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Introduction (Philippians 1:1-11).
SALUTATION (Philippians 1:1-2).
THANKSGIVING for their “fellowship in the gospel,” uttered in perfect confidence and in deep personal affection (Philippians 1:3-8).
PRAYER for their growth in knowledge and judgment, which may guard them from “offence,” and keep them in the things that are excellent (Philippians 1:9-11).]
(1) Paul and Timotheus, (the) servants of Jesus Christ.—To the Philippian, as to the Thessalonian Church (see 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1), St. Paul does not think it needful to assert his apostleship; but writes, in a tone of affectionate and confident familiarity, as to those whom he could thoroughly trust. Here he and Timotheus are simply “servants” (not, as in our version, “the servants” in any position of special eminence) “of Jesus Christ”—a title of humility assumed by St. James and St. Jude (James 1:1; Jude 1:1), but nowhere else by St. Paul without the addition of some title of apostolic authority. (Comp. Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1.) Even in Galatians 1:10 he declares that he is “the servant of Christ,” chiefly to show that he cannot and need not “please men.” It is to be noted also that here, as again (with Silas) in the Thessalonian Epistles, Timotheus is joined with St. Paul almost on a footing of equality whereas in other Epistles (see 2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1), he is separated from the Apostle and distinguished as “Timotheus the brother.” This is probably to be accounted for partly by the absence of all necessity for assertion of his own apostleship, partly also by the fact that (with Silas) Timotheus was St. Paul’s fellow-worker in the conversion of the Macedonian Churches, and accordingly his chosen messenger to them from time to time (Acts 19:22; Acts 20:5).
The saints in Christ Jesus.—The same expression is used in the salutations which commence other Epistles of this period (see Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1): “the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus.”
With the bishops and deacons.—In this passage the word “bishop” is, for the first time, used as a title, although in Acts 20:28 (“over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers”) it is employed as a description of duty, with a distinct reference to its etymological meaning and origin. In the Pastoral Epistles we find it similarly used (as 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). There is now no question—and but for supposed ecclesiastical necessities there never could have been any question—that in Holy Scripture, as also in the First Epistle of an Apostolical Father (St. Clement to the Corinthians, Php. 19), the two titles of “bishop” and “presbyter” are applied to the same persons—the latter, however, being in St. Paul’s Epistles the more frequent and conventional term, while the former seems almost always used with reference to its actual meaning. The two titles are of diverse origin. The “presbyter,” or “elder,” is a Jewish title, so directly descended from the synagogue that the institution of the presbyterate is not, like that of the diaconate, recorded as a historical creation in the Church. The title of “bishop,” or “overseer,” is of heathen origin, used in classical Greek for a commissioner from head-quarters, applied in the LXX. to various secular offices (2 Kings 11:19; 2 Chronicles 24:12-17; Nehemiah 11:9; Nehemiah 11:14; Nehemiah 11:22; Isaiah 60:17). The former is simply a title of dignity, like the many derivations from the Latin senior which have passed into modern language. The latter is a title of official duty. Like the word “pastor” and “apostle,” it belongs properly only to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “Apostle of God” (Hebrews 3:1), and “the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25); but derivatively to His ministers, as having the oversight of His Church. This is directly shown in the application of the title to the Ephesian presbyters (Acts 20:28; see also 1 Peter 5:1-2), and the idea of responsible oversight is brought out clearly in the description of the office of the “bishop “in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. The in-different use of the two names is made absolutely clear in Titus 1:5-7 : “Ordain elders in every city . . . if any be blameless . . . For a bishop must be blameless as a steward of God.” It is only necessary to remark briefly that this identification of the two titles (of which St. Clement’s Epistle is the last example) in no way weakens the significance of the undoubted historical fact of the development of what we call the Episcopate in the early part of the second century, and the overwhelming probability of its origination, under the sanction of St. John, when the representatives of the higher order of the Apostolate passed away.
The name “deacon” is also used for the first time, unless, indeed, as is probable, it is applied officially to Phoebe in Romans 16:1. Although the office of the Seven, in Acts 6:1-7, is undoubtedly the germ of the diaconate, and although the cognate words (“ministration” and “serve”) are used in connection with them (see Philippians 1:1-2), yet the actual title of deacons is nowhere given to them.
This mention of the ministers as distinct from the Church in salutation is unique. It has been conjectured, with great probability, that in the Letter of the Philippian Church, which no doubt accompanied the mission of alms by Epaphroditus, the presbyters and deacons were so distinguished; as in the letter of the Council at Jerusalem, according to the ordinary reading of Acts 15:23 (“the apostles and elders and brethren”). Some ancient authorities held that Epaphroditus was “the apostle” (or what we should call the bishop) of the Church at Philippi, and that he is not named here simply because he was with St. Paul: so that in the Philippian Church the three orders were already represented. (But on this see Philippians 2:25.)
