Philippians

by Peter & Vita Toon

Kingsway Bible Studies

Kingsway Publications, 1979

 

Contents

How to use the studies (New Testament)

Introduction to Philippians

Study 1:  Paul and the Philippians 1:1–11

Study 2:  Imprisonment advances the gospel 1:12–18

Study 3:  Honouring and glorifying Christ 1:19–30

Study 4:  The mind of Christ 2:1–11

Study 5:  Lights of the world 2:12–18

Study 6:  Timothy and Epaphroditus 2:19–30

Study 7:  Judaism and Christianity 3:1–11

Study 8:  Christian perfection 3:12–21

Study 9:  Pastoral responsibility 4:1–9

Study 10:  Concluding remarks 4:10–23

 

HOW TO USE THE STUDIES  (NEW TESTAMENT)

      1. Ensure that the aim is first to understand the text and then to make it meaningful and relevant.  (The questions at the end of each study are intended to bring out the relevance for today.)

      2. Begin with a prayer for the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      3. Have various English versions of the Bible available.  At least one translation – e.g. the Revised Version, Revised Standard Version or New International Version – and at least one paraphrase – e.g. the Living Bible or Good News Bible – should be on hand for the group to use.

      4. Choose one person to lead the discussion, preferably a mature Christian.

      5. Encourage everyone to participate in the reading or the discussion.

      6. Try the following method of approach:

      (i) Begin the study by reading the whole passage in translation.

      (ii) Then read each section (as indicated in the notes) from a paraphrase.

      (iii) Also read aloud the notes themselves after each section.

      (iv) Discuss the meaning of the passage.

      This activity will involve several members of the group as readers.

      7. Spend about ten minutes on each question with as many members as possible making a contribution.  At the end of each discussion the leader should summarize the main points that have arisen.

      8. Matters of concern which arise in the reading of the Scripture or in answering the questions could be made topics for prayer.

      9. A balance must be kept between ascertaining what the Bible teaches and what are the opinions of participants.  So the leader should make sure that there is an understanding of the passage before questions are raised.  On some occasions this will mean that only two of the questions can be answered.

 

INTRODUCTION TO PHILIPPIANS

      The city of Philippi was named after Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great.  He fortified it and exploited its mineral wealth, having conquered it in 360 B.C.  The city became a Roman colony in 167 B.C.  Its population was a mixture of indigenous Thracian, Greek and Latin families.  Consequently there was a great variety of divinities and religious cults.  There was a Jewish community to whom were attached the Gentile “Godfearers”, who worshipped the God of the Jews.

      A description of the foundation of the church at Philippi is found in Acts 16:9–40.  Here we learn that Paul was specifically instructed to go into northern Greece (as we now call Macedonia) to preach the gospel there.  When he preached in Philippi and founded a church there he was accused of introducing an alien cult.  This was because Christianity, unlike Judaism and other religions, did not have the sanction of the state as a religion and was thus technically unlawful.

      Having founded the church Paul kept in touch with it and, as this letter reveals, received various gifts from the members.  He wrote the letter from Rome when he was in prison there (Acts 28:16).  His imprisonment was more like what is called today “house arrest” and so he was free to employ a scribe and obtain papyrus to write his letters.

      The obvious reason for his writing this letter was to thank the Philippians for the gift which they had sent him to help him when he was in need.  It is a very personal letter sent to his first converts on European soil.  He urges the Christians to live humbly and worthy of their calling as disciples of Christ.  The letter is impregnated with the themes of joy, confidence in God, unity in Christ and perseverance in the Christian life and faith.

 

Helpful Books

      There are helpful commentaries by William Hendriksen (Banner of Truth), R. P. Martin (IVP), R. P. Martin (Oliphants), J. A. Motyer (IVP) and P. S. Rees (Baker).

 

Study  1:  Paul And The Philippians

1:1–11

      After his greetings Paul shares with the church the prayer he makes for its members, that they may please Christ.

