Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Philippians 1:1-2. Paul and Timotheus, servants of Jesus Christ — St. Paul, writing familiarly to the Philippians, does not style himself an apostle. And under the common title of servants, he tenderly and modestly joins with himself his son Timothy, who had attended him in his general travels in those parts, had come with him to Philippi, not long after the apostle had received him, (Acts 16:3; Acts 16:12,) and had doubtless assisted him in preaching the gospel there. To all the saints — The apostolic epistles were sent more directly to the churches, than to the pastors of them; with the bishops and deacons — The former properly took care of the internal, or spiritual state of the church, the latter of the externals, 1 Timothy 3:2-8; although these were not wholly confined to the one, nor those to the other. The word επισκοποι, bishops, or overseers, here includes all the presbyters at Philippi, as well as the ruling presbyters: the names bishop and presbyter, or elder, being promiscuously used in the first ages. See on Acts 20:28. Grace be unto you, &c. — See on Romans 1:7.
Philippians 1:3-8. I thank my God upon every remembrance — Or mention, as μνεια equally signifies; of you — Whether before the throne of grace, or when conversing with my fellow-Christians. The clause may also be rendered, I thank my God for all your kind remembrance of me, namely, (as he partly at least means,) with respect to the supplies they had sent him. Always in every prayer of mine — He never failed, it seems, to pray for the churches when he prayed for himself; making request — That God would bestow on you an increase of every spiritual blessing; with joy — Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer. As love reigns in the epistle to the Ephesians, so does joy reign in this; the sum of the whole epistle being, I rejoice; rejoice ye. For your fellowship in the gospel — That you have united with us in embracing the gospel, and are joint partakers with us of its blessings; and so have fellowship also with all true Christians; from the first day — Of my preaching it among you; though soon attended with violent persecution, even with the scourging and imprisonment of myself and my fellow- labourer; and that you have persevered in the profession thereof from the time that you first embraced it. Or, the meaning may be, I thank God for your having received the gospel, from the first day of your receiving it until now. Being confident (and the grounds of his confidence are mentioned in the following verse) that he who hath begun a good work in you — Who hath not only done a good work for you, in justifying you, and giving you peace with himself through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1,) but has wrought a good work in you; in your minds and hearts, by enlightening and quickening, regenerating and renewing you after his image, Titus 3:5 : or, in beginning to sanctify you; will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ — Will carry it on till it come to perfection, and, at the second coming of Christ, issue in glory. Even as it is meet — δικαιον, just, reasonable; for me to think this of you all — To have this good opinion and confidence. Why? He does not say, because of an eternal decree, or because the saints must of necessity persevere; but, because I have you in my heart — I affectionately remember you; inasmuch as both in my bonds — In this my imprisonment; and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel — In what I do and suffer for its defence and confirmation; ye all are partakers of my grace — That is, you have manifested that you possess the same grace that I myself have, in that you have done and suffered the same things which I have done and suffered. Or, as the clause may mean, because you are sharers in the afflictions which God hath vouch-safed me as a grace or favour. In other words, It is just or reasonable for me to think this concerning you all, (namely, that you will continue in the grace of God,) because you have been and are joint partakers with me, both of grace and of the sufferings by which grace is tried and manifested: or, The sufferings you have endured, and the things you have done, have manifested both the reality and the greatness of your grace; and therefore I cannot doubt of your perseverance. For God — To whom I appeal for the truth of what I say; is my record — Bears me witness; how greatly I long after you all — How vehemently I love you, or long after your prosperity, in spiritual things; in the bowels of Jesus Christ — With such a sincere, fervent, and spiritual love as has been wrought in me by Christ, and resembles that love which he bears to his members. In Paul, not Paul lives, but Jesus Christ; therefore he longs for them with the bowels, the tenderness, not of Paul, but of Jesus Christ.
