Explanatory Notes on Philippians

 

Quick Links

*    Outline

*    Overview

*    Introduction (1:1-11)

*    Paulís Situation (1:12-26)

*    Paulís Core Message: One Spirit (1:27-2:30)

*    Exhortation to Rejoice, with a digression (3:1-4:9)

*    Closing Thanks (4:10-20)

*    Conclusion (4:21-23)

 

 

Outline

 

Introduction

1:1-11

 

 

Letter Body

1:12-4:20

 

 

Conclusion

4:21-23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greeting

1:1-2

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving

1:3-11

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paulís Situation

1:12-26

 

Paulís Core Message:

One Spirit

1:27-2:30

 

 

Exhortation to Rejoice

3:1-4:9

 

 

Digression

3:2-4:1

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

 


Closing Thanks

4:10-20

 

 

 

General Exhortation

1:27-2:18

 

Coworkers

2:19-30

 

 

Overview
Philippians begins by telling us that its authors are Paul and Timothy, although the bulk of the letter speaks in the first person singular. We should thus think of Paul as the primary voice behind the letter. Perhaps Timothy served as his secretary in writing.

The letter is addressed to all the saints who are in Philippi, including overseers and deacons. At one point he does refer to them as a singular assembly (4:15), although it is hard to know for sure whether this straightforwardly means they could all fit within one house church. If so, then we should think of a rather small community of no more than 40-50.

Paul has some history with the church and a clear fondness for them. He apparently went to Thessalonica from Philippi, a trajectory that corresponds with Paul's course on his second missionary journey. While he was at Thessalonica, the Philippian church alone apparently sent him material support on more than one occasion.

And they apparently have sent support to Paul again as part of the background of this letter. They heard that Paul was in prison awaiting trial (e.g., 1:13) and sent Epaphroditus with support (2:25; 4:18). Prison was not a punishment in the Roman world, but a time of waiting for trial. We can infer from Philippians that at the time of writing he expected a verdict soon and then would perhaps come visit them (2:24). Meanwhile, enough time had elapsed since he was imprisoned for 1) word to travel to Philippi, 2) Epaphroditus to come to him from Philippi, 3) word to travel back to Philippi that Epaphroditus was sick, and 4) word to travel back to Paul of their reaction to Epaphroditus' sickness.

This letter seems, as much as anything, a note of thanks for their support, sent most likely to them with Epaphroditus himself (2:25). He hoped soon thereafter to send Timothy and then to come himself. He also takes the opportunity to address some tension between two of the prominent women of the church (4:2) and, indeed, the importance of unity in general (2:2).

 

A sidebar in 3:2-11 warns the Philippians of Jews, probably Christian Jews, who presumably might try to convince them, as Gentile converts, to become circumcised and follow the particulars of the Jewish Law that most distinguished Jew from Gentile.  Paul does not indicate that such individuals are already in play at Philippi.  He is simply warning them of the issues that he addressed head on in Galatians.  Although some have suggested this section might have come from another of Paul's letters and have been placed here, we have no reason not to take the text as it is.

It is a matter of some debate as to where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote Philippians. The traditional view is that he is in Rome, the most obvious place where one would find a praetorian guard (1:13) and those of Caesar's household (4:22). Accordingly, if we followed Acts, we would then date Philippians to the early 60's while Paul was under house arrest in Rome.

On the other hand, Paul's plans to come to Philippi and the apparent proximity of Philippi to his place of imprisonment, allowing for so many cycles of news back and forth, speaks more toward a location like Ephesus and, thus, an earlier date such as the mid-50's. Acts does not tell of an Ephesian imprisonment, but Acts does not tell of other things too. Further, Acts has a tendency to downplay Christian entanglement with secular authorities, choosing rather to blame Christian troubles on "the Jews."

In this light it is significant that Paul apparently did get into a major conflict at Ephesus with a mob (Acts 19:23-41). In 2 Corinthians 1:8, written not long after this crisis, Paul indicates that his opposition in Asia was so fierce that he feared for his life and was afraid he would get "the sentence of death." 1 Clement further indicates that Paul was imprisoned seven times, only three of which we can straightforwardly account for in Acts.

In short, it is more than possible that Paul was imprisoned at Ephesus for a time in the aftermath of the riot. If so, it might contribute to an explanation for why he apparently stayed outside the city limits on his way back through the area a few months later (cf. Acts 20:16). And if Mark can speak of a praetorium in Jerusalem (Mark 16:15), there might certainly have been one in Ephesus.

 

 

Introduction (1:1-11)

Greeting (1:1-2)
1:1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with [your] overseers and deacons,
Although Paul mentions Timothy here in the prescript, the bulk of the letter addresses the Philippians in the singular ("I," "me") and mentions Timothy in the third person (2:19). We can speculate that Timothy may have served as Paul's secretary or amanuensis in the writing of the letter.

Philippians and Romans are the only two places where Paul begins his letter by referring to himself as a "slave" or "servant." In Philemon he does refer to himself as a prisoner. More often he begins by calling himself an apostle. Perhaps it is significant that Philippians and Romans are not letters in which Paul plays up his authority. In Romans he wants to invite the support of his audience and in Philippians he is on some of his most cordial terms.

Paul refers to the audiences of his letters as "saints" or as called to be holy in several of his letters. In both instances the Greek word hagios is involved. To be holy is of course to be set apart as God's. The word itself need not imply any particular inward morality or goodness, as in 1 Cor. 7:14. Something that is God's is not to be treated as "common" or like any other thing. It is on the God rather than human side of the line.

"In Christ" is a characteristic phrase for Paul that appears on nearly every page of his writing. It is for him an essential part of redemption, for we are joined with Christ in baptism, united to his death, so that we might live with him (Rom. 6:4). We live in his faith (Gal. 2:20).

Philippi was a major city of Macedonia, a Roman colony located on the Egnatian Way. Latin would have been the official language of the city, although it doesn't pose any problem that Paul writes in Greek. Acts depicts the founding of the church there during Paul's second missionary journey around the year AD50. If Paul wrote Philippians from Ephesus, then this letter dates only 4 or 5 years later. If he wrote it from Rome, it would date as much as 10 or 12 years later.

The mention of "overseers and deacons" hints at the way Paul's churches were structured. Paul only refers to the church at Philippi in the singular (4:15), so we may only be speaking of a church of 40-50 people meeting in the house of a wealthy patron like the Lydia of Acts 16. This suggests a church governed more by a collection of individuals more than a single leader, unless we are meant to take Epaphroditus in some greater role.

The distinction between overseers and deacons is not made clear. If Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 3 give any indication, a deacon apparently held less oversight and authority in the assembly, perhaps taking on more of a role of the nuts and bolts of the church. Overseers would then provide more spiritual guidance. Acts suggests that it was Paul's pattern to appoint elders in the churches he founded (Acts 14:23), and it makes sense to say that such elders took on these roles.

1:2 ... grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
This is Paul's standard and perhaps self-styled way of introducing his letters. The word "grace" (charis) resembles the standard letter greeting (chairein) and so may be a word play. Peace (shalom) was of course the standard Aramaic greeting. So Paul's greetings in a way embody his theology of the unity of Jewish and Gentile believer.

That grace and peace comes from our divine Patron, God, our Father. And it is brokered through the Lord, the risen, cosmic king, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.


Thanksgiving (1:3-11)
1:3-5 I give thanks to my God with every remembrance of you, in every petition of mine for you, making the petition with joy because of our fellowship in relation to the gospel from the first day till now,
Part of the standard format of an ancient letter was a section of thanksgiving to the gods or a word of praise to the gods after the letter opening. Paul's letters, with the exception of Galatians, typically do the same. However, even though the language here is somewhat typical (like "Dear John"), we have every reason to think that Paul meant it sincerely.

This is especially true in relation to the Philippians, perhaps the church with which Paul felt the strongest bond of fellowship.

1:6 ... since I am persuaded of this: that the One who began a good work among you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Paul's thinking holds in tension a sense of human responsibility for action along with a sense of divine direction and determinism. In our opinion, Paul never works out a resolution to this tension, and the contrasting schools of Calvinism and Arminianism are the result, with one group emphasizing the deterministic passages and the other emphasizing Paul's sense of human responsibility.

This particular verse focuses on God as the one working in and among the Philippians. Paul believes he can already discern the trajectory they are on, a trajectory for salvation on the Day of Messiah Jesus. The "Day of the Lord" is of course prophetic language that refers to the day of judgment. In the Old Testament it is the day when God finally brings justice for his people.

For Paul it is the day of Christ's arrival from heaven, the day when the judgment of the world begins. It is also the day of salvation for those who because of faith escape God's wrath in judgment. So Paul believes he can tell that they will be among those who make it till the end and escape the wrath of God when Christ returns.

1:7 ... as it is right for me to think this about you all, because I have you in [my] heart, and since, in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you are all my fellow partakers of grace.
Paul does not reveal the full dynamic of why he is convinced God will complete the work God began in them, but perhaps he gives a hint here. He knows that God will complete His work among them because he himself has them in his heart. Presumably, Paul does not think he would care so much about them and long for their fellowship if God had not truly chosen them.

And they feel the same way about him. They walk with him and experience God's favor just as Paul does. Paul may currently be waiting trial in prison for his activities in relation to the gospel, the good news that Jesus is Lord. But such suffering for Paul is an honor, a gift from God. He has been granted the honor of defending the lordship of Christ and confirming it by the fact that he stands firm.

1:8 For God is my witness, as I long for you all with the bowels of Christ Jesus.
Paul does not actually swear by the Lord, but he does invoke God as a witness to the truth of what he is saying. And what he is expressing to the Philippians is his deep love for them, here expressed as a longing of his bowels. It was a commonplace to see the heart as the origin of courage and spirit in the chest. The bowels or abdomen then were the seat of desire of a more fundamental kind. Paul has that sort of bond with the Philippians, and it is the same love that Messiah Jesus also had and has for them.

1:9-10 And I am praying this: that your love might multiply still more and more with knowledge and all perception, so that you can discern the things that are superior, so that you may be pure and without blame on the Day of Christ.
Wisdom and discernment are not major themes in Philippians, unlike Colossians, which Paul might have written at about the same time. Paul does address the potential influence of "Judaizers" in chapter 3, an issue that Paul no doubt thought required good judgment.

But in keeping with the theme of God continuing to work in them until the day of Christ's return, Paul prays that they will know how to live in this world, "to discern the things that are superior." Paul is presumably talking about knowing how to live and make the kinds of decisions that will leave them free of blame.

Paul knows nothing of some blamelessness that is a "legal fiction" in which a person is still as much a sinner as before, but only considered pure from a legal standpoint. This verse focuses on the need for God's people to live in the world in a way that is literally considered blameless and pure to God. He surely implies that it is God that gives them the discernment to live this way. But there is no hint of anything but a full expectation of righteous living.

