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Bible Commentaries
Philippians

Contending for the FaithContending for the Faith

- Philippians

CONTENDING FOR THE FAITH

A Commentary On

THE BOOK OF PHILIPPIANS

By TERRY BAZE

Publisher Charles Allen Bailey

Editor

Executive Editor - Joe L. Norton, Ph.D.

Copyright © 1998
Contending for the Faith Publications
4216 Abigale Drive, Yukon, OK 73099

www.allenbailey@gmail.com <http://www.allenbailey@gmail.com/>
commentaries@gospelpreaching.com <mailto:commentaries@gospelpreaching.com>

All Rights Reserved

All scripture quotations,
unless otherwise indicated, are taken from
The King James Version, KJV

Introduction

Philippi

The ancient city of Philippi occupied a very prominent position during the first century. Luke remarks that it was a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia (Acts 16:12).

Some four centuries before, the place was inhabited by a small, rather insignificant Thracian village called Krenides, which is the Greek term for "springs" (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [ISBE] 2369). The area was well watered, as evidenced by its name, and was very fertile. The village sat on a plain, nine miles inland from the Aegean Sea to the south and surrounded by mountains on all sides.

Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, ascended the throne in 359 B.C. and took special interest in this site because of its geographical significance (ISBE 2369). There was an abundant supply of gold in the surrounding mountains, which Philip had mined to produce more than 1,000 talents of gold a year (ISBE 2369), enabling him to strengthen his armies considerably. Furthermore, a strong fortress in this place enabled him to protect Macedonia from her enemies to the east, as this was the natural passage for travel between Asia and Europe. Philip took the city in 358 B.C., populated it, fortified it, and gave it his name. Philip soon had the power to take the world of his day, a project he was not permitted to finish because of his murder in 336 B.C. (Coffman 249). He did, however, pave the way for his son Alexander to conquer the world with the military might and wealth he had attained.

Very little is known about the city for the next three centuries. In 168 B.C., after the battle of Pydna, the entire area fell under the dominion of Rome; and by this time Philippi had become rather small and insignificant, as the gold supply had been depleted (ISBE 2369). In 146 B.C., the whole of Macedonia was formed into a single Roman province (ISBE 2369).

In 42 B.C., there was a decisive battle fought near Philippi that determined the future rule of the Roman Empire. Brutus and Cassius, who had led the revolt that assassinated Julius Caesar, were defeated by Octavian and Antony after three weeks of fighting. This victory eventually led to Octavian’s becoming Augustus Caesar about fifteen years later. Having been firmly established in power as a result of his victory over Antony at the battle of Actium in 31 B.C. (World Book, Vol. I 27-28), Octavian decided to restore Philippi in memory of this great victory there. He sent many people to settle there, including some of his veteran soldiers, some of Antony’s men, and others as well. He lavished the city with great sums of money, restoring it to prominence, and he proclaimed Philippi to be a Roman colony, giving its citizens the full rights and privileges of Roman citizenship.

As a result of this decision, Philippi was a little colony of Rome on foreign soil. "It was laid out in similar patterns, the style and architecture were copied extensively, and the coins produced in the city bore Roman inscriptions. The Latin language was used, and its citizens wore Roman dress" (O’Brien 4). Philippi was governed by Roman law and was exempt from interference from the governor of the province. Her citizens could own and transfer property as well as bring civil lawsuits. They could not be scourged or arrested, except in extreme cases, and then could appeal to the Emperor himself. The Roman colonies were primarily intended as military safeguards of the frontiers and as checks upon insurgent provincials. They served as convenient possessions for rewarding veterans who had served in the wars and for establishing freedmen and other Italians whom it was desirable to remove to a distance. The colonists went out with all the pride of Roman citizens, to represent and reproduce the City in the midst of an alien population (Conybeare and Howson 225).

Philippi was also important as it lay on the Egnatian Way, the most important military road linking the east and west. It was necessary for those traveling by the Aegean Sea to go through Philippi, for lying just east of the city was the only pass connecting the east and the west.

