite with regard to the Philippians. Over against Israel, they are God’s children, and by refraining from internal bickering they will be without fault.1

“Become blameless” is also the exact language used by God to begin the renewal of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17:1). The word refers to conduct with which one (probably God in this case) can “find no fault.”1

Overall, Paul expects the Philippians to succeed where Israel failed. The underlying theology in all of this is that God’s own character can now be reflected in his children when they bear the likeness of Jesus.1

Daniel 12

The image of the Philippian congregation as stars shining in a black sky is reminiscent of Daniel 12:3 which reads, “But the wise will shine like the brightness of the heavenly expanse. And those who bring many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.” Some have suggested that this figure of speech refers to evangelistic activity, in that the stars are shining Gospel light upon a dark world. However, Paul speaks of the unblemished congregation (like stars) being in the midst of the crooked generation (like the night sky). The stars do not illumine the night sky. They do just the opposite, showing how dark it is. Just as stars stand in contrast to the dark sky, so the unblemished congregation is to be in stark contrast to the perverted generation. This is not particularly about evangelism, it is about being utterly different from the sinful society around them.3

Drink Offering

Drink offerings were common in both Jewish and Gentile religions. It is unclear here which type Paul is alluding to, since he was Jewish and his audience was most likely Greek.

The Jews poured their gifts of liquid around the table, or beside the alter, on which they put their gift to God (Numbers 28:1-7).2

The Greeks poured their drink offerings over the sacrifice itself.

The meaning is the same both ways. In either case, Paul is comparing all of his own sacrifices to the drink offering (which was the tiniest part of the offering) to their labors (the main sacrifice).Paul is connect his circumstances with theirs, humbly.

Observations:

  • This chapter begins with a “therefore” ( “for this reason”), which connects Paul’s discussion about the Philippians’ struggle and suffering in 1:27-30 to his appeal for unity.1
  • A key word in Paul’s plea for unity is the Greek verb phroneo which indicates that one should set of one’s mind, or how one is overall disposed toward something. He uses it in 2:2, “be likeminded”, in 2:5, “have this same mindset, as Christ did” and in 4:2, where he urges Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mindset.1
  • Grammatically, Paul set up “selfish ambition or vain conceit” against “one in spirit and one in mind.” It is also important to note that “selfish ambition” is precisely what Paul in 1:17 attributes to those who are trying to afflict him in his imprisonment, while “vain conceit” is conceptually related to their “envy and rivalry” (1:15).1
  • The Greco-Roman world of the First Century generally considered humility to be a shortcoming, not a virtue. In the Old Testament the term indicates lowliness in the sense of “creatureliness.”1
  • Paul thought of salvation not in terms of the individual, but in terms of the community. One was saved “into” a group of people by joining them in “rightness” with God. The concept of the individual being “saved” from themsleves was secondary, if considered at all. Thus, when Paul says the Philippians should “work out your own salvation” he meant “in your relationships with one another live out the salvation Christ has brought you.” This is therefore not a text dealing with individual salvation but an ethical text dealing with the outworking of salvation in the believing community.1
  • The Greek word translated “work out” that Paul uses when he tells the Philippians to “work out” their own salvation, comes in the works of Strabo, a First Century Greek, who uses the same word to describe the Romans “working out” the great silver mines of Spain. In other words, they were getting all the silver that they could from the mines. Thus, Paul implies that Christians must work hard to get all the wonderful riches that their salvation in Christ has for them.2
  • Paul uses the term “fear and trembling” to describe how the Philippians should “work out” their salvation. This does not mean the terror of a slave in front of a cruel master. It means the honor that we should give to our holy and powerful God.2
  • Why is Timothy mentioned before Epaphroditus? Chronologically, it is the reverse of what one would expect since Epaphroditus is going back to the Philippians before Paul sends Timothy. Structurally, however, it reinforces Paul’s point: he first urges the Philippians to look out for the interests of others (2:3-4) and then turns right around and gives them the example of Timothy, who looks “out for the interests of others.” Paul then talks about the sacrifice they are making for their faith (2:17), and uses Epaphroditus as an example of one of their own community who has already risked his life for the gospel.10 Thus, Paul uses Timothy as a model of one serving the gospel by selflessly caring for the needs of others, and Epaphroditus as a model for the suffering that accompanies serving the gospel.1
  • Epaphroditus was a brave man, for anyone who proposed to offer himself as an attendant of a man waiting trial on a capital charge was laying himself open to the risk of facing the same charge.9
  • It is possible that the Philippians wanted a visit from Paul (after his release) or Timothy (now). So they sent Epaphroditus to relieve Timothy so he could be freed up to come and see them. But Paul was not willing to send Timothy at the moment. The apostle, however, does not want the Philippians to think that Timothy is not interested in them. Therefore, he commends Timothy highly and explains that the latter has a genuine concern for their welfare. Timothy meant a lot to Paul and it seems that the apostle needed him present. Thus, he thought it better to send Epaphroditus back. Besides, Epaphroditus was longing to see the church because he knew that they had found out that he had been ill (2:26). The church, however, was not to think of Epaphroditus as second best. On the contrary, Paul considered him his “brother,” “fellow-worker,” “fellow-soldier,” and “their apostle and servant” (2:25). Indeed, they were to honor men like him because of his work in the gospel on their behalf which almost cost him his life.10
  • Paul said Epaphroditus “risked” his life. The Greek verb used here, paraballesthai, means to literally “to throw down a stake,” “to make a venture.” The noun form implies “gambling,” “rash,” “reckless.” It is a term that was used to describe persons who risk their lives to nurse those sick with a plague.10

