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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Timothy was an associate of Paul’s and may have served as his secretary as Paul dictated this letter (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:17), but Timothy was not the co-author of it (cf. Philippians 1:3; Philippians 2:19-23). The Philippians knew him since he had been with Paul when Paul had founded the church in Philippi (Acts 16:1-12) and on subsequent occasions (Acts 19:22; Acts 20:3-6). Now Timothy was with Paul in Rome during Paul’s house arrest there.

Paul’s lack of reference to his apostleship is in harmony with the overall emphasis of this epistle (cf. 1 and 2 Thess. and Phile.). This was a personal letter rather than one giving correction that needed apostolic authority behind it so the recipients would accept it and act on its instructions.

The writer characterized himself and Timothy as bond-servants (Greek douloi) of Christ, a favorite title of early Christian leaders (cf. James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Judges 1:1; Revelation 1:1). It stressed the strong commitment of the Christian to his or her Lord. The Septuagint translators of the Old Testament used doulos (singular) to describe Moses and other dedicated prophets (Psalms 105:26; Jeremiah 25:4; Amos 3:7) as did John when he described Moses (Revelation 15:3).

"Undoubtedly the background for the concept of being the Lord’s slave or servant is to be found in the Old Testament scriptures. For a Jew this concept did not connote drudgery, but honor and privilege. It was used of national Israel at times (Isaiah 43:10), but was especially associated with famous OT personalities . . ." [Note: The NET Bible note on 1:1.]

The apostle Paul was fond of addressing his fellow believers as saints (cf. Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Philemon 1:5; Philemon 1:7). This title reflects the Christian’s present justified standing before God though not necessarily his or her present sanctified standing in the sight of other people.

In no other of his epistles did Paul address the elders (Gr. episkopois) and deacons (diakonois) of the church specifically in the salutation. Perhaps they received special mention because Epaphroditus had come to Paul with money from the Philippian church (Philippians 2:25) and or because friction existed within this church (Philippians 4:2-3). These are the two offices of the church that Paul expounded elsewhere (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

"Even though these titles occur only here and in the Pastoral Epistles in the Pauline corpus, one should not construe this to suggest either that the other Pauline churches did not have such leaders or that this is a later development in his churches." [Note: Fee, p. 67.]

Normally Paul appointed elders in the churches that he founded (Acts 14:23). This was an office that carried over from Jewish synagogue life. [Note: See Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership, p. 154.] The elders whom Paul appointed were probably Jewish converts who had good backgrounds in the Old Testament. The terms elder, presbyter, overseer, bishop, and pastor all refer to the same office (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1-2).

The deacons were the official servants of the church who functioned as the elders’ assistants. This is the only place in the New Testament, except 1 Timothy 3, where a New Testament writer mentioned both elders and deacons together as the leaders of the church. Note that in Philippi there was a plurality of both elders and deacons in the church. At this stage in the growth of the church probably there was only one church in Philippi and there was a plurality of both elders and deacons in the one assembly. [Note: J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles, p. 74.]

This reference to elders and deacons does not prescribe that there must be a plurality of elders and or deacons in every modern church. The verse is descriptive rather than prescriptive. However it does indicate that there was a plurality of official leaders in this church. In this respect the Philippian church was typical of many others in its day (cf. Acts 14:23).

"No evidence exists for a single leader as the ’head’ of the local assembly in the Pauline churches." [Note: Fee, p. 67. See also J. Alec Motyer, The Message of Philippians, pp. 37-38.]

Verses 1-2


Paul began this epistle by identifying himself and his companion and by wishing God’s richest blessings on his readers.

"Almost all letters from the Greco-Roman period began with a threefold salutation: The Writer, to the Addressee, Greetings. Very often the next item in the letter would be a wish (sometimes a prayer) for the health or well-being of the addressee. Paul’s letters, which generally follow this standard form, usually include a thanksgiving; in some of these, as here, he also includes a prayer-report. But in contrast to most of the ancient letters, which tend to be stereotyped, Paul tends to elaborate these formal items; and in so doing, everything Paul’s hands touch come under the influence of the gospel, and thereby become distinctively Christian." [Note: Ibid., p. 59.]

Verse 2

Grace and peace were Paul’s favorite words of blessing in his epistles. He wished that God would bestow these gifts on the Philippians even more than He had. Grace refers to God’s unmerited favor and divine enablement. Peace is the cessation of hostilities and the inner tranquillity that are the result of God’s grace. Charis (grace) is a variation on the word usually used in Greek salutations, namely, chairein meaning "greetings." Shalom (peace) was the traditional Jewish greeting that meant the full measure of divine blessing (cf. Numbers 6:24-26).

The source of these blessings is God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul believed that Jesus possesses full authority with the Father.

". . . How is one to begin to attack selfishness and disunity? By subtly showing from the very beginning that in the Church seniority and high calling do not put one Christian leader above another (Paul and Timothy together are one-they are slaves of Christ Jesus) and that ’church supervisors’ are not above serving, but are by virtue of their office, called to serve (to be diakonoi) ministering to the needs of their fellows." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 13.]

