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Wednesday, July 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries

People's New TestamentPeople's NT

- Philippians

by Barton Johnson


The Letter to the Saints at Philippi differs in some respects from any of the preceding letters of the Apostle Paul. It contains less logic and more of the heart. It is distinguished by the absence of didactical reasoning, and by the presence of a tender friendship and fatherly affection which is more apparent than in other Pauline letters to the churches. The letter to the Romans in the profoundest logic; those to the Corinthians were designed to rebuke certain prevalent sins and necessarily contain more or less censure; that to the Galatians rebukes a dangerous heresy which threatened the welfare of the Galatian churches; that to the Ephesians is a sublime unfolding of the mystery of God in reference to the Gentiles, but this letter is the outpouring of the love of the founder of the Philippian Church towards one of the most affectionate, faithful and self-forgetful of all congregations which he had planted. It has been remarked that there is no breath of censure for the Philippian saints, except in so far as it is implied in the tender exhortation to Euodias and Syntyche found in Philippians 4:2. The history of the origin of the church and the memory of the loving remembrances of the Philippians help to explain the affectionate tenderness of the letter.

The account of the founding of the church at Philippi, which occurred in A. D. 50 or 51, is given in the sixteenth chapter of Acts. Led by a vision at Troas the apostle, on his second great missionary journey, crossed into Europe, landing at Neapolis, and proceeding from thence at once to Philippi, which was "the chief city of that part of Macedonia." This city had already some claims to a place in history. It received its name from Philip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, who added to his dominions the little Thracian town which existed there before, rebuilt and fortified it, and gave it its new name in the year B. C. 358. In B. C. 42, about ninety-two years before Paul visited it, it was the field of the decisive battle between Brutus and Cassius, the leaders of the Republicans, and the Triumvirate of Imperialists, one of whom was subsequently Augustus Cæsar. But the place has a higher interest to the Christian world from the fact that here was planted the first congregation of Christians that ever existed on the soil of Europe.

It was not only the scene of gospel triumphs but of suffering for the cross of Christ. Here it was that Paul and Silas were beaten, cast into the stocks in the inner prison, by the grace of God converted and baptized their jailer and his household before the dawn, and were honorably released by the magistrates in the morning, as Roman citizens, unjustly beaten and imprisoned. When Paul continued his journey westward, the recently founded Philippian church followed him with support, contributing more than once to his necessities (Philippians 4:15-16), and when the tidings came that he was a prisoner in Rome their old affection showed itself still again by sending one of their members, Epaphroditus, with the offerings of the church as a provision for his wants (Philippians 2:25; Philippians 4:10-18). It seems to have been the return of Epaphroditus from this ministration of their love, to which we are indebted for this letter.

It was written from the city of Rome, during the first imprisonment of Paul, and probably towards its close, perhaps in the year A. D. 63. The mention of his bonds (Philippians 1:12), of the Prætorian camp (see Revision in Philippians 1:13) of Cæsar's household (Philippians 4:22), as well as other allusions (Philippians 1:25; Philippians 2:24) all show that Paul was in the Roman capital at the time of writing. I will not take space to discuss the reasons which seem to point to near the close of his first imprisonment as its date.

Concerning the genuineness of this epistle, there has never been any reasonable doubt. It has always been accepted by the church, is Pauline in doctrine, and in diction, abounds probably to a greater extent than other epistles in personal details, and is in full agreement with all the historical facts which can be gathered from the history of the times, and from the allusions in Acts and the other epistles. It bears every mark of having been written by Paul from the scene of his imprisonment to the beloved church which he had planted and for which he had suffered. It is not only contained in the Canon of Scripture dated A. D. 170, but is mentioned definitely by Polycarp, born in A. D. 69, in his own Epistle to the Philippians, and is quoted from in an Epistle of Ignatius of about A. D. 107.

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