David Guzik Commentary on the Bible
Paul's Love and Concern for the Philippians
A. Paul's greeting to the Philippian Christians and his prayer for them.
1. (1-2) Address and initial greeting.
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
a. Paul and Timothy: The Apostle Paul wrote this letter to his close friends, the Christians in Philippi, from his Roman house arrest described at the end of Acts (Acts 28:30-31) as he waited for his court appearance before Caesar (around the year a.d. 61).
b. To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi: The church in Philippi was founded by Paul some eleven years before this letter on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:11-40). This was the first church established on the continent of Europe.
c. To all: Paul addressed the letter to three groups.
To all the saints in Christ Jesus: This means all the Christians in Philippi. All Christians are saints, but only in Christ Jesus.
To the bishops: In a general sense, this meant those with leadership responsibilities. The ancient Greek word meant overseers and was used to describe general leadership before it came to describe a specific office recognized by some Christian traditions.
To the deacons: Those who had recognized positions of service.
d. Grace to you and peace: Paul gave his familiar greeting of grace and peace, recognizing that these come to us only from God our Father and through the Son.
2. (3-6) Paul gives thanks for the Philippian Christians.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
a. I thank my God upon every remembrance of you: When Paul remembered what all the Philippians did for him, he was extremely thankful. He was naturally grateful to the Philippians, but more so to God who had worked such kindness through the Philippians.
i. The Philippians were extremely giving towards Paul, both when he was with them (Acts 16:15, 16:32-34) and when he was apart from them (2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 9:1-4, and 11:9).
b. Making request for you all: Paul prayed for the Philippians and he did so with joy. This was one way Paul felt he could repay the Philippians for all they did for him.
i. One might simply say that when Paul prayed for the Philippians, he became happy. It is remarkable to see that Paul's first reference to his own feelings or frame of mind in this letter is that of joy - though he wrote from prison and a possible soon execution.
ii. "It is a glorious revelation of how life in fellowship with Christ triumphs over all adverse circumstances. The triumph, moreover, is not that of stoical indifference. It is rather the recognition of the fact that all apparently adverse conditions are made allies of the soul and ministers of victory, under the dominion of the Lord." (Morgan)
iii. "This is Paul's great singing letter. It was at Philippi that he had sung in prison at midnight, in the company of Silas. Now he was again in prison, this time in Rome." (Morgan)
c. For your fellowship in the gospel: This was one reason Paul was thankful for the Philippians. The idea is that the Philippians "partnered" with Paul in his spreading of the gospel through their friendship and financial support, and they did so from the first day until now. They didn't wait to see if Paul was a "winner" before they supported him. They got behind Paul and his ministry early.
d. He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ: When Paul thought of the beginning of God's work among the Philippians (from the first day), it was natural that he also thought of the day when that work would be complete. Paul also expressed his confidence in God's ability to complete that work.
i. It was indeed a good work begun in the Philippians and in all believers. "The work of grace has its root in the divine goodness of the Father, it is planted by the self-denying goodness of the Son, and it is daily watered by the goodness of the Holy Sprit; it springs from good and leads to good, and so is altogether good." (Spurgeon)
ii. Because this good work was begun, Paul was confident of its completion. God is a worker who completes His works. "Where is there an instance of God's beginning any work and leaving it incomplete? Show me for once a world abandoned and thrown aside half formed; show me a universe cast off from the Great Potter's wheel, with the design in outline, the clay half hardened, and the form unshapely from incompleteness." (Spurgeon)
iii. This work in the believer will not be finally complete until the day of Jesus Christ, which in context has the idea of the second coming of Jesus and our resurrection with Him. "Holy Scripture does not regard a man as perfect when the soul is perfected, it regards his body as being a part of himself; and as the body will not rise again from the grave till the coming of the Lord Jesus, when we shall be revealed in the perfection of our manhood, even as he will be revealed, that day of the second coming is set as the day of the finished work which God hath begun." (Spurgeon)
3. (7-8) Paul declares his affection for the Philippians.
