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The Epistle to the Philippians

Philippians 1:13 indicates that this letter was written from prison (see verse 17, actually a form of house arrest) in Rome, in about 60 C.E.[3 p.203]

The first mission to Philippi is described in Acts 16:11–12. It was not well received according to 1 Thessalonians 2:2.

Commentary

1:1

This epistle is a "thank you" letter for the donation that the Philippians sent to Paul (Philippians 4:14–18). The Bishops and Deacons will have been instrumental in organising the collection so they merit special mention in the salutations.

1:3–6

The frequency of words implying that Paul prays continuously for the Philippians is striking.

2:5–11

These verses seem to be an ancient creed or hymn and are now known as "The Song of Christ's Glory".

2:8–9

See comment on John 13:1–17 and cf. 2 Corinthians 4:1.

2:10

This verse illustrates how early christians took verses about God from the Old Testament (Isaiah 45:23 in this case) and applied them to Jesus.[1 p.41]

2:13

Not only is it hard to consistently do what we should do as Christians, it is even hard to want to do it. We need not struggle to be saved—​we can contribute nothing to that—​but to live lives that show we are—​and God helps us in that struggle.

3:5–6

Paul's description of himself is almost the opposite of his description of Abraham as a man who "believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6). Paul can say from personal experience that if you pursue righteousness you lose sight of God, but if you follow God then righteousness is given to you.

Charles Simeon, in a famous sermon, compared the apparent holiness of these verses with outward righteousness in modern times. Someone who always keeps the Ten Commandments and is known for religious observance would be admired in most cultures, yet Paul said he had come to count these things as dross.

3:8

cf. Matthew 13:46 the parable of the treasure shows that the truth is hidden, otherwise we would not treasure it. The word translated "rubbish" actually means "crap" or "shit" but has been toned down for polite audiences.

3:10

By emptying himself of his own strength Paul hopes to maximise God's. He had been a legalistic person, but legalism looks at the law rather than at God and thus lacks strength, like Peter sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus while walking on the water (Matthew 14:30).

3:13–14

Paul is describing the positive way to avoid the negativity Jesus told us to avoid in Luke 9:62.

3:19

"Their God is their Stomach" seems to describe the Epicureans, who argued that there is no God and no resurrection, so the only morality is to live for pleasure. A noted library of Epicurean letters was found by archaeologists in a villa at Herculaneum (near Pompeii) which had been destroyed in the eruption of Versuvius.

4:3

The phrase "wrestled with me in the Gospel" means that these women were fellow evangelists with him. The book referred to is the one in Malachi 3:16.[2]

4:6–7

The argument is that faith leads to trust which leads to peace.

4:11

cf. Mark 9:33–34. Paul thought that suffering was an inevitable part of following Jesus Christ; he suffered, so his followers suffer. He takes this to its logical conclusion, that someone who does not suffer is not following Christ and is not saved. However, we suffer in different ways; all of us have given up sins to be more Christ-like (Romans 13:14). We should not seek persecution.

4:13

This verse has been described as "the ten-finger prayer". It does contain ten words, but it is a motto rather than a prayer.

Paul was in prison, very near the end of his life (he was under sentence of death). His work was done, apart from dictating a few more letters. (cf. Christ saying "It is finished".) He was in a position to look back over his ministry as a whole. It was in this context that he wrote "I can to all things through Him who strengthens me". He had often faced terrifying, unpleasant or seemingly impossible situations, but in every case he had been given God's strength and power in order to succeed. His life was living proof of God's power in all sorts of circumstances.

" 'I can do all things through him who strengthens me' (Philippians 4:13) does not mean 'You can do anything if you believe enough.' Rather, it means that God will give us strength to do whatever God has called us to do." [4]

4:17

Paul seems to consider charity a way of accumulating wealth in heaven (Matthew 6:19–24).

References:

  1. Moule, C.F.D. The Origin of Christology Cambridge University Press, 1977
  2. Green, Michael Freed to Serve London: Word, 1983
  3. Swete, Dr H B The Parables of the Kingdom Glasgow University Press, 1920
  4. Veronica Zundel in Bible Reading Fellowship's New Daylight Bible notes for 21 September 2019

© David Billin 2002–2021