Statement of St. Paul’s condition at Rome (Philippians 1:12-26).
(1) THE RAPID PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL through his bonds, and through the preaching of others, whether in strife or in goodwill (Philippians 1:12-18).
HIS REJOICING THEREAT; his desire to depart and be with Christ, and his confidence, nevertheless, that he will abide in the flesh and see them again (Philippians 1:19-26).]
(12-18) In these verses St. Paul, evidently anxious that the Philippians should not “faint at his tribulations for them” (comp. Ephesians 3:13), points out that his imprisonment tended to further the gospel: first, directly, by the opportunity which it afforded him of preaching, and next, indirectly, by the stimulus which it gave to the preaching of others, whether “of envy and strife” or “of good will.”
(3, 4) I thank my God . . .—These verses more accurately rendered will run thus: I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you at all times, in every prayer of mine for you all, uttering that prayer with joy—i.e., with joyful confidence. The sense, however, is not materially altered. The emphatic earnestness of thanksgiving is seen in the reiteration which runs through the passage, and its absolute universality of scope is no less clearly marked. The closest parallel is again in the Epistles to the Thessalonians (see 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:3), although in every Epistle, except the Epistle to the Galatians, there is an opening of thanksgiving.
(3-8) In these verses St. Paul strikes that keynote of joy and confidence, which is dominant throughout the whole Epistle, and which is singularly remarkable when we remember that it was written in captivity, in enforced absence from the familiar and well-loved scenes of his apostolic labour, and with the knowledge of faction and jealousy, taking advantage of that absence. The words “joy” and “rejoice” occur no less than thirteen times in this short Epistle; they express what his own feeling is, and what he desires that theirs should be.
(5) For your fellowship in the gospel.—More properly, towards the gospel, or, as affecting the gospel. The construction is illustrated by the more limited use of the same Greek word (as in Romans 15:26; 2 Corinthians 9:13) in the sense of “contribution”; in which case the word “towards” introduces the objects of the almsgiving there specified. Accordingly St. Paul must be taken here to mean the fellow-working of the Philippians in the ministry of the gospel, of which he speaks still more distinctly in Philippians 1:7. That fellow-working had been shown (see Philippians 4:15) even “in the beginning of the gospel,” by a contribution to St. Paul’s needs—not perhaps his personal needs only—which from them, and (so far as we know) from them only, he consented to accept.
(6) That he who hath begun (or rather, who began) a good work in you will also (see margin) finish it.—The ground of St. Paul’s confidence in their perseverance is the belief that it was God’s grace which began the good work in them, and that, not being resisted (as was obvious by their enthusiasm for good), He would complete what He had begun. In his view, God’s grace is the beginning and the end; man’s co-operation lies in the intermediate process linking both together. This is made still plainer in Philippians 2:12-13.
The day of Jesus Christ.—So also in Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16, “the day of Christ;” and in 1 Corinthians 1:8, “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ;” in all other Epistles “the day of our Lord” (as in 1 Corinthians 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:2); or, still more commonly, both in Gospels and Epistles, “that day.” As is usual in the Epistles, the day of the Lord is spoken of as if it were near at hand. St. Paul, in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (Philippians 2:2, et seq.), declines to pronounce that it is near; yet does not say that it is far away, and only teaches that there is much to be done, even in the development of Anti-Christian power, before it does come. It is of course clear that, in respect of the confidence here expressed, it makes no difference whether it be near or far away. The reality of the judgment as final and complete is the one point important; “the times and seasons” matter not to us.
(7) It is meet.—Rather, it is but right, or just; it is but your due.
To think this of you all.—Rather, to be in this mind; to have this feeling on behalf of you all. The word here rendered “to think” is used with especial frequency in this Epistle (see Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15; Philippians 3:19; Philippians 4:2; Philippians 4:10), as also in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:5; Romans 11:20; Romans 12:3; Romans 12:16; Romans 14:16; Romans 15:5). It is variously rendered; but it always refers, not to a single definite opinion, but to an habitual conviction or feeling.
I have you in my heart.—This (and not the marginal reading) is to be taken. The original is, grammatically speaking, ambiguous, but both the order and the context are decisive. Compare, for the sense, 2 Corinthians 3:2, “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts.”
