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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

- Philippians

by Peter Pett

A Few Introductory Words.

An Introduction To Philippi.

Philippi was situated on the road that ran from the West of the Roman Empire to the East. It was thus in a crucial position both militarily and politically, which was one reason why it had been fortified by Philip of Macedon, and had finally been made into a Romany ‘colony’. That distinction meant that it was seen as a part of Rome itself, even though it was at some considerable distance from Rome. Its inhabitants wore Roman dress, they were directly under Roman law, and they themselves were seen as Roman citizens, just as though they lived in Rome. Indeed a large number of the male population had served in the Roman army before being honourably retired. Like all such colonies it was a ‘little Rome’.

These Roman ‘colonies’ were spread throughout the Empire, and one purpose of them was in order that the whole empire might see itself as directly under the eye of Rome. Each ‘colony’ was responsible in its area for the maintenance of a Roman presence, and it was by this means that Rome sought to ensure its continual sovereignty. This was why Paul, keeping in mind that picture, called the church in Philippi (and by implication all groups of believers) ‘a colony of Heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). He saw the true church of Jesus Christ as being placed in this earth in a series of outstations which represented Heaven on earth. They were intended to reveal something of Heaven among men, with the intention of extending God’s sovereignty (the Kingly Rule of God) over all who would respond to Him throughout the whole world.

And Paul saw this as a genuine reality because, as His own people, all true believers have been closely and insolubly united with Christ and made one with Him in His death and resurrection (Philippians 3:10-13), thus participating in Heaven in Him. For the glory of being a true believer was to be that Christ lives in us on this earth, while we live in our spirits with Him in the spiritual realm, in ‘the heavenlies’ (Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 2:6; etc). We are seen as having been ‘transported from being under the tyranny of darkness, to being under the Kingly Rule of God’s beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13). It was this oneness with Christ that made Paul so confident that if he was absent from the body he would be at home with the Lord (Philippians 1:23; compare 2 Corinthians 5:8), for he knew that, having fulfilled his service on earth, he would be transferred from the outstation where he was situated, into the very presence of Christ Himself. Meanwhile, until that happened, he would continue to fulfil his responsibility as an ambassador for Christ in the outstation where he had been placed.

The Founding Of The Colony Of Heaven In Philippi.

Acts 16:0 tells us a little about the founding of the ‘colony of Heaven’ which represented the Kingly Rule of Heaven in Philippi, and brings out the diverse nature of its members. There was the God-fearing Lydia, who would meet with others for prayer by the river outside Philippi, where they would worship according to Jewish custom. She was also a wealthy entrepreneur as a ‘seller of purple’. And then there was the bluff Philippian gaoler, probably an ex-Roman soldier, and almost certainly a ‘Roman citizen’, who represented the middle classes. And finally there was the slave girl out of whom the evil spirit had been cast, a representative of all who were seemingly ‘at the bottom of the pile’. But whatever their status in Philippi, they were all equal as ‘citizens of Heaven’. We have in them a picture of the kind of people who made up the Philippian church.

Paul’s Infectious Joy As He Writes To Them.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians was written while he was a prisoner in Rome, living in his own hired house but constantly chained to a Roman soldier, who was a member of the Praetorian guard. Furthermore he was awaiting trial before Caesar, the outcome of which might well result in death. Alternatively it might result in him being set free again to proclaim the Gospel. He had no way of knowing.

In view of this it is all the more exhilarating that we discover that underlying his letter was the supreme joy that he had in Christ, a joy which he wanted to be shared by others, and was a joy which was the fruit of the Spirit at work within him (Galatians 5:22; Acts 13:52; Romans 14:17). The fact of this joy comes out throughout his letter which, while dealing with very serious matters, is a paean of rejoicing as he rejoices in Christ and His people. Consider in this light the following:

· Philippians 1:4 He wanted them to know that he prayed for them ‘with joy’, because he rejoiced in their continuing and steadfast walk with Christ.

· Philippians 1:8 He ‘rejoiced’ that Christ was being widely preached, regardless of the personal motive of the preachers, because the proclaiming of Christ was his primary aim, and his sole final desire.

· Philippians 1:25 He believed that he would be delivered and thus be able to bring to them more of ‘the joy’ which is the product of and springs from faith. In his eyes the building up of God’s people in Christ could only bring them unspeakable joy.

· Philippians 1:26 He hoped that he would be delivered so that the Philippians would be filled ‘with rejoicing’ in Christ Jesus as he was able to be with them again. Notice that it was Christ Jesus Who was to be the basis of their joy. Their rejoicing would arise because in his renewed presence among them he was leading them closer to Christ.

· Philippians 2:2 He asked them to ‘make his joy full’ by the love and unity that they had among themselves. It was as he saw them growing in Christ in oneness of love that his joy overflowed.

· Philippians 2:16 He informed them that he was holding forth the word of life so that he might ‘rejoice in the Day of Christ’ that he had not run his race or laboured in vain (compare1 Thessalonians 2:19; 1 Thessalonians 2:19). He expected his present joy to be present also in the future when he rejoiced in what Christ had wrought among His people as a result of the fact that he himself had presented to them ‘the word of life’.