1:11 ... and be filled with the fruit of righteousness through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
The person who is "pure and without blame" is a person whose life is "filled with the fruit of righteousness." Galatians 5:22-23 spell out the kind of fruit Paul likely has in mind. They are things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To be sure, this fruit comes "through Jesus Christ." It is not something the Philippians might boast about. In the end, as every praiseworthy thing in the cosmos, the goodness of this fruit goes "to the glory and praise of God."

 

 

Letter Body (1:12-4:20)

Paul's Situation (1:12-26)
1:12 Now I want you to know, brothers, that the things having to do with me have come about particularly for the advancement of the gospel,
With this verse Paul transitions into the letter proper. He begins by talking a little about his current situation. Someone looking on from the outside might think, "This guy is trouble. Look at him. He's in trouble with the law." If Paul is imprisoned at Ephesus, he was at the center of a riot--scary things when you have Roman soldiers nearby, ready to keep order. If he's at Rome as Acts depicts, here's someone who the Romans shipped all the way from Judea to stand trial before Nero. More than that, whoever his God is, his God has let him undergo these trials without rescuing him.

But Paul asserts on the contrary that his trials are serving a nobler purpose. His sufferings are advancing the gospel, the good news that Jesus is king. God is directing his trials to spread the good news.

1:13 ... with the result that [it has become] apparent that my chains [are] in Christ among the whole praetorium and all the others,
In particular, Paul has been able to spread the good news among the Roman soldiers and administration that are around him. The mention of a praetorium is the strongest argument that Paul is in Rome. The praetorian guard was particularly associated with the defense of the emperor. 4:22 further mentions those of Caesar's household.

However, Mark 15:16 refers to Pilate's headquarters in Jerusalem as a praetorium, so it would seem that the word could be used of the place from which the Roman governor administrated. It would thus seem that 1:13 does not clearly tell us anything about Paul's location other than the fact that he is at a place where a Roman governor is seated. And since a household included slaves and all those who administer the house, "Caesar's household" might easily include all those who administrate the affairs of Caesar. The emperor at the time was likely Nero, no matter when Philippians was written, since Nero became emperor in AD54.

1:14 ... and most of the brothers have become convinced in the Lord by my chains to dare to speak the word more abundantly without fear.
Paul saw himself as a model to others who might otherwise have held back in their preaching of the gospel for fear that they would get in trouble. Paul showed that even death--the worst possible outcome--was not to be feared. He thus saw himself as liberating the church from the fear of persecution.

1:15 Some [do it] both because of jealousy and strife. But others preach the Christ out of good will.
At the same time, Paul implies here what we know from elsewhere. Those who believed Jesus was the Messiah were not in agreement on everything. Paul in particular has faced resistance from those he calls "the dogs" in 3:2. While these could be non-believing Jews, it is perhaps even more likely that they are Jews who have confessed Jesus as Messiah but who disagree with Paul on the inclusion of the Gentiles. They would have the Gentiles fully convert to Judaism in order to be saved from God's coming wrath.

It is initially difficult to picture what it might mean for someone to preach the Christ--that Jesus is the Messiah, the king of the Jews--from contentious motives. Presumably the jealousy and strife Paul mentions have in some way to do with him, as the next verse makes clear. But from our perspective today, it is at first somewhat puzzling that individuals at Paul's location might preach Christ with motives relating to him at all.

1:16 The latter [do it] out of love because they know that I am appointed as a defense of the gospel.
What becomes clear in this verse is that the preaching of the Christ has an impact on Paul's situation and coming trial. Paul is perhaps in prison for causing public disorder and disruption, either in Ephesus or in Jerusalem. If he is in Ephesus, we can easily imagine that there were Christian Jews in the city--"Judaizers"--who vigorously opposed Paul's version of the gospel. These are individuals who would be glad Paul was arrested and would see it as God's judgment on him. In Rome, it is still possible that there were such people, even though the original controversy had not occurred there.

The problem is that the continued preaching of the gospel--especially if Paul is at Ephesus--simply keeps alive the reason Paul was arrested in the first place. The Christian message is controversial, indeed subversive to Roman rule. Paul is proclaiming a higher king than Caesar. As long as the gospel in all its controversy continues to be preached, the instability a person like Paul brings to the empire is front page news.

But Paul thinks that his ordeal advances the gospel, and he celebrates those who preach Christ boldly, knowing that it makes it more and more likely that the Roman governor will make an example of Paul. They affirm his values--that death is far from the worst that could happen to you. They believe that God is giving Paul an opportunity to witness to the truth of the gospel. His day in court is his day to proclaim that Jesus is Lord before rulers. Their heart is as Paul's heart.

1:17 The former proclaim the Christ out of ambition, not sincerely, thinking they will increase trouble for me in my chains.
Again, it is initially difficult for us to imagine how there could be Christians who believed in Christ, but preached Christ in such a way as to cause trouble for him. It may simply refer to people like those who loved Paul, but who in contrast enjoyed the fact that they were putting him in the spotlight. They might have portrayed Paul as a trouble maker in the way he went about preaching.

It is of course possible that Paul refers here to those he will call "dogs" in chapter 3. But the fact that he considers their gospel still to be the authentic gospel (see the next verse) probably argues against it.

1:18 But what [does it matter], except that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and for this reason I rejoice.
Apparently, Paul's Christian opponents are still preaching Christ authentically enough for Paul to consider it the gospel. They must at least be preaching that Christ is king. Since he does not consider the gospel of the Judaizers to be the true gospel (Gal. 1:6), it seems unlikely that he has them in view here. The tone here also is not as strong as that in chapter 3.

Nevertheless, Paul's attitude here seems different than the one he has had in other situations where others have opposed him. He vigorously opposed those at Corinth who resisted his authority. His letter to the Galatians exudes his anger toward his opponents. If Philippians was written from Ephesus, we can perhaps a progression where Paul has recently dispatched a "harsh letter" to Corinth, one that has not survived but is mentioned in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:8). If one goes with the northern Galatian hypothesis, Paul has recently written Galatians as well.

But now he awaits his trial and may even be put to death (cf. 2 Cor. 1:8). His attitude mellows, as we see in 2 Corinthians 1-9, written a little after Paul leaves Ephesus. He is on his way to feeling as he will write from Corinth to Rome in a few months--the door on the East is closing for him (cf. Rom. 15:23). He consigns himself to be happy that the gospel continues to be preached, even if he is not the one doing it.

1:19 But I also will rejoice, for I know that this will come out as salvation for me through your petition and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
It is possible that Paul has in mind his acquittal before the Romans here, as he will mention in a few verses. But verse 20 points to ultimate salvation as what Paul has in mind. Paul primarily uses salvation language in relation to escape from God's wrath on the coming day of judgment. Paul continues to walk in faithfulness to God and he believes that he will make it to the end, just as he is convinced the Philippians themselves will.

But their prayers are a key component in him making it to the end, and the help of the Spirit of Christ is essential. We should not resolve the tension between the gracious empowerment of the Spirit and the necessity for Paul to walk faithfully to the end.

1:20 ... just as I am eagerly expecting and hoping that I will not be ashamed in any way but with all boldness, as always, Christ also now will be magnified in my body, whether through life or through death.
Here is the direct expression of Paul's confidence that he will make it. Through their prayers and the help of the Holy Spirit, Paul will not be ashamed of Christ before the Romans, but will proclaim his faith boldly as a witness to Christ. Then Christ will be magnified either way, whether by letting Paul live or by his faithful death.

1:21-22 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is a gain. And if [I turn out] to live in the flesh, this [means] the fruit of work for me, and what I will decide I do not know.
So Paul, Stoic-like, consigns himself to whatever outcome may issue. He is not in control--a difficult thing for a person whose personality is to take control. He resigns himself to a situation about which he can currently do nothing.

It is all up to God. If he lives, he will continue to serve Christ in his ministry. If he dies, all the better, for he will be with Christ. He does not know which one God wills, and thus he does not know which one he should want.

1:23 And I am torn between the two, since I have the desire to be released and to be with Christ, [which is] far better by a lot.
Although not very clear itself, this verse is Paul's clearest indication that believers will be conscious between their deaths and the coming resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 both use the metaphor of sleep for the time between death and resurrection, and Paul further portrays death without resurrection as "perishing" (1 Cor. 15:18). From these earlier writings, it would be easy to conclude that Paul did not believe a person would be conscious in the shadowy time between death and resurrection.

In this verse, however, Paul thinks of going to be with Christ at death and considers it a better option than remaining in the world. It seems a different attitude toward death than his earlier writings have. Similarly, while 2 Corinthians 5:6-10 might not refer to the time between death and resurrection, many do read the idea of being "away from the body and home with the Lord" as a reference to this intermediate state.

The majority of interpreters simply take Paul's earlier references to "sleep" as metaphorical and see Paul having a consistent belief in conscious existence between death and resurrection for the entirety of his ministry. Others suggest that Paul's thinking underwent development, perhaps during the time of his debate with the Corinthian church. Still others have suggested that Paul's imprisonment led him to think that he would not survive till Christ's return, where he had earlier expected to be alive for this event. Such a sobering thought might lead to further reflection on our intermediate state.

1:24-25 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary because of you. And since I have become convinced of this [fact], I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your advancement and the joy of your faith,
Paul finally indicates that he believes he will survive his current ordeal. The reason is because he senses God still wants to minister to the Philippians through him, not least to contribute to their joy as they continue in faith. If Paul wrote Philippians from Ephesus, we know that he went on to visit Philippi after he left the city.

Many interpreters also suggest that Paul was acquitted after his appearance before Nero at the end of Acts, although Acts itself does not point in this direction. Its final chapters have a strong sense of foreboding, and Paul tells the Ephesians that they will never see him alive again (Acts 20:25). Given that Acts was almost certainly written some time after Paul was dead, it is more difficult to account for its manner of presentation if in fact Paul was acquitted before Nero.

1:26 ... so that your boasting in Christ Jesus might abound because of me, through my arrival again to you.
If Paul is released, as he anticipates, he plans to visit Philippi. This sense of direction also conflicts with a Roman imprisonment, since Paul's direction in Romans 15:24 is westward toward Spain. He believes his mission in the East is largely finished (Rom. 15:23). It is of course possible that an imprisonment in Rome has changed his sense of direction. But it is hard to think of why, if Paul were in Rome, he would not still plan to head west if he were released.

In any case, Paul's arrival in Philippi would be a matter of boasting for the Philippians, boasting in the mercy of God, boasting in the victory of God of His opponents, boasting in God's answers to prayers. This is not boasting in themselves, but boasting in Messiah Jesus for what he has done for Paul.

 

 

Paul's Core Message: One Spirit (1:27-2:30)
1:27 Only conduct your lives worthily of the gospel of the Christ so that, whether I come and see you or you hear things about me because I am absent, you are standing in one spirit, in one soul as you contend for faith in the gospel,
With this verse, Paul seems to begin a new train of thought. He has been sharing thoughts on his current situation--his imprisonment and likely outcome in particular. But now he shifts to what would seem to be his central charge to the Philippians. His main admonition to them, it would seem, is that they need to be unified, to think of each other rather than each focusing on his or her own agenda.

