1: Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons:
The letter begins by identifying that both Paul and Timothy are writing the letter, their credentials as they were, and to whom the letter is written. We find some words that should be becoming familiar to us: Saints [hagios]. It means “holy ones,” and it is the most common reference to God’s people, Christians, that is believers in and followers of Jesus, in the New Testament. The letter is addressed to the believers at Philippi, but we can read them as addressed to us as well. Understand, Paul had no concept of us as he and Timothy penned this letter (or rather had it penned). He was writing to friends and fellow believers located in the city of Philippi. He includes two other subcategories (including [sun] meaning “together with” in the sense of association with the hagios of Philippi. Overseer [episkopos] is a job description rather than a title. It literally means supervisor or guardian. Deacon [diakonos], servant [Latin, ministere, where we get our word for “minister,” which means servant]. So Paul and Timothy are addressing the “holy ones,” their “guardians” in the faith, and their “servants” in the church. Since we all fall into one or more of those groups, we are included, even if we aren’t in Philippi.
2: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are some things to note. Grace, remember, is the kindness of God, and peace is a sense of welfare and rest. It also mentions God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ as separate entities in the same sentence and the same context. Both are deified, and both send grace and peace. (Incidentally, they do this through the Holy Spirit, so He is there even if He is not mentioned by name.)
3: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you,
Remembrance [mneia] – recollection, by implication recital or mention.
4: always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all,
Likely, this is why Paul would recite his friends – he was praying for them. Prayer [neesis], entreaty or request, supplication. Same word in both uses in this verse, Paul tells us that when he prays for his fellow believers in Philippi, he is filled with Joy [chara], that is delight. Paul tells us that it is his delight to pray for them! As an extra insight here, this should make us ask ourselves what our attitude toward prayer is. Is it our delight? Or is it a hard task, left until we have no other choice? It is my studied opinion that Paul would tell us that the former is a better attitude.
5: in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
Some things of note: The believers of Philippi were active in sharing the Gospel with others. They were aware it was a participation event, not one left to others. Second, the word for participation is koinonea, the same word used in Acts 2:42 as one of the four basic activities of believers – fellowship. They didn’t just share it with others, they shared themselves as a part of that. Whether that’s relational evangelism or giving your testimony of how you were found by Christ does not matter. The point is they were sharing it actively. Power question: Are we?
First Day could mean a couple of things, it might mean there were people from Philippi there in Acts 2 when Peter preached the Gospel, or it might mean from the time they were saved there in Philippi, either way it works for the narrative of Scripture. To try to define it further is quite pointless.
6: For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
Who began that work? Well, God did. Who is continuing to do that work? Well, God is. Sometimes He involves others, but it’s still God doing it. Is there an end point? You better believe it. That end point is the Day of Christ Jesus. What does that mean? Well without getting into an eschatological debate about how and when this world will end, it can be viewed as the day Christ Jesus comes for you and YOUR work on earth is done. When is that? I don’t know. I can’t know. With that in mind, it makes sense to get ready for that day, does it not?
7: For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.
Paul is claiming that his affection for the believers at Philippi is justified, and tells us why. He says that both in his imprisonment in Rome, and in the defense [apologia, a statement made in defense of something] and confirmation [establishment] of the gospel, that the believers at Philippi have not only supported him, they have participated, becoming partakers of grace, the kindness of God with Paul. It is important that Paul only rarely acknowledges support from people, and Philippi is one of those groups that he acknowledges. What did that support entail? Undoubtedly, they lent moral support, but they visited him in prison, and they would have supported him financially as well.
8: For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.
This just engendered Paul’s affection for them. Affection [splagchnon] is literally translated as “inward parts,” but in those days was understood to refer to the emotions. Those emotions came straight from Christ Jesus, and created a longing [epipotheo, a desire for, a yearning for] to be with those people.