· Philippians 2:17-18 He wanted them to know that he would be ‘filled with joy’, and would ‘rejoice with them’, if he was offered up on the sacrifice and service of their faith, and he wanted them to be ‘filled with joy’ and to ‘rejoice along with him’ as they lived out their Christian lives. This verse overflows with joy, both his own joy in their continual advancement in Christ, and their joy as a result of that advancement.

· Philippians 3:1 He called on them to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ because of the life that He had brought them, thus continuing in this crucial verse the overall theme of the letter.

· Philippians 3:3 He stressed that the test of a true Christian was that he worshipped God in the Spirit, ‘rejoiced in Jesus Christ’, and had no confidence in the flesh. Note his certainty that their living faith in Christ would cause joy to continually spring up within them, whatever their outward circumstances.

· Philippians 4:1 He wanted them to know that he saw them as his ‘joy’ and crown. They were his joy because they rejoiced in, and truly served, Christ.

· Philippians 4:4 He called on them continually and in every circumstance ‘to rejoice in the Lord’, and then again to ‘rejoice’. By his call to ‘rejoice in the Lord’ he was turning their thoughts on Christ the Lord so that as they considered Him their hearts would continually overflow with rejoicing.

· Philippians 4:10 He ‘rejoiced’ in their love for him which had been revealed so practically in their gift to him. This joy arose because their love for him, so practically revealed, resulted from their love for, and dedication to, Christ Himself.

So bleak though his circumstances might appear, Paul was both filled with joy in Christ Jesus, and in His work in His people, and also had confidence that his readers would experience the same joy as they fixed their eyes on Christ. Indeed he saw all his requests to them in the light of that joy. ‘Joy’ is thus one of the threads that runs through the whole letter, a joy enflamed by the fact that shortly he would either be offered up as a sacrifice for Christ by Roman execution, and thus come directly into the presence of his Lord, or would be restored to them again so as to guide them in their Christian lives. The thought of either possibility being so close filled him with rejoicing, for he knew that it would mean that he experienced more of Christ, or accomplished more on His behalf.

It can thus be seen that joy in Christ underlies the whole letter in a way never paralleled in any other letter. This may well partly have arisen because he was so aware of the fact that he might well at that stage shortly be called on to enter more fully into the presence of Christ through martyrdom. It was an indication of the reality of Christ in his experience. But (for he wrote other letters from the same prison which did not quite reflect that joy) it was also no doubt an indication of his real joy in the growth and advancement of the Philippian church, which, while certainly not perfect (e.g. Philippians 4:2), were on the whole united and one in their desire to serve Christ.

Other Themes Of Paul’s Letter.

1). Unity in Christ. An important theme in Paul’s letter to the Philippians was that of the need for unity and oneness in Christ. To him the oneness of the people of God in the Spirit was of crucial importance. That is something which comes out continually. The need for such unity had been emphasised by Jesus Christ Himself in John 17:0, and Paul was concerned that it be a unity based on oneness in Christ, and that it be true throughout the Philippian church. It should especially be noted that this unity was not one which was to depend on a central figure (or central figures) in the church, but was to be of each to the other. The whole church were to be as one, and that included the overseers (bishops) and deacons, seen as part of the whole.

Thus he writes to ‘ALL the saints in Christ Jesus --- INCLUDING the bishops and deacons’ (Philippians 1:1). He thanks God in remembrance of all of them, and because they are ALL partakers of God’s grace (Philippians 1:3-7). He stresses that they are to ‘stand fast in ONE Spirit, with ONE soul striving for the truth of the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:27). Thus he pleads with them to be ‘of the same mind, having the same love, being of ONE accord, of ONE mind (Philippians 2:2), looking out for EACH OTHER (Philippians 2:4). Considering the example of the Lord Jesus Christ they are together to live out their joint salvation, taking the greatest care to do so, because it is God Who is at work within them causing them to will and do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). They are to ‘do all things without murmurings or disputings’ (Philippians 2:14) for that will distinguish them from the world outside (Philippians 2:15). His rejoicing is with ‘all of you’ (Philippians 2:17). He speaks to all of them as ‘brothers’ or ‘my brothers’ (Philippians 1:12; Philippians 3:1; Philippians 3:13; Philippians 3:17; Philippians 4:1; Philippians 4:8) and ‘you Philippians’ (Philippians 4:1-15). Finally he urges two prominent women in the church to be of the same mind in the Lord, (Philippians 4:2), while commending them for past faithfulness. They too must participate in the oneness of God’s people. And he finally prays (Philippians 4:23) that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will be with the Philippians in their joint ‘spirit’. Their unity was to be a unity of the Spirit.

This then leads us on into his warnings against all those who would seek to cause disruption among them. They were not to be frightened by their adversaries who were persecuting them (Philippians 1:28-29). This probably refers to the members of the secular world around them, who were seeking to turn them away from the salvation which is in Christ to their own ideas about salvation connected with their false religions. They were also to beware of false teachers who may come among them seeking to Judaise them and bring them ‘under the whole law in order to be saved’ (Philippians 3:2). These may well also be the ones described in Philippians 3:18-19, those who pretend to follow Christ but are greedy for wealth and mind earthly things. Thus their unity was being attacked both by the secular powers, and by false teachers. They were to heed neither.

