Easton's Bible Dictionary
was written by Paul during the two years when he was
"in bonds" in Rome (Philippians 1:7 - 13 ), probably early in the year A.D. 62
or in the end of 61.
The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus, their messenger, with contributions to
meet the necessities of the apostle; and on his return Paul sent back with him
this letter. With this precious communication Epaphroditus sets out on his homeward
journey. "The joy caused by his return, and the effect of this wonderful letter
when first read in the church of Philippi, are hidden from us. And we may almost
say that with this letter the church itself passes from our view. To-day, in silent
meadows, quiet cattle browse among the ruins which mark the site of what was once
the flourishing Roman colony of Philippi, the home of the most attractive church
of the apostolic age. But the name and fame and spiritual influence of that church
will never pass. To myriads of men and women in every age and nation the letter
written in a dungeon at Rome, and carried along the Egnatian Way by an obscure
Christian messenger, has been a light divine and a cheerful guide along the most
rugged paths of life" (Professor Beet).
The church at Philippi was the first-fruits of European Christianity. Their attachment
to the apostle was very fervent, and so also was his affection for them. They
alone of all the churches helped him by their contributions, which he gratefully
acknowledges ( Acts 20:33 - 35 ; 2 Corinthians 11:7 - 12 ; 2 Thessalonians 3:8
). The pecuniary liberality of the Philippians comes out very conspicuously (Philippians
4:15 ). "This was a characteristic of the Macedonian missions, as 2 Corinthians
8 and 9 amply and beautifully prove. It is remarkable that the Macedonian converts
were, as a class, very poor ( 2 Corinthians 8:2 ); and the parallel facts, their
poverty and their open-handed support of the great missionary and his work, are
deeply harmonious. At the present day the missionary liberality of poor Christians
is, in proportion, really greater than that of the rich" (Moule's Philippians,
The contents of this epistle give an interesting insight into the condition of
the church at Rome at the time it was written. Paul's imprisonment, we are informed,
was no hindrance to his preaching the gospel, but rather "turned out to the furtherance
of the gospel." The gospel spread very extensively among the Roman soldiers, with
whom he was in constant contact, and the Christians grew into a "vast multitude."
It is plain that Christianity was at this time making rapid advancement in Rome.
The doctrinal statements of this epistle bear a close relation to those of the
Epistle to the Romans. Compare also Philippians 3:20 with Ephesians 2:12 , 2:19
, where the church is presented under the idea of a city or commonwealth for the
first time in Paul's writings. The personal glory of Christ is also set forth
in almost parallel forms of expression in Philippians 2:5 - 11 , compared with
Ephesians 1:17 - 23 ; 2:8 ; and Colossians 1:15 - 20 . "This exposition of the
grace and wonder of His personal majesty, personal self-abasement, and personal
exaltation after it," found in these epistles, "is, in a great measure, a new
development in the revelations given through St. Paul" (Moule). Other minuter
analogies in forms of expression and of thought are also found in these epistles
of the Captivity
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
was St. Paul from Rome in A.D. 62 or 63. St. Pauls connection
with Philippi was of a peculiar character, which gave rise to the writing of this
epistle. St. Paul entered its walls A.D. 52. ( Acts 16:18 ) There, at a greater
distance from Jerusalem than any apostle had yet penetrated, the long-restrained
energy of St, Paul was again employed in laying the foundation of a Christian
church, Philippi was endeared to St. Paul not only by the hospitality of Lydia,
the deep sympathy of the converts, and the remarkable miracle which set a seal
on his preaching, but, also by the successful exercise of his missionary activity
after a long suspense, and by the happy consequences of his undaunted endurance
of ignominies which remained in his memory, ( Philemon 1:30 ) after the long interval
of eleven years.
