Digging in the Word: Philippians (entire study)
1:1 Usually Paul would address himself as apostle, but here as slave. We are to be servants of Jesus Christ, obeying Him totally as our master; this applies to all Christians, from the simplest of the faithful to the highest of the prelates. It is becoming more and more common for various denominations to declare that each person in the church has an equal role, and that there should not be one person put over the others, but we see clearly here that already in the earliest days of the Church there is a clear regard to different roles. Paul here writes to all the Christians, along with the ‘overseers’ and ‘ministers’, who have specific roles within the community. Both of these words, as the Church develops, become concretized as ‘Bishop’ (overseer) and ‘Deacon’ (minister). Thus we see the natural development of the Christian Church.
1:2 It was very common in the New Testament to refer to the Father as God and to the Son as the Lord. It does not mean that the Father is not Lord, or that the Son is not God. The future Creeds of the Church guide us to a clear understanding that the Son is equal to the Father: God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.
1:3 Saint Paul gives thanks for the Christian congregation, and why? Because they are laboring with him to spread the gospel in a harmonious way. Saint Paul does not give thanks in a generic way, even if the text could be cut up to seem so: “I give thanks to God.” Rather, a further reading shows us that our thanks should be to God THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, and for particular reasons. Romans 1:8 helps: “I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ;” thus we see that Saint Paul is praying by invoking the holy name of Jesus and that he is praying ‘because’ of something, in this case because of their faith, in Philippians because of their partnership for the gospel, in 1 Corinthians 1:4 for the grace God poured on them, in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 for their faith, hope, and love. Therefore, do not simply pray “thank you God” but rather pray by giving thanks to God, invoking the holy name of Jesus our Lord, and for particular spiritual benefits given.
1:4 Saint Paul prays with joy. Many people only pray when they are in need, therefore without joy but rather with pain or sadness or anxiety or concern. The prayer of thanksgiving is filled with joy and should be normative in the Christian life.
1:6 We are usually unaware of the work of God, but this verse helps us to see that God is always at work on our behalf, since He is good, our Father, desiring us all to inherit eternal life. God will continue to care for us until the day when Jesus Christ comes back again to judge the living and the dead.
1:7 Each Christian should partner with the leader of the community to defend the gospel and to confirm it. Defense of the gospel includes absolute conviction that Jesus Christ is the sole Saviour of mankind, and any other message must therefore be false.
1:8 The leader of the community loves with the same affection as Jesus.
1:9 Growth as a Christian is constant. If you are not growing, you are neglecting your vocation. This growth in knowledge and discernment is necessary for us to become pure and blameless. We are as of yet not perfectly pure, not completely blameless, so we must strive. Romans 12:2 warns us not to be conformed to this age, but that our minds are to be renewed. Ephesians 3:14-19 insists that we can grow in a great way, to know “the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Colossians 1:9-10 shows Saint Paul praying for us to grow in knowledge, wisdom, understanding, worthy living, “so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit and growing in the knowledge of God.” Are you growing?
1:11 God the Father is glorified when we are grow in fruitfulness through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself testifies to this in John 15:8: “By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.” And again, He says in Matthew 5:16: “Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” This fruitfulness is not done apart from God, but through Jesus Christ, as Jesus declares in John 3:21: “But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.”
1:12 Paul’s situation is that he is imprisoned. He also refers to himself as “an ambassador in chains” in Ephesians 6:20, and he considers himself not a prisoner of any adversary, but as a prisoner of Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:1). Paul sees that he is suffering for the Gospel, “even to the point of chains, like a prisoner. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
1:14 The fact that Paul is imprisoned urges others to continue the work of proclaiming the gospel. This shows us that God can work out His plans regardless of the situation at hand.
1:18 In any realm of society there are those who are pure and those who are impure, even in regard to the ministry of Christ. Again, God is able to bring about fruitfulness even in spite of the motivations of man. The theme of rejoicing is central to this letter; indeed, this is a central theme of Christianity, even in the midst of persecution.