The way this new section begins is striking because Paul does not begin it with some transitional word like "therefore." He begins simply with the word "only," which implies that he is qualifying what he has just said. What he has just said is the positive boasting in the outcome of Paul's trial and his arrival in Philippi alive. Paul has been upbeat, hopeful, and has looked forward to a time of celebration.

With his "only," he begins a charge, a more serious note of instruction and gentle warning about things he has no doubt heard from Epaphroditus. The Philippians have sent Epaphroditus to Paul with material support while he is in prison awaiting trial. And Paul has almost certainly heard news of their conflicts from him as well.

They will all celebrate when Paul arrives, no doubt, and glorify God. But whether Paul comes or even if it turns out that he cannot, they must walk worthily in relation to the gospel about the Messiah. Messiah Jesus is the king of the cosmos. He is the Lord, the master. This is the heart of the good news, that our God reigns through Jesus, the Christ. Being the subject of a king is not a light matter. It demands conduct worthy of the king.

The word that Paul uses for "live your life" is quite unique for Paul's exhortations, it is a word related to a political body, like a nation. The idea of living worthy of your king is thus not so far removed from the connotations Paul is conveying. When one considers both that Paul is a prisoner of another state, Rome, and that he is writing to individuals who live in a Roman colony where Latin is the official language, Paul's statement takes on politically subversive tones. He implies that the citizenship of himself and the Philippians is not with Rome, but with the kingdom of the Christ.

What worthy living does Paul have in mind? He has in mind the unity of the local assembly. Perhaps the disunity of the Christians of those where he is at is fresh on his mind. He has just described a mixed context where some wish him well and others wish him ill. But even more to the point, he will mention two women who worked with him at Philippi who are at odds with each other in some way. Paul's central charge to the church at Philippi is to be unified.

1:28 ... at the same time not being frightened by any of those who oppose [you], which is a sign of destruction for them, but [an indication] of salvation for you--and this [indication] from God.
If Paul faith in Jesus as Christ is politcally subversive, then it is natural that believers will encounter difficulty by the earthly powers that be. It does not seem too likely that the believers at Philippi experienced much opposition from Jewish opponents. Indeed, some have suggested--although it is far from certain--that Jews at Philippi met outside the city at the river because they did not have ten men to form a synagogue. The difficulty with suggestions like these are that we do not know whether such later rules of synagogue formation were operative at the time of Christ.

Other kinds of opposition might come from family or those who found the "atheist" ways of Jews and Christians either ridiculous or, worse, dangerous to society. Roman society had no problem with Jews believing in their God. They only considered it perverse that they did not worship all the other gods, thus often dubbing them "atheists." You simply did not want gods of any kind angry at you, and failure to acknowledge gods thus was a potential liability to a society--the gods might get angry at you.

But unlike those who might think obedience to God only brings prosperity, Paul saw opposition as a sign of the validity of one's faith, an indication that you will be saved when Christ comes to judge the world. If God will overthrow the powers of this age, then opposition by the powers of this age shows you are on His side.

1:29 For you have been graced on behalf of Christ not only to have faith on him but also to suffer for him,
Again, many are not prone to think of suffering as a gift from God. But Paul here indicates that suffering is a great privilege for those who have faith in Christ. It is an honor to suffer for the king. In fact, the opportunity to place faith in Christ is also a great honor, a gift from God.

We probably should not read some highly developed theology into such statements. Paul is not explaining here the relationship between election and faith. He is not making some comment in relation to total depravity. He is simply stating in very general terms that it is a great honor to serve the God who is all in all, and His appointed king of the cosmos, Jesus.

1:30 ... as you have the same struggle of the sort you saw in me and that you now hear is in me.
According to Acts, Paul was imprisoned when he first stayed at Philippi. This imprisonment resulted from conflicts between Paul and the owners of a slave prophetess. Assuming this background, the Philippians had seen Paul struggle with opposition that resulted from his proclamation of the gospel, both from the Romans and from the polytheistic environment of the ancient city.

So particularly if Paul writes from Ephesus, he faces similar opposition from Romans and local merchants of items relating to other gods. If at Rome, he clearly faces difficulties with the Romans. What we can possibly infer from this verse is that the Philippians themselves are experiencing some difficulty in relation to the Roman administration of Philippi or, perhaps less severely, from local individuals.

2:1-2 Therefore, if some encouragement [is] in Christ, if some comfort of love, if some fellowship of spirit, if some bowels and mercies, make my joy full by thinking the same thing [and] having the same love, being like-souls,
So the Philippians are to live worthily of their king in relation to outside pressures and forces. Paul continues here with the next aspect of worthy living, namely, how they are to behave toward one another internally. The word "therefore" suggests that the like-mindedness he is about to encourage relates directly to outside pressures. As they face opposition, they need to have a united face.

The core part of this sentence is Paul's statement to "make my joy full." It seems more likely than not, therefore, that the conditions he mentions have, in the first place, to do with fellowship with him. If there is some encouragement for me in Christ, then you will become unified. If there is some comfort of your love for me, then you will become like-minded. If you fellowship with me in spirit and have "bowels" directed toward me, you will have the same love.

But of course, he clearly wants them to encourage each other, comfort each other in love, show "bowels" of longing toward each other and have a common fellowship in spirit as well. Perhaps then it is not too important to try to determine which party gets the love first in Paul's mind.

But unity with one another is the central message of Philippians, with rejoicing in suffering coming in at a close second. He urges the Philippians to "think the same thing" and be of "like souls." This is a commonality of purpose and loyalty to Christ.

2:3-4 ... thinking about the common interest, not [about things] because of selfish ambition or arrogance, but with humility taking others into consideration before yourselves, each person not only looking out for their own interests but also each for those of others.
Paul now expresses more specifically what it means to think as one and be commonly "souled." It is to put the interests of others above your own. Selfish ambition puts yourself as an individual above your brothers and sisters in Christ. Arrogance thinks that you are more important to God than others. Paul's admonition is basically that they should love one another and look out for the interests of each other.

2:5 Think this way, which was also in Christ Jesus, who...
Some have suggested that the verses that follow are only Paul going off on a tangent to praise Christ. However, such scholars generally suggest this idea because their theology does not have much room for the "imitation of Christ" as a part of Christian thinking.

But the attitude of Christ in the poetry that follows parallels Paul's instructions to the Philippians too closely to sever the connection. Paul wants the Philippians to have the same servant attitude toward one another that Christ demonstrated.

What follows is a poem about Christ. Many if not most scholars believe that this material existed before Paul wrote Philippians. First, it has a unique poetic structure, set off by the relative pronoun "who." Secondly, it includes vocabulary that is unusual in the other writings of Paul we have. Thirdly, comments appear occasionally that seem to interrupt the poetic structure, no matter how it is reconstructed. These interruptions are best explained if Paul is expanding on a poetic structure that existed before he quoted them.

If we conclude that this material existed before Paul wrote Philippians, other questions come to mind. Did Paul himself write it earlier? If not, who wrote it? Does it come from Christians even before Paul believed in Jesus? What kind of a poem is it? Is it a hymn? Did early Christians sing it?

We simply do not have enough evidence to answer all these questions for certain, although we will suggest some possibilities as we move through this "poem."

2:6-7a ... although he existed in the form of God,
he did not consider equality with God plunder,
but he emptied himself,
having taken the form of a servant,

More debate centers on the first line of the poem than over all the rest put together. For example, should we take the line to read "although he was in the form of God" or "because he was in the form of God? Both are possible interpretations.

Throughout the centuries, it was traditional to understand the first two lines to mean something like, "because he was in the form of God, he didn't have to steal equality with God." In other words, Jesus didn't have to try to become equal to God; he was God. This interpretation has sometimes been called the "not a thing he seized" interpretation (or in Latin, a res rapta), because equality with God was something Jesus already had.

However, "emptying himself" makes more sense if it is a significant contrast with "not plundering." By translating the first line with the sense of "although he was in the form of God, he didn't plunder," we have a better contrast with "but, by contrast, he emptied himself." "Emptying himself" seems to contrast with the first two lines more significantly than it would in the traditional interpretation, which basically ends up saying, "Jesus was equal to God, but he emptied himself."

Even if we translate the first line with "although," there is still more than one possible way to take what the poem is saying. The first we might call the "not a thing to seize" interpretation (or in Latin, a res rapienda). In this interpretation, Jesus was in the form of God, but was not equal to God. Jesus decides not to try to seize equality with God but instead even empties himself of the form of God.

Those who interpret the poem this way usually take the phrase "form of God" to mean the image of God, like Adam had. Although Jesus was like Adam, in the image of God, he did not grasp at being equal with God like Adam did. Instead, he emptied himself.

We might raise a couple of significant questions about this line of interpretation. For example, it is not clear that "form of God" is exactly the same thing as "image of God." Form and image are synonyms, but if the poem was thinking Adam, why didn't it simply use the word for image? Secondly, it is hard to see where "form of God" points to something different from "equality with God."

Most scholars currently understand the train of thought to be that, although Jesus pre-existed in some divine form (whatever that might mean for Paul), he did not exploit this equality with God. Rather, he emptied himself and became human in form. This interpretation assumes Christ's pre-existence. It would not, of course, assume that Paul had some developed sense of the Trinity. Most see the "form of God" in some relation to the glory or Shekinah of God, God in what visible form we might speak of.

Jesus does not take advantage or exploit this equality with God. Instead he empties himself and takes the form of a servant. Some suggest that the servant motif echoes Isaiah 53, where the suffering servant suffers for the people of God.

However, in our opinion, the direct contrast of "form of God" is with "form of a servant" in the next verse. Although it is difficult to identify a consistent poetic structure throughout this poem, the material through verse 8 is fairly consistent if we think of two stanzas of four lines each. "Form of a servant" thus helps us hone in on what exactly "form of God" has in mind. And it seems fairly clear from the contrast that it is not visible form but status that is contrasted.

Although Jesus had the status of God and was Son of God, he did not exploit or take advantage of this authority--of being "equal to God." Instead, he emptied himself of this status, and took the form of a servant rather than a king. Although this interpretation is a minority position, it fits the parallelism of the first four lines better than any of the other suggestions.

As such, it is not clear whether Paul has the pre-existent Christ in view or not here--or whether the author of the poem did. He and/or they easily might have, but it is not at all clear from this first stanza alone.

2:7b-8 ... having become in the likeness of mortals,
and having been found in shape as a mortal,
he humbled himself,
having become obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The parallel structure of this stanza with the first is obvious. Like the first stanza, the first and fourth line have a similar expression, here "having become." In both stanzas, the main verb is found in the third line. Also in both stanzas, Christ willingly lowers himself as a model of the kind of attitude Paul is urging the Philippians to have.

If the stanzas divide up in this way, then we do not immediately see "having become in the likeness of mortals" as the direct outcome of Christ emptying himself of the form of God. Yes, becoming like mortals is taking the form of a servant in the hierarchy of the cosmos. It is not assuming the role of a god or the son of a god. It is lowering oneself to the status of a mortal.