Leaving Timothy and Luke to watch over the infant church, Paul and Silas went
to Thessalonica, ( 1 Thessalonians 2:2 ) whither they were followed by the alms
of the Philippians, ( Philemon 4:16 ) and thence southward. After the lapse of
five years, spent chiefly at Corinth and Ephesus, St. Paul passed through Macedonia,
A.D. 57, on his way to Greece, and probably visited Philippi for the second time,
and was there joined by Timothy. He wrote at Philippi his second Epistle to the
On returning from Greece, ( Acts 20:4 ) he again found a refuge among his faithful
Philippians, where he spent some days at Easter, A.D. 58, with St. Luke, who accompanied
him when he sailed from Neapolis. Once more, in his Roman captivity, A.D. 62,
their care of him revived-again. They sent Epaphroditus bearing their alms for
the apostles support, and ready also to tender his personal service. ( Philemon
St. Pauls aim in writing is plainly this: while acknowledging the alms of the
Philippians and the personal services of their messenger, to give them some information
respecting his own condition, and some advice respecting theirs. Strangely full
of joy and thanksgiving amidst adversity, like the apostles midnight hymn from
the depth of his Philippian dungeon, this epistle went forth from his prison at
Rome. In most other epistles he writes with a sustained effort to instruct, or
with sorrow, or with indignation; he is striving to supply imperfect or to correct
erroneous teaching, to put down scandalous impurity or to schism in the church
which he addresses. But in this epistle, though he knew the Philippians intimately
and was not blind to the faults and tendencies to fault of some of them, yet he
mentions no evil so characteristic of the whole Church as to call for general
censure on his part or amendment on theirs. Of all his epistles to churches, none
has so little of an official character as this.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. PAUL AND THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
Paul was on his second missionary journey in the year
52 AD. He felt that he was strangely thwarted in many of his plans. He had had
a most distressing illness in Galatia. The Spirit would not permit him to preach
in Asia, and when he essayed to enter Bithynia the Spirit again would not suffer
it. Baffled and perplexed, the apostle with his two companions, Silas and Timothy,
went on to the seacoast and stopped in Troas. Here at last his leading became
clear. A vision of a man from Macedonia convinced him that it was the will of
God that he should preach in the western continent of Europe. The way was opened
at once. The winds were favorable. In two days he came to Neapolis. At once he
took the broad paved way of the Via Egnatia up to the mountain pass and down on
the other side to Philippi, a journey of some 8 miles. There was no synagogue
at Philippi, but a little company of Jews gathered for Sabbath worship at "a place
of prayer" (proseuche, Acts 16:13), about a mile to the West of the city gate
on the shore of the river Gangites (see PROSEUCHA). Paul and his companions talked
to the women gathered there, and Lydia was converted. Later, a maid with the spirit
of divination was exorcised. Paul and Silas were scourged and thrown into prison,
an earthquake set them free, the jailer became a believer, the magistrates repented
their treatment of men who were Roman citizens and besought them to leave the
city (Acts 16:6 - 40). Paul had had his first experience of a Roman scourging
and of lying in the stocks of a Roman prison here at Philippi, yet he went on
his way rejoicing, for a company of disciples had been formed, and he had won
the devotion of loyal and loving hearts for himself and his Master (see PHILIPPI).
That was worth all the persecution and the pain. The Christians at Philippi seem
to have been Paul's favorites among all his converts. He never lost any opportunity
of visiting them and refreshing his spirit with their presence in the after-years.
Six years later he was resident in Ephesus, and having sent Titus to Corinth with
a letter to the Corinthians and being in doubt as to the spirit in which it would
be received, he appointed a meeting with Titus in Macedonia, and probably spent
the anxious days of his waiting at Philippi. If he met Titus there, he may have
written 2 Corinthians in that city (2 Corinthians 2:13 ; 7:6). Paul returned to
Ephesus, and after the riot in that city he went over again into Macedonia and
made his third visit to Philippi. He probably promised the Philippians at this
time that he would return to Philippi to celebrate the Easter week with his beloved
converts there. He went on into Greece, but in 3 months he was back again, at
the festival of the resurrection in the year 58 AD (Acts 20:2 , 6). We read in
1 Timothy 1:3 that Paul visited Macedonia after the Roman imprisonment. He enjoyed
himself among the Philippians. They were Christians after his own heart. He thanks
God for their fellowship from the first day until now (Philippians 1:5). He declares
that they are his beloved who have always obeyed, not in his presence only, but
much more in his absence (Philippians 2:12). With fond repetition he addresses
them as his brethren, beloved and longed for, his joy and crown, his beloved (Philippians
4:1). This was Paul's favorite church, and we can gather from the epistle good
reason for this fact.
II. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHURCH AT PHILIPPI
|(1) It seems to be the least Jewish of all the Pauline churches.
There were few Jews in Philippi. No Hebrew names are found in the list of converts
in this church mentioned in the New Testament. The Jewish opponents of Paul seem
never to have established themselves in this community.
(2) Women seem to be unusually prominent in the history of this church, and this
is consistent with what we know concerning the position accorded to woman in Macedonian
society. Lydia brings her whole family with her into the church. She must have
been a very influential woman, and her own fervor and devotion and generosity
and hospitality seem to have been contagious and to have become characteristic
of the whole Christian community. Euodia and Syntyche are mentioned in the epistle,
two women who were fellow-laborers with Paul in the gospel, for both of whom he
has great respect, of both of whom he is sure that their names are written in
the book of life, but who seem to have differed with each other in some matter
of opinion. Paul exhorts them to be of the same mind in the Lord (Philippians
4:2). The prominence of women in the congregation at Philippi or the dominance
of Lydia's influence among them may account for the fact that they seem to have
been more mindful of Paul's comfort than any of his other converts were. They
raised money for Paul's support and forwarded it to him again and again. They
were anxious that he should have all that was needful. They were willing to give
of their time and their means to that end. There seem to have been no theological
differences in their company. That may testify to the fact that the most of them
(3) There were splendid men in the church membership too. Some of them were Macedonians
and some of them were Roman veterans.