Both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.—These words are certainly to be connected, as in our version. St. Paul unites his bonds with “the defence and confirmation of the gospel”—that is, with his pleading for it against objections, and establishment of it by positive teaching—on the ground stated in Philippians 1:12-13, that these, his bonds, had tended “to the furtherance of the gospel.” He accepts the help sent him by the Philippians, in which they had (see Philippians 4:14) “communicated” (in the original the word used is the same as here) “with his affliction,” as a means of fellowship with him in the whole of this work of evangelisation. It is true that in Philippians 1:30 he speaks of the Philippians as having themselves to undergo “the same conflict” as his own; but the expression “in my bonds, &c.,” can hardly be satisfied simply by this kind of fellowship.
Ye all are partakers of my grace.—Here, on the contrary, the marginal reading is preferable. Ye are all partakers with me of the grace—i.e., of the privilege described in Ephesians 3:8. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” See below, Philippians 1:29; “To you it is given”—that is (in the original), “given as a grace”—not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
(8) God is my record.—We have a similar adjuration in Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:5; 1 Thessalonians 2:10. These instances show in what sense St. Paul interpreted such commands as the “swear not at all” of Matthew 5:34.
In the bowels of Jesus Christ.—The use of the word, which we translate (not very happily or correctly) by “bowels,” is common with St. Paul. (See 2 Corinthians 6:12; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Colossians 3:12; Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20.) It corresponds to our use of “heart” as the seat of affection—the word “heart” itself in the New Testament being employed, in a wider sense, to signify the whole inner man. (See Ephesians 1:18 : “the eyes of your heart being enlightened,” and Note there.) But the phrase here is striking and even startling. “I long after you” (says St. Paul) “in the heart of Jesus Christ.” He can say (as in Galatians 2:20), “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Hence the deep yearning of love which he feels for them he knows to be an emanation, faint indeed, but true, from the “heart of Jesus Christ” dwelling in him.
(9) That your love may abound more and more in knowledge.—The original verb here signifies to “overflow,” a sense which our word “abound” properly has, but has in general usage partially lost; and St. Paul’s meaning clearly is that love shall not only primarily fill the heart, but “overflow” in secondary influence on the spiritual understanding. (1) The “knowledge” here spoken of is the knowledge gradually rising to perfection, so constantly alluded to in these Epistles. (See Ephesians 1:17, and Note there.) Since it is clearly a personal knowledge of God in Christ, it may be gained, under His inspiration, by one of many processes, by thought, by practice, by love, by devotion, or, perhaps more properly, by some or all of these combined. Here St. Paul singles out the way of love—the enthusiasm of love to God and man which he knew that the Philippians had—and prays that it may overflow from the emotional to the intellectual element of their nature, and become, as we constantly see that it does become in simple and loving characters, a means of spiritual insight, in “knowledge and all judgment,” or rather, all perception. (2) The word “perception” properly applies to the senses, and seems here to signify the insight which recognises a truth as the eye recognises an object. In the same sense (Hebrews 5:14) Holy Scripture speaks of those who “by use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” In fact, the “perception” here spoken of differs from knowledge in dealing not with general principles, but with concrete examples and questions. (3) Accordingly he connects with it, as a direct consequence, the power of “approving” or “testing” the things that are excellent. Now the word here translated “excellent” carries with it the idea of distinctive and relative excellence, conspicuous amidst what is either evil or defective. To “test” is obviously first to distinguish what is the best, and then by trial to prove its absolute goodness. Clearly the process may be applied either speculatively to truths or practically to duties. In Romans 2:18, where exactly the same phrase is used, the latter application is made.
(9, 10) If we study carefully the opening thanksgivings and prayers of St. Paul’s Epistles, we may note that he always thanks God for what is strong in the Church to which he writes, and prays God for the supply of that in which it is weak. Here he thanks God for the characteristic enthusiasm and large-heartedness of the Philippians; he prays for their advance in knowledge, perception, judgment—the more intellectual and thoughtful side of the Christian character—in which they, and perhaps the Macedonian Churches generally, were less conspicuous. In the opposite case of the Corinthian Church (see 1 Corinthians 1:4-10), he thanks God for their richness in all utterance and all knowledge, but he bids them “wait” for Him who shall “establish them as blameless,” and exhorts them to unity and humility.
(9-11) In this sentence, the original shows that there is not the three-fold parallelism which our version would suggest. St. Paul’s immediate prayer is that “their love may abound in knowledge and all judgment.” To this is subjoined, as an immediate consequence, “the proving the things that are excellent.” The final result of the knowledge and judgment so applied, is “that they may be sincere and without offence.”
