Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
1Paul and Timotheus, servants of Jesus Christ While Paul is accustomed, in the inscription of his epistles, to employ titles of distinction, with the view of procuring credit for himself and his ministry, there was no need of lengthened commendations in writing to the Philippians, who had known him by experience as a true Apostle of Christ, and still acknowledged him as such beyond all controversy. For they had persevered in the calling of God steadfastly, and in an even tenor. (24)
Bishops He names the pastors separately, for the sake of honor. We may, however, infer from this, that the name of bishop is common to all the ministers of the Word, inasmuch as he assigns several bishops to one Church. The titles, therefore, of bishop and pastor, are synonymous. And this is one of the passages which Jerome quotes for proving this in his epistle to Evagrius, (25) and in his exposition of the Epistle to Titus. (26) Afterwards (27) there crept in the custom of applying the name of bishop exclusively to the person whom the presbyters in each church appointed over their company. (28) It originated, however, in a human custom, and rests on no Scripture authority. I acknowledge, indeed, that, as the minds and manners of men are, there cannot be order maintained among the ministers of the word, without one presiding over the others. I speak of particular bodies, (29) not of whole provinces, much less of the whole world. Now, although we must not contend for words, it were at the same time better for us in speaking to follow the Holy Spirit, the author of tongues, than to change for the worse forms of speech which are dictated to us by Him. For from the corrupted signification of the word this evil has resulted, that, as if all the presbyters (30) were not colleagues, called to the same office, one of them, under the pretext of a new appellation, usurped dominion over the others.
Deacons. This term may be taken in two ways — either as meaning administrators, and curators of the poor, or for elders, who were appointed for the regulation of morals. As, however, it is more generally made use of by Paul in the former sense, I understand it rather as meaning stewards, who superintended the distributing and receiving of alms. On the other points consult the preceding commentaries.
3I give thanks. He begins with thanksgiving (31) on two accounts — first, that he may by this token shew his love to the Philippians; and secondly, that, by commending them as to the past, he may exhort them, also, to perseverance in time to come. He adduces, also, another evidence of his love — the anxiety which he exercised in supplications. It is to be observed, however, that, whenever he makes mention of things that are joyful, he immediately breaks forth into thanksgiving — a practice with which we ought also to be familiar. We must, also, take notice, what things they are for which he gives thanks to God, — the fellowship of the Philippians in the gospel of Christ; for it follows from this, that it ought to be ascribed to the grace of God. When he says, upon every remembrance of you, he means, “As often as I remember you.”
4Always in every prayer. Connect the words in this manner: “Always presenting prayer for you all in every prayer of mine. ” For as he had said before, that the remembrance of them was an occasion of joy to him, so he now subjoins, that they come into his mind as often as he prays. He afterwards adds, that it is with joy that he presents prayer in their behalf. Joy refers to the past; prayer to the future. For he rejoiced in their auspicious beginnings, and was desirous of their perfection. Thus it becomes us always to rejoice in the blessings received from God in such a manner, as to remember to ask from him those things that we are still in need of.
5For your fellowship. He now, passing over the other clause, states the ground of his joy — that they had come into the fellowship of the gospel, that is, had become partakers of the gospel, which, as is well known, is accomplished by means of faith; for the gospel appears as nothing to us, in respect of any enjoyment of it, until we have received it by faith. At the same time the term fellowship may be viewed as referring to the common society of the saints, as though he had said that they had been associated with all the children of God in the faith of the gospel. When he says, from the first day, he commends their promptitude in having shewn themselves teachable immediately upon the doctrine being set before them. The phrase until now denotes their perseverance. Now we know how rare an excellence it is, to follow God immediately upon his calling us, and also to persevere steadfastly unto the end. For many are slow and backward to obey, while there are still more that fall short through fickleness and inconstancy. (32)
6Persuaded of this very thing. An additional ground of joy is furnished in his confidence in them for the time to come. (33) But some one will say, why should men dare to assure themselves for to-morrow amidst so great an infirmity of nature, amidst so many impediments, ruggednesses, and precipices? (34) Paul, assuredly, did not derive this confidence from the steadfastness or excellence of men, but simply from the fact, that God had manifested his love to the Philippians. And undoubtedly this is the true manner of acknowledging God’s benefits — when we derive from them occasion of hoping well as to the future. (35) For as they are tokens at once of his goodness, and of his fatherly benevolence towards us, what ingratitude were it to derive from this no confirmation of hope and good courage! In addition to this, God is not like men, so as to be wearied out or exhausted by conferring kindness. (36) Let, therefore, believers exercise themselves in constant meditation upon the favors which God confers, that they may encourage and confirm hope as to the time to come, and always ponder in their mind this syllogism: God does not forsake the work which his own hands have begun, as the Prophet bears witness, (Psalms 138:8; Isaiah 64:8;) we are the work of his hands; therefore he will complete what he has begun in us. When I say that we are the work of his hands, I do not refer to mere creation, but to the calling by which we are adopted into the number of his sons. For it is a token to us of our election, that the Lord has called us effectually to himself by his Spirit.
