Vs. 1 Paul opens this letter differently than most of his letters. He usual opens with an assertion of his apostolic authority. Here he opens by describing himself as a slave. The bond between Philippi was deep and unlike many of the churches, no one there was challenging his authority. They loved and cared for him deeply, and Paul shares this love by using a term that would suggest their common vocation—that of slaves of Christ.
Vs. 2. Grace to you is a common secular greeting among the Roman world. Paul transforms this phrase. Now the phrase is blessing from God and an acknowledgment that all grace and peace comes from God above. Fr. Lawrence notes that linking Christ and the Father in this blessing is also a tacit belief in the full deity of Christ.
II. Thanks for the Philippians
Vs. 3&4. This portion of the letter begins by Paul giving thanks for the Philippians. It is interesting that Paul say that they give him joy, and that he prays for them at every remembrance. Memory and prayer work together. Often God will bring those to our memory who need prayer. Also, prayer is holding up someone before the memory of God. We are asking that God remember that person. This is a powerful request. The request of the thief on the cross to Jesus was that Jesus would remember him. Jesus affirms his request, and the fulfillment is that the thief would be with him in Paradise. Holding someone before the eternal memory of God is an integral part of intercessory prayer .
Vs. 5 Paul begins here describing the things about the Philippians that give him joy. He is joyful because they are participants in his work of the gospel. How were they participants? They held in common life in Christ. This bond was stronger than all others. They shared in proclaiming the gospel in their daily lives just as he did throughout the Mediterannean. They also shared in his work by providing their prayers and financial support. Chrysostom has an excellent passage that encourages us to participate with those who are doing works that we can not do:
“Thou canst not fast, nor be alone, nor lie on the ground, nor watch all night? Yet mayest thou gain the reward of all these things, if thou go about the matter another way, by attending on him that laboreth in them, and refreshing and anointing him constantly, and lightening the pains of these works. He, for his part, stands fighting and taking blows. Do thou wait on him when he returns from the combat, receive him in thy arms, wipe off the sweat, and refresh him; comfort, soothe, restore his wearied soul. If we will but minister to the saints with such readiness, we shall be partakers of their rewards.”
Vs. 6. He gives another reason for joy in this passage. He is confident that God will continue His work in their lives until the day of judgment. The joy is two-fold. He is joyful that God will not abandon them but continue his work. He is also joyful that he sees within them God’s action which confirms God’s work in them.
Fr. Lawrence points out that “began” and “perform” are both technical terms that describe the beginning of sacrifical ritual. God is making them living sacrifices (Rom 12:1). He says, “offering ourselves to the Lord, however, we are not left to rely solely on our own strength. Rather, God Himself aids us, for He is at work w/in our hearts..." This is the synergy of salvation. Augustine: “God can work in our acts without our help. But when we will the deed, He cooperates with us.”
Vs. 7. This verse gives reasons for Paul’s confidence in them. He once again goes back to this idea of being in communion together for the Gospel. They shared Paul’s bonds, his defense and the confirmation. They shared his bonds and defense through their prayers and financial support. Also their lives were open to the same treatment as Paul, by living as a Christian openly and supporting an enemy of the state such as Paul they were willing to share in the same fate. What does Paul mean by confirmation? The very fact that he would be willing to risk death confirms that he is serious about this Gospel. Chrysostom says that the bonds themselves are a confirmation of the Gospel. They display what is taught. Christ promised persecution, and the bonds are confirmation of that. They are also a witness to the overwhelming truth of the gospel—out of the cross comes resurrection. Out of Paul’s cross, came forth fruits of the resurrection that still affect us today.
Vs. 8 Paul reaffirms his love of the Philippians. He loves them deeply. The word “affections” is literally bowels. This is a strange phrase to an American ear; but the phrase is similar to “from the bottom of my heart”. It has much the same meaning. In fact, we discovered in class that Ethiopians use much the same expression. However, this was not just deep affection on the part of Paul but was characterized Christlikeness. Whenever the gospels speak of Jesus having compassion, it is the same word. This love is unconditional and sacrificial.
III. Request for the Philippians.
Vs. 9. The preceding verses are Paul’s thanks to God for the Philippians. The next three contain requests that he is asking God concerning the Philippians. Paul qualifies this abounding love, by saying that it should be characterized by knowledge and discernment. The word for discernment suggests moral discernment. It is the ability to recognize good from bad and even good from best. This is the same word used in the book Proverbs translated as “knowledge” (Pr 1:4,7,22; 2:4,10; 3:20; 5:2; 10:14; 11:9; 12:1,23; 14:6,7,18; 15:7,14; 18:15;19:25;22:12;23:12;24:4). Love will expressed differently from person to person. Certain ideas and thoughts will be discerned before committing to them passionately.
Chrysostom says :“There is a danger lest anyone be spoiled by the love of the heretics [and] that ye receive no spurious doctrine under the pretense of love.”
Ambrose also says that Paul wants them to be able to distinguish what is useful from what is useless.
Vs 10. Discerning love will give them the ability to prove what is truly excellent. To prove means to recognize the things which are morally excellent and are pleasing to God. To do those things will make them pure and without blemish before God on the day of Christ. Once again the theme of sacrifice is present. The Christian is a living sacrifice and will make the offering of his life to Christ on the day of judgment. Like the unblemished lamb of the OT sacrifice, Paul prays that their life offering will be blameless as well.
Vs.11. Another result of discerning love are the fruits of righteousness. This is a consistent image in Paul. In Gal 5:22, he lists the fruits of the Spirit. In fact, in that passage the word is “fruit” singular, not plural. One can say from that list that the fruit is love and the rests are expression of true Christ-like love. These fruits reflect the live of Christ and express the ultimate person of the sacrificial life which is the glory and praise of God. The offering of our lives will be presented to God in praise to Him. This reflects Christ’s own life and the ultimate sacrifice He made to the Father on the cross. It was a sacrifice not to appease a wrathful God, but a sacrifice of praise—the ultimate act of worship.
note to the class: Thanks for the input this past Sunday. I used your comments when I compiled the above summary notes. I tried to make the class more discussion oriented. Let me know what you thought. Did you like the interaction? Did it move to slow or fast?