Philippians 1:9-11. This I pray, that your love — To God and one another, and all mankind which you have already shown; may abound yet more and more — The fire which burned in the apostle’s breast never says, It is enough; in knowledge — Arising from, and attended with, a more perfect knowledge of God, of Christ, and of spiritual things in general; and in all judgment — Or rather, in all sense, or feeling, as παση αισθησει signifies: that is, That you may have a spiritual sense and taste, or an experimental knowledge and feeling of God’s love in Christ to you. Our love must not only be rational, but it must be also experimental: we must not only understand and approve the reasons why we should love God and one another; but we must know and feel that we do so; that ye may approve — Greek, εις το δοκιμαζειν, that ye may try, or prove by experience; things that are excellent — Not only that are good, but the very best; the superior excellence of which is hardly discerned but by the adult Christian. The original expression, τα διαφεροντα, is, literally, the things that differ: that you may discern the real difference which there is in things, namely, in matters of doctrine, experience, and practice; how truth differs from, and how much it excels error; how much fervency of spirit, a life of entire devotedness to God, and continual, persevering diligence in the work of faith, patience of hope, and labour of love, differs from and excels lukewarmness of heart, negligence of life, sloth, indolence, and the being weary of well-doing; that ye may be sincere — Upright before God, truly desiring to know and to do his will in all things; and having always a pure intention, or a single eye to his glory, in the choice and pursuit of the best things; and a pure affection, giving him an undivided heart. The original word, ειλικρινεις, from ειλη, the shining, or splendour, of the sun, and κρινω, to judge, properly signifies such things as, being examined in a bright light, are found pure, and without fault. Applied, as here, to believers, it refers both to their spirit and conduct, and is represented as the proper and natural fruit of that abounding love which the apostle had asked for them in the preceding verse. And without offence — Chargeable with no disposition, word, or action, at which others can justly take offence; but holy and unblameable. The expression properly signifies, giving no occasion of stumbling, namely, to others; and may imply also not stumbling ourselves at the real or supposed failings or faults of others; unto the day of Christ — The day of death, when the time of your trial will be ended. Being filled with the fruits of righteousness — All holy dispositions, words, and actions toward God, our fellow-creatures, and ourselves; which are by Jesus Christ — Through union with him, and grace derived from him, to the glory and praise of God — To whom they are rendered acceptable through Christ’s sacrifice and intercession. Observe, reader, here are three properties of that sincerity which is acceptable to God. 1st, It must bear fruits, all inward and outward holiness, all goodness, righteousness, and truth, Ephesians 5:9; (see also Galatians 5:22;) and that so abundantly, that we may be filled with them, or all our powers of body and mind, our time and talents, occupied therein. 2d, The branch and the fruits must derive both their virtue and their very being from the all-supporting, all-supplying root, Jesus Christ. 3d, As all these flow from the grace of Christ, so they must issue in the glory and praise of God.
Philippians 1:12-14. But I would ye should understand, &c. — As if he had said, Be not discouraged at my sufferings, but observe and consider this for your encouragement; that the things which happened unto me — Greek, τα
κατ’ εμε, the things relating unto me: the apostle means his being sent a prisoner to Rome, and his being kept in bonds there, together with all the sufferings which had befallen him during his confinement; have fallen out rather unto the furtherance — Than, as you feared, the hinderance; of the gospel; so that my bonds in Christ — Endured for his sake and the gospel’s; are manifest — Are much taken notice of, in all the palace — Of the Roman emperor. The word πραιτωριον, here rendered palace, was, properly speaking, the place in Rome where the pretor determined causes. Or, according to the more common signification of the word, it was a place without the city, where the pretorian cohorts, or regiments of guards, were lodged. But in the provinces, the governor’s palace was called the pretorium, (Mark 15:16,) both because the governors administered justice in their own palaces, and because they had their guards stationed there. See Acts 23:35. “Wherefore, though the apostle was himself at Rome when he wrote this, and though the matters of which he wrote were done at Rome, he uses the word pretorium in the provincial sense, to denote the emperor’s palace, because he wrote to persons in the provinces. The knowledge of the true