Just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace. For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ.
a. It is right for me to think this of you all: Paul's thankfulness, joy, and desire to pray for the Philippians was right because they stood beside him in his trials for the gospel, and they received the same grace he did (you all are partakers with me of grace).
b. I have you in my heart: Paul was a man of towering intellect, but he was also a man of great heart, and the Philippian Christians were in his heart. He could even call God as his witness regarding his deep affection for them.
i. Adam Clarke paraphrased Paul's idea here: "I call God to witness that I have the strongest affection for you, and that I love you with that same kind of tender concern with which Christ loved the world when he gave himself for it."
4. (9-11) Paul's prayer for the Philippians.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
a. This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more: The Philippians had a lot of love, and they showed it to Paul. Yet Paul didn't hesitate to pray that their love would abound still more and more. It doesn't matter how much love for others we have; we can still have more!
i. "That it may be like a river, perpetually fed with rain and fresh streams so that it continues to swell and increase until it fills all its banks, and floods the adjacent plains." (Clarke)
b. That your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment: Yet, the love Paul wanted to abound in the Philippians was not "blind love." It was love that had knowledge and all discernment; it was love that could approve the things that are excellent.
i. Paul knew the danger of an undiscerning love. He rebuked the Corinthian church that seemed to glory in their "love" and "openness" which lacked any sense of knowledge and discernment (1 Corinthians 5:1-7).
c. That you may be sincere and without offense: When we approve and receive the things that are excellent, we become sincere (speaking of inner righteousness) and without offense (speaking of outer righteousness that can be seen). Till the day of Christ means that these things become increasingly evident in our life until Jesus comes.
i. Being sincere is important, but alone it is not enough. Notorious sinners in the days of Jesus such as tax collectors were sincere, yet they still needed to repent. As well, being without offense before others is important, but alone it is not enough. The Pharisees of Jesus' day were without offense in the opinion of many. We want God to make us both sincere and without offense.
d. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness: The work of becoming sincere and without offense is really God's work within us. It happens as we are filled with the fruits of righteousness.
i. Bearing fruit is always the result of abiding in Jesus (John 15:4-6). As we abide in Him, we receive the life and nutrients we need to naturally bear fruit to the glory and praise of God.
ii. "Every genuine follower of God has his glory in view by all that he does, says, or intends. He loves to glorify God, and he glorifies him by showing forth in his conversion the glorious working of the glorious power of the Lord." (Clarke)
B. Paul explains his present circumstances.
1. (12-14) Paul's imprisonment has not hindered the gospel in any way.
But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
a. The things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel: Paul here answered a concern of the Philippians. He wanted them to know that God's blessing and power were still with him, even though he was in prison. He was not out of the will of God, and God's work still continued.
i. When Paul was with the Philippians, there were amazing examples of the sovereign power of God, culminating in a divine jail-break and their vindication before civil magistrates (Acts 16:11-40). We are not surprised that the Philippians wondered where the power of God was in Paul's present imprisonment.
ii. We also know that all this turned out for the furtherance of the gospel because during this time he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians.
iii. God didn't waste Paul's time during the Roman imprisonment. God never wastes our time, though we may waste it by not sensing God's purpose for our lives at the moment.
b. The furtherance of the gospel: Paul doesn't mention if he was being advanced, because he didn't care about that and he assumed that the Philippians didn't care either. Their common passion was the furtherance of the gospel, and the gospel continued to advance.
c. It has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ: The circumstances around Paul's imprisonment and his manner in the midst of it made it clear to all observers that he was not just another prisoner, but that he was an emissary of Jesus Christ. This witness led to the conversion of many, even some of the palace guard.
i. From this we see that Paul could minister effectively and bring glory to God in less than ideal circumstances. He didn't need everything to be easy and set in order to be fruitful.
d. Having become confident by my chains: Paul's imprisonment gave the Christians around him - who were not imprisoned - greater confidence and boldness.
They saw that Paul had joy in the midst of such a trial.
They saw that God would take care of Paul in such circumstances.
They saw that God could still use Paul even when he was imprisoned.
2. (15-18) Paul considers the motives of others in their preaching.
Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from good will: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice.
a. Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife: Paul knew that some preached because they wanted to "surpass" Paul in ministry and to promote their own name and place above Paul's.
i. These people were glad Paul was imprisoned because they felt this gave them a competitive edge over him in what they considered to be the contest of preaching the gospel. They were motivated - at least in part - by a competitive spirit, which too often is common among preachers.
ii. Paul wasn't so critical or cynical to believe that every other preacher had bad motives. He knew that some also preached from good will.
b. The former preach Christ from selfish ambition: Those preaching the gospel out of wrong motives are infected with selfish ambition, which makes them serve, but not sincerely.
i. Ambition isn't necessarily bad; there is nothing wrong in wanting to be the best we can be for God. But selfish ambition is most concerned about a successful image, instead of striving for true success before God.
c. Supposing to add affliction to my chains: Those who preached Christ from the wrong motive supposed to add affliction to Paul's chains. Their competitive hearts didn't only want to win for themselves; they also wanted Paul to lose.
i. They wanted Paul to admit the humiliation of having to admit that others were more effective in ministry than he was. They didn't understand that Paul honestly didn't care about this, because he did not have a competitive spirit in ministry.
ii. A.W. Tozer wrote this powerful piece rebuking the attitude of competition that is common among those in the ministry: "Dear Lord, I refuse henceforth to compete with any of Thy servants. They have congregations larger than mine. So be it. I rejoice in their success. They have greater gifts. Very well. That is not in their power nor in mine. I am humbly grateful for their greater gifts and my smaller ones. I only pray that I may use to Thy glory such modest gifts as I possess. I will not compare myself with any, nor try to build up my self-esteem by noting where I may excel one or another in Thy holy work. I herewith make a blanket disavowal of all intrinsic worth. I am but an unprofitable servant. I gladly go to the foot of the cross and own myself the least of Thy people. If I err in my self- judgment and actually underestimate myself I do not want to know it. I purpose to pray for others and to rejoice in their prosperity as if it were my own. And indeed it is my own if it is Thine own, for what is Thine is mine, and while one plants and another waters it is Thou alone that giveth the increase." (from The Price of Neglect, 104-105)
d. Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice: So, people preached the gospel more energetically, motivated by Paul's imprisonment. Some were motivated in a good way and some were motivated in a bad way; yet nonetheless, they were motivated - and Paul could rejoice in that.
i. Remember that Paul's concern here was not with the content of the gospel being preached, only with the motives of those who preached. Paul objected if he thought a false or distorted gospel was preached, even if from the best of motives (Galatians 1:6-9).
ii. Paul's attitude went like this: "If you preach the true gospel, I don't care what your motives are. If your motives are bad, God will deal with you - but at least the gospel is preached. But if you preach a false gospel, I don't care how good your motives are. You are dangerous and must stop preaching your false gospel, and good motives don't excuse your false message."
iii. If Paul's imprisonment could not hinder the gospel, neither could the wrong motives of some. God's work was still getting done, and that was cause for rejoicing.
3. (19-20) Paul's confidence in his present circumstances.
For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.
a. I know that this will turn out for my deliverance: Paul knew that the Lord was in control of all events, even though his imprisonment and impending trial before Caesar Nero made the situation look pretty dark.
b. Through your prayer: Paul was so confident because he knew that the Philippians prayed for him. His deliverance in the present situation was connected to the prayer of the Philippians.
i. We can hypothetically say that if the Philippians didn't pray for Paul, then God's deliverance for Paul would be hindered. It certainly seems that Paul thought this way, and it shows what a serious matter prayer is.
c. Through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ: However, it was not the prayer of the Philippians in and of itself that would meet Paul's need. It was the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ that came to Paul through the prayer of the Philippians. Paul's needs were met by the Spirit of God, but this provision to Paul was brought about by the prayers of the Philippians.
d. My earnest expectation and hope: These are words of faith. Paul mightily trusted God here, and Paul first trusted God that in nothing I shall be ashamed. He believed that God would not cause him to be ashamed or that God would not turn against him in the matter.
i. Though he was in prison and awaiting trial before Caesar, Paul had the confidence that he was in the center of God's will. He knew God was not punishing him through the adversity he experienced at the time.
e. Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death: Paul also had this trust, and admitted to the Philippians that he might not be released from this present imprisonment, but it might instead result in his martyrdom.
i. Paul lived his life not to preserve and promote himself, but to glorify Jesus Christ. If Jesus should one day decide that Paul could best glorify Him through laying down his life, then Paul would be well pleased by the opportunity.
ii. Even so, this must have hit hard on the Philippians who saw God do so many remarkable miracles of deliverance in Paul's life among them in Philippi (Acts 16:11-40). It would have been easy for the Philippians to associate God's glory only with being delivered from one's problems, not in being delivered in the midst of one's problems.
iii. It is easy for us to dictate to God how He can and cannot glorify Himself in our lives. Paul wisely left all that up to God.
4. (21-26) Paul's lack of fear regarding death and how it affected his outlook on ministry.
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy of faith, that your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again.
a. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain: Paul knew that death was not a defeat to the Christian. It is merely a graduation to glory, a net gain for the Christian.
i. Paul's death at the time would be a gain in two senses.
First, his death for the cause of Christ would glorify Jesus, and that was gain.
Second, to be in the immediate presence of the Lord was gain for Paul.
ii. The idea that Paul could consider death a present gain argues against the idea of "soul sleep." This false teaching says that the believing dead are held in some sort of suspended animation until the resurrection occurs. His understanding that his death might be considered gain also argues against the idea of "purgatory" which says that the believing dead must be purified through suffering before coming into the presence of God.
iii. This also obviously showed that Paul did not fear death. Though some men may fear dying, no Christian should fear death. "When men fear death it is not certain that they are wicked, but it is quite certain that if they have faith it is in a very weak and sickly condition." (Spurgeon)
b. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor: Paul was confident that God intended him to be fruitful. There was no doubt in Paul's mind that this was God's plan for him. If Paul lived, it would be a fruitful life.
i. In sad contrast, many Christians have not yet come to the place where it is a certainty that they will bear fruit for the kingdom of God with their life.
c. For I am hard pressed between the two: Knowing that his death could be a gain - both for the gospel and for him personally - Paul was torn between being with the Lord or continuing to minister to the Philippians and others.
d. Having a desire to depart and be with Christ: It is strong to say, but one must say that Paul, in some way, wanted to die. In fact, desire describes a strong longing: "He said he had a desire to depart, and the desire was a strong one. The Greek word has much force in it. He panteth, he longeth to be gone." (Spurgeon)
i. Other men have also wanted to die.
Some men have wished to die, gripped by the gloom and darkness that leads to suicide.
Some have been so tired of this world and the cruelty of others that they thought death was better.
Some have wanted to die in the crisis of some kind of suffering.
ii. Paul's desire to depart had nothing in common with these attitudes among men. Paul probably had many motivations to depart.
Going to heaven meant he would finally be done with sin and temptation.
Going to heaven meant that he would see those brothers and sisters who had gone to heaven before him.
Most of all, going to heaven meant being with Christ in a closer and better way than ever before.
iii. Having a desire to depart: "It appears to be a metaphor taken from the commander of a vessel, in a foreign port, who feels a strong desire, to set sail, and get to his own country and family; but this desire is counterbalanced by a conviction that the general interests of the voyage may be best answered by his longer stay in the port where his vessel now rides; for he is not in dock, he is not aground, but rides at anchor in the port, and may any hour weigh and be gone." (Clarke)
iv. Paul knew that if he did depart, the journey would not be long. "The sail is spread; the soul is launched upon the deep. How long will be its voyage? How many wearying winds must beat upon the sail ere it shall be reefed in the port of peace? How often shall that soul be tossed upon the waves before it comes to the sea that knows no storm. Oh tell it, tell it everywhere; yon ship that has just departed is already at its haven. It did but spread its sail and it was there." (Spurgeon)
e. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you: Paul understood that others still needed him; that his work was not yet done. So while allowing for the possibility of his martyrdom, he told the Philippians that he expects to be spared at this time (I know that I shall remain and continue with you).
i. Paul was confident and full of faith, yet seems short of absolute certainty. His lack of absolute certainty is a comfort to us. Even the great apostle did not have a prophet's certainty about the future.
ii. As it happened, Paul survived this imprisonment, was set free, and was martyred later at Rome. He did come to visit the Philippians again.
f. That your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ by my coming to you again: Paul's friendship with the Philippians was so close that he knew that they would be rejoicing to see him again.
