Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE EPISTLES TO THE EPHESIANS, PHILIPPIANS, AND COLOSSIANS.
THE RIGHT REV. ALFRED BARRY, D.D.
THE EPISTLE OF PAUL THE APOSTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.
I. Time, Place, and Occasion of the Epistle.—The indications of the time and place of this Epistle are unusually clear. It is written by St. Paul “in bonds” (Philippians 1:7-13); in the Prætorium (Philippians 1:13), that is, under the charge of the Prætorian guard; it sends greeting from the “saints of Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:21); it expresses an expectation of some crisis in his imprisonment (Philippians 1:20-26), and a confident hope of re-visiting Philippi (Philippians 1:26; Philippians 2:24). All these indications place it in the Roman imprisonment of St. Paul—which we know (Acts 28:30) to have lasted without trial or release for “two whole years,” and which certainly began about A.D. 61. The date of the Epistle must therefore be fixed about the year A.D. 62 or 63.
Nor is the occasion of the Epistle less obvious. The Church at Philippi now, as at an earlier time (Philippians 4:10-19), had sent contributions to St. Paul’s necessities, under the distress and destitution of imprisonment, when he was unable to maintain himself by the labour of his own hands, as he had formerly done at Thessalonica, Corinth, and Ephesus. Epaphroditus, their messenger, through his affectionate exertions on St. Paul’s behalf, had fallen into dangerous illness, and on his convalescence had been seized with home-sickness, aggravated by the uneasiness of knowing that his danger had been reported to his friends at home (Philippians 2:25-30). St. Paul, therefore, sent him back with this Letter, the immediate object of which was to convey his thanks and blessing for the generosity of the Philippians, and to commend warmly the devotion of Epaphroditus, which had been in great degree the cause of his illness.
II. The Church to which it was written.—Of the first preaching at Philippi we have a full and graphic account in Acts 16, where a description of the history and character of the city itself will be found in the Notes. The preaching began, as usual, from a Jewish centre, but this was only a proseuche, or oratory (Acts 16:13)—not, as at Thessalonica, a synagogue (Acts 17:1); and the whole history shows no indication of any strong Jewish influence. The first convert named is Lydia, an Asiatic of Thyatira, not a Jewess, but “one who worshipped God”—a “proselyte of the gate.” The first opposition came not from the Jews, as at Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-6; Acts 17:13), but from the masters of the “damsel possessed with a spirit of divination,” simply because by the exorcism of the Apostle the “hope of their gain was gone.” The accusation levelled against St. Paul and his companion was one which was intimately connected with the peculiar position of Philippi as a Roman colony—a fragment (as it were) of the imperial city itself. We note, indeed, that at this very time (Acts 18:2) “Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome,” and it is at least probable that this decree of banishment might extend to the Roman colonies, as distinguished from the ordinary provincial cities. Accordingly, in the accusation itself stress was laid on the fact that the accused were “Jews,” and the charge was that they preached a religio illicita, involving customs which it was “not lawful for the Philippians to receive, being Romans” (Acts 16:21). The Church was therefore, mainly a Gentile Church—the firstfruits of European Christianity—and its attachment to the Apostle of the Gentiles was especially strong and fervent. The Philippians alone, it appears, offered—certainly from them alone St. Paul consented to receive—those contributions to his necessities, which elsewhere (see Acts 20:33-35; 2Corinthians 11:7-12; 1Thessalonians 2:9; 2Thessalonians 3:8) he thought it best to refuse for the gospel’s sake.
The foundation of the Church had been laid amidst a persecution, in which the Roman magistrates, with a characteristic dislike of all foreign superstitions likely to lead to uproar, and a characteristic disregard of justice towards two or three obscure Jews, simply played into the hands of mob violence. The step which St. Paul afterwards took of asserting his citizenship and forcing the magistrates to confess their wrong-doing (Acts 16:37-38) looks like a precaution to render the recurrence of arbitrary persecution less likely after his departure. But we gather from this Epistle (Philippians 1:27-30) that the Church had still, like the sister Church at Thessalonica (1Thessalonians 1:6; 1Thessalonians 2:14) and the other Macedonian churches (2Corinthians 8:2), to undergo “the same conflict” of suffering from “their adversaries,” “which they had seen in him.” It grew up under the bracing air of trial, with a peculiar steadfastness, warm-heartedness, and simplicity, apparently unvexed by the speculative waywardness of Corinth or the wild heresies of Ephesus or Colossæ. Again like the Thessalonian Church, its dangers were mainly practical (see Philippians 3); the Judaising influence was probably foreign and not very formidable; the tendencies to Antinomian profligacy (Philippians 3:17-21), to some division by party spirit (Philippians 2:1-4; Philippians 4:2-3), to occasional despondency under trial (Philippians 1:28), hardly appear to have affected the Church widely or seriously. In its condition, accordingly, St. Paul could rejoice almost without reserve, of sorrow or anxiety.
Of St. Paul’s subsequent visits to Philippi we have no full record. We cannot doubt that he visited the city on his way from Ephesus to Macedonia and Greece, on the third missionary circuit (Acts 20:3). The common tradition, exceedingly probable in itself, dates the Second Epistle to the Corinthians from Philippi on that occasion. We know (Acts 20:6) that it was from Philippi that he started, some months after, on his last journey to Jerusalem. At a period subsequent to this Epistle, we learn (1Timothy 1:3) that St. Paul, apparently after a visit to Ephesus, “went into Macedonia” after his first captivity, and so, no doubt, fulfilled his hope of re-visiting this well-loved Church. After this we have no notice of the Church in history till we read of their kindly reception of Ignatius on his way to martyrdom, and study the Epistle of Polycarp to them, written shortly after, mainly practical and hortatory, and implying, with but slight reservation, a still strong and vigorous Christianity, and a constant grateful memory of the great Apostle. (See, for example, Philippians 1—“I rejoiced greatly with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have adopted the imitation of true love. . . . because the firm root of your faith, celebrated from ancient times, remains even until now, and bears fruit unto the Lord Jesus Christ;” Philippians 3—“Neither I nor any like me can follow out fully the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he came among you, taught accurately and durably the word of truth.”) Tertullian also alludes to it (de Præscr. xxxvi.) as one of the churches where the “authentic letters of the Apostles”—no doubt, this Epistle itself—were read. Afterwards we have little reference to it in Church history. Like Colossæ, it sank into insignificance.
III. The Genuineness of the Epistle.—External Evidence.—The evidence for the genuineness of the Epistle is very strong. In all ancient catalogues, from the Muratorian Fragment (A.D. 170) downwards, in all ancient versions, beginning with the Peschito and the old Latin, it is placed among the undoubted Epistles of St. Paul. In Christian writings, before the end of the second century, knowledge of it may be distinctly traced; after that time it is quoted continually.