(10) That ye may be sincere and without offence.—This St. Paul contemplates as the result of thoughtful and discriminating judgment. The word “sincere” (used only here and in 2 Peter 1:3), and the corresponding substantive, “sincerity” (1 Corinthians 5:8; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Corinthians 2:17), although there is some uncertainty as to their derivation, undoubtedly signify purity tested and found clear of all base admixtures. The word “without offence” is used in Acts 24:16 (“a conscience void of offence”) for that which is free from the stumbling of error; and in 1 Corinthians 10:32 (“giving none offence”) for that at which none will stumble. The latter sense (nearly equivalent to the “unreprovable” of Colossians 1:22) better suits this passage. For “sincere” describes the positive aspect of purity; “without offence” the more negative aspect, in which it is found to present no excuse for fault-finding or scandal. It is, therefore, the “sincerity,” not of unconscious innocence, but of well-tried and thoughtful purity, proof even against suspicion, which St. Paul describes as the perfect fruit of love “overflowing in knowledge.”
(11) The fruits of righteousness is an Old Testament phrase (see Proverbs 11:30; Amos 6:12), used also in James 3:18; Hebrews 12:11. It may mean (as in these last two passages) “righteousness as a result,” or (in the common sense of “fruit”) the “result of righteousness.” As the participle is properly “having been filled,” thus referring, not to the future day of Christ, but to the whole time which that day shall complete, the former sense seems preferable. The righteousness which is “through Jesus Christ,” “not” (as St. Paul says below, Philippians 3:9) “our own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God,” is clearly the likeness of Christ, and therefore in itself an all-sufficient fruit. Filled with it, we are (see Ephesians 3:19) “filled with all the fulness of God.”
Unto the glory and praise of God.—(Comp Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14.) In accordance with our Lord’s own teaching: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (See also 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
(12) The things which happened unto me—viz., since he parted from them (see Acts 20:6)—his arrest at Jerusalem, and the long captivity of years, first at Cæsarea, then at Rome. Nothing could have appeared to be a more fatal blow to the progress of the gospel; but St. Paul assures them that “rather” (i.e., on the contrary) all these things tended to its furtherance. He had intended to see Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:23-24), since his work in Greece and Asia was now over. He did visit it, although in chains; and his acquaintance with the Roman soldiers at Cæsarea probably prepared for him an opening at Rome, which he could not otherwise have found, even into Cæsar’s household.
(13) My bonds in Christ are manifest.—Properly, My bonds are made manifest as in Christ—i.e., my captivity is understood as being a part of my Christian life and work, and so becomes a starting-point for the preaching of the gospel. So St. Paul made it to the Jews (Acts 28:20), “For the hope of Israel am I bound in this chain.” (Comp. Ephesians 6:20, “I am an ambassador in bonds.”)
In all the palace, and in all other places.—The word “palace” is prætorium. It is elsewhere used in the New Testament: first, of the palace of Pilate; in Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16, apparently, of the soldiers’ guardroom, or barrack; in John 18:28; John 18:33; John 19:9, of “the hall of judgment;” and next in Acts 23:35, of the “judgment hall of Herod,” evidently forming a part of the palace of Felix. (It may be noted that coincidence with this last passage is the chief, and almost the sole, argument for the untenable idea that this Epistle belongs to the Cæsarean and not the Roman captivity.) Its sense here has been disputed. It has been variously interpreted as the emperor’s palace, or the praetorian barrack attached to it, or the prætorian camp outside the walls. Its original meaning of “the head-quarters of a general” would lend itself well enough to any of these, as a derivative sense. The first or the second sense (which is virtually the same) is the interpretation of all ancient commentators, and suits best with the mention of “Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, but not very well with the historical statement in Acts 28:16-30, that St. Paul dwelt “in his own hired house,” “with a soldier that kept him.” The other sense suits better with this last statement, and also with the delivery of the prisoner “to the captain of the guard,” i.e., literally, the commander of the camp, or prætorian prefect, and perhaps with abstract probability in the case of an obscure Jewish prisoner. But the difficulty is that, although the word might be applied to any of these places, yet, as a matter of fact, it is not found to be so applied. Moreover, we notice here that the words “in all other places” are an inaccurate rendering of a phrase really meaning “to all the rest” (see marginal reading). The connection therefore seems even in itself to suggest that the “prætorium” may more properly refer to a body of men than to a place. Accordingly (following Dr. Lightfoot), since the word “prætorium” is undoubtedly used for the “prætorian guard,” it seems best to take that sense here. “My bonds” (says the Apostle) “are known in all the prætorian regiments”—for the soldiers, no doubt, guarded him by turns—“and to all the rest of the world, whether of soldiers or of citizens.” This would leave it an open question where St. Paul was imprisoned, only telling us that it was under praetorian surveillance;
(14) And many (properly, the greater number) of the brethren in the Lord.—The words “in the Lord” should be connected with “trusting,” as in Philippians 2:24; Galatians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 3:4. As connected with the word “brethren,” they are unmeaning; whereas St. Paul constantly uses them (especially in these Epistles), generally with a verb or verbal adjective, and always to convey some distinct idea. That the words “in my bonds” follow constitutes no difficulty. “In the Lord” expresses the ground of confidence; “in my bonds” simply the occasion and circumstances.