Only with the second line of this stanza does visible human shape come into view. Once again, Paul could certainly have a sense of leaving divine shape and taking on human shape. But this interpretation is far less clear than is often assumed when the poem is read through the eyes of later Christian understanding.

Christ's humility to the point of death mirrors the attitude Paul has had toward his own death and the attitude he wants the Philippians to have toward each other. But of course Paul was never in the form of God! We know from elsewhere in Paul's writings that the cross was the centerpiece of his preaching (1 Cor. 1:23) and that he believed Christ's death to have redeemed God's people from the curse of sin and the Law (Gal. 3:13-14).

Christ's action of "obedience to death" here probably illuminates Paul's understanding of the expression, the "faith of Jesus." While we agree that Paul often has human faith in view when he talks about human justification in the divine court, we also agree that Paul inherited from the early church a sense that the faithfulness of Jesus was instrumental in salvation. We will see this dynamic more clearly when we get to Philippians 3:9.

The expression, "even death on a cross," seems in tension with the structure of the poem up to this point. For this reason, perhaps most interpreters see this line as an expansion of the original poem by Paul. Mention of the cross certainly fits with Paul's signature interests.

Others have suggested that Paul would not have interrupted a known hymn or poem with such comments, that they would have been irritating to individuals who might even be singing along. But if Paul continuously modifies Scripture as he quotes it, surely we cannot assume he wouldn't have modified previous hymnic or poetic material. It was the nature of Jewish translation and interpretation to expand and modify as you quote.

It thus seems far more likely than not that Paul did not create this poem himself. When and where it was created, of course, we have no way of knowing. Some have tried to reconstruct an Aramaic original, which in theory might explain why some of the lines of the poem are disproportionate to the others (e.g., line 2). But such reconstructions remain very speculative and have failed to create a consensus.

2:9-11 Therefore, God also highly exalted him
and graced him with the name above every name,
so that, at the name of Jesus, every knee would bow--of those in the heavens and on the earth and under the earth--and every tongue confess,
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father.
If the two previous stanzas had a nice parallel structure, the final "stanza" goes in a different direction. It is of course possible to force a four line structure on these words, but it does not go easily. For one thing, these verses have more subordinate clauses, more logical connectors.

Our first thought is that perhaps it is at this point that Paul began to expand a previous poem that ended in verse 8. The problem here is that the vocabulary in these verses are as or more unique to Paul than that of the first eight lines. Even more significantly, the poetry gives off the kind of "mixed signals" that point to Pauline addition. In the end, we will probably never know for certain what the history of this poem truly was and what original form it took.

The direction of the first eight lines was down, down, down. Christ empties himself of divine status to that of a mortal. Then he humbles himself from mortal status down to the shame of someone crucified. Now the poem moves in the other direction, in the direction of Christ's exaltation. So also the audience, after humbling themselves before the world, will be vindicated with glory.

Christ may have been in the form of God before, but in response to his obedience, God now "highly exalts" him, super-exalts him, perhaps even with a higher status than he had at the beginning of the poem. God gives him the "Name above every name," which is almost certainly YHWH, the divine name. This fact comes out in the final part of the poem with the affirmation of Jesus as Lord. "Lord" was the Greek word that Jews used to translate YHWH.

So it is a virtual certainty that Jesus is given the divine name at the point of his exaltation to God's right hand here. Psalm 110:1 likely stands close in the background--"The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand." It is more difficult for us to wrap our heads around what it might mean for Jesus to become YHWH at some point in time. At the very least, it meant that Jesus assumed the role and status of cosmic king over all the creation.

The statement, "that at the name of Jesus" distracts from the flow of this final "stanza." We wonder if it is an addition by Paul. It makes clear exactly who all creatures are bowing before. Another likely addition is "those in the heavens, those on the earth, those under the earth." It refers of course to all the creation, from heavenly powers to the creatures of the earth to the dead. It is, by the way, another rare hint that Paul does in fact believe that the dead are conscious "under the earth" in the time before the final resurrection.

Although it is very speculative, the final stanza might thus have read in this way originally:

Therefore God highly exalted him
And gave him the Name above every name,
That every knee should bow and tongue confess
That Jesus Christ is Lord.

The application of Isaiah 45:23 to Jesus is astounding. In its original context, this verse clearly refers to God, and it does so in a context that is emphasizing that YHWH is the only God that truly exists. Paul and the poem's author thus apply one of the starkest monotheistic passages of the Old Testament to Jesus, a man that had only recently walked the earth.

At the same time, the poem applies this status and identity to Jesus from the standpoint of the resurrection, as other Scriptures such as Romans 1:3; 10:9; Acts 2:36; 13:33; and Hebrews 1:4-5 do. The Trinitarian debates of later centuries are not yet in view. To call Jesus "Lord" or even "YHWH" is thus to refer to his final and exalted cosmological role in the coming kingdom of God. He is supreme over all the creation and will rule in the kingdom as God's Son.

The final line, "to the glory of God the Father" allows Paul to make such exalted statements. It indicates that Paul still functions within a monotheistic perspective. Jesus is the Messiah, the cosmic king over all creation. But, in Paul's view, Christ will ultimately "hand over the kingdom to God the Father" (1 Cor. 15:24), "so that God may be all in all" (15:28). Despite the cosmic exaltedness of Jesus, he always subordinates him ultimately to God the Father.

 

2:12 Therefore, my brothers, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence alone but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling work out your own salvation,
Paul now resumes the idea that they should walk worthily of the gospel, whether he is able to come or not. They have submitted to his authority before, he expects that they will do so again. He sees following his instructions, particularly those he has just made in relation to unity, as key to their salvation.

Salvation for Paul is escape from the wrath of God on the Day of Judgment. In its most literal sense, it refers to a future event. Talk of being saved now is thus "proleptic" language, language that speaks of a current confidence of what will happen in the future on that Day.

Paul thus tells them to work toward that goal of salvation carefully, with a great sense of the seriousness of the task. Not to be saved on that Day is a matter of great fear and trembling, so the importance of making it to the end comes into clear focus. Despite the overemphasis of Protestant theology, Paul sees no contradiction to his theology elsewhere to suggest that we have to work to be saved. And he does not typically think of salvation through faith--Ephesians 2:8 is unique in the Pauline corpus--but of justification by faith.

We should also note that Paul is not talking about individuals working out their individual salvation. The verbs and pronouns in the verse are all plural. In other words, the church at Philippi is to work out their salvation together, as a group. This fact fits well with the unity Paul has been encouraging in their community. If they will show toward each other the same attitude that Messiah Jesus had, they will be saved.

2:13 ... for God is the One who is working among you both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.
Because they share the Holy Spirit, the spirit within their body, the body of Christ at Philippi, they have God among them, bringing about His will and His good pleasure. If they are obeying, then God is the one leading them from within, whether Paul is present or absent.

 

2:14 Be doing everything without grumbling or disputing,
Part of being of one mind and having an attitude like Christ's is to live together as Christians without grumbling or disputing. Paul has just told them to work out their salvation together with a deep awareness of the seriousness of the task. Disputing with each other or with leadership or grumbling about them is not helpful in moving toward the goal, nor does it reflect the proper gravitas for such a serious matter.

2:15 ... so that you might be blameless and spotless, children of God without fault in the middle of a crooked and twisted generation,
Further, grumbling and disputing makes the community of faith look like the crooked and twisted generation outside the church. The church is to look different, not least as a unified and loving community toward one another.

We once again note that Paul has no sense whatsoever of the church as a community of sinners in general. Galatians 2:17 looks primarily to individual Jews in relation to the Jewish Law, not to the inability of believers to live above the impulses of the flesh or the community as a whole to be pure. Both in Galatians (5:16) and throughout his writings Paul affirms not only the possibility but the essential need for believers to be "blameless and spotless" on the Day of Christ, "without fault." In this passage, unity and the absence of grumbling and disputing are in view.

2:16 ... among whom you are shining like stars in the world, holding on to the word of life, [which will be] boasting for me on the day of Christ, because I have not run in vain nor labored in vain.
Paul expects that believers will be noticeable in the difference between them and the world around them. The world around them is "crooked and twisted" while they "shine like stars" and are "blameless and spotless." Again, he is talking about not grumbling and disputing among each other and looking out for each other's interests and being of one mind and having the mind that was in Messiah Jesus. These are concrete, observable features of the Christian community that Paul expects to be in place.

On the Day of Christ, the honor of the Philippian community before God will be honor for Paul as well. It will show that Paul's labors bore fruit. In one dating of Galatians, Paul has recently written it from Ephesus. On this hypothesis, it is interesting to note there that he is afraid he had run in vain in relation to them (Gal. 4:11).

We note that Paul considers it okay to boast in this type of thing. In other places he indicates things he should not boast about. Boasting about works of (Jewish) Law are excluded in Romans 3:27. In Galatians 6:14 he says he should only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ rather than things like whether the Galatians get circumcised.

2:17 But if I am poured out on the sacrifice and ministry of your faith, I rejoice and I rejoice together with you all.
Paul now compares himself to a drink offering, something he does in Romans 15:16 as well in relation to his ministry to the Gentiles as well. If he writes Philippians from Ephesus, then Romans was written perhaps less than a year later. He is thinking of his sufferings as a kind of sacrifice that furthers the faith of the Philippians and the Gentiles in general. His sufferings thus, as he had said, are not a hindrance to the gospel, but a help and celebration of its advancement.

2:18 And you are rejoicing in the same way and you rejoice together with me.
And Paul implicitly urges the Philippians to rejoice together with him that the gospel is being advanced, even if it means some suffering for him at the moment.

 

2:19 Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy quickly to you in order that I too might be in good spirits because of knowing the things concerning you.
Timothy appeared in the first verse as one of the senders of the letter, but he has not appeared thereafter until now. Throughout the two intervening chapters Paul has spoken in the first person (e.g., 1:3). Even here, Paul tells about Timothy rather than both speaking as one voice. Paul does not always talk this way. For example, in 1 Thessalonians, "we" is consistently used.

We wonder if Paul includes Timothy in the greeting of the letter because, as we find out here, Timothy will eventually visit them. Or perhaps he served as secretary in the writing of the letter. In any case, as Paul is a representative and ambassador of Christ, Timothy will also go as Paul's representative to Philippi. Timothy will then return to Paul an give him a report of the state of the church there.

2:20-22 For I have no one of the same spirit, who genuinely will be concerned in relation to the things concerning you. For all are seeking the things of themselves, not the things of Jesus Christ, and you know his worth, that as a son serves a father, he served me in relation to the gospel.
While Paul may be a little hyperbolic here (did he not also trust Titus?), certainly 2:20 reflects Paul's trust of Timothy in God's mission to save the world. Not only does Paul trust Timothy as a "son" but he trusts the spiritual welfare of the Philippians with him. The aspect of Timothy's character that Paul most values in this regard is the fact that he is genuinely interested in others--as Paul has been urging the Philippians themselves to act toward each other.