Thus, in the Apostolic Fathers, to say nothing of slighter indications which have been noted (as by Dr. Westcott, Canon of the New Testament, Philippians 1, and Dr. Lightfoot, in his Introduction to this Epistle), St. Polycarp, in his Epistle to the Philippians (Philippians 3), expressly declares that St. Paul, “when absent, wrote letters to them, by searching into which they can still be built up in the faith,” and speaks of them as “praised in the beginning of his Epistle” (chap. 11). Nor are there wanting expressions in his letter (such as the “using our citizenship worthily of Christ,” “the enemies of the cross,” the “rejoicing with them in the Lord,” the “not running in vain,” &c.) which not obscurely indicate reference to the text of our Epistle itself. Again, Dr. Lightfoot quotes from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a Judæo-Christian work, dating early in the second century, certain expressions—“the form of God” and the “fashion of men” (see Philippians 2:6), the “luminaries” of heaven (see Philippians 2:15), and, above all, the unique phrase “the bowels (heart) of the Son of God” (see Philippians 1:8)—which indicate unmistakably knowledge of this Epistle.
Perhaps the earliest direct quotation of it is in the celebrated Epistles of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne (A.D. 177), on the martyrdoms in the persecution of Marcus Aurelius (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, v. 2)—where we find the great passage: “He being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God,” &c. Then, as in other cases, the habit of quotation begins in Irenæus, Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, and continues afterwards unbroken. Tertullian, as we have already seen, apparently speaks of the Letter as being read as an Apostolic letter in the Philippian Church; and in his controversy with Marcion (v. 20) so quotes it as to show that it had escaped the destructive criticism and arbitrary mutilation in which Marcion so constantly anticipated the critical scepticism of later times.
Internal Evidence.—But, strong as external evidence is, it is in this case far weaker than the internal, which may be said to rise almost to demonstration. The strong marks of personality which we trace in every line, the unstudied frequency of historical allusion and of undesigned coincidences with historical records, the simple and natural occasion of writing, in the reception of the offerings and the illness of Epaphroditus, the absence of all formal doctrinal or ecclesiastical purpose, the fulness and warmth of personal affection,—all are unmistakable marks of genuineness, all are fairly inconceivable on the supposition of imitation or forgery. The character of St. Paul, as unconsciously drawn in it, is unquestionably the same character which lives and glows in the Corinthian and Galatian Epistles; and yet there is in it an indescribable growth into greater calmness and gentleness, which corresponds remarkably with advance of age and change of circumstances. There are also marked similarities, both of style and expression, with the earlier Epistles, and, above all, with the Epistle to the Romans, the last of the earlier group, which will be found noted in detail on the various passages. There is also that mingling of identity and development of idea which is notable in all the Epistles of the Captivity. But in this case, perhaps, the similarity is greater, and the diversity less, than in the other Epistles of the same period.
 Perhaps the most notable are:—
(e) Philippians 3:5-6, compared with 2Corinthians 11:22, Romans 11:1. It may be noted that in all these cases there is similarity with difference—the characteristic of independent coincidence not of imitation.
It is, therefore, not surprising that, even in the freest speculation of the higher criticism, there are but few examples of scepticism as to the genuineness of this Epistle.
IV. The main Substance of the Epistle.—(1) The Picture of the Writer and the Receivers.—The first and simplest impression made by this Epistle is the vivid portraiture which it gives us of St. Paul himself—especially in the conflict of desire for the death which is the entrance to the nearer presence of Christ, and for the longer life, which will enable him to gather a fuller harvest for Christ—in the striking union of affection and thankfulness towards the Philippians, with a dignified independence and a tone of plenary authority—in the sensitiveness to the sorrow and inactivity of imprisonment, overcome and finally absorbed into an almost unequalled fulness of joy in the Lord. Side by side with this, we are next struck with the picture which it gives us of the Macedonian Christianity at Philippi—not unlike that of Thessalonica, though, it would seem, less chequered by fanaticism or disorder, and certainly singularly accordant with the Macedonian character, as it paints itself at once speculatively inferior and practically superior to the Greek, in the pages of history. The Philippian Christianity is pre-eminently vigorous, loyal, and warm-hearted, courageous and patient, little disturbed either by speculative refinements or speculative inventions, hardly needing any warning, except against the self-assertion which is the natural excrescence of earnestness, or any exhortation, except to a deeper thoughtfulness, which might “overflow into knowledge,” and prove “the things which are really excellent.” There is no letter of St. Paul’s so absolutely free from the necessity of rebuke, and, accordingly; there is none so full of joy, in spite of all the circumstances of suffering and anxiety under which it was written.
(2) The Condition of the Church at Rome.—The next great subject of interest is the light thrown by this Epistle on the progress of the Church at Rome during St. Paul’s imprisonment. Of his preaching to the Jews, the Asiatic Gentiles, and the Greeks, we have plain historical record in the Acts of the Apostles. That record fails us at the moment when he reaches the great centre of heathen civilisation at Rome, simply telling us that his imprisonment was not allowed to be a hindrance to his preaching, first (as always) with the Jews, then, on their rejection of the gospel, to the Gentiles who were “willing to hear it.” Now, we know by the history of the Neronian persecution in Tacitus that, less than ten years after St. Paul’s arrival in Rome, the Christians were already “a vast multitude,” not only in the Eastern home of their religion, but in the metropolis itself. While we perceive from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans that, before that arrival Christianity was firmly established in Rome, and suspect that the ignorance of the Jewish leaders concerning “the sect everywhere spoken against” (Acts 28:22) was in great degree affected, yet we cannot but see that these ten years must have been years of rapid progress, in order to justify, even approximately, the description of the Roman historian. Naturally, we conclude that St. Paul’s presence, even in his prison, must have given the chief new impulse to such progress, and inquire eagerly for any indications of his actual discharge to the Romans of the debt of gospel preaching which he had long ago acknowledged as due to them (Romans 1:14-15). To this inquiry almost the only answer is found in the Epistle to the Philippians.
There we learn that, as we might have expected, St. Paul’s bonds “turned out” to the great “furtherance of the gospel.” Wherever his prison actually was, it gave him opportunity of influence over the Prætorian guards, and all the rest of the world, civilian or military, who frequented their quarters; it gave him access, moreover, to those of Caesar’s household—that large community of the domus Augusta which included all varieties of occupation, character, and rank. That the earlier Christianity of Rome was largely under Jewish influence we learn from the whole argument of the Epistle to the Romans; and it has been often remarked that the names included in the long list of salutations in the last chapter show a preponderance of Greek nationality in the converts themselves. But of those who came under the spell of St. Paul’s presence, probably comparatively few would be Jews, although indeed at this time, through the influence of Poppæa, the Jewish element might be more than usually prominent in Caesar’s household; and while the greater number of that household who came in contact with him would be slaves of various nationalities, still, in the higher officers and among the Praetorian soldiery, many would be of true Roman origin. Remembering the friendship of Seneca for Burrhus, the Prætorian Prefect at the time of St. Paul’s arrival, and the former conduct of Gallio, Seneca’s brother, towards the Apostle at Corinth, many have delighted to speculate on the probability of some direct intercourse between the Apostle of the Gentiles and the philosopher of the later and more religious Stoicism, who was then the leader of higher Roman thought. But, however this may be, and whatever may be the real weight of the apparent similarities to familiar Stoic phraseology traceable in the Epistle (see Philippians 4:11-13, and Notes thereon), those who remember the eagerness of Roman society at this time for new religions, new mysteries, and even new superstitions, from the East, will find no difficulty in believing that one who was placed, by the circumstance of his imprisonment, in the imperial court itself, might easily have produced a deep impression on men of Roman birth, perhaps of high Roman rank.