The Church in Philippi

The city of Philippi is introduced in the scriptures in Acts 16. Beginning the second missionary journey from Antioch, Paul and Barnabas separate after disagreeing on whether to take John Mark. They part company, evidently having divided the territories covered on the first missionary journey (Barker, Lane and Michaels 202). Barnabas and Mark sail for Cyprus, while Paul and Silas travel by land through Syria and Cilicia into Galatia. At Lystra, Timothy, who plays a significant role in the work at Philippi, joins them (Acts 15:36 to Acts 16:3).

Paul and his company are providentially hindered from going into Asia Minor ("forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia"); thus, he decides to turn north to Pisidian Antioch and on to the borders of Bithynia, which lay along the southern shore of the Black Sea. When they determine to go into Bithynia, "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to" (Acts 16:6-7). The only remaining course is to travel west and at Troas Paul sees a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for him to come and help them (Acts 16:9). Luke evidently joins their company at Troas, as he becomes the narrator, and says that, "immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia," concluding that God had called them into Europe to preach the gospel. They sail to Samothrace and on to Neapolis, which was the port city of Philippi. They travel inland on the Egnatian Way to Philippi, arriving somewhere between A.D. 49 and 52 (O’Brien 5-6).

Upon arriving, as is his custom, Paul probably seeks a Jewish synagogue where he might find an audience to preach the gospel. Instead, he finds a group of women who regularly gather by the riverside to pray (Acts 16:13). These are probably Gentile proselytes of Judaism. Perhaps some are Jews, but the fact that Paul meets this group here indicates there was no synagogue for the Jews to worship in Philippi. As it took ten faithful men to form a synagogue (Edersheim 253), Philippi must have had a very small and insignificant Jewish population. One reason for the sparse Jewish population was that Philippi was not an important commercial city. God’s providence in calling Paul to the city is seen clearly, for He responded to their prayers as He did to Cornelius’ in Acts 10. Here He provides these devout women with the opportunity to hear the gospel.

The first convert at Philippi is Lydia, a prominent businesswoman from Thyatira, who responds to the gospel preached by Paul and is baptized along with others in her household. There is no mention of her having a husband, and most commentators think the reference to her household implies she was a successful entrepreneur who may have been quite wealthy. Her wealth, along with her hospitable behavior (Acts 16:15), presupposes the cause for the Philippian church’s giving once and again to support Paul in his preaching. This supposition, however, does not agree with 2 Corinthians 8:1-2, which speaks of the Macedonians’ great poverty.

The work starts successfully and goes well until Paul drives the demons from a slave girl who, with her "spirit of divination" (Acts 16-18), made a lot of money for her masters. This incident infuriates these men, who have Paul and Silas apprehended and brought to the city authorities, accusing them of "throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice" (Acts 19-21). They are quick to point out that these men are Jews, implying that there may have been some prejudice against Jews in Philippi at that time. The Jews were generally hated and under suspicion and had been driven out of Rome (Acts 18:2). It "was incumbent on Philippi, as a colony, to copy the indignation of the mother city" (Lipscomb 148). Many people join in the assault against them, and the city authorities have them beaten severely and thrown into prison. The jailer is commanded to guard them carefully; therefore, he puts them in the inner cell and fastens their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:22-24).

Paul and Silas exemplify the Christian spirit of being joyful under any circumstance as they pray and sing praises to God while imprisoned under such adverse conditions. God miraculously releases their bonds with an earthquake; and, supposing the prisoners have escaped, the jailer is ready to take his life. Paul stops him, assuring him that all are still present. These events lead to the conversion of the jailer and his family (Acts 16:25-33).