 

1.  1:1–2        Paul’s greeting

      Timothy became Paul’s companion at Lystra.  He was the son of a Jewish Christian mother and a Greek father.  He was already a disciple when Paul met him but because his father was Greek (pagan) Paul had him circumcised before allowing him to join him.  See Acts 16:1–3.  He had a special relationship with the Philippian Christians and Paul intended to send him to them as his own representative.  See 2:19–24.

      In the Old Testament the prophets were called “servants of the LORD”.  By describing himself and Timothy in this way Paul was indirectly stating that they were truly appointed by God and engaged in God’s work.  A note of authority is therefore to be seen in what he has to say in the letter.

      Paul’s usual description of Christians was “saints”.  In Christ sinners are accepted by God and are being “made holy” or “sanctified” by the Spirit.  So they are saints (holy ones).

      Bishops and deacons were the two basic types of church officers.  Bishops were overseers, shepherds, pastors, and are sometimes called presbyters (elders).  Deacons were the servants of the church, looking after her works of mercy in terms of the poor, sick, orphans and widows.

      “Grace” is God’s mercy to undeserving sinners.  “Peace” is wholeness and thus is the salvation of the whole person through the mercy of God in Jesus Christ.  Paul desires the final and total salvation of all the saints.

 

2.  1:3–11      Paul’s prayer

      Paul rejoices before God in all his prayers for the Philippians because he was thankful that they had entered into a partnership with him right from the start (4:15).  By generously supplying his needs they enabled him to carry on the preaching of the gospel without hindrance – cf. Romans 15:26, 2 Corinthians 9:13.

      Verse 6: The church was facing internal divisions and external opponents, and there was a real fear that they would not endure to the end.  Paul reassures them by reminding them that it was God himself who was responsible for the work of conversion in their lives.  He could be trusted to bring his own work to its completion.  The “day of Christ” is a reference to the second coming of Jesus Christ when God’s work of re-creation and redemption will be completed (cf. Romans 8:19–23; 1 Corinthians 15).  In the Old Testament the “day of the LORD”, at first thought of as a moment of vindication for the Israelites, became a day of judgement in the teaching of the prophets – see Amos 5:18–20 and Zephaniah 1:14–18.  In the New Testament the ‘day’ is vindication for the people of Christ when their salvation will be completed; it is also judgement for those who reject him – 2 Thessalonians 2.

      Paul’s confinement in prison will prevent him seeing them immediately and so he will send his assistants to them (2:19–29) and will exercise his pastoral care through his prayers.  He prays that the love for one another will be expressed in the mutual relationships in the church as the members recognize what needs to be done in specific situations.  “Knowledge and discernment” refers at least to the ability to see a need and know how it can be met.  In living in this way they will approve what is excellent and thereby be pure (and so not cause offence to others) and blameless (in their relationships with other Christians).  The fruits of righteousness are probably the same as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. What are the implications for Christians of being “servants of Jesus Christ” and “saints of God”?

      2. Why is praying for others so important?  What do we mean by the expression “the ministry of prayer”?

      3. In what ways is the doctrine of the “day of Christ” encouraging to Christians?

      4. If we all sincerely prayed Paul’s prayer in verses 9–11, what kind of improvements and changes would we expect to see in our fellowship?

 

Study  2:  Imprisonment Advances The Gospel

1:12–18

      Having expressed his prayer for his brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul goes on to assure them that his present imprisonment has good results by the providence and power of God.

 

1.  1:12–14    Benefits from imprisonment

      The apostle sees his own fate and the proclamation of the gospel as bound tightly together.  His imprisonment was no mere accident of history; it was part of the divine plan to promote the spreading of the gospel.  He dispels any suggestion that he was no true disciple just because he was prevented from preaching by his time in prison, or that his imprisonment actually hindered the progress of the faith.  He gives two reasons why his imprisonment served to advance the cause of Christ.  First of all it was seen by those who were guarding him and by the pagans that he was not in prison because he had broken the laws of the empire or offended the political and civil authorities.  He was imprisoned because he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Secondly, most ordinary Christians were made bolder and more confident in speaking the word of God even though they recognized that they opened themselves to the same fate as Paul.  His absence contributed to their spiritual development.  The praetorian guard was the official bodyguard of the emperor, but as it numbered as many as 9,000 members Paul must have met only a proportion of them.