Hausrath declares that the Macedonians represented the "noblest and soundest part
of the ancient world. .... Here was none of the shuffling and the indecision of
the Asiatics, none of the irritable vanity and the uncertain levity of the Greek
communities. .... They were men of sterner mold than could be fouund in Asia Minor
or languorous Syria. The material was harder to work in, and offered more stubborn
resistance; but the work, once done, endured. A new Macedonian phalanx was formed
here, a phalanx of Pauline Christians. .... Manliness, loyalty, firmness, their
characteristics in general history, are equally their characteristics in the history
of the Christian church. .... They were always true to Paul, always obedient,
always helpful" (Time of the Apostles, III, 203-4).
Paul rejoiced in them. They were spirits congenial with his own. The Roman veterans
had been trained in the Roman wars to hardness and discipline and loyalty. They
were Roman citizens and proud of the fact. In the epistle Paul exhorts them to
behave as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27), and he reminds
them that though they were proud of their Roman citizenship, as was he, they all
had become members of a heavenly commonwealth, citizenship in which was a much
greater boon than even the jus Italicum had been. In Philippians 3:20 Paul states
the fact again, "Our citizenship is in heaven"; and he goes on to remind them
that their King is seated there upon the throne and that He is coming again to
establish a glorious empire, for He has power to subject all things unto Himself.
It is to these old soldiers and athletes that Paul addresses his military and
gymnastic figures of speech. He informs them that the whole praetorian guard had
heard of the gospel through his imprisonment at Rome (Philippians 1:13). He sends
them greeting from the saints that are in Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22).
He prays that he may hear of them that they stand fast like an immovable phalanx,
with one soul striving athletically for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).
He knows that they will be fearless and brave, in nothing affrighted by the adversaries
(Philippians 1:28). He speaks of his own experience as a wrestling-match, a conflict
or contest (Philippians 1:30). He joys in the sacrifice and service of their faith
(Philippians 2:17). He calls Epaphroditus not only his fellow-worker but his fellow-soldier
(Philippians 2:25). He likens the Christian life to a race in which he presses
on toward the goal unto the prize (Philippians 3:14). He asks the Philippians
to keep even, soldierly step with him in the Christian walk (Philippians 3:16).
These metaphors have their appeal to an athletic and military race, and they bear
their testimony to the high regard which Paul had for this type of Christianity
and for those in whose lives it was displayed. We do not know the names of many
of these men, for only Clement and Epaphroditus are mentioned here; but we gather
much concerning their spirit from this epistle, and we are as sure as Paul himself
that their names are all written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3).
(4) If the constituent elements of the church at Philippi fairly represented the
various elements of the population of the city, they must have been cosmopolitan
in character. Philippi was an old Macedonian city which had been turned into a
Roman colony. It was both Greek and Roman in its characteristics. Christianity
had been introduced here by two Jews, who were Roman citizens, and a Jewish son
of a Gentile father. In the account given of the rounding of the church in Acts
16 three converts are mentioned, and one is a Jewish proselyte from Asia, one
a native Greek, and one a Roman official. The later converts doubtless represented
the same diversity of nationality and the same differences in social position.
Yet, apart from those two good women, Euodia and Syntyche, they were all of one
mind in the Lord. It is a remarkable proof of the fact that in Christ all racial
and social conditions may be brought into harmony and made to live together in
(5) They were a very liberal people. They gave themselves to the Lord and to Paul
(2 Corinthians 8:5), and whenever they could help Paul or further the work of
the gospel they gave gladly and willingly and up to the limit of their resources;
and then they hypothecated their credit and gave beyond their power (2 Corinthians
8:3). Even Paul was astonished at their giving. He declares that they gave out
of much affliction and deep poverty, that they abounded in their bounty, and that
they were rich only in their liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2).
Surely these are unusual encomiums. The Philippians must have been a very unusual
people. If the depth of one's consecration and the reality of one's religion are
to be measured by the extent to which they affect the disposition of one's material
possessions, if one measure of Christian love is to be found in Christian giving,
then the Philippians may well stand supreme among the saints in the Pauline churches.
Paul seems to have loved them most. He loved them enough to allow them to contribute
toward his support. Elsewhere he refused any help of this sort, and stedfastly
adhered to his plan of self-support while he was preaching the gospel. He made
the single exception in the case of the Philippians. He must have been sure of
their affection and of their confidence. Four times they gave Paul pecuniary aid.
Twice they sent him their contributions just after he had left them and gone on
to Thessalonica (Philippians 4:15 , 16). When Paul had proceeded to Corinth and
was in want during his ministry there his heart was gladdened by the visitation
of brethren from Philippi, who supplied the measure of his want (2 Corinthians
11:8 , 9). It was not a first enthusiasm, forgotten as soon as the engaging personality
of the apostle was removed from their sight. It was not merely a personal attachment
that prompted their gifts. They gave to their own dear apostle, but only that
he might minister to others as he had ministered to them. He was their living
link with the work in the mission field.