The next day the authorities determine to release Paul and Silas. Paul brings to their attention, however, that he and Silas are Roman citizens and that the authorities have broken the law. This accusation, ironically, had been a point of concern in the initial charge made against Paul and Silas (Acts 16:21). The gift of Roman citizenship was of great value; therefore, the authorities now fear for themselves, having violated the rights of these citizens. The authorities provide for them a respectable release from prison; and after visiting the brethren and encouraging them, Paul and his company leave, traveling to Thessalonica (Acts 16:35 to Acts 17:1). In a letter to the Thessalonians, Paul recalls the incident vividly. "As you know," he writes, "we had suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi" (1 Thessalonians 2:2).

Thus, the church at Philippi begins. It is impossible to know how long Paul stayed there, for the scriptures say only that they stayed there several days (Acts 16:12). M. Silva thinks it was three weeks (3). Timothy and Luke evidently remain with the church to build them up; but soon afterward, Timothy is found with Paul and Silas in Berea (Acts 17:14). From there, Paul travels to Athens and finally to Corinth, where he stays a year and a half before returning to Antioch. While in Corinth, he again receives help from the Philippians (2 Corinthians 11:7-9).

Luke probably continues working with the church in Philippi because his personal narration ends at Acts 16:40, when Paul leaves, and takes up again only when Paul returns to Philippi on a third trip (Acts 20:5-6). It is possible that Luke works with them for the next seven or eight years (O’Brien 8).

Background of the Letter

The purpose of the third missionary journey is to collect money from the Gentile churches to help the poor Jewish Christians in Judea (Acts 18:23; Romans 15:25-26; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 2 Corinthians 9:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:12-15).

This occurred at Easter, 58 when Paul and the delegates of the churches (20:4) took the great collection to Jerusalem. Paul had been in Philippi during the previous summer when on his way from Ephesus to Corinth he spent some time in Macedonia (2 Corinthians 2:13). Thus Paul was in Philippi three times, the second visit probably being the longest. It seems likely that 2 Corinthians, which was written in Macedonia, was written in Philippi (Lenski 693-694).

Paul completes this project by delivering the collection to Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-19; Romans 15:25-32). His Jewish antagonists, although failing to murder him, are successful in having him imprisoned; and he spends two years in Caesarea awaiting his fate (Acts 21:27 to Acts 24:27). Paul finally appeals to the emperor himself and is sent to Rome (Acts 25:10-12; Acts 27:1). This event occurs probably around the year A.D. 59 or 60 (Silva 4).

Word of these events spreads throughout the churches, and the Philippians prepare to assist Paul however they are able. As he nears his destination, brethren meet Paul and escort him to Rome where he is put under house arrest. There he spends two years in prison awaiting a verdict (Acts 28:15-31).

During this imprisonment at Rome, Paul has many opportunities to preach the word to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 28:16-31). In fact, his message spreads through the praetorian guard and beyond, encouraging many to speak God’s Word (1:12-14).

These are also disheartening and discouraging times for the apostle. Often he is burdened with the cares and concerns of Jewish Christians who sympathize with the Judaizers who corrupt the pure gospel. There are those in the church in Rome who oppose Paul and try to cause him harm by undermining his work and authority. They preach Christ, yet their motives are not pure (1:15-17). He also deals with the uncertainty of awaiting a final verdict, not knowing whether he will live or die (1:20-26; 2:17). He suffers other afflictions as well and is in need (2:25).

The Philippians become aware of Paul’s difficult situation and, therefore, send a bountiful gift to relieve and comfort him (4:14, 18). The Philippians themselves are experiencing many problems:

1.    The influence of the Judaizers is beginning to threaten them (1:27-30; 3:2, 18-19).

2.    They are suffering physical needs and anxieties, and their faith is wavering (4:6, 19).

3.    These circumstances cause them to have disagreements among themselves, distrust, and selfish attitudes (2:1-4).

4.    There is dissension in the church, specifically between Euodia and Syntyche; and the church is beginning to deteriorate (2:14; 4:2-3).