Discussion:

  • How do the concepts of humility and community go together? In our individualistic culture, why do we see humility as an personal, inner virtue, separate from a social context? How do we make humility a virtue that only finds meaning in a communal context, as Paul implies Jesus did through his death on a cross, and as the Philippians need to do in their present circumstance?
  • Why do you think Paul might be worried that the Philippians wouldn’t welcome Epaphroditus back? What do you think their expectations where in sending him to Paul? What do you think their response was when they saw Epaphroditus return from Rome with a letter, not Paul or Timothy?
  • How does Paul’s explanation of Jesus’ “emptying himself” make you think differently about how God sees victory? How was Paul relating this view of God’s triumph to his own situation? To the situation of the Philippians? How can we apply this to our present circumstances?
  • How united–in one mind, one spirit–is the church today? What about in our local church? Our home community? Why? Why not?

References:

  1. IVP Commentary
  2. Easy English Commentary
  3. Hagelberg’s Commentary
  4. Wallace’s Commentary
  5. Buntin’s Commentary
  6. Musick’s Commentary
  7. McClain’s Commentary
  8. Barnes’ Commentary
  9. Coffman’s Commentary
  10. Herrick’s Commentary

Philippians 1

Scripture: Philippians 1:1-30

Overview:

  • Paul and Timothy say, “What’s up?” to the members, elders and service volunteers at the church in Philippi.
  • Paul says that he’s stoked when he prays about the church in Philippi because they’ve been partners with him since the beginning, and he’s confident they’ll stay on this good path until the very end.
  • He then says that when he prays for them, he prays that they fall more and more in love with God the more and more they understand his ways and display God’s character to the world.
  • Paul then reassures the church that his arrest and impending trial isn’t an indication that things are going bad for the gospel, on the contrary it means the kingdom of God is advancing. It’s going so well, in fact, that Caesar’s own guards now know about Jesus, and some people are starting to have the courage to preach the good news of Jesus openly.
  • Paul then says, “Yeah, there’s some schmoes out there preaching about Jesus with the hope that it will somehow make my circumstances worse, but hey, Jesus is being preached, so that’s cool.”
  • Paul goes on to say that like Job in the Old Testament, he’s a good dude to whom bad things are happening, and in no way is he going to let Jesus down and give up. Uh huh. No way. No matter how the trial turns out (freed or fried), Paul is going to make sure Jesus gets center stage.
  • But, giving it his best guess, Paul thinks he’s going to survive this ordeal and be able to see the Philippians again, and then they’ll be able to party down about how cool God is together.
  • Paul then moves on to say, “No matter what the outcome is for me, you all need to act as one team, one people, focused on one goal. Don’t get spooked by the opposition you’re facing. Your circumstances are like mine. Suffering unjustly for being a good person is what Jesus did, so that’s what we’ll do too. Hang in there, like I’m doing.”