Hawthorne favored the view that the "and" between "bishops" and "deacons" should be interpreted epexegetically as "bishops who are deacons, i.e., servants." He saw only one type of church official in view, namely, bishops. This is a minority opinion.

Verse 3

The Christians in Philippi always caused Paul to give thanks to God when he prayed for them at his set times of prayer. [Note: Ibid., pp. 16-17.] All of Paul’s epistles begin with a similar commendation except Galatians. This thanksgiving is particularly warm.

Verses 3-8

A. Thanksgiving 1:3-8

The apostle proceeded to express his sincere gratitude to God for his friends in Philippi. He did this to assure them of God’s continuing working for them and his satisfaction with their partnership in the work of the gospel. In this section Paul introduced and summarized the main theme of Philippians, namely, partnership in the gospel. He stated it explicitly in Philippians 1:5 and developed it later in the body of the epistle (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 4:9).

Verses 3-26


Verse 4

Paul’s imprisonment limited his ministry to the Philippian church, but he still prayed for his brethren in Philippi. His prayers were full of joy as he petitioned God for the saints there. Joy is a recurring motif in Philippians where the joy word group appears 16 times. The Greek word translated "prayer" (deesis) refers to requests. Several years of absence from these Christians had not led Paul to drop them from his prayer list. Every time Paul prayed for them, he did so with thanksgiving.

Verse 5

The reason Paul was always joyful as he prayed for the Philippians was their participation (NASB) or partnership (NIV, lit. fellowship, Gr. koinonia) in the gospel.

"It does not take much reading of Paul’s letters to recognize that the gospel is the singular passion of his life; that passion is the glue that in particular holds this letter together. By ’the gospel,’ especially in Philippians, Paul refers primarily neither to a body of teaching nor to proclamation. Above all, the gospel has to do with Christ, both his person and his work." [Note: Fee, p. 82.]

The fellowship in view, as the use of this word in the New Testament indicates, means sharing together with mutual activity and mutual benefit in a close bond. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "koinonos," et al., by Friedrich Hauck, 3 (1965):798.] Partnership in the gospel includes partnership with God and with other believers that the gospel makes possible. It also involves participation in the work of getting the gospel to people. The Philippians had recently sent Paul a gift (Philippians 4:10-14) and had done so more than once before (Philippians 4:16; 2 Corinthians 11:9). Even in Philippi he had received hospitality from Lydia (Acts 16:15) and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:33-34). However, Paul’s use of koinonia here implies a broader meaning than just physical assistance. It probably includes all that Paul and his readers shared as committed Christians who sought to disseminate the gospel.

"Paul’s letter to the Philippians can be ranked as the second most important source for study of the biblical principles of financial stewardship. Only 2 Corinthians 8, 9 provide a more extensive discussion of the topic." [Note: John F. Brug, "The Principles of Financial Stewardship in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians," Wisconsin Lutheran Quarterly 86:3 (Summer 1989):215.]

"We today might take the lesson to heart that the sign of our professed love for the gospel is the measure of sacrifice we are prepared to make in order to help in its progress. We rejoice that we have come to know the Saviour. What are we doing to make Him known to others?" [Note: Martin, p. 61.]

Verse 6

What was the good work to which Paul referred? If he had in mind only the generosity of his original readers, he may have meant that good work. However, as I have suggested, he seems to have had a much broader concept in mind, namely, what the work of the gospel produces: salvation. Who had begun this good work of salvation? It could only be God. Paul was confident that God would finish what He had begun in his beloved Philippians.

In the New Testament, God has revealed that salvation is a process. It involves justification, when a sinner trusts Jesus Christ as his or her Savior. It includes progressive sanctification that occurs from the time of justification to the Christian’s death or the Rapture. And it culminates in glorification, when the redeemed sinner finally sees Jesus Christ and experiences transformation into His image. Paul was confident that just as surely as God had justified the Philippians He would also continue to sanctify and eventually glorify them. Whereas we have a hand in the process of sanctification and can affect it by our obedience or disobedience, God alone justifies us. Regardless of our carnality or spirituality He will also glorify us (1 Corinthians 15:50-57).

The aspect of sanctification that Paul had in view, considering Philippians 1:5, was the Philippians’ partnership with him in the work of propagating the gospel. He was confident that God would continue His sanctifying work in them so they might become even more effective partners with him in this great task.

This verse does not teach that God will keep all Christians persevering in the faith and in good works faithfully until they die. Believers can and do resist, oppose, and limit God’s sanctifying work in them (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). Perseverance in faith and good works is not automatic for the Christian. The New Testament writers consistently urged us to persevere recognizing that some Christians will not do so (Titus 2:11-13; Hebrews 2:1; Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 6:1-8; et al.). Even some of Paul’s fellow workers did not persevere faithfully (1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:17-18; 2 Timothy 4:10). Even though some Christians do not persevere in faith and good works, God will persevere in bringing them to glory (i.e., will glorify them). [Note: See Charlie Bing, "Does Philippians 1:6 Teach Perseverance?" Grace Evangelical Society News 6:2 (February 1991):2.] Thus it is God who perseveres in the work of salvation, not necessarily man.

