Philippians


Overview


I. Introduction

Paul penned a series of letters to the Philippians to urge unity among the believers and to warn against the influence of Jewish Christians who sought to circumcise Gentile neophytes. In the letters, he clearly expressed his affection for the community at Philippi and thanked them for their continued support.

II. Dating: 60-62 CE

Dating of the letter to the Philippians depended upon extended periods for Paul's imprisonment. Two stood out: Caesarea (Acts 23:31-35; imprisoned for two years in Acts 24:27) and Rome (Acts 28:11-16; imprisoned for at least two years in Acts 28:30-31). Some scholars supported a third option: imprisonment in Ephesus implied in Acts 19:1-3. They based their view on distance, hence time of travel, between the city of incarceration and his audience. Ephesus lie 400 miles by sea from Philippi, thus requiring several days travel and allowing for several letters to be sent and received (Phil 2:25; Phil 4:), even possibly sending Timothy (Phil 2:19).

I favor the traditional view that Paul penned his letter from Rome for internal and practical reasons. First, let's consider hints within the text. Paul mentioned the knowledge of his imprisonment among the imperial guard (Phil 1:13) and growth of the faith in the imperial household (Phil 4:22), thus pointing to Rome. He implied a lack of energy with his advancing age (Phil 2:17), again pointing to a later imprisonment in Rome. Next, let's consider the distance from possible cities of authorship and Philippi. Caesarea lie too far to travel and conditions made such a journey difficult; weather on the Mediterranean restricted sea traffic from late spring to early fall. Rome, however, lie 700 miles from Philippi and was connected by a good system of roads (eight to ten weeks travel overland). For these reasons, I support Rome as the place of authorship for a series of letters between Paul and Philippians.

A series of letters? Yes. The letter to the Philippians strongly indicated an editor stitched the final epistle together from two or three sources. First, the letter contained two commendations from the same letter carrier (Epaphroditus in Phil 2:25-30 and Phil 4:18), three closings (Phil 3:1, Phil 4:2-9, Phil 4:21-23) and two main bodies (1:1-3:1a and 3:1b-4:1). The shift between the two main bodies indicated a change in structure from a self contained chiasmus to additional materials lacking overall cohesion. It also revealed a change in content and tone, from a discussion of unity to a rant over Judaizers. Next, in Phil 2:25, Paul formally introduced Epaphroditus to the Philippians with a short resume then, in Phil 4:18, he thanked the community for their gifts they sent via the same messenger, thus indicating a later letter. Finally, the placement of the final blessing in Phil 4:21-23 meshed well with the farewell in Phil 3:1.

3:1a Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord.
4:21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household.
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

English Standard Version

For these three reasons, I consider Philippians as an edited work of at least two sources.

III. Structure

The final form of Philippians consisted of a ABCDCBA structure in 1:1-3:1a, 4:21-23, then two separate additions in 3:1b-4:1 and 4:10-20.

A. Letter of Friendship:

1. Step A1: Greeting (1:1-2)

2. Step B1: Best wishes to the Philippians (1:3-11)

3. Step C1: Spread of the Good News despite Paul's situation (1:12-26)

4. Step D: Exhortation to unity and the Kenosis hymn (1:27-2:18)

5. Step C2: Possible visits from Timothy and Paul (2:19-24)

6. Step B2: Sending Epaphroditus (2:25-3:1a)

8. Step A2: 3:1a Farewell

9. Step A2(?): 4:21-23 Greetings and blessing

B. Letter of Warning:

1. Against the Judaizers (3:1b-4:1)

2. Closing comments (4:2-9)

C. Note of Thanksgiving: (4:10-20)

IV. Synopsis and Commentary

A. Letter of Friendship:

1. Step A1: Greeting (1:1-2)

In this greeting, Paul used the term "episkopos" ("overseer, elder" in Greek) along with the "diakonos" (deacons) for the first time, thus recognizing the emergence of an organic leadership structure within the local churches (Phil 1:1-2).