1:20 It is not only our spirit or soul which gives glory to God, but even in our bodies and in suffering Christ can be magnified or glorified. Paul instructs us in 1 Corinthians 6 that our body is a temple of the holy Spirit, and that we have been purchased at a price. “Therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20), and “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1). Saint Peter speaks likewise: “But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed but glorify God because of the name” (1 Peter 4:16).
1:21 Paul knows that either of the two ultimate realities will be used by God as God sees fit; if to be alive, to live in Christ and proclaim Him; if to die, to go to be with Christ whom he proclaimed.
1:22 If Paul remains alive, he will continue to preach and win converts to Christianity.
1:23 Paul’s ultimate desire is to go to Heaven. Notice that it is not his ultimate desire in a long, far off way, like so many who say “Of course I want to go to Heaven, but I want to stay here on earth for a long time,” as if they will accept the fact that they can’t live forever, but if they could they might choose earth. Rather, for Paul, he wants to go there now! It is his ultimate desire now, to be united with Jesus in Heaven. In fact, that would be “far better.” He says this again in 2 Corinthians 5:8: “we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord.”
1:24 Paul sees that his role in building up the body of Christ is why he is alive.
1:27 Our conduct should match the dignity of those reborn in Christ, as he writes in Ephesians 4:1 “live in a manner worth of the call you have received,” “in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Colossians 1:10). Unity is also central here: one spirit, one mind, together, the faith, the gospel. See Ephesians 4:3-6 on the 7 unities: body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God.
1:28 Christians are not to be influenced by the opinions of non-believers and outsiders, but rather built up together.
1:29 to suffer for Christ is seen as a gift. He suffered for me; it is an honor for me to suffer for Him. Jesus speaks to this in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-11) when he says: “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me.” And why? “Your reward will be great in heaven.” In fact, Jesus makes this willingness a condition to be one of His disciples: “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38). He adds in Mark 8:35 that “whoever wishes to save hiss life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” The early Apostles rejoiced “that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41). Saint Peter exhorts us: “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.”
1:30 The Christians participate in Paul’s difficulties; they may be put in chains as he has been. Even if not, they will endure hardships for the Gospel. Paul had been imprisoned in Phillipi, the place where he is now writing this letter, as we learn from Acts 16:19-24 as well as from 1 Thessalonians 2:2.
2:2 Paul pleads for the community to live in harmony; notice the unitive phrases: ‘same’ mind, ‘united’ in heart, thinking ‘one’ thing. He uses the word ‘harmony’ in Romans 15:5, which he claims is “in keeping with Christ Jesus,” and in 1 Corinthians 1:10 the urge is that the whole community “agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you,” and that they be ‘united’ in the ‘same’ mind and in the ‘same’ purpose. There is no doubt that unity within the community is an ideal at the heart of the Christian life; division and strife, on the contrary, are shameful.
2:3 “Regard others as more important than yourselves.” This is a fiercely difficult piece of advice to learn and attain. However, we must admit that if it is a counsel of divine revelation, then it is possible; therefore, we must strive to obtain the reality. A lesser form of regard, that of equality, is given to attain in Romans 12:10, where Paul writes for us to “love one another with mutual affection,” and to “anticipate one another in showing honor. For sure, we are to avoid the lack of regard which is vicious, which Paul warns against in Galatians 5:26: “Let us not be conceited, provoking one another, envious of one another.” This lofty challenge to “regard others as more important than yourselves” is rarely approached by the New Testament authors in such a stark way, but it is a fitting preparation for the deep and eloquent language which he is getting ready to employ in the following verses.