Historical Context:

Overseers and Deacons

First century churches didn’t have one specific leader, rather they had a group of elders, or overseers, appointed to run the church.

Deacons (literally, “servants”) were members of the church who had been appointed to manage services to the community (such as the distribution of food for the widows).

Paul rarely addresses the leadership of a church directly in his greeting. In Philippians, Paul may have mentioned these two groups specifically as a means of saying “thank you” to those who sent the gifts (generally a job of the deacons). Paul may have also mentioned them because there was some conflict between the deacons and overseers. Some commentators suppose that the appeal Paul makes to the two women, Euodia and Syntyche (4:2), to get along was because they were representatives of each group and the rivalry they may have they had.

Opposition to the Gospel

Paul mentions two groups that are creating difficulty for himself and the Philippians. The first are “some who preach Christ out of rivalry” in Rome (where Paul is) and who suppose they can “stir up trouble for me while I’m in chains” (1:15, 17). The second are people in Philippi that that Paul says the church should be unafraid of because “they will be destroyed” (1:28).

With regards to the first group, there were Christians in Rome before Paul arrived. When Paul arrived some of the other Christians may have lost some of their standing as leaders in their community. Given the tone of the letter Paul wrote to the Romans, they had some theological conflicts as well. There are a few motivations they may have had for opposing Paul:

  • The Roman Christians were jealous and wanted to attract attention to themselves again. 4
  • They may have argued that if Paul’s gospel was true that he wouldn’t be in prison. 6
  • Some of the Christians may have simply wanted to distance themselves from Paul (perhaps for their own safety) or diminish his influence (due to theological differences).

The second group of people lived in Philippi. Once again are multiple options as to their identity:

  • As indicated by Paul’s emphasis on Jesus as “lord” and “savior” (two titles reserved for the Roman Emperor), there may have been citizens of Philippi who were advocates of the cult of the emperor and were putting pressure on the Christian Philippians because their allegiance was being given to another “lord”. 6
  • Considering how concerned Paul was in general about Jews and Gentiles forming one people of God, the Philippian community may have been having difficulty with Judaizers–Jews who required Gentiles to follow the Jewish law in order to become a Christian. Paul often taught Jewish Christians to see that Christ brought an end to the law as a means of relating to God, and instructed Gentiles how to moderate their behavior toward the Jewish believers so as not to offend them.1

Praetorian Guard

Paul says that it is evident throughout the “whole palace guard” (literally, the praetoria) that he is in chains for Christ (1:13). The Praetorian Guard was a group of ten thousand hand-picked soldiers, concentrated in Rome, originally established by the emperor Tiberius. These soldiers had double pay and special privileges and eventually became very powerful politically.3

One of the responsibilities of the Praetorian Guard was to watch over the prisoners who had appealed to Caesar, such as Paul. A soldier would have been literally chained to Paul, day and night, in Paul’s rented house where he was under house arrest. It is interesting to think that the soldier to whom Paul was chained might have been Nero’s bodyguard the day before; or one of the executioners of Octavia (Nero’s wife) who then carried her head to Poppaea (Nero’s mistress).2

Job and Psalms

Paul uses Old Testament quotes and allusions to tell the Philippians that his imprisonment isn’t because he has done something wrong and God is punishing him. Rather that he, like the Job and King David, is a righteous man unjustly persecuted.