This new Christianity would therefore probably be of a type, more purely Gentile, less predominantly Oriental, than the Christianity to which the Epistle to the Romans was addressed. Of the division between the old and the new the Epistle shows traces, in the description of those who preached Christ “of good will” to St. Paul, and those who preached in “factiousness and vain-glory;” for it seems clear, from his rejoicing that “every way Christ was preached,” that the division was as yet one of mere faction and party, not of the contrast of false with true doctrine, which we know that he treated with stern, uncompromising severity. (See 2Corinthians 11:1-4; Galatians 1:6-9.) Like all such divisions, it probably marked and justified itself by some differences in religious teaching and religious life: but if these existed, they did not go down to the foundation. The time, indeed, was not far distant, when the fall of Jerusalem, and the obvious passing away of the whole Jewish dispensation, struck the final blow to the existence of Judaism in the Christian Church. In spite, therefore, of this division, it seems clear that at the time of the Philippian Epistle Christianity had advanced, and was advancing, with rapid strides. “The city which is in heaven” was already beginning to rise from its foundations in the “great Babylon of the Seven Hills,” now the very type of the kingdom of the earth, destined hereafter to be, even visibly, the metropolis of Western Christianity.
(3) The main Subjects of the Epistle.—Turning to the teaching of the Epistle itself, the main interest centres round the great passage in the second chapter (Philippians 2:5-11), which is the very creed of the Incarnation, Passion, and Exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ. This has been noticed already in the General Introduction to the Epistles of the Captivity, and is dealt with in detail in the Notes on the passage. Here it need only be remarked that its advanced Christology is made the more striking by the occasion of its occurrence, which is, in point of form, simply incidental, in enforcement of the familiar exhortation to follow the mind of Christ Jesus in humility and self-sacrifice; and that the singular simplicity and clearness of its enunciation of truth stand to the profounder and more mysterious teaching on the same subject in the Epistle to the Colossians, much as, in later times, the simplicity of a Western creed stands to the greater subtlety of an Eastern. Next in interest, though after a long interval, is the light thrown (in Philippians 3) on the obstinate persistence in Macedonia of the old Judaising influence, elsewhere decaying or passing into new forms; and the appearance both of the pretensions to perfection (Philippians 3:12-16) and of the Antinomian recklessness (Philippians 3:17-21)—sometimes associated with these pretensions, sometimes in revolt against them—with which we are but too familiar in subsequent Church history.
(4) Analysis of the Epistle.—A full analysis will be found in each chapter. A shortened general sketch of these analyses we have subjoined as usual.
1.The First Section (original Letter?).
(a)Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2);
(b)Thanksgiving for their “fellowship” in the work of the gospel, specially shown towards himself (Philippians 1:3-8);
(c)Prayer for their fuller knowledge and increase of fruitfulness to the end (Philippians 1:9-11).
(2)DECLARATION OF THE POSITION AT ROME.
(a)The progress of the gospel through his bonds, stimulating preaching of the gospel, partly in good will, partly in strife, but in any case a cause of joy (Philippians 1:12-18);
(b)His own division of feeling, between desire to depart, and a willingness to remain for their sakes, which he knows will be realised (Philippians 1:19-26).
(a)To steadfast boldness under persecution, now present or imminent (Philippians 1:27-30);
(b)To unity of spirit in the humility and self-sacrifice of “the mind of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-4).
(4)THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST.
(a)His humility in the Incarnation: stooping from the form of God to the form of man (Philippians 2:5-7);
(b)His second humility in the Passion (Philippians 2:8);
(c)His exaltation above all created being (Philippians 2:9-11).
(5)ORIGINAL CONCLUSION OF THE EPISTLE.
(a)Final exhortation to obedience, quietness, purity, joy with him in sacrifice (Philippians 2:12-18);
(b)Mission and commendation of Timotheus as St Paul’s forerunner (Philippians 2:19-24);
(c)Mission and commendation of Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30);
(d)Final “farewell in the Lord” (Philippians 3:1).
2.The Second Section (Postscript?).
(a)Against Judaism, by the example of his own renunciation of all Jewish privilege (Philippians 3:2-10);
(b)Against claim of perfection, again enforced by his own example (Philippians 3:11-16);
(c)Against Antinomian profligacy, as unworthy of the “citizens of heaven” (Philippians 3:17-21).
(a)To unity (Philippians 4:1-3);
(b)To joy, thankfulness, and peace (Philippians 4:4-7);
(c)To following of all good, in the fulness in which he had taught it (Philippians 4:8-9).
(3)ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF OFFERINGS.
(a)Rejoicing in their renewed care for him (Philippians 4:10-14);
(b)Remembrance of their’ former liberality (Philippians 4:15-17);
(c)Thanks and blessing (Philippians 4:18-20).
(4)CONCLUDING SALUTATION AND BLESSING.
Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:(1) Paul and Timotheus, (the) servants of Jesus Christ.—To the Philippian, as to the Thessalonian Church (see 1Thessalonians 1:1; 2Thessalonians 1:1), St. Paul does not think it needful to assert his apostleship; but writes, in a tone of affectionate and confident familiarity, as to those whom he could thoroughly trust. Here he and Timotheus are simply “servants” (not, as in our version, “the servants” in any position of special eminence) “of Jesus Christ”—a title of humility assumed by St. James and St. Jude (James 1:1; Jude 1:1), but nowhere else by St. Paul without the addition of some title of apostolic authority. (Comp. Romans 1:1; Titus 1:1.) Even in Galatians 1:10 he declares that he is “the servant of Christ,” chiefly to show that he cannot and need not “please men.” It is to be noted also that here, as again (with Silas) in the Thessalonian Epistles, Timotheus is joined with St. Paul almost on a footing of equality whereas in other Epistles (see 2Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; Philemon 1:1), he is separated from the Apostle and distinguished as “Timotheus the brother.” This is probably to be accounted for partly by the absence of all necessity for assertion of his own apostleship, partly also by the fact that (with Silas) Timotheus was St. Paul’s fellow-worker in the conversion of the Macedonian Churches, and accordingly his chosen messenger to them from time to time (Acts 19:22; Acts 20:5).