Eleven years passed by, and the Philippians heard that Paul was in prison at Rome
and again in need of their help. Eleven years are enough to make quite radical
changes in a church membership, but there seems to have been no change in the
loyalty or the liberality of the Philippian church in that time. The Philippians
hastened to send Epaphroditus to Rome with their contributions and their greetings.
It was like a bouquet of fresh flowers in the prison cell. Paul writes this epistle
to thank them that their thought for him had blossomed afresh at the first opportunity
they had had (Philippians 4:10). No wonder that Paul loved them and was proud
of them and made their earnestness and sincerity and affection the standard of
comparison with the love of others (2 Corinthians 8:8).
III. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EPISTLE
1. A Letter:
It is a letter. It is not a treatise, as Romana, Hebrews, and 1 John are. It is
not an encyclical full of general observations and exhortations capable of application
at any time and anywhere, as the Epistle to the Ephesians and the Epistle of James
and the Epistles of Peter are. It is a simple letter to personal friends. It has
no theological discussions and no rigid outline and no formal development. It
rambles along just as any real letter would with personal news and personal feelings
and outbursts of personal affection between tried friends. It is the most spontaneous
and unaffected of the Pauline Epistles. It is more epistolary than any of the
others addressed to the churches.
2. A Letter of Love:
It is a letter of love. All of the other epistles have mixed feelings manifest
in them. Sometimes a feeling of grief and of indignation is dominant, as in 2
Corinthians. Sometimes the uppermost desire of Paul in his writing seems to be
the establishment of the truth against the assault of its foes, as in Galatians
and Romans. Always more or less fault is suggested in the recipients of the warnings
and the exhortations Paul feels compelled to write to them. In Philippi alone
there is no fault to be found. The only suggestion of such a thing is in the reference
to the difference of opinion between Euodia and Syntyche, and while Paul thinks
this ought to be harmonized, he does not seem to consider it any very serious
menace to the peace of the church. Aside from this Paul has nothing but praise
for his beloved brethren and prayer that their love may abound yet more and more
in knowledge and all discernment (Philippians 1:9). He is full of thankfulness
upon all his remembrance of them (Philippians 1:3). He rejoices in the privilege
of being offered upon the sacrifice and service of their faith (Philippians 2:17).
The church at Philippi may not have been conspicuous in charisms as the church
at Corinth was, but it had the fruits of the Spirit in rich measure. Paul seems
to think that it needed only to rejoice in its spiritual possessions and to grow
in grace and in the mind of Christ. His heart is full of gratitude and love as
he writes. He rejoices as he thinks of them. His peace and his hope are triumphant
over present affliction and the prospect of persecution and death. If this is
his last will and testament to his beloved church, as Holtzmann calls it, he has
nothing to bequeath them but his unqualified benediction. Having loved them from
the first, he loves them to the end.
3. A Letter of Joy:
It is a letter of joy. It was Bengel who said, Summa epistolae: gaudeo, gaudete,
"The sum of the epistle is, I rejoice; rejoice ye." Paul was a man whose spirits
were undaunted in any circumstances. He might be scourged in one city and stoned
in another and imprisoned in a third and left for dead in a fourth, but as long
as he retained consciousness and as soon as he regained conscioushess he rejoiced.
Nothing could dampen his ardor. Nothing could disturb his peace. In Philippi he
had been scourged and cast into the inner prison and his feet had been made fast
in the stocks, but at midnight he and Silas were singing hymns of praise to God.
He is in prison now in Rome, but he is still rejoicing. Some men would have been
discouraged in such circumstances. Wherever Paul had gone his preaching had been
despised, and he had been persecuted. The Jews had slandered him and harassed
him, and so many of his converts had proved to be fickle and false. The years
had gone by and the breach between him and his brethren had widened rather than
lessened, and at last they had succeeded in getting him into prison and keeping
him there for years. Prison life is never pleasant, and it was far less so in
that ancient day than it is now.
Paul was such an ardent spirit. It was more difficult for him to be confined than
it would be for a more indolent man; He was a world-missionary, a restless cosmopolite
ranging up and down through the continents with the message of the Christ. It
was like putting an eagle into a cage to put him into prison. Many eagles mope
and die in imprisonment. Paul was not moping. He was writing this Epistle to the
Philippians and saying to them, "The things which happened unto me have fallen
out rather unto the progress of the gospel .... therein I rejoice, yea, and will
rejoice" (Philippians 1:12 , 18). His enemies were free to do and to say hat they
pleased, and they were making the most of the opportunity. He could no longer
thwart or hinder them. Some men would have broken out into loud lamentations and
complaints. Some men would have worried about the conditions and would have become
nervous about the outcome of the cause. The faith of even John the Baptist failed
in prison. He could not believe that things were going right if he were not there
to attend to them. Paul's faith never wavered. His hope never waned. His joy was
inexhaustible and perennial. He was never anxious. Did he hear the sentry's step
pacing up and down the corridor before his prison door? It reminded him of the
peace of God which passeth all understanding, guarding his heart and his thoughts
in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7), standing sentry there night and day. The keynote
of this epistle is "Rejoice in the Lord always: again I will say, Rejoice" (Philippians
Paul is old and worn and in prison, but some 20 times in the course of this short
letter to the Philippians he uses the words, joy, rejoice, peace, content, and
thanksgiving. It is a letter full of love and full of joy.