First, the phrase Paul uses in 1:19, “this will turn out for my deliverance,” is a quote from the Greek Old Testament of Job 13:16.6

Job 13 contains one of Job’s more poignant speeches, where he argues against the perspective of his friends who insist that his present situation is the result of hidden sin. Job knows better and pleads his cause with God, in whom he hopes and before whom he affirms his innocence. Indeed, the very hope of appearing before God in this way would be his “salvation,” because the godless shall not come before God (Job 13:16). And “salvation” for Job means “I know I will be vindicated” (v. 18).1

Second, when Paul goes on to say that he will “in no way be ashamed,” but have “sufficient courage” (1:20)  he picks up the language of Psalm 34:3-6 where David thanks God for delivering him from all his fears and taking away any possibility of shame, and Psalm 35:24-28 where David speaks about the vindication of God’s people.6

In biblical Greek “ashamed” has little to do with inner feelings resulting in embarrassment but with the disgrace of failing to trust God—or more often, the disgrace that the humble who do trust will not experience, despite present appearances to the contrary. Paul’s present usage appears to be echoing this motif from the Psalms, where the same words (“shame” and “be exalted”) often stand together in the same passage.1

Paul is telling his readers that he is experiencing no “shame” from being in prison; rather his hope is that Christ will receive honor however the trial turns out.1

Observations:

  • Paul characterizes himself and Timothy as “servants (Greek: douloi) of Christ,” a favorite title of early Christian leaders (James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Jude 1:1; Rev. 1:1). Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. It was used of national Israel at times (Isa 43:10), but was especially associated with famous personalities such as Moses and the prophets.It is notable that Paul does not call himself an apostle as he does in almost every other letter. Here he emphasizes his humility not his authority.
  • Holy people” (or “saints” as it is often translated) is one of several Old Testament terms used to designate Israel that was appropriated by New Testament writers. Its origins can be traced to the covenantal setting of Exodus 19:6, where God addresses Israel as his people, “a holy nation”—a people consecrated and subject to Yahweh and his service. Its New Testament usage most likely derives from Daniel 7:18, where God’s end-time people, who receive the kingdom as an eternal inheritance, are called “the saints of the Most High.” Their becoming “God’s holy people” is the direct result of their relationship to Christ Jesus; they are the saints in Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is responsible for their becoming the people of God.1
  • “Every time I remember you” indicates that Paul was praying for them at set times, according to his Jewish heritage. The Jews of Paul’s day regularly prayed: 1) In the morning, in connection with the morning sacrifice (9:00 am); 2) at the ninth hour in connection with the evening sacrifice (3:00 pm); 3) at sunset (~6:00 pm).6
  • Paul prays that their love may abound more and more in “knowledge and depth of insight” (1:9). The primary sense of the word translated “knowledge” is not so much “knowledge about” something as the kind of “full” or “innate” knowing that comes from experience or personal relationship. The second word translated “insight” denotes moral understanding based on experience, hence something close to “moral insight.1
  • “the day of the Lord” is an expression drawn from the Old Testament and carries with it both negative and positive aspects. In Joel 2:1-2 the prophet refers to the day of the Lord as a day of judgment and wrath, as well as blessing and salvation (Joel 3:14-16). Both of these senses are present in the writings of Paul.6
  • From the Roman point of view, Paul is on trial over a matter of religio licita (“illegal religion”—to determine whether Christians are still under the banner of Judaism), or perhaps ofmaiestas (“treason”—because he proclaimed another than Caesar to be Lord?—see Acts 17:7). From Paul’s own point of view, the gospel itself is on trial, and his imprisonment is a divinely appointed opportunity to preach it at the highest echelons.1
  • The term “sincere” (Greek: eilikrineis) can be translated as “without spot” and refers to moral purity. Originally, the term was derived from two words: 1) “sun” and 2) “judge.” Together the sense was “tested against the light of the sun,” “completely pure,” and “spotless.” The picture may be of someone bringing a garment or the like out into the sun to see if there be any stain or spot on it.6  In Latin, the word “sincere” means “without” (sin) “wax” (cere). Italian marble vendors and certain merchants of porcelain fell into the habit of hiding flaws in their merchandise by filling cracks and blemishes with a certain kind of wax; but the more reputable dealers advertised their wares as sin cere (without wax); and from this derived the meaning of the English word “sincere.” The true meaning of it is “without deception” or “without hypocrisy.”7
  • “Blameless” (Greek: aproskopos) has to do with being ‘blameless’ in the sense of ‘not offending’ or not causing someone else to stumble.2 This concept should be taken in the sense of community connectedness, rather than individual piety.  Paul is concerned with both liberalism and conservatism in that individuals may be so polarizing and prideful in their beliefs that they drive a wedge in the community (“cause someone to stumble”) rather than promote unity.
  • The phrase “decide what is best” carries the idea of “proving something as credible, worthy, or true by testing it.” It was used to refer to the testing of metals and coins to appraise their worth.6
  • Paul says that his imprisonment actually will help “advance” the gospel. The noun translated “advance” (Greek: prokopen) was a technical term from the nautical world meaning “to make headway in spite of blows” referring to a ship at sea striving against the wind.6
  • The same Greek word translated “depart” (analuo) is used to describe the release of a prisoner from his bonds (Acts 16:26), a military unit striking camp (literally, “move a tent”), and sailors releasing a boat from its moorings.2
  • Paul hopes the Philippians will “stand” firm in one spirit. The term “stand” (Greek: stekete) was used in the context of military battles referring to “soldiers who determinedly refuse to leave their posts irrespective of how severely the battle rages.”6
  • When Paul uses the phrase “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy…” (1:27) he is leveraging a political metaphor for citizenship–one that the Philippians would’ve known well. Rather than using his ordinary Jewish metaphor “to walk (in the ways of the Lord),” Paul appeals to the Philippians pride in having been made a Roman colony and therefore Roman citizens. Paul urges them to live out their citizenship in a way that is worthy of the gospel of Christ. What is intended by this wordplay is something like, “Live in the Roman colony of Philippi as worthy citizens of your heavenly homeland.”  Not only does it appeal to their own historic pride as Philippians, but now applied to their present setting, it urges concern both for the mission of the gospel in Philippi and especially for the welfare of the state, meaning in this case that they take seriously their “civic” responsibilities within the believing community. Their being of one mind and heart is at stake; disharmony will lead to their collective ruin.1
  • The word translated “frightened” (1:28) refers to “spooking” horses.1