It is asked, however, whether any one can be certain as to the salvation of others, for Paul here is not speaking of himself but of the Philippians. I answer, that the assurance which an individual has respecting his own salvation, is very different from what he has as to that of another. For the Spirit of God is a witness to me of my calling, as he is to each of the elect. As to others, we have no testimony, except from the outward efficacy of the Spirit; that is, in so far as the grace of God shews itself in them, so that we come to know it. There is, therefore, a great difference, because the assurance of faith remains inwardly shut up, and does not extend itself to others. But wherever we see any such tokens of Divine election as can be perceived by us, we ought immediately to be stirred up to entertain good hope, both in order that we may not be envious (37) towards our neighbors, and withhold from them an equitable and kind judgment of charity; and also, that we may be grateful to God. (38) This, however, is a general rule both as to ourselves and as to others — that, distrusting our own strength, we depend entirely upon God alone.
Until the day of Jesus Christ The chief thing, indeed, to be understood here is — until the termination of the conflict. Now the conflict is terminated by death. As, however, the Spirit is accustomed to speak in this manner in reference to the last coming of Christ, it were better to extend the advancement of the grace of Christ to the resurrection of the flesh. For although those who have been freed from the mortal body do no longer contend with the lusts of the flesh, and are, as the expression is, beyond the reach of a single dart, (39) yet there will be no absurdity in speaking of them as in the way of advancement, (40) inasmuch as they have not yet reached the point at which they aspire, — they do not yet enjoy the felicity and glory which they have hoped for; and in fine, the day has not yet shone which is to discover the treasures which lie hid in hope. And in truth, when hope is treated of, our eyes must always be directed forward to a blessed resurrection, as the grand object in view.
7As it is reasonable. For we are envious (42) valuators of the gifts of God if we do not reckon as children of God those in whom there shine forth those true tokens of piety, which are the marks by which the Spirit of adoption manifests himself. Paul accordingly says, that equity itself dictates to him, (43) that he should hope well of the Philippians in all time to come, inasmuch as he sees them to be associated with himself in participation of grace. It is not without due consideration that I have given a different rendering of this passage from that of Erasmus, as the judicious reader will easily perceive. For he states what opinion he has of the Philippians, which was the ground of his hoping well respecting them. He says, then, that they are partakers with him of the same grace in his bonds, and in the defense of the gospel.
To have them in his heart is to reckon them as such in the inmost affection of his heart. For the Philippians had always assisted Paul according to their ability, so as to connect themselves with him as associates for maintaining the cause of the gospel, so far as was in their power. Thus, although they were absent in body, yet, on account of the pious disposition which they shewed by every service in their power, he recognises them as in bonds along with him. “I have you, therefore, in my heart; ” this is, sincerely and without any pretense, assuredly, and with no slight or doubtful opinion — as what? as partakers of grace — in what? in my bonds, by which the gospel is defended. As he acknowledged them to be such, it was reasonable that he should hope well respecting them.
Of my grace and in the bonds. It were a ludicrous thing in the view of the world to reckon a prison to be a benefit from God, but if we estimate the matter aright, it is no common honor that God confers upon us, when we suffer persecution for the sake of his truth. For it was not in vain that it was said,
Blessed shall ye be, when men shall afflict and harass you with all kinds of reproaches for my name’s sake. (Matthew 5:11)
Let us therefore bear in remembrance also, that we must with readiness and alacrity embrace the fellowship of the cross of Christ as a special favor from God. In addition to bonds he subjoins the defense and confirmation of the gospel, that he may express so much the better the honourableness of the service which God has enjoined upon us in placing us in opposition to his enemies, so as to bear testimony to his gospel. For it is as though he had entrusted us with the defense of his gospel. And truly it was when armed with this consideration, that the martyrs were prepared to contemn all the rage of the wicked, and to rise superior to every kind of torture. And would that this were present to the mind of all that are called to make a confession of their faith, that they have been chosen by Christ to be as advocates to plead his cause! For were they sustained by such consolation they would be more courageous than to be so easily turned aside into a perfidious revolt. (44)
Here, however, some one will inquire, whether the confirmation of the gospel depends on the steadfastness of men. I answer, that the truth of God is in itself too firm to require that it should have support from any other quarter; for though we should all of us be found liars, God, nevertheless, remains true. (Romans 3:4.) There is, however, no absurdity in saying, that weak consciences are confirmed in it by such helps. That kind of confirmation, therefore, of which Paul makes mention, has a relation to men, as we learn from our own experience that the slaughter of so many martyrs has been attended at least with this advantage, that they have been as it were so many seals, by which the gospel has been sealed in our hearts. Hence that saying of Tertullian, that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” — which I have imitated in a certain poem: “But that sacred blood, (45) the maintainer of God’s honor, will be like seed for producing offspring.” (46)Gignendam ad sobolem seminis instar erit
‘Or le sang precieux par martyre espandu
“In imitation of which, in the song of victory composed by me in Latin in honor of Jesus Christ, in 1541, and which has since that time been rendered into French rhyme, I have said: —
‘But the precious blood shed by martyrs
8.For God is my witness. He now declares more explicitly his affection for them, and, with the view of giving proof of it, he makes use of an oath, and that on good grounds, because we know how dear in the sight of God is the edification of his Church. It was, too, more especially of advantage, that Paul’s affection should be thoroughly made known to the Philippians. For it tends in no small degree to secure credit for the doctrine, when the people are persuaded that they are beloved by the teacher. He calls God as a witness to the truth, inasmuch as he alone is the Truth, and as a witness of his affection, inasmuch as he alone is the searcher of hearts. In the word rendered long after, a particular term is made use of instead of a general, and it is a token of affection, inasmuch as we long after those things which are dear to us.