2:4 The practical way of implementing the counsel of verse three is by focusing on others rather than self. This same theme is touch upon in 1 Corinthians 10 with regard to food, drink, and other customs, and Paul’s words are that “no one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor” (1 Cor 10:24). See also Romans 15:2, which reads: “let each of us please our neighbor for the good, for building up.” Late in this second chapter of Phillipians, Paul will praise Timothy for being such a good example, in contrast to other, who “all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 2:21). Paul makes his own claim to strive for this same kind of other-focused living at the end of chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, in verse 33: “I try to please everyone in every way, not seeking my own benefit but that of the many, that they may be saved.” This way of thinking and acting for others even finds its way into the great hymn of love in chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians, where love “does not seek its own interests” (1 Cor 13:4).
2:5 Jesus is our model in all things, especially in humility, which is exposed here. Jesus is equal to the Father, yet He assumed a human nature and lived a human life. A prayer from the Holy Mass, during the mixing of the water with wine, is appropriate here: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” It is by the humility of Jesus that we are raised to the heights of divine life.
2:6 The three persons of the Holy Trinity share equality: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all equally God. Here we see clearly written that Jesus holds that same equality with the Father. Saint John states this divine equality at the beginning of his gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Later in John’s gospel, Jesus Himself speaks to His Father: “Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began” (John 17:5). Paul sees that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God” and “the firstborn of all creation” (Colossians 1:15). Paul writes that Jesus is equal to the Father in Colossians 2:9: “For in Him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily.” The writer to the Hebrews places Jesus on the same level as the Father in chapter 1: “in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe” (verse 2) and “who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being” (verse 3).
Jesus is the New Adam, accomplishing what the first Adam could not. As Adam reached out to be equal to the Father, explained to us by the seducing snake in Genesis 3: “God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know good and evil.” Therefore, as the New Adam, Jesus did not grasp for this equality, but humbled himself.
2:7 Jesus took on a human nature. This is such an extremely awesome reality that language of ‘emptying’ and ‘slave’ are employed to try to capture the staggering event of the Incarnation. Human words cannot grasp fully what this was like for the divine Son of God to assume a human nature. It seems like the divine person empties himself of all the heavenly properties in his human existence. To be limited in time and space, to experience what humans experience, this seems like a slavery for a divine being. This divine Person, in his human form would experience the rejection and pain of humanity. Isaiah prophesied that the messiah to come would be “spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem” (Isaiah 53:3). Later in Isaiah’s prophecy, we see that this man would experience a sort of slavery, being called a servant: “My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear” (Isaiah 53:11). The divine Son of God truly assumed a human nature, as John writes: “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This mystery is furthered shared in verse 3 of Romans chapter 8: God, “by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for the sake of sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” 2 Corinthians approaches this exchange when Paul writes: “For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). This human birth is explained in Gatlatians: “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Galatians 4:4). The reason why Jesus took a human nature is explained in Hebrews: “Now since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life” (Hebrews 2:14-15). A little further, the writer continues: “Therefore, he had to become like his brothers in every way, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God to expiate the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17).
2:8 Jesus, who as God cannot die, in his humanity is capable of tasting death. If this is not enough, He chose to die by a most embarrassing and excruciating death. This humility of God for you should cause you to stop and kneel down. The difficulty of the saving task of Jesus caused Him to pray to His Father when he says “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus lists this as a reason for the Father’s love: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again” (John 10:17). Jesus has always been the Son of the Father, as Hebrews states “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Jesus was able to see past His death to the new life He would take us into: “For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).
2:9 Due to the great humility shown, the Father lifted His Son to a great height of glory. The Son of the Father received the name Jesus when He was born of the Virgin Mary. He has always been Lord, but receives it anew due to His death and resurrection and victory of death, sin, and satan. Jesus has been “exalted at the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Jesus Himself had already taught us that “whoever exalts himself will be humbles; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Paul writes to the Ephesians of what the Father has done “in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). Hebrews speaks to this exaltation: “When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high, as far superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs” (Hebrews 1:3-4).