Discussion:

  • It would be very natural for Christians in Rome and Philippi to view Paul’s imprisonment as a result of him doing something wrong and being punished by God. After all, if God was on his side, wouldn’t he protect Paul? Paul argues the very opposite: it is an indication of his rightness that something wrong is happening to him. The injustice happening to him is the means by which God will share the good news of his love for the world. Why do you think we equate safety with God’s favor? How does “losing” by the world’s standards look like “winning” by God’s standards? How do we know if we are in the right or wrong if bad things are happening?
  • Paul prays for the Philippians that he hopes their “love will abound” as they grow in depth of insight to determine what is “best.” What does Paul mean by this? What is the connection of “abounding love” to discernment? What is the connection of the joy Paul emphasizes he has with the knowledge of his own circumstances?
  • Why does Paul condone people preaching about Jesus “out of selfish ambition”? What impact does the motives of Christians have on the power of God’s message? About whom might Paul say this about today? Who is furthering the kingdom even if we don’t like their motives? And why does Paul condone those “selfishly” preaching Jesus in Rome but tell the Philippians that their opponents in Philippi will “be destroyed”? What is the difference between the groups?

References:

  1. IVP commentary
  2. Constable’s commentary
  3. Robertsons’ commentary
  4. Easy English commentary
  5. Hagelberg’s commentary
  6. Herrick’s commentary
  7. Coffman’s commentary
  8. Barnes’ commentary

Philippians Overview

Authorship and Date

There is virtually no doubt that Paul wrote this letter, and the majority of scholars agree that he wrote it while in prison in Rome around 61 or 62 AD.