 

2.  1:15–18    Christ is proclaimed

      These verses are not easy to interpret for they appear to stand in tension with verse 14 where Paul had spoken approvingly of Christians’ being strengthened by his own witness in prison.  Here his imprisonment appears to have caused a division among the Christians.  Those who were jealous of his position and authority, or who had a different strategy of mission from his own, apparently increased their evangelistic work in the hope of stirring him to envy, and to show that they were more successful.  Others out of love for the apostle and recognition of the true purpose of his imprisonment were also enthusiastic in their evangelism.  Since Paul’s primary purpose was to proclaim the gospel, and since this was being done despite his own imprisonment and despite mixed motives, he rejoiced.

      The actual identity of those who preached from envy and rivalry is difficult to establish.  They were not false teachers.  Paul attacks not their teaching but their purpose as far as he is involved.  They are probably a group of evangelists who regard Paul as an obstacle to preaching the gospel because he is seen to be in prison.  It is not that they have anything against Paul personally, but that their idea of effective missionary tactics has no place for obvious defeat.  They depend on triumph over the opposition and unhindered success, and so are embarrassed by the apostle’s imprisonment.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. Is persecution of Christians, whatever form it takes, always because of their commitment to Christ? Are other factors involved?

      2. Do Christians only tend to see the definite providence of God in their lives when obvious practical and spiritual effects are to be seen?

      3. How important is the motivation of Christians in the proclamation of the gospel? Does God bless imperfect motivation?

      4. What is the way in which the gospel should be proclaimed to western people? Is there one way or a variety of ways depending on the social and cultural background of the hearers?

 

Study  3:  Honouring And Glorifying Christ

1:19–30

      For Paul there is no higher purpose in life on earth than to live in such a way that Christ is praised and exalted.

 

1.  1:19–26    Christ is life and death is gain

      Verse 19: By the “Spirit of Jesus Christ” Paul means the Spirit of the risen and ascended Christ who came to the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  Paul experienced the presence and power of the Spirit not only in his missionary activities but now also in his imprisonment.  With the Spirit’s help and the prayers of the Christians of Philippi he is sure that his time in prison will result in his deliverance.  But what kind of deliverance?  In the light of verse 20 it is probable that Paul is thinking not of release from prison but the final outcome of his life when both his gospel and his witness to it will be vindicated by God.

      Verse 20: Paul’s primary concern is for Christ to be honoured.  His own physical circumstances are of secondary consideration; his one desire is to remain a faithful witness to Christ.

      Verses 21–23: Death is a gain, but not because Paul finds this life a burden.  On the contrary, he rejoices in his present life because it is Christ-centred.  His total ambition is to preach and commend Christ, and in this activity he has the help of the Spirit. Death is gain because it is the gate into the actual presence of Christ.  For Paul, who had probably not seen or heard Jesus in the days of his public ministry, this meeting with Christ had a great attraction.  He is torn between his desire to remain in the flesh and his desire to be with Christ.  However, for the sake of his followers and fellow believers he sees how necessary it is to remain in the flesh and labour among them.

 

2.  1:27–28    Encouragement to unity and godly living

      Verse 27: Paul’s imprisonment and the threat of persecution had caused division in the church at Philippi.  He appeals for unity in their worship, fellowship and evangelism.  Their lives as well as their preaching were important for a true witness to the gospel.  He exhorts them to be courageous and to strive to maintain the faith even in his absence and in the face of opposition.

      Verse 28: The courage and steadfastness of the Philippians in their serving of Jesus by word and deed will be a sign to them that their salvation is from God himself.  By seeing this commitment to Christ and his way, their opponents will realize that they are storing up for themselves condemnation from God.  (See further 2 Thessalonians 1:4–7.)