cause of the apostle’s confinement may have been spread through the palace by some Jewish slaves in the emperor’s family, who, happening to hear Paul in his own hired house, were converted by him. At this time, Rome was full of Jewish slaves; and that some such belonged to the palace, or had access to it, we learn from Josephus, De vita sua, who tells us he was introduced to the Empress Poppæa by means of a Jewish comedian. Such of the slaves in the palace as had embraced the gospel, whether heathen or Jews, would not fail to show the officers of the court whom they served, the true nature of the Christian faith, and the real cause of the apostle’s imprisonment; that it was for no crime, but only for preaching a new scheme of doctrine. And, as it was now fashionable among the Romans to indulge a passion for philosophy, and many of them had a strong curiosity to be informed of every new doctrine which was broached, and of every strange occurrence which had happened in the provinces, it is not unreasonable to suppose that the brethren in the palace would explain the Christian religion to the emperor’s domestics, and relate to them the resurrection of its author from the dead; and that some of them who were of high rank, strongly impressed with their relation, embraced the gospel.” And in all other places — In and about the city. “The Christians at Rome were numerous before the apostle’s arrival, but their number was greatly increased by his preaching, and by the preaching of his assistants. It is no wonder then, that in all places of the city,” and its environs, “the real cause of the apostle’s imprisonment, and the true nature of the gospel, were so well known.” — Macknight. And many of the brethren, who were before afraid, waxing confident by my bonds — Or, trusting in the Lord through my bonds, as εν κυριω πεποιθοτας τοις δεσμοις μου may be properly rendered; are much more bold to speak the word — Than they were before, in consequence of having observed my constancy in testifying the gospel, and my safety notwithstanding; without fear — Of any sufferings to which they might before have thought themselves exposed for so doing.
Philippians 1:15-17. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy — Envying my success, or envying me that esteem and reputation which I have in the church, and seeking to gain it to themselves; and strife — Striving to draw people off from approving me to applaud themselves, and being desirous to maintain in the church a party that shall oppose me, and willing to add as many abetters to it as they possibly can. It is probable, as Whitby and many others have observed, that “these were the Judaizing Christians, who, with the gospel, taught the necessity of circumcision, and of the observation of the ceremonial law; for from these arose εριδες και διχοστασιαι, strife and dissensions, 1 Corinthians 1:11; and 1 Corinthians 3:2; zeal, animosities, and contentions, 2 Corinthians 12:20; and that on the account of this apostle, whom they would scarce own as an apostle of Christ, 2 Corinthians 7:2, but rather looked upon as one that walked according to the flesh, chap. 2 Corinthians 10:2, and would have excluded him from the churches, Galatians 4:16-17. And yet, at their preaching Christ, though not sincerely, the apostle may be supposed to have rejoiced, because he knew the time was near when the hay and stubble which they built on the foundation should be revealed, and the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, would sufficiently confute their vain additions to the faith.” Some also out of good-will — Faithfully intending to promote the glory of God, the success of the true gospel, and the salvation of mankind, and thereby to give me comfort. The one preach Christ of contention — Or, they who are of contention, as οι εξ εριθειας may be rendered, preach Christ not sincerely — With a holy design of advancing his cause, and of glorifying God; but supposing (though they were disappointed) thereby to add affliction to my bonds — To increase the calamity of my imprisonment, by grieving my mind through their adulterations of, or additions to, the gospel, or their exciting my persecutors to greater virulence against me. But the other of love — To Christ, his gospel, and me; knowing, not barely supposing, that I am set — Placed here at Rome, the metropolis of the empire, a place of the greatest resort, and from whence intelligence of whatever is transacted of importance is soon communicated to the most distant provinces: or, κειμαι, I lie, namely in bonds, for the defence of the gospel — For the confirmation of it by my sufferings. They who preached Christ with a pure intention, knew certainly that the apostle was sent to Rome to defend the gospel by suffering for it. For by voluntarily persisting to preach the gospel, although he was, and knew he still should be, exposed to various and great sufferings for preaching it, he gave full proof of his knowledge of its truth and great importance to the salvation of mankind.