With the bishops and deacons.—In this passage the word “bishop” is, for the first time, used as a title, although in Acts 20:28 (“over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers”) it is employed as a description of duty, with a distinct reference to its etymological meaning and origin. In the Pastoral Epistles we find it similarly used (as 1Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). There is now no question—and but for supposed ecclesiastical necessities there never could have been any question—that in Holy Scripture, as also in the First Epistle of an Apostolical Father (St. Clement to the Corinthians, Php. 19), the two titles of “bishop” and “presbyter” are applied to the same persons—the latter, however, being in St. Paul’s Epistles the more frequent and conventional term, while the former seems almost always used with reference to its actual meaning. The two titles are of diverse origin. The “presbyter,” or “elder,” is a Jewish title, so directly descended from the synagogue that the institution of the presbyterate is not, like that of the diaconate, recorded as a historical creation in the Church. The title of “bishop,” or “overseer,” is of heathen origin, used in classical Greek for a commissioner from head-quarters, applied in the LXX. to various secular offices (2Kings 11:19; 2Chronicles 24:12-17; Nehemiah 11:9; Nehemiah 11:14; Nehemiah 11:22; Isaiah 60:17). The former is simply a title of dignity, like the many derivations from the Latin senior which have passed into modern language. The latter is a title of official duty. Like the word “pastor” and “apostle,” it belongs properly only to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the “Apostle of God” (Hebrews 3:1), and “the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls” (1Peter 2:25); but derivatively to His ministers, as having the oversight of His Church. This is directly shown in the application of the title to the Ephesian presbyters (Acts 20:28; see also 1Peter 5:1-2), and the idea of responsible oversight is brought out clearly in the description of the office of the “bishop “in 1Timothy 3:1-7. The in-different use of the two names is made absolutely clear in Titus 1:5-7 : “Ordain elders in every city . . . if any be blameless . . . For a bishop must be blameless as a steward of God.” It is only necessary to remark briefly that this identification of the two titles (of which St. Clement’s Epistle is the last example) in no way weakens the significance of the undoubted historical fact of the development of what we call the Episcopate in the early part of the second century, and the overwhelming probability of its origination, under the sanction of St. John, when the representatives of the higher order of the Apostolate passed away.
The name “deacon” is also used for the first time, unless, indeed, as is probable, it is applied officially to Phoebe in Romans 16:1. Although the office of the Seven, in Acts 6:1-7, is undoubtedly the germ of the diaconate, and although the cognate words (“ministration” and “serve”) are used in connection with them (see Philippians 1:1-2), yet the actual title of deacons is nowhere given to them.
This mention of the ministers as distinct from the Church in salutation is unique. It has been conjectured, with great probability, that in the Letter of the Philippian Church, which no doubt accompanied the mission of alms by Epaphroditus, the presbyters and deacons were so distinguished; as in the letter of the Council at Jerusalem, according to the ordinary reading of Acts 15:23 (“the apostles and elders and brethren”). Some ancient authorities held that Epaphroditus was “the apostle” (or what we should call the bishop) of the Church at Philippi, and that he is not named here simply because he was with St. Paul: so that in the Philippian Church the three orders were already represented. (But on this see Philippians 2:25.)
Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.[2.Statement of St. Paul’s condition at Rome (Philippians 1:12-26).
(1) THE RAPID PROGRESS OF THE GOSPEL through his bonds, and through the preaching of others, whether in strife or in goodwill (Philippians 1:12-18).
(2) HIS REJOICING THEREAT; his desire to depart and be with Christ, and his confidence, nevertheless, that he will abide in the flesh and see them again (Philippians 1:19-26).]
(12-18) In these verses St. Paul, evidently anxious that the Philippians should not “faint at his tribulations for them” (comp. Ephesians 3:13), points out that his imprisonment tended to further the gospel: first, directly, by the opportunity which it afforded him of preaching, and next, indirectly, by the stimulus which it gave to the preaching of others, whether “of envy and strife” or “of good will.”
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,(3-8) In these verses St. Paul strikes that keynote of joy and confidence, which is dominant throughout the whole Epistle, and which is singularly remarkable when we remember that it was written in captivity, in enforced absence from the familiar and well-loved scenes of his apostolic labour, and with the knowledge of faction and jealousy, taking advantage of that absence. The words “joy” and “rejoice” occur no less than thirteen times in this short Epistle; they express what his own feeling is, and what he desires that theirs should be.
(3, 4) I thank my God . . .—These verses more accurately rendered will run thus: I thank my God upon all my remembrance of you at all times, in every prayer of mine for you all, uttering that prayer with joy—i.e., with joyful confidence. The sense, however, is not materially altered. The emphatic earnestness of thanksgiving is seen in the reiteration which runs through the passage, and its absolute universality of scope is no less clearly marked. The closest parallel is again in the Epistles to the Thessalonians (see 1Thessalonians 1:2; 2Thessalonians 2:3), although in every Epistle, except the Epistle to the Galatians, there is an opening of thanksgiving.
For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;(5) For your fellowship in the gospel.—More properly, towards the gospel, or, as affecting the gospel. The construction is illustrated by the more limited use of the same Greek word (as in Romans 15:26; 2Corinthians 9:13) in the sense of “contribution”; in which case the word “towards” introduces the objects of the almsgiving there specified. Accordingly St. Paul must be taken here to mean the fellow-working of the Philippians in the ministry of the gospel, of which he speaks still more distinctly in Philippians 1:7. That fellow-working had been shown (see Philippians 4:15) even “in the beginning of the gospel,” by a contribution to St. Paul’s needs—not perhaps his personal needs only—which from them, and (so far as we know) from them only, he consented to accept.
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:(6) That he who hath begun (or rather, who began) a good work in you will also (see margin) finish it.—The ground of St. Paul’s confidence in their perseverance is the belief that it was God’s grace which began the good work in them, and that, not being resisted (as was obvious by their enthusiasm for good), He would complete what He had begun. In his view, God’s grace is the beginning and the end; man’s co-operation lies in the intermediate process linking both together. This is made still plainer in Philippians 2:12-13.
The day of Jesus Christ.—So also in Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16, “the day of Christ;” and in 1Corinthians 1:8, “the day of our Lord Jesus Christ;” in all other Epistles “the day of our Lord” (as in 1Corinthians 5:5; 2Corinthians 1:14; 1Thessalonians 5:2; 2Thessalonians 2:2); or, still more commonly, both in Gospels and Epistles, “that day.” As is usual in the Epistles, the day of the Lord is spoken of as if it were near at hand. St. Paul, in the Second Epistle to the Thessalonians (Philippians 2:2, et seq.), declines to pronounce that it is near; yet does not say that it is far away, and only teaches that there is much to be done, even in the development of Anti-Christian power, before it does come. It is of course clear that, in respect of the confidence here expressed, it makes no difference whether it be near or far away. The reality of the judgment as final and complete is the one point important; “the times and seasons” matter not to us.
Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.(7) It is meet.—Rather, it is but right, or just; it is but your due.
To think this of you all.—Rather, to be in this mind; to have this feeling on behalf of you all. The word here rendered “to think” is used with especial frequency in this Epistle (see Philippians 2:2; Philippians 2:5; Philippians 3:15; Philippians 3:19; Philippians 4:2; Philippians 4:10), as also in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:5; Romans 11:20; Romans 12:3; Romans 12:16; Romans 14:16; Romans 15:5). It is variously rendered; but it always refers, not to a single definite opinion, but to an habitual conviction or feeling.
I have you in my heart.—This (and not the marginal reading) is to be taken. The original is, grammatically speaking, ambiguous, but both the order and the context are decisive. Compare, for the sense, 2Corinthians 3:2, “Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts.”
Both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel.—These words are certainly to be connected, as in our version. St. Paul unites his bonds with “the defence and confirmation of the gospel”—that is, with his pleading for it against objections, and establishment of it by positive teaching—on the ground stated in Philippians 1:12-13, that these, his bonds, had tended “to the furtherance of the gospel.” He accepts the help sent him by the Philippians, in which they had (see Philippians 4:14) “communicated” (in the original the word used is the same as here) “with his affliction,” as a means of fellowship with him in the whole of this work of evangelisation. It is true that in Philippians 1:30 he speaks of the Philippians as having themselves to undergo “the same conflict” as his own; but the expression “in my bonds, &c.,” can hardly be satisfied simply by this kind of fellowship.
