Philippians, the Epistle to The

The epistle is not capable of any logical analysis. Its succession of thought may be represented as follows: (1) Address (Php 1:1-2). (2) Thanksgiving and prayer (Php 1:3-11): Paul is thankful for their fellowship and confident of their perfection. He longs for them and prays that their love may be wise to discriminate among the most excellent things and that they may be able to choose the very best, until they are filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and the praise of God. (3) Information concerning his own experience (Php 1:12-30): (a) His evangelism (Php 1:12-14): Everything had turned out well. Paul is in prison, but he has been indefatigable in his evangelism. He has been chained to a soldier, but that has given him many an opportunity for personal and private and prolonged conversation. When the people have gathered to hear, the guard has listened perforce; and when the crowd was gone, more than once the soldier has seemed curious and interested and they have talked on about the Christ. Paul has told his experience over and over to these men, and his story has been carried through the whole camp. (b) His tolerance (Php 1:15-18): Not only has the gospel found unexpected furtherance inside the prison walls, but through the whole city the brethren have been emboldened by Paul's success to preach Christ, some through faction and envy and strife, and some through love. Paul rejoices that Christ is preached, whether by his enemies or by his friends. He would much prefer to have the gospel presented as he himself preached it, but he was great-souled and broadminded enough to tolerate differences of opinion and method among brethren in Christ. "In every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Php 1:18). This is one of the noblest utterances of one of the greatest of men. Paul is sorry that everybody does not see things just exactly as he does, but he rejoices if they glorify Christ and would not put the least hindrance in their way. (c) His readiness for life or death (Php 1:19-26): Paul says, Give me liberty or give me death; it will be Christ either way. To live is to work for Christ; to die is to be with Christ. "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Here is Paul's soliloquy in the face of possible martyrdom or further missionary labors.

We are reminded of Hamlet's soliloquy in Shakespeare. "To be or not to be"--that is the question with both Hamlet and Paul. Hamlet weighs evils against evils and chooses the lesser evils in sheer cowardice in the end. Paul weighs blessings against blessings, the blessings of life for Christ and the blessings of death with Christ, and chooses the lesser blessings in pure unselfishness in the end. They both choose life, but the motives of their choice are radically different; and Paul lives with rejoicing while Hamlet lives in despair and in shame. The aged apostle would rather die than live, but he would rather live than die before his work was done.

(d) His example (Php 1:27-30): Paul was a Roman citizen and so were they. He tried to live worthy of his citizenship and so must they. He had a still higher ambition, that he and they might live as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ. He fought as a good soldier. He stood fast in the faith. He was in nothing affrighted by the adversaries. Let them follow his example. They were engaged in the same conflict. To them it had been granted to believe and to suffer in the behalf of Christ. Their faith was not of themselves; it was the gift of God. Their suffering was not self-chosen; it too was a gift of God. (4) Exhortation to follow the example of Christ (Php 2:1-18): Let the Philippians have the mind and spirit of Jesus, and Paul will rejoice to pour out his life as a libation upon the sacrifice and service of their faith. (5) Reasons for sending Timothy, and Epaphroditus to them (Php 2:19-30). (6) Paul's example (Php 3:1-21):