They send Epaphroditus with the gift and evidently ask "Paul to keep him as his assistant but to send their beloved Timothy back to Philippi" (Silva 5). It is possible that Epaphroditus becomes very ill during the trip, which encompasses land and sea for more than 700 miles and takes at least a month to travel. A report of this setback reaches Philippi, causing great concern. Epaphroditus has risked his life, but God spares him and the needed gift has reached Paul. He is extremely pleased with their sacrificial giving and wants to express his undying gratitude to them. Along with the gift, he receives the news of the problems in the church at Philippi and wants to address them. Furthermore, he is unable to grant their request that Timothy be sent to them as Paul needs him during this difficult time (2:19-30).

The letter, therefore, is penned eleven years after Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy first arrive in Philippi (Wilkinson and Boa 406). As we have noted, Paul revisits Philippi twice (Acts 20:1-6; 2 Corinthians 2:12-13; 2 Corinthians 7:5-6) before his imprisonment, and it is likely he returns to Macedonia after his release (Titus 3:12), fulfilling his desire to visit them once more (1:26; 2:24).

Purpose of the Letter

The reasons for Paul’s writing are:

1.    To thank his beloved friends and brethren in Philippi for their continued love and benevolence toward him (1:3-8; 4:10-19).

2.    To inform them concerning his present circumstances (1:12-26).

3.    To rebuke them for their disunity and exhort them to humility (1:27; 2:1-4; 4:1-3).

4.    To warn and instruct them concerning their adversaries (1:28-30; 3:1-21).

5.    To explain his returning Epaphroditus to them instead of Timothy (2:18-30).

This is an intensely personal letter, lacking formality and to some extent structure, making it difficult to outline with any degree of accuracy. The keynote of the letter is "rejoice." "The word ’joy’ in its verbal and noun forms appears sixteen times in the letter, proportionately more often than in any of Paul’s other letters" (Loh and Nida 1). Paul is writing to close personal friends and uses many endearing terms (1:7-8; 2:12; 4:1).

It is a joyful letter, but its undercurrent is a sober realization that time is running out. Paul himself was facing a possible death sentence; the church was tensed up, ready for the assault of a menacing world and for the insidious encroachment of false doctrine (Motyer 11).

Therefore, Paul places great emphasis on unity in this letter, using many expressions to show the need for Christians to have a oneness in purpose (1:5, 7; 2:1, 5, 17-19; 3:1, 3, 10, 17; 4:1, 3-4, 7, 10, 14).

There are many figurative expressions taken from everyday life: From athletics (3:12, 14; 4:3); from business (3:7-8; 4:15, 17-18); from the battlefield (1:12, 15, 17, 28, 30); and from the courts of law (1:7, 16). There are also many beautiful themes interwoven within the letter besides the primary ones already mentioned. Most significant is the passage in Philippians 2:5-11 concerning the nature of Christ. "Condensed in these seven verses are profound insights concerning the preexistence, incarnation, humiliation, and exaltation of Jesus Christ" (Wilkinson and Boa 408). Also, Paul makes reference to the terms "attitude" or "think" ten times and uses the word "gospel" nine times.

Outline of the Letter

Scholars and commentators rarely agree on the exact divisions of thought in this letter. Almost as many differing outlines can be found as there are commentators to produce them. The following reproduction is taken from Peter T. O’Brien in his excellent commentary on Philippians:

I.    Salutation (1:1-2)

II.    Thanksgiving and joyful intercession (1:3-11)

A.    Thanksgiving from a Full Heart (1:3-6)

B.    The Apostle’s Affection (1:7-8)

C.    Intercession for Love and Discernment (1:9-11)

III.    The Priority of the Gospel for Paul

A.    The Progress of the Gospel (1:12-14)

B.    Preaching Christ from Different Motives (1:15-18a)

C.    Final Vindication and Glorifying Christ (1:18b-20)

D.    Life or Death (1:21-24)

E.    An Anticipated Reunion? (1:25-26)

IV.    Conduct Worthy of the Gospel Exhortations and an Example to the Community (1:27-2:18)

A.    Unity and Courage in the Face of Opposition (1:27-30)

B.    A Call for Unity and Mutual Consideration (2:1-4)

C.    Christ Jesus, the Supreme Example of Humility (2:5-11)

1.    Paul’s exhortation: adopt Christ’s attitude (2:5)

2.    Christ’s humiliation (2:6-8)

3.    Christ’s exaltation by the Father (2:9-11)

D.    Work Out Your Salvation (2:12-18)

V.    News About Timothy and Epaphroditus: Two Christ-Like Examples (2:19-30)

A.    Timothy (2:19-24)

B.    Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

VI.    Warning Against Judaizers. Following Paul’s Example and Teaching (3:1-21)

A.    Watch Out for the Evil Workers (3:1-3)

B.    Paul’s Past Life: Privileges and Achievements (3:4-6)

C.    A Radical Change: Paul’s Present Values (3:7-11)

D.    Pressing on Toward the Goal (3:12-16)

E.    True and False Models. A Heavenly Common- wealth and a Glorious Hope (3:17-21)

VII.    Final Exhortations (4:1-9)

A.    Stand Firm (4:1)

B.    Be United (4:2-3)

C.    Rejoice, Be Gentle, Don’t Be Anxious (4:4-7)

D.    Focusing on What Is Excellent, Following a Godly Model (4:8-9)

VIII.    Paul’s Thanks for the Philippians’ Gift (4:10-20)

IX.    Final Greetings (4:21-23)

Author and Authenticity

"It is hardly necessary to discuss the question of the epistle’s genuineness as the great majority of scholars regard it as indisputable" (Guthrie 545). There is much internal and external evidence clearly suggesting the Apostle Paul is, in fact, the author of this letter. Most importantly, Paul identifies himself as the author; and the circumstances, style, and people mentioned are all consistent with a Pauline authorship. "The external evidence for the authenticity of Philippians begins as early as Polycarp and extends onward to Eusebius" (Lenski 698).

There are a few theories that interpolations were made to construct the present work, but they are too insignificant to warrant attention in detail in this volume. The primary concern is usually "the sharp change of tone and the disjunction in the train of thought at the beginning of chapter three" (O’Brien 11).

Place and Date of Writing

As to the date of the writing of this epistle, it is necessary, to some extent, to establish the place from which it was written. Paul is clearly in prison when he writes (1:7, 13, 16), but the text does not specify where he is imprisoned. Silva says, "The most controversial element in this reconstruction is, no doubt, the place of writing" (5).

The traditional view is that Paul is in prison in Rome between A.D. 60-62 (Acts 28). In recent years this view has been challenged, and some scholars offer Caesarea (Kummel 329; Hawthorne 42) and Ephesus (Klijn 112; Gnilka 101) as alternative places. The traditional view is defended as follows:

1.    Rome is the only tradition that has been handed down.

2.    Paul is in prison when he writes (1:7, 13-14).

3.    The place from which he writes has a praetorium (1:13).

4.    Those belonging to Caesar’s household are mentioned (4:22).

5.    Timothy is with Paul when he writes (1:1; 2:19-23).

6.    He plans to visit them if he is acquitted (2:24).

7.    The book of Acts mentions three imprisonments:

a.    Philippi (Acts 16:23-40)

b.    Caesarea (Acts 24:27)

c.    Rome (28:30)

Paul obviously did not write this letter while in Philippi. There is little evidence supporting the Caesarian theory. Silva says, "The question is then whether we can identify any positive evidence that would lead us to favor this theory over that of a Roman origin. No such evidence is forthcoming" (9). Bruce says, "A Caesarian imprisonment, therefore, does not satisfactorily account for Paul’s joyful enthusiasm in telling how his circumstances served to advance the gospel" (23).

The same thing may be said of the Ephesus theory. It is actually based on the assumption that Paul was not in prison in Rome long enough (two years) for the number of journeys to be made to communicate the information alluded to in the text. J.B. Lightfoot quotes a number of Roman writers to support his contention that it took a month to make the trip from Rome to Philippi (38). Since Ephesus was much closer to Philippi than was Rome, there would have been sufficient time to have made such trips. Guthrie summarizes the journeys as follows (numbers added by writer):

1.    The Philippians receive news of Paul.

2.    Epaphroditus arrives in Rome with the gift.

3.    He falls ill, presumably after some period of active ministering to Paul’s needs, and a report of his illness reaches Philippi (4:18; 2:26). The Philippians may have at this point received Paul’s acknowledgment of the gift.