2. Step B1: Best wishes to the Philippians (1:3-11)

Paul implicitly recognized the status of the Christian community at Philippi as the first church established in Macedonia and along the coast that would lead to Greece (Phil 1:5); he was sure that the activity of the Spirit (the "one") would help them remain faithful until the Second Coming (Phil 1:6). While imprisoned, he yearned to strengthen bonds with the Philippians as co-evangelizers (Phil 1:7-8). He prayed for an increase in mutual affection and faith so they could discern what was best for the community; such insight would serve them well until the Final Judgment (Phil 1:9-11).

3. Step C1: Spread of the Good News despite Paul's situation (1:12-26)

Paul saw the silver lining in his imprisonment. He proclaimed the Good News to the extent that the imperial guard knew why he languished in jail; his activities inspired other Christians to boldly evangelize (Phil 1:12-14). Some spread the gospel out of goodwill and empathized with Paul's plight, others out of envy and wished the apostle ill (Phil 15-17). No matter, for he rejoiced for the spread of the Good News and, with the prayers of the Philippians, he looked ahead to his glory in the afterlife (Phil 1:18-19).

Paul had hope in the future for, no matter whether he lived or died, his situation would promote the gospel ("Christ would be magnified in my body"; Phil 1:20). "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Phil 1:21). He felt torn between this life and the afterlife. If he continued to live, he could evangelize; if he died, he would live in the presence of Christ (Phil 1:22-23). Of course, if he remained alive, he could encourage the Philippians, even from a distance; he even hoped he could visit them again (Phil 1:24-26).

4. Step D: Exhortation to unity and the Kenosis hymn (1:27-2:18)

a. Chiasmus 1a: Exhortation to unity (1:27-2:5)

In light of his wish to visit the Philippian community, Paul urged them to act as one, despite pressure from opponents. In fact, their resistance was a sign of their condemnation and of salvation for the faithful (Phil 1:27-28). God gave them the gift of salvation which resulted in faith and in suffering, just as Paul faced in prison (Phil 1:28-29).

Paul exhorted the community to unify despite any condition in the community, whether God given gift or persecution from enemies (Phil 2:1-2). Then, he introduced the principle of deference as a prelude to the Kenosis hymn; believers should consider the good of others before self gain just as Christ did (Phil 2:3-5).

b. Chiamus 2: Kenosis hymn (2:6-11)

In Greek, "kenosis" meant "self-emptying"; it implied one of a higher status taking upon the role of a lower status, like a rich person becoming a slave. In Phil 2:6, Christ Jesus, "living in the form of God, did not assume the grasp to be as God." The term "form" could have Platonic implications where the ideal form was true, eternal reality and life in the material world was transitory, thus false; in other word, Christ's true existence lie in the unchanging eternal as God.

In Phil 2:7, Christ emptied himself ("ekenosen" the active aorist third person of "kenoo"; 2:7a) to take the form of a slave (2:7b), being in the form of men (2:7c), "perceived in the figure of a man" (2:7d). The key to understanding 2:7 lie in comparing "being in the form of men" (2:7c) to "living in the form of God" (2:6a). Christ "emptied" himself by voluntarily taking an inferior form, from that of God to that of mankind (2:7c has the plural "men"); in other words, in his new form, he represented all of humanity. This had two results. First, Christ changed forms from that of the eternal Master (2:6a) to that of the eternal slave (2:7b). Second, only a single living human being could reveal this change (2:7d, sometimes translated as "sharing in human nature"). In Phil 2:8, Christ showed the extent of his self-emptying through humility by "obedience to death, death on a cross."

Phil 2:9-11 revealed the result of Christ's kenosis. God exalted him to the highest position in heaven ("a name above any other name" in 2:9). In response, all, whether the glorious in heaven, the living on earth or those in the shadow world of the dead, would bend a knee to recognize his status (2:10). They would also make the faith proclamation that "Jesus Christ is Lord" as a means to giving God the Father glory. Notice these verses present creation itself as the divine court, the exhalation of Christ as the gift of royal honor by the Father and the response of all beings as an approval to God's action.