Some scholars feel that Paul may have written Philippians from another city during another imprisonment (ex.. Caesarea). The problems with the letter’s origin being in Rome revolve around the length of time Paul was in Rome (2 years according to Acts 28:30) and the number of visits to and from Philippi during that period—not to mention the visits Paul was planning, according to Philippians. For example, there must be enough time to have: (1) someone sent from Paul to inform the Philippians that he was in prison; (2) the Philippians send Epaphroditus to Paul with their gift for him; and (3) someone dispatched to Philippi with the report about Epaphroditus’s health. There are also three other visits mentioned in letter: (1) Epaphroditus takes the letter to Philippi; and (2) Timothy is to make a round trip to Philippi and back to Rome.4

It is estimated that it would take 3 to 6 months to travel from Rome to Philippi. To accomplish all of these back and forth communications would be a tight time line.

Historical Context

The City of Philippi

Philippi was a city in eastern Macedonia established by the king of Macedon, Philip II, in 356 BC on the site of the Thasian colony of Krinides or Crenides (Greek for “Fountains”), near the head of the Aegean Sea at the foot of Mt. Orbelos about 8 miles north-west of Kavalla, on the northern border of the marsh that in antiquity covered the entire plain separating it from the Pangaion hills to the south of Greece.1

King Philip of Macedon’s objective of founding the town was to take control of the neighboring gold mines and to establish a garrison at a strategic passage: the site controlled the route between Amphipolis and Neapolis, part of the great royal route which crosses Macedonia from the east to the west and which was reconstructed later by the Roman Empire as the Via Egnatia.1

Philippian miners extracted huge sums of gold from those mines. Since Philip’s son, Alexander (the Great), conquered much of that part of the world and brought Greek culture to the whole region, it may not be too much to say that the gold of the Philippian mines bankrolled the Hellenization of the known world.8

The city recognized its dependence on the mines that brought it its privileged position. This wealth was shown by the many monuments that were particularly imposing considering the relatively small size of the urban area. It had a forum laid out in two terraces on both sides of the main road, and a large theatre to hold Roman games. There is an abundance of Latin inscriptions testifying to the prosperity of the city.1

Philippi was also known as the site of a great military victory, one deciding the fate of the Roman empire. It was there that Octavianus (later Augustus Caesar) and Antony defeated the forces of Brutus and Cassius, by which the republican party was completely subdued.10

During the Roman period Philippi was a “miniature Rome” under the municipal law of Rome and governed by two military officers who were appointed directly from Rome.1 This meant that the laws of Rome applied in Philippi, and citizens of Philippi automatically possessed Roman citizenship with all its valuable legal privileges, including exception from taxation. Macedonian provincial government had no authority there, and Philippi was directly under the control of Rome. Legally Philippi may as well have been physically located in Italy.8

The religious life of those in Philippi was marked by very syncretistic practices including the worship of the emperor (Julius, Augustus, and Claudius), the Egyptian gods Isis and Serapis, as well as many other deities.4  The city also enjoyed good agriculture, strategic location and travel routes, and a famous school of medicine.8

It is estimated that in the First Century Philippi contained about 2,000 people.1  The city was inhabited predominantly by Romans with many Macedonian Greeks and some Jews.6

Founding of the Church in Philippi

Luke’s account in Acts of the start of the church at Philippi is one of the most extensive accounts of the planting of a church in all of the New Testament.5

In 49 AD, after parting ways with Barnabas, Paul started on his second missionary journey with Silas. They initially visited Tarsus (Paul’s birthplace), then Derbe and Lystra, where, they met Timothy, and decided to take him with them.

Paul and company then traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia but where “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). So they went to the border of Mysia and tried to enter Bithynia, “but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them” (Acts 16:7).