Paul’s reference to the day of Christ Jesus as the culmination of the Lord’s work of salvation in the believer points to the day when He will return for His own: the Rapture. There are at least 18 references to this day in the New Testament (Romans 13:12; 1 Corinthians 1:8; 1 Corinthians 3:13; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 15:51; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16; Philippians 3:11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; 2 Timothy 1:12; 2 Timothy 1:18; 2 Timothy 4:8).

"The expression is similar to the ’day of the Lord’ (1 Thessalonians 5:2) and the OT ’day of Jehovah’ (Amos 5:18-20). However, in contrast to the OT emphasis on judgment, the ’day of Christ Jesus’ is mentioned in all cases with reference to the NT church. It will be the time when Christ returns for his church, salvation is finally completed, and believers’ works are examined and the believer rewarded." [Note: Homer A. Kent Jr., "Philippians," in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 105-6. See also the note on 1 Corinthians 1:8 in The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1233.]

This is one of the most comforting verses in the Bible for Christians. Our getting to heaven safely does not depend on us, on our ability to hold on and to persevere faithfully to the end of our lives. The Lord will see to it that we reach heaven safely in spite of our failures and shortcomings. Salvation is God’s work, not man’s (Jonah 2:9). As surely as He has already delivered us from the penalty of sin (Romans 5:1), He will one day deliver us from the presence of sin (cf. Romans 8:31-39).

"Here is confidence indeed. Our salvation can no more be forfeited than the Father can break his pledged word to glorify his Son. No wonder, then, that Paul uses the language of a man who has no doubts: I am sure." [Note: Motyer, p. 45.]

Philippians 1:3-6 summarize the entire epistle. They introduce the main theme, which is the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel.

"All the rest of the letter is concerned primarily with their development as koinonoi [partners] so that they may be blessed with a temporally fruitful, eternally rewardable partnership in the gospel." [Note: Robert C. Swift, "The Theme and Structure of Philippians," Bibliotheca Sacra 141:563 (July-September 1984):238. See also Robert Jewett, "The Epistolary Thanksgiving and the Integrity of Philippians," Novum Testamentum 12:1 (January 1970):53.]

Verse 7

Philippians 1:7-8 express the basis of Paul’s confidence that he just expressed (Philippians 1:6). They also develop the theme of partnership in the gospel.

How did Paul feel about the Philippians? He felt joyful (Philippians 1:4; cf. Philippians 1:9-11; cf. Philippians 1:25; cf. Philippians 1:27-28; Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:12-18; Philippians 3:16-17; Philippians 4:17). The reason he said it was right for him to feel that way was the partnership in the gospel that they shared with him. The figurative use of "heart" (Gr. kardia) refers to the whole personality: intellect, emotions, and will, not just sentiment. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "kardia," by Friedrich Baumgartel and Johannes Behm, 3 (1965):605-14.] The Philippians were in Paul’s prayers (Philippians 1:3-4) and on his mind (not on his nerves). This is the proof that they were on his heart. Here is the first use of a key word in Philippians (Gr. phroneo) translated "to feel." The word means to hold a mind-set that expresses itself in proper action. Paul developed this concept later (cf. Philippians 2:1-5; Philippians 3:15; Philippians 3:19; Philippians 4:2; Philippians 4:10). The same "mind" is necessary if partners are to progress toward perfection (Philippians 1:6).

"The pastor who, like Paul, holds his people in his heart will find them holding him in their hearts." [Note: A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, 4:436.]

Even though many miles separated the writer and the original readers, Paul viewed their relationship as intimate since they shared salvation and their calling to spread the gospel. Not only were they bound together in the gospel (Philippians 1:5) but, more specifically, they were one in imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. The Philippians had not only been in prison with Paul in spirit, but they had been willing to associate with and minister to him in prison through Epaphroditus.

Defending and confirming the gospel are positive and negative aspects of proclaiming it. However, Paul may have meant more than that since these terms have legal connotations. A defense (Gr. apologia) elsewhere sometimes refers to a legal defense (e.g., Acts 22:1; Acts 25:16: 2 Timothy 4:16). Moreover confirming (Gr. bebaiosis) meant to guarantee security (e.g., Hebrews 6:16). Paul may have had his upcoming trial in mind. That occasion would be one more opportunity to herald the gospel. It was that great task that united Paul and the Philippians in such close bonds of fellowship.

"Partakers . . . with me" (NASB) and "you share . . . with me" (NIV) are translations of a Greek word (sugkoinonous) that means fellow partners. Paul and the Philippians partook together of the enabling grace that God provides for those who confirm and defend the gospel (cf. Philippians 1:29-30; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 4:4). Here Paul introduced the idea of suffering in the work of proclaiming the gospel, which he developed later.

"While suffering is not the dominant motif in Philippians, it constitutes the church’s primary historical context in Philippi and thus underlies much of the letter. . . .

"Second, opposition and suffering probably lie behind a further-seldom noted-major motif in the letter: Paul’s repeated emphasis on the believer’s sure future with its eschatological triumph." [Note: Fee, p. 30.]