Apparently from the very beginning, even many Christian leaders were self-seeking and using this new born movement as an opportunity for advancement of more than one kind. Paul has possibly mentioned such people already at the beginning of the letter (e.g., 1:16). Paul here assures the Philippians that Timothy is not of this sort. Timothy genuinely has the spiritual advantage of them in view.

Paul describes his relationship with Timothy as being like that of father to son. But he does not necessarily refer here to his affection. Timothy rather "serves" Paul in relation to the gospel as a son might assist a father in his work. Timothy is thus reliable and an extension of Paul's own identity.

2:23-24 Therefore, I hope to send this one as soon as I find out the things concerning me, immediately. And I have come to be persuaded in the Lord that I myself will also come quickly.
Timothy will not be carrying the letter to Philippi. That task, as we will soon see, likely fell to Epaphroditus, who himself had brought aid from the church of Philippi to Paul. Timothy would apparently leave for Philippi as soon as Paul's verdict was handed down, then Paul himself would follow.

These verses, as much as any others in the letter, point more toward Ephesus as the location from which Paul writes rather than Rome. When Paul wrote Romans, he felt as if there was no more room for him to minister in the East (e.g., Rom. 15:23). The popular suggestion that Paul was released after a first trial in Rome is strongly contradicted by Acts 20:25's implication that Paul never returned to Ephesus after going to Rome.

Is it possible that an almost four year ordeal had changed Paul's mind about going west to Spain (cf. Rom. 15:24)? Certainly. It is possible that Paul's ordeal has convinced him to return back east immediately if he is released. It is also possible that he was not released, that his intention to visit the Philippians was never fulfilled.

Yet it fits quite well to think that Paul is in Ephesus, prior to writing Romans, and that his intention is to head north around the Aegean Sea to Philippi and down to Corinth again after he is released. This is the path he takes in Acts 20, although no imprisonment is mentioned in Ephesus. He would indeed visit Philippi almost immediately on release, write 2 Corinthians, then eventually proceed south to Corinth, where he would write Romans. At that time, with Ephesus as scorched earth (remembering that in Acts 20 he goes around the city), and with the church at Corinth perhaps partially unfriendly to him (2 Corinthians 10-13), he senses that he should move west toward Spain.

 

2:25-26 Now I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and coworker and fellow soldier, as well as your messenger and minister of my need, since he was desiring you all and was distressed, because you heard that he was sick.
Epaphroditus perhaps served some ministry role in the Philippian church and was probably the one who delivered the letter of Philippians back to the assembly there. Was he one of the overseer/elders or perhaps a deacon? It seems impossible to know. Paul calls him a "coworker," probably implying that he at least assisted Paul in ministry in some way. He was in any case the one with whom the Philippians entrusted the material support they sent to Paul.

The logistics of Epaphroditus' travel are often mentioned in the attempt to decide where Paul was when he wrote the letter. News of Paul's imprisonment must first have travelled to Philippi from wherever Paul was. Then after support was collected, Epaphroditus would need to travel to Paul's place of imprisonment with it. Then time would have to pass for news of Epaphroditus' sickness to travel back to Philippi and for news of the Philippian reaction to it to travel back to Paul again still and the letter of Philippians be written.

This sequence of at least four back and forths from Philippi to Paul is often taken as support for an Ephesian location. This back and forth with Rome would take a lot longer, while it would take place naturally with Ephesus. Nevertheless, Acts mentions Paul being at Rome for about two years, so while it is easy to picture such a back and forth with Ephesus, there was enough time for it to take place with Rome as well.

The mention of Epaphroditus as a "fellow soldier" is curious. It probably has something to do with Paul being in prison and no doubt surrounded by Roman soldiers.

2:27 For he was sick nearly to death. But God showed mercy to him, and not only to him but also to me so that I might not have grief on grief.
Epaphroditus' sickness was apparently a matter of great concern to the Philippians. We certainly get the impression that he was highly loved on both sides, both by the Philippians and by Paul. Thankfully, he had recovered. Paul is already in a difficult setting. Epaphroditus' death would have been doubly hard, perhaps in part because he probably would not have become sick if he had not come to visit Paul.

2:28 Therefore, I have sent him more eagerly, so that when you have seen him you might rejoice again and I might be less grieved.
It is one thing to hear someone is doing better, but one might still not know exactly how well the person is. To what extent am I being told not to worry when in fact the person is still struggling. Epaphroditus is not only better, but well enough to travel--which says something in a world without cars, planes, or trains. And whether it is in Paul's mind or not, it might at least in theory create tensions between Paul and the church of Philippi if Epaphroditus died in part because of Paul. It might create a negative in the "who owes who" category.

2:29-30 Therefore, receive him in the Lord with all joy and consider such individuals precious, because he was near death because of the work of Christ, risking his soul in order that he might fulfill your lacking in relation to ministry toward me.
Here Paul at least makes it clear that if Epaphroditus would have died, he would not have died for Paul but for Christ. Epaphroditus was fulfilling a responsibility of the gospel. He was not doing something for Paul that Paul was desperate to have, as Paul will make clear again at the end of the letter. The service thus does not create a debt on Paul's part but was an appropriate service for Christ and one that the Philippians should have provided because of Paul's ministry to them.

 

Exhortation to Rejoice, with a digression (3:1-4:9)
3:1 The rest, my brothers, be rejoicing in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not burdensome to me, and for you it is a safe thing.
Here another major section of the letter, the second half of the letter body, seems to begin. The theme of rejoicing will be temporarily interrupted in 3:2, but Paul will then return to it again by the time he gets to 4:4. It is significant that Paul emphasizes this theme of rejoicing while he is in prison. And it is not burdensome for him to wish the Philippians well while he himself is not doing well. It is an expression of Christian love and his friendship with them. And it is safe to rejoice on earth despite the potential trouble in this world of serving Christ, because the days to come will be filled with a certain hope.

 

Digression (3:1-4:1)

3:2 Watch out for the dogs. Watch out for the evil "workers." Watch out for the mutilation (katatome).
As we mentioned in relation to the final verses of Philippians 2, some scholars have suggested that we are reading an excerpt from a different letter of Paul to the Philippians at this point. The end of Philippians 2 reads a bit like the usual end of Paul's letters, and with 3:2 Paul's train of thought suddenly takes an unexpected turn to a topic that does not connect to the rest of the book.

This argument makes sense, although we do not seem to have compelling evidence to conclude in its favor. It could be the case, but it just as well might not be. Philippians reads fine as it is. So we should probably presume that Paul sent the letter as it is in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

These comments are rife with sarcasm, an attitude on Paul's part that might give us pause. "Dogs" is a term that Jews used in derision of non-Jews, of Gentiles. Dogs were uncircumcised, like Gentiles. And "dog" was a term of great derision, a trace of whose tone has survived in the English slang word that refers to a female dog. Dogs were not cuddly pets to the common person of the ancient world, but scrounging scavengers.

So when Paul refers to certain Jews as "dogs," he is turning a term of derision they use toward Gentiles on its head. He is saying that they are the truly uncircumcised ones because they are uncircumcised in heart (cf. Rom. 2).

Some debate exists over whether Paul is talking about Jews in general or about other Jewish Christians. Given the other comments in this verse, it seems likely that Paul is referring to Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be justified before God. In other words, he has in mind "Judaizers" such as those he addresses in Galatians.

Indeed, in our preferred dating, Paul writes Galatians from Ephesus less than a year prior to writing Philippians from Ephesus. Both of these dates and places are debated of course, many dating Galatians some 5 years earlier from Antioch and Philippians some 5-7 years later from Rome. In our reconstruction, however, Paul includes these comments to the Philippians not because he actually knows of such influences at Philippi but because he has this issue on the brain from his encounters with the Galatian church and he wishes to warn the Philippian church well before they might encounter such teaching.

The mention of evil "workers" (ergates) quite possibly echoes his ongoing debate with this segment of the church, since they are urging that "works (erga) of Law" are necessary to be justified before God. Paul's position is that works of Law like circumcision are not necessary for acceptability before God. In fact, Paul considers them a hindrance for Gentiles who should rather rejoice in the gracious gift of God's justification.

We favor that interpretation that does not see Paul merely referring to the idea of earning your salvation, even though he surely agreed you could not earn acceptibility with God. But the context of Paul's "works of Law" discussions almost always focus on those aspects of the Jewish Law that most distinguished Jew from Gentile--circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance, and so forth.

When Paul says to beware of the "mutilation" he uses the word katatome, which is very close to the word for circumcision, peritome. The play on words is similar to those who called "television" "hell-ovision" when it first began to take hold in American culture. He derides the "circumcision," those in his Christian circles who especially emphasize the necessity of circumcision for justification, by calling them the "mutilation." The word reminds us of Galatians 5:12, where Paul expresses a wish that those urging the Galatians to circumcise might cut a little further up and emasculate themselves.

3:3 For we are the circumcision (peritome), those who serve by the Spirit of God and who boast in Christ Jesus and have not put confidence in flesh,
This comment solidifies our interpretation of 3:2. Paul is contrasting true circumcision with merely physical circumcision. The "real" circumcision serve God in spirit rather than in flesh. In Romans and Galatians Paul makes it clear that the Spirit empowers believers to be victorious over the temptations of their flesh. "Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).

Those who serve God by His Spirit thus are the true people of God. These individuals boast in what Messiah Jesus has done for them and they are indeed "in Christ." These individuals do not put their confidence in their weak bodies, susceptible to Sin, but in the empowering Spirit within them.

3:4 ... although I myself also have [reasons for] confidence in flesh.
Paul wants to make it clear that he could take this angle on confidence if he thought it was appropriate. He had a very good resume as a devout Jew, better than any of those who might boast in these sorts of credentials.

3:5 If someone else thinks [they] have [reasons for] confidence in flesh, I [have] more: in circumcision on the eighth day, from the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin...
Identity in the Western world today is largely a matter of an individual. Sometimes we do take note of a person's family or religion, but we generally give much room for an individual to make their own choices in these areas. Americans have the myth of the "self-made man" as one of their cultural stories, the person who started with nothing and made him or herself into something important.

Our individualism is especially seen in the way the Western world approaches marriage. We date, often for long periods of time, in order to decide whether or not we want to make a life commitment to another individual. It is important for us to see if we are compatible with one another, whether we "fit."

By contrast, the ancient world was a "group" culture, where one's identity was primarily a function of the groups to which you belonged and was relatively fixed even before you were born. In group cultures, marriages can be arranged long before the couple in question are even born, for the main features of identity are already known. One needs to be a male and the other a female. Both families need to be compatible in terms of their social status and identity within the culture. Finally, there is the general assumption that the two be from the same race.

When Paul identifies himself as someone circumcised the eighth day, he thus indicates both his gender and his race, two key identity markers. He is an Israelite, the people of promise. He may strongly believe that the Gentiles can be part of the people of God as well, but he holds firm Jewish credentials. He can even identify the tribe from which his family comes, the tribe of Benjamin. If as Acts presents, one of his names or nicknames was "Saul," he was not unlikely even named after the most famous Benjamite in the Old Testament, King Saul.