2:10 Isaiah had written that every knee should bend and every tongue would confess: “By myself I swear, uttering my just decree, a word that will not return: To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear” (Isaiah 45:23). This is fulfilled in Jesus in these verses of Paul. The book of Revelation sees this comprehensive exaltation as well. “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: ‘To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). Jesus and the Father are to receive the same glory, as Jesus states in regard to judgment: “so that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). This name of Jesus is praised by Peter as he declares that “there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12).
2:11 Christians are to give glory to the Father by confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. Many people say something like “I believe in God.” As true as that is, Christians are to go further than that statement by declaring in the world that they believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Acts recounts that Jesus is both Lord and Messiah. “Therefore let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36). Paul instructs us to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord in Romans: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). The Holy Spirit leads us to this confession, as it is written: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
2:12 Paul instructs the community to work out their salvation with “fear and trembling.” It seems that this use of terms indicates seriousness so that their status among the elect remains unshaken. Psalm 2 makes use of the same terms in its address to kings: “And now, kings, give heed; take warning, judges on earth. Serve the LORD with fear; exult with trembling, accept correction lest he become angry and your perish along the way when his anger suddenly blazes up” (Psalm 2:11). Paul himself presented himself to the people of Corinth “in weakness and fear and much trembling” (1 Cor 2:3). Paul speaks of the Corinthians reception of Titus in the same way: Titus “remembers the obedience of all of you, when you received him with fear and trembling” (2 Cor 7:15).
2:13 This verse is quite the clip to us. We oftentimes think that we are not able to do something, but at least we boast of our desire to do it. Even the desire to do something comes from God’s creative chambers. Recall 1:6, where “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it.” Of all the acts of Christians, it is “God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:6). Paul, while reporting about all the work he had done, does not finish without crediting God for accomplishing it in him: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God [that is] with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
2:14 This is a very clear verse, but very difficult to carry out. Grumbling and questioning are adolescent traits and should be rooted out through parenting. Never-the-less, they oftentimes aren’t and become snares in adulthood. Therefore, Paul feels the need to write about these very traits. Paul recounts the errors of the people involved in the stories of Israel’s exit from Egypt in 1 Corinthians, and we see that both grumbling and questioning got them in a lot of trouble. “Do not grumble as some of them did, and suffered death by serpents” (1 Corinthians 10:10).
2:15 Christians are to be distinguished from the ‘generation’. We live in a crooked and perverse generation just as they did, and we must not behave as the generation behaves, but as the Gospel demands, and as grace provides. This difference is highlighted throughout the New Testament: by Our Lord in Matthew 10:16 “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves”; also by Peter in Acts 2:40, where he says “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” The holiness of the Christian, characterized by words such as ‘blameless’ or ‘light’, is repeated in places such as 1 Thessalonians 3:13 “to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones,” Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden,” with more in verse 16 “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly father,” and in Ephesians 5:8-9 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”
2:16 To “hold on to the word of life” indicates that they are walking in the knowledge of the Gospel, with all that entails. Paul turns again to the 2nd coming of Jesus, which should always be in our minds as it governs our lives, and claims that his boasting on that day will be whether souls are saved or not. He writes in a way which tugs at any pastor’s heart in 1 Thessalonians 2:19 “For what is our hope or joy or crown to boast of in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming if not you yourselves?” and in the next verse: “For you are our glory and joy.” This theme goes both ways in 2 Corinthians 1:14: “as you have come to understand us partially, that we are your boast as you also are ours, on the day of our Lord Jesus.” Paul uses the image of a crown as well: “Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). The connection between souls going to Heaven and the day of the Lord’s coming should not be lost on us. Paul sees it as that which matters.
2:17 The language used here must be understood as lifted from Jewish worship. Jewish priests offered sacrifices, libations would be any number of liquids which would flow or be poured out on or around or in connection to the altar of sacrifice. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice, His Precious Blood being the libation poured out for the salvation of the many. Paul employs this language to communicate his own sacrificial life and vocation, even to the point of offering his own life. He makes use of this sort of priestly language in Romans 15 when he writes of his vocation “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable” (Romans 15:16), and he writes of his pending martyrdom in 2 Timothy 4:6 “I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.”