Philippians 1:18-20. What then? — What shall we think of these attempts, proceeding from such different principles? Shall they grieve us? No, in no wise. For, every way, whether in pretence — Under colour of propagating the gospel; or in truth — With a real design so to do; Christ is preached — And the great doctrine of salvation by him has a wider spread; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and I will rejoice — That is, I shall have cause so to do in regard of the good issue it will have. The love which the apostle bore to Christ, had extinguished in his mind resentment, pride, self-love, and all other evil passions; insomuch that his greatest joy resulted from the advancement of the gospel, even though it was promoted by his enemies. We must observe, however, that though truth is here opposed to pretence, it doth not follow that preaching Christ in pretence means preaching false doctrine concerning him. For the apostle could not rejoice that Christ was preached in that manner. Truth and pretence here relate not so much to the matters preached, as to the views of the preachers. The Judaizers preached the truth concerning Christ, at least in part, when they affirmed him to be the Jewish Messiah. But they did this not purely and sincerely to bring the Jews to believe on him, but also and especially to inculcate at the same time the Jewish ceremonies, and thereby to extend the authority of their ritual law; and by these means ultimately to grieve the apostle, and render his persecutors more bitter against him. But others both preached Christ as the Jewish Messiah, and also inculcated all the great doctrines of his gospel, truly and sincerely intending to bring both Jews and Gentiles to believe aright in him, and to embrace his gospel in its purity. But from whatever motive Christ was preached, according to his true character, it was matter of joy to the apostle. For I know that this — Preaching of Christ, whether from a pure motive or otherwise, or this trouble which I meet with from some of these teachers; shall turn to my salvation — Namely, to the promotion of it, or shall procure me a higher degree of glory; through your prayer — Continuing to be addressed to God for me; and the supply of the Spirit of Christ — More largely communicated to me in answer to it, and enabling me to make a good use of these trials. According to my earnest expectation — According to what I have all along earnestly hoped for; that in nothing I shall be ashamed — Whatever injurious reflections may be cast on my conduct; but that with all boldness — Bearing testimony to every truth of the gospel; as always — Since my call to the apostleship; so now Christ shall be magnified — Shall be honoured, and the interest of his kingdom promoted; in my body, however it be disposed of, whether by preserving its life, or allowing it to be put to death — For the confirmation of the gospel. How that might be, he did not yet know. For the apostles did not know all that should befall them, but were left in uncertainty with respect to many things, that they might have cause for the exercise of faith and patience.
Philippians 1:21-23. For to me to live is Christ — As my life, both natural and spiritual, is from Christ, so to serve and enjoy him is the supreme end of my life, and I value it only as it is capable of being employed in glorifying him, to know, love, and follow whom, is my glory and my joy. But if I live in the flesh, &c. — Here he begins to treat of the former clause of the preceding verse: of the latter he treats Philippians 2:17. This is the fruit of my labour — This is the fruit of my living longer, that I can labour more. Glorious labour, desirable fruit! In this view long life is indeed a blessing. Yet what I shall choose I know not — That is, if it were left to my own choice. For I am in a strait betwixt two — The two things mentioned immediately. The original expression, συνεχομαι εκ των δυο, is translated by Doddridge, I am borne two different ways, it being, he thinks, an allusion to a ship stationed at a particular place, and riding at anchor, and at the same time likely to be forced to sea by the violence of the winds; presenting us with a lively representation of the apostle’s attachment to his situation in the Christian Church, and the vehemence of his desire to be unbound, as αναλυσαι may be rendered, that is, to weigh anchor, and set sail for the heavenly country. Having a desire — επιθυμιαν, a coveting, or strong desire, as Macknight renders the word; see on 2 Corinthians 5:4; 2 Corinthians 5:8 : to depart — To have my soul separated from my body, and to escape from bonds, the flesh, and the world; and to be with Christ — In paradise, Luke 23:43; admitted to the immediate, full, and constant