In structure, the kenosis passage had a chiastic form of A-B-A where glory consisted of the A-Step (Phil 2:6; Phil 2:9-11) and the B-Step spoke of self-emptying and death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8); it also contained terms that differed from the preceding and succeeding verses. Thus, many scholars contend this passage had a poetic or hymn-like function, even to the point they speculate Paul adapted a liturgical hymn that the Philippian church used to make his point about unity in the assembly.

c. Chiamus 1b: Exhortation to unity (2:12-18)

Paul shifted his exhortation from the external pressures they faced (Phil 1:27-30) to inner cohesion. Imprisoned, he could not visit the community, so he urged believers to "work out their salvation in fear and trembling," allowing God to work in them (Phil 2:12-13). He exhorted his audience to resist internal strife so they could maintain their innocence in the midst of an immoral society, thus acting as examples to the pagans. He also encouraged them to remain faithful so that, on the Last Day, he would not see his efforts as being "in vain" (Phil 2:14-16). Despite his advanced age did not give him the energy he had in his youth ("...poured out as a libation upon the ritual offering and priestly service of your faith..."), he still rejoiced with the Philippians and invited them to reciprocate in his joy (Phil 2:17-18). Notice Paul saw his life efforts as worship to God.

5. Step C2: Possible visits from Timothy and Paul (2:19-24)

In the next two sections, Paul turned to practical matters. First, he discussed the situation with Timothy with whom he had a father-son relationship (Phil 2:22). On the one hand, he wanted to send Timothy to the Philippians for the young man genuinely ministered out of altruistic concerns, unlike other missionaries (Phil 2:20-21). He wished to send Timothy to the community both to report back on their progress (Phil 2:19) and to act as an advance man for Paul who wished to visit them one day. Of course, both visits were contingent upon Paul's future viz-a-viz imperial officials (Phil 2:23-24).

6. Step B2: Sending Epaphroditus (2:25-3:1a)

Second, instead of sending Timothy, Paul sent Epaphroditus, "my brother, my co-worker and my fellow soldier." Notice he presented a resume for his messenger; Epaphroditus was an equal to Paul in Christ (brother), one who evangelized along with Paul (co-worker) and one who suffered the same opposition as the apostle (fellow soldier; Phil 2:25). While the Philippians knew of Epaphroditus by reputation (based upon their knowledge of his condition), they implicitly were not personally acquainted with the man; he would act a Paul's messenger and stand-in, but was waylaid by a serious illness (Phil 2:26). With his recovery, Paul was eager to send him to address their immediate needs and to relieve the apostle's worries (Phil 2:27-28). So, Paul urged the community at Philippi to receive and honor Epaphroditus as one who, near death, implicitly imitated Christ's sufferings and risked his life to serve others (Phil 2:29-30)

7. Step A2: Phil 3:1 Farewell

8. Step A2(?): Phil 4:21-23 Greetings and blessing

Taken together, these verses closed the first letter from Paul to the Philippians. The apostle included greetings from Caesar's household.

B. Letter of Warning:

1. Against the Judaizers (3:1b-4:1)

a. Chiasmus 1a: Judaizers vs Christians (3:1b-:11)

In this passage, Paul turned to a familiar theme, opposing the Judaizers. In Phil 3:2, he collapsed Jewish Christians who promoted conversion to Judaism (via circumcision, "those who mutilate the flesh") with the immoral, even with a serious insult ("dogs"); this was a sharp, pointed rebuke. Instead, he insisted the Christian community was the true people of God; the faithful were "the circumcision," those who worshiped by the Spirit and glory in Christ; they put no stock in the ritual of circumcision (Phil 3:3). He defended their status with a brief summary of his background. He was a faithful Jew with an impeccable lineage and learned Pharisee who persecuted the Church; thus, in the past, he considered blameless (Phil 3:4-6). Yet, his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus turned all he had upside down. What he formerly counted as gain he now considered loss and the intimate knowledge of Christ he sought at true gain. He wanted to experience the Risen Lord on every level of his life, uniting his suffering to the Passion and his abilities through the power of the Spirit with the Resurrection. He realized that he could not justify himself to God alone, but could only find such justification through Christ (Phil 3:7-11).