2:18 Paul, having explained the extent of his example, now calls upon the Christian community to imitate his attitude, most likely having not gone through the same difficulties as him. In verse 17 he says that he rejoices and shares his joy, so also they should rejoice and share their joy. We see again why Philippians is known as the ‘epistle of joy’. 16 times at least the word joy or rejoicing is used in this quite short epistle.
2:19-24 The whole church is encouraged by hearing of others walking and standing firm in the Lord. Timothy is one of Paul’s closest associates, as is seen in Acts 17: 14-15 “The brothers at once sent Paul on his way to the seacoast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. After Paul’s escorts had taken him to Athens, they came away with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.” Elsewhere, Paul speaks of Timothy’s importance: “For this reason I am sending you Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord; he will remind you of my ways in Christ Jesus, just as I teach them everywhere in every church” (! Corinthians 4:17); “If Timothy comes, see that he is without fear in your company, for he is doing the work of the Lord just as I am” (1 Corinthians 16:10). Paul sees that Timothy is completely at the service of the building up of the Christian community in Philippi (v.20); at the same time he writes against those who are not completely at the service of the mission (v.21). See 2 Timothy 4:9-10, where Paul wants to be reunited with Timothy, and speaks against a certain Demas: “Try to join me soon, for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica.” Paul sees himself as a father to Timothy (v.22). Timothy is a model for all times, and especially our day, that bishops and priests are to ‘serve alongside’ each other ‘in the cause of the gospel’. Paul will send Timothy but plans to go as well when/if he is able.
2:25-28 Paul gives high titles to Epaphroditus: brother, co-worker, fellow soldier, messenger, minister in need. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul and now Paul is sending him back to the community of Philippi. Having been quite sick, he has regained his health, and now Paul will be pleased to have him ministering amongst the Christians in Philippi.
2:29-30 Paul instructs the Christians to give a certain respect, honor, and esteem to those ministers among them who are toiling and spending themselves for the proclamation of the gospel. This esteem for the ministers who work with Paul is seen elsewhere, as in 1 Corinthians 16: “I urge you, brothers-you know that the household of Stephanus is the firstfruits of Achaia and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the holy ones – be subordinate to such people and to everyone who works and toils with them. I rejoice in the arrival of Stephanus, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, because they made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit as well as yours. So give recognition to such people” (1 Corinthians 16:15-18). Note in particular those words used: ‘be subordinate to such people’, as well as ‘give recognition’. Following this same theme, words of ‘respect’ and ‘esteem’ are used in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work.” Paul evaluates the worth of these ministers by the toil, labor, and struggle that they go through for the gospel of Jesus (v.30).
1: It is no surprise that Paul returns to the theme of rejoicing. No matter what has happened, is happening, or will happen, the Christians are to rejoice.
2-3: The dogs, evil workers, and mutilation have many references in scripture, and Paul may be including any or all of them here. For sure, he is collecting their identities to clarify who the Christians are in contrast to them: The Christians are the true followers of the covenant of old (the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and the people of God), which has been superseded by the new covenant ratified in the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ. The Jews are very careful to follow the Law to obtain righteousness. Paul is reminding the Christians that observance of the Law does not make one righteous; placing one’s claim to righteousness in the work of Jesus Christ is what must be done. “I cannot save me; God has saved me, in Christ Jesus.” This is the foundation of Christianity.