9: And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,
Love, agape – divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love. “may abound still more and more” is a phrase expressing a rapidly increasing thing. “may abound” is the word perisseuo, and means to superabound over and above what is required, and then Paul says “more and more,” or mallon kai mallon, meaning to a greater degree twice. The whole phrase could look like, “that your divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love may superabound above that which is required to greater and greater degrees,” which according to the sources I trust (Vine’s, Dr. James White, like that), is well within the acceptable translation matrix. What a prayer! And that is what Paul says that the emotions of Christ Jesus are for believers! Mind. Blown.
10: so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;
This is interesting. That you may approve [dokimazo, test, analyze, examine, and by implication approve or decide what is best] the things that are excellent [diaphero, that make a difference, that surpass, that carry through to a finish]. This is one of those phrases that you need to dig to find out what it says. “that you may analyze what is the best about the things that carry through to completion” is within the acceptable translation matrix. And it gives us a reason why: so we may be sincere [eilikrines, found pure when unfolded and examined by the sun’s light] and blameless [aproskopos, without cause of stumbling] UNTIL the day of Christ. The preposition used is eis, referring to a point in time that will be reached in future. That point in time? The day of Christ. See verse 6 notes on when that is. This “being found pure in the light of day” and “without cause of stumbling” are to be ONGOING activities until Christ comes for us.
11: having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
Filled [pleroo] – to make full, or to complete; to fill to the full. Fruit of righteousness [karpon dikaiosunes] – fruit of integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness, in thinking, feeling, and acting. “which comes through Jesus Christ” can be translated “because of Jesus Christ.” The whole sentence could be, “having been filled with the fruit of that which is right in thought, feeling, and deed, because of Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
12: Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel,
Paul begins to reveal a bit about how he thinks about all the things he has gone through. It seems like it did not matter what he went through, so long as it furthered the cause of Christ via the gospel.
13: so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else,
Apparently, word was getting around. Everyone knew Paul had been imprisoned because of his preaching of the gospel. Certainly the guards knew it – I’m betting Paul used the chains that he was bound to the guard with as making the guard a captive audience for the gospel. And everyone else knew it too.
14: and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.
The other believers simply trusted God for what would happen to them, and they began to be bold about speaking the gospel to others. Why? Paul was imprisoned. It didn’t stop him…
15: Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will;
To be honest, this shocks me a little. It is hard for me to imagine a circumstance where one could share the message of salvation from a place of envy. I’m jealous of how many converts Paul has made, so I’m preaching it to show I can do better? Okay, maybe. I have an easier time seeing preaching it from a place of strife. I have personally met people that agree with everything you say, but have to preach it like you’re wrong anyway. Sadly, I see it a great deal among my Calvinist brethren (and I’m more of a Calvinist than some of them!). I’m not sure where the need to fight (strife) comes from, but I have some of it too, and the Lord is showing me that I don’t have to fight everyone all the time. I hope that my brothers might find some of that sometime. Anyway, some do share it from a good will – they truly love people and don’t want to see them needlessly pay the price for not being reconciled to God.
16: the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel;
Again, the word love is agape, the word for appointed is keimai, to be laid outstretched, figuratively to be destined or appointed, and the word for defense is apologia, a speech made in defense, in this case of the gospel. To Paul, preachers of this category know and love Paul, and more importantly know and love Christ, and apologia because they too are keimai for the gospel, which they do from their divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love for others.
17: the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.
Once again, I confess that I don’t understand this well. Maybe these individuals think they can build a better church because Paul is in jail, and it will make him jealous or something. At any rate, their goal seems to be to cause distress to Paul. I might have an experience I can relate, however. As a student pastor at the moment, my pastoral mentor (who is also my actual church pastor) has encouraged me to do as much of the job as possible, seeking to encourage me to gain experience, and others who are in places of oversight and authority have said about the same to me. An occasion came up recently where I was asked to step up and help lead our congregation while the pastor was on medical leave. I was very plainly told (in print no less) that there were to be three of us put in charge, and that each individual was asked to perform different things. One of those individuals felt that he should be in complete control, and it caused nothing but chaos. When I showed him the pastor’s email to me, he backed off – but now he seems to be trying to publicly put me in a bad light, discrediting me anytime he can, planning around me so that I have nothing to do or say, and telling me that he’s talking with everyone about pastoral duties…yeesh. It doesn’t cause me pain per se, but it is teaching me how to deal with difficult individuals. I guess I need to learn if I’m to shepherd God’s people, right? And God, in tried and true fashion, is reassuring me that there is more to the story. I’m His servant. He is in charge – regardless of whoever else claims authority.