Verse 8

Only God really knew how strongly Paul longed for his brothers and sisters back in Philippi. Consequently the apostle called on Him as his witness to his professions of affection. Paul’s feelings were similar to those of his Lord Jesus Christ, who generated them in the apostle.

". . . Paul took this solemn oath because he was aware that within the church that he founded and for which he cared so deeply there were those who were not at all convinced of his right to lead them nor certain of the reality of his love for them. What more could he do to convince them than swear before God that they all (pantas hymas) had the same great place in his affections? Nothing. In his day and in his culture a solemn oath was the end of every dispute (cf. Hebrews 6:16)." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 24.]

These expressions of thanksgiving provide insight into the unity that exists among believers and between believers and our Lord. The gospel and salvation are the great unifying elements.

Verse 9

By praying Paul acknowledged the importance of asking God to work (cf. James 4:2). We may not be able to explain fully why God has ordained prayer as a vehicle whereby He works in the world or how prayer works. Nevertheless Scripture is unmistakably clear that prayer does effect objective change. [Note: See John Munro, "Prayer to a Sovereign God," Interest 56:2 (February 1990):20-21, and Thomas L. Constable, "What Prayer Will and Will Not Change," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, pp. 99-113.] Consequently we should make use of this great privilege as Paul did.

Paul’s petition was three-fold. He prayed that his readers would be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ (Philippians 1:10 b). In order for them to be that he prayed that they would approve excellent things (Philippians 1:10 a). To do that he prayed that their love would abound even more (Philippians 1:9). Self-sacrificing love (Gr. agape) should be the motive behind partnership (Gr. koinonia) in the gospel. Paul illustrated the importance of this shortly with examples of preachers who demonstrated improper and proper motives (Philippians 1:15-18).

The Philippians had already given evidence of possessing the love that God alone can produce (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; Galatians 5:22) in their dealings with the apostle. Paul asked God that that love might increase even more. He did not limit the objects of that love in this verse. They probably included God, Paul, other believers, and all people.

However, he did qualify that love as resting on real knowledge and all discernment. It should arise from an intelligent appraisal of reality. It should also rest on spiritual sensitivity to truth as God has revealed it in His Word and not on mere sentimentality.

"We grow in proportion as we know. . . . To grow as a Christian is to grow in one’s grasp of the truth, in breadth and in depth. Ignorance is a root cause of stunted growth." [Note: Motyer, p. 57.]

God’s revelation and His Spirit were to guide their loving. This kind of loving becomes apparent when a Christian values highly the things that God loves and turns away from situations and influences that God hates. In the context this discernment applies primarily to what will advance the gospel best (cf. Philippians 1:12-26).

". . . the most effective way to influence another is to pray for him, and if a word of rebuke or correction has to be spoken let it be prayed over first, and then spoken in love." [Note: Martin, p. 65.]

Verses 9-11

B. Prayer 1:9-11

Paul had already written that he prayed for the Philippians (Philippians 1:3-4). Now he explained what he prayed so his readers would know specifically what the apostle was asking God to do for them. In response to God’s working in them (Philippians 1:6) it was imperative that they continue to grow in the virtues identified here, specifically, intelligent and discerning love. Note the balance of divine sovereignty and human responsibility in this pericope.

Verse 10

Possessing this kind of abounding love would enable the Philippians to give approval to things of the greatest value and importance. Conversely they would disapprove things of lesser significance. Most of the choices that a spiritual believer faces are not between morally good and morally evil things but between things of lesser and greater value. The things that we choose because we love them reflect how discerning our love really is.

The ultimate end in view emerges in the second part of this verse. We need to love in harmony with God’s revelation and with His Spirit’s guidance (Philippians 1:9) so we will choose the best over the good (Philippians 1:10 a). This will result in our being without flaw (sincere) and without blame (blameless) when we stand before God to give an account of the stewardship of our lives at the judgment seat of Christ (Philippians 1:10 b; 2 Corinthians 5:10; cf. 1 John 3:3).

"Aproskopos has to do with being ’blameless’ in the sense of ’not offending’ or not causing someone else to stumble." [Note: Fee, p. 102.]

"There are people who are themselves faultless, but who are so hard and harsh and austere that they in the end drive people away from Christianity. There are people who are good, but they are so critical of others that they repel other people from goodness. The Christian is himself pure, but his love and his gentleness are such that he attracts others to the Christian way and never repels them from it." [Note: William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, pp. 23-24.]

Verse 11

This verse modifies the last half of Philippians 1:10. The only way we will be able to stand before God sincere and blameless is if we allow the Holy Spirit to control us. If we do, He will fill our lives with the fruit that is the product of His righteousness (Galatians 5:22-23). This righteousness and its fruit come to us through Jesus Christ, not as a result of our own good deeds. Therefore all the glory and praise for our righteousness, our fruit, and hopefully our flawless and blameless condition at the judgment seat of Christ, goes to God. He is the ultimate source of it all (cf. Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14).