To return to the dogs and the evil workers, Psalm 22 includes them in a particular way. Psalm 22 is at the height of pre-Christian prophecy of what was to occur in the life of Jesus. A surface read proves that. Verse 17 of that prophecy puts the dogs and evildoers together, and continues into verse 21: “Dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and my feet… deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the grip of the dog.” We can remember the words of our Divine Lord Himself, when He alludes to the people not of Israel: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:27). In the New Covenant, there are potential problems coming from any number of false ideas. The Christians may be provoked to return to old covenant practices which negate the work of Jesus Christ; they may be influenced by Gentiles who refute the Cross of Jesus Christ; they may be tricked by false practices within Christianity, oftentimes by the spiritual elitists of the gnostic sorts. The dangers come from any direction, but the remedy is clear: hold fast to the knowledge of the revelation from God of Jesus Christ as the author of the New Covenant, ratified in His Precious Blood.
4: Paul is now going to highlight all the things he has done so well from his former life in Judaism, so as to highlight his point that none of that matters when it comes to attaining right standing with God. The Law is not the measure; The Cross of Jesus Christ is the measure. Paul does this from time to time in his letters. Since the first converts to Christianity were Jews, there needed to be a teaching on how to transition from Judaism to this new way. From time to time Paul employs a testimony to make sure that those converts who wanted to boast of their following of the Law know that their boasting has no place now.
5-6: Paul lists his Jewish pedigree. He was circumcised on the right day, he is not a convert to the race, he knows his tribe, both parents Hebrews themselves, and he was rigorous with the Pharisees. All of this would indicate the purity of his upbringing, and he adds his own claim of following the law carefully.
7: Paul’s pedigree has been set aside, because he is not trying to gain righteousness by who he is or what he has done. Rather, Jesus Christ is his focus now, not himself. Our Lord Himself spoke of this kind of change in his parables: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Paul knew that to inherit this new treasure, he had to let go of what he had known or possessed up to then.
8: A most precious passage of the New Testament writings: “I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” Commit Philippians 4:8 to memory and let it take root in your mind, heart, and soul.
8-11: Paul continues to inform the Jewish converts that the law no longer should be the measure for religious conduct. Rather, he focuses on these things: faith in Jesus Christ; knowing the power of His resurrection; sharing in His sufferings. The focus is completely on Jesus as the source and power for attaining eternal life. The law used to be the measure; it is no longer the measure: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, through testified to by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation…” (Romans 3:21-25).
10: Christians participate in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, for sure by their own death they will awaken to eternal life. But even in this life, the Christian mystically participates in the death and resurrection of Jesus. “Or are you unaware that we who are baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). On the theme of suffering with Christ, Paul sets it up as a preparation to share in the glorification of Christ: “we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). Paul goes so far in this identification with Christ that he says: “From now on, let no one make troubles for me; for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body” (Galatians 6:17).
12-13a: Paul is aware of his present relationship with Christ Jesus, but knows that he cannot presume that ‘yesterday’ is good enough. Each day the Christian must strive to move forward. You have heard the saying: “If you are not going forward, you are going backward.” Something like this is at work here. There is more, and the Christian must continue, must abide, must keep on. We have not yet been perfected, so today is our opportunity to become more like Our Lord. The idea of pressing forward (or else failing) is seen in many of Paul’s letters, oftentimes with the language of competition or athletic activity. Paul writes to Timothy: “Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses,” and to accumulate “as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.” (1 Timothy 6:12, 19). Paul writes of himself: “I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified,” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Nearing the end of life, Paul concludes: “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
13b-14: It is the Christian way to release yesterday and things gone by and enter into the mercies which are new every morning. The goal is complete configuration to Jesus and possession of Heaven, gained by daily fidelity. The athletic theme in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25 serves well here: “Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises disciple in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.”
15-16: Paul is highlighting the fact that nobody is as of yet perfect, but that we all must continue forward. If someone thinks that they are perfect, God will help them see the error of their thoughts. They are on the right path; therefore, press on.