Next they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas, where Luke joined them. While there, Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

The party then sailed from Troas some 60 miles or so to the island of Samothrace, and then sailed the rest of the way across the Aegean Sea to the port city of Neapolis. It is yet another ten-mile trek from Neapolis to Philippi.5

In AD 49 or 50, Paul arrives in Philippi accompanied by Silas, Timothy and Luke. Paul is believed to have preached for the first time on European soil in Philippi.

There were not enough Jewish men (i.e. 10) in Philippi to have a synagogue. This being the case, Paul  went to the Gangites River (or the Crenides river), approximately 1.5 miles away, in hopes of finding a Jewish “meeting place.”Places for prayer were erected by the Jews in the vicinity of cities and towns, and particularly where there were not Jewish families enough, or where they were forbidden by the magistrate to erect a synagogue. These proseuchae or places of prayer, were simple enclosures made of stones in a grove, or under a tree, where there would be a retired and convenient place for worship. The closeness to a river was likely to accomodate ritual washing.

The first convert in Philippi was a wealthy business woman from Thyatira named Lydia (or perhaps simply a Lydian lady) who was a dealer in purple cloth and a proselyte to Judaism (Acts 16:14). No men seem to have been present when Paul and the rest came upon a small group of women who had gathered for prayer.5

While in Philippi, Paul’s exorcism of a demon from a slave girl caused a great uproar in the city, which led to the arrest of Paul and Silas and a public beating (Acts 16:16-24). They were jailed for being Jews who advocated practices which were illegal for Roman citizens (most likely the worship of “unapproved” gods). An earthquake caused their prison to be opened that night. When the jailer awoke, he prepared to kill himself thinking all the prisoners had escaped and knowing that he would be severely punished. Paul stopped him, indicating that all the prisoners were in fact still there. The jailer then became a Christian (Acts 16:25-40).Paul didn’t easily forget the difficulty of this experience (1 Thessalonians 2:2).

Paul and Silas left the city shortly thereafter and traveled to Thessalonica. It is evident that Luke was left behind since the “we” section does not continue in Acts.9

The Philippians supported Paul financially several times during his ministry. At least twice in Thessalonica (Philippians 4:14-16); once to Corinth, (2 Corinthians 11:8-9); and once to Rome, (Philippians 4:10-18).2

Paul visited Philippi on two other occasions, in 55 AD and 57 AD (Acts 20:1-6). On these journeys Paul was raising funds for the Jerusalem church, since the Philippians had already given so much to Paul’s ministry, he asked nothing of them. But they insisted, even though they themselves were poor (cf. 2 Cor. 8:1-5).9

Some believe that Paul wrote his Second Letter to the Corinthians at Philippi, and possibly his First Letter to Timothy.2

Audience

The Philippian church appeared to have several strong women leaders. Lydia, the first convert, was a woman of means, and her home may have been the church’s first meeting place. Paul mentions two other women in this letter: Euodia and Syntuche who “contended at [Paul’s] side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of [Paul’s] co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Phil. 4:2)

It is considered that the majority of the Macedonian converts in the Philippian church were very poor (2 Cor. 8:2), though the very first converts were of all classes (Acts 16).

The names of the members of the Philippian community are largely Gentile: Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement (2:25; 4:2,3).6

Though there didn’t seem to be many Jewish believers in Philippi, Paul was still wary of the Judaizers, a party of Jewish Christians in the Early Church who held that circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law were necessary for salvation, and wrote to the Philippians to steer clear of their teachings.