Ye all are partakers of my grace.—Here, on the contrary, the marginal reading is preferable. Ye are all partakers with me of the grace—i.e., of the privilege described in Ephesians 3:8. “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” See below, Philippians 1:29; “To you it is given”—that is (in the original), “given as a grace”—not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.(8) God is my record.—We have a similar adjuration in Romans 1:9; 2Corinthians 1:23; 1Thessalonians 2:5; 1Thessalonians 2:10. These instances show in what sense St. Paul interpreted such commands as the “swear not at all” of Matthew 5:34.
In the bowels of Jesus Christ.—The use of the word, which we translate (not very happily or correctly) by “bowels,” is common with St. Paul. (See 2Corinthians 6:12; 2Corinthians 7:15; Colossians 3:12; Philemon 1:7; Philemon 1:12; Philemon 1:20.) It corresponds to our use of “heart” as the seat of affection—the word “heart” itself in the New Testament being employed, in a wider sense, to signify the whole inner man. (See Ephesians 1:18 : “the eyes of your heart being enlightened,” and Note there.) But the phrase here is striking and even startling. “I long after you” (says St. Paul) “in the heart of Jesus Christ.” He can say (as in Galatians 2:20), “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Hence the deep yearning of love which he feels for them he knows to be an emanation, faint indeed, but true, from the “heart of Jesus Christ” dwelling in him.
And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;(9, 10) If we study carefully the opening thanksgivings and prayers of St. Paul’s Epistles, we may note that he always thanks God for what is strong in the Church to which he writes, and prays God for the supply of that in which it is weak. Here he thanks God for the characteristic enthusiasm and large-heartedness of the Philippians; he prays for their advance in knowledge, perception, judgment—the more intellectual and thoughtful side of the Christian character—in which they, and perhaps the Macedonian Churches generally, were less conspicuous. In the opposite case of the Corinthian Church (see 1Corinthians 1:4-10), he thanks God for their richness in all utterance and all knowledge, but he bids them “wait” for Him who shall “establish them as blameless,” and exhorts them to unity and humility.
(9-11) In this sentence, the original shows that there is not the three-fold parallelism which our version would suggest. St. Paul’s immediate prayer is that “their love may abound in knowledge and all judgment.” To this is subjoined, as an immediate consequence, “the proving the things that are excellent.” The final result of the knowledge and judgment so applied, is “that they may be sincere and without offence.”
(9) That your love may abound more and more in knowledge.—The original verb here signifies to “overflow,” a sense which our word “abound” properly has, but has in general usage partially lost; and St. Paul’s meaning clearly is that love shall not only primarily fill the heart, but “overflow” in secondary influence on the spiritual understanding. (1) The “knowledge” here spoken of is the knowledge gradually rising to perfection, so constantly alluded to in these Epistles. (See Ephesians 1:17, and Note there.) Since it is clearly a personal knowledge of God in Christ, it may be gained, under His inspiration, by one of many processes, by thought, by practice, by love, by devotion, or, perhaps more properly, by some or all of these combined. Here St. Paul singles out the way of love—the enthusiasm of love to God and man which he knew that the Philippians had—and prays that it may overflow from the emotional to the intellectual element of their nature, and become, as we constantly see that it does become in simple and loving characters, a means of spiritual insight, in “knowledge and all judgment,” or rather, all perception. (2) The word “perception” properly applies to the senses, and seems here to signify the insight which recognises a truth as the eye recognises an object. In the same sense (Hebrews 5:14) Holy Scripture speaks of those who “by use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil.” In fact, the “perception” here spoken of differs from knowledge in dealing not with general principles, but with concrete examples and questions. (3) Accordingly he connects with it, as a direct consequence, the power of “approving” or “testing” the things that are excellent. Now the word here translated “excellent” carries with it the idea of distinctive and relative excellence, conspicuous amidst what is either evil or defective. To “test” is obviously first to distinguish what is the best, and then by trial to prove its absolute goodness. Clearly the process may be applied either speculatively to truths or practically to duties. In Romans 2:18, where exactly the same phrase is used, the latter application is made.
That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;(10) That ye may be sincere and without offence.—This St. Paul contemplates as the result of thoughtful and discriminating judgment. The word “sincere” (used only here and in 2Peter 1:3), and the corresponding substantive, “sincerity” (1Corinthians 5:8; 2Corinthians 1:12; 2Corinthians 2:17), although there is some uncertainty as to their derivation, undoubtedly signify purity tested and found clear of all base admixtures. The word “without offence” is used in Acts 24:16 (“a conscience void of offence”) for that which is free from the stumbling of error; and in 1Corinthians 10:32 (“giving none offence”) for that at which none will stumble. The latter sense (nearly equivalent to the “unreprovable” of Colossians 1:22) better suits this passage. For “sincere” describes the positive aspect of purity; “without offence” the more negative aspect, in which it is found to present no excuse for fault-finding or scandal. It is, therefore, the “sincerity,” not of unconscious innocence, but of well-tried and thoughtful purity, proof even against suspicion, which St. Paul describes as the perfect fruit of love “overflowing in knowledge.”
Being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.(11) The fruits of righteousness is an Old Testament phrase (see Proverbs 11:30; Amos 6:12), used also in James 3:18; Hebrews 12:11. It may mean (as in these last two passages) “righteousness as a result,” or (in the common sense of “fruit”) the “result of righteousness.” As the participle is properly “having been filled,” thus referring, not to the future day of Christ, but to the whole time which that day shall complete, the former sense seems preferable. The righteousness which is “through Jesus Christ,” “not” (as St. Paul says below, Philippians 3:9) “our own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God,” is clearly the likeness of Christ, and therefore in itself an all-sufficient fruit. Filled with it, we are (see Ephesians 3:19) “filled with all the fulness of God.”
Unto the glory and praise of God.—(Comp Ephesians 1:6; Ephesians 1:12; Ephesians 1:14.) In accordance with our Lord’s own teaching: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (See also 1Corinthians 10:31.)
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;(12) The things which happened unto me—viz., since he parted from them (see Acts 20:6)—his arrest at Jerusalem, and the long captivity of years, first at Cæsarea, then at Rome. Nothing could have appeared to be a more fatal blow to the progress of the gospel; but St. Paul assures them that “rather” (i.e., on the contrary) all these things tended to its furtherance. He had intended to see Rome (Acts 19:21; Romans 15:23-24), since his work in Greece and Asia was now over. He did visit it, although in chains; and his acquaintance with the Roman soldiers at Cæsarea probably prepared for him an opening at Rome, which he could not otherwise have found, even into Cæsar’s household.
So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places;(13) My bonds in Christ are manifest.—Properly, My bonds are made manifest as in Christ—i.e., my captivity is understood as being a part of my Christian life and work, and so becomes a starting-point for the preaching of the gospel. So St. Paul made it to the Jews (Acts 28:20), “For the hope of Israel am I bound in this chain.” (Comp. Ephesians 6:20, “I am an ambassador in bonds.”)
