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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Philippians 1

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-2

Paul, the Author of Philippians

Paul wrote the Philippian letter from Rome during his first imprisonment. Timothy was with him at the time, so he was mentioned by Paul. The apostle probably used Timothy's name here because he was with him when the church at Philippi was started. He described both of them as servants of Christ, or we might say in bondage to Christ. It is important to realize all who have reached an age of knowing right from wrong are slaves ( Rom_6:16-18 ). All Christians are like slaves who have been purchased by the Lord, our master ( 1Co_6:19-20 ).

Concerning the writing of this letter, Lipscomb says: This epistle was written by Paul while in "bonds" in the Praetorium (1:7-13.) He sends greetings from Caesar's household (4:21); he expresses expectation of some crises in his imprisonment (1:20-26); and confident hope of visiting Philippi (1:26; 2:24.) All those indications place it in the first imprisonment of Paul in Rome which we know to have lasted "two whole years" ( Act_28:30 ), which certainly began in the year A.D. 61. Therefore, its date must be somewhere towards the end of the imprisonment, in the year of A.D. 63.

To the Saints In Philippi

Paul wrote to the saints, who would not be just those who were especially holy or had died in the Lord. Instead, it would include all those who were separated from sin and dedicated to God's service ( 1Co_6:9-11 ). Every Christian would be included in this designation ( 2Th_1:10 ).

The letter is also addressed to the bishops and deacons. It was Paul's practice, at the end of the first missionary journey, to ordain elders in every church ( Act_14:23 ). These men were the overseers, or bishops, of the church and were to watch for the safety of the members' souls ( Act_20:17 ; Act_20:28-32 ; Tit_1:5-14 ; Heb_13:7 ; Heb_13:17 ; 1Pe_5:1-4 ).

All Christians are deacons, or servants, but here the word is used more specifically for the office of deacon ( 1Ti_3:8-13 ). Their job appears to have been to attend to physical needs of the brethren and routine requirements. In doing this, they freed the elders for the more important tasks of prayer and study. Thereby they could more readily keep themselves and the flock safe (compare Act_6:1-7 ).

Verses 3-5

Thankful Joy for Philippi

Paul was beaten at Philippi and thrown in prison, yet he thanked God for the Christians there ( Php_1:3 ). He always remembered them in prayer. We need to remember the power of prayer ( Jam_5:16-18 ). We can do nothing greater for a friend than to remember them as we approach God's throne. After all, the one who gave his life for us stands ready to mediate between us and God ( 1Ti_2:5-6 ). Though we may not know how or what to ask, the Holy Spirit stands ready to put our desires into words ( Rom_8:26 .)

Paul's prayers in behalf of the Philippian brethren were expressed with joy because of their "fellowship" with him in the gospel ( Php_1:4-5 ). The word fellowship carries with it the idea of a partnership or joint participation. All Christians have an obligation to preach the gospel ( Mat_28:18-20 ; Mar_16:15-16 ). Those at Philippi partook in Paul's proclamation by praying for him and sending financial support ( Php_4:16 ). Such support for preaching and preachers actually began with Lydia, the first convert in the city ( Act_16:14-15 ). She compelled Paul's company to come into her house.

Verses 6-7

Confidence Placed in the Lord

A man with a broken watch might take it to the repairman. The repairman, after examining it might say he could not fix it. The only alternative would then be to send it back to the maker. Similarly, we must turn to the Maker if we would see the church grow ( Eph_3:20-21 ). God, through Paul, had begun the church at Philippi. He had served as an earthen vessel to carry the precious gospel message to the lost of that city ( 2Co_4:7 ).

Paul was confident God would also bring the work begun at Philippi to a good end ( Php_2:13 ). He knew all in the church were a part of God's great workmanship. Every Christian's purpose was, and is, to do the good works for which he was created as a new creature ( Eph_2:10 ). Paul's confidence that God would finish the good work started in Philippi was based on two things. First, there was the depth of his own love for them which led him to do all he could to help them. Then, there was the partnership he had with them in the preaching of God's word ( Php_1:6-7 ).

Verses 9-11

Paul's Prayer for the Philippian Church

Paul prayed for the Philippians. He first called God as a witness to his love for them, which was like Christ's love (Compare 1Co_11:1 ). He then prayed that their love might abound. This word "love" comes from the Greek word agape ( Mat_5:43-48 ). It is a love which desires the best for others ( Rom_15:2 ; Rom_13:8-10 ; Gal_6:10 ). Paul wanted that love to continue to abound. Max Hughes wrote a study guide on this book in which he suggested the word "abound" actually "signifies running over, wave upon wave".