 

3.  1:29–30    Suffering is a privilege

      In the primitive churches suffering through the persecution of opponents seems to have been the inevitable lot of Christians.  This was exactly what Jesus promised (Matthew 5:11; John 15: 20).  However, when Paul says that it has been granted to the Philippians to suffer for the sake of Christ he seems to suggest that it was a special privilege given to them.  They are to be engaged in the same struggle as Paul himself was in.

 

4.  Questions for discussion

      1. How can modern Christians honour Christ in their bodies in their daily lives?

      2. Was Paul’s desire to die and be with Christ a “special case” or should all Christians have this desire?

      3. Is the goal of “one spirit and one mind” a realistic aim for the modern local church? If so, how can it be attained?

      4. In view of the usage of the plural in verses 27–28, is there such a reality as corporate holiness and Christ-likeness?

 

Study  4:  The Mind Of Christ

2:1–11

      Paul continues his words of encouragement by appealing for unity and for submission to the mind of Christ.

 

1.  2:1–4        An appeal for harmony

      Verse 1: To give content to his appeal Paul refers to the realities of the Christian experience which the Philippians have known.  They are “in Christ”, members of his body; the Lord Jesus has loved them and does love them; the Holy Spirit indwells their church and each member; and they have the love of God in their hearts which should make them love others.

      Verse 2: Paul does not hide the joy which the Philippians have brought to him.  The only thing which detracts from this is their jealousies and rivalries.  He wants them to set these aside and put on love for each other instead.

      Verse 3: Paul pinpoints some of the baser motives which were affecting some Christians.  They are selfishness and conceit.  Concern for self and for self-glorification are root causes of divisions.  To think of oneself as better or higher than others is a constant temptation which Christians face.  Humility and the willingness to count others as better than oneself must replace selfishness and conceit.

 

2.  2:5–11      A hymn to Christ

      This relates the drama and story of salvation achieved by Jesus Christ.  Paul uses it as a basis for urging the Philippians to have the same attitude to one another as Christ has shown to them.

      Verse 6: Paul here speaks of the pre-existence of Christ.  As the eternal Son of God he was with the Father eternally.  However, he gladly agreed to become man and in so doing did not cling to the privileges of heaven.

      Verse 7: In emptying himself he did not cease to be divine; rather, he ceased to live surrounded with all the glory of heaven.  The Incarnation involved the move from the heaven of glory to the earth of suffering and humiliation.

      Verse 8: As the Son of God in human form and thus as the Suffering Servant of God (see Isaiah 53) he followed the Father’s will and offered himself for the sins of the world.

      Verse 9: The name “the LORD” is the name which is above every name.  In Jewish thought the name of God – Yahweh or Jehovah, the LORD – was above all names, superior to all names.  To give this name to Jesus Christ means that the Father is sharing with the exalted Saviour the sovereign lordship of the universe.

      Verse 10: Both human and spiritual beings will acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ.  Paul pictures them as kneeling down in worship before him

      Verse 11: It is the Father who exalts Christ and confers lordship upon him (in his resurrection and ascension).  That which Christ had refused to snatch or to grasp before the Incarnation (verses 6–7) is now granted freely to him, but not only to him as the Son of God.  It is also given to him as the second Adam, the head of a new humanity (Romans 5:12ff.).

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. What are some of the factors which cause divisions and rivalries in today’s churches?

      2. What does participation in a Spirit-created community involve?

      3. How important is it to insist on both the divinity and the humanity of Jesus Christ?

      4. What are the differences between on the one hand the position and state of the Son of God before his birth by the virgin Mary, and on the other hand after his ascension into heaven?

 

Study  5:  Lights Of The World

2:12–18

      The word “therefore” in verse 12 bids the readers bear in mind the argument already presented in the description of the example of humility in Jesus Christ.

 

1.  2:12–13    Working out your salvation

      To work out your own salvation does not mean striving to earn salvation, for that is the gift of God.  Rather it means to endure to the end through difficulties.  It also means healing the divisions in the church, for while there is a definite personal salvation there is a sense in which the whole church is being saved. Internal rivalries and divisions deny and hinder this corporate activity of God.  The Philippians are to endure and work for harmony as people who reverence God, who recognize in him holy love and purity.  This very God is the one who is at work in and through them.