17: Paul was aware that his life was to become a model of this new way of life found in Christ Jesus, one which was zealous, singlehearted, pure (with regards to faith) and clearly distinguished from false teachers. Paul says to be an imitator of him numerous times (1 Corinthians 4:16, 1 Corinthians 11:1), imitators of the leaders in other cases: “you became imitators of us and of the Lord… so that you became a model for all the believers” (1 Thessalonians 1:6,7). Saint Peter asks the leaders the same: “Be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
18-19: There are countless ways to be an enemy of the Cross of Christ. This case seems to be those who would consider themselves Christians, but are living a very worldly and indulgent life, even sinful. Paul warns of these ‘fleshy’ people in Romans 8:5-6: “For those who live according to the flesh are concerned with the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit with the things for the spirit. The concern of the flesh is death, but the concern of the spirit is life and peace.” These same people can become troublemakers, establishing factions which Paul warns of: “I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles, in opposition to the teaching that your learned; avoid them. For such people do not serve our Lord Christ but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the innocent” (Romans 16:17-18). Others who are enemies of the Cross of Christ are Gentiles and Jews: “We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).
20-21: Earth is a valley of tears, a place of pilgrimage, a practice or dress rehearsal, an exile, a stepping stone. Heaven is the goal. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ (by grace you have been saved), raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-7). Paul continues in Ephesians 2:19: “So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God.” So we are to lift our thoughts, hearts, and desires to our true homeland: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-4). We will be transformed into our heavenly body, free of every defect imaginable, and filled with every perfection pleasing to God. “We groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies”; “Those he justified he also glorified”; “it is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual one”; “All of us, gazing with unveiled faces on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (Romans 8:23, 30; 1 Corinthians 15:44; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Two places are not included here because they are lengthy, but worthy: 1 Corinthians 15:42-57 and 2 Corinthians 5:1-5.
1: Paul returns to that heartfelt sentiment of unity which we have seen him employ earlier (2:16; 1 Thess 2:19-20), that he as leader is connected with the Christians. They are his “joy and crown.”
2-3: An example of differing ideas is pointed out, and Paul encourages this to be resolved by finding unity in the Lord. Paul asks others in the community to be of assistance in finding this resolution. These people were obviously very helpful in the work of evangelization and Paul does not want these relationships to fall apart. The ‘Book of Life’ is a symbolic image which has its origin all the way back in the book of Exodus. This ‘book’ has the Lord’s list of the just, the holy, the saved. Psalms 69:29 has the psalmist asking that the wicked ones “be blotted from the book of life; not registered among the just!” In fact, Our Saviour Himself teaches us that we should not rejoice over excellent works in this world, but rather “rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The Book of Revelation speaks of the ‘Book of Life’ repeatedly as the list of the just, those who will enjoy Heavenly bliss for all eternity with God. In Revelation 3:5 Jesus shares the benefit of being written in the Book of Life: “The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels.” Other references in Revelation include 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 20:15; 21:27.
4: We have looked at the theme of joy and rejoicing in this letter multiple times, so central is the theme for Paul. The church should be a beacon of joy, but not some anonymous joy; this joy is to be found in the Lord.
5: Christians are not only to have kind thoughts or kind wishes for others, but the manifestation of kindness should be so pronounced that all would know.
6-7: God has promised that He will care for all those who are His own, but so often we allow circumstances to unsettle us. There is a remedy for this: the peace of God. Our Saviour has commanded us to be at peace, and has promised to send the Holy Spirit to give us this peace. This peace is taken away when we forget or neglect the promise of God’s providential care for us. Our nervousness, anxiety, fear, and many other obstacles take front stage; the peace of God which comes from trust is the remedy. Our Lord pressed this point in the Sermon on the Mount when he counsels us not to worry (Mt 6:25, 31) or be anxious (Mt 6:28), reminding us that God, who cares for all the lesser creatures, cares for us even more fully. Saint Peter invites to “cast all your worries upon him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7), which is the best way to process our anxiety. Many people say “don’t worry” but what good is that? Rather, tell God of all your worries, and He will minister to you. How can we do this but to “persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2).