"The growing-point for the Christian, as Paul discerns it, is love, a seed from which he anticipates vigorous growth as it abounds more and more. Its upthrusting shoots are received and held by two stakes, knowledge and all discernment, and under their control begin to put forth leaves and blossoms: first the distinctive life-style of the Christian as we approve what is excellent and then, at the very heart of this life-style, the fair blossom of holiness in both the inner person (pure) and the outer behaviour (blameless). Finally there is the perfected fruit, a righteousness adequate even for the great Day itself." [Note: Motyer, p. 53.]

What an excellent prayer this is! In our day, when we tend to voice prayer requests for physical needs primarily, we need to follow Paul’s example of putting the spiritual needs of others high on our prayer lists. Christians still need God’s supernatural enablement to value highly the things of greatest importance as revealed in Scripture. Only then will we make choices that will prepare us to give a good account of ourselves at the judgment seat of Christ.

"Paul uses three thoughts in Philippians 1:1-11 that describe true Christian fellowship: I have you in my mind (Philippians 1:3-6), I have you in my heart (Philippians 1:7-8), I have you in my prayers (Philippians 1:9-11)." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:64.]

Verse 12

This verse is a topic sentence for all that follows through Philippians 1:26. Whenever Paul wrote, "I want you to know," he introduced something important (cf. 2 Corinthians 13:6; 2 Timothy 3:1).

His readers could very understandably have concluded that Paul’s imprisonment had brought the building of the church of Jesus Christ to a standstill, or at least slowed its progress significantly. However the apostle announced that this had not happened. Rather his imprisonment was resulting in the advancement of God’s program. In relation to the progress of the gospel, Paul’s imprisonment was really a good thing, a positive situation.

"The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling, used Paul’s chains." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:67.]

Verses 12-18

1. Paul’s present imprisonment 1:12-18

Verses 12-26

C. Progress report 1:12-26

Paul proceeded from his introductory comments to explain his personal circumstances because these were of interest to his readers and profitable for them to understand. In relating them the apostle revealed a spiritual viewpoint that is a model for all believers for all time. This "biographical prologue" [Note: Swift, p. 241.] illustrates how the principles for effective partnership in the gospel that Paul introduced in Philippians 1:3-11 were working out for the furtherance of the gospel in his own circumstances.

He began by relating what had happened because of his imprisonment in the past (Philippians 1:12-18) and then explained what was happening in the present (Philippians 1:19-26).

"In spite of the hostility of his enemies outside the church and the evil designs of his detractors within, the apostle is greatly encouraged by one overriding fact: Christ is being proclaimed." [Note: Martin, p. 67.]

Verse 13

The point of this verse is that because of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome many people had heard the gospel who would not otherwise have heard it. The phrase, "my imprisonment in [the cause of] Christ," (NASB) or, "I am in chains for Christ," (NIV) in the Greek text stresses an important fact. Paul’s relationship to Christ, not just his service for Christ, was what had become known. People had become aware of Paul’s personal relationship with the Savior because he had shared his testimony with them.

Two groups had received the apostle’s witness, the praetorian guard and many other people. The praetorian guard probably refers to the soldiers who were members of the regiment assigned to guard many of the high-ranking officials in the Roman government, though the praetorian guard was also a place. [Note: See J. B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, pp. 99-104.] These soldiers were also responsible to guard prisoners who had appealed to Caesar, such as Paul. It was an honor to be one of these guards. They would have been with Paul in his hired house where he was under house arrest 24 hours a day (cf. Acts 28:30-31). Paul had the opportunity to witness to many of these elite soldiers, and he viewed this as a great blessing.

"There were originally ten thousand of these picked soldiers, concentrated in Rome by Tiberius. They had double pay and special privileges and became so powerful that emperors had to court their favour. Paul had contact with one after another of these soldiers." [Note: Robertson, 4:438.]

The "everyone else" group included unsaved members of the Jewish community (Acts 28:17-29), some Gentiles (e.g., Philemon 1:10), and Paul’s fellow Christians. Paul evidently was communicating with many people even though he was a prisoner.

Verse 14

A second reason Paul felt encouraged even though he was in prison was this. His example of aggressive witness had inspired the Roman Christians to be more outspoken in sharing the gospel. Rather than taking a lower profile because their leader was in chains, most of the local believers felt inspired by Paul’s courage. They were standing up boldly for Christ and trusting Him as they had not done before.

Verse 15

Of these local Roman Christians who were now witnessing and preaching more boldly there were two types, distinguished by their motivation. Some were hoping to advance their own reputations by their activities. They were envious of Paul’s prominence and were striving with their fellow believers for selfish reasons. This view seems more probable than that they were the Judaizers Paul spoke of later in Philippians 3:1-16. Others had a sincere desire to reach the lost and to meet the needs that Paul’s confinement had created.

Verse 16

Love for God and Paul motivated the members of this second group. Moreover they believed the apostle’s present confinement was a situation that God had ordained for the defense of the gospel. They evidently accepted this by faith even though they may not have understood how Paul’s imprisonment fit into God’s plan for the building of His church. The chiastic structure evident in Philippians 1:15-17 emphasizes these Christians who demonstrated proper motivation.