 

2.  2:14–18    Shining in a dark world

      Those who have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Christ are the adopted children of God (cf. Romans 8:12–16).  This new privilege and status requires that Christians live in such a manner that they are seen to be God’s children.  They live in a world which is alienated from God, a society organized and ordered in hostility to God’s law and love.  This means there is moral and spiritual darkness, and so the children of God, in whom there is the light of the gospel, are to shine as lights.  Jesus himself described the disciples of the kingdom as the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

      Verse 16: The “word of life” is the good news of God’s love for men in Jesus Christ and his gift of eternal life to repentant believers.  The “day of Christ” is the time of the second coming of Christ when all will confess to God’s glory that Jesus Christ is Lord.

      Verse 17: The libation was an offering to God made in liquid form – e.g. wine, the fruit of the vine.  Thus it was poured over the altar.  Paul was willing to offer his life as a libation to God.  He was ready for the sake of all Christians who were committed to the Lord to add to their sacrificial living (Romans 12:1–2) his own sacrifice, a libation, a pouring out of his life as a martyr of Christ.

      Verse 18: To be able to serve Christ the Lord in the difficulties of life, or in the act of martyrdom, is a cause not for sadness but for joy.  This is the message of Christ himself in the sermon on the mount – see Matthew 5:11–12.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. What can we do now to work out our salvation with fear and trembling?

      2. When there is so much enlightened humanitarian concern in western society, how accurate is it to call this world “darkness”?

      3. What does it mean to be the light of the world today?  What should be the main features of Christian living and witness today which function as light in the moral and spiritual darkness?

      4. What does it mean to rejoice as a Christian?

 

Study  6:  Timothy And Epaphroditus

2:19–30

      Paul cannot visit this church for which he has such concern and love, so he is to send his assistants instead.

 

1.  2:19–24    Timothy

      Timothy had a Jewish mother and a Greek father.  His mother became a Christian and so did her son.  Timothy was well thought of by fellow believers in Lystra, and so Paul invited him to be his companion and fellow worker.  Before they set off Paul had Timothy circumcised so as not to offend the Jewish people of Lystra (Acts 16:1–3).

      Paul was obviously concerned about the problems at Philippi and he wanted to send to the church a man whom both they and he trusted.  Timothy, who had already visited them with Paul, was the right man for the job.

      (For Paul’s advice to Timothy on a later occasion see his two letters to Timothy in the New Testament.)

      We do not know whether in fact Paul himself ever visited Philippi again.

 

2.  2:25–30    Epaphroditus

      Epaphroditus was a Macedonian Christian from Philippi.  He is not the same man as the Epaphras mentioned in Colossians 1:7 and 4:12, or in Philemon 23.  His name means “comely” or “charming”.  He was probably the bearer of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

      Verse 25: He is the brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier of Paul in the service of Jesus Christ.  As adopted sons of God they were brothers in Christ.  As two servants of the Lord Jesus they were fellow-workers, even though Paul was an apostle and Epaphroditus his assistant.  In their fight against Satan, sin and darkness they were active soldiers in the Lord’s army (Ephesians 6:10ff.).

      From the standpoint of the Philippians Epaphroditus was their messenger and minister (servant) to Paul.  Through him they could render service to Paul.

      Verse 27: Paul does not attribute Epaphroditus’ recovery to natural means but to a definite act of God’s mercy.  This mercy was also a mercy to Paul, for the recovery of Epaphroditus saved Paul from suffering further hardship.

      Verses 28–30: The Philippians are to receive him not merely with the ordinary Christian courtesies but as one who is an honoured servant of the Lord and who has helped Paul in an important way.  “To complete your service to me. . . .” Paul means that by taking a hazardous journey and exposing himself to illness and death, Epaphroditus was able to complete the service to Paul which the Philippians were not in a position to do.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. Does self-interest always clash with the interests of others?  Does genuine interest for the welfare of others exclude one’s own?