... a Hebrew of the Hebrews, according to the Law, a Pharisee...
If Paul is using the term "Hebrew" in the same way as Acts 6, we should probably infer that he identified himself more as an Aramaic rather than Greek speaking Jew. Certainly his letters indicate that he was fluent in Greek and that he operated as much from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) as from the Hebrew. But in an earlier phase of his life he identified more with Aramaic speaking Judaism.

Whenever he came to Jerusalem, in the period before he joined the Christian movement, we can say with some certainty that he operated in Aramaic there and identified with Aramaic speaking Jews there rather than Greek speaking ones. We can speculate that Aramaic might also have featured regularly in his home in Tarsus as well.

By identifying himself as a Pharisee in relation to the Jewish Law, he indicates the stream of Old Testament interpretation he followed. He would thus distinguish himself from the interpretations of other groups like the Sadducees and the Essenes. Of the three groups, the Pharisees would appear to have had the greatest popular influence and to have commanded the greatest numbers.

The precise origins of the Pharisees are a matter of some debate, but certainly it is not controversial to suggest that they may have served in some way as the heirs of the hasidim of the Maccabean crisis (e.g., 1 Macc. 2:42). They may not of course have been the sole heirs of the hasidim or in some fixed lineage from them. The Jewish historian Josephus speaks of the three best known Jewish sects as rising in the time of Jonathan Maccabeus (ca. 150BC).

The word Pharisee may mean "separated one," although the Dead Sea Scrolls likely refer to them negatively as the "smooth ones." They are best known in the New Testament for their belief in a coming resurrection of at least some of the dead, an idea that the Sadducees rejected (cf. Acts 23:6-10). By resurrection they meant a point in the future when the dead would be re-embodied in some way. Essenes seem to have had some sense of an afterlife, but not nearly so dominated with the idea of re-embodiment at a specific future point in time.

Different schools of thought existed even among the Pharisees. The best known are the schools of Hillel and Shammai. From what we can tell, the school of Hillel took a more fatalistic approach to God's will, such as that we see embodied in Gamaliel's "let God take care of it" approach in Acts 4. They also took a looser position on the issue of divorce. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, seem to have taken a more activist approach to God's will, that Jews should work to bring it to pass. Their view of divorce was also much stricter as well.

While the book of Acts explicitly connects Paul with Gamaliel, a Hillelite (Acts 22:3; indeed, Jewish tradition would eventually consider him to be Hillel's grandson), Paul's own depiction of his prior attitudes and actions fits better with that of the school of Shammai. Of course it is certainly possible that Paul studied with Gamaliel and then somewhat went his own way later on. He seems to have worked with the high priest in his persecution activities, rather than representing the Pharisees in some way.

The Pharisees were strict in following their understanding of the Jewish Law, although the Essenes seem to have been a stricter sect. Many Pharisees likely belonged to groups called the haberim, dining clubs that ate together at a high level of purity. If Paul belonged to such a group prior to becoming a Christian, we can understand his difficulty in taking Peter's actions at Antioch very seriously (Gal. 2).

3:6 ... according to zeal, persecuting the church,
We do not know for certain why Paul persecuted the Christians of Judea and beyond, but he did. His personal motivations may have been different from the reasons he had official political authority to do so. As a strict Pharisee, we can imagine that he detested a movement that seemed rather to obliterate the boundaries rather than keep them well defined. The gospels present us with a Jesus who was far from scrupulous in his keeping of Jewish purity laws. Indeed, he seems deliberately to disregard them in many instances.

The pre-Christian Paul likely found such attitudes abhorrent, perhaps even potentially harmful to Israel if God visited His wrath on it for such defilement within. If as is possible the Greek speaking Jewish believers of Jerusalem were even more inclusive than the original apostles, we can see why he might be personally motivated to do as much damage to this group as possible.

His official sanction for such persecution, however, seemed to stem from the high priest. Here we suspect that it was not ideology but politics that empowered him. If Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 is at all representative of the types of attitudes Greek speaking believers had toward the Jerusalem temple, we can imagine that the high priest might have been motivated to track down these people as subversive types.

We do not have evidence that Paul actually brought about the deaths of any Christians, however. Acts 8:1 portrays Paul as approving of Stephen's death, but does not indicate that he was an instigator of it. Similarly, neither Acts nor Paul's own writings ever mention him as actually bringing about the death of someone.

3:7 ... according to righteousness that is in Law, having become blameless.
Paul of course does not believe that a person can attain a standard of righteousness by keeping the Jewish Law that is sufficient to "justify" you before God. No one will be found "innocent" on the Day of Judgment because of how well they have kept the Law. Paul's comments elsewhere and his hints here indicate that not even those who focus so much on "works of Law," the finer points over which Jewish groups argued among themselves, would be able to attain blamelessness in their own power.

However, Paul indicates here that to the extent that one could be righteous by way of the Law, he had accomplished it. One of the reasons the Pharisees had so many traditions about keeping the Law was so that you could actually keep it, concretely. So if the commandment says not to work on the Sabbath, what exactly did that mean for concrete living. How far would you have to walk on the Sabbath, for example, before you had worked? Because they had laid down the concrete particulars of the Law so extensively, a person could actually keep it blamelessly.

Paul's comment here should put to rest those who see his turn to Christ as a consequence of a long standing struggle with guilt. Paul gives us no evidence that he struggled with a guilty conscience before he came to Christ. Rather, he more likely resembled the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14. The picture of Paul as someone who struggled so much with his sense of guilt that he found the doctrine of justification by faith is far more appropriate of Martin Luther than of Paul himself.

 

3:7 Whatever was to my advantage, these things I have considered a loss because of the Christ.
It is significant that Paul does not consider the items of his resume a matter of sin. Indeed, almost everything he has mentioned in the first six verses of the chapter were of great advantage to him as a Jew and remained such. He had good credentials as a Jew.

But none of them was significant when it came to his justification, his right standing before God in the people of God, as we will see in 3:9. Indeed, in many respects he had chosen a different path now because of the Christ. To be sure, he remained circumcised and an Israelite who was fluent in Aramaic (cf. 2 Cor. 11:22).

But it is doubtful that Paul himself would now refer to himself by choice as a Pharisee (despite Acts 23:6), and he certainly did not persecute the church any longer. As far as his keeping of the distinctly Jewish particulars of the law, Paul would now say that "to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews, to those under Law as under Law (although I am not myself under Law), in order that I might gain those under Law" (1 Cor. 9:20). But in the case of his Gentile mission, he became "as without the Law, although I am not without the law of God but am under Christ's law" (1 Cor. 9:21).

To some extent Paul thereby distanced himself from being a Jew, although it is perhaps important to say that he never distances himself from being an Israelite.

3:8 But indeed I even consider all things to be loss because of the superiority of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, because of whom I have written off all things as loss...
Up to this point Paul has been speaking of his privileged status as a Jew--after all, the chapter began as an implicit comparison of himself with those Jewish believers who would force Gentiles to get circumcised if they wished to be accepted by God and included within the people of God. Accordingly, Paul shows the Philippians his impressive Jewish resume. In 3:7 Paul shows that he has written off these badges of ethnic boasting in the light of relying on Christ for right standing with God.

3:8 then broadens Paul's "write off." There is nothing that he would consider worthy of comparing with the value of knowing Christ. Paul has given up everything for Christ. If he ever had property, he no longer enjoys it. As he writes Philippians, he potentially faces death because of Christ. Certainly, martyrdom represents the abandonment of everything in this world, and Paul is willing to do it for the sake of Christ.

3:9 ...and I consider [all things] dung in order that I might gain Christ and be found in him, not having my own righteousness on the basis of Law but the righteousness through the faith of Christ, the righteousness from God on the basis of faith.
Paul now looks to what he hopes to gain as he turns his back on his earthly credentials. Such statements are not merely a testimonial but what he wishes the Philippians to do as well.

Certainly Paul would consider himself to be in Christ currently (e.g., Rom. 8:1), but the next few verses also look to the future, after death at the point of resurrection. At that time Paul hopes to be found in Christ. This verse thus applies both to what is true now and what Paul hopes to be true at the point of resurrection.

When Paul speaks of "having righteousness," he is speaking the language of justification. To be justified is to be deemed righteous, to have right standing before God in the people of God. It implies that one is a child of God and part of the seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:26-29), a Jew and member of Israel (Rom. 2:29; 9:6). We know from elsewhere that Paul did not believe a person could have such right standing because one kept the Jewish Law (Gal. 2:16). Such right standing in the people of God could come solely through Christ.

Of course Jews did not believe they could merit or earn God's favor by keeping the Law either. They also saw their justification on the basis of God's grace and election. Additionally, Christian Jews like James saw appropriation of Jesus' atoning death essential for their justification (cf. Gal. 2:15-16)--in addition to faithful observance of the ethnic particulars of the Law.

But Paul did not believe the Jewish Law gave any advantage to a Jew in justification over a Gentile whatsoever. A Jew had no basis to boast simply because he was circumcised or because he or she observed food laws. Did they keep the Law, and that to where they need not rely on the atonement provided through Christ?

Paul thus does not want to be found on the day of resurrection with a righteousness based on such "works" of the Jewish Law. Such works were not bad; they simply had no impact on justification before God--especially for a Gentile. The righteousness that counts on that day is justification "through the faith of Christ." Next to the faith of Christ, works of Law looked silly as a means of justification.

Paul could simply mean "through faith in Christ" here, and this is certainly part of the equation (cf. Rom. 10:11), especially having faith in what God has done through Jesus Christ. But we think it likely Paul is thinking first here of the faith of Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16), Jesus' obedience to death resulting in justification (Rom. 5:19; cf. Phil. 2:9), his exemplary trust in the One who raises the dead (Heb. 5:7; 2 Cor. 4:13-14).

So right standing in the people of God comes from God. It is not something we can earn or merit on our own. And it is a justification that is on the basis of our faith, our trust in God and His plan. Non-Christian Jews would also believe that justification requires faith in God, a faith they believed demonstrated itself in keeping the particulars of the Jewish law.

But Christian Jews believed God had chosen to reconcile the world through Christ and his atoning death (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19). Trust or faith in this plan, trust in the God who raises the dead (cf. Rom. 4:17) and raised Jesus, is what is essential for justification. And for Paul, such trust was all that counted for justification.

3:10-11 ... in order to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, if somehow I will attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul linked baptism into Christ's death with a future resurrection like Christ's (e.g., Rom. 6:4; 8:11). Our destinies are linked. We have been crucified with Christ and Christ lives in us; we live in the "faith of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:20). We will rise with a glorious resurrection body like his (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 2:21).

In the meantime, however, Paul also identified with the sufferings of Jesus. "We are always carrying around the dying of Jesus in the body so that the life of Jesus might become apparent in our body" (2 Cor. 4:10). If Philippians was written during an Ephesian imprisonment, then during this time he "despaired even of life" (2 Cor. 1:8), and the verse we just mentioned was a reflection on what he was feeling when he wrote Philippians.

