Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
by John Calvin
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE PHILIPPIANS
It is generally know that PHILIPPI was a city of Macedonia, situated on the confines of Thrace, on the plains of which Pompeywas conquered by Caesar;(14) andBrutus andCassiuswere afterwards conquered by Antonyand Octavius. (15) Thus Roman insurrections rendered this place illustrious by two memorable engagements. When PAUL was called into Macedonia by an express revelation, (16) he first founded a Church in that city, (as is related by LUKE in Acts 16:12,) which did not merely persevere steadfastly in the faith, but was also, in process of time, as this Epistle bears evidence, enlarged both in the number of individuals, and in their proficiency in respect of attainments.
The occasion of Paul’s writing to the Philippians was this, — As they had sent to him by Epaphroditus, their pastor, such things as were needed by him when in prison, for sustaining life, and for other more than ordinary expenses, there can be no doubt that Epaphroditus explained to him at the same time the entire condition of the Church, and acted the part of an adviser in suggesting those things, respecting which they required to be admonished. It appears, however, that attempts had been made upon them by false apostles, (17) who wandered hither and thither, with the view of spreading corruptions of sound doctrine; but as they had remained steadfast in the truth, the Apostle commends their steadfastness. Keeping, however, in mind human frailty, and having, perhaps, been instructed by Epaphroditus that they required to be seasonably confirmed, lest they should in process of time fall away, he subjoins such admonitions as he knew to be suitable to them.
And having, first of all, with the view of securing their confidence, declared the pious attachment of his mind towards them, he proceeds to treat of himself and of his bonds, lest they should feel dismayed on seeing him a prisoner, and in danger of his life. He shews them, accordingly, that the glory of the gospel is so far from being lessened by this means, that it is rather an argument in confirmation of its truth, and he at the same time stirs them up by his own example to be prepared for every event. (18) He at length concludes the First Chapterwith a short exhortation to unity and patience.
As, however, ambition is almost invariably the mother of dissensions, and comes, on this account, to open a door for new and strange doctrines, he, in the commencement of the Second Chapter, entreats them, with great earnestness, to hold nothing more highly in esteem than humility and modesty. With this view he makes use of various arguments. And that he may the better retain them, (19) he promises to send Timothy to them shortly, nay more, he expresses a hope of being able to visit them himself. He afterwards assigns a reason for delay on the part of Epaphroditus. (20)
In the Third Chapterhe inveighs against the false apostles, and sets aside both their empty boastings and the doctrine of circumcision, which they eagerly maintained. (21) To all their contrivances he opposes the simple doctrine of Christ. To their arrogance (22) he opposes his former life and present course of conduct, in which a true image of Christian piety shone forth. He shews, also, that the summit of perfection, at which we must aim during our whole life, is this — to have fellowship with Christ in his death and resurrection; and this he establishes by his own example.
He begins the Fourth Chapterwith particular admonitions, but proceeds afterwards to those of a general nature. He concludes the Epistle with a declaration of his gratitude to the PHILIPPIANS, that they may not think that what they had laid out for relieving his necessities had been ill bestowed.
(14) Caesar’s celebrated victory over Pompey took place on the plains of Pharsalia, in Thessaly, with which Philippi in Macedonia is sometimes confounded by the poets. (See Virg. G. I. 490, Juvenal, 8:242.) Their being sometimes confounded with each other appears to have arisen from the circumstance that there was near Pharsalos, in Thessaly, a town named Philippi, the original name of which was Thebae, distinguished from Thebae in Bœotia by its being called Thebae Thessaliae, or Phthioticae, but having fallen under the power of Philip, King of Macedon, was in honor of the conqueror called Philippi, or Philippopolis. — Ed.
(15) The decisive engagement referred to was, as Dio Cassius observes, the most important of all that were fought during the civil wars, as it determined the fate of Roman liberty, so that the contest thenceforward was not for freedom, but — what master the Romans should serve. From its having been fought on the plains of Philippi, it is called by Suetonius