      2. How much influence should a respected and honoured member of a Christian community have on its affairs?

      3. Do we sufficiently think of other Christians as brothers, sisters, fellow workers and soldiers?

      4. Is Christian witness and evangelism weaker where there is no obvious risk to life – as in most of the western world?

 

Study  7:  Judaism And Christianity

3:1–11

      Paul is so concerned with the problems of the church at Philippi that he is anxious to reinforce the instructions he has sent via Epaphroditus.  It is not a burdensome task for him since it is done for the welfare of the church.

 

1.  3:1–2        A warning

      The dogs or evil workers are Jews, or Jewish Christians, who are seeking to win Gentile converts to Christianity for Judaism.  Jews often spoke of Gentiles as “dogs” which were for them ritually unclean animals.  Here Paul transfers the description to the Jews themselves because of the havoc they were causing in predominantly Gentile-Christian congregations.  Their work is evil because their insistence on circumcision was undermining and unsettling the faith of Christian Gentiles.  This circumcision by which they set so much store was not something to be proud of.  It was only the mutilation of the body.

 

2.  3:3–11      The flesh and salvation

      In verse 3 Paul makes four claims for himself and his fellow believers.  First, they are the true circumcision.  As Paul teaches in Romans 2:28–29 circumcision is in the final analysis a spiritual, not a physical state.  All who have been inwardly transformed by divine grace are members of the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff.).  They do not need an outward physical sign for they have God’s forgiveness and Spirit in their lives.  Secondly, they worship God in Spirit, as Jesus told the woman of Samaria – see John 4:21–24.  This is far superior to the use of rites and animal sacrifices as in the Temple.  Thirdly, they glory in Christ Jesus.  They take pride only in Christ, relying only on him for salvation and life.  Fourthly, they put no confidence in the flesh: they do not think that their good behaviour can in any way win salvation for them.

      In verses 3–6 Paul looks at his own history.  It was not because he had no ancestry of which to boast that he made light of his birth, status and human achievement.  On the contrary, he had much of which to boast, but this he counted as nothing because of what he had in Christ.  His excellent Jewish pedigree faded into insignificance alongside what knowing Christ meant to him.

      In verses 7–8 Paul declares that the knowledge he has is of Christ as Lord.  The worth of such knowledge not only goes beyond all his previous knowledge of God which he had as a Pharisee (one who diligently kept the law of Moses), but makes it as a worthless liability.  He rejects it so that he may wholly gain Christ.

      Paul’s new ambition (verses 9–11) is to be found in Christ.  That is, to be in the position of being justified by and reconciled to God.  The righteousness – not moral virtue but the state of being right with God – which he now has was not achieved by his own efforts at keeping the law.  It comes from God through Christ and is received by faith.  It is a gift the believer cannot earn.  Moving on from this gift Paul wants an intimate relationship with Christ so that he can share in his resurrection power.  To share in this divine life he knows that he must be willing to suffer just as Christ suffered.

      At baptism the believer symbolically experiences the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1–11) and in life he experiences the power of the resurrected life of Christ.  The final stage is the actual receiving of the resurrection body and new life, for which Paul also longs (1 Corinthians 15:42ff.).

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. What are the distinctive marks of spiritual worship?

      2. What types of things would claim the allegiance of modern, western people, and in what sense would they be a hindrance to a full commitment to Jesus Christ?

      3. What does it mean to know Jesus Christ as Lord?

      4. What are the ways in which Christians today are tempted to think that they make some contribution towards their own salvation?

 

Study  8:  Christian Perfection

3:12–21

      Having related his own desire to know Christ intimately, Paul now shows that he like the Philippians is not a perfect Christian but has much progress to make.