Paul apparently saw this as a time of joining in the sufferings of Christ, being conformed to his death. The goal of this test was to attain to the resurrection, and Paul expresses this thought in a way that at least implies that it would be possible for him not to attain to it. It may simply be an expression of humility rather than genuine doubt.

Nevertheless, we cannot dodge two aspects of this statement that cause problems for some Christian traditions 1) the sense that Paul's performance in this time of suffering had a bearing on his eventual fate and 2) the sense that it was possible for Paul not to be resurrected, even near the end of his ministry.

The idea that "works" are necessary for final justification before God is found elsewhere in Paul, especially Romans 2:5-6 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Several key shifts in our thinking help explain this notion:

1) Faith is not opposed to works for Paul. Indeed, faith for Paul implies a certain set of behaviors, including law keeping of an essential sort (e.g., Rom. 2:14; 3:31). Having faith and being faithful were not always sharply distinguishable.

2) The particular faith that Paul has in mind is a) the faith of Jesus Christ, his obedience to death and b) our trust in what God has done through Christ and thus, faith that Jesus is the Lord (Rom. 10:9). Faith in Jesus as Lord requires submission to our Messiah and King, and thus certain behaviors.

3) The works Paul primarily has in mind are works of the Jewish Law, especially those that distinguish Jew from Gentile.

4) Grace, a category of ancient patronage, expected an appropriate response from the one to whom it was dispensed. Failure to "keep faith" with the Patron might easily end the gracious relationship (cf. Matt. 18:32-35).

This last comment explains how it could be possible to be "justified" and in the people of God at one point and yet not attain to resurrection in the end. Grace in the ancient world was not absolute and not necessarily unconditional.

A number of other questions arise. Does this mean that Paul did not picture everyone being resurrected, only those in Christ who attained to the resurrection of the dead? And when did Paul picture this resurrection taking place? At the second coming, as in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15? At death, if in fact 2 Corinthians 5 pictures such a shift?

3:12 Not that I have already received [this] or have already been perfected,
The context pushes us to understand Paul still to be speaking of final justification and resurrection. The verses that follow will only confirm this impression. Paul is not yet guaranteed resurrection and has not yet been finally justified in God's eternal court.

This is the only place that Paul uses the verb "to perfect." Nevertheless, 1 Corinthians 13:10 uses the adjective "perfect" in a way that perhaps helps us to sense what Paul is saying here: "Whenever the perfect should come, that which is in part will be abolished." It is quite conceivable, therefore, that Paul equated perfection of this sort here as the kind of completion that can only occur with resurrection.

... but I am pursuing [it] if also I might take hold of that for which I was taken hold of by Christ. Brothers, I do not reckon myself to have taken hold [of it]...
We will see in a moment clearly that in this comment Paul still has resurrection and final justification in view. He is "pursuing the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (3:14). As in 3:11, his attaining to resurrection from the dead is an "if." So here also it is "if" I might take hold of it.

Christ has taken hold of Paul so that he might be saved from God's wrath (Rom. 5:9) and so that his body of humiliation might be transformed to be like Christ's glorious body (Phil. 3:21). Paul cannot speak of such things in the perfect tense, as things of which he "has taken hold" and thus already possesses. His ultimate attainment of them is still conditional on continued training and finishing the race (1 Cor. 9:26-27).

3:13 But one thing: forgetting the things behind and reaching out to the things ahead, in accordance with the goal I am pursuing for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The "upward calling" is clearly another reference to resurrection. The fact that Paul repeats the statement, "I am pursuing," shows that this is the same goal Paul had in mind in 3:12 where he said "is pursuing if also I also might take hold."

Although people regularly take "forgetting the things behind" as a reference to Paul moving beyond his past moral failure, nothing in the context points to anything of this sort. Nor is he forgetting Judaism for Christianity, as if anyone could have distinguished these as separate religions at this point in time.

But Paul is leaving behind his boasts of righteousness because of his excellence at keeping the particulars of the Jewish Law, especially the ones that distinguished Jew from Gentile, "works of law." He is reaching forward toward attaining to resurrection from the dead. He is reaching forward to be found in Christ, having the righteousness that is on the basis of faith, the faith of Christ and the believer's faith in God.

3:15 Therefore, let as many of us as are mature think this way, and if you are thinking something differently, God also will reveal this to you.
The word mature here is the word "perfect," so there is some play on the fact that Paul is at the same time "perfect" in the sense of maturity and yet not yet perfected in the sense of ultimate completion. His attitude of living in view of the resurrection and of justification in Christ is one that he urges his audience to adopt as well.

We remember that this chapter began with mention of Christian Jews who would require Gentile believers to keep the ethnic particulars of the Jewish Law. By urging the Philippians to adopt Paul's values, Paul is inoculating from this sort of influence if it should come to them. Paul has been there and done that, and has set such things aside as "dung" in comparison to the righteousness on the basis of faith.

Paul is optimistic that God will reveal any instance of "immaturity" in relation to pressing toward the goal of resurrection and final justification. It is only at this point that the idea of "progressive sanctification" really begins to come into play. Paul has had his eyes on the final goal in the verses that precede and only in a general way toward that goal. Only now in application Paul turns to potential deficiencies that a person might need to overcome in order to make it.

3:16 However, to the point we have reached, let us walk in the same.
3:15 mentioned the possibility that a person might need adjustments in their thinking as they move toward the goal. In this verse Paul urges the Philippians not to lose ground that they have already gained toward the goal.

 

3:17 Become fellow imitators of me, brothers, and be watching those who walk thus, just as you have us as a model.
It is jarring to some popular conceptions of Paul to hear the confidence he had in putting himself forward as an example of how to live. Not only does good exegesis undermine the idea that Romans 7 gives Paul's ongoing struggle with Sin. Verses such as this one show definitively that Paul considered his own pattern of life a model for his churches to emulate. "Do as I do" invites a striking examination of his own "walking" in the world.

3:18-19 for many walk with regard to whom I used to say often to you--and now I also am saying, crying--[they walk as] enemies of the cross of the Christ, whose end is destruction, whose God is the belly and [whose] glory [is] in their shame, who think earthly things.
The referent of these verses is somewhat obscure. Does Paul refer to 1) Gentile opponents to the Christ movement, 2) non-believing Jews who oppose faith in Christ, or 3) Christian Jews who disagree with Paul's way of thinking? The following verse implies that such individuals prize in some way "citizenship" on earth. This could refer to Roman citizenship or citizenship in a particular city, which would make sense given that Philippi was a Roman colony whose citizens were automatically citizens of Rome. But it might also be a dig at Jews, Christian or otherwise, who Paul sarcastically implies are too attached to the earthy Jerusalem.

On the one hand, it is easier to see Paul "crying" in relation to his own brothers in Israel than about Romans, per se (cf. Rom. 9:2-5), unless we mean to say he cries over his own difficulties. But this latter thoughts seems less likely. The mention of the "cross" of Christ reminds us of Paul's accusations of other Christians who argue over keeping the Jewish Law. Paul considers such believers to "boast in flesh" (Gal. 6:13) and want a "good showing in flesh (6:12). They do not want to be persecuted for the "cross of Christ" (6:12).

In our dating of Galatians and Philippians, Paul writes Galatians just after 1 Corinthians and only a year or two before Philippians, all while ministering in and around Ephesus. The conglomeration of themes thus would relate to considers he had particularly in this period. The fact that Philippians 3 begins with reference to the "mutilators," which we take as Christian Jews who insist on circumcision and full conversion to Judaism, it is reasonable to think at the end of the chapter that he is closing the page on this discussion.

Paul thus reasonably has Jews, Christian or otherwise, who oppose the Christ movement as he once did as a corruption of Jewish faith. The reference to the belly is opaque. Is it too far of a stretch to think of things like circumcision as part of the realm of the "belly"? Certainly it could be an allusion to food laws and table fellowship, an issue that caused significant conflict for Paul at Antioch (cf. Gal. 2).

Those Jews who glory in such "works of Law," elements of Jewish separation and distinction, were in fact glorying in things that were to their shame, in Paul's view. These individuals were rather headed for destruction, by which Paul may be thinking the judgment that will come to the living who are not in Christ when he returns to judge the world. Such individuals are thinking "earthly" rather than heavenly, or as Paul puts it in Galatians, they are enslaved to the elements of the world (e.g., Gal. 4:3, 9).

3:20 For our citizenship is in the heavens, from which also we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,
If this line of thinking is correct, then Paul is contrasting citizenship in the heavens with those who overly prize the earthly Jerusalem. Again, we find in Galatians a similar theme as Paul contrasts the heavenly and the earthly Jerusalem (Gal. 4:25-26). At the same time, the imagery of citizenship would have been readily understood by the Philippians, for the city of Philippi was a Roman colony. Roman colonies had the highest status of any cities in the Roman world. Their citizens were automatically citizens of Rome, although not everyone that lived in a city was considered a city of it. The official language of the city was Latin, even though Paul easily can write to them in Greek.

The model of living in a city at somewhat remove from the place of citizenship is apt here. Roman citizens might not live in Rome and yet have citizenship based there. In another way, Jews might in a sense be citizens of Jerusalem, even though they live in the Diaspora. So believers are citizens of heaven, even though they are located on earth.

The notion of a Savior coming from the place of citizenship might also easily have Roman overtones. The Roman emperor Augustus, for example, was fashioned as the Savior of the Roman world. Whether Paul's eschatology has undergone any modifications in Philippians or not, he still expects Christ to return to earth at some point bringing salvation to those who believe and destruction to those who do not.

The question of whether Paul also implies that we will at some point go to our "home city" in heaven is a matter of some debate. Some scholars would argue quite strongly that Paul does not in any way picture believers "going to heaven" in some way. However, it is hard to imagine what it might mean to die and go to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23-24) if it does not picture going to heaven in some way, at least in the time prior to the resurrection, assuming Paul still has a conventional understanding of resurrection as something that takes place at some point in the future rather than at death.

3:21 ... who will transform the body of our humility into the same form as the body of his glory according to the working that makes him able even to subject all things to himself.
The time that Paul has in mind is apparently the point when Christ as Savior returns from heaven in salvation and destruction. The verse thus speaks directly of the transformation that will happen to the earthy bodies of those believers who are alive at the point of Christ's arrival or parousia. This is the sort of transformation Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 15 that there will happen to the dead in Christ. Whether 2 Corinthians 5 implies Paul developed to come to see this transformation taking place at death is a matter of debate.

Our current earthly bodies are thus "bodies of humility" or perhaps even humiliation, thus reinforcing the sense that it is foolish to focus on matters of the "belly" or the foreskin. The verse also implies that the glorified body of believers will be the same as the glorified body that Christ received at the point of his resurrection. It is in this glorified state that Christ will eventually see everything subjected to him (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:25-28).

 

4:1 So that, my brothers, beloved and desired, my joy and crown, be standing in this way in the Lord.
This verse could either serve as a conclusion to what has gone before or the beginning of what follows. Since what immediately follows does not seem to spell out how to stand in a general way, we think it goes more naturally with what precedes than with what follows. The particular conjunction (hoste) also seems more often to continue what precedes than to initiate new trains of thought.

