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by Joseph Benson
THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.
Philippi was a considerable city on the eastern frontier of Macedonia, now part of European Turkey. It was anciently named Datos; but Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, having repaired, enlarged, and beautified it, called it “Philippi,” after his own name. It stood to the north-west of Neapolis, about seventy miles north-east of Thessalonica, and about one hundred and ninety west of the place where Constantinople now stands. Julius Cesar placed a colony here, which Augustus afterward enlarged, and hence the inhabitants were considered as freemen of Rome. It was rendered remarkable for the famous battle fought near it, between the Roman Emperor Augustus and Antony on one side, and Brutus and Cassius, the republican generals, on the other. But it is more remarkable among Christians for the Christian church which was early planted there, and for this excellent epistle, written to the members thereof about twelve years after, namely, during the latter part of the apostle’s imprisonment at Rome, about the year 64 or 65, and sent by Epaphroditus.
Of the first introduction of the gospel into Macedonia, an account has been given, Acts 16:9, &c. St. Paul, with his assistants, Silas and Timothy, after having preached the gospel in most of the countries of the Lesser Asia, were directed by the Holy Ghost to pass over into Europe, for the purpose of offering salvation to the Greeks, at that time the most celebrated people in the world for genius and learning. These messengers of God, therefore, loosing from Troas, landed at Neapolis; but making no stay there, they went directly forward to Philippi, where, it appears from Acts 16:18, they abode a considerable time, and were instrumental in converting many to the faith of Christ.
It appears they met with no opposition in this place, till the apostle cast a spirit of divination out of a damsel. But that circumstance so enraged her masters, who made a considerable advantage of her “soothsaying,” that they stirred up the inhabitants against Paul and Silas, whom, after they had laid many stripes on them, they threw into prison, the jailer making “their feet fast in the stocks.” But the Lord, whose servants they were, soon released them by a signal miracle, as is recorded Acts 16:25; and the magistrates, finding that they were Romans, came and took them out of prison, and treated them civilly; desiring them, however, for the quiet of the city, to depart out of it: which they did, when they had seen and conversed with the new converts, and had comforted them. But though Paul and Silas for the present left Philippi, Luke and Timothy continued there some time longer, to carry on the work which had been so successfully begun. And this, it is probable, was one reason that induced the apostle to fix upon the latter as the most proper person to visit the Philippians in his absence, of whose affection for them, and concern for their interests, he takes particular notice, Philippians 2:19-22.
That the apostle himself made the Philippians a second visit, appears from Acts 20:6; though we are not informed of any particulars relating to it. And it is highly probable that he visited them often, as he passed to and from Greece. And, indeed, the peculiar affection and respect which they manifested to the apostle, entitled them to some distinguished regard: for while he preached in Thessalonica, they sent him money twice. And this, it seems, they did, both from the gratitude which they felt to him for being instrumental in bringing them out of the darkness of heathenism, and from the concern they had that the success of the gospel should not be hindered among their countrymen, by its preachers becoming burdensome to them. The same regard they showed to him, and for the same reason, while he preached the gospel in Corinth, 2 Corinthians 11:9. He also acknowledges ( Php 4:18 ) to have received a present from them by the hands of Epaphroditus, when he was a prisoner at Rome.
These, however, were not the only proofs which the Philippians gave of their love to the apostle, and the religion which they had received. Their behaviour in other respects was every way worthy of their profession. They maintained the doctrine of the gospel in its purity, and walked in the holy manner required by its precepts. Indeed, the excellent character of these Christians may be inferred from the manner in which this epistle is written. For, while most of his other letters contain reprehensions of some for their errors, and of others for their bad conduct, throughout the whole of this epistle to the Philippians no fault is found with any of them; unless the caution, (Philippians 2:3-4,) to avoid strife and vain glory in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, can be called a reprehension. But his letter is employed almost wholly in commending and encouraging them, or in giving them exhortations to persevere and make advances in the good ways of the Lord. But though the apostle did not see it needful to censure or reprove the Philippian believers for any thing, he judged it necessary to pass a severe censure on some Judaizing teachers, who were endeavouring to introduce themselves among them, as they had done among the Christians in other places, making it, as it seems, their whole business to destroy the purity and peace of the churches. Of these corrupters of the gospel the apostle, out of his zeal for the truth, and his great love to his Philippian converts, speaks with more severity than in any of his other letters, being doubtless directed so to do by a particular impulse of the Spirit of God, who knew it necessary that this sharpness should be used for opening the eyes of the faithful, and making them sensible of the malignity of these false teachers, and of the pernicious tendency of their doctrine.
the First Week of Advent