b. Chiasmus 2: Christian life as an ongoing spiritual struggle (3:12-16)

Paul realized his justification in Christ was an ongoing process. While he could not accomplish it by his own efforts, he still struggled to allow Christ to work through him. He "pressed on" towards the goal and "strained forward to what lie ahead" to the call of Christ from above. He presented this insight as a mature ("perfect") point of view; he insisted those who thought otherwise would soon learn. Indeed, this insight Paul learned through his life experience as an evangelist was the standard (Phil 3:12-16). Spreading the Good News meant an openness to the activity of God in one's life and a willingness to undergo rejection, even suffering; these two factors defined the struggle Paul experienced.

c. Chiasmus 1b: Judaizers vs. Christians (3:17-4:1)

With this insight in mind, Paul encouraged his audience to imitate his example over and against the Judaizers (Phil 4:17). These enemies of the "cross of Christ" destroyed spiritual prospects of Gentile converts ("their end is destruction") by insisting the neophytes keep kosher laws ("their god is their belly") and the trivia of scribal rulings {"minds set on earthly things"; Phil 3:18-19). The apostle turned the sights of his audience from the immediate concerns of the Judaizers to the eschatological vision of the Christians: citizenship in heaven, the Second Coming and the transformation of moral bodies into the immortal (Phil 3:20-21). He urged his audience to stand firm in this hope (Phil 4:1).

2. Closing comments (4:2-9)

After asking for Euodia and Syntyche to change their minds ("agree with the Lord") and encouraging other to assist them (Phil 4:2-3), Paul exhorted the Philippians to rejoice in the belief of an immanent Second Coming and replace anxiety with prayerful petitions, thanking God for his goodness (Phil 4:4-7). A life of Joy and gratitude allowed a sense of God's peace to "guard hearts and minds...beyond all understanding" (Phil 4:7).

As a last thought, Paul encouraged the faithful at Philippi to ponder more noble thoughts: the honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise (Phil 4:8). He also exhorted them to use him as a model for Christian living (what was "learned, received, heard and seen" in him); if the Philippians employed noble thinking and imitated Paul, they would enjoy the presence of God (Phil 4:9).

C. Note of Thanksgiving: (4:10-20)

Throughout Paul's life, he learned to survive in the leanest of times, thus appreciating times of plenty (Phil 4:11-12). He realized God's activity strengthened him during the rough patches (Phil 4:13). Nonetheless, he was touched by the concerns of the Philippian community for his welfare (Phil 4:10; Phil 4:14). Unlike other communities, the church at Philippi continued to send material assistance to the apostle, even when he evangelized Thessaloníki (some 80 miles distance from Philippi; Phil 4:15-16; Acts 16:9, Acts 17:1-9). Although he languished in prison, he still received donations from the Philippian community through his envoy, Epaphroditus; he considered these gifts as spiritual worship, like an incense offering before the Lord (Phil 4:17-18). Paul assured his audience of blessings in kind and ended this passage with a doxology (Phil 4:19-20)

IV. Conclusion

Towards the end of his life, Paul continued to communications with several groups. His letter to the Philippians contained one complete missive and the parts of others. In the 1:1-3:1a, he exhorted his audience to unity, arguing from the principle of deference which he centered upon the Crucifixion, the physical sign of Christ's self-emptying found in the Kenosis hymn. In 3:1b-4:1, he urged the audience to turn away from Judaizers by comparing their struggle with his. In all, these two themes mirrored his arguments especially from First Corinthians, Romans and Galatians.

Sources

Stergiou, Costas. TheWord.net. Computer software. Vers. 5.0. TheWord.net. 2015. 2015 <http://theword.net/>.

NET Bible. theWord.net module. The NET Bible. 2015 <https://netbible.com/>.

Novum Testamentum Graece. theWord.net module. Vers. NA27. <theWord.net>.