Accordingly, the sense would be Paul telling the Philippians to "stand" or to live as he has just instructed, following his example, having their citizenship in heaven, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. The Philippians are his joy because they are, for the most part, models of what it means to be a believer. They are his crown perhaps in the sense that they demonstrate the success of his ministry, for which he might in one sense receive honor in the great athletic contest of faith.

4:2 I urge Euodia and Syntyche to think the same in the Lord.
We do not know anything about these two women except what is said in this and the next verse. They were Paul's "coworkers" at Philippi in some way. The passage knows nothing about fixed roles for such women. Paul simply says that they worked with him as other men did.

We have seen the idea of "thinking the same" before in Philippians. Paul urged the Philippians in 2:2 to think the same and to be of one soul and mind. He then went on to give them the example of Christ, who although he had the status of God was willing to take on the role of a servant, even to the point of death.

4:3 Yes, I ask also you, genuine yokefellow, join in helping them, who worked together with me in the gospel, also with Clement and my other coworkers, whose names [are] in the book of life.
Paul's failure to give the name of the person in question is intriguing, leading some to suggestion that the word "yokefellow" itself is actually a person's name, Syzygos. However, what a happy coincidence that would be, that a person's name fit so nicely with his function! Since we are not persuaded that Christians received new names when they were baptized at this point, it seems more likely that Paul is referring to a specific person.

However, there is one other person from the church at Philippi who has been named thus far in the letter, the person who very likely delivered Philippians back to Philippi. This is of course Epaphroditus (2:25). Therefore, it seems more likely than not that Paul is addressing Epaphroditus here. Paul is urging Epaphroditus to help Euodia and Syntyche to get along.

We have no way of knowing who the Clement mentioned in this verse might be. It seems quite doubtful that it is the same Clement who would later become bishop of Rome at the end of the century.

This is the only time in Paul's writings, indeed the only time outside the book of Revelation, that the book of life is mentioned. In Revelation 17:8, this book includes the names of those who would be saved, known and at least figuratively written down in God's mind since the creation (cf. Dan. 12:1). The obscure reference is a reminder that much that is not mentioned in any New Testament writing, including the entirety of the Pauline corpus, is at least possibly assumed. At the same time, we have no secure basis to know what those things were.

 

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say again, rejoice!
This verse hearkens back to 3:1, which might as easily have started a conclusion to the letter. As we mentioned, the unexpected sidebar into Paul's Jewish credentials have led some to most of chapter 3 as an insert from another letter to the Philippians, especially since Ignatius seems to know of more than one. However, we do not seem to have an adequate basis to conclude this way, so it is best to assume that chapter 3 was part of this letter and any other letters are lost to history. Further, 4:4 would be redundant if it followed right on 3:1.

The theme of rejoicing would seem to be one of the major themes of Philippians, along with unity. As we will mention more than once as we look at the verses that follow, Paul's theme of rejoicing is all the more significant given that he is in prison possibly facing death as he writes.

4:5-6 Let your gentleness be known to all persons. Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and request with thanksgiving, let each make known your petitions to God.
Since the core ethic of the faith is love, a Christian should be gentle and harmless to others. This should be something for which they are known.

At the same time, they should have the kind of surrender to God's will that defuses anxiousness. This is a again a theme that will reappear in a few verses. Faith in God's love and proper honor to God, leave no reason for anxiousness as the Philippians make their needs known to God.

4:7 And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and thoughts in Christ Jesus.
The result is peace, in the opposite category of anxiousness. One might understand a situation and accordingly be anxious about it. But trust in God yields a peace that passes all understanding. Perhaps what Paul more precisely has in mind is that the peace is beyond comprehension, a mysterious peace. That peace should typify the Philippians' experience of life, even in hardship, like a guard protecting them.

4:8 The rest, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever are honorable, whatever just, whatever pure, whatever lovely, whatever of good report, if something is virtue and if something is praise--be thinking about these things.
Paul begins the end of these miscellaneous exhortations with a virtue list of sorts. As always, it is not an absolute list but a loose collection of good things. Anxiousness and hatefulness are not the kinds of things on which one should focus his or her mind, but good things.

Truth is an appropriate focus of thought, not lying or falsehoods. Things that are honorable, virtuous, and of good report are worthy of thought, not shameful or hidden vices. There the honor-shame dynamic of ancient culture shows through. There seems to be an assumption that core values are generally understood by all, only not practiced.

Justice and righteousness are things to think about, not getting ahead by cheating or taking advantage of others. The pure and the lovely, the beautiful, these line up with godly thought. A life of thought focused on such things is a life focused on virtue.

4:9 Also be practicing the things that you learned and received and heard and saw in me. And the God of peace will be with you.
In addition to these common values, things generally understood to be good even by non-Jews, there are the specific Christian instructions Paul has given the Philippians. It is tempting, although anachronistic, to distinguish verse 8 from 9 along the lines of natural revelation and special revelation. Perhaps there is some basic truth to the division.

Beyond common virtue are specifically Christian understandings of what to believe and how to live. Paul assumes that the Philippians are specifically under his authority. He does not tell them to obey Peter or Jerusalem, but his teaching and example. If they will do all these things, then they will be at peace.

The recurrence of language of peace in this section suggests that the Philippians might have cause to be anxious. Presumably they are anxious over Paul's fate. And they are presumably anxious over the health of Epaphroditus. Perhaps they are also anxious about the political fate of themselves as believers. Paul has been thrown into prison and potentially faced death because of his actions as a believer. Would they eventually face the same fate?

But God is a God of peace, a kind of peace that is surprising and incomprehensible given such circumstances.

 

 

Closing Thanks (4:10-20)

4:10 Now I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that you at this time at last renewed to think about me, in that also you were thinking [about me], but you were without opportunity.As the letter begins to close, Paul becomes more personal. We get the impression that the Philippian church has not sent him assistance for some time. Paul rejoices at the connection that his current circumstances have facilitated. Again, in our reconstruction, Paul writes this letter from Ephesus, only a moderate distance from Philippi (about a week's journey). Traditionally, of course, Paul writes from Rome, in which case the aid would come from a significant distance (about 800 miles).

4:11-13 Not that I speak according to lacking, for I have learned to be sufficient in those [situations] that I am. I know both to be humbled; I know also to abound. In everything and in all things I have learned the mystery both to be fed and to be hungry and to abound and to lack. I am strong in all things by the One who empowers me.
Paul wants to make it clear that he is dependent only on God. He is grateful for the assistance from the Philippians, remembering again that you could only survive in prison if you had help from someone on the outside. But he does not want the Philippians to think that he had to have their help. He shifts the focus on to the strength that comes from God's empowerment.

Paul's approach here is a little "Stoic" in character. The Stoics were one of the dominant philosophical schools at the time of Christ, along with Epicureanism--indeed, more influential than either Platonism or Aristotelian philosophy. The Stoics taught that you should "love your fate" and not struggle against God's will, the will of the divine Logos or mind behind the unfolding events of the world.

At the same time, the Stoics believed that one could be "happy" regardless of one's situation. If you are full, if you are hungry, you should love your fate. If you are prospering, if you are in hard times, you should love your fate. Paul of course subsumes this approach within his faith in God and does not come off quite so fatalistic. He is able to endure regardless of his circumstances because of God's empowerment.

4:14 However, you did well, since you were fellow partakers in my trouble.
The tightrope continues, as Paul returns to praising the Philippians for their assistance. While God's help was sufficient for Paul, the Philippians have done well. They have done what those in Christ should do, share in each other's troubles and burdens

4:15-16 Now you also know, Philippians, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving except you only,
We now hear about the history of Philippian giving to Paul. In 1 Corinthians 9:12-18 and 2 Corinthians 11:7-8, Paul makes it clear that he did not accept patronage from the church of Corinth while he was there, but he did receive support from believers in other locations. The reason likely had to do with his desire not to get entangled with the informal obligations taking such patronage entailed. The Philippians in particular seem to have supported Paul as he left the area of Philippi, while other churches did not.

... because even in Thessalonica again and again you sent to me for my need.
The impression we get from Acts 17 is that Paul might have only spent a little more than three weeks in the city of Thessalonica before he was forced to move on. But it would seem likely from this comment that Paul was there a little longer. Indeed, while Acts focuses on three weeks primarily aimed at Jews in Thessalonica, 1 Thessalonians itself presupposes a mostly Gentile audience. We might therefore imagine a fairly short visit of a couple months during which the Philippians sent support to Paul the some hundred mile distance at least two times.

4:17 Not that I am seeking the gift, but I am seeking the fruit that multiplies to your account.
Again, Paul keeps the lines of patronage free by reiterating his independence. He is not seeking help from them, not seeking their patronage. He is seeking the spiritual benefit his churches get when they act virtuously and godly. Their generosity adds to their honor and reward on the Day of Judgment, and this is something Paul finds worthy of seeking.

4:18 I both lack all things and I abound. I have been fulfilled having received from Epaphroditus things from you, a smell of fragrance, a pleasing sacrifice, pleasing to God.
Although he is in prison and thus lacks, he abounds personally because of their generosity. Epaphroditus, as we have said of 2:25-30, was the one who brought the aid to Paul, who subsequently became sick, and who was now likely the one who would take the letter we call Philippians back to them. Timothy would then come later once Paul's fate was decided. This scenario, as we have said, fits an imprisonment in Ephesus much better than one in Rome.

Paul uses sacrificial language of the gift from the Philippians to Paul as a sacrifice to God. Like a sacrifice in the temple, the aroma of the sacrifice on the altar is pleasing to God, fragrant. And like an offering to God, both Paul and the Philippians get to partake of the meal after the sacrifice.

4:19-20 And my God will fulfill your every need according to His wealth in glory in Christ Jesus, and to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Paul returns to the ultimate Giver, God as the one who has all the resources of the world at His disposal. In a familiar benediction Paul gives all the glory and honor as the supreme Patron and closes the letter body.

 

Conclusion (4:21-23)
4:21-23 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me greet you. All the saints greet you, and especially those from the house of Caesar. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ [be] with your spirit.
Philippians has a brief, three verse postscript. He greets all the "saints," all the holy ones in Philippi. Paul of course has no sense of a special class of Christians who are saints. All Christians are saints. All Christians are holy because they are set apart as God's property. The brothers and sisters, the holy ones where Paul is at, whether Ephesus or Rome, also send their greetings.

Mention of the house of Caesar has served as the primary basis for a Roman origin for Philippians. However, we should not think of Caesar's household merely in terms of Nero's family. The household included slaves and others who worked for Caesar. In a very real sense, the entire Roman imperial system was Caesar's household. Ephesus had such a Roman governor, and the Roman soldiers who guarded Paul were part of Caesar's household. Quite possibly, some of that Roman infrastructure had come to faith under Paul's influence, whether in Ephesus or in Rome.

And with a customary wish of God's grace, Paul closes this most excellent letter of friendship and love to perhaps his most beloved Christian assembly.