In the bowels He places the bowels of Christ in opposition to carnal affection, to intimate that his affection is holy and pious. For the man that loves according to the flesh has respect to his own advantage, and may from time to time change his mind according to the variety of circumstances and seasons. In the meantime he instructs us by what rule the affections of believers ought to be regulated, so that, renouncing their own will, they may allow Christ to sit at the helm. And, unquestionably, true love can flow from no other source than from the bowels of Christ, and this, like a goad, ought to affect us not a little — that Christ in a manner opens his bowels, that by them he may cherish mutual affection between us. (47)
9This I pray that your love He returns to the prayer, which he had simply touched upon in one word in passing. He states, accordingly, the sum of those things which he asked from God in their behalf, that they also may learn to pray after his example, and may aspire at proficiency in those gifts. The view taken by some, as though the love of the Philippians denoted the Philippians themselves, as illiterate persons are accustomed very commonly to say, “Your reverence,” — “Your paternity,” is absurd. For no instance of such an expression occurs in the writings of Paul, nor had such fooleries come into use. Besides, the statement would be less complete, and, independently of this, the simple and natural meaning of the words suits admirably well. For the true attainments of Christians are when they make progress in knowledge, and understanding, and afterwards in love. Accordingly the particle in, according to the idiom of the Hebrew tongue, is taken here to mean with, as I have also rendered it, unless perhaps one should prefer to explain it as meaning by, so as to denote the instrument or formal cause. For, the greater proficiency we make in knowledge, so much the more ought our love to increase. The meaning in that case would be, “That your love may increase according to the measure of knowledge.” All knowledge, means what is full and complete — not a knowledge of all things. (48)
10That ye may approve the things that are Here we have a definition of Christian wisdom — to know what is advantageous or expedient — not to torture the mind with empty subtleties and speculations. For the Lord does not wish that his believing people should employ themselves fruitlessly in learning what is of no profit: From this you may gather in what estimation the Sorbonnic theology ought to be held, in which you may spend your whole life, and yet not derive more of edification from it in connection with the hope of a heavenly life, or more of spiritual advantage, than from the demonstrations of Euclid. Unquestionably, although it taught nothing false, it well deserves to be execrable, on the ground that it is a pernicious profanation of spiritual doctrine. For Scripture is useful, as Paul says, in 2 Timothy 3:16, but there you will find nothing but cold subtleties of words.
That ye may be sincere. This is the advantage which we derive from knowledge — not that every one may artfully consult his own interests, but that we may live in pure conscience in the sight of God.
It is added — and without offense The Greek word ἀπροσκοποι is ambiguous. Chrysostom explains it in an active sense — that as he had desired that they should be pure and upright in the sight of God, so he now desires that they should lead an honorable life in the sight of men, that they may not injure their neighbors by any evil examples. This exposition I do not reject: the passive signification, however, is better suited to the context, in my opinion. For he desires wisdom for them, with this view — that they may with unwavering step go forward in their calling until the day of Christ, as on the other hand it happens through ignorance, (49) that we frequently slip our foot, stumble, and turn aside. And how many stumbling blocks Satan from time to time throws in our way, with the view of either stopping our course altogether, or impeding it, every one of us knows from his own experience.