Paul did not want their love to be misdirected, so he further prayed their love would grow in knowledge of God's will. Their knowledge needed to develop so they could understand the difference between right and wrong ( Php_1:8-9 ). All Christians should grow in knowledge so that they can teach others. The Hebrew writer was concerned because those brethren had not grown into teaching. They were still like babies feeding on the milk of the word. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" ( Heb_5:12-14 ).

Paul also prayed the brethren at Philippi would follow only those things that would keep them in a right relationship to God. His hope was that they would applaud, or encourage, righteous conduct ( 1Th_5:21 ). He wanted them to be without any offense which might prevent them from entering heaven. Thus, he prayed they would be fruitful through Jesus ( Php_1:10-11 ; Gal_5:22-25 ).


Opportunities Found In Imprisonment

Some might have thought imprisonment would have stopped Paul's work. However, Paul says God used the circumstances to present more opportunites to preach. Paul, in chains, found doors opened, which should encourage us to look for open doors in times of trouble ( Php_1:12 ). As Paul wrote to the Roman brethren, "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (8:28). Good can come even from the imprisonment of one of God's great preachers.

Knowledge of Paul's imprisonment was widespread and gave people cause to question as to why. Such questions gave Paul numerous chances to tell about Christ. They could bind the minister, but not his message. As he told Timothy, "Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained ( 2Ti_2:8-9 ). Paul, in chains, was able to tell Caesar's elite that he was in bonds for Christ ( Php_1:13 ).

Paul's bondage was also used by God to embolden some brethren. His willingness to die for the preaching of Jesus stood as a great example for those around him who may have formerly been fearful ( Php_1:14 ). Paul's words to the Ephesian elders may very well have given them more courage to carry out God's work. He told them he did not know what would happen in Jerusalem, except that the Holy Spirit had revealed he would be put in chains and suffer through tribulations. Then, he said, "But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" ( Act_20:22-24 ; compare 21:13.)

Verses 15-17

Motives for Preaching

Evidently some were jealous of Paul's success as a preacher. They promoted a party spirit by encouraging others to follow them ( Php_1:15 ). Obviously, preachers who know God's purpose will seek to unite all Christians under the Lordship of Jesus with no emphasis on personal followings ( 1Co_1:10-13 ). In verse 16, the word translated "selfish ambition" actually suggests they were campaigning like politicians for support. These men had the right message but he wrong motive. In 1Co_16:14 , Paul said, "Let all that you do be done with love." Certainly, the party spirit omitted that important element.

Others preached Christ with good will for Paul and a love for the truth. They apparently saw Paul's determination to defend the gospel and were provoked to a greater love of the truth ( Php_1:17 ). We need to have the right message and the right motive. Rather than being like children who believe whatever message they last heard, we need to speak "the truth in love," so that we might "grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" ( Eph_4:15 ). Paul's words in 1Co_13:1-3 remind us that great works are made worthless when love is missing.

Verse 18

Rejoicing in the Preaching of Christ

While some preached Christ hoping to gain a personal following, Paul was still thankful Christ was being preached ( Php_1:18 ). This lets us know they were not false teachers; but preached strictly out of a wrong motive. Notice, Paul was able to rejoice even though they were politicking against him.

Remember, when Paul was blind, he waited in a house on a Straight street for someone to come give him his sight and tell him what he must do. Jesus told Ananias to "Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel" ( Act_9:15 ). That goal dominated the rest of his life. It did not matter to him how it was accomplished. He did not worry about men getting the credit because he knew God was the source of any fruit which was born ( 1Co_3:5-7 ).

Verse 19

Confidence In God's Power to Deliver

Even though he was in prison, Paul was confident God would deliver him ( Php_1:19 ). He may have meant he was confident God would set him free from prison. However, verse 20 makes that doubtful. More likely, he is expressing his confidence that God would work it all out for good. He might be delivered from prison to preach freely again, or he might be delivered from this life and get to be with Christ.

Paul's confidence was based, in part, on the prayers of the saints in his behalf. As the apostle told the brethren in Corinth, he had to learn not to trust in himself but "in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many" ( 2Co_1:9-11 ).

His confidence also rested in the "supply" or help of the Spirit. The idea behind the word "supply" is that of a help which undergirds and strengthens. During his second imprisonment, when he had less hope of being released, Paul told Timothy, "And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen" ( 2Ti_4:18 )! Such thinking would surely support one through the most difficult of times.

Verses 20-21

Paul's Eager Longing

Vine says the word translated "earnest expectation" means "primarily a watching with outstretched head....signifies strained expectancy, eager longing, the stretching forth of the head indicating an expectation of something from a certain place". Paul did not look forward to failure, but to success in showing Christ more clearly to others. He might do that either through his life or death ( Php_1:20 ).