enjoyment of him, in comparison whereof the nearest access to him, and fullest enjoyment of him in this world, are but absence. Which is far better — Greek, πολλω μαλλον κρεισσον, by much far better. Or, as Dr. Doddridge renders the clause, is better beyond all expression. Indeed, as the doctor observes, the apostle seems to labour for expression, using the highest superlative which it is perhaps possible to form in any language. It is justly observed by the last-mentioned writer, that this text plainly proves the separate spirits of good men are with Christ immediately after the death of their bodies, in such a manner that their state is far better than while they continue in this world; which certainly a state of insensibility, or the sleep of the soul, which some maintain, cannot possibly be. Some indeed think the apostle might speak thus though the soul sinks into insenbility at death; because, say they, in that case, the time between death and judgment must be reckoned as nothing. But, as Dr. Whitby justly observes, “could St. Paul think a state of insensibility much better than a life tending so much as his did to the glory of God, to the propagation of the gospel, and the furtherance of the joy of Christians? Could he call such an insensate state a being with Christ, and a walking by sight, in opposition to the life of faith?” 2 Corinthians 5:7-8. Certainly it is at least evident from what the apostle here says, if there be any such middle state of insensibility between death and the resurrection, he had no knowledge or expectation of it; for if he had known of any such state, he undoubtedly would have thought it a thousand times better to live, and promote the cause of Christ and religion on earth, than by dying to fall into it. Besides, how could he say that he had a desire to be with Christ, if he knew he was not to be with him till after the resurrection? This, however, will not at all disprove the doctrine which maintains that pious men will receive a large accession of happiness after the resurrection: a truth declared in many other passages of Scripture. “The use of philosophy, it hath been said, is to teach men to die. But, as Fielding has observed, one page of the gospel is more effectual for that purpose than volumes of philosophy. The assurance which the gospel gives us of another life is, to a good mind, a support much stronger than the stoical consolation drawn from the necessity of nature, the order of things, the emptiness of our enjoyments, the satiety which they occasion, and many other such topics, which, though they may arm the mind with stubborn patience in bearing the thought of death, can never raise it to a fixed contempt thereof, much less can they make us consider it as a real good, and inspire us with the desire of dying, such as the apostle on this occasion strongly expressed.” — Macknight.
Philippians 1:24-26. Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh — In the body; is more needful for you — And the rest who have embraced the gospel. For, as he said to the elders of the church at Ephesus, he foresaw that after his departure grievous wolves should enter into the churches, not sparing the flock, Acts 20:29. This is the other particular between which, and departing to be with Christ, the apostle’s mind was divided, as mentioned Philippians 1:22. For the sake of the churches, however, he here represents himself as being willing to forego, for a time, his own interest, and to continue in this mortal state. For he adds, having this confidence — That my abiding in the flesh is for your advantage; I know that I shall abide — Some have supposed that a particular revelation was made to him, while he was writing this, that he should not be put to death at this time, but should soon be released from his bonds; and that it was on the ground of that revelation that he expressed himself with so much confidence on this occasion. Some indeed have thought that this hope of deliverance arose from his knowing that the Christians in Cesar’s household were now endeavouring to procure his release. But, as Dr. Doddridge observes, “he must have known little of princes and courtiers, (and especially in Nero’s reign,) to build so confidently on such a foundation.” And continue with you all — Which doubtless he did for some considerable time, visiting many other places as well as Philippi. For your furtherance — προκοπην, advancement, in holiness; and the joy of faith — Which will be strengthened by my deliverance from confinement, and by my continuing my apostolical labours among you as opportunity offers. That your rejoicing — Or glorying, as καυχημα rather signifies; may be more abundant — May be greatly increased; by my coming to you again — As I fully expect to do.