4.    Paul receives word from Philippi of their distress of Epaphroditus (2:26).

5.    Epaphroditus takes the epistle to Philippi (2:25).

6.    Timothy is soon to visit Philippi and is to report back to Paul (2:19) (548).

These visits come from theories based on man’s interpretation of the text. However, not all of these visits are required by the text; some are implied. The Philippians could have received news of Paul before he even arrived in Rome. From Acts 28:15, we know this news preceded his arrival. It is also possible that Epaphroditus fell ill while on the way to Rome and that the Philippians received word of his illness and sent their concerns to Paul by the time or soon after Epaphroditus actually arrived in Rome. Even if all of the aforementioned trips were made, there would have been time to make them during a two-year period. Most importantly, there is no scriptural evidence that Paul was ever imprisoned in Ephesus.

F. F. Bruce adds a seventh possible trip to the list:

As soon as he is released, Paul himself hopes to visit Philippi (25-26).

If Paul’s letter be written from Rome, he appears to have changed his plans about going to Spain (Romans 15:24; Romans 15:29—written about A.D. 57), which is certainly possible, considering the developments in Philippi.

Paul most likely writes this letter while imprisoned at Rome. The other theories are mere speculation without any scriptural justification. The circumstances in Philippians 1:12-18 agree with a Roman imprisonment. The theme of "joy" that dominates the letter is set against an impending crisis (1:19-26) that could mark the final climax to his trial (Acts 28:30). Paul’s future plans depend on the result of that trial (1:23-25, 27; 2:23-24). Finally, the Roman site provides the latest date for the letter, compared with the other theories; and the Roman site provides time for all of the journeys and circumstances mentioned in the letter to develop.

Having identified the place of writing, it may then be concluded the date was probably A.D. 62. This date also helps to better identify the opponents of Paul, whom he refers to in Philippians 1:15-17 and throughout chapter 3. These will be identified and discussed in the context as they are found.

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Pentecost, J. D. The Joy of Living: A Study of Philippians. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973.

Plummer, A. A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. London: Robert Scott Roxburghe House, 1919.

Robertson, A. T. Paul’s Joy in Christ: Studies in Philippians. Grand Rapids: Reprinted by Baker Book House, 1970.

Schutz, J. H. Paul and the Anatomy of Apostolic Authority. Cambridge, 1975.

Silva, M. Philippians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992.

Spicq, C. Agape in the New Testament. Vol. 2. St. Louis and London, 1965.

Thayer, J. H. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1977.

Vincent, M. R. Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles to the Philippians and to Philemon, International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1897.

Walter, N. "Christusglaube und heidnische Religiositat in Paulinischen Gemeinden," New Testament Studies, 25, 1979.

Watson, D. F. "A Rhetorical Analysis of Philippians and Its Implications for the Unity Question" in Supplements to Novem Testamentum, 30. 1988.

Wilkinson, B. and K. Boa. Talk Thru the Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983.

Wright, N. T. "Adam in Pauline Christology," SBL 1983 Seminar Papers, ed. Richards, Chico: 1982.

World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book Inc., 1983.

Translations

ASV        American Standard Version

Brc        Barclay

GNB        Good News Bible

Gpd        Goodspeed

JB        Jerusalem Bible

KJV        King James Version

Mft        Moffatt

NAB        New American Bible

NASB        New American Standard Bible

NEB        New English Bible

NIV        New International Version

NKJV        New King James Version

Phps        Phillips Translation

RSV        Revised Standard Version

TEV        Today’s English Version

Abbreviations

BAGD Bauer, W.F. Arndt, F. W. Gingrich, and F. Danker, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

ISBE    International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

NIDNTT New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

TDNT    Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

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