11Filled with the fruits of righteousness. This now belongs to the outward life, for a good conscience produces its fruits by means of works. Hence he desires that they may be fruitful in good works for the glory of God. Such fruits, he says, are by Christ, because they flow from the grace of Christ. For the beginning of our well-doing is, when we are sanctified by his Spirit, for he rested upon him, that we might all receive of his fullness. (John 1:16.) And as Paul here derives a similitude from trees, we are wild olive-trees, (Romans 11:24,) and unproductive, until we are ingrafted into Christ, who by his living root makes us fruitbearing trees, in accordance with that saying, (John 15:1,) I am the vine, ye are the branches. He at the same time shews the end — that we may promote the glory of God. For no life is so excellent in appearance as not to be corrupted and become offensive in the view of God, if it is not directed towards this object.
Paul’s speaking here of works under the term righteousness, is not at all inconsistent with the gratuitous righteousness of faith. For it does not immediately follow that there is righteousness wherever there are the fruits of righteousness, inasmuch as there is no righteousness in the sight of God, unless there be a full and complete obedience to the law, which is not found in any one of the saints, though, nevertheless, they bring forth, according to the measure, the good and pleasant (50) fruits of righteousness, and for this reason, that, as God begins righteousness in us, through the regeneration of the Spirit, so what is wanting is amply supplied through the remission of sins, in such a way that all righteousness, nevertheless, depends upon faith.
12But I wish you to know We all know from our own experience, how much the flesh is wont to be offended by the abasement of the cross. We allow, indeed, Christ crucified to be preached to us; but when he appears in connection with his cross, then, as though we were thunderstruck at the novelty of it, (51) we either avoid him or hold him in abhorrence, and that not merely in our own persons, but also in the persons of those who deliver to us the gospel. It may have happened to the Philippians, that they were in some degree discouraged in consequence of the persecution of their Apostle. We may also very readily believe, that those bad workmen (52) who eagerly watched every occasion, however small, of doing injury, did not refrain from triumphing over the calamity of this holy man, and by this means making his gospel contemptible. If, however, they were not successful in this attempt, they might very readily calumniate him by representing him as hated by the whole world; and at the same time leading the Philippians to dread, lest, by an unfortunate association with him, (53) they should needlessly incur great dislike among all; for such are the usual artifices of Satan. The Apostle provides against this danger, when he states that the gospel had been promoted by means of his bonds. The design, accordingly, of this detail is, to encourage the Philippians, that they may not feel deterred (54) by the persecution endured by him.
13So that my bonds He employs the expression — in Christ, to mean, in the affairs, or in the cause of Christ, for he intimates that his bonds had become illustrious, so as to promote the honor of Christ. (55) The rendering given by some — through Christ, seems forced. I have also employed the word illustria (illustrious) in preference to manifesta , (manifest,) — as having ennobled the gospel by their fame. (56) “Satan, indeed, has attempted it, and the wicked have thought that it would turn out so, that the gospel would be destroyed; but God has frustrated both the attempts of the former and the expectations of the latter, (57) and that in two ways, for while the gospel was previously obscure and unknown, it has come to be well known, and not only so, but has even been rendered honorable in the Praetorium , no less than in the rest of the city.” By the praetorium I understand the hall and palace of Nero, which Fabius (58) and writers of that age call Augustale , (the Augustal.) For as the name praetor was at first a general term, and denoted all magistrates who held the chief sway, (hence it came that the dictator was called the sovereign praetor, (59)) it, consequently, became customary to employ the term praetorium in war to mean the tent, either of the consul, (60) or of the person who presided, (61) while in the city it denoted the palace of Caesar, (62) from the time that the Cesars took possession of the monarchy. (63) Independently of this, the bench of praetor is also called the praetorium (64)
14Many of the brethren. By this instance we are taught that the tortures of the saints, endured by them in behalf of the gospel, are a ground of confidence (65) to us. It were indeed a dreadful spectacle, and such as might tend rather to dishearten us, did we see nothing but the cruelty and rage of the persecutors. When, however, we see at the same time the hand of the Lord, which makes his people unconquerable, (66) under the infirmity of the Cross, and causes them to triumph, relying upon this, (67) we ought to venture farther than we had been accustomed, having now a pledge of our victory in the persons of our brethren. The knowledge of this ought to overcome our fears, that we may speak boldly in the midst of dangers.
15Some indeed. Here is another fruit of Paul’s bonds, that not only were the brethren stirred up to confidence by his example — some by maintaining their position, others by becoming more eager to teach — but even those who wished him evil were on another account stirred up to publish the gospel.
