Philippians 1 (day 1104) 8 January 2013
Philippi was located on the northern shore of the Aegean Sea in Macedonia. It was established by Philip, father of Alexander the Great, and was later the site of the victory of Antony over Cassius. The Battle of Philippi secured the Roman Empire some 40 years before the birth of Jesus, and Philippi was rewarded by being made a Roman province. Paul’s visit there, during his second missionary journey, is recorded in Acts 16.
1-2: The letters to Philippi and to Timothy are the only places where bishops (or “overseers”) and deacons (or “helpers”) are mentioned, but reveals a rather extensive organizational structure in the church very early on.
3-11: The opening thanksgiving and prayer for the recipients of his letter is a typical Pauline feature.
12-14: Paul tells them that his imprisonment has been a blessing because it has emboldened others to proclaim the word.
15-18: There is also some rivalry and competition for leadership in the early church. We have seen that in other letters, especially Galatians. But Paul takes the high road here: regardless of the motives of others who have preached in Philippi, Paul is grateful for all who proclaim Christ.
19-26: Paul believes that his imprisonment (probably in Rome) very well might result in his death, but that does not burden him. Death to Paul was simply the doorway through which he would be united with Christ. Still, he allows that his continued presence might provide some needed leadership in the church in Philippi, and hopes to visit them again.
27-30: He urges them to be strong and keep the faith in the face of opposition. When Paul was there before he was put in jail for causing a disturbance when he healed a slave girl of a “demon” that earned money for her owners. He and Silas were miraculously freed from the jail (see Acts 16, beginning at verse 16).
Philippians 2 (day 1105) 9 January 2013
1-5: Paul knew that the church would not survive if it became a place of competition and striving, and so he pleads with the congregation at Philippi to “be in full accord” and “of one mind.” He tells them to put others first even as Christ had considered his own life to be forfeit for the good of all.
6-11: An early Christian hymn. Christ, though divine, willingly humbled himself as a frail human being who suffered and died. Early on, Christians saw the death of Jesus as a sacrifice that he willingly made in their behalf. Having done so, God raised him and put him over heaven and earth. Given this, every knee indeed should bend and every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord. Paul leaves us to wonder if every knee ever will bend.
12-13: Verse 12 is another of John Wesley’s favorite verses: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We don’t save ourselves; only God can grant salvation. But God will not do so without our willing participation. Salvation does indeed depend on our acceptance of it; and to accept salvation is to accept Jesus Christ as “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.”
14-18: Paul asserts that his imprisonment and likely execution will not be in vain if they will only “hold fast to the word of life.”
19-24: He plans to send Timothy to them as soon as he knows the outcome of the charges under which he has been imprisoned, but hopes himself to be able to come to them as well. Verse 21, “all of them are seeking their own self interests,” is an indication that Paul lost some support while he was in prison in Rome (see 2 Timothy 4:16).
25-30: In the meantime he will send Epaphroditus, who has been to Philippi at least once already (see 2 Timothy 4:18). Epaphroditus has been ill, he says, but has recovered, and longs to see them again.
Philippians 3 (day 1106) 10 January 2013
1-3: As he has in others of his letters, Paul warns them against those who would “mutilate the flesh,” a reference to circumcision. Paul was convinced that for Gentiles, being circumcised was tantamount to trusting in a human ritual instead of in God. There is no reason to be “confident in the flesh,” he says.
4-6: The so-called “circumcision party” has nothing on Paul. He is as genuinely Jewish as they come. He lists the proofs of his pedigree (see 2 Corinthians 11:22 for a similar sidebar) – a genuine circumcised Jewish Pharisee who persecuted the church.
7-11: None of his striving to obey the law means anything at all, he says, compared to the value of knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord, and he is willing to give up everything in order to share in the resurrection of Christ.
12-16: The goal Paul is speaking of is the salvation that comes through faith in Christ, which means relinquishing any reliance on the stipulations of the law (such as circumcision) which do not have the power to save but only to condemn.
17-21: He entreats them to stand strong in the faith, and not be swayed by the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Heavenly things, not earthly things, are the things for which we are to strive. “Our citizenship is in heaven” is a striking phrase. If one is a citizen of heaven, then one’s fellow citizens are also fellow believers. That is why in Christ there are no divisions, no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free (Galatians 3:28).
Philippians 4 (day 1107) 11 January 2013
1: Verse 1 really belongs to the previous paragraph in chapter 4. Paul re-echoes his call for them to “stand firm in the Lord in this way,” meaning that they should live according to Paul’s teachings, not according to the way of the circumcision party.
2-3: Perhaps these verses show the reason Paul has been emphasizing the importance of being of the same mind. Two women, Euodia and Syntyche , are apparently involved in a disagreement that threatens to spill over into the congregation. Paul acknowledges that they have been important contributors to the life of the congregation, and assures them that in spite of their differences their “names have been written in the book of life,” meaning that they belong to Christ and their conflict will not undo that bond. Neither Euodia, Syntyche nor Clement are mentioned anywhere else in scripture. Other early Christian writings identify him as Clement, bishop of Rome, a late first century leader in the church and the author of a letter to the church in Corinth known as 1 Clement. Scholars are not unanimous in this identification, however.
4-7: The word “rejoice” occurs 9 times in this little letter, significant enough to make rejoicing one of the primary themes of it. Rejoice, be gentle, have faith that the Lord is near, pray and give thanks. That is the formula for lasting inner peace.
8-9: Set your mind on these things – honor, justice, purity, pleasantness (to be distinguished from pleasure), commendableness, excellence and praiseworthiness: Piece o’ cake.
10-20: Paul is determined to make it understood that he needs no earthly thing and is content with whatever befalls him, but he does want to thank them for the gift they sent him by Epaphroditus. He remembers that they had supported him before, when he was laboring for the gospel in Thessalonica – not that he needed their help, of course. He is certain that God will repay them for their kindness; even though he didn’t need it.
21-23: The closing of the letter reveals that among the Christians in Rome with Paul are certain “members of the emperor’s household.” This must certainly be a reference to none other than the royal entourage of Caesar himself, though perhaps not to his own family. Very early on the gospel message attracted men and women from every social stratum. Typically, Paul sends greetings from the others who are with him, although in this case none of them are named. “All the saints greet you” is often thought to be a reference to the other apostles, whose company Paul was proud to claim.