Monthly Archives: September 2016

Thanksgiving and Prayer (Philippians 1:3-11)

After greeting the Christians in Philippi (Philippians 1:1-2), Paul expressed his thankfulness (1:3-8) and offered prayer (1:9-11) for them.

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul begins by telling his Philippian readers that he thanked God every time that he thought of them and that every time that he prayed for them he did so with joy. Clearly the Philippian church was a favourite of Paul. “Joy” is a key word in Philippians. Paul used the Greek word for it or a form of it sixteen times in the letter.

Paul gives as the reason for his thankfulness the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel.” By this, he may have been referring to their being part of the Christian fellowship as a result of accepting the gospel or goodnews about Jesus Christ. However, in the light of 4:14-18, I think that he was referring primarily to their sending gifts to him. Their first gifts were sent when he was in Thessalonica, which he’d gone to after his first visit to Philippi. Their latest gifts were sent while he was a prisoner in Rome. Paul may also have been thinking of other things that the Philippians did on behalf of the gospel, such as praying for him (1:19), suffering for the gospel (1:29-30), and witnessing to the gospel by living blameless and harmless lives (2:15-16).

Paul continues by expressing confidence that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Some commentators think that the “good work” that Paul was referring to was the Philippians’ partnership with him in the gospel as I’ve described it above. However, in light of 2:12-13, others think that it was their salvation, in which case Paul meant that he was sure that God would help the Philippians to grow as Christians until Jesus returned, when their salvation would become complete.

Paul goes on to say that it was right for him to feel or think this way about the Philippians because he had them in his heart for they shared in God’s grace to him. My initial reaction was that by “my grace” Paul thinking of the Philippians’ salvation. However, his saying “inasmuch both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel” indicates that he was again thinking of the Philippians’ partnership with him in his ministry, which Paul described elsewhere (for example, in Galatians 2:7-9) as God’s grace to him. His using those words may also indicate that he was also thinking of the struggle the Philippians were going through on behalf of the gospel, a struggle similar to what Paul was experiencing (Philippians 1:29-30) and on which Jesus had pronounced a blessing (Matthew 5:11).

So deep is Paul’s affection for the Philippians that he concludes verse 8 by calling on God Himself to bear witness to it.

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Paul prays that the Philippians’ love—the love that God pours into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), enabling us to obey the commandments to love God with all our hearts and others as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31)—would be increasingly based on spiritual knowledge and moral insight (compare Colossians 1:9). This would result in their being able to decide what things were best from a variety of possibilities and thus being pure (without evil) and blameless (not stumbling or causing to stumble), filled with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). This would bring glory and praise to God (compare John 15:8), which is the ultimate goal of all things.

“The introductory paragraph of 1:3-11, as we have seen, consists of a thanksgiving report (vv. 3-6), a deep, warmhearted statement of the apostle’s concern for the readers (vv.7-8),and an intercessory prayer (vv.9-11). Expressions of thanksgiving, personal affection, supplication, and praise are all closely woven together in a paragraph that introduces the mood and style of what is to come.” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians in The New International Greek Testament Commentary, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991, page 82)

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Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2)

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV)

Paul opens his letter to the Philippians as personal letters in the Greco-Roman world typically began, by identifying the senders and recipients and greeting his readers. However, as he usually did, he modifies both the senders and the recipients and says more than just “Greetings.” Thus, as Marcus Bockmuehl observes, “Instead of being a mere formality, the letter opening became charged with theological force, being enrolled to communicate from the start something of the essence of the gospel” (The Epistle to the Philippians in Black’s New Testament Commentaries, Hendrikson Publishers, 1998, page 48). I’ll comment briefly on the senders, the recipients, and the greeting.

Paul identifies the senders as “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus.” His including Timothy’s name with his suggests that Timothy served as his secretary for the letter. However it’s unlikely that Timothy was involved in composing the letter as in the rest of the letter the writer is referred to as “I” (Paul) and Timothy is referred to as “Timothy.” Paul’s referring to himself as a servant (literally, a slave) rather than as an apostle, as he did in most of his other letters, suggests the friendly relationship between himself and the Christians at Philippi. As Gordon D. Fee observes, “A letter primarily of friendship and exhortation, not of persuasion, does not need a reminder of Paul’s apostleship; indeed, the summons to obedience in this letter is predicated altogether on the secure nature of their mutual friendship” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995, page 62).

Paul identifies the recipients as “all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.” He describes the believers in Philippi as “saints” or holy ones because of their being “in Christ Jesus” rather than because of their personal holiness. He may have had the disagreement between two of the church’s leaders (see Philippians 4:2-3) in mind when he included “all” and referred specifically to the leaders of the church in his address. The overseers (or bishops) were responsible for spiritual oversight of the church (see Acts 20:28 in Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders), and the deacons were responsible for matters of practical service (see Acts 6:1-6).

After identifying the senders and recipients, the salutation of letters in the Greco-Roman world generally concluded with charein (“greetings”). In his letters Paul substituted charis (”grace”), reminding his readers of God’s unmerited favour to them. He also added kai eirene (”and peace”), “peace” (shalom in Hebrew) being the standard Jewish form of greeting and referring not just to being free from war or disorder but also to being whole or complete. Even the order of “grace” and “peace” is significant, God’s grace being what brings His peace. Paul identifies the source of these blessings as both “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ.” Fee comments, ”Both [grace and peace] together flow from ‘God our Father’ and were made effective in our human history through our ‘Lord Jesus Christ’” (Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, page 71). Paul’s joining “God our Father” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” with “and” suggests the close relationship he saw between the Father and Jesus.