 

1.  3:12–16    Perfection is the goal

      It seems that there were Christians who believed that they had already attained perfection.  Possibly they argued that at their baptism they had been identified with the death and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6:1–11).  Thus, when they came out of the water of baptism they also rose up into the resurrection life and attained perfection.  Paul insists that perfection is still in the future and Christians must strive towards it (cf. Matthew 5:48).  In claiming that “Christ Jesus has made me his own” Paul may be referring to his experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9).

      In verse 13, making use of the metaphor of the race in a sporting contest, Paul makes clear the necessity for keeping the winning post in view and striving with all your might to get to it.  The Christian should not be passive, nor must he keep looking back to everything he has given up or to all his past achievements.  The prize for which the Christian runs is Christ himself and his gifts of grace and salvation.  The “upward call” (verse 14) is either the high vocation which Paul shares with all believers or the heavenly call which comes to believers at the end of the age to share in the life of God’s kingdom.

      Paul recognizes that not all his readers will agree with what he is saying (verse 15), but he is confident that God will reveal the truth as he has stated it to those who disagree with him.  The main thing is that everyone needs to hold fast to that truth which they understand and have begun to obey.

 

2.  3:17–21    Loyalty to Christ

      Paul sets himself forward as an example of the way Christians ought to live.  The goals which he has set for himself are the goals which all Christians should set for themselves.

      In verses 18-19 the enemies of the cross of Christ are not pagans who do not accept the gospel but Christians who are complacent about their Christianity.  These were those who believed they had attained perfection and had no more to do.  They could fill their lives with the pleasures of this world but in so doing were inviting God’s judgement.

      In verses 20–21 Paul turns to the positive benefits of being in Christ.  The true destiny of Christians is life in the presence of God and so on earth they are as strangers and pilgrims.  From the presence of God Christ will come to earth, and he will come as Saviour.  (The term “Saviour” was not used often by Paul because it was used in popular speech of both the Roman emperor and the many pagan gods.  Christ is a Saviour of a different type.)  His saving work will include giving to justified believers a spiritual, resurrection body, a process he describes more fully in 1 Corinthians 15.  Paul insists that this transformation of believers is effected by the same divine power as that by which Christ will subject all his enemies to himself at the final judgement of the world.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. In what ways can we describe what perfection should mean for the Christian?

      2. How is the place of human effort in the Christian life to be described?  Is the illustration of the race sufficient for today?

      3. Do some Christians still live as “enemies of the cross of Christ”?  If so, how can we help them?

      4. Is the Christian belief in the resurrection of the body compatible with the belief in the immortality of the soul?

 

Study  9:  Pastoral Responsibility

4:1–9

      Paul begins this section with the word “therefore”, which means that it has to be read in the light of what he has written in 3:20–21.  In the light of the great future which is being prepared for the people of God, Paul expresses his joy that that people has been joined by the Philippians due to his labours.  The Philippian Christians are his crown, the sign of his success in the Lord’s work.

 

1.  4:2–3        Paul counsels two women

      Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to overcome their differences and live as fellow members of the body of Christ.  It must have been a serious dispute since Paul enlists someone whom he calls a “true yokefellow”.  His identity is not known but he was probably a respected and influential member of the church whose word would be heeded.  These women were dear to Paul because at some stage they had worked with him in spreading the gospel.

      The “book of life” picks up the idea found in Scripture that there is a book in heaven in which the names of the faithful are written.  See Exodus 32:32–33; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.

 

2.  4:4–9        Joy and peace

      Paul repeats his appeal to the Philippians to rejoice.  This constant appeal was not due to an optimism that everything would turn out right in the end.  It was grounded in faith in the Lord who is true and faithful.  With their rejoicing is to go a gracious, forgiving and tolerant attitude to one another.  Only in this way could they hope to witness effectively for Christ.  The call to be gracious is strengthened with a solemn warning of the nearness of the second coming of Jesus Christ.  “The Lord is at hand” may be a quotation from Psalm 145:18, but it functions much the same as the Marana tha of 1 Corinthians 16:22.