8: Paul directs our attention to the ideals of life, the list is worth placing all together here; whatever is: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise. These grand virtues should be focused upon, sought after, pursued until acquired.
9: Once the Christian has begun his training in righteousness by adhering to the teaching of the Apostles, he should continue steadfastly on this course. Paul even dares to counsel the Christians to imitate him, as he does in other places such as 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2: “Finally, brothers, we earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves and please God – and as you are conducting yourselves – you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.”
Peace is so central a fruit of the Spirit that it is singled out again and again as the governing factor and consoling accompaniment of a life in Christ. Peace is seen as a central attribute of God here: “the God of peace” who will be with us. Paul asks that the “God of peace” be with the Christians as he blesses them (Romans 15:33; also 1 Thes 5:23); the “God of peace will quickly crush Satan” under their feet (Romans 16:20); in fact, God “is not the God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).
10: Paul is sharing his pleasure that as he has labored greatly, so also there is a return from the people of gratitude to him.
11-13: Paul has been in many circumstances and has been able to continue his labor in the midst of all of them. So we learn that our circumstances don’t inhibit us or determine us, but rather how we respond in the midst of them. Paul lists some of these various circumstances, for example: “We go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands” (1 Corinthians 4:11-12); he has experienced “afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts” (2 Corinthians 4:4-5; also 2 Cor 11:26-27);
12: He shares the varied ways he has lived, in each of those ways finding the way forward and grasping the gift which comes from it.
13: Instead of the circumstances determining Paul’s operation, he places the secret in this: the empowerment of God which gives strength. God had shared with Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness,” so Paul goes on to write that he “will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). In the labor and the struggle of the ministry, Paul moves forward “in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:29). Many people have found much comfort by memorizing this 13th verse of Philippians chapter 4. It should be understood in this way: no matter what circumstances surround me, God will give me what grace I need to remain faithful to Him and to endure it. It should not be taken to mean that a person can literally do anything, but the strength to endure the things God has given.
14: Paul, having finished his teaching, again shows his gratitude for the support of the people.
15: Philippi was not the first place in which Paul preached the Gospel, but the first in Europe.
16: The church of Philippi provides for Paul’s needs even when he was not with them. This teaches that we are to provide for the needs of the Church throughout the world, and not only in our local community.
17: Paul stresses that he is not the only one who receives because of their generosity, but rather that by their generosity they are growing in the Holy Spirit, building up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).
18: Paul speaks of the support from the Philippians in language lifted from Old Testament religious rites, those ways in which the people would give of what they had to honor God. Their giving to his needs is seen as a way to continue that sacrificial giving in the New Testament. Noah had built an altar and offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and “the LORD smelled the sweet odor” (Genesis 8:20-21). Moses and the people who left Egypt were instructed to “burn the entire ram on the altar, since it is a burnt offering, a sweet-smelling oblation to the LORD” (Exodus 29:18). Our Saviour Himself has surpassed all of these offerings, as Paul writes in Ephesians 5: “Christ loved us and handed Himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.” This giving of self is seen as normative for the Christian community, and we see it extended from the example of Our Saviour to the community in the letter to the Hebrews: Through Christ “let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind” (Hebrews 13:15-16).
19: In response to their support, Paul promises that God will continue to provide for them.
20: The letter is coming to an end, and so we see a doxology, directing all of our praise to God who is Father as well as Trinity. This praise and glory is directed to God through Jesus Christ, as is seen in Romans 16:27: “To the only wise God, through Jesus Christ be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
21: Final greetings are extended.
22: Paul shares that the Christians around where he is in captivity send their greetings as well.
23: Paul signs the letter with a liturgical presidential phrase. This phrase has been preserved in the liturgy even until our own day, which shows how deeply committed the Church is to Biblical expressions in divine worship, handing on the Apostolic faith. Paul extends the grace to their spirit, and we continue to respond in our day to our leaders: And with your spirit.