Major Themes

Generosity

Paul seems to have written this letter as a “thank you” letter to the church in Philippi in response to their gifts.5 Paul was so impressed with the Philippian’s generosity that he used them as an example to other churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-5; 9:1-5). Paul appreciated that they were a church committed to support the proclamation of the gospel. According to Paul, this was a church others would do well to imitate.5

Suffering

Philippians is also written to give a proper perspective on unjust suffering, persecution, and even death. Paul memorably writes, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The Book of Philippians spells out just how this expression should define our perspective.5

Joy

Paul mentions joy or rejoicing 15 times in this letter (on average “joy” or “rejoicing” appears every 7 verses). This is even more significant considering Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome and chained to a Roman guard.7 No doubt the Philippians would remember that Paul had ended up in prison when he first evangelized Philippi. And that while in prison, he and Silas sang praises to God.13

Below are some concepts Paul found joy in:

  • The joy of prayer (Philippians 1:4)
  • The joy that Jesus Christ is preached (Philippians 1:18).
  • The joy of faith (Philippians 1:25).
  • The joy of seeing Christians in fellowship together (Philippians 2:2).
  • The joy of suffering for Christ (Philippians 2:17).
  • The joy of news of a loved one (Philippians 2:28).
  • The joy of hospitality (Philippians 2:29).
  • The joy of finding our confidence in Christ (Philippians 3:1).
  • The joy of remaining steadfast in the faith (Philippians 4:1).
  • The joy inherent in every gift (Philippians 4:10) as an expression of another’s caring. 11

Humility as a Means to Unity

Paul admonishes the Philippians to live humbly as servants of Christ (2:1-11). He appeals to them on the basis of membership in the body of Christ (2:1-4), reminding them that selfishness hurts everyone. Then he weaves an early Christian hymn (which they probably had sung many times) into the fabric of his argument. The Carmen Christi (2:6-11) functions as a reminder for them to follow in the steps of Christ: if he who was in the “form of God” could humble himself, what right do believers have to refrain from doing the same thing? Further, after Christ “emptied himself” (by adding humanity, 2:6-8) God exalted him (2:9-11). The implication, if this is part of Paul’s argument, is that God will exalt believers who also humble themselves.9

Remaining Faithful to Jesus Despite Opposition

Paul takes on two groups opposing him in this letter.

The first is an unnamed group of believers in Rome who are jealous of Paul’s success. Paul doesn’t condemn their message, just their motives.9

The second group is likely in Philippi, perhaps part of the church already. They are the Judaizers who believed that to become a true follower of Jesus one had to become a Jew first.  This group had already infected the churches of Galatia. And, as the Acts record shows, they hounded Paul wherever he went. Not only this, but the evidence from Paul’s letters shows that they had infiltrated—or were about to infiltrate—several of his churches (cf. 1 Thess. 2:13-16; Phil. 3:1; etc.).9

Paul points out that he had the proper Jewish credentials (3:3-6), just as his opponents did, but that all of it was useless for attaining salvation.  The basis of a right relationship with God is through faithfulness in Christ (3:9) and the true goal is Christ’s resurrection power (3:10-11).9

Discussion:

  • Many have called Philippians a “thank you” letter from Paul for their support. Who would you write a thank you letter to for helping you grow in your faith?
  • What does the fact that Philippi was a wealthy city, but that the first church there was largely poor, tell you about how God worked in that culture? What does that tell you about how God may be working in our culture? What parallels are there between 1st century Philippi and 21st century America?
  • In Acts God seemed to redirect Paul towards Philippi. The church he would establish there would be one of his ministry’s best supporters. What does this tell you about God and the “open” or “closed” doors that you might encounter in your life?
  • The church in Philippi was founded through women converts, and women were still a strong core of their leadership a decade later. What does this tell you about the role of women in the Early Church? How is that different or similar to their role in churches today?
  • Joy is a strong theme in Philippians. What is joy? What are your experiences with it? How is it different than happiness? How sustainable is a joyful attitude? Is there a time that you found joy in the midst of an unpleasant situation?

References

  1. City of Philippi
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia
  3. Epistle to the Philippians
  4. Herrick’s Commentary
  5. Deffinbaugh’s Commentary
  6. Malick’s Commentary
  7. Newton’s Commentary
  8. Hagelberg’s Commentary
  9. Wallace’s Commentary
  10. Barnes’ Commentary
  11. Coffman’s Commentary
  12. Easy English Commentary
  13. Constable’s Commentary