2). Readiness To Face Persecution. There is also an indication in the letter that Paul is seeking to strengthen them against current and future persecution. That this was certainly in view comes out in Philippians 1:27-30; Philippians 2:15; Philippians 4:1; Philippians 4:6. And he bolsters them, both by his own example in the face of possible execution (Philippians 1:20-25; Philippians 2:17; Philippians 3:10-14), and by the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who suffered unto death (Philippians 2:5-11; Philippians 3:10-14).

Finally we will discover that Paul was also concerned to thank the Philippians for their generous support of him, to assure them of his well-being in the light of the threat hanging over him, and of the fact that it was actually turning out to be for the good of the Gospel, and in order to satisfy them as to the welfare of Epaphroditus, who had come from the Philippian church to Paul but had been dangerously ill, for he had apparently learned that the Philippian church were very concerned about him. This last he accomplished by returning him to them with his letter, along with his own commendation.


Analysis Of The Letter.

There is a distinct chiastic pattern to the letter which is built up around Paul’s own hope of coming to them and commendation of two faithful men of God who are living examples of what he wants to say. Thus:

A Introductory remarks (Philippians 1:1-2).

B Gratitude for their oneness and ‘sharing in common’ with him in the Gospel combined with his own exhortation to continued unity (Philippians 1:3-11).

C Paul rejoices in the fact that his own personal example has caused the Gospel to be preached and expresses concern that he may be able to meet their spiritual needs, bringing out the central necessity for the proclamation of Christ whatever the motive or consequences in the light of his own experience under the threat of possible execution (Philippians 1:12-26).

D The need to behave as citizens of Heaven in every way in the face of opponents bound for perdition, standing fast in the Lord (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4).

E This is exemplified in Christ Himself, through His self-emptying, His taking up of the cross, and His final resurrection and glorification, in which they are to participate ‘in mind’ (Philippians 2:5-11).

F Their salvation is to be revealed as being as a result of the inner working of God, so that they may reveal their true sonship with God by both life and teaching (Philippians 2:12-18).

G He is expecting to send Timothy to them, the example of the one who seeks not his own things but the things of Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:19-23).

H He hopes shortly to be with them himself (Philippians 2:24).

G Meanwhile he is sending Epaphroditus back to them, a man who has been faithful even under threat of death, and is a faithful servant of Christ (Philippians 2:25-30).

F They are to beware of those who trust in their own righteousness (the old circumcision), rather than that inworked by God (the true circumcision) (Philippians 3:1-6).

E They must follow the example of Paul who counted all as loss that he gain win Christ (self-emptying), and be found in Him as revealers of true righteousness through the experience of resurrection and glorification in Christ, and the experience of dying with Him, which will result in his (and their) final resurrection and glorification (Philippians 3:7-16).

D They are to make clear by their lives that they are true citizens of Heaven, which will finally result in them becoming so in perfection, and that in the face of enemies who are bound for perdition. Thus they are to stand fast in the Lord (Philippians 3:17 to Philippians 4:1).

C They are to encourage one another, rejoicing in Him, and living in the confident atmosphere of His presence, a constant testimony to the continual saving and keeping power of Christ, doing what they have learned and heard and seen from him (Philippians 4:2-9).

B He expresses thanks for their oneness in the Gospel revealed by their continual sharing in common with him by their gifts, and he does this, not because of his own need, but because it reveals their true hearts and will thus abound to their account (Philippians 4:10-20).

A Closing greeting (Philippians 4:21-23).

Note than in ‘A’ we have the opening greeting, and in the parallel the closing greeting. In ‘B’ he rejoices in their sharing in common with him in the Gospel, and in the parallel we learn something more of their sharing in practical terms. In ‘C’ he rejoices in the fact that his own personal example has caused the Gospel to be preached and expresses concern that he may be able to meet their spiritual needs, and in the parallel He explains how God can meet their spiritual needs, as they learn and hear and see what comes from Paul. In ‘D’ they are called on to live as true citizens in the face of their opponents who are bound for perdition, standing firm in the Gospel, and in the parallel he stresses that their citizenship is in Heaven, and that in light of the enemies they face who are bound for perdition, so that they must stand firm in the Gospel. In ‘E’ they are to have the mind of Christ Who emptied Himself of His glory and went to the cross, with the result that He was exalted to the highest place, and in the parallel Paul describes how he too emptied himself, sharing in Christ’s resurrection and sufferings, with the result that he too would be exalted. In ‘F’ their salvation is something that is inworked by God, an inworking that they must ‘work out’, and in the parallel they are to trust in that inworking, and not in man’s outworking of his own righteousness. In ‘G’ he provides the example of Timothy as a faithful worker, and in the parallel the example of Epaphroditus as a faithful brother. Centrally in ‘H’ he hopes shortly to be with them himself.

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