Waxing confident by my bonds.—There is a two-fold sense here, corresponding to the two-fold division of preachers made below. Those who preached Christ “of contention” trusted in St. Paul’s captivity as giving them scope; those who preached “of good will” found in it a striking example of evil overruled to good, and so gained from it fresh encouragement.
(15) Of envy and strife.—Explained below as of “contention,” or, more properly (as in Philippians 2:3, and in Romans 2:8; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20), of factiousness, or “party spirit.” It seems impossible to doubt that this refers to the Judaising party, St. Paul’s old antagonists. The whole tenor of the Epistle to the Romans shows how strong a Judaic element there was in Roman Christianity. Even in approaching Rome, we may gather from Acts 28:15, that the Apostle had felt doubtful of his reception there by the Church. His formal renunciation of the obstinate Jews, and proclamation that the Gentiles would hear what they had rejected, might excite against him not only the unbelieving Jews, but the Jewish and still more the Judaising Christians. The party “of Cephas” and the party “of Paul” might be placed in strong antagonism more easily than even at Corinth.
(16) Not sincerely.—This version conveys an incorrect impression. The original is “not purely,” i.e., not with unmixed and single-minded enthusiasm for Christ. St. Paul does not impute to them hypocrisy, but an admixture of partisanship, and therefore of a narrow-minded hostility to him.
To add affliction.—The true reading, to stir up affliction, or oppressive severity (properly, pressure, or galling), perhaps suggests as most probable the meaning (adopted by Chrysostom here) of “stirring” the minds of St. Paul’s jailors to an increased severity, which might prevent his preaching to all “without hindrance.” The uneasiness of the Government in relation to the Jewish population at Rome is well known. The growth of a secret society (for such Christianity was held to be) among them might easily induce greater severity towards a leader of the sect. (Compare Philippians 1:19-20, in which St. Paul states his confidence that this malignant policy would be disappointed.)
(18) The contrast of this verse with such passages as 2 Corinthians 12:4—where the Judaisers at Corinth are said to preach “another Jesus and a different gospel;” with Galatians 1:6—where their gospel is declared to be “a different gospel,” and not merely a variety of the same (see Note there); and even with the emphatic warning as to Philippi, in Philippians 3:2-16, is singularly instructive. St. Paul, in the words “in pretence” and “in truth,” is speaking of the motives of the preachers, not of the substance of their preaching. For the latter he cares much; for the former nothing. When (as at Corinth) the rejection of his personal authority was bound up with rejection of his apostolic doctrine, he rebukes it vehemently; when (as here) there was no such connection, it is to him a very small thing. But we may also gather from this that, whatever might be the case at Philippi, at Rome St. Paul’s Epistle had done its work, and the battle of principle was won; even at Colossæ it had wholly changed its character (see Colossians 2:16-23), and its old phases had passed away. The differences between the parties at Rome were no longer fundamental, although, as so often is the case, the bitterness of division might remain. “Every way Christ was preached,” and accepted as justifying through faith. This being so, St. Paul could rejoice. Even an imperfect Christianity, with something of narrowness, and perhaps of superstitious formalism, cleaving to it, was as different from the gross heathenism which it superseded, as light from darkness.
Yea, and will rejoice.—Properly, I shall rejoice to the end. The words lead on to the next verse, which gives the reason of this persistent rejoicing.
(19) Shall turn to my salvation.—Or, literally, shall issue in salvation to me. The word “salvation” does not appear to be used here in its ordinary sense, that is, of primary or ultimate salvation from sin in Christ, but in the sense of “safety.” The enemies of the Apostle thought to stir up fresh danger and difficulty for St. Paul; but the attempt (he says) will only turn out to his safety—a safety which he believes (see Philippians 1:25-26) will be shown “in life,” by his actual release and return to his beloved churches, but which, if God so wills it, will be at least equally manifested in the “death,” which would bring him safe home to Christ. In either case he will be safe from all the enmity both of open sin and of malignant jealousy.