Bockmuehl concludes: “In his customary Christian greeting,then,Paul tersely encapsulates all that he is about. For those who have ears that can set aside the familiar drone of its liturgical declamation, Paul’s letter ends with a bang, an unassuming device that detonates with the full force of the gospel: the grace and peace of God in Christ, for Philippi and its inhabitants” (The Epistle to the Philippians, page 57).

Paul in Prison

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians, he was a prisoner (Philippians 1:7, 13, 17) but hopeful of being free to visit them soon (2:24). In last week’s post I said that I agree with those who think that the imprisonment in which Paul wrote Philippians was the one in Rome (A.D. 60-62) described in Acts 28:16-31. In this post I’ll describe briefly what life was like for Paul during that imprisonment.

According to the account in Acts, he was allowed to live in his own rented house, guarded by a soldier to whom he was bound by a light chain, and he welcomed all who visited him, preaching the kingdom of God to them and teaching them about the Lord Jesus Christ. Most of the account describes two visits that the leaders of the Jews made to Paul, which culminated in his applying Isaiah 6:9-10 to them and asserting, “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted).

Paul’s having such freedom during his imprisonment is also suggested by the final greetings in his letter to the Philippians. He sent greetings to them from “the brothers who are with me” and “all the saints…especially those of Caesar’s household” (4:21-22). The first expression indicates that he was able to have coworkers (including Timothy, 1:1; 2:19-24) associated with him. And the second expression, which seems to refer to all the Christians in Rome (especially those in the emperor’s service), reflects his freedom to entertain visitors and his getting them.

In fact, when he wrote Philippians, Paul felt that his imprisonment had served to advance, rather than to hinder, the gospel. As he explained in 1:12-18, this had happened in two ways, through his contacts with his guards and others and through the encouragement that his imprisonment gave other Christians to witness more vigorously. Since Paul’s guards rotated (every four hours, according to Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995, page 113), he had access to several of them. Also, his being chained to them forced them to listen to what he said and to observe what he did. Thus by the time that he wrote Philippians, he could claim, “[I]t has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil. 1:13).

“But not only that; there were also weaker brethern in the church at Rome who were equally effected by him. It was a very difficult time to be a Christian. They were being persecuted for their faith, and threatened with still worse things, so that some of the weaker Christians were beginning to lose ‘the hope of their calling’ [Eph. 1:18, KJV]. But when they heard of Paul in prison, of how that true man of God was conducting himself, and how he was standing for Christ in the face of death, then their courage began to revive. That is what happened—they were fainting, but Paul was beginning to preach and testify. Ah, my dear friend, no man lives to himself in this world. What you and I do in the time of adversity and trouble is going to affect many others… You must live in such a way that after [Christian people who have become a little bit doubtful and hesitant] have seen you they will say, ‘Yes, it is quite true after all, he went through it; she stood up to it, without any change, without any flinching, without any apology all all.’ Thus, the weaker Christians will see that the gospel is true and that the promises are firm. See in it an opportunity for witnessing and if you face it like that, whatever it may be, you will conquer it.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Life of Joy: An Exposition of Philippians 1 and 2, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1989, page 82)

Yesterday evening the Life group which Leonora and I host held our first meeting for 2016-17. We discussed the introduction to Philippians given in “The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups.” We plan to meet at 7:00 each Thursday, alternating between a study of Philippians led by me and a Voice of Martyrs study led by Ray Noble.

Paul and the Philippians

In my last post I described Paul’s bringing the gospel to Philippi early in his second missionary journey (A.D. 49-52). Paul didn’t get to visit Philippi again until five years later (A.D. 55-56).

However, Paul and the Christians in Philippi continued to keep in contact, their sending him aid when he was in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16) and Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9), which he went to later in his second missionary journey (Acts 17:1; 18:1), and his sending Timothy and another of his helpers, Erastus, to Macedonia near the end of his stay in Ephesus on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:22). After leaving Ephesus on that occasion, Paul travelled through Macedonia encouraging the Christians (Acts 20:2) and writing 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 2:13 and 7:5). Then after visiting Corinth, he went back through Macedonia, spending the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Philippi (Acts 20:3-6).

During one of Paul’s imprisonments, the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to give him a gift (Phil. 4:18) and take care of his needs (2:25). When Epaphroditus returned to Philippi, he carried with him a letter from Paul, the Biblical Philippians. Until fairly recently this imprisonment was assumed to be in Rome, where Acts leaves Paul a prisoner waiting to have his case heard by Caesar. After all, Paul refers in Philippians to the praetorium or imperial guard (1:13) and Caesar’s household (4:22). Then inscriptions came to light which indicated that the government quarter in every important city was known as the praetorium and that Caesar’s household could refer to anyone connected with the emperor’s service, not just the royal family. This opened up the question of where Paul was imprisoned when he wrote Philippians, with Corinth, Ephesus, and Caesarea being proposed as alternatives to Rome. Personally I accept the traditional view that it was in Rome (in A.D. 60-62).

When Paul wrote the letter, he expected to visit the Philippians again soon (2:24). If Philippians was written from Rome, 1 Timothy 1:3 (“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus,” ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) probably refers to this visit, its being written about A.D. 65 between Paul’s first and second Roman imprisonments.

In his letter to them, Paul told the Philippians, “I hold you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7). That he had a deep affection for them is shown throughout the letter. It is also shown in his testimony about them in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 regarding their contribution to the collection for the Christians in Jerusalem.

1 We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.

Their sending gifts to him shows that the Philippians felt the same way about Paul.