He lived only to show forth the Savior. Paul could count death as gain because it would bring a long awaited reward of rest. In fact, in one letter he wrote, "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." He explained further that such knowledge made him "groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee" ( 2Co_5:1-8 ; 2Ti_4:6-8 ; Rev_14:13 ).

One has to know how to live to be able to die with the same assurance Paul expressed ( Php_1:21 ). He told the Galatian brethren, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" ( Gal_2:20 ).

Verses 22-26

A Difficult Choice

If the choice of life or death were left to him, the apostle did not know what to choose. As he saw it, continued life offered him further opportunities for service and fruit bearing ( Php_1:22 ). In fact, each day of a Christian's life should be given in service to God. Such will magnify the Lord and bring forth fruit ( Joh_15:1-8 ).

Paul saw the choice as a difficult one. It was like going through a very narrow mountain pass. The choice was a hard one since it was between good and better. He would prefer, for his own sake, to "depart" or strike camp, and be with his Lord. The word "depart" describes a loosing of the mooring ropes or taking the harness off a weary horse at the end of the day ( Php_1:23 ).

Yet, there was still much good he could do for the brethren. His continued support and instruction would help them to face the adversary. So, for their sakes, the continuation of his life might have been best. He trusted God would work it out for the best. If he continued to live, Paul would work to help them develop spiritually and increase their happiness in the faith. He was certain such work to increase their faith would cause their rejoicing, or better glorying, in the Lord to increase ( Php_1:24-26 ).

Verse 27

Living Worthy of the Gospel

Paul wanted the Philippian brethren to behave in a manner worthy of their citizenship in the kingdom of Christ. He told Timothy to "be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" ( 1Ti_4:12 ). Titus received his instructions to "speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine." Those things included the older men being "sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience." Also, sound doctrine required the older women to "be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things." Especially they were to instruct younger Christian women in the art of loving their husbands and properly caring for their children "that the word of God may not be blasphemed" ( Tit_2:1-5 ).

He wanted their conduct to be a good example of Christian living whether he was with them or not. The Christian's life should be guided by the word and not affected by the messenger's presence or absence ( Joh_17:17 ). The apostle wanted them to be united in their efforts and inner feelings about the gospel's advancement. "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" ( 1Co_1:10 ). Unity is a ready means of showing others the church is from God ( Joh_17:20-21 ).

Paul also wanted them to stand fast like soldiers holding a firm line against the enemies' attacks. This could be done because of the assurance that our labors in accord with the Lord's will have a good reward ( 1Co_15:58 ; 1Co_16:13 ; Eph_6:10-18 ). He further asked them to fight side by side in defense of the truth. The words "striving together" describe the teamwork so necessary to win an athletic contest ( Php_1:27 ).

Verse 28

Stand Fast Without Terror

Paul did not want the brethren at Philippi to appear to be "terrified." Shepherd says the word "terrified carries the suggestions of the action of a horse in a race, which becomes scared and springs aside and runs off wildly." People who behaved in that fashion would be discouraged and ready to quit at the least sign of opposition. There is no doubt Christians will face opposition. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" ( 2Ti_3:12 ). But, we need not fear because none of our enemies have the power to overthrow the kingdom or to cause us to lose our souls in eternity ( Mat_16:13-20 ; Mat_10:28-31 ).

In contrast to a terrified existence, the firm stand Paul wanted them to take would cause their enemies to realize they were on the trail to destruction. Paul commended those at Thessalonica because their faith remained strong in the face of persecution and assured them their tormentors would be punished by God ( 2Th_1:3-6 ). Christians can face times of persecution without great fear because of the Lord's promise in the sermon on the mount ( Mat_5:10-12 ). That is why the apostles rejoiced when they were counted worthy to suffer ( Act_5:41 ). Confident living, in place of living in terror, would also show that the Philippians had been delivered from sin ( Php_1:28 ).

Verses 29-30

The Honor of Suffering

Paul counted it an honor to be able to believe on Christ and even to suffer for him. "If we endure, we shall also reign with Him" ( 2Ti_2:12 ; 2Co_11:23-33 ). Peter agreed with him when he wrote, "But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. 'And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled'" ( 1Pe_3:14 ).

The Philippians had seen, and heard of, Paul going through times of conflict. Lipscomb believed Paul was referring to his beating and imprisonment while at Philippi ( Act_16:22-24 ). Certainly his reaction ( Act_16:35-40 ) and later reference to it. ( 1Th_2:2 ) indicate it was a time of agony in his mind. The Philippians were not going through anything others had not gone through. In fact, they knew Paul was again suffering for the truth in Roman imprisonment ( Php_1:29-30 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Philippians 1". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/philippians-1.html. 2014.
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