Through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit.—This overruling of all enmity to his safety he hopes for through the intercession of the Philippian Church (comp. Philemon 1:23), and the fresh supply of grace which, through such intercession, may be given to him. For the word “supply” in this sense see Ephesians 4:15; and comp. Galatians 3:5; Colossians 2:19.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ.—Of the application of this name to the Holy Ghost we have instances in Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 4:6; 1 Peter 1:11. Of these the first is the most notable, since in two clauses of the same sentence we have first “the Spirit of God,” and then “the Spirit of Christ.” He who is “sent by the Father in the name of the Son” (John 14:26), and whose regeneration of the soul is the working out the image of Christ in it, may well be called “the Spirit of Christ.” But the name has always some specialty of emphasis. Thus here, the whole conception of the passage is of Christ—“to me to live is Christ;” hence the use of this special and comparatively rare name of the Holy Ghost.
(19-24) In these verses, under the power of that feeling of joy of which he speaks above, St. Paul unveils to the Philippians his most sacred aspirations and convictions, and the division of feeling in his own soul between longing for rest and consciousness of work yet to be done. There is a still fuller disclosure of a similar “spiritual experience” in 2 Corinthians 4:8; 2 Corinthians 5:15. It is rare in the apostolic writings. St. Paul seems, in 2 Corinthians 6:11, almost to apologise for disclosing what is usually kept, in delicacy and reverence, for God alone.
(20) My earnest expectation.—The word is only found here and in Romans 8:19 (where see Note). It implies an intense and almost painful longing for some crisis, a dulness of suspense lighted up with hope. The phrase is one of the many indications that the joyful and confident tone so often noticed in this Epistle came not from the absence of yearning for the freedom and activity of apostolic life, but from the victory over such longings through faith. Whatever the crisis might be, St. Paul looked eagerly for it.
In nothing I shall be ashamed.—The phrase is elsewhere used by St. Paul with especial reference to the shame which comes from hopes disappointed and professions unfulfilled. (See 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Corinthians 9:4; 2 Corinthians 10:8. Compare also the quotation from Isaiah 28:16 in Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:6.) For (he says) “hope (fulfilled) maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). So probably here; he trusts that in the hour of trial the confidence which he has felt and professed of being “able to do all things through Christ who strengthenth him” (see Philippians 4:13) may not come to shameful failure, but may “magnify Christ in all boldness of speech.” There is a subtle touch of true Christian feeling in the fact that, when he speaks of the chance of failure, he uses the first person: “I shall be ashamed;” but when of triumph, it is “Christ shall be magnified” in me. If he fails, it must be through his own fault; if he triumphs, it will be through his Master’s strength.
In my body, whether it be by life, or by death.—“In my body:” The phrase is, no doubt, suggested mainly by the idea of death—the death of a martyr in bodily torture or shame. There is the same connection of idea in 2 Corinthians 4:10 : “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our body.” But while the word “flesh” is used in the New Testament in a bad sense, the “body” is always regarded as that in which we may “glorify God” (1 Corinthians 6:20) by word and deed. It is not merely a vesture of the soul, but a part of the true man (1 Thessalonians 5:23), having membership of Christ, and being the temple of the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 6:15-19). In this passage the whole idea is of Christ in him; hence his body is spoken of as simply the tabernacle of the indwelling presence of Christ, and devoted only to “magnify” Him.
(21) To live is Christ.—This, of course, means “Christ is my life,” yet not in the sense that He is the source and principle of life in us, but that the whole concrete state of life is so lived in Him that it becomes a simple manifestation of His presence. The opposition in the passage is between the states of living and dying (or being dead), not between the principles of life and death. It is, therefore, in some sense distinct from the cognate passages—Colossians 3:3-4, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. . . . Christ is our life;” and Galatians 2:20, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Those passages set forth the cause; this the result. If Christ be the principle of life in us, then whatever we think and say and do, exhibiting visibly that inner life, must be the manifestation of Christ.
To die is gain.—This follows from the other. Death is a new stage in the progress of union with Christ. So we read in 2 Corinthians 5:6-7, “Knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord . . . we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” “To depart” (see Philippians 1:23) is, in a higher sense than can be realised here, “to be with Christ.”
(22) But if I live in the flesh . . .—The translation of this verse in the Authorised version is inaccurate, and perhaps a gloss to soften the difficulty of the original. The exact translation is, But if to live in the flesh this is to me a fruit of work, and what (or, what also) I shall choose I know not. The construction is clearly broken by emotion or absorption in thought; it can only be supplied by conjecture. If (as in 2 Corinthians 2:2) the word “and,” or “also,” can be used to introduce the principal clause (“what then I shall choose,” &c.), the construction will be correct, though harsh. If otherwise, we must suppose either that the sentence is broken at the word “work,” or that the whole should run, But what if to live in the flesh is a part of work? And what I shall choose, I know not, &c. But though the construction is obscure, the sense is plain. St. Paul had said, “to die is gain.” But the thought crosses him that to live still in the flesh, this and this only is (i.e., carries with it) a fruit of apostolical labour, in souls brought to Christ or built up in Him. Accordingly what to choose he knows not. For in such a harvest there is a gain, which outweighs his own personal gain on the other side.