18: What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.
Paul is making the point that regardless of everyone’s respective motives, Christ is being proclaimed! And that is a good thing. Like Paul, my own perspective is, hey, things are being planned, things are getting done, I’m getting the experience that God wants me to have, and others are seeing and hearing the word of God, and the truth as it is in Jesus. That’s a GREAT thing! Further, Paul makes a point to say, and I WILL rejoice. I WILL be filled with the calm gladness that Joy is. Like so many other things for the believer, it is a choice, and I am making it.
19: for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
What will be Paul’s deliverance [soteria, salvation]? That Christ is proclaimed. How? Through prayers [deesis, entreaty] and the provision [epichoregia, supply] of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (yet another reference to the Holy Spirit).
20: according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
How does Paul know this? Earnest expectation [apokaradokia, intense anticipation] and hope [elpis, expectation]. Actually, this is less important than the next phrase – that Paul will not be put to shame in anything, and that Christ will be glorified no matter what physically happens to Paul.
21: For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
After all, the very worst that can happen is that they will kill us, and if that happens, we’ll be going home.
22: But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.
If God allows Paul to continue on earth, he will have fruitful labour. Paul even says he does not know which option to choose, if he has any choice at all.
23: But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;
After all, according to Paul, to be with Jesus is far better than to be here. He can see advantage in either outcome.
24: yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
And it’s better for you if I stick around, says Paul.
25: Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith,
So I guess I’ll stick around, Paul says. That is so you will gain progress [forward motion and direction] and joy [calm gladness] in the faith [firm persuasion that Christ has redeemed us by His death and resurrection].
26: so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.
So that you will get to see me again the next time I visit you, Paul says, and this will be your boast about me in Christ.
27: Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
And there is the directional reference that Paul always has. Conduct yourselves in a worthy manner. From our study of Ephesians, that should at least sound familiar (from Eph. 4). Standing firm in one spirit, one breath, with one mind [psuche, soul] striving together for the faith [pistis, firm persuasion or opinion held] of the gospel. What is that again? That Jesus died in our place to pay the price we owed for our sins, and in doing so redeemed us to God. His resurrection shows that its price is paid, and that it no longer has power over Christ, and by extension, those who follow Him.
28: in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.
Opponents happen. Many of us like or follow various sports, and we know that the opponents in say a football (real football, not the North American kind that’s closer to rugby) match don’t actually hate each other. In fact, as a guy who once upon a time played with a bunch of guys who were at a varsity level, I found that if I could remain calm, I could play better. My opponents would sometimes try to rattle the cage – it’s just strategy to get you unfocused and not playing as well as you could. Well, that’s sometimes our opponent’s strategy. And the fact that they have to resort to it as a tactic shows ultimately that they will lose the contest. And it shows, if you don’t let them trouble you, that you’re better than all that and have already won. Amazing how one can get a good football analogy going in a world cup year (Russia, in the year of this writing). And that is also an assurance from God for us.
29: For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,
What’s that? I get to believe in Jesus? Great! But wait – there’s more – I also get to suffer! Oh Yay! I love pain and discomfort. Not. But hey, Jesus suffered the wrath of God for us so that we wouldn’t have to. He’s only asking us to follow Him. He already paid the price. We need to count that cost and budget for it.
30: experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.
Paul was no exception, eventually being executed for his faith in Jesus. He understood that the world hated Jesus first, and that it would hate us the same way.