16Some, I say, from contention. Here we have a lengthened detail, in which he explains more fully the foregoing statement; for he repeats that there are two classes of men that are stirred up by his bonds to preach Christ — the one influenced by contention, that is, by depraved affection — the other by pious zeal, as being desirous to maintain along with him the defense of the gospel. The former, he says, do not preach Christ purely, because it was not a right zeal. (68) For the term does not apply to doctrine, because it is possible that the man who teaches most purely, may, nevertheless, not be of a sincere mind. (69) Now, that this impurity was in the mind, and did not shew itself in doctrine, may be inferred from the context. Paul assuredly would have felt no pleasure in seeing the gospel corrupted; yet he declares that he rejoices in the preaching of those persons, while it was not simple or sincere.
It is asked, however, how such preaching could be injurious to him? I answer, that many occasions are unknown to us, inasmuch as we are not acquainted with the circumstances of the times. It is asked farther, “Since the gospel cannot be preached but by those that understand it, what motive induced those persons to persecute the doctrine of which they approved?” I answer, that ambition is blind, nay, it is a furious beast. Hence it is not to be wondered if false brethren snatch a weapon from the gospel for harassing good and pious pastors. (70) Paul, assuredly, says nothing here (71) of which I have not myself had experience. For there are living at this very day those who have preached the gospel with no other design, than that they might gratify the rage of the wicked by persecuting pious pastors. As to Paul’s enemies, it is of importance to observe, if they were Jews, how mad their hatred was, so as even to forget on what account they hated him. For while they made it their aim to destroy him, they exerted themselves to promote the gospel, on account of which they were hostile to him; but they imagined, no doubt, that the cause of Christ would stand or fall (72) in the person of one individual. If, however, there were envious persons, (73) who were thus hurried away by ambition, we ought to acknowledge the wonderful goodness of God, who, notwithstanding, gave such a prosperous issue to their depraved affections.
17That for the defense. Those who truly loved Christ reckoned that it would be a disgrace to them if they did not associate themselves with Paul as his companions, when maintaining the cause of the gospel; and we must act in such a manner, as to give a helping hand, as far as possible, to the servants of Christ when in difficulty. (74) Observe, again, this expression — for the defense of the gospel For since Christ confers upon us so great an honor, what excuse shall we have, if we shall be traitors to his cause, (75) or what may we expect, if we betray it by our silence, but that he shall in return desert our cause, who is our sole Advocate, or Patron, with the Father? (76) (1 John 2:1.)
18But in every way. As the wicked disposition of those of whom he has spoken might detract from the acceptableness of the doctrine, (77) he says that this ought to be reckoned of great importance, that they nevertheless promoted the cause of the gospel, whatever their disposition might be. For God sometimes accomplishes an admirable work by means of wicked and depraved instruments. Accordingly, he says that he rejoices in a happy result of this nature; because this one thing contented him — if he saw the kingdom of Christ increasing — just as we, on hearing that that impure dog Carolus (78) was scattering the seeds of pure doctrine at Avignon and elsewhere, we gave thanks to God because he had made use of that most profligate and worthless villain for his glory: and at this day we rejoice that the progress of the gospel is advanced by many who, nevertheless, had another design in view. But though Paul rejoiced in the advancement of the gospel, yet, had the matter been in his hand, he would never have ordained such persons as ministers. We ought, therefore, to rejoice if God accomplishes anything that is good by means of wicked persons; but they ought not on that account to be either placed by us in the ministry, or looked upon as Christ’s lawful ministers.
19For I know that As some published the gospel with the view of rendering Paul odious, in order that they might kindle up against him the more the rage of his enemies, he tells them beforehand that their wicked attempts will do him no harm, because the Lord will turn them to a contrary design. “Though they plot my destruction, yet I trust that all their attempts will have no other effect but that Christ will be glorified in me — which is a thing most salutary to me.” For it is evident from what follows, that he is not speaking of the safety of the body. But whence this confidence on the part of Paul? It is from what he teaches elsewhere, (Romans 8:28,) — that all things contribute to the advantage of God’s true worshippers, even though the whole world, with the devil, its prince, should conspire together for their ruin.
Through your prayer That he may stir them up to pray more ardently, he declares that he is confident that the Lord will give them an answer to their prayers. Nor does he use dissimulation: for he who depends for help on the prayers of the saints relies on the promise of God. In the mean time, nothing is detracted from the unmerited goodness of God, on which depend our prayers, and what is obtained by means of them.
And the supply. Let us not suppose, that because he joins these two things in one connection, they are consequently alike. The statement must, therefore, be explained in this manner: — “I know that all this will turn out to my advantage, through the administration of the Spirit, you also helping by prayer,” — so that the supply of the Spirit is the efficient cause, while prayer is a subordinate help. We must also observe the propriety of the Greek term, for ἐπιχορηγία is employed to mean the furnishing of what is wanting, (79) just as the Spirit of God pours into us everything of which we are destitute.
He calls him, too, the Spirit of Jesus Christ, to intimate, that if we are Christians, he is common to all of us, inasmuch as he was poured upon him with all fullness, that, according to the measure of his grace, he might give out, so far as is expedient, to each of his members.