4. Importance Theologically:
It is of great importance theologically. It is one of the paradoxes to which we
become almost accustomed in Paul's writings that this simplest of his letters,
most epistolary and most personal throughout should yet contain the fullest and
most important putting of theology of the incarnation and exaltation that came
from his pen. He has only a practical end in view. He is exhorting the Philippians
to humility, and he says to them, Have the mind which was in Christ who emptied
himself and then was exalted (Philippians 2:5 - 11). It is the most theological
passage in the epistle. It is one of the most doctrinally important in the New
Testament. It is Paul's final contribution to the solution of the great mystery
of the coming of the Saviour and the economy of salvation. It is his last word,
at any length, on this subject. He states plainly the fact of the kenosis, the
morale of the redemption, the certainty of the exaltation, and the sure hope of
the universal adoration in the end. The most vital truths of Christology are here
clearly stated and definitely formulated for all time. Jesus was a real man, not
grasping at any of the attributes of Deity which would be inconsistent with real
and true humanity, but in whole-hearted surrender of sacrifice submitting to all
the disabilities and limitations necessary to the incarnate conditions. He was
equal with God, but He emptied Himself of the omnipotence and the omniscience
and the omnipresence of His pre-incarnate state, and was found in form as a man,
a genuine man obedient to God in all His life. He always maintained that attitude
toward God which we ought to maintain and which we can maintain in our humanity,
in which He was on an equality with us. We ought to have the mind which was in
Christ. He humbled Himself and became obedient. He was obedient through life and
obedient unto death, yea, even unto the death of the cross. It is a great passage,
setting forth profoundest truths in the tersest manner. It is the crowning revelation
concerning Jesus in the Pauline Epistles. It represents Paul's most mature thought
upon this theme.
IV. GENUINENESS OF THE EPISTLE
The genuineness of the epistle is very generally admitted today. It was in the
Canon of Marcion. Its name occurs in the list on the Muratorian Fragment. It is
found in both the Peshitta and the Old Latin versions. It is mentioned by Polycarp
and quoted in the letter of the churches of Lyons and Vienne, in the Epistle of
Diognetus, and in the writings of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria. Baur made
a determined attack upon its authenticity. He declared that it was not doctrinal
and polemical like the other Pauline Epistles, but that it was full of shallow
imitations of these. He said it had no apparent motive and no connected argument
and no depth of thought. He questioned some of the historical data and suspected
Gnostic influence in certain passages. Bleek said of Baur's arguments that they
were partly derived from a perverted interpretation of certain passages in the
epistle; they partly rested upon arbitrary istorical presuppositions; and some
of them were really so weak that it was hard to believe that he could have attached
any importance to them himself. It is not surprising that few critics have been
found willing to follow Baur's leadership at this point. Biederman, Kneucker,
Hinsch, Hitzig, Hoekstra, and Holsten may be mentioned among them. The genuineness
of the epistle has been defended by Weizsacker, Weiss, Pfleiderer, Julicher, Klopper,
Schenkel, Reuss, Hilgenfeld, Harnack, Holtzmann, Mangold, Lipsius, Renan, Godet,
Zahn, Davidson, Lightfoot, Farrar, McGiffert, and practically all of the English
writers on the subject. Weizsacker says that the reasons for attributing the epistle
to the apostle Paul are "overwhelming." McGiffert declares: "It is simply inconceivable
that anyone else would or could have produced in his name a letter in which no
doctrinal or ecclesiastical motive can be discovered, and in which the personal
element so largely predominates and the character of the man and the apostle is
revealed with so great vividness and fidelity. The epistle deserves to rank alongside
of Galatians, Corinthians, and Romans as an undoubted product of Paul's pen, and
as a coordinate standard by which to test the genuineness of other and less certain
writings" (The Apostolic Age, 393). This is the practically unanimous conclusion
of modern scholarship.
V. PLACE, DATE AND OCCASION OF WRITING
This is one of the prison epistles (see PHILEMON). Paul
makes frequent reference to his bonds (Philippians 1:7 , 13 , 14 , 17). He was
for 2 years a prisoner in Caesarea (Acts 24:27). Paulus and others have thought
that the epistle was written during this imprisonment; but the references to the
praetorian guard and the members of Caesar's household have led most critics to
conclude that the Roman imprisonment was the one to which the epistle refers.
Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians were also written during the Roman imprisonment,
and these three form a group by themselves. Philippians is evidently separated
from them by some interval. Was it written earlier or later than they? Bleek,
Lightfoot, Sanday, Herr, Beet and others think that the Epistle to the Philippians
was written first. We prefer, however, to agree with Zahn, Ramsay, Findlay, Shaw,
Vincent, Julicher, Holtzmann, Weiss, Godet, and others, who argue for the writing
of Php toward the close of the Roman imprisonment.
Their reasons are as follows:
|(1) We know that some considerable time must have elapsed
after Paul's arrival at Rome before he could have written this epistle; for the
news of his arrival had been carried to Philippi and a contribution to his needs
had been raised among his friends there, and Epaphroditus had carried it to Rome.
In Rome, Epaphroditus had become seriously sick and the news of this sickness
had been carried back to Philippi and the Philippians had sent back a message
of sympathy to him. At least four trios between Rome and philippi are thus indicated,
and there are intervals of greater or less length between them. The distance between
the two cities was some 700 miles. Communication was easy by the Appian Way and
Trajan's Way to Brundusium and across the narrow straits there to the Egnatian
Way, which led directly to Philippi. There were many making the trip at all times,
but the journey would occupy a month at least, and the four journeys suggested
in the epistle were not in direct succession.
(2) Paul says that through him Christ had become known throughout the whole praetorian
guard (Philippians 1:13). It must have taken some time for this to become possible.
(3) The conditions outside the prison, where Christ was being preached, by some
in a spirit of love, and by others in a spirit of faction, cannot be located in
the earliest months of Paul's sojourn in Rome (Philippians 1:15 - 17). They must
belong to a time when Christianity had developed in the city and parties had been
formed in the church.
(4) Luke was well known at Philippi. Yet he sends no salutation to the Philippians
in this epistle. He would surely have done so if he had been with Paul at the
time of its writing. He was with the apostle when he wrote to the Colossians,
and so was Demas (Colossians 4:14). In this epistle Paul promises to send Timothy
to Philippi, and says, "I have no man likeminded, who will care truly for your
state" (Philippians 2:20). This must mean that Aristarchus, Demas and Luke were
all gone. They had all been with him when he wrote the other epistles
(5) His condition as a prisoner seems to have changed for the worse. He had enjoyed
comparative liberty for the first 2 years of his imprisonment at Rome, living
in his own hired house and accessible to all his friends. He had now been removed,
possibly to the guardroom of the praetorian cohort. Here he was in more rigorous
confinement, in want and alone.
(6) Paul writes as if he thought that his case would be decided soon (Philippians
2:23 , 14). He seems to be facing his final trial. He is not sure of its outcome.
He may die a martyr's death, but he expects to be acquitted and then to be at
liberty to do further missionary work. This was not his immediate expectation
when he wrote the other epistles., and therefore they would seem to be earlier
(7) The epistle is addressed to all the saints in Philippi, with the bishops and
deacons (Philippians 1:1). These official titles do not occur in any earlier epistles,
but they are found in the Pastoral Epistles, which were written still later. Therefore
they link the Epistle to the Philippians with the later rather than the earlier
From these indications we conclude that this is the last of Paul's Epistles to
the churches. Hilgenfeld calls this the swan song of the great apostle. In it
Paul has written his last exhortations and warnings, his last hopes and prayers
for his converts to the Christian faith. Its date must be somewhere toward the
close of the Roman imprisonment, in the year 63 or 64 AD. Epaphroditus had brought
the contribution of the Philippians to Paul in Rome. He had plunged into the work
there in rather reckless fashion, risking his life and contracting a malarial
fever or some other serious sickness; but his life had been spared in answer to
the prayers of Paul and his friends. Now Paul sends him back to Philippi, though
he knows that he will be very lonely without him; and he sends with him this letter
of acknowledgment of their gift, filled with commendation and encouragement, gratitude
VI. CONTENTS OF THE EPISTLE
The epistle is not capable of any logical analysis. Its succession of thought
may be represented as follows:
(1) Address (Philippians 1:1 , 2).
(2) Thanksgiving and prayer (Philippians 1:3 - 11):
Paul is thankful for their fellowship and confident of their perfection. He longs
for them and prays that their love may be wise to discriminate among the most
excellent things and that they may be able to choose the very best, until they
are filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are through Jesus Christ, unto
the glory and the praise of God.
(3) Information concerning his own experience (Philippians 1:12 - 30):
(a) His evangelism (Philippians 1:12 - 14):
Everything had turned out well. Paul is in prison, but he has been indefatigable
in his evangelism. He has been chained to a soldier, but that has given him many
an opportunity for personal and private and prolonged conversation. When the people
have gathered to hear, the guard has listened perforce; and when the crowd was
gone, more than once the soldier has seemed curious and interested and they have
talked on about the Christ. Paul has told his experience over and over to these
men, and his story has been carried through the whole camp.