Philippians 1:27-28. Only — Whatever becomes of me, be you sure to mind this; that your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ — That is, suitable to the light and grace of it; to its doctrines, precepts, promises, ordinances, and all its privileges; answerable to the discoveries which it makes to you of your original and fallen state, of your redemption and salvation in and through Christ Jesus, and of the wonderful love of God manifested thereby; of the holy and happy state into which you are in a measure already brought, and of the unspeakably greater felicity and glory reserved for you hereafter; and withal, of the danger you are in from the assaults of the many subtle and powerful enemies that are combined against you. In other words, See that you be humble and thankful, loving and obedient, watchful and circumspect; and always giving diligence to be found of Christ in peace, without spot and blameless. That whether I come and see you — As I purpose doing; or else, being absent, may hear of your affairs — May receive a consolatory account of you: that ye stand fast — In the faith and hope of the gospel; in one spirit — Under the guidance and government of the Holy Spirit, and in the most perfect unanimity; with one mind — ΄ια ψυχη, with one soul, being all equally zealous; striving together — συναθλουντες, jointly wrestling; the term being borrowed from the Athletæ, the wrestlers, and other contenders in the Olympic games; for the faith of the gospel — For all the truths revealed, the duties enjoined, and the blessings promised therein, against the Jews, who would seduce you to the Mosiac law, and bring you into bondage to its burdensome ceremonies; against the heathen, who, by persecution, endeavour to make you relapse into idolatry; against all the temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh, the deceitfulness of sin, and the snares and devices of sinners. In nothing terrified — Or terrified in no shape or degree; by your adversaries — Whether Jews or Gentiles, however numerous and powerful; which — Namely, their being adversaries to the gospel, and you who believe and obey it; is to them an evident token of perdition — Surely and swiftly coming upon them, since nothing can be a more certain sign that they are exposed to it, and even ripe for it, than the prevalency of such a persecuting spirit in them; but to you — Who are persecuted; of salvation — That is, the persecutions to which you are exposed for righteousness’ sake, and which you patiently endure, are an evident token of complete salvation, soon to be revealed and bestowed on you; and that of God — Himself, who will assuredly reward your pious fortitude with blessings proportionably great. It evidently appears from hence, and from several other passages in this epistle, that the Philippian believers were now in a suffering state; a circumstance which, if kept in mind, as we proceed, will greatly illustrate several passages in the epistle, which would otherwise appear obscure.
Philippians 1:29-30. For unto you it is given — εχαρισθη, it is granted as a favour, in the behalf of Christ, on account of his merits and intercession, and for the promotion of his cause and interest, not only to believe on him, (faith itself, as well as Christ and his truth, the objects of it, being the free gift of God,) but also to suffer for his sake — This, as well as your faith, and the blessings which you receive by faith, is granted you as a special token of God’s love to you, and of your being in the way of salvation. The apostle wished the Philippians to consider their sufferings for Christ as an honour, and an important means of good, and to rejoice in them. Thus it is said of Peter and John, Acts 5:41; They departed from the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Having the same kind of conflict with your adversaries. The word αγωνα, here rendered conflict, is the general name by which the Greeks expressed all the different combats in their games. And because in these contests the contenders struggled long and hard for victory, the word was applied to express any sort of trial or trouble, to which men exposed themselves in the course of their pursuits: which ye saw in me when I was with you, Acts 16:12-19, &c. For the apostle seems principally to allude to the conflict which he sustained at Philippi, on account of the damsel out of whom he had cast the spirit of divination, and whose masters got him scourged, and put in the stocks. Besides this, however, on his second coming to Philippi, after his long residence at Ephesus, he suffered other afflictions, of which the Philippians also were witnesses, 2 Corinthians 7:5. And now hear to be in me — It seems the Philippians had received an account from some of the brethren, who had come from Rome to Philippi, of the apostle’s present conflict with the unbelieving Jews, the Judaizing teachers, and the heathen magistrates. A similar conflict the Philippians themselves sustained, being persecuted for the gospel, and their bitterest persecutors being their own countrymen.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
the Fourth Week of Lent
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