20According to my expectation. Should any one object, “From what do you derive that knowledge?” he answers, “From hope.” For as it is certain that God does not by any means design to frustrate our hope, hope itself ought not to be wavering. Let then the pious reader carefully observe this adverb secundum , (according to,) that he may be fully assured in his own mind, that it is impossible but that the Lord will fulfill our expectation, inasmuch as it is founded on his own word. Now, he has promised that he will never be wanting to us even in the midst of all tortures, if we are at any time called to make confession of his name. Let, therefore, all the pious entertain hope after Paul’s example, and they will not be put to shame.
With all confidence We see that, in cherishing hope, he does not give indulgence to carnal desires, but places his hope in subjection to the promise of God. “Christ, ” says he, “will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death ” By making express mention, however, of the body, he intimates that, amongst the conflicts of the present life, he is in no degree doubtful as to the issue, for we are assured as to this by God. If, accordingly, giving ourselves up to the good pleasure of God, and having in our life the same object in view as Paul had, we expect, in whatever way it may be, a prosperous issue, we shall no longer have occasion to fear lest any adversity should befall us; for if we live and die to him, we are his in life and in death. (Romans 14:8.) He expresses the way in which Christ will be magnified — by full assurance. Hence it follows, that through our fault he is cast down and lowered, so far as it is in our power to do so, when we give way through fear. Do not those then feel ashamed who reckon it a light offense to tremble, (80) when called to make confession of the truth? But how much ashamed ought those to feel, who are so shamelessly impudent as to have the hardihood even to excuse renunciation?
He adds, as always, that they may confirm their faith from past experience of the grace of God. Thus, in Romans 5:4, he says, Experience begets hope.
21For to me to live. Interpreters have hitherto, in my opinion, given a wrong rendering and exposition to this passage; for they make this distinction, that Christ was life to Paul, and death was gain. I, on the other hand, make Christ the subject of discourse in both clauses, so that he is declared to be gain in him both in life and in death; for it is customary with the Greeks to leave the word πρός to be understood. Besides that this meaning is less forced, it also corresponds better with the foregoing statement, and contains more complete doctrine. He declares that it is indifferent to him, and is all one, whether he lives or dies, because, having Christ, he reckons both to be gain. And assuredly it is Christ alone that makes us happy both in death and in life; otherwise, if death is miserable, life is in no degree happier; so that it is difficult to determine whether it is more advantageous to live or to die out of Christ. On the other hand, let Christ be with us, and he will bless our life as well as our death, so that both will be happy and desirable for us.
22But if to live in the flesh. As persons in despair feel in perplexity as to whether they ought to prolong their life any farther in miseries, or to terminate their troubles by death, so Paul, on the other hand, says that he is, in a spirit of contentment, so well prepared for death or for life, because the condition of believers, both in the one case and in the other, is blessed, so that he is at a loss which to choose. If it is worth while; that is, “If I have reason to believe that there will be greater advantage from my life than from my death, I do not see which of them I ought to prefer.” To live in the flesh, is an expression which he has made use of in contempt, from comparing it with a better life.
23For I am in a strait Paul did not desire to live with any other object in view that that of promoting the glory of Christ, and doing good to the brethren. Hence he does not reckon that he has any other advantage from living than the welfare of the brethren. But so far as concerns himself personally, it were, he acknowledges, better for him to die soon, because he would be with Christ. By his choice, however, he shews what ardent love glowed in his breast. There is nothing said here as to earthly advantages, but as to spiritual benefit, which is on good grounds supremely desirable in the view of the pious. Paul, however, as if forgetful of himself, does not merely hold himself undetermined, lest he should be swayed by a regard to his own benefit rather than that of the Philippians, but at length concludes that a regard to them preponderates in his mind. And assuredly this is in reality to live and die to Christ, when, with indifference as to ourselves, we allow ourselves to be carried and borne away withersoever Christ calls us.
Having a desire to be set free and to be with Christ These two things must be read in connection. For death of itself will never be desired, because such a desire is at variance with natural feeling, but is desired for some particular reason, or with a view to some other end. Persons in despair have recourse to it from having become weary of life; believers, on the other hand, willingly hasten forward to it, because it is a deliverance from the bondage of sin, and an introduction into the kingdom of heaven. What Paul now says is this; “I desire to die, because I will, by this means, come into immediate connection with Christ.” In the mean time, believers do not cease to regard death with horror, but when they turn their eyes to that life which follows death, they easily overcome all dread by means of that consolation. Unquestionably, every one that believes in Christ ought to be so courageous as to lift up his head on mention being made of death, delighted to have intimation of his redemption. (Luke 21:28.) From this we see how many are Christians only in name, since the greater part, on hearing mention made of death, are not merely alarmed, but are rendered almost lifeless through fear, as though they had never heard a single word respecting Christ. O the worth and value of a good conscience! Now faith is the foundation of a good conscience; nay more, it is itself goodness of conscience.