In all the palace, and in all other places.—The word “palace” is prætorium. It is elsewhere used in the New Testament: first, of the palace of Pilate; in Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16, apparently, of the soldiers’ guardroom, or barrack; in John 18:28; John 18:33; John 19:9, of “the hall of judgment;” and next in Acts 23:35, of the “judgment hall of Herod,” evidently forming a part of the palace of Felix. (It may be noted that coincidence with this last passage is the chief, and almost the sole, argument for the untenable idea that this Epistle belongs to the Cæsarean and not the Roman captivity.) Its sense here has been disputed. It has been variously interpreted as the emperor’s palace, or the praetorian barrack attached to it, or the prætorian camp outside the walls. Its original meaning of “the head-quarters of a general” would lend itself well enough to any of these, as a derivative sense. The first or the second sense (which is virtually the same) is the interpretation of all ancient commentators, and suits best with the mention of “Caesar’s household” in Philippians 4:22, but not very well with the historical statement in Acts 28:16-30, that St. Paul dwelt “in his own hired house,” “with a soldier that kept him.” The other sense suits better with this last statement, and also with the delivery of the prisoner “to the captain of the guard,” i.e., literally, the commander of the camp, or prætorian prefect, and perhaps with abstract probability in the case of an obscure Jewish prisoner. But the difficulty is that, although the word might be applied to any of these places, yet, as a matter of fact, it is not found to be so applied. Moreover, we notice here that the words “in all other places” are an inaccurate rendering of a phrase really meaning “to all the rest” (see marginal reading). The connection therefore seems even in itself to suggest that the “prætorium” may more properly refer to a body of men than to a place. Accordingly (following Dr. Lightfoot), since the word “prætorium” is undoubtedly used for the “prætorian guard,” it seems best to take that sense here. “My bonds” (says the Apostle) “are known in all the prætorian regiments”—for the soldiers, no doubt, guarded him by turns—“and to all the rest of the world, whether of soldiers or of citizens.” This would leave it an open question where St. Paul was imprisoned, only telling us that it was under praetorian surveillance;
And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.(14) And many (properly, the greater number) of the brethren in the Lord.—The words “in the Lord” should be connected with “trusting,” as in Philippians 2:24; Galatians 5:10; 2Thessalonians 3:4. As connected with the word “brethren,” they are unmeaning; whereas St. Paul constantly uses them (especially in these Epistles), generally with a verb or verbal adjective, and always to convey some distinct idea. That the words “in my bonds” follow constitutes no difficulty. “In the Lord” expresses the ground of confidence; “in my bonds” simply the occasion and circumstances.
Waxing confident by my bonds.—There is a two-fold sense here, corresponding to the two-fold division of preachers made below. Those who preached Christ “of contention” trusted in St. Paul’s captivity as giving them scope; those who preached “of good will” found in it a striking example of evil overruled to good, and so gained from it fresh encouragement.
Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will:(15) Of envy and strife.—Explained below as of “contention,” or, more properly (as in Philippians 2:3, and in Romans 2:8; 2Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20), of factiousness, or “party spirit.” It seems impossible to doubt that this refers to the Judaising party, St. Paul’s old antagonists. The whole tenor of the Epistle to the Romans shows how strong a Judaic element there was in Roman Christianity. Even in approaching Rome, we may gather from Acts 28:15, that the Apostle had felt doubtful of his reception there by the Church. His formal renunciation of the obstinate Jews, and proclamation that the Gentiles would hear what they had rejected, might excite against him not only the unbelieving Jews, but the Jewish and still more the Judaising Christians. The party “of Cephas” and the party “of Paul” might be placed in strong antagonism more easily than even at Corinth.
The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:(16) Not sincerely.—This version conveys an incorrect impression. The original is “not purely,” i.e., not with unmixed and single-minded enthusiasm for Christ. St. Paul does not impute to them hypocrisy, but an admixture of partisanship, and therefore of a narrow-minded hostility to him.
To add affliction.—The true reading, to stir up affliction, or oppressive severity (properly, pressure, or galling), perhaps suggests as most probable the meaning (adopted by Chrysostom here) of “stirring” the minds of St. Paul’s jailors to an increased severity, which might prevent his preaching to all “without hindrance.” The uneasiness of the Government in relation to the Jewish population at Rome is well known. The growth of a secret society (for such Christianity was held to be) among them might easily induce greater severity towards a leader of the sect. (Compare Philippians 1:19-20, in which St. Paul states his confidence that this malignant policy would be disappointed.)
What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.(18) The contrast of this verse with such passages as 2Corinthians 12:4—where the Judaisers at Corinth are said to preach “another Jesus and a different gospel;” with Galatians 1:6—where their gospel is declared to be “a different gospel,” and not merely a variety of the same (see Note there); and even with the emphatic warning as to Philippi, in Philippians 3:2-16, is singularly instructive. St. Paul, in the words “in pretence” and “in truth,” is speaking of the motives of the preachers, not of the substance of their preaching. For the latter he cares much; for the former nothing. When (as at Corinth) the rejection of his personal authority was bound up with rejection of his apostolic doctrine, he rebukes it vehemently; when (as here) there was no such connection, it is to him a very small thing. But we may also gather from this that, whatever might be the case at Philippi, at Rome St. Paul’s Epistle had done its work, and the battle of principle was won; even at Colossæ it had wholly changed its character (see Colossians 2:16-23), and its old phases had passed away. The differences between the parties at Rome were no longer fundamental, although, as so often is the case, the bitterness of division might remain. “Every way Christ was preached,” and accepted as justifying through faith. This being so, St. Paul could rejoice. Even an imperfect Christianity, with something of narrowness, and perhaps of superstitious formalism, cleaving to it, was as different from the gross heathenism which it superseded, as light from darkness.
Yea, and will rejoice.—Properly, I shall rejoice to the end. The words lead on to the next verse, which gives the reason of this persistent rejoicing.
For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,(19-24) In these verses, under the power of that feeling of joy of which he speaks above, St. Paul unveils to the Philippians his most sacred aspirations and convictions, and the division of feeling in his own soul between longing for rest and consciousness of work yet to be done. There is a still fuller disclosure of a similar “spiritual experience” in 2Corinthians 4:8; 2Corinthians 5:15. It is rare in the apostolic writings. St. Paul seems, in 2Corinthians 6:11, almost to apologise for disclosing what is usually kept, in delicacy and reverence, for God alone.
(19) Shall turn to my salvation.—Or, literally, shall issue in salvation to me. The word “salvation” does not appear to be used here in its ordinary sense, that is, of primary or ultimate salvation from sin in Christ, but in the sense of “safety.” The enemies of the Apostle thought to stir up fresh danger and difficulty for St. Paul; but the attempt (he says) will only turn out to his safety—a safety which he believes (see Philippians 1:25-26) will be shown “in life,” by his actual release and return to his beloved churches, but which, if God so wills it, will be at least equally manifested in the “death,” which would bring him safe home to Christ. In either case he will be safe from all the enmity both of open sin and of malignant jealousy.