(a) In the repudiation of all confidence in the flesh (Php 3:1-7): There are certain dogs and evil workers who belong to the old Jewish persuasion who glory in the flesh. Paul does not. He glories in Christ Jesus and has no confidence in the flesh. He has much reason to be proud of his past, for he would rank high on his record among them. He was of the stock of Israel, the prince with God. He belonged to the race of those who wrestled with God and got the victory. He was of the tribe of Benjamin, the only one of the patriarchs born in the Chosen Land. The first king of Israel had been chosen from this tribe. It alone had been faithful to the house of David at the time of the Great Schism. It held the place of honor in the militant host of the Israelites (Jg 5:14; Ho 5:8). It was a matter of pride to belong to this singly faithful and signally honored tribe. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he belonged to that sect among the Hebrews that was notorious for its scrupulous observance of all the religious ritual, for its patriotism and zeal, for its piety. and devotion. Among these Pharisees he was conspicuous for his enthusiasm. He was the chosen instrument of the Sanhedrin to persecute and annihilate the Christian church. No one could find fault with his legal righteousness. He claimed to be blameless as judged by their standard. That was his record. Who has any better one, in pedigree or in piety? All of these things Paul counts but loss for Christ. (b) In the maintenance and pursuit of spiritual perfection (Php 3:8-16): The word "perfect" is used twice in this paragraph. We read: "Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on." Many of the authorities quote these words as indicative of Paul's humility in disclaiming any present perfection of character while he avows his purpose to strive on toward perfection as long as he lives. Such an interpretation is wholly aside from Paul's thought. He is not talking about perfection in patience and peace and devotion and character. That perfection he claims for himself and for the Philippians in this paragraph toward the close: "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded." The perfection of which he speaks earlier is the perfection possible in the resurrection life of the saints in bliss. He has not attained unto the resurrection from the dead and is not perfect with the perfection of heaven. That is the goal of his endeavor. He presses on to that mark. In the meantime he maintains that perfection of consecration and of faith that results in present Christian perfection of character and which is the only guaranty of that perfection to be revealed to those who attain unto the resurrection from the dead. (c) In heavenly citizenship (Php 3:17-21): Paul walks with his mind on heavenly things. There are those who mind earthly things. They are enemies of the cross, but he has sworn eternal allegiance to the cross. Their end is perdition, while his end is sure salvation. Their god is the belly, while his goal is the perfection of the spirit. Their glory is in their shame, while his glory is in Christ alone. "Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample." Then "The Lord .... shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation," the body of our earthly pilgrimage, the body that so often fails the racer to the goal and cannot keep up with the desire of his spirit, and will conform it "to the body of his glory," the perfect body of those who have attained to the resurrection of the dead. It is not "our vile body" that is to be changed. That gives a false sense in modern English. The body is not vile, and the Bible nowhere says that it is. It was Manichean or neo-Platonic heresy that matter was evil and the body vile. Plotinus blushed that he had a body; Jesus never did. The Christian will honor the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. It was the vehicle of the incarnation, and he honors it for that. Yet the body prepared for Jesus was the body of His humiliation. It bound Him to the earth. It wearied when He was most anxious to work. It failed Him when He most needed strength. Paul says that our bodies are like the body of Jesus of Nazareth now, and they shall be like the body of our risen Lord in due time.

(7) A series of short exhortations (Php 4:1-9): This series ends with the command, "The things which ye both learned and received and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you." All these exhortations, then, are based upon his own conduct and experience and example. They had seen the embodiment of these things in him. They were to be imitators of him in their obedience to them. Therefore as we read them we have side-lights thrown upon the character of the apostle who had taught and preached and practiced these things.

What do they tell us concerning the apostle Paul? (a) His stedfastness and his love for his friends (Php 4:1): He had a genius for friendship. He bound his friends to him with cords of steel. They were ready to sacrifice anything for him. The reason for that was that he sacrificed everything for them, and that he had such an overflowing love for them that his love begot love in them. They could depend upon him. (b) His sympathy with all good men and all good women and his desire that they live in peace (Php 4:2-3): The true yokefellow mentioned here cannot be identified now. He has been variously named by the critics, as Epaphroditus, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Timothy, Peter, and Christ. There may be a proper name in the phrase, either Genisius or Syzygus. We are wholly ignorant as to whom Paul meant. (c) His constant rejoicing in the Lord (Php 4:4). (d) His sweet reasonableness ("moderation," the King James Version, the Revised Version (British and American) "forbearance," Php 4:5).: So Matthew Arnold translates the Greek noun here. Tyndale called it courtesy. It is a combination of forbearance and graciousness, of modesty and courtesy, of consideration and esteem such as was characteristic of Christ. Paul had it. There was a sweet reasonableness about him that made his personality a most winning and attractive one. (e) His freedom from anxiety (Php 4:6-7): Paul's fearless confidence was born on the one hand from his assurance that the Lord was near, and on the other from his faith in prayer. It passed all understanding how Paul was kept from all anxiety. It was the power of prayer that did it. It was the peace of God that did it. It was the Lord at hand who did it. (f) His habitual high thinking (Php 4:8): All that was worthy in the ideals of the Greek philosophers Paul made the staple of his thought. He delighted in things true and honorable and just and pure and lovely and of good report. He knew that virtue was in these things and that all praise belonged to them. He had learned that while his mind was filled with these things he lived in serenity and peace.

(8) Thanks for their gift (Php 4:10-20). (9) Salutations (Php 4:21-22). (10) Benediction (Php 4:23). This is not a theological epistle and therefore it is not an especially Christological one. Yet we count the name of Christ 42 times in this short letter, and the pronouns referring to Him are many more. Paul cannot write anything without writing about Christ. He ends: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." The spirit of Christ and the grace of Christ are in the entire epistle.


Works on Introduction: Zahn, Weiss, Julicher, Salmon, Dods, Bacon, Bennett and Adeney; McClymont, The New Testament and Its Writers; Farrar, The Messages of the Books; Fraser, Synoptical Lectures on Books of the Holy Scripture; Godet, Studies on the Epistles Works on the Pauline Epistles: Findlay, Shaw. Commentaries: Lightfoot, Vincent, Weiss, Beet, Ellicott, Haupt, Moule. Devotional studies: Moule, Meyer, Jowett, Noble.

Doremus Almy Hayes

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