C. How the Philippians should act in Paul's absence.
1. (27) Paul wanted the Philippians to work together for the cause of the gospel.
Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel,
a. Only let your conduct: The ancient Greek word translated "conduct" means literally, "to live as a citizen." Paul told the Philippians to be good, patriotic citizens of the kingdom of God. This is a theme he will draw on again in Philippians.
b. I may hear of your affairs: Paul wanted the Philippians to know they were accountable before him. He would check up on them.
c. That you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind: Paul wanted to know that the Philippian church stayed together as one body, without becoming fragmented and fractionalized.
d. Striving together for the faith of the gospel: Paul wanted their unity to be put to a productive purpose, so that an increasing trust and belief in the good news of Jesus Christ would be promoted among those who already believed and among those who had yet to believe.
2. (28) Paul wants the Philippians to be bold before their adversaries.
And not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God.
a. And not in any way terrified by your adversaries: In the ancient Greek language, terrified "is a vivid term, unique in the Greek Bible and denoting the uncontrollable stampede of startled horses." (Martin) In the face of this kind of opposition, Paul wanted the Philippian Christians to have the same kind of boldness he had.
b. Which is to them a proof of perdition: When Christians are not in any way terrified by [their] adversaries, that in itself is proof of perdition - meaning destruction - to their adversaries.
i. Perdition (the ancient Greek word apolia) means destruction, wasting, or damnation. The word is also used in places like Philippians 3:19 and 2 Peter 2:1. Both Judas (John 17:12) and the Antichrist (2 Thessalonians 2:3) are called the son of perdition.
ii. When Christians stand strong against intimidation against the world, the flesh and the devil, it shows those spiritual enemies that their ultimate destruction is certain.
iii. When our spiritual enemies fail to make us afraid, they have failed completely because they really have no other weapon than fear and intimidation.
iv. When we fail to be not in any way terrified by our adversaries, we give "hope" and "confidence" to our spiritual enemies, even though it is a false hope and confidence because their destruction is still assured.
c. But to you of salvation: When Christians are not in any way terrified by [their] adversaries, it is also evidence of their own salvation. In the Lord, we can surprise ourselves with our boldness.
3. (29-30) Why the Philippians need not be terrified by their adversaries: the attacks and challenges they face are ordained by God.
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.
a. For to you it has been granted: It was granted to the Philippians to believe in Him. In the same way this belief was granted to them, so also was the privilege to suffer for His sake.
i. The Philippians didn't need to fear that their present trial (and Paul's present trial) meant that God abandoned them. Their present difficulty was granted to them, not as a punishment, but as a tool in God's hand.
b. But also to suffer for His sake: The ancient Greek word for suffer here is pasko. This word is used primarily in the sense of persecution. However, it is also used of physical sufferings not related to persecution (Acts 28:5, and Matthew 17:15), of suffering under temptation (Hebrews 2:18) and hardships in a general sense (1 Corinthians 12:26, and Galatians 3:4).
i. "Everyone cannot be trusted with suffering. All could not stand the fiery ordeal. They would speak rashly and complainingly. So the Master has to select with careful scrutiny the branches which can stand the knife." (Meyer)
ii. "Look up and take each throb of pain, each hour of agony, as a gift. Dare to thank Him for it. Look inside the envelope of pain for the message it enfolds. It is a rough packing-case, but there is treasure in it." (Meyer)
c. Having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me: The Philippians had the same kind of conflict Paul had among them in Philippi and the same kind that Paul faced in Rome. The conflict of the Philippians concerned the difficulty of walking right with the Lord and proclaiming the gospel when persecuted and under attack.
i. Conflict is the ancient Greek word agon, which described a place where athletic contests were held and later came to refer to the contest itself. We get our words agony and agonize from this ancient Greek word.
ii. If the Philippians had Paul's kind of conflict, they could also have Paul's kind of joy and fruit in the midst of it.
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