Verse 17

Paul’s arrival in Rome may have caused some of the self-seeking opportunists in the Roman church some distress. Attention would have shifted from them to him. Nevertheless with him in confinement they had an opportunity to regain the spotlight by becoming more active and outspoken. Evidently some of them thought that their prominence would distress Paul, as his prominence distressed them, but Paul was much less selfish than they were.

Verse 18

The idiom ti gar, translated, "What then?" in the NASB, means, "What does it matter?" (NIV). While motivation is important, it is even more important that the gospel gets proclaimed. Paul believed that it was better for people with impure motives to preach Christ than that they not preach Him at all.

"The power of the gospel, therefore, does not depend on the character of the preacher." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 39.]

Paul’s judgment here, by the way, is an example of seeking the best rather than just the good (cf. Philippians 1:9-10). He rejoiced and would continue to rejoice that his imprisonment had resulted in the more extensive proclamation of the good news of salvation.

". . . when you have the single mind, you look upon your circumstances as God-given opportunities for the furtherance of the Gospel, and you rejoice at what God is going to do instead of complaining about what God did not do." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:68.]

Philippians 1:12-18 present Paul as a positive model for all believers. Rather than valuing his own comfort, reputation, and freedom above all else, he put the advancement of God’s plan first. He discerned what was best (Philippians 1:10). He could maintain a truly joyful attitude even in unpleasant circumstances because he derived his joy from seeing God glorified rather than from seeing himself exalted. His behavior in prison had been pure and blameless (cf. Philippians 1:10).

Verse 19

The antecedent of "this" is probably the things that had happened to Paul to which he had just been referring in Philippians 1:12-18.

What deliverance did he have in mind, physical deliverance from imprisonment or some spiritual deliverance? Later in this epistle Paul said he anticipated release from prison (Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24). However the verses that follow this one (Philippians 1:19) point to his thinking of the completion of salvation that he had referred to previously (Philippians 1:6). Earlier he had spoken of the completion of the Philippians’ salvation. Here he spoke of the end of his own (cf. Job 13:16; Job 13:18). The Greek word translated "deliverance" is soteria, the standard rendering of which is "salvation." Probably Paul meant that his prison experiences and the consequent furtherance of the gospel were all part of God’s completion of the good work that He had begun in him.

Two means were necessary for this salvation to reach fulfillment. Paul was counting on the prayers of the Philippians and the Lord’s provision of enablement through His Spirit. Does this mean that if the Philippians failed to pray for Paul God’s work in him would suffer? Yes, but the salvation in view is progressive sanctification, not glorification. God and people work together in the process of sanctification, but glorification is God’s work alone.

By the provision of the Spirit Paul evidently meant the provision of grace that comes through the Spirit. God does not give His Spirit in measure (i.e., some now and more later, John 3:34). Obviously there is a vital connection between prayer and the Spirit’s enablement. Paul referred to the Spirit as the Spirit of Jesus Christ here. Perhaps he did so because he had been thinking of Jesus Christ as the One before whom we will all appear when our sanctification is complete (Philippians 1:6; Philippians 1:10).

Verses 19-26

2. Paul’s anticipated deliverance 1:19-26

At this point Paul’s thinking turned from what had already occurred because of his imprisonment to what he anticipated happening in the future. He referred to this so his readers would uphold him in their prayers and feel encouraged to adopt his viewpoint in their own situation in life.

Verse 20

Paul did not want to feel ashamed when he stood before the Lord at His judgment seat (cf. 1 John 2:28). The phrase "my earnest expectation and hope" is probably a hendiadys meaning "my hope-filled eager expectation" (NEB). Moreover he was confident that with the prayer support of the Philippians and the Holy Spirit’s enablement he would not. Nevertheless he felt the need for courage. After all, he still had to stand before Caesar and undergo a Roman trial. His greatest desire, however, was that he would continue to exalt Jesus Christ whether that meant that he live or die.

"The believer’s body is a ’lens’ that makes a ’little Christ’ look very big, and a ’distant Christ’ come very close." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:69.]

The use of the passive "be exalted" rather than the active "I exalt Christ" is unusual. It reflects Paul’s conviction that essentially the Christian life involves following the leading of God’s indwelling Spirit rather than seizing the initiative and doing things for God (cf. Galatians 5:18).

Verse 21

This great testimonial affirmation succinctly summarizes Paul’s philosophy of life. For him, regardless of the decision about whether he would continue to live or die or the opinions of other people, saved or lost, his whole life revolved around Jesus Christ. Paul placed "to me" first in this sentence for emphasis. Jesus’ work on the cross had become the reason for all that Paul did. Appreciation for Christ motivated him. His present enablement through the Spirit was the source of his strength. The prospect of seeing Jesus Christ and standing before Him one day drew him and constituted the goal for all he did. Many people today, if they were honest, would have to say that for them to live is money, fame, happiness, family, or any of a multitude of idols. [Note: See Swindoll, p. 57.] However, Jesus Christ was the sun around which Paul’s life orbited.