I am in a strait betwixt (the) two.—The word here used signifies “to be hemmed in,” or “confined,” and is generally associated with some idea of distress (as in Luke 8:45; Luke 19:43), not unfrequently with the pressure of disease (Matthew 4:24; Luke 4:38; Acts 28:8). Our Lord uses it of mental distress in Himself (Luke 12:50): “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Here the sense is clear. St. Paul’s mind is “hemmed in” between two opposing considerations, till it knows not which way to move, even in desire.
(23) Having a desire . . .—Properly, having my own desire for departure. The verb “depart” corresponds exactly to the substantive used in 2 Timothy 4:6, “The time of my departure is at hand.” It is itself used only here and in Luke 12:36, “When he shall return (break up) from the wedding.” The metaphor is drawn either from “loosing” from the shore of life, or (perhaps better) from striking tents and breaking up a camp. The body (as in 2 Corinthians 5:1) is looked upon as a mere tabernacle. Each day is a march nearer home, and death is the last striking of the tent on arrival.
To be with Christ.—This is contemplated by St. Paul as the immediate consequence of death, even while still “out of the body,” and before the great day. The state of the faithful departed is usually spoken of as one of “rest” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16; Revelation 14:13), although not without expectation and longing for the consummation of all things (Revelation 6:10-11). Such a condition of rest, and suspension of conscious exercise of spiritual energy, is, indeed, that which human reason and analogy would suggest, so far as they can suggest anything on this mysterious subject. But such passages as this seem certainly to imply that this rest is emphatically a “rest in the Lord,” having an inner consciousness of communion with Christ. His “descent unto Hades,” not only brings out the reality of the unseen world of souls, but also claims it as His. As on earth and in heaven, so also in the intermediate state, we are “ever with the Lord;” and that state, though not yet made perfect, is spiritually far higher than this earthly life. The original here is an emphatic double comparative, “far, far better.”
(25) I know.—The word is not to be pressed too far. It is simply, “I feel certain;” and it is obvious to remark that in Acts 20:25 it is used by St. Paul of a conviction (that he would “see the face” of the Ephesians “no more”) which, so far as we can follow out the history, was not verified. The apostolic inspiration, like the apostolic power of miracle, was a gift relative to the apostolic work, not necessarily extending beyond it.
Abide and continue with you.—The latter verb is in the original a compound of the former, “I shall abide,” and “shall abide side by side with you.” It was for their sakes that it was needful for him to live. Hence to the simple idea “I shall abide,” it was natural to add at once the phrase “with you,” or “for you,” as explaining the very object of his abiding in the flesh.
For your furtherance and joy of faith.—In these words St. Paul’s presence with them is spoken of, first, as in some degree necessary for their spiritual advance; next, as being to them a gift of God for their joy and comfort, even beyond what was actually necessary. (See the next verse.)
(26) That your rejoicing may be more abundant.—The word translated “rejoicing” is that favourite word of St. Paul, which signifies a ground of “boasting,” or exultation. It is used both of blessing beyond strict necessity, and of service beyond legal duty; in both of which there is ground for joy and thankfulness. This is, perhaps, best seen in 1 Corinthians 9:15-18, where he declares that the simple preaching of the gospel is “nothing to boast of,” but that the preaching it without cost is “the boasting,” of which he says that he would “rather die than that any man should make it void.” (Comp. also the use of the same word in Philippians 2:16, and in Romans 4:2; 1 Corinthians 5:6; 2 Corinthians 1:14; 2 Corinthians 5:12; 2 Corinthians 9:3.) Here, therefore, St. Paul speaks of them as having in him, and in their connection with him, a cause of boasting, or rejoicing, just as in 2 Corinthians 1:14 (“We are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours”), and declares that this will become “more abundant” by his coming to them again.
In Jesus Christ for me.—The original runs, “in Christ Jesus in me.” The parallelism is instructive: all Christian rejoicing, or confidence, is primarily “in Christ Jesus,” even if it be secondarily “in” His servants. The suggestion of this idea here softens the apparent self-consciousness of the previous words. Comp., in 2 Corinthians 11:12, his declaration of reluctance and distaste for the “boasting” of his apostolic authority and work, which was forced upon him.
By my coming to you again.—See in 1 Timothy 1:3 the evidence of the fulfilment of this confident expectation.