      Following the lead of Christ in Matthew 6:25–34 Paul bids them to show no anxiety.  They should trust the One in whom their faith rests.  Prayer and supplications are to be made with thanksgiving.  Supplications are specific prayers for specific needs.  Thanksgiving is important for it shows a recognition and acknowledgement of past mercies and provides added encouragement to trust in the Lord for the future.

      Verse 7 is well known for its use in services of worship.  When trust in the Lord replaces anxiety the Christian experiences an incomprehensible peace which God alone gives.  It is the peace which God himself imparts to those who put their trust in him.  With such a peace they will not waver in their love and allegiance to Jesus Christ.  In the middle of problems and persecution they will have an inward calm.

      In verses 8–9 Paul urges the Philippians to dwell upon all that is conducive to true Christian character – truth, moral goodness, justice, sexual purity, etc.  He holds up before them his own example in both his teaching and his conduct, and assures them of God’s peace if they follow this type of Christian thinking.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. What helps to create a good relationship between the pastor(s) and congregation?

      2. In what practical ways should the hope of Christ’s return to earth affect Christian living?

      3. In a complex and fast-changing world is it possible for a Christian not to be anxious?

      4. Thinking obviously affects conduct.  How difficult or easy is it to control the mind and enable it to dwell only on those things which are excellent?

 

Study  10:  Concluding Remarks

4:10–23

      Paul closes his letter with an appreciation of gifts received from the church and with greetings to all the membership.

 

1.  4:10–20    The gifts from Philippi

      Paul thanks the church for their concern towards him and their generosity in sending gifts.  From verse 10 it appears that they had not lost their concern for Paul in his absence but had had no opportunity of showing it.  Paul’s reluctance to admit real need (verses 11–12) is not due to a lack of appreciation for what the Philippians had sent to him.  Rather it was due to his desire to maintain his independence (he laboured as a tentmaker even when preaching the gospel, Acts 18:3) and his chosen role of poverty.  He had learnt to maintain a spirit of contentment regardless of his circumstances.  His almost Stoical attitude did not derive from mere self-discipline and strength of character.  It was due to the fact that he knew Christ, and he could rely on him for strength in his weakness and in all his labours as an apostle.

      The phrase “in the beginning of the gospel” (verse 15) is most probably a reference to the new direction of the Christian missionary enterprise westwards once it entered Greece through Macedonia (see Acts 16 and a map of Paul’s missionary journeys).  The gifts from Philippi certainly gave Paul pleasure, but the greater satisfaction came from knowing that the gifts brought credit to the Philippian church itself.  In fact the Philippians sent more than he required.  The terms used to describe their gifts are all taken from the sacrificial ideas of the Old Testament (Genesis 8:21; Exodus 29:18; Leviticus 1:9,13; Ezekiel 20:41).  Therefore to make gifts in the service of Christ is like an act of worship.

      God does not leave those who at self-denying cost give to the work of the kingdom without their basic needs being satisfied.  In fact Paul claims that God rewards them not in the way they deserve but in the way that reflects his own riches and glory.  In this context it is fitting that Paul ends by ascribing praise to our God and Father, the Father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11).

 

2.  4:21–22    Greetings

      Here Paul is careful, as he has been throughout the letter, to include the whole community within his pastoral care.  He is concerned about every saint – every Christian in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.

      From Rome Paul sends the greetings of the church, but he singles out for special mention “those of Caesar’s household”.  It probably means those slaves and servants of Caesar’s bodyguard who had been converted through meeting Paul in his imprisonment.  As Philippi was a military colony it is possible that some of these people were known by members of the church in Philippi.

      In his benediction (verse 23) Paul prays that the grace of Christ, who is the centre and theme of his own life (1:21), will be deeply effective in the lives of the people.

 

3.  Questions for discussion

      1. Does the affluence of modern life prevent Christians from ever being able to make the claim that Paul makes in verses 11–12?

      2. What part should gifts to Christian workers play in our planned giving today?  How can they become “a fragrant offering . . .”?

      3. What kinds of needs are those which God ought to meet (or will meet) in your church?

      4. What do you think is the major lesson which the modern churches can learn from this whole letter to the Philippians?

 

 

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