To be set free This form of expression is to be observed. Profane persons speak of death as the destruction of man, as if he altogether perished. Paul here reminds us, that death is the separation of the soul from the body. And this he expresses more fully immediately afterwards, explaining as to what condition awaits believers after death — that of dwelling with Christ We are with Christ even in this life, inasmuch as the kingdom of God is within us, (Luke 17:21,) and Christ dwells in us by faith, (Ephesians 3:17,) and has promised that he will be with us even unto the end of the world, (Matthew 28:20,) but that presence we enjoy only in hope. Hence as to our feeling, we are said to be at present at a distance from him. See 2 Corinthians 5:6. This passage is of use for setting aside the mad fancy of those who dream that souls sleep when separated from the body, for Paul openly declares that we enjoy Christ’s presence on being set free from the body.
25And having this confidence. Some, reckoning it an inconsistent thing that the Apostle (82) should acknowledge himself to have been disappointed of his expectation, are of opinion that he was afterwards freed from bonds, and went over many countries of the world. Their fears, however, as to this are groundless, for the saints are accustomed to regulate their expectations according to the word of God, so as not to promise themselves more than God has promised. Thus, when they have a sure token of God’s will, they in that case place their reliance also upon a sure persuasion, which admits of no hesitation. Of this nature is a persuasion respecting a perpetual remission of sins, respecting the aid of the Spirit for the grace of final perseverance, (as it is called,) and respecting the resurrection of the flesh. Of this nature, also, was the assurance of the Prophets respecting their prophecies. As to other things, they expect nothing except conditionally, and hence they subject all events to the providence of God, who, they allow, sees more distinctly than they. To remain, means here, to stay for a little while: to continue, means, to remain for a long time.
26That your glorying. The expression which he employs, ἐν ἐμόι, I have rendered de me (as to me,) because the preposition is made use of twice, but in different senses. No one assuredly will deny that I have faithfully brought out Paul’s mind. The rendering given by some — per Christum , (through Christ,) I do not approve of. For in Christ is employed in place of Secundum Christum , (According to Christ,) or Christiane , (Christianly,) to intimate that it was a holy kind of glorying. For otherwise we are commanded to glory in God alone. (1 Corinthians 1:31.) Hence malevolent persons might meet Paul with the objection, How is it allowable for the Philippians to glory as to thee? He anticipates this calumny by saying that they will do this according to Christ — glorying in a servant of Christ, with a view to the glory of his Lord, and that with an eye to the doctrine rather than to the individual, and in opposition to the false apostles, just as David, by comparing himself with hypocrites, boasts of his righteousness. (Psalms 7:8.)
27Only in a manner worthy of the gospel. We make use of this form of expression, when we are inclined to pass on to a new subject. Thus it is as though he had said, “But as for me, the Lord will provide, but as for you, etc., whatever may take place as to me, let it be your care, nevertheless, to go forward in the right course.” When he speaks of a pure and honorable conversation as being worthy of the gospel, he intimates, on the other hand, that those who live otherwise do injustice to the gospel.
That whether I come As the Greek phrase made use of by Paul is elliptical, I have made use of videam , (I see,) instead of videns (seeing.) If this does not appear satisfactory, you may supply the principal verb Intelligam , (I may learn,) in this sense: “Whether, when I shall come and see you, or whether I shall, when absent, hear respecting your condition, I may learn in both ways, both by being present and by receiving intelligence, that ye stand in one spirit. ” We need not, however, feel anxiety as to particular terms, when the meaning is evident.
Stand in one spirit This, certainly, is one of the main excellences of the Church, and hence this is one means of preserving it in a sound state, inasmuch as it is torn to pieces by dissensions. But although Paul was desirous by means of this antidote to provide against novel and strange doctrines, yet he requires a twofold unity — of spirit and soul. The first is, that we have like views; the second, that we be united in heart. For when these two terms are connected together, spiritus (spirit) denotes the understanding, while anima (soul) denotes the will. Farther, agreement of views comes first in order; and then from it springs union of inclination.