"Paul’s only reason for existence is that he may spend his life in that glad service; and death for that cause will be the crowning service." [Note: Martin, p. 77.]

If the Emperor’s verdict were death, Paul would be better off than if he continued to live. He would go into the presence of his Lord and be free forever from sin, suffering, and sorrow. Furthermore he would have glorified God by persevering faithfully to the end of his life. The Christian can take a radically different view of death than the unbeliever who has no hope, as Paul did (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

"Paul’s hope for the future, centered as it was in Jesus, kept him from making too much of his current circumstances. This hope enabled him to reassess his circumstances, not by suppressing his emotions, evident throughout this letter, but by relating them to God’s sovereignty and to Jesus’ centrality in life." [Note: Darrell L. Bock, "A Theology of Paul’s Prison Epistles," in A Biblical Theology of the New Testament, p. 322.]

Verse 22

The prospect of a few more years of life and service was not unattractive to the great apostle either. He saw living as an opportunity to continue serving the person of Christ and building up the body of Christ. He could continue to labor, and his work would produce fruit for eternity. Satanic opposition had always marked Paul’s labors, but he was willing to continue to face that. He was glad the choice of living or dying was not his to make since both options had positive values for him.

Verse 23

Paul felt himself in a bind. If forced to choose life or death, he faced a hard decision. On the one hand he desired to depart this life and go to be with the Lord he loved forever (2 Corinthians 5:8). That would be better for him personally. If Paul had believed in purgatory or soul sleep, he would hardly have said he regarded death as a preferable alternative to life.

"It seems most likely, therefore, that Paul expected to be ’with the Lord’ in full consciousness." [Note: Fee, p. 149.]

The same Greek word translated "depart" (analuo) appears elsewhere describing the release of a prisoner from his bonds (Acts 16:26) and the departure of a guest from a wedding feast (Luke 12:36). It also described a military unit striking camp and sailors releasing a boat from its moorings. [Note: See Martin, p. 78.]

Verse 24

Viewed from a different perspective it might be better if he lived. The Philippians would profit from Paul’s lengthened life and future ministry to them.

Paul did not mention that life was preferable because he could avoid the pain and suffering of death. He did not refer to separation from his loved ones or from what he had worked so hard to accumulate or accomplish either. These are reasons many people give for not wanting to die. His love for Jesus Christ and other people were the driving motives in Paul’s life, not selfishness (cf. Matthew 22:37-39).

Verse 25

After weighing all the possibilities it seemed to Paul that he would probably live a little longer. He evidently believed this because the case his accusers had brought against him was not strong (cf. Acts 23:29; Acts 25:25; Acts 26:31-32). The fact that he said, "I know that I shall remain," raises the question of whether he had received some special revelation. That is a possibility, but the Greek word translated "know" (oida) does not mean infallible knowledge necessarily (cf. Acts 20:25).

Statements in the later Pastoral Epistles as well as in the writings of some of the early church fathers indicate that Nero released Paul from his first Roman imprisonment in A.D. 62. The apostle resumed his missionary labors and returned to Macedonia and probably to Philippi. However, the Romans arrested him again, imprisoned him in Rome a second time, and then executed him as a martyr there in A.D. 68. If this information is true, he probably did contribute to the spiritual progress and joy of the Philippians as he said he hoped he could here.

Verse 26

The idea contained in this verse is that Paul’s renewed ministry among the Philippians would give them reasons to be even more joyful. His ministry among them would enable them to appreciate the riches of their salvation more fully. "Proud confidence" (NASB, Gr. kauchema) means ground for joy. "Coming" (Gr. parousia) is the same word Paul used to describe the Lord’s return (1 Thessalonians 3:13).

"In Classical Greek it referred to the pomp and pageantry that accompanied the arrival of a king or governor in a city. By using this special word Paul may indicate that he expects to receive a ’king’s welcome’ from the Philippians when he comes to their town (Beare)." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 53. Beare refers to F. W. Beare, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians.]

The major value of this pericope (Philippians 1:19-26) is its revelation of Paul’s attitude toward life and death. When a person faces the possibility of dying soon, his or her real values often become obvious. Paul’s Christ-centered life is certainly a fine example for all Christians to emulate. He referred to Christ by name nine times in Philippians 1:13-26. Here he discerned what was best regarding his own desires and the Philippians’ spiritual progress (cf. Philippians 1:9). Paul’s desire to glorify Jesus Christ kept him pure (Philippians 1:10; cf. Philippians 1:17-18). This section provides a smooth transition from Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer into the body of the epistle.


Paul had been saying he hoped to be able to revisit Philippi and to minister to his original readers again in person. However, he was not sure that he could do that. This uncertain state of affairs led him to exhort them now that he had the opportunity. Whether he came to them or not, their duty was the same. In the following verses he emphasized the importance of certain qualities essential to conduct worthy of the Lord. He did this so his readers would perceive the importance of these traits and give them proper attention.

Verse 27

The first part of this verse gives the main command in the section (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 4:9) and the reason for it.