(b) His tolerance (Philippians 1:15 - 18):
Not only has the gospel found unexpected furtherance inside the prison walls,
but through the whole city the brethren have been emboldened by Paul's success
to preach Christ, some through faction and envy and strife, and some through love.
Paul rejoices that Christ is preached, whether by his enemies or by his friends.
He would much prefer to have the gospel presented as he himself preached it, but
he was great-souled and broadminded enough to tolerate differences of opinion
and method among brethren in Christ. "In every way, whether in pretense or in
truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice" (Philippians
1:18). This is one of the noblest utterances of one of the greatest of men. Paul
is sorry that everybody does not see things just exactly as he does, but he rejoices
if they glorify Christ and would not put the least hindrance in their way.
(c) His readiness for life or death (Philippians 1:19 - 26):
Paul says, Give me liberty or give me death; it will be Christ either way. To
live is to work for Christ; to die is to be with Christ. "To me to live is Christ,
and to die is gain." Here is Paul's soliloquy in the face of possible martyrdom
or further missionary labors.
We are reminded of Hamlet's soliloquy in Shakespeare. "To be or not to be"--that
is the question with both Hamlet and Paul. Hamlet weighs evils against evils and
chooses the lesser evils in sheer cowardice in the end. Paul weighs blessings
against blessings, the blessings of life for Christ and the blessings of death
with Christ, and chooses the lesser blessings in pure unselfishness in the end.
They both choose life, but the motives of their choice are radically different;
and Paul lives with rejoicing while Hamlet lives in despair and in shame. The
aged apostle would rather die than live, but he would rather live than die before
his work was done.
(d) His example (Philippians 1:27 - 30):
Paul was a Roman citizen and so were they. He tried to live worthy of his citizenship
and so must they. He had a still higher ambition, that he and they might live
as citizens worthy of the gospel of Christ. He fought as a good soldier. He stood
fast in the faith. He was in nothing affrighted by the adversaries. Let them follow
his example. They were engaged in the same conflict. To them it had been granted
to believe and to suffer in the behalf of Christ. Their faith was not of themselves;
it was the gift of God. Their suffering was not self-chosen; it too was a gift
(4) Exhortation to follow the example of Christ (Philippians 2:1 - 18):
Let the Philippians have the mind and spirit of Jesus, and Paul will rejoice to
pour out his life as a libation upon the sacrifice and service of their faith.
(5) Reasons for sending Timothy, and Epaphroditus to them (Philippians 2:19 - 30).
(6) Paul's example (Philippians 3:1 - 21):
(a) In the repudiation of all confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:1 - 7):
There are certain dogs and evil workers who belong to the old Jewish persuasion
who glory in the flesh. Paul does not. He glories in Christ Jesus and has no confidence
in the flesh. He has much reason to be proud of his past, for he would rank high
on his record among them. He was of the stock of Israel, the prince with God.
He belonged to the race of those who wrestled with God and got the victory. He
was of the tribe of Benjamin, the only one of the patriarchs born in the Chosen
Land. The first king of Israel had been chosen from this tribe. It alone had been
faithful to the house of David at the time of the Great Schism. It held the place
of honor in the militant host of the Israelites (Judges 5:14; Hosea 5:8). It was
a matter of pride to belong to this singly faithful and signally honored tribe.
He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he belonged to that sect among the Hebrews that
was notorious for its scrupulous observance of all the religious ritual, for its
patriotism and zeal, for its piety. and devotion. Among these Pharisees he was
conspicuous for his enthusiasm. He was the chosen instrument of the Sanhedrin
to persecute and annihilate the Christian church. No one could find fault with
his legal righteousness. He claimed to be blameless as judged by their standard.
That was his record. Who has any better one, in pedigree or in piety? All of these
things Paul counts but loss for Christ.
(b) In the maintenance and pursuit of spiritual perfection (Philippians 3:8 - 16):
The word "perfect" is used twice in this paragraph. We read: "Not that I have
already obtained, or am already made perfect: but I press on." Many of the authorities
quote these words as indicative of Paul's humility in disclaiming any present
perfection of character while he avows his purpose to strive on toward perfection
as long as he lives. Such an interpretation is wholly aside from Paul's thought.
He is not talking about perfection in patience and peace and devotion and character.
That perfection he claims for himself and for the Philippians in this paragraph
toward the close: "Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded."
The perfection of which he speaks earlier is the perfection possible in the resurrection
life of the saints in bliss. He has not attained unto the resurrection from the
dead and is not perfect with the perfection of heaven. That is the goal of his
endeavor. He presses on to that mark. In the meantime he maintains that perfection
of consecration and of faith that results in present Christian perfection of character
and which is the only guaranty of that perfection to be revealed to those who
attain unto the resurrection from the dead.