Through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit.—This overruling of all enmity to his safety he hopes for through the intercession of the Philippian Church (comp. Philemon 1:23), and the fresh supply of grace which, through such intercession, may be given to him. For the word “supply” in this sense see Ephesians 4:15; and comp. Galatians 3:5; Colossians 2:19.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ.—Of the application of this name to the Holy Ghost we have instances in Romans 8:9; 2Corinthians 3:17; Galatians 4:6; 1Peter 1:11. Of these the first is the most notable, since in two clauses of the same sentence we have first “the Spirit of God,” and then “the Spirit of Christ.” He who is “sent by the Father in the name of the Son” (John 14:26), and whose regeneration of the soul is the working out the image of Christ in it, may well be called “the Spirit of Christ.” But the name has always some specialty of emphasis. Thus here, the whole conception of the passage is of Christ—“to me to live is Christ;” hence the use of this special and comparatively rare name of the Holy Ghost.
According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.(20) My earnest expectation.—The word is only found here and in Romans 8:19 (where see Note). It implies an intense and almost painful longing for some crisis, a dulness of suspense lighted up with hope. The phrase is one of the many indications that the joyful and confident tone so often noticed in this Epistle came not from the absence of yearning for the freedom and activity of apostolic life, but from the victory over such longings through faith. Whatever the crisis might be, St. Paul looked eagerly for it.
In nothing I shall be ashamed.—The phrase is elsewhere used by St. Paul with especial reference to the shame which comes from hopes disappointed and professions unfulfilled. (See 2Corinthians 7:14; 2Corinthians 9:4; 2Corinthians 10:8. Compare also the quotation from Isaiah 28:16 in Romans 9:33; 1Peter 2:6.) For (he says) “hope (fulfilled) maketh not ashamed” (Romans 5:5). So probably here; he trusts that in the hour of trial the confidence which he has felt and professed of being “able to do all things through Christ who strengthenth him” (see Philippians 4:13) may not come to shameful failure, but may “magnify Christ in all boldness of speech.” There is a subtle touch of true Christian feeling in the fact that, when he speaks of the chance of failure, he uses the first person: “I shall be ashamed;” but when of triumph, it is “Christ shall be magnified” in me. If he fails, it must be through his own fault; if he triumphs, it will be through his Master’s strength.
In my body, whether it be by life, or by death.—“In my body:” The phrase is, no doubt, suggested mainly by the idea of death—the death of a martyr in bodily torture or shame. There is the same connection of idea in 2Corinthians 4:10 : “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, so that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our body.” But while the word “flesh” is used in the New Testament in a bad sense, the “body” is always regarded as that in which we may “glorify God” (1Corinthians 6:20) by word and deed. It is not merely a vesture of the soul, but a part of the true man (1Thessalonians 5:23), having membership of Christ, and being the temple of the Holy Ghost (1Corinthians 6:15-19). In this passage the whole idea is of Christ in him; hence his body is spoken of as simply the tabernacle of the indwelling presence of Christ, and devoted only to “magnify” Him.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.(21) To live is Christ.—This, of course, means “Christ is my life,” yet not in the sense that He is the source and principle of life in us, but that the whole concrete state of life is so lived in Him that it becomes a simple manifestation of His presence. The opposition in the passage is between the states of living and dying (or being dead), not between the principles of life and death. It is, therefore, in some sense distinct from the cognate passages—Colossians 3:3-4, “Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. . . . Christ is our life;” and Galatians 2:20, “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” Those passages set forth the cause; this the result. If Christ be the principle of life in us, then whatever we think and say and do, exhibiting visibly that inner life, must be the manifestation of Christ.
To die is gain.—This follows from the other. Death is a new stage in the progress of union with Christ. So we read in 2Corinthians 5:6-7, “Knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord . . . we are willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” “To depart” (see Philippians 1:23) is, in a higher sense than can be realised here, “to be with Christ.”
But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.(22) But if I live in the flesh . . .—The translation of this verse in the Authorised version is inaccurate, and perhaps a gloss to soften the difficulty of the original. The exact translation is, But if to live in the flesh this is to me a fruit of work, and what (or, what also) I shall choose I know not. The construction is clearly broken by emotion or absorption in thought; it can only be supplied by conjecture. If (as in 2Corinthians 2:2) the word “and,” or “also,” can be used to introduce the principal clause (“what then I shall choose,” &c.), the construction will be correct, though harsh. If otherwise, we must suppose either that the sentence is broken at the word “work,” or that the whole should run, But what if to live in the flesh is a part of work? And what I shall choose, I know not, &c. But though the construction is obscure, the sense is plain. St. Paul had said, “to die is gain.” But the thought crosses him that to live still in the flesh, this and this only is (i.e., carries with it) a fruit of apostolical labour, in souls brought to Christ or built up in Him. Accordingly what to choose he knows not. For in such a harvest there is a gain, which outweighs his own personal gain on the other side.
I am in a strait betwixt (the) two.—The word here used signifies “to be hemmed in,” or “confined,” and is generally associated with some idea of distress (as in Luke 8:45; Luke 19:43), not unfrequently with the pressure of disease (Matthew 4:24; Luke 4:38; Acts 28:8). Our Lord uses it of mental distress in Himself (Luke 12:50): “How am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Here the sense is clear. St. Paul’s mind is “hemmed in” between two opposing considerations, till it knows not which way to move, even in desire.
For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better:(23) Having a desire . . .—Properly, having my own desire for departure. The verb “depart” corresponds exactly to the substantive used in 2Timothy 4:6, “The time of my departure is at hand.” It is itself used only here and in Luke 12:36, “When he shall return (break up) from the wedding.” The metaphor is drawn either from “loosing” from the shore of life, or (perhaps better) from striking tents and breaking up a camp. The body (as in 2Corinthians 5:1) is looked upon as a mere tabernacle. Each day is a march nearer home, and death is the last striking of the tent on arrival.
To be with Christ.—This is contemplated by St. Paul as the immediate consequence of death, even while still “out of the body,” and before the great day. The state of the faithful departed is usually spoken of as one of “rest” (1Corinthians 15:51-52; 1Thessalonians 4:14-16; Revelation 14:13), although not without expectation and longing for the consummation of all things (Revelation 6:10-11). Such a condition of rest, and suspension of conscious exercise of spiritual energy, is, indeed, that which human reason and analogy would suggest, so far as they can suggest anything on this mysterious subject. But such passages as this seem certainly to imply that this rest is emphatically a “rest in the Lord,” having an inner consciousness of communion with Christ. His “descent unto Hades,” not only brings out the reality of the unseen world of souls, but also claims it as His. As on earth and in heaven, so also in the intermediate state, we are “ever with the Lord;” and that state, though not yet made perfect, is spiritually far higher than this earthly life. The original here is an emphatic double comparative, “far, far better.”
And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;(25) I know.—The word is not to be pressed too far. It is simply, “I feel certain;” and it is obvious to remark that in Acts 20:25 it is used by St. Paul of a conviction (that he would “see the face” of the Ephesians “no more”) which, so far as we can follow out the history, was not verified. The apostolic inspiration, like the apostolic power of miracle, was a gift relative to the apostolic work, not necessarily extending beyond it.
Abide and continue with you.—The latter verb is in the original a compound of the former, “I shall abide,” and “shall abide side by side with you.” It was for their sakes that it was needful for him to live. Hence to the simple idea “I shall abide,” it was natural to add at once the phrase “with you,” or “for you,” as explaining the very object of his abiding in the flesh.