Striving together for the faith This is the strongest bond of concord, when we have to fight together under the same banner, for this has often been the occasion of reconciling even the greatest enemies. Hence, in order that he may confirm the more the unity that existed among the Philippians, he calls them to notice that they are fellow-soldiers, who, having a common enemy and a common warfare, ought to have their minds united together in a holy agreement. The expression which Paul has made use of in the Greek ( συναθλοῦντες τὣ πίστει) is ambiguous. The old interpreter renders it Collaborantes fidei , (laboring together with the faith.) (83) Erasmus renders it Adiuvantes fidem , (Helping the faith,) as if meaning, that they gave help to the faith to the utmost of their power. As, however, the dative in Greek is made use of instead of the ablative of instrumentality, (that language having no ablative,) I have no doubt that the Apostle’s meaning is this: “Let the faith of the gospel unite you together, more especially as that is a common armory against one and the same enemy.” In this way the particle σύν, which others refer to faith, I take as referring to the Philippians, and with greater propriety, if I am not mistaken. In the first place, every one is aware how effectual an inducement it is to concord, when we have to maintain a conflict together; and farther, we know that in the spiritual warfare we are armed with the shield of faith, (Ephesians 6:16,) for repelling the enemy; nay, more, faith is both our panoply and our victory. Hence he added this clause, that he might shew what is the end of a pious connection. The wicked, too, conspire together for evil, but their agreement is accursed: let us, therefore, contend with one mind under the banner of faith.
28And in nothing terrified. The second thing which he recommends to the Philippians is fortitude of mind, (84) that they may not be thrown into confusion by the rage of their adversaries. At that time the most cruel persecutions raged almost everywhere, because Satan strove with all his might to impede the commencement of the gospel, and was the more enraged in proportion as Christ put forth powerfully the grace of his Spirit. He exhorts, therefore, the Philippians to stand forward undaunted, and not be thrown into alarm.
Which is to them a manifest proof. This is the proper meaning of the Greek word, and there was no consideration that made it necessary for others to render it cause. For the wicked, when they wage war against the Lord, do already by a trial-fight, as it were, give a token of their ruin, and the more fiercely they insult over the pious, the more do they prepare themselves for ruin. The Scripture, assuredly, nowhere teaches, that the afflictions which the saints endure from the wicked are the cause of their salvation, but Paul in another instance, too, speaks of them as a manifest token or proof, (2 Thessalonians 1:5,) and instead of ἔνδειξιν, which we have here, he in that passage makes use of the term ἔνδειγμα (85) This, therefore, is a choice consolation, that when we are assailed and harassed by our enemies, we have an evidence of our salvation. (86) For persecutions are in a manner seals of adoption to the children of God, if they endure them with fortitude and patience: the wicked give a token of their condemnation, because they stumble against a stone by which they shall be bruised to pieces. (Matthew 21:44.)
And that from God. This is restricted to the last clause, that a taste of the grace of God may allay the bitterness of the cross. No one will naturally perceive the cross a token or evidence of salvation, for they are things that are contrary in appearance. Hence Paul calls the attention of the Philippians to another consideration — that God by his blessing turns into an occasion of welfare things that might otherwise seem to render us miserable. He proves it from this, that the endurance of the cross is the gift of God. Now it is certain, that all the gifts of God are salutary to us. To you, says he,it is given, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for him. Hence even the sufferings themselves are evidences of the grace of God; and, since it is so, you have from this source a token of salvation. Oh, if this persuasion were effectually inwrought in our minds — that persecutions (87) are to be reckoned among God’s benefits, what progress would be made in the doctrine of piety! (88) And yet, what is more certain, than that it is the highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace, that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction. (89) But more will be found that will rather bid God retire with gifts of that nature, than embrace with alacrity the cross when it is presented to them. Alas, then, for our stupidity! (90)
29.To believe. He wisely conjoins faith with the cross by an inseparable connection, that the Philippians may know that they have been called to the faith of Christ on this condition — that they endure persecutions on his account, as though he had said that their adoption can no more be separated from the cross, than Christ can be torn asunder from himself. Here Paul clearly testifies, that faith, as well as constancy in enduring persecutions, (91) is an unmerited gift of God. And certainly the knowledge of God is a wisdom that is too high for our attaining it by our own acuteness, and our weakness shews itself in daily instances in our own experience, when God withdraws his hand for a little while. That he may intimate the more distinctly that both are unmerited, he says expressly — for Christ’s sake, or at least that they are given to us on the ground of Christ’s grace; by which he excludes every idea of merit.
This passage is also at variance with the doctrine of the schoolmen, in maintaining that gifts of grace latterly conferred are rewards of our merit, on the ground of our having made a right use of those which had been previously bestowed. I do not deny, indeed, that God rewards the right use of his gifts of grace by bestowing grace more largely upon us, provided only you do not place merit, as they do, in opposition to his unmerited liberality and the merit of Christ.
30Having the same conflict. He confirms, also, by his own example what he had said, and this adds no little authority to his doctrine. By the same means, too, he shews them, that there is no reason why they should feel troubled on account of his bonds, when they behold the issue of the conflict.
Wednesday, April 26th, 2017
the Second Week after Easter
Search This Commentary