(c) In heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:17 - 21):
Paul walks with his mind on heavenly things. There are those who mind earthly
things. They are enemies of the cross, but he has sworn eternal allegiance to
the cross. Their end is perdition, while his end is sure salvation. Their god
is the belly, while his goal is the perfection of the spirit. Their glory is in
their shame, while his glory is in Christ alone. "Brethren, be ye imitators together
of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample." Then "The
Lord .... shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation," the body of our earthly
pilgrimage, the body that so often fails the racer to the goal and cannot keep
up with the desire of his spirit, and will conform it "to the body of his glory,"
the perfect body of those who have attained to the resurrection of the dead. It
is not "our vile body" that is to be changed. That gives a false sense in modern
English. The body is not vile, and the Bible nowhere says that it is. It was Manichean
or neo-Platonic heresy that matter was evil and the body vile. Plotinus blushed
that he had a body; Jesus never did. The Christian will honor the body as the
temple of the Holy Spirit. It was the vehicle of the incarnation, and he honors
it for that. Yet the body prepared for Jesus was the body of His humiliation.
It bound Him to the earth. It wearied when He was most anxious to work. It failed
Him when He most needed strength. Paul says that our bodies are like the body
of Jesus of Nazareth now, and they shall be like the body of our risen Lord in
(7) A series of short exhortations (Philippians 4:1 - 9):
This series ends with the command, "The things which ye both learned and received
and heard and saw in me, these things do: and the God of peace shall be with you."
All these exhortations, then, are based upon his own conduct and experience and
example. They had seen the embodiment of these things in him. They were to be
imitators of him in their obedience to them. Therefore as we read them we have
side-lights thrown upon the character of the apostle who had taught and preached
and practiced these things.
What do they tell us concerning the apostle Paul?
|(a) His stedfastness and his love for his friends (Philippians
He had a genius for friendship. He bound his friends to him with cords of steel.
They were ready to sacrifice anything for him. The reason for that was that he
sacrificed everything for them, and that he had such an overflowing love for them
that his love begot love in them. They could depend upon him.
(b) His sympathy with all good men and all good women and his desire that they
live in peace (Philippians 4:2,3):
The true yokefellow mentioned here cannot be identified now. He has been variously
named by the critics, as Epaphroditus, Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Timothy, Peter,
and Christ. There may be a proper name in the phrase, either Genisius or Syzygus.
We are wholly ignorant as to whom Paul meant.
(c) His constant rejoicing in the Lord (Philippians 4:4).
(d) His sweet reasonableness ("moderation," the King James Version, the Revised
Version (British and American) "forbearance," Philippians 4:5).:
So Matthew Arnold translates the Greek noun here. Tyndale called it courtesy.
It is a combination of forbearance and graciousness, of modesty and courtesy,
of consideration and esteem such as was characteristic of Christ. Paul had it.
There was a sweet reasonableness about him that made his personality a most winning
and attractive one.
(e) His freedom from anxiety (Philippians 4:6 , 7):
Paul's fearless confidence was born on the one hand from his assurance that the
Lord was near, and on the other from his faith in prayer. It passed all understanding
how Paul was kept from all anxiety. It was the power of prayer that did it. It
was the peace of God that did it. It was the Lord at hand who did it.
(f) His habitual high thinking (Philippians 4:8):
All that was worthy in the ideals of the Greek philosophers Paul made the staple
of his thought. He delighted in things true and honorable and just and pure and
lovely and of good report. He knew that virtue was in these things and that all
praise belonged to them. He had learned that while his mind was filled with these
things he lived in serenity and peace.
(8) Thanks for their gift (Philippians 4:10 - 20).
(9) Salutations (Philippians 4:21 , 22).
(10) Benediction (Philippians 4:23).
This is not a theological epistle and therefore it is not an especially Christological
one. Yet we count the name of Christ 42 times in this short letter, and the pronouns
referring to Him are many more. Paul cannot write anything without writing about
Christ. He ends: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." The
spirit of Christ and the grace of Christ are in the entire epistle.
Works on Introduction: Zahn, Weiss, Julicher, Salmon, Dods, Bacon, Bennett and
Adeney; McClymont, The New Testament and Its Writers; Farrar, The Messages of
the Books; Fraser, Synoptical Lectures on Books of the Holy Scripture; Godet,
Studies on the Epistles Works on the Pauline Epistles: Findlay, Shaw. Commentaries:
Lightfoot, Vincent, Weiss, Beet, Ellicott, Haupt, Moule. Devotional studies: Moule,
Meyer, Jowett, Noble.
Doremus Almy Hayes
apostle paul, bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, book of philippians, church at philippi, epistle to the philippians, goal of life, God's provisions, gospel of jesus, new testament, thanks