For your furtherance and joy of faith.—In these words St. Paul’s presence with them is spoken of, first, as in some degree necessary for their spiritual advance; next, as being to them a gift of God for their joy and comfort, even beyond what was actually necessary. (See the next verse.)
That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.(26) That your rejoicing may be more abundant.—The word translated “rejoicing” is that favourite word of St. Paul, which signifies a ground of “boasting,” or exultation. It is used both of blessing beyond strict necessity, and of service beyond legal duty; in both of which there is ground for joy and thankfulness. This is, perhaps, best seen in 1Corinthians 9:15-18, where he declares that the simple preaching of the gospel is “nothing to boast of,” but that the preaching it without cost is “the boasting,” of which he says that he would “rather die than that any man should make it void.” (Comp. also the use of the same word in Philippians 2:16, and in Romans 4:2; 1Corinthians 5:6; 2Corinthians 1:14; 2Corinthians 5:12; 2Corinthians 9:3.) Here, therefore, St. Paul speaks of them as having in him, and in their connection with him, a cause of boasting, or rejoicing, just as in 2Corinthians 1:14 (“We are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours”), and declares that this will become “more abundant” by his coming to them again.
In Jesus Christ for me.—The original runs, “in Christ Jesus in me.” The parallelism is instructive: all Christian rejoicing, or confidence, is primarily “in Christ Jesus,” even if it be secondarily “in” His servants. The suggestion of this idea here softens the apparent self-consciousness of the previous words. Comp., in 2 Corinthians 11, 12, his declaration of reluctance and distaste for the “boasting” of his apostolic authority and work, which was forced upon him.
By my coming to you again.—See in 1Timothy 1:3 the evidence of the fulfilment of this confident expectation.
Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;[3.Exhortation (Philippians 1:27 to Philippians 2:4).
(1)To STEADFASTNESS AND CONFIDENCE UNDER PERSECUTION (Philippians 1:27-30).
(2)To UNITY OF SPIRIT, based on humility and self-forgetfulness (Philippians 2:1-4).]
(27-30) In these verses St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to unanimous boldness and steadfastness, under some conflict of antagonism or persecution which threatened them at this time. Of the history of the Church at Philippi we have no historical record after the notice of St. Paul’s first visit, and of the violence which he then had to endure (Acts 16:12-40). But in 2Corinthians 7:5, written certainly from Macedonia, probably from Philippi, towards the close of the third missionary journey, we find St. Paul saying, “When we were come to Macedonia our flesh had no rest. Without were fightings, within were fears.” (Comp. also 2Corinthians 8:2 of the same Epistle.) It would seem, therefore, that the subsequent history of the Philippian Church corresponded only too well to the circumstances under which its Christianity first began.
(27) Let your conversation . . .—The original is here (as in the famous passage, Philippians 3:20), Use your citizenship (that is, of the kingdom of heaven) worthily of the gospel of Christ. The same word is employed by St. Paul in Acts 23:1 (“I have walked in all good conscience before God”), with an obvious reference to his citizenship in the chosen nation of Israel. Its use in this Epistle is suggestive—both as natural to one contemplating the great imperial city, and writing to the people of a Roman colony proud of their full citizenship, and also as leading on to that great conception of the unity of the Church in earth and in heaven, which is the main subject of the Ephesian, and in some degree of the Colossian, Epistle.
In one spirit, with one mind.—Rather, in one spirit, one soul. The phrase “in one spirit” may refer to the spirit of man, or to the Spirit of God. If it be intended to be strictly parallel to the “one soul” (which has no separate preposition in the Greek), the former sense is manifestly suggested. If, however, the words “with one soul” be connected, as is not unnatural, with “striving together,” this suggestion falls to the ground; and the usage of this Epistle (see especially Philippians 2:1-7), and the other Epistles of the same period (Ephesians 2:18-22; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 5:18; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 1:8), certainly favours the latter interpretation. In either case “the soul” (as in the famous three-fold division of men’s nature in 1Thessalonians 5:23) is that element of humanity which is the seat of emotion and passion. (Comp. the “one heart and one soul” of Acts 4:32.) This element the Christianity of the New Testament, unlike Stoicism or asceticism, will not crush, but enlist, as it enlists the body also, in the free service of God.
Striving together for the faith.—Properly, with the faith. The faith of the gospel—the power of Christianity—is personified. The Philippians are to be combatants on the same side against the same foes (compare the use of the same word in Philippians 4:3). The metaphor seems drawn from the games, as is seen by the use of the simple verb in 2Timothy 2:8, “If a man strive . . . he is not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” In the exhortation to stand fast (comp. Ephesians 6:13-14) we have the element of passive endurance, here of active and aggressive energy.
And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God.(28) Terrified.—The original word is strong—starting, or flinching, like a scared animal.
Which (that is, your fearlessness) is . . .—This fearlessness, in the absence of all earthly means of protection or victory, is a sign of a divine “strength made perfect in weakness” (2Corinthians 13:9)—not a complete and infallible sign (for it has often accompanied mere fanatic delusion), but a sign real as far as it goes, having its right force in harmony with others. The effect which it had on the heathen themselves is shown even by the affected contempt with which the Stoics spoke of it, as a kind of “madness,” a morbid “habit,” a sheer “obstinacy.” (See Epictetus, iv. 7; Marc. Aurelius, Med. xi. 3.)
And that of God.—These words apply to the word “token,” and so derivatively both to “perdition” and “salvation.” The sign is of God, because the gift of spiritual strength is of God, but it may be read by both sides. Like the pillar of God’s presence, it is “a cloud and darkness” to the one, but “light by night” to the other.
For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;(29) For (or, because) unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ.—The force lies, first, in the phrase “it is given” (rather, it was given, from the beginning)—for the original signifies “it was granted as a privilege” or “favour” (as in Acts 27:24; 1Corinthians 2:12; Galatians 3:18)—and next in the words “on behalf of Christ.” The fearlessness of the Christian is a gift of God, not an inherent stoic self-sufficiency. It rests indeed upon the sense that it is a privilege to suffer (see Acts 5:41) in the cause of truth, yet still more on the belief that such suffering is for no abstract principle, but on behalf of Christ and with Christ. (See Philippians 2:17-18.)
Not only to believe . . .—The original shows that St. Paul speaks as if he originally intended simply to say “it is given on behalf of Christ to suffer.” But to show whence the impulse of that brave willingness to suffer proceeds, he inserts “not only to believe on Him,” and then finishes the sentence, “but on His behalf to suffer.”
Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.(30) Having the same conflict, which ye saw in me.—The allusion is, of course, to the lawless scourging and imprisonment of Acts 16:22-24. How deeply this outrage impressed itself on the Apostle’s own mind we see, both by his conduct to the magistrates at the moment, and also by the allusion in 1Thessalonians 2:2, to the time, when “we had suffered before and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi.” Here he uses the remembrance to suggest to the Philippians that their struggle was only the same which he had borne, and borne successfully. Similarly in 2Timothy 3:10 (going back on the eve of death to the very beginning of his ministry to the Gentiles) he reminds Timothy of the persecutions “at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured, but out of them all the Lord delivered me.”