The phrase "conduct yourselves in a manner worthy" is just one word in the Greek text (politeuesthe). It means literally "to live as a citizen." This word was especially appropriate to use in a letter to people who took great pride in their Roman citizenship (cf. Acts 16:12; Acts 16:20-21). The Philippian Christians, however, were also citizens of a more important kingdom, a heavenly one. As such they needed to stand firm in one spirit. Philippi was a colony of Rome in Macedonia, and the church was a colony of heaven in Philippi.

"It [the Gr. word stekete, translated "stand firm"] conveys the idea of firmness or steadfastness, or unflinching courage like that possessed by soldiers who determinedly refuse to leave their posts irrespective of how severely the battle rages (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Philippians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; cf. Also Ephesians 6:13-17 . . .)." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 56.]

The following explanatory phrase "with one mind" (lit. with one soul, Gr. psyche) points to Christian unity being in Paul’s mind as well as their unity in the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 4:32).

Unity in the church is necessary so believers can work together effectively as a team carrying out the will of God. "Striving together" is an athletic metaphor. Specifically, the church’s task is to proclaim and promote the Christian faith embodied in the gospel message.

Paul identified two essential qualities in this verse, unity and steadfastness (cf. Philippians 1:5-6). He then proceeded to develop them more fully in the verses that follow.

"A ’worthy walk,’ then, means specifically the achievement of true Christian unity among themselves, and steadfastness against enemies of the gospel." [Note: Swift, p. 243.]

Verses 27-30

A. A worthy walk 1:27-30

The first sub-section (Philippians 1:27-30) begins with a topic sentence that expresses Paul’s desire for the Philippians. Then he proceeded to explain and to illustrate what constitutes a worthy walk (Philippians 2:1 to Philippians 4:9).

"With this section we come to the heart of matters, the primary reason for having written this letter . . . And here in particular the three-way bond that holds the letter together stands out [i.e., Christ, Paul, and the Philippians]. The problem is not schism, but posturing and bickering-selfish ambition, empty conceit, complaining, arguing. At stake is the gospel in Philippi-Christ himself, if you will." [Note: Fee, p. 158.]

"The Christian life is not a playground; it is a battleground. We are sons in the family, enjoying the fellowship of the Gospel (Philippians 1:1-11); we are servants sharing in the furtherance of the Gospel (Philippians 1:12-26); but we are also soldiers defending the faith of the Gospel. And the believer with the single mind can have the joy of the Holy Spirit even in the midst of battle." [Note: Wiersbe, 2:70.]

Verse 28

The Christians in Philippi should not let the opposition of unbelievers frighten or detract them from their mission.

"The verb here translated ’to be intimidated’ (ptyresthai) is extremely rare, found nowhere else in the entire Greek Bible. But it is used on occasion in Classical Greek of timid horses that shy upon being startled at some unexpected object (LSJ). Perhaps by the choice of this unusual word Paul shows himself anxious that his friends should not ’break loose in disarray’ (Martin, 1976) or lose control of themselves as a result of the attacks of their adversaries." [Note: Hawthorne, p. 58. LSJ refers to the Liddell-Scott-Jones Greek-English Lexicon.]

The adversaries in this case (cf. Philippians 1:15; Philippians 1:17) seem to have been outside the church, but exactly who they were is unknown. [Note: See Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?" Bibliotheca Sacra 155:617 (January-March 1998):39-61.] Probably all external opponents to the work of God are in view.

The failure of the believers’ enemies to intimidate them would be a sign of the final victory of the church. The opponents of the Christians, and even the believers themselves, might not perceive this, but this was true. "Salvation" has the connotation of vindication here (cf. Philippians 1:19).

The antecedent of "that" in the phrase "and that from (or by) God" cannot be "sign" or "salvation (or saved)" both of which are feminine in the Greek text. "That" is neuter and probably refers to the fact that God gives believers courage to stand firm when opposed. This is the main thought in the preceding verse.

Verse 29

All believers have received a gracious gift from God. It is the privilege of suffering for Jesus Christ. The Greek word echaristhe, translated "granted," comes from charis, meaning "grace." Few Christians view suffering for their testimony as a blessing, but that is really what it is. Suffering is one of the tools God uses to mold his children into vessels that bring glory to His Son (cf. James 1:3-4; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Suffering even perfected the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 2:10).

Verse 30

The Philippians were experiencing the same type of suffering that Paul had during his whole ministry. They had witnessed his struggles in Philippi when he had planted the church there and perhaps in his subsequent ministry there. They had also heard of his sufferings in Rome (Philippians 2:26).

"One of the reasons most of us in the West do not know more about the content of Philippians 1:29-30 is that we have so poorly heeded the threefold exhortation that precedes . . ." [Note: Fee, p. 173.]

In calling his readers to unite in steadfastly enduring the antagonism of unbelievers in their area, Paul was not asking them to do something he himself had not done. He was urging them to unite with one another, and with him, and to view suffering for their faith as a privilege that would glorify Jesus Christ. This exhortation is necessary today when we feel tempted to agree with unbelievers rather than taking a firm stand for our Lord.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/philippians-1.html. 2012.
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