(27) Let your conversation . . .—The original is here (as in the famous passage, Philippians 3:20), Use your citizenship (that is, of the kingdom of heaven) worthily of the gospel of Christ. The same word is employed by St. Paul in Acts 23:1 (“I have walked in all good conscience before God”), with an obvious reference to his citizenship in the chosen nation of Israel. Its use in this Epistle is suggestive—both as natural to one contemplating the great imperial city, and writing to the people of a Roman colony proud of their full citizenship, and also as leading on to that great conception of the unity of the Church in earth and in heaven, which is the main subject of the Ephesian, and in some degree of the Colossian, Epistle.
In one spirit, with one mind.—Rather, in one spirit, one soul. The phrase “in one spirit” may refer to the spirit of man, or to the Spirit of God. If it be intended to be strictly parallel to the “one soul” (which has no separate preposition in the Greek), the former sense is manifestly suggested. If, however, the words “with one soul” be connected, as is not unnatural, with “striving together,” this suggestion falls to the ground; and the usage of this Epistle (see especially Philippians 2:1-7), and the other Epistles of the same period (Ephesians 2:18-22; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 5:18; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:8), certainly favours the latter interpretation. In either case “the soul” (as in the famous three-fold division of men’s nature in 1 Thessalonians 5:23) is that element of humanity which is the seat of emotion and passion. (Comp. the “one heart and one soul” of Acts 4:32.) This element the Christianity of the New Testament, unlike Stoicism or asceticism, will not crush, but enlist, as it enlists the body also, in the free service of God.
Striving together for the faith.—Properly, with the faith. The faith of the gospel—the power of Christianity—is personified. The Philippians are to be combatants on the same side against the same foes (compare the use of the same word in Philippians 4:3). The metaphor seems drawn from the games, as is seen by the use of the simple verb in 2 Timothy 2:8, “If a man strive . . . he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” In the exhortation to stand fast (comp. Ephesians 6:13-14) we have the element of passive endurance, here of active and aggressive energy.
Exhortation (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4).
To STEADFASTNESS AND CONFIDENCE UNDER PERSECUTION (Philippians 1:27-30).
To UNITY OF SPIRIT, based on humility and self-forgetfulness (Philippians 2:1-4).]
Exhortation (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4).
To STEADFASTNESS AND CONFIDENCE UNDER PERSECUTION (Philippians 1:27-30).
To UNITY OF SPIRIT, based on humility and self-forgetfulness (Philippians 2:1-4).]
(28) Terrified.—The original word is strong—starting, or flinching, like a scared animal.
Which (that is, your fearlessness) is . . .—This fearlessness, in the absence of all earthly means of protection or victory, is a sign of a divine “strength made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 13:9)—not a complete and infallible sign (for it has often accompanied mere fanatic delusion), but a sign real as far as it goes, having its right force in harmony with others. The effect which it had on the heathen themselves is shown even by the affected contempt with which the Stoics spoke of it, as a kind of “madness,” a morbid “habit,” a sheer “obstinacy.” (See Epictetus, iv. 7; Marc. Aurelius, Med. xi. 3.)
And that of God.—These words apply to the word “token,” and so derivatively both to “perdition” and “salvation.” The sign is of God, because the gift of spiritual strength is of God, but it may be read by both sides. Like the pillar of God’s presence, it is “a cloud and darkness” to the one, but “light by night” to the other.
(29) For (or, because) unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ.—The force lies, first, in the phrase “it is given” (rather, it was given, from the beginning)—for the original signifies “it was granted as a privilege” or “favour” (as in Acts 27:24; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Galatians 3:18)—and next in the words “on behalf of Christ.” The fearlessness of the Christian is a gift of God, not an inherent stoic self-sufficiency. It rests indeed upon the sense that it is a privilege to suffer (see Acts 5:41) in the cause of truth, yet still more on the belief that such suffering is for no abstract principle, but on behalf of Christ and with Christ. (See Philippians 2:17-18.)
Not only to believe . . .—The original shows that St. Paul speaks as if he originally intended simply to say “it is given on behalf of Christ to suffer.” But to show whence the impulse of that brave willingness to suffer proceeds, he inserts “not only to believe on Him,” and then finishes the sentence, “but on His behalf to suffer.”
(30) Having the same conflict, which ye saw in me.—The allusion is, of course, to the lawless scourging and imprisonment of Acts 16:22-24. How deeply this outrage impressed itself on the Apostle’s own mind we see, both by his conduct to the magistrates at the moment, and also by the allusion in 1 Thessalonians 2:2, to the time, when “we had suffered before and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi.” Here he uses the remembrance to suggest to the Philippians that their struggle was only the same which he had borne, and borne successfully. Similarly in 2 Timothy 3:10 (going back on the eve of death to the very beginning of his ministry to the Gentiles) he reminds Timothy of the persecutions “at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured, but out of them all the Lord delivered me.”
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent