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Bible Study for Clergy School August 23-26, 2021
Paul's Letter to the Philippians
Prepared by Revd Dr Ric Barrett-Lennard


The City of Philippi

The city of Philippi lay some 15 km inland from the coastal town of Neapolis. It was named after the father of Alexander the Great, Philip of Macedon, who really established it on the site of a small and obscure Thracian village originally known as the springs. In 357 BC Philip fortified the city and brought in a garrison of Macedonian soldiers. As a result it became a centre from which to subdue some of the surrounding territory. In addition the garrison helped to guard the nearby gold mines which yielded an annual revenue of 1000 talents - many millions of dollars.

Little is further known of its history until 46 BC when it became the scene of the famous battle in which Antony and Octavian defeated the Republican generals Cassius and Brutus who had assassinated Julius Caesar. This victory helped pave the way for the development of the Roman Empire under the sovereignty of Octavian who became the Caesar Augustus mentioned in Luke 2:1. Antony proceeded to settle some of his retired soldiers in Philippi and it became a Roman colony which meant that it held special civic privileges.

However Antony and Octavian did not continue to work harmoniously together and in 31 BC Octavian emerged victorious after a battle (of Actium) between Antony and Cleopatra and himself and so Octavian became the sole ruler of the Roman world.
He now settled some of his loyal troops in Italy - expelling the local inhabitants who had sided with Antony and expropriating their property. These people were then sent to Philippi and the city was given a further enhanced status now with the title Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis. I believe we have to be very careful about historical issues in handling the Books of Acts, but in Acts 16:12 Luke correctly describes Philippi as 'the leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman Colony' which reflects this status.

Among the advantages of being a Roman colonia was the use of Roman law in local affairs and sometimes exemption from tribute and taxes and particularly the possession of the ius Italicum. Lake and Cadbury in their work, The Beginnings of Christianity [Vol. 4, (London, 1933), p. 187] note that the ius Italicum was the privilege 'by which the whole legal position of the colonists in respect of ownership, transfer of land, payment of taxes, local administration and law, became the same as if they were on Italian soil; as, in fact, by a legal fiction, they were'.

In the middle of the first century CE when Paul arrived in this first city in Europe to which he brought the Gospel there was still much about the city that reflected a Latin and military character. The magistrates of the city, the duumviri, preferred to call themselves praetores, the Greek strategos, who was a kind of general.

Society was stratified in a distinctively Roman class structure; people thought of themselves as Roman and used Latin as the official language. All this remember in an originally Greek city. The inhabitants were by this period partly of Latin background and partly Greek and Macedonian and those of a Roman background, having lived there for some 100 years, were not uninfluenced by Hellenistic culture.

It was also of some significance that Philippi was a station (the first) on the Via Egnatia, the great Roman roadway from Rome to the east. The city was 'the gateway between Asia and the West; and it included among its inhabitants traders and artisans from Anatolia, Syria and perhaps even Egypt' (F.W. Beare, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians [A&C Black, London, 2nd edn. 1969], p. 7).

When Paul arrived in Philippi he would have been confronted by a wide variety of religious traditions and cults which reflected the syncretistic emphasis of the age. Divinities of Greece and Rome, native Thracian deities, Oriental gods of Anatolia, Syria and Egypt all attracted a following in Philippi. In addition the imperial cult which involved the worship of the Emperor would have also been in much evidence.

This period also saw the development of mystery religions which spawned the emergence of private brotherhoods and cult associations committed to the worship of a chosen god. Cults of such divinities as Silvanus, Cybele and Dionysius were present. The cults generally had a series of elaborate rituals and ceremonies which they carried out in a very strict and regular manner. Their ceremonies were often concerned with affording appropriate burials to the dead and an ongoing performance of annual rites to honour the dead person.

Acts 16 indicates that there were also some Jews in Philippi as there were in many of the important cities of the Graeco-Roman world. However, it is also apparent that their numbers were small; probably very small in view of the fact that there was no synagogue in this period – although there is evidence of one from the third century and only women are mentioned as meeting on the Sabbath. Some like Lydia of Acts 16 were 'God-fearing Gentiles' who had come to associate somewhat informally with Judaism.

SLIDES of Philippi – eight slides of ancient Philippi

The Authenticity of the Epistle

Although a few scholars in the past challenged the authorship of the letter by St Paul, there is a very wide consensus today that Paul was the author.

The style and vocabulary of the letter also points strongly in favour of the Pauline authorship with many parallels evident between this letter and Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians and Galatians.

There are apparent allusions to Philippians in many early Christian writings including Clement (ca AD 95), Ignatius (ca AD 107), The Shepherd of Hermas (ca AD 140), Justin Martyr (ca AD 165) and the later second century writer, Theophilus of Antioch. Polycarp of Syrmna (d. ca AD 155) refers to Philippians in his own, Letter to the Philippians and also attests his belief in the Pauline authorship (3.2). Other patristic writers such as Clement, Irenaeus and Tertullian and later ones as well all quote Philippians and regard it as from the hand of St Paul. Philippians is included in the oldest lists of NT writings - the Muratorian Canon of the later second century and the canon of Marcion of the mid-second century.

As we shall note shortly there are however some small sections of the Epistle, particularly Philippians 2:5-11, that quite a number of scholars regard as not originally from the hand of Paul.

The Occasion of the LetterThe Place and Date of Writing

It is clear from Philippians 1:7, 13, 17 that Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from prison but which prison? Was he in Rome as has always been traditionally believed or, as has been argued in more recent times, Ephesus or perhaps even Caesarea Maritima or Corinth?

It is also evident that Paul was facing a trial as a result of which he might either die (Philippians 1:19-20; 2:17) or be set free (Philippians 1:25, 2:24). Philippians 1:13 indicates that there was a praetorium (τo πραετoριov) in the city of his imprisonment and because this word has a range of meanings it is not as much help as we might have hoped.

The term refers essentially to the place of a provincial governor's official residence and that is its meaning in Acts 23:35. However, Paul Holloway and others have argued that in Philippians 1:13 the word refers to military personnel rather than a place and indeed the NSRV translators rendered the word as 'imperial guard' suggesting that is their view also.

There were also at the same place 'those of the household of Caesar' [oι εκ της καισαρoς oικιας 4:22]. Timothy is with the apostle (1:1; 2:19-23) and evangelistic activity is occurring around him (1:14-17).

Paul plans a trip to Philippi if he is released (2:24) and it is clear that during the period in which he is imprisoned several trips were able to be made between Philippi and the site of his incarceration. These include: a trip carrying a report of his imprisonment; Epaphroditus' journey to him to bring the gifts from the Philippian community; another trip with news of the illness of Epaphroditus and a further trip bringing knowledge of the Philippians concern about Epaphroditus (2:25-30). Finally Paul anticipated sending Timothy to Philippi and receiving news back from him. He himself set out for Philippi following his release (2:19, 24).

Rome is in many respects the most attractive city for congruence with these factors and many modern commentators still favour it including James Thompson and Bruce W Longenecker in their Paideia series Commentary from 2016 as well as Paul Holloway in his 2017 commentary. The biggest difficulty with Rome as the place of Paul's writing of the letter is the distance between Philippi and Rome and therefore the time required for letter bearers to travel to and fro. However, Caesarea Maritima, where we know Paul was imprisoned before coming to Rome, is a somewhat similar distance and there is no evidence for an imprisonment in Ephesus.

So my own view would be to tentatively take the Letter as being written from Rome. And this would then date Philippians at about 60-62 CE.

The Theology and Spirituality of the Letter and our Own Context Today

As one reads through Philippians one cannot help but be struck by the warmth and 'personalness' of the letter and this is frequently noted by commentators. Paul clearly felt a very strong bond of fellowship in the Gospel and of human friendship with this Christian community whom he had brought to birth. Philippians breathes a note of 'joy' - a word that in its cognate forms occurs sixteen times in the letter.

Despite the circumstances in which Paul finds himself - in prison and possibly facing an imminent death - he can rejoice and encourage his readers to rejoice and to be free of anxiety whatever their situation. It is Paul's own sense of deep real union with Christ that underpins this capacity to live with a certain degree of liberation from the immediate personal circumstances in which one finds oneself: ‘For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain’. He longs for this union with Christ to be deepened and strengthened. In Philippians 3:10 he expresses this desire this way: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death’.

And as I prepare this Bible Study I am very conscious that we are living through extraordinary times. The whole global community has been deeply affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and it has had and is still having a deep impact in Australia. I noted that an ABC report referred to the fact that on Monday 3rd August, 3,345 calls were made to Lifeline and that is the highest number in the history of the organization. Many people around our nation are feeling stressed and anxious.

And so we can see that there are some parallels between what Paul was experiencing and what we ourselves are experiencing. Clearly the two scenarios are vastly different and Paul would be executed within a few years of this Letter. But we are also in a kind of imprisonment at the moment – albeit one that we have good prospects of being freed from eventually.

And I believe that we can draw some inspiration and encouragement from the way Paul handled the challenges he was facing. For Paul – his faith in God and his relationship with Christ was a profound resource that enabled him to cope with each day. Indeed it not only enabled him to cope with each day but to do so with a sense of underlying joy and positivity.

He had an unwavering conviction that the kingdom of God was being established now and that he and every Christian were called to play a part in helping to realize that goal. And in a time of the increasing secularization of our society and the marginalization of the church – Paul's confidence in these realities – can also be an inspiration to us.

Paul and his Use of Rhetoric

In the Graeco-Roman world one of the goals of a good education was to train a person in rhetoric which was originally thought of as the art of speaking well but later became somewhat more focussed upon the art of speaking persuasively – being able to mount an argument that would persuade people of your point of view. James Thompson and Bruce Longenecker in their study of Philippians have noted that the ancient study of rhetoric involves the areas of invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery.
And there has been a great deal of research in recent decades examining closely the use of rhetoric by Paul in his Letters and especially in relation to the undisputed Pauline corpus.

Paul is very familiar with rhetoric and its conventions and he uses the resources of this approach widely in his Letters including the Letter to the Philippians. Here Paul seems to focus especially upon the first two elements of rhetoric involving invention and arrangement.

We will have occasion to comment upon his use of rhetoric from time to time.


As we go through the Paul's Letter to the Philippians– there is not going to be time to comment upon every verse and so I will be focussing upon particular verses and ideas in the letter.

Chapter 1, Verses 1-2:

1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Παῦλος καὶ Τιμόθεος δοῦλοι Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ πᾶσιν τοῖς ἁγίοις ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τοῖς οὖσιν ἐν Φιλίπποις σὺν ἐπισκόποις καὶ διακόνοις· 2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ
When you and I write a letter – we generally put our name at the top and then the name of the addressee below that and if it is a personal letter – we would usually include some form of greeting. We also put the date – and it is shame that was not the convention in 1st century – things would have been a lot simpler for scholars of the NT and early Christianity!
But the ancients followed a similar epistolary pattern. They referred to their own name and then stated to whom they were writing and offer a greeting. And Paul consistently does this in his letters.

We can see this pattern in an example of a papyrus letter from Egypt, P. Oxy 838. This is a letter from the late third or early fourth-century written by a certain Demetrius to his father with a complaint. [Slide]
P. Oxy VI.838

Demetrius to Heraclides his father, greeting. It was an unfitting act of yours to intercept the fodder for the oxen at Senao, and not to dispatch it, although you had long ago been instructed to send twelve baskets of hay hither, with the result that the oxen are in danger of destruction. Since the oxen are thus in such a sorry state, and the land in consequence is not being irrigated, I hasten to write to you once more and beg you to instantly get the baskets properly laden and send them off; for you seem to be mocking my industry. I pray for your long health.

You can see here the pattern of the name of the addressee, the name of the sender and a greeting, the body of the letter and the final greeting and close. In this case it is very abrupt because Demetrius is pretty peeved by his father's actions. So as we might expect - Paul's letter writing framework follows the broad pattern of letter-writing conventions of the ancient world.
Verse 1: Paul and Timothy: Paul is clearly the author of this Letter - but as he does elsewhere, he includes other co-workers – in this case Timothy - as co-author. And Paul describes himself and Timothy as 'servants of Christ Jesus'. He does not refer to himself in this Letter as an apostle at all. The Greek word he uses is douloi which can mean both slave and servant – and so there is an implication of lowliness and humility about it.

And it is good for us to remember that whatever ministry God has called us to – we are servants of Christ. We may be the Rector of a Parish – or even a bishop - but we are all still servants of Christ. The focus of our energies and our ministry is to serve Christ – and we do that largely by serving the people of God and seeking to serve those also outside that family as well. Servants had to be dutiful, responsible and ultimately entirely at the direction of their masters and mistresses. And we are called to serve Christ in that way.

And Paul consistently uses the word agioi – 'holy ones' or saints to refer to members of the Christian community. The fundamental idea of the Greek term agios 'holy' is 'something different'. Something that is holy is different; it is 'set aside' in some way.

And so saints are people who are different. We may not feel like saints – and the reality is that we all struggle to become the best we can be – and what we feel God wants us to become. But that is to think of the meaning of saint in terms of our Christian maturity and piety. Paul understands that our saintliness – our holiness derives from our union with Christ and is an imputed holiness from God.

And the challenge for us both as Christians and ministers – is to be everyday – working away at integrating every part of our lives with our life in God – our life in Christ.

And he uses the phrase en Christo Jesou – 'in Christ Jesus' and does so some twenty-two times in the Letter. The phrase occurs over 100 times in the undisputed Pauline Letters. It is likely that the word Christian had not yet been coined and Paul, as we know, frequently uses this phrase 'en Christo' to refer to those who have become Christians. And there is an intimate relationship between being a saint – a holy person – and being 'in Christ.'

But we should also note that Paul often uses the phrase 'in Christ' to refer to the Christian community. The commentator Stephen Fowl speaking of Paul's use of the phrase says, 'Being in Christ locates one within that community founded by Christ, and thereby, within the realm governed by Christ. …when Paul speaks this way, he is speaking in political terms. He is speaking of a community whose character and common life are defined by the Lordship of Christ.'

What does it mean for you and me to have our life at the personal and corporate level defined by the Lordship of Christ? I leave you to ponder that for now.

It is interesting and frequently noted that in verse 1 Paul draws particular attention to people who function as episcopoi and diakonoi. We are certainly not meant to think that they are not in the category of saints – rather they are a subset of it.
This phrase is unique here in his letters and seems to be the earliest use of the term episcopos in the NT. And in the early 60s of the first century – forms of Christian leadership were still in a fledgling form. We need to resist thinking about bishops and deacons of the later and contemporary church and it may be a reason to render episcopos as 'overseer' here rather than 'bishop' as NIV does and as do many commentators.

Wayne Meeks has argued that the leadership in Pauline churches arose out of the context of house churches and there was some significant variations in the roles of these officials. We simply do not know exactly what each did though commentator Paul Holloway has drawn attention to research suggesting that the episcopoi were heads of households and so the plural would possibly indicate the existence in Philippi of more than one house-church. The terms 'elder' and 'overseer' or 'bishop' seem to be used interchangeably up until around the middle of the second century or a bit later. And so from about the 170-180s the roles becomes distinct although Stephen Fowl has noted that episokopoi still continue to be 'elders' as well.

Verse 2

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2 χάρις ὑμῖν καὶ εἰρήνη ἀπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ

Paul amends the standard Greek epistolary letter greeting which used the verbal form chairein (greeting) to the noun charis – grace. Paul uses the word some 100 times altogether.

It is a concept which has that sense of spontaneous, unmerited favour and is such a rich and evocative Christian concept. That is what he desires for his friends in Philippi. And not only does he desire 'grace' for them but also 'peace' – which we will encounter again chapter 4. 'Peace' – this is a very pregnant concept for Paul with a strong active meaning rather than just the absence of anxiety. It derives fundamentally from reconciliation with God made possible by Christ in his death and resurrection.

And so Paul notes that God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are the source from which this grace and peace come. His use of Father – pater – may reflect a knowledge of the Lord's Prayer and the traditions going back to Jesus' teaching about this.
Grace and peace are two fundamental concepts that represent some of key resources of our faith. And the practicing of opening our inner life every day to this grace and peace – lie at the heart of our spiritual life and at the heart of being able to sustain for the long haul the challenges of ministering to others.

Verses 3-5:

3 I thank my God every time I remember you, 4 constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.

3 Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν 4 πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος, 5 ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν,
St Paul seems to have been - among many other things – a great man of prayer. One senses he spent much time in prayer and that no doubt because of that - he was able to draw deeply upon the grace and peace of God and be enabled to survive imprisonment and the many other challenges he faced. And he is consoled by their partnership with him in the gospel.

And for us – for whatever else we do – we must be women and men of prayer. It is that above all that which will sustain us in ministry. Of course we need regular days off, we need regular exercise and good food – but it is prayer, stillness and meditation and resting in our life with God that will be what above all else refreshes us and energizes us for ministry and mission in the long term.

Paul notes that he prays with joy for his friends. It is interesting that grace – charis and joy- chara – come from the same Greek root. And in practice the ideas are closely related. And joy is often noted as one of the threads weaving its way through the colours of this letter.

And if there is no joy about our spirituality and our practice of ministry – something is not right. Of course joy is experienced and manifested in different ways by different people. But just as rain brings growth and new life – so faith and spirituality should result in a sense of joy.

Paul also makes reference to the fact of his friends' 'sharing in the gospel.' The message of Christ has drawn them together into community – into a partnership – into the body of Christ. The Greek word here is that classic Christian term κοινωνίᾳ which means partnership and fellowship. Later he will speak of the 'fellowship in spirit' (2:1) and 'fellowship in his sufferings' (that is Christ's).

And so for us and whatever our differences and different ways of perceiving and conceiving of our life in Christ – we all form part of the body of Christ. We are partners and one of our challenges is to see that we are living that out and seeing that we share fellowship together – even though we may not all see aspects of our life with Christ in just the same way.

Verse 6:

6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
6 πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο ὅτι ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ·

The apostle makes reference here to a 'good work' - an ἔργον ἀγαθὸν: He knows that the seed of the Word of God has taken fruit in their lives and he has a confidence about how that will grow. And we should have confidence that God will play God's part in the good work that is happening in our ministry contexts. Off course we must respect the pace at which our people are willing to grow and respond – but we can always be confident that God will be at work by his Holy Spirit – seeking little by little to bring to completion what God has begun.

Verse 7:

7 It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel
7 καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς, ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας·

Paul here touches on the fact of his imprisonment – a fact about which his friends in Philippi are only too well aware. Paul is very conscious of being supported and upheld both in his suffering in jail and in his ministry. The warmth and affection he feels for them comes out here in his reference to them holding him in their heart. He is also very aware of their common experience of the grace of God in their lives – binding them in companionship and faith.

And when we minister among our people – some pretty strong bonds are often formed. These develop as we lead the Liturgy week by week and unpack the scriptures and preach the word - for those of us in Parish ministry contexts. And the same may well happen in schools and in other ministries situations. They develop also as we sit perhaps in silence with those grieving a loss – or we celebrate with those joining together in marriage or we simply enjoy working together in shared ministry. These bonds may develop as people share their deep anxieties and seek our help to connect or reconnect them with the experience of feeling loved by God again or for the first time. And they may develop if we have the privilege of helping to midwife a person to faith in Christ and help them steer the ship of their lives on a different path. They may develop too as we accompany people on their spiritual journey.

These bonds make an impact upon us – some we will choose to maintain in a new ministry context – most we cannot. But we should pray for God's grace as we cope with the emotional impact of these relationships upon us – and particularly when there is suffering and grief and struggle that we share with our people. That is the work of Christ – but there is a cost to it. We carry a burden there and we need to manage that burden with the grace of God and the support of others.

Verse 8

8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus

8 μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεός, ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ.

Paul's language is verse 8 is very strong. He begins it with a solemn oath and as he languishes in his imprisonment and now writes to them - he is struck by his sense of longing for them – of a desire for their well-being. The Philippian Christians have stuck by Paul – they have remained loyal to him – even though he has perhaps been imprisoned for quite some time by now. And indeed they have now also sent him a money gift.

Paul is clearly moved deeply as he ponders his relationship with them. He uses that strong term splanchnon – referring to the guts - the innards – as the seat of feeling and the word is typically rendered 'compassion'. It is linked here with the compassion of Christ. In the Gospels the verb form is more common and Matthew, for example, uses it in 9:36 when he speaks of Jesus, seeing the crowds harassed and helpless and he 'has compassion on them.'

I drew attention earlier to Paul Holloway's suggestion that Philippians is best seen as a letter of consolation. He wants to console them – and as he writes his letter – his feelings of care and warmth bubble up.

We need to avoid so insulating ourselves by the need to cope with the stresses and demands of ministry – that we lose our sense of compassion – our sense of caring deeply about the people whose charge we have been given. It is a great privilege and great responsibility. And so we must find the right balance between - on the one hand not being so deeply drawn in by everyone's needs that we burn out and on the other going on being deeply compassionate and caring. Sometimes it can be tough balance to achieve.

Verses 9-11:

9 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
9 καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει, 10 εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα, ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, 11 πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ.

I find these verses quite inspirational. Paul actually uses a verb here for praying although NRSV translates it as a noun. But it is a verb in the present indicative. Literally 'I am keeping on praying this….’ And then he uses here the classic Christian term agape for love – which one of my lecturer’s in theological college used to define as, 'a commitment of the will to the best interest of the other person.' And when Paul speaks about this love overflowing more and more – I straight away imagine a water-fall with the water cascading over the rocks as it is fed by heavy rains. Paul desires that his friends' lives are increasingly characterized by love.

And that of course is the value that is at the very core of everything we believe because it is at the very core of the Being of God the Holy Trinity. And it is always the acid test of our actions. And insofar as we are open to the Source of all Love – and love flows increasingly into our lives – so there will be greater harmony in our lives and greater harmony among the people with whom we interact and engage in our lives.

And it is interesting that Paul links the overflowing of love with 'knowledge and insight'. It is sometimes said that knowledge is power. And knowledge and understanding has always been important in the Christian tradition because it makes a difference – a big difference.

If we breakdown in a vehicle in the outback or the desert – knowing what to do may well save our lives. And the Scriptures reveal to us that there is a knowledge of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ – that is saving knowledge.

And one of the wonderful things about our faith is that that knowledge is open to all to discover and learn. Unlike the gnostic groups in the early Christian period who believed that saving knowledge was secret and only the elect could access it – the mainstream Christian tradition has always offered the saving knowledge of the Gospel freely – as indeed did Jesus. Many people in the ancient world wanted payment to offer healing or teaching but Jesus always offered it freely. And you and I are called to always offer the Gospel and the saving knowledge of God revealed in Christ freely and openly.

Another point of interest in these verses is that Paul wants his friends in Philippi to have knowledge and insight – 'to help you to determine what is best'. And one of the important ways of conceiving of the call to discipleship – is that it is a call to determine what is best. In other words it is a call to learn how to make good choices in our lives – good choices for ourselves and good choices for the people around us with whom we interact. It sounds simple – but we know it is complex and challenging and we spend all our lives learning to consistently make good decisions and good choices that will be life-giving for ourselves and life-giving for other people.

And Paul notes that all these things – our lives grounded in overflowing love, and equipped with knowledge and insight to help us make life-giving choices - will result in a 'harvest of righteousness' – that will ultimately will give glory and praise to God.

Verses 12-14:

12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

12 Γινώσκειν δὲ ὑμᾶς βούλομαι, ἀδελφοί, ὅτι τὰ κατ’ ἐμὲ μᾶλλον εἰς προκοπὴν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου ἐλήλυθεν, 13 ὥστε τοὺς δεσμούς μου φανεροὺς ἐν Χριστῷ γενέσθαι ἐν ὅλῳ τῷ πραιτωρίῳ καὶ τοῖς λοιποῖς πᾶσιν, 14 καὶ τοὺς πλείονας τῶν ἀδελφῶν ἐν κυρίῳ πεποιθότας τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου περισσοτέρως τολμᾶν ἀφόβως τὸν λόγον λαλεῖν.

St Paul had a way of finding a silver lining in every cloud. His life was so fundamentally grounded in faith and trust in Christ that even his imprisonment he saw as something that God would use and did use to advance the Christian cause and spread the knowledge of God's love.

When you were a prisoner in the Roman world – you did not get fed and watered by the Imperial Government. It was up to you to find some friends or family who would bring you food and look after you. If Paul's imprisonment was in Rome – it may be that initially at least that he was under a kind of house arrest and had some significant freedoms. However with things in Rome in the 60s starting to turn against Christians there – he may well have lost his privileges and was confined to a prison cell. But either way – there was clearly a circle of Christians who were supporting him. And Paul's suggests that his own faith was energizing the faith of other members of the Christian community there with whom he was in touch.

And in these times of Christians being somewhat marginalized in our society – we need to support one another – we need to mutually encourage one another – because it can be tough out there. And we know there is always a certain cohort of people in our society who are very quick to condemn Christians and the churches – sometimes justly so – but certainly not always.


15 Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. 18 What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.

15 Τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ δι’ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν· 16 οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι, 17 οἱ δὲ ἐξ ἐριθείας τὸν Χριστὸν καταγγέλλουσιν, οὐχ ἁγνῶς, οἰόμενοι θλῖψιν ἐγείρειν τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου. 18 τί γάρ; πλὴν ὅτι παντὶ τρόπῳ, εἴτε προφάσει εἴτε ἀληθείᾳ, Χριστὸς καταγγέλλεται, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ χαίρω·

Paul was a passionate proclaimer of the Gospel of Christ which had transformed his life – even though he had always been a very devout person. He threw every ounce of his energy and gifts into the task and he can rejoice that the Gospel is proclaimed whatever the motive.

Our context is, of course, very different from Paul's and so proclaiming Christ in our society will inevitably be a very different task. But the message of God's gracious love for his world and the union of flawed men and women with God - made possible because of all that Christ did – is a message which is still transformative. And just as Paul is wanting to console his friends in Philippi there is consolation for us in our context in this message.

It is often hard to believe this message is transformative if we minister in churches where the congregations are aging and not being replenished with new members. And this experience can be very discouraging year after year.

And for lots of complex reasons – I think we have to some extent today lost our nerve in the proclamation of the Gospel. Perhaps we question the power of the Gospel message – perhaps we resign ourselves to the idea that people will be hostile – or coldly indifferent. And perhaps because of the whole issue of sexual abuse in the church – we are going to have to journey through the desert – before we see the real signs of living water transforming people's lives on a bigger scale.

But it is always a privilege and a joy when we see a person's life being turned around in this way. And we need to be grateful for the small signs we may see of this happening in the current environment. I am a great believer in there being what I might call 'ages' of the work of the Spirit of God. There are times when there is resistance and there are times when there is openness and generous response.

Verses 18b-21:

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance. 20 It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.

ἀλλὰ καὶ χαρήσομαι, 19 οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι τοῦτό μοι ἀποβήσεται εἰς σωτηρίαν διὰ τῆς ὑμῶν δεήσεως καὶ ἐπιχορηγίας τοῦ πνεύματος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, 20 κατὰ τὴν ἀποκαραδοκίαν καὶ ἐλπίδα μου ὅτι ἐν οὐδενὶ αἰσχυνθήσομαι, ἀλλ’ ἐν πάσῃ παρρησίᾳ ὡς πάντοτε καὶ νῦν μεγαλυνθήσεται Χριστὸς ἐν τῷ σώματί μου, εἴτε διὰ ζωῆς εἴτε διὰ θανάτου. 21 ἐμοὶ γὰρ τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς καὶ τὸ ἀποθανεῖν κέρδος.
Paul is a prisoner of the Roman state – probably in a Roman jail – and yet there is joy on his lips. He can rejoice. As I mentioned earlier, the verb for rejoicing in the Greek chairein [aorist echaren]– is cognate with the noun joy (chara).

We are living in tough circumstances – both as a nation and global community with the limitations and threat brought about by Covid 19 – and by the fact that our Anglican family cannot be said to be flourishing. It is many places it is only holding on. And we now face some deep internal differences as well.

We cannot quickly change our Covid-affected circumstances, nor the decline in Christian belief. There are things about our context that we simply must accept for the time being as a given. But we can change how we perceive our situation and I think that this was a key strategy for Paul. We may recall the Serenity Prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. There were many things about Paul's circumstances he could not change – but he nevertheless found a way to largely view things positively. And fundamentally this was because of the spiritual resource of his faith. Ultimately, he was very conscious of the sovereignty of God and that it was God's world and that God was at work in a profound way in that world.

And while we do not want to simplistically say everything will be fine because of our faith and religious world-view – there is an important sense in which we need to leave some things in the hand of God and trust - and just focus upon doing what we can and changing what it is in our power to change.

One of things Paul is wanting to do in his letter and here in this section in particular is to assure his friends in Philippi that he is doing ok. He is managing well. This reflects the consolatory nature of some of the content of his letter. And so he assures them in verse 19 that your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.

The word translated here as 'deliverance' is the word soterion – salvation. The commentator Holloway argues for this latter translation here noting that Paul is not confident he will be delivered from execution – but he is confident of his eschatological salvation and his continuing witness for Christ. I find his argument here persuasive. Paul values the prayers of his friends – and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Whether that is a reference to the Holy Spirit – or a more general reference to the 'spirit of Jesus Christ' - using a lower-case 's' for spirit – is hard to be sure. Holloway takes it in the latter sense but commentator James Thompson in the former sense. I am inclined to think it refers to the Holy Spirit. And while Paul's view of the Holy Spirit is in what we might describe as embryonic form in terms of the later understanding the rich and dynamic relationships among and between the persons of the Holy Trinity – he nevertheless has a dynamic understanding of the work of the Spirit of God in the world.

And so we are reminded of the help and aid of God the Holy Spirit in our need. John V Taylor's book, The Go-Between God – has always been a favourite of mine and he has this rich and expansive concept of God's Spirit at work in every corner of God's creation. And I think Taylor is right – and it follows if he is right– then God's Spirit is abundantly present for us and with us and that is deeply reassuring.

In verse 21 Paul reflects upon the reality as he sees it – that he is in a win-win situation. So whether he remains alive or whether he is executed – both are beneficial. The phrase 'to die is gain' was apparently a popular saying at the time – picking up the idea that death was an end to all one's struggles in life. And Paul parallels this with his statement that 'living is Christ'. Holloway sees this as evidence of what he calls the emergence of a 'Christ-mysticism’. But another way of seeing it is simply to understand that for him to be alive is to experience intimacy with Christ and have the benefit of living his life daily in the awareness of that life-giving relationship.

Verses 22-24:

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

22 εἰ δὲ τὸ ζῆν ἐν σαρκί, τοῦτό μοι καρπὸς ἔργου— καὶ τί αἱρήσομαι οὐ γνωρίζω· 23 συνέχομαι δὲ ἐκ τῶν δύο, τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων εἰς τὸ ἀναλῦσαι καὶ σὺν Χριστῷ εἶναι, πολλῷ γὰρ μᾶλλον κρεῖσσον, 24 τὸ δὲ ἐπιμένειν ἐν τῇ σαρκὶ ἀναγκαιότερον δι’ ὑμᾶς.
Commentators note that the Greek is quite difficult to translate in verses 22 and 23 and there are a variety of ways of doing it.

In verse 22 Paul continues his contrast between living and dying noting that he is not sure which of the two he actually would prefer and he is aware that he finds it very difficult to decide. The Greek term rendered 'hard pressed' is a powerful one and is used for example in Luke 19:43 of a city encircled by enemies who are closing in. Death for Paul is attractive because of the deepened intimacy with Christ that it would bring but he is also very conscious that there are Christian communities he has founded – like that in Philippi - where there is a need for his continued ministry.

Perhaps in part Paul wishes to assure the Philippian community that his death – should it occur - would be something he would welcome and therefore by implication they should not be distressed by such a development. He does not touch on the matter of how he might be put to death and whether the act of being executed was something he held some fears about. It would have been very normal and human to have held some anxieties about that – but they are probably not ones that he wishes to burden the Christians in Philippi about.

I don’t know that many of us today would feel that we would be just as happy to live or die. I think as Christians we can and do have a quiet assurance about death as a transition. But even in a Covid-19 world in which we may feel a little as though we are being encircled by an enemy – life is still very good and of course in Australia we are incredibly fortunate with the context in which we live out our daily lives and our ministries. But Paul's reflections remind us that ultimately our citizenship is in heaven as he will say later in the Letter, even though we have an important earthly citizenship in the present in which we carry significant responsibilities.

Verse 25-26

25Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.

25 καὶ τοῦτο πεποιθὼς οἶδα ὅτι μενῶ καὶ παραμενῶ πᾶσιν ὑμῖν εἰς τὴν ὑμῶν προκοπὴν καὶ χαρὰν τῆς πίστεως, 26 ἵνα τὸ καύχημα ὑμῶν περισσεύῃ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἐν ἐμοὶ διὰ τῆς ἐμῆς παρουσίας πάλιν πρὸς ὑμᾶς.

After sharing the struggle and complexity of his thinking about living or dying – Paul returns to reaffirm what, no doubt, he intended to affirm all along – that he will remain with them. He goes on to make reference to the matter of their 'progress and joy in the faith.' It may be that he feels that they have dropped the ball somewhat in relation to their faith and proclamation of the Gospel because of their grief about his situation and because of local opposition. The focus in the reference to 'progress' (prokope) is not upon individual progress so much as the progress in the formation of the community. There is possibly a gentle rebuke to be understood here – and that is confirmed by the fact that in verse 27 he exhorts them, 'to live their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ’.

Verses 27-30:

27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. 29 For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

27 Μόνον ἀξίως τοῦ εὐαγγελίου τοῦ Χριστοῦ πολιτεύεσθε, ἵνα εἴτε ἐλθὼν καὶ ἰδὼν ὑμᾶς εἴτε ἀπὼν ἀκούω τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν, ὅτι στήκετε ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι, μιᾷ ψυχῇ συναθλοῦντες τῇ πίστει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, 28 καὶ μὴ πτυρόμενοι ἐν μηδενὶ ὑπὸ τῶν ἀντικειμένων (ἥτις ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἔνδειξις ἀπωλείας, ὑμῶν δὲ σωτηρίας, καὶ τοῦτο ἀπὸ θεοῦ, 29 ὅτι ὑμῖν ἐχαρίσθη τὸ ὑπὲρ Χριστοῦ, οὐ μόνον τὸ εἰς αὐτὸν πιστεύειν ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸ ὑπὲρ αὐτοῦ πάσχειν), 30 τὸν αὐτὸν ἀγῶνα ἔχοντες οἷον εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοὶ καὶ νῦν ἀκούετε ἐν ἐμοί.

Professor Stephen Fowl in his 2005 commentary on the Epistle suggests that verses 27-30 form a linchpin of the argument of the Letter to the Philippians. And there is a clear hortatory dimension to this section. The commentator Paul Holloway argues that these verses and the following section through to chapter 2:16 are an exhortation set within a 'request for consolation’. Paul is using rhetorical language to persuade them to adopt a more serious commitment to their life with Christ. While Paul has initially sought to console the Christian community at Philippi – he now seeks to be consoled with news from them as to how they are getting on. But the real purpose of this line of approach is really to encourage them to be faithful and consistent in their discipleship.

Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Paul says to them. And the verb he uses here for 'live your life' is not the one Paul generally uses in this context. Typically he uses the verb peripatein meaning literally 'to walk' but frequently used in the metaphorical sense of 'to live.' But here Paul's word is politeuesthe (politeuesthai). This is a term from the political arena – related to the word polis – city and polites – citizen. It has to do with the idea of citizenship of a community. Our word here in Philippians only occurs on one other occasion in the NT in Acts 23.
And there has been much commentary about why Paul used this word here. What did he mean by it? Stephen Fowl argues that Paul is in a sense playing on the idea of political citizenship but making the point that the Philippians are to live – not with their eye mainly on Roman law – but on the gospel of Christ. And the verb here is a present imperative – emphasizing the continuing nature of the call. And Fowl translates this whole as line as, Do this one thing. Order your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Paul wants to be consoled by being assured that the Christian community he founded in Philippi is remaining faithful to the values he taught them.

And he goes on in the verse to indicate that whether he is actually able to visit them in person or not – that they are to, 'stand firm in the one spirit' and that they are to strive, 'side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel'. A sense of shared unity is a crucial element in the life of the Christian community for Paul. But there is evidence in his letters that Paul did not expect such unity to be expressed in a complete homogeneity of thought and practice. Stephen Fowl argues that Paul seems to have accepted some diversity of theological views – and a diversity of ministry gifts as well as variations in worship style.

And as we think about our context where the Christian community is deeply divided and where now even the Anglican family in Australia and around the world is struggling to hold together our common life – there is a challenge here I think.
The essential thrust of this section of the Letter is for his friends to, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. What does it mean for you and me to live our lives in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ?

Clearly the sexual abuse of children and any forms of domestic violence – are completely contrary to all the values and the manner of life to which Christ calls his followers. That the Christian Church has allowed such things to occur is a terrible indictment upon it and upon us as members – and society has rightly judged the churches very harshly for these failings. And it is going to take at least a generation for the wider society to acknowledge what the churches have done and continue to do to prevent such things occurring again. It is going to take a long time for people to feel assured that churches are safe places for their children and that there is some real integrity in relation to our talk and our walk. We all carry a wound here where there will remain a scar.

But what of other much more problematic issues in terms of knowing the will of God? Is it possible to have different understandings about the role of women in leadership in the church and same-sex relationships and still maintain an authentic sense of unity because of our shared life in Christ?

We know that these issues are complex and there are differing, strongly held views in the Anglican family about them – including no doubt among us here. And there are no simplistic answers and solutions or they would have been found. Christians will bring quite different and keenly held presuppositions about the teaching and interpretation of Scripture and the will of God to the debate and discussion over these matters. And Christians have been wrestling with differences in their views from very early on in the life of the Christian community and so it is certainly not a new situation. The opening verses of chapter 4 of Philippians indicates that there were sharp differences there among some leading female co-workers of Paul. And there are plenty of other NT examples we could cite.

But I think what Philippians is reminding us about is the importance of unity for we who are 'in Christ.' It is highlighting for us the issue of how we handle the question of unity and difference.
And I think we sometimes fail to do the hard work that is required when Christians find themselves with deeply differing views. There is nothing easy about this. We see that in the account in Galatians 2 of St Peter coming to Antioch and then refusing table fellowship with Gentile Christians. St Paul and St Peter had to confront the issues – and argue them out and reach an agreed position. Imagine if they had not reached an agreed position? What legacy might that have left the Christian position in the first century? What impact on the proclamation of the gospel would a deeply divided Christian church have had?

And often the differences among us are greatly exacerbated because of a lack of engagement and relationship between those holding differing points of view. I wonder - if the personal relationships between Anglicans of differing theological and hermeneutical positions could be built up and strengthened – whether there might then be a deepened willingness to continue to work at the differences and find more common ground?

So often the debate in the church occurs in forums like Synod – where differing theological positions become polarized into camps and views quickly become moulded by the need to maintain identity with one camp or the other – rather than allow a deep openness to what the Spirit of God may be saying to us all? And so my question would be – is there a place for another type for forum for handling these difficult issues – where individuals can listen and learn and grow together? It is all too easy to stereotype and caricature one another and the views others hold – so that the Christian value of our shared unity in Christ is pushed to the side. I am not sure such actions represent an 'ordering of our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ' as Paul puts it. Enough on that.

In verses 27b-28a Pauls exhorts his friends to stand 'firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and to do so in such a way that they are not 'intimidated' by their 'opponents’. Here the opponents seem not to be other Christians – but members of the Graeco-Roman pagan society in Philippi. The beliefs and practices of the Christians are challenging some of their customs and ways – including especially perhaps the rapidly developing imperial cult of honouring deceased emperors as divine.

Paul is concerned that differences among the Christian community – may weaken and inhibit their witness in the wider community and may lead them to withdraw into their shells in the face of opposition. What Paul calls for them to do – is to go on 'living their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel' – standing firm together in partnership 'for the faith of the gospel' – so that the gospel can continue to be lived out and openly proclaimed even when it is very tough to do so.

And one of the reasons that a shared deep sense of unity is important for our Anglican family – and the Christian community more widely – is so that there can be an authenticity to the values and message we proclaim to our society.

In verse 30 – Paul reflects upon the fact that the living out of the gospel and the proclamation of the gospel – brings challenge and suffering. He experienced it in Philippi when he was with them – and now they are experiencing it – and he is still experiencing it being incarcerated in a Roman jail for his faith in Christ.

And as our society increasingly moves into a post-Christian era – you and I and those who come after us – may well find that it becomes much more difficult and challenging to live out and practice our faith in our society. Already there is a certain cohort of people in contemporary society – who are quick to blame and criticize the church. And so we and those who follow us may find that there are more challenges to come in the future, not less.

Chapter 2 (5147 words)

Verses 1-4:

1 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

1 Εἴ τις οὖν παράκλησις ἐν Χριστῷ, εἴ τι παραμύθιον ἀγάπης, εἴ τις κοινωνία πνεύματος, εἴ τις σπλάγχνα καὶ οἰκτιρμοί, 2 πληρώσατέ μου τὴν χαρὰν ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ φρονῆτε, τὴν αὐτὴν ἀγάπην ἔχοντες, σύμψυχοι, τὸ ἓν φρονοῦντες, 3 μηδὲν κατ’ ἐριθείαν μηδὲ κατὰ κενοδοξίαν, ἀλλὰ τῇ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν, 4 μὴ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστοι σκοποῦντες, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἑτέρων ἕκαστοι.

This is a famous passage - as are the verses which follow. And at this point the thoughts and ideas in Paul's mind are tumbling out and it is as if the need to commit them to language is restricting them – rather like a screwed up nozzle on a garden hose constricts the water flow. There are four conditional clauses each beginning with the word 'if' and having two nouns and no verb and they lead into his call to 'make his joy complete'. But the result is a very powerful rhetorical statement.

Paul is wanting to open up and expand upon what he means by ordering their life, 'in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ'. The conditional clauses clearly imply of course that all those things are true – they are fulfilled conditions; there is encouragement (paraklesis) in Christ. And there is that favourite phrase of Paul's again – en Christo. One commentator has spoken of Paul using here an ironic understatement. So yes there is consolation (paramuthion); there is sharing (koinonia) in the Spirit and there is compassion (splanchnon) and sympathy (oiktirmos). These things are pre-eminently true of Christ and of what it means for an individual to be 'in Christ' and experiencing the life that Christ brings with all its depth and richness.
There is a sense in which Paul in making all these conditional statements – is saying that because of the bond of unity in Christ that he and Philippians have – they share all these things in and through Christ. And as Stephen Fowl underlines – these are not just attributes that apply at the individual level – they do – but they also apply very much at the level of community life. Paul's plea is for them to live their personal lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – but also to live their communal life – their lives as making up the body of Christ in that place in that manner also.

This list of four things to which he refers are both benefits of being 'in Christ' and are attributes which should come to be features of their common life as well as their individual lives. And Paul appeals to them in all this make his joy complete. It is an appeal between friends – he is not just selfishly wanting his own needs met and nor is implying something is hugely wrong in their common life.

And as we think about our life together – I think we can be encouraged and challenged at the same time by Paul's appeal in verses 1-2a. And this applies at the level of our local ministries if we are in places like a Parish or school or other chaplaincies and it applies at the level of our Diocesan life and the at the level of our national Anglican life and beyond - including in ecumenical (and inter-faith) contexts. It is Christ who bring us together; it is Christ who unites us; it is Christ who encourages us and the Spirit who nurtures our common fellowship. It is through the divinely inspired working of agape love in our relationships that we find solace and comfort and we become women and men of compassion and sympathy and care.

And now we come to the real challenge in Paul's appeal in verses 2b-4. be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. ἵνα τὸ αὐτὸ φρονῆτε, τὴν αὐτὴν ἀγάπην ἔχοντες, σύμψυχοι, τὸ ἓν φρονοῦντες, 3 μηδὲν κατ’ ἐριθείαν μηδὲ κατὰ κενοδοξίαν, ἀλλὰ τῇ ταπεινοφροσύνῃ ἀλλήλους ἡγούμενοι ὑπερέχοντας ἑαυτῶν, 4 μὴ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ἕκαστοι σκοποῦντες, ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἑτέρων ἕκαστοι.

Paul has appealed to his friends at Philippi back in chapter 1:27 to order their lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – and now the rubber hits the road as it were. He spells out the unity that is called for by this appeal – and what it means in a very practical way.

One commentator has translated these verses in this way: then make my joy complete by manifesting a common way of thinking and acting, having the same love, being bound together by this common way of thinking and acting.

There is not time to unpack each of the terms here. We might note though that the opening phrase, 'being of the same mind' or 'manifesting a common way of thinking and acting' is used a number of times by Paul including in Romans 12:16; 15:5; 2 Corinthians 13:11 and Philippians 4:2. In Romans 12:16 it is translated 'live in harmony with one another.' There is implied in the phrase that this harmony and unity will lead to an agreed common course of action.

Commentators generally do not understand Paul to mean that he wanted everyone in the community in Philippi to have exactly the same views and understandings. And so Stephen Fowl writes, Paul is not asking everyone to think in an isomorphic way. They do not all have to wear gray and eat gruel at every meal. What is required here are a common disposition, perspective, and comportment toward each other that will enable them to believe, worship and act in concert so that their common life will be worthy of the gospel.

And we cannot prayerfully reflect on this message and not feel some note of challenge to us all here – within our ministry contexts – within our clergy gatherings and Diocesan life and further afield. I don’t think for a moment that God intends us all to see and understand the complex matters of theology, faith and ethical imperatives in the same way. There is a richness in diversity and differing perspectives as well as challenges.

As I suggested earlier - where I think we need to make more progress is in learning to sit with each other's differing perspectives and hear them and understand them– even though there may be some discomfort to us in that. It seems to me we need to be able to take more time in our common life – to discuss and debate matters that affect us all. And clearly not every view and not every course of action can be pursued. At the end of the day decisions have to be made and sometimes it will be a majority view that will prevail and sometimes it will be a view arising from the wisdom and strength of our leadership structures. But the harmony and unity Paul calls for can I think emerge from a willingness to truly hear each other out and to refrain from partisanship and cultivate a desire to see a strengthening of the bonds of common life we share in Christ.
St Paul now turns his attention to certain actions and behaviour patterns from which he urges his friends to refrain. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others

Humility was not a concept valued in the Graeco-Roman world. It was a quality that was seen as appropriate in slaves. Humility was generally despised in status-conscious Greek and Roman societies. But I think it is fair to say it is an OT value and many Psalms affirm the quality of humility and lowliness (Psalms. 142; 108; 107; 63; 23; 22; 13) and the idea occurs in the prophets as well as in the Wisdom writings. God chooses the lowly and unexpected for his saving purposes in history and that is seen in the lives of a number of figures within the O.T. or Hebrew Scripture (cf. Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and so on).

The adjective tapeinos meaning 'lowly' or 'humble' occurs some 67 times in the LXX and the verb 167 times. Humility was also highly valued by the Qumran Community Rule (QS) where humility also takes on a functional role as it serves to foster and sustain unity and harmony in the community. Humility is important not only before God but before one another in the community.

And in the ministry and teaching of Jesus - humility is a kingdom value which he embodies and lives out not least in the humility of his own death. Jesus' teaching suggests that the practice of this humility leads to an exaltation that is ultimately eschatological.

In verse 3 Paul deploys the noun 'humility' (tapeinophrosune). And the thrust of this passage in verses 3-4 is that Paul is suggesting that some of the key values which will contribute to the unity and harmony are a willingness to lay aside one's own interests and needs and attend to the interests and needs of others. Paul sees this as a way to build-up community and foster unity.

Earlier in our session I referred to the definition of agape by Stephen Neil as 'a commitment of the will to the best interest of the other person.' And to some extent the practice of this virtue of humility is implied in the call to love one another as Christ loved us.

Humility is a very unattractive behaviour if it is a false value – practiced with an ulterior motive. But the authentic value is one that resonates as a sign of spiritual maturity. It contributes to harmony because it involves attending consistently to the position of others in the community and it allows space and freedom for them to have a voice and give expression to it.

And I wonder what humility looks like at the level of the wider role of our church and other churches in our society? There was often not a lot of space left for the value of humility in a Christendom-dominated society or world. The Church was often seen as a powerful body with a very close relationship with the State and that was especially true of our Anglican family. There were some pros and some cons with that model. But things are very different now. And we might well need to be asking -if Christ saw his mission to come not be served but to serve – what does that modelling say to us as Church in the twenty first century? What does a servant-church look like in a context in which many want to marginalize the church? In what ways might we as an Anglican family do more to model the value of humility to our nation and society? I leave you to ponder those questions.

This leads now to the well-known section, the so-called, 'hymn to the risen Christ'. Stephen Fowl argues that this is the climax of the Letter and suggests that, 'it is one of the most theologically significant passages in the NT' which 'poetically narrates Christ's significance and status’. I might also add that he and some other commentators are much less inclined to call this a hymn today. Paul Holloway writes, 'More and more scholars today are reading Philippians 2:6-11 as a piece of encomiastic prose composed by Paul for the present letter’. And he indicates that this is his own view.

Since the work of Professor Ernst Lohmeyer in 1928, there has been much debate over the origin of this passage, its structure, authorship and the question of the pre-existence of Christ and its place and importance within the context of Philippians. It has generated a huge body of literature. However, we simply do not know for certain the origin of this passage and whether it was pre-existing material or not. There used to be a significant consensus among earlier commentators that it was not original to Paul but as I have indicated this is no longer the case. But in one sense the matter isn't too important ultimately.

In the light of all this extensive discussion about the passage I am only going to speak quite briefly about it here. I encourage you to follow up some of the recent research if you are interested to do so.

One of the more powerful arguments for thinking that Paul himself did write the passage is that it so well illustrates the point he was wanting to make to his friends that the call of Christ is a call to a life of service and humility. And the model of Jesus' own life challenges deeply the way the Philippian Christian community had been behaving with a degree of party spirit and pursuit of their individual needs and concerns at the expense of the community and others. I will take Paul as the author of this passage while certainly acknowledging that this matter remains much debated.

Verses 5-11:

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

5 τοῦτο φρονεῖτε ἐν ὑμῖν ὃ καὶ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, 6 ὃς ἐν μορφῇ θεοῦ ὑπάρχων οὐχ ἁρπαγμὸν ἡγήσατο τὸ εἶναι ἴσα θεῷ, 7 ἀλλὰ ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν μορφὴν δούλου λαβών, ἐν ὁμοιώματι ἀνθρώπων γενόμενος· καὶ σχήματι εὑρεθεὶς ὡς ἄνθρωπος 8 ἐταπείνωσεν ἑαυτὸν γενόμενος ὑπήκοος μέχρι θανάτου, θανάτου δὲ σταυροῦ· 9 διὸ καὶ ὁ θεὸς αὐτὸν ὑπερύψωσεν, καὶ ἐχαρίσατο αὐτῷ τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα, 10 ἵνα ἐν τῷ ὀνόματι Ἰησοῦ πᾶν γόνυ κάμψῃ ἐπουρανίων καὶ ἐπιγείων καὶ καταχθονίων, 11 καὶ πᾶσα γλῶσσα ἐξομολογήσηται ὅτι κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστὸς εἰς δόξαν θεοῦ πατρός.

Verse 5 which NRSV renders as, Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus – is a sentence which connects the things Paul has just been saying with the pattern and model of Christ's life. The sentence reads literally, 'Let this mind in you which also in Christ Jesus’. We must supply the verb 'to be' as is often the case in rendering Greek. And Paul repeats here his use of the word translated as 'mind' (phronein). He used it in verse 2 – though in both cases it is actually in verb form despite the rending here in English as 'mind'. Stephen Fowl paraphrases the meaning of the verb phronein and so translates verse 5 as, Let this be the pattern of your thinking, acting and feeling, which was also displayed in Christ Jesus. And he cites approvingly the paraphrase of the sentence by Wayne Meeks, Base your practical reasoning on what you see in Christ Jesus.

So the call of the apostle is a call to attend to the model of Christ's life – and for that to be the guide and inspiration for developing our own pattern of thinking and acting.

I think that readily resonates for us. Jesus is always the model and example for us. But this verse and especially what follows in his narrative of the Christ event – is arresting. It is challenging in a fresh way: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. Phew! And the verb phronein is in the imperative mood – the mood of command – the mood that exhorts and challenges us to action.

And Paul, if it is Paul, now proceeds to spell out the model displayed in the Jesus story. Verses 6-8 describe the humbling of Christ and verses 9-11 the exaltation of Christ.

There are a whole plethora of key philological and theological issues in the passage – what does he mean by the phrase 'in the form (morphe) of God’? What does the word translated as 'something to be exploited' (harpagmos) mean since this is the only occurrence of the word in the NT? What does Paul mean by 'empty himself' in relation to Christ? Is the phrase 'human likeness' docetic – implying that Christ only seemed to be human?

Beyond these specific and important issues – there is here an overarching pattern of Christ being humbled by his incarnation and execution in the most degrading menial way in the Roman world – and then of God raising him up and exalting him so that he would be truly honoured in earth and heaven and proclaimed as Lord and give glory to God the Father.

This seems to be the most important aspect of this passage because Paul wants to use this model so evident in the life of Christ – to highlight that the 'manner life worthy of the gospel of Christ' – is one in which there is a commitment to choose the way of humility. This is done in the knowledge that there will eventually be an exaltation albeit one that happens in the eschatological future.

There were perhaps few other Christians in Paul's day who had experienced the level of humiliation and suffering for the gospel that he had. And he saw himself as treading in the footsteps of Christ in that respect. He is very confident that just as God had acted to vindicate the self-giving life of Christ – so God would vindicate the lives of his friends in Philippi if they remained faithful to Christ and followed his example.

There is an important sense in which the account of Christ's life laid in verses 2-11 is unique to Christ who was the Divine Word of God. In a literal sense it cannot be copied by us or anyone else and to that degree is not an ethical model. But it is in the broader analogous sense of offering a powerful pattern of how to approach living out of the gospel. And each of us faces the invitation that emerges out of this passage in Philippians to work out what that might mean for each of us at the coalface of our lives and ministries.

Verses 12-18

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world. 16 It is by your holding fast to the word of life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— 18 and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.

12 Ὥστε, ἀγαπητοί μου, καθὼς πάντοτε ὑπηκούσατε, μὴ ὡς ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ μου μόνον ἀλλὰ νῦν πολλῷ μᾶλλον ἐν τῇ ἀπουσίᾳ μου, μετὰ φόβου καὶ τρόμου τὴν ἑαυτῶν σωτηρίαν κατεργάζεσθε, 13 θεὸς γάρ ἐστιν ὁ ἐνεργῶν ἐν ὑμῖν καὶ τὸ θέλειν καὶ τὸ ἐνεργεῖν ὑπὲρ τῆς εὐδοκίας. 14 Πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν, 15 ἵνα γένησθε ἄμεμπτοι καὶ ἀκέραιοι, τέκνα θεοῦ ἄμωμα μέσον γενεᾶς σκολιᾶς καὶ διεστραμμένης, ἐν οἷς φαίνεσθε ὡς φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ 16 λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες, εἰς καύχημα ἐμοὶ εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, ὅτι οὐκ εἰς κενὸν ἔδραμον οὐδὲ εἰς κενὸν ἐκοπίασα. 17 ἀλλὰ εἰ καὶ σπένδομαι ἐπὶ τῇ θυσίᾳ καὶ λειτουργίᾳ τῆς πίστεως ὑμῶν, χαίρω καὶ συγχαίρω πᾶσιν ὑμῖν· 18 τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ καὶ ὑμεῖς χαίρετε καὶ συγχαίρετέ μοι.

In this next section of chapter 2, Paul addresses his friends in very warm terms as 'my beloved' - agapetoi mou. He calls on them to take spiritual responsibility for their lives, remembering the profound reality that God is at work in their midst and despite their suffering. There is perhaps both an individual and a communal level to this call to work out one's salvation with fear and trembling.

The main verb here katergazesthai has a range of meanings. But the root of the idea is found in the noun ergon – work or action. And so the verbal meanings are around the idea of 'achieving something', 'accomplishing something', 'bringing something about', 'creating something'. And what Paul seems to be stressing here is that each of us has a crucial part to play in our salvation. Yes it is a gift 'by grace you have been saved through faith '- and he quickly goes in verse 13 to stress the divine work that is intimately bound up with the salvific process. But as we know there is a present dimension that also involves us as well as a continuing and future dimension to salvation.

And my hunch at it what he means here is that our life with God cannot be static. It is a relationship and it must be nurtured and fostered and that does not happen without our active attention - as we know so well. And there is a temptation in ministry – when we are constantly being drained and giving of ourselves – to leave off attending deeply to our relationship with God. It is easy to slip into thinking because we are professionals in the business of faith and spirituality that everything must be fine with us and God. But our ministry will begin to slowly wither on the vine – unless we are doing our part to attend to our life with Christ. For myself in the latter part of my ministry I have found great richness in my life with God by attending to silence and meditation and a contemplative stance – though I am still very much a learner.

Paul then goes on to challenge aspects of the way some of them have been behaving and exhorts them further to live their lives in an exemplary way as children of God living in the midst of very difficult circumstances. They are to 'shine like stars' echoing language from the LXX version of Daniel 12:3 - and they are to 'hold fast' to the word of life and despite all the challenges – even possibly the execution of Paul – they are to rejoice in their life in Christ as he himself does.

And he is speaking both at the individual level and especially at the level of their life as a Christian community.
And so his words here also speak to us at both levels. And as a Christian community we are living in the midst of the many difficulties to which I have already referred – Covid 19, the seeping decline in church attendance, the marginalization of the church in our society and the readiness of the popular media to highlight any stories that can be found to cast the church and Christians in a negative light. And Paul says to us hold fast. Hang in there. Go on shining as a light and rejoice in all that God has done for us and continues to do.

Paul then returns in verses 17-18 to the theme of his personal circumstances that he had touched on earlier in chapter 1:22-26. He speaks of being 'poured out as a libation' – or a drink offering. While there is some debate as to just what he means here, he seems to be thinking of the Philippians gift to him as a sacrifice and should he be executed – his death would be a kind libation poured out upon it. Each would then have made a sacrifice. And Paul's response to this is to reiterate the call for joy in the midst of whatever the imperial state and opponents of the gospel may do.

Verses 19-24

19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I may be cheered by news of you. 20 I have no one like him who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 All of them are seeking their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But Timothy’s worth you know, how like a son with a father he has served with me in the work of the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him as soon as I see how things go with me; 24 and I trust in the Lord that I will also come soon.

19 Ἐλπίζω δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ Ἰησοῦ Τιμόθεον ταχέως πέμψαι ὑμῖν, ἵνα κἀγὼ εὐψυχῶ γνοὺς τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν. 20 οὐδένα γὰρ ἔχω ἰσόψυχον ὅστις γνησίως τὰ περὶ ὑμῶν μεριμνήσει, 21 οἱ πάντες γὰρ τὰ ἑαυτῶν ζητοῦσιν, οὐ τὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ. 22 τὴν δὲ δοκιμὴν αὐτοῦ γινώσκετε, ὅτι ὡς πατρὶ τέκνον σὺν ἐμοὶ ἐδούλευσεν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον. 23 τοῦτον μὲν οὖν ἐλπίζω πέμψαι ὡς ἂν ἀφίδω τὰ περὶ ἐμὲ ἐξαυτῆς· 24 πέποιθα δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ ὅτι καὶ αὐτὸς ταχέως ἐλεύσομαι.

I am going to mostly skip over the next five verses. I will just note that there was a very warm and close relationship between Paul and some of the women and men with whom he worked closely. We see this in other letters and we see it here. And it was especially true of the relationship between himself and Timothy. This was a partnership and friendship that clearly was powerfully used by God. Paul seems to have had an extremely high regard for Timothy.

And we are blessed in ministry if we can team up with even two or three people in our ministry contexts whom we can train and teach and with whom we can work closely. There are always dangers in us falling into the trap of seeing ministry as a solo activity by the ordained person. And many a lay person has undertaken great strides in their faith and Christian maturity because an attentive priest or bishop or deacon has seen their gifts and potential and encouraged them to use them and to grow in their life with God the Holy Trinity.

Verses 25-30

25 Still, I think it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus—my brother and co-worker and fellow soldier, your messenger and minister to my need; 26 for he has been longing for all of you, and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, in order that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 Welcome him then in the Lord with all joy, and honor such people, 30 because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for those services that you could not give me.

25 Ἀναγκαῖον δὲ ἡγησάμην Ἐπαφρόδιτον τὸν ἀδελφὸν καὶ συνεργὸν καὶ συστρατιώτην μου, ὑμῶν δὲ ἀπόστολον καὶ λειτουργὸν τῆς χρείας μου, πέμψαι πρὸς ὑμᾶς, 26 ἐπειδὴ ἐπιποθῶν ἦν πάντας ὑμᾶς, καὶ ἀδημονῶν διότι ἠκούσατε ὅτι ἠσθένησεν. 27 καὶ γὰρ ἠσθένησεν παραπλήσιον θανάτῳ· ἀλλὰ ὁ θεὸς ἠλέησεν αὐτόν, οὐκ αὐτὸν δὲ μόνον ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐμέ, ἵνα μὴ λύπην ἐπὶ λύπην σχῶ. 28 σπουδαιοτέρως οὖν ἔπεμψα αὐτὸν ἵνα ἰδόντες αὐτὸν πάλιν χαρῆτε κἀγὼ ἀλυπότερος ὦ. 29 προσδέχεσθε οὖν αὐτὸν ἐν κυρίῳ μετὰ πάσης χαρᾶς, καὶ τοὺς τοιούτους ἐντίμους ἔχετε, 30 ὅτι διὰ τὸ ἔργον Χριστοῦ μέχρι θανάτου ἤγγισεν, παραβολευσάμενος τῇ ψυχῇ ἵνα ἀναπληρώσῃ τὸ ὑμῶν ὑστέρημα τῆς πρός με λειτουργίας.

I am also only going to say a little about this section concerning another co-worker of Paul's, Epaphroditus. He had been sent by the Philippians to Paul – probably in Rome with news of how they were faring but he had been struck with a serious illness on the way that brought him close to death. Paul is worried for his Philippians friends because they had been very anxious about Epaphroditus' welfare having heard of his illness. And so Paul resolves to send him back to Philippi so that they can be truly reassured of his well-being.

And this passage reminds me that while there is a cost to being a Christian there is another cost involved in mission and ministry. To commit our lives to the service of Christ is to a commitment that comes with risks and personal cost in all kinds of different ways and often that cost is also borne to some degree with those we love and who are most close to us. And we should not ever allow ourselves to forget that. But we bear this cost for love – because we seek to live out our lives and carry out our ministries as a response to being loved by God and called to service in Christ's name. Never forget in the midst of the pressures of ministry – the gracious loving kindness of our God for us and that we are deeply, deeply loved and valued.

Chapter 3


1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard.

2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh— 4 even though I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh.

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

1 Τὸ λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί μου, χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ. τὰ αὐτὰ γράφειν ὑμῖν ἐμοὶ μὲν οὐκ ὀκνηρόν, ὑμῖν δὲ ἀσφαλές.
2 Βλέπετε τοὺς κύνας, βλέπετε τοὺς κακοὺς ἐργάτας, βλέπετε τὴν κατατομήν. 3 ἡμεῖς γάρ ἐσμεν ἡ περιτομή, οἱ πνεύματι θεοῦ λατρεύοντες καὶ καυχώμενοι ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ οὐκ ἐν σαρκὶ πεποιθότες, 4 καίπερ ἐγὼ ἔχων πεποίθησιν καὶ ἐν σαρκί.
Εἴ τις δοκεῖ ἄλλος πεποιθέναι ἐν σαρκί, ἐγὼ μᾶλλον· 5 περιτομῇ ὀκταήμερος, ἐκ γένους Ἰσραήλ, φυλῆς Βενιαμίν, Ἑβραῖος ἐξ Ἑβραίων, κατὰ νόμον Φαρισαῖος, 6 κατὰ ζῆλος διώκων τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, κατὰ δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐν νόμῳ γενόμενος ἄμεμπτος.

Again I am going to speak only briefly about the first six verses of chapter 3 and will spend some more time on verses 7-11.
Paul draws heavily upon rhetorical conventions in this section and scholars have debated at great length the nature of the opponents to which he refers here. He uses some strong language. These opponents practice circumcision and therefore must have had a strong Jewish colouring to their spirituality although they seem to be Christians rather than Jews. They may be the same kind of opponents to which Paul refers in his Letter to the Galatians. Paul is being quite polemical here and we should be conscious of that.

He begins the section in verse 1 returning to the theme of rejoicing and joy. Paul Holloway draws attention to the fact that joy was an important Stoic concept and that the Roman writer Seneca who was a Stoic espoused the importance of joy in some of his letters which have a consolatory character to them.

Hollloway, quoting Seneca, writes at one point, This do before all else my dear Lucilius, learn how to rejoice (disce gaudere). But for a Stoic, rejoicing and joy arise from one's moral capacities and sensibilities whereas for Paul - his friends are to 'rejoice in the Lord’. His joy and their joy arise from the reconciled relationship with God experienced through their identification with Christ.

As I mentioned previously, today the Christian community faces a situation where sadly there are opponents who will look for every opportunity to find fault with the church. I do not mean here the more general and appropriate criticism directed towards churches when we have failed in the past to identify and prevent child abuse. I am referring to the tendency by some people in our society who want to ridicule those who choose to believe and worship God regularly and who seek to live out Christian values. We should bear in mind that sometimes they come from a place of woundedness in their own experience of the church. At other times it is from ignorance.

But we will need to accept this reality – perhaps more and more – and perhaps God may be able to use such opposition to help us to attend more seriously to our faith and values and our trust in God. And Paul would say – despite everything 'rejoice in the Lord'. This is not a call to be happy. It is not to pretend everything is fine. But it is to acknowledge that the gift of knowing God through Christ and living with the Spirit of God at work in our lives and in our world is profoundly reassuring. It is a reason to have a quiet and humble confidence that God our Creator, Christ our Redeemer and the Spirit – the Go-Between God – is ubiquitously at work in all of God's creation and in all of humanity.

An encomium (I mentioned that word earlier) was a statement of praise of someone or some thing and such rhetorical pieces were common in the ancient world where honour was held in high esteem and this was seen as a way of praising someone and their contribution to a local or wider community. The typical pattern involves a reference to family and birth and then to a person's qualities and achievements.

And verses 4-6 represent what some have called an encomium of Paul's life from when he belonged to the Jewish group known as the Pharisees. He lists here what Holloway calls seven social identity markers. The initial ones concern those associated with this birth and origin and the last ones reflect his own achievements and relate to his life as a devout Jew.

So in these verses Paul is noting that while his opponents maintain a confidence in the flesh – because of his background and devotion to the Judaism, he had strong grounds to do so if maintaining a confidence in the flesh was going to be of continuing use and value. But for Paul it is no longer of any use because of what Christ has done. And this leads him into this very powerful statement in verses 7-11.

Verse 3:7-11

7 Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, 11 if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

7 Ἀλλὰ ἅτινα ἦν μοι κέρδη, ταῦτα ἥγημαι διὰ τὸν Χριστὸν ζημίαν. 8 ἀλλὰ μενοῦνγε καὶ ἡγοῦμαι πάντα ζημίαν εἶναι διὰ τὸ ὑπερέχον τῆς γνώσεως Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ τοῦ κυρίου μου δι’ ὃν τὰ πάντα ἐζημιώθην, καὶ ἡγοῦμαι σκύβαλα ἵνα Χριστὸν κερδήσω 9 καὶ εὑρεθῶ ἐν αὐτῷ, μὴ ἔχων ἐμὴν δικαιοσύνην τὴν ἐκ νόμου ἀλλὰ τὴν διὰ πίστεως Χριστοῦ, τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ δικαιοσύνην ἐπὶ τῇ πίστει, 10 τοῦ γνῶναι αὐτὸν καὶ τὴν δύναμιν τῆς ἀναστάσεως αὐτοῦ καὶ κοινωνίαν παθημάτων αὐτοῦ, συμμορφιζόμενος τῷ θανάτῳ αὐτοῦ, 11 εἴ πως καταντήσω εἰς τὴν ἐξανάστασιν τὴν ἐκ νεκρῶν.

Paul begins this next section drawing upon concepts from the world of ancient accounting and finances. And indeed one commentator renders verse 7 in this way, 'In relation to God's audit in Jesus Christ, these things appear to be liabilities’. Paul Holloway describes it as Paul undertaking a cost-benefit analysis where gains outweigh losses.

The gains (kerde κέρδη) that represent all that he had and achieved in his earlier life – he now sees as loss (zamia ζαμία) in the light of his encounter with Christ and the subsequent transformation of his belief system and way of life.
For those of us who have grown up in the life of the church – we may not be conscious any such radical personal transformation. However if we have not and if we came at some later point to faith in Christ – or if we had a powerful conversion experience even having grown up in the life of the church – Paul's word may resonate powerfully.

The sentence beginning with verse 8 continues in the Greek right through to verse 11 though English translators normally break it down into smaller grammatical segments. In verse 8 Paul intensifies what he has just said in the preceding verse: More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

He uses again the language of profit and loss and he regards 'everything' - panta in the Greek - as loss. He contrasts pointedly and profoundly the achievements and strengths of his earlier life with what he describes as the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The main verb here - huperecho ὑπερέχω – only occurs five times in the NT and three of those are in Philippians. The fundamental idea of the word is 'to rise above', 'to surpass' or 'to excel'. Paul will use it in Philippians 4:7 when he speaks about, 'the peace of God surpassing all understanding’.

Paul then expands a bit further still on the loss – on 'the hit' - he has been willing to take in order to gain Christ. It is a loss of 'all things' (ta panta). He seems now to have in mind not just a willingness to give up his earlier past – but his whole life and indeed as he indicated at the beginning of his letter – even his very life itself. For him the experience of knowing Christ is of such profound significance – that in comparison to whatever he may have lost he sees now as only fit for the waste dump. It is of no worth by comparison with 'gaining Christ’. This is another way of referring to knowing Christ.

And he expands a little on what he means there by then speaking of, 'being found in him'. To gain Christ, to know Christ – is to be placed in a situation personally and existentially in which there is such an intimacy of connection and relationship that it is possible for Paul to speak of a permanent future with Christ that will eventually be an eschatological future. It will not be possible for Paul's life and existence to be known and experienced anywhere other than in Christ.

And with his devout Jewish past in his mind he now contrasts this in verse 9 with the two forms of righteousness (dikaiosune) appropriate to these two faith systems. The legal righteousness he once had under the Jewish law and for which he was responsible by his good deeds and piety – he contrasts with the righteousness now coming from God – gifted to him as a result of his faith – that is his faith in Christ. The Greek original actually uses the phrase 'faith of Christ' here in verse 9 and this has led to much commentary in recent decades. But we won't go into that debate now. NRSV translates it as 'faith in Christ' though with a note of explanation in a footnote.

And the section concludes in verses 10 and 11 using language that is strong and evocative to summarize the kernel of his Christian experience. Paul's goal is 'to know Christ and the power of his resurrection' – and the word 'know' – gnosis – here is used in that very intimate sense we know from the Hebrew Scriptures where it can refer to the act of knowing a person sexually.
I don’t have evidence for this – but I suspect that Paul knew quite a lot about Jesus. But he speaks little of that in his Letters – because such biographical knowledge of Christ is not the knowledge of Christ that interests and energizes him. The knowledge of Christ that is the focus of his whole life and ministry – is relational. It is personal and intimate and involves the daily commitment to learn increasingly to live by his values and acknowledge the risen Christ in every aspect of his actions and decision-making.

And his identification with Christ is so complete that he wants to share it - and he uses that special word koinonia (κοινωνία) here – he wants to share in ome almost mystical way in the suffering of Christ in his ministry. His desire is to attain ultimately his own resurrected life. Stephen Fowl suggests that reference to sharing Christ's sufferings points to a commitment to intentional self-emptying and obedience to God. Interestingly the term Paul uses for resurrection here in verse 11 – the word exanastasis - occurs only here in the NT. However, there may not be a lot of significance in that and it may just be a synonym for the regular term anastatis.

And I think you and I cannot read this section of Paul's Letter to the Philippians without challenged by the depth and power of the language highlighting the enormous significance for Paul that his experience of encountering the Risen Christ had had and continued to have on him.

And I hope you find in this passage – not a sense of your own faith in Christ being overshadowed in some way by the reality of his. I hope you find in this passage rather a reassurance of your own personal, relational knowledge of Christ and a sense of being inspired – being encouraged - to go on nurturing and deepening that relationship so that over the months and years that go by – your life will be more and more found in Christ.


12 Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. 16 Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

12 Οὐχ ὅτι ἤδη ἔλαβον ἢ ἤδη τετελείωμαι, διώκω δὲ εἰ καὶ καταλάβω, ἐφ’ ᾧ καὶ κατελήμφθην ὑπὸ Χριστοῦ. 13 ἀδελφοί, ἐγὼ ἐμαυτὸν οὐ λογίζομαι κατειληφέναι· ἓν δέ, τὰ μὲν ὀπίσω ἐπιλανθανόμενος τοῖς δὲ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπεκτεινόμενος, 14 κατὰ σκοπὸν διώκω εἰς τὸ βραβεῖον τῆς ἄνω κλήσεως τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 15 ὅσοι οὖν τέλειοι, τοῦτο φρονῶμεν· καὶ εἴ τι ἑτέρως φρονεῖτε, καὶ τοῦτο ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἀποκαλύψει· 16 πλὴν εἰς ὃ ἐφθάσαμεν, τῷ αὐτῷ στοιχεῖν.

Paul now moves away from the language of accounting to borrow images and metaphors from the Games and the field of athletics. It is hard to overestimate just how big a part athletic Games played in the ancient world. As I write as this the Olympic Games have not long finished in Tokyo and the Paralympics are about to start. There is also a derby between the Eagles and the Dockers about to happen. The entertainment of sport plays a very significant role in our society and certainly back then - in an age in which entertainment was very limited compared to our own – the Games were a very big thing.

Paul has laid out his goal in verses 9-11 – but he is concerned that some might interpret what he has said in verses 11-12 to indicate that Paul thinks he has already reached his goal. And so now he makes quite clear that this is not the case and quickly draws attention to the fact that this is a journey – this is a process. And it is one which demands the very highest level of commitment. The apostle says, ‘I press on to make it my own' - and uses here the term dioko διώκω 'to pursue'. But the word also has the sense of 'to strive for', 'to press on towards'. It is potentially a very strong term reflecting the fact that Paul sees that the Christian way involves resilience, persistence and a commitment to keep striving to move forward.

And in verse 13 he amplifies his point. He speaks of, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead. In his mind is the Greek runner or athlete – putting every ounce of his energy into the race or contest and the goal ahead. Paul also uses athletic imagery in a passage in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, as Stephen Fowl observes, but there the focus is upon a single winner taking the prize. Here Paul is concerned with the nature of the race and what is involved in it.

In verse 4 he refers to the goal and the prize. The goal is the skopos – which was a word that was used of the target in archery in the ancient world. It could also be used of the finish line – the marker of where the race ends. The related verb skopein has to do with paying careful attention to something, to look out and notice something. And interestingly episkopein is a compound of this verb and means, 'to give attention to', 'to care', to take responsibility for the care of someone and so 'to oversee or care for’. And so Paul has in his mind the target and the marker of the finish line. But he also imagines the prize – the brabeion. This is the victory prize of the Games.

So Paul is deploying all this athletic imagery in order to really bring home his point that the process of conducting one's life in a manner worthy of the gospel cannot be achieved by a saunter with dog down to the park. It is a very serious business that requires complete dedication and commitment and a very intentional focus upon the goal so that one is not diverted by either distractions or a lack of persistence.

And then to recapitulate, he underlines for his friends what is the prize: it is the 'heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus' or more strictly the 'upward call of God’. There is some debate among scholars as to Paul's meaning here as he seems to shift the imagery around somewhat. What is the relationship between the goal and the prize? And is the calling the prize? It is possible to see the prize as pertaining to the calling as Marcus Bockmuehl does – in other words the upward call has a divine origin and this seems to make good sense.

One of the issues raised at this point by Stephen Fowl is whether Paul would have thought that his desire for God would have been fulfilled if he had reached the prize? We don’t know for sure – but he notes that Patristic writers like Gregory of Nyssa in his Life Of Moses saw the desire for God as something which is never extinguished so that growth in the spiritual life evokes deeper desire for God leading into an ever-deepening communion with God. It is certainly an interesting concept and one to which I am drawn.

Paul in verse 15 makes clear that he hopes his friends in Philippi and especially those who are 'mature' will conceive of the Christian journey within the same framework with its inherent call to engage in the journey of discipleship with the utmost dedication and focus. His further reference in verse 15 of those who may see things differently is of interest because he betrays no hint of any concern at the diversity of view – just a sense of quiet confidence that God will be at work to reveal what is necessary to them. The section then concludes by encouraging his friends to 'hold fast' - or to be 'diligent to persist' as Holloway renders it – in the progress already accomplished. The verb form indicates an exhortation to an on-going persistence in the matters of faith.

This is an important section of the letter. Paul gives us some rich insights into the way in which he goes about living out his faith and spirituality and it is clear that he does so with great focus and dedication on a par with a dedicated athlete in the Games.

And the social and cultural context in which we live out our faith and spirituality is one that constantly tends to draw us away from this level of dedication to our life with God. Paul certainly had his very real and serious challenges with which to contend – but they were ones which tended to either make or break you. And Paul was one of those who was made by them.
In our own time – our challenges tend to be very different. Our lifestyles often make us physically and emotionally so comfortable that there is an instinctive tendency not to see the working out of our faith as something that calls us to strive with every ounce of energy and passion. And as we know – we have to work hard against that tendency. And in the end it will be our level of growing engagement with God's love – the deepening awareness that each of us is 'immortal diamond' as Gerard Manley Hopkins once put it and deeply loved by God the Holy Trinity that will be inspiration to move us towards going on striving to have God's life and love at the very centre of all that we are and all that we do.

Verses 17-20

17 Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18 For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19 Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21 He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory

Fowl's own reaction is to suggest that we need to bear in mind that at this point in early Christian life – there were very few Christian models available and the texts that came to form the NT were not available. He suggests that the claim by Paul for his friends to imitate him, set with a Christian ecclesiological framework, is not unhealthy. He further suggests that Paul's metaphor of the body and the way that is developed in passages like 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 and we might add Romans 12, make clear that diversity is important and he does not expect a uniformity of practice.

Paul contrasts the model of his Christian life with those he calls 'enemies of the cross of Christ' and commentators have explored endlessly the options for identifying these without a clear resolution of the matter. Paul goes on to speak very harshly of these people. It is possible that they are the same group he identified earlier who were Christians who also sought to live by the Torah. Some think the references here are to Jewish food laws and circumcision. Whoever they were Paul seems to have seen them as a serious threat to the life and witness of the Christian community in the city.

His characterization of this group ends with his statement, 'their minds are set on earthly things' – returning once again to one of his favourite terms in this Letter – phronein and its cognates - meaning 'to think' or 'to have in mind'. Paul's language here – as it so often is - is very rhetorical.

What are we to make of the injunction to be imitators of Paul? I suspect that some of us find some things about Paul's spirituality and conception of the Christian life as helpful and inspiring - and other things much less so. He was certainly a creature of his time as we all are and had his own unique personality and gifts.

I guess you and I might well want to focus more clearly upon the model of Christ's life and imitate that – a record of which almost certainly Paul and Philippians did not have in any written form. There are certainly aspects of Paul's life and faith that are deeply inspiring and I think the reality is that we may want to pick and choose somewhat and always hold them up against the pattern of Christ's life. The dedication and commitment to following Christ that we have observed in the Letter and this chapter seems to me deeply inspiring. His characterization of those whose teaching he opposes much less so.

I have touched on this issue before but it does highlight for us the question of how we relate to and respond to Christians whose approach and views we find disagreeable or more particularly unacceptable from the viewpoint of our own paradigm and hermeneutics of Scripture. It seems to me we need always to seek to be charitable and act with agape – even in the context of serious disagreement which has significant consequences. It is not so difficult when those we disagree with are from an entirely different Christian community with whom we need not have any dealings. However, when they are those within our own closely related Christian family it is much tougher, as we all know. Sometimes the willingness to truly hear one another out and be open to finding common ground – will enable parties to be able to continue in fellowship albeit with disagreements firmly maintained in some areas.

In verse 20, contrasting the statement he has just made about the earthly mind-set of his opponents, Paul now reminds his readers and audience that their 'citizenship is in heaven'. Stephen Fowl renders this phrase as, For our commonwealth is in heaven…' The term for rendered 'citizenship' or 'commonwealth' is the word politeuma and it is a term that Fowl notes was often used of war veterans relocated to form a new colony. That colony may be called a politeuma. And people living in Philippi would have been very aware of that. The idea is similar to that to which the author of 1 Peter refers when he speaks of Christians being aliens and exiles (1 Peter 2:11).

It is a concept that received a degree of additional emphasis when communities or individuals faced earthly deprivation and suffering. Early Christian martyrs often tended to focus upon their anticipated eschatological life in the future even as the authorities were brutally terminating their earthly lives. Nevertheless, the very clear implication of the concept of eternal life and of a continuing life in some way in the presence of God – is that the years of physical existence on earth do not represent the axis of existence for the Christian.

And so Paul is wanting to remind his Philippian friends that despite whatever challenges and difficulties they may face from opponents - whether Jewish-Christian ones or from local or imperial Government authorities – the right context in which to set these trials – is within the broader framework of Christian existence where the centrepoint of life is with God. The allegiance of the Christian cannot be located in the political realm – even though the demands of that realm must for a time be taken seriously.

In the concluding verses of chapter 3, Paul affirms a series of statements about the Lord Jesus Christ in terms that echo some of the language of chapter 2:5-11. His use here of the word soter, 'saviour' is unusual. It is not used anywhere in any of the undisputed Pauline letters. And it is possible that since this word had a range of secular uses – including sometimes to refer to the Emperor – it is possible that he is consciously continuing the contrast between earthly and heavenly citizenship.

And finally Paul refers to the fact that our Saviour does all this by the same power – and here the word for power is not dynamis but energeia – used of divine activity – the same power that will ultimately bring all things in subjection to himself. It is a powerful contrast to the subjection to Roman imperial power that Paul is under and to which the Christians in Philippi are also.
For us the concept of a Saviour may not resonate to the degree it did for Christians in Paul's day. If one's life seems to be going along pretty swimmingly – one may not feel the need particularly for a Saviour. But we do, of course, need a Saviour and the kind of Saviour we need is one who could achieve what nothing else and no one else could – the reconciliation of a humanity alienated and deeply estranged from its Creator and Lord. And Jesus, the Saviour is the one who uniquely and solely has done that and therefore is our Lord and our Saviour in that rich and meaningful sense.

Chapter 4 - Verse 1

1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

1 ὥστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοὶ καὶ ἐπιπόθητοι, χαρὰ καὶ στέφανός μου, οὕτως στήκετε ἐν κυρίῳ, ἀγαπητοί.

As Paul begins this section he moves to address his friends again as he did at the start of chapter 3. And he does so in warm and affectionate terms. He uses four different terms to speak of his relationship to them. He addresses them as agapetoi – my beloved. Agapetos is a very strong word – it refers to one who is dearly loved, prized and valued. He then refers to them as epipothetoi – the ones I long for. This term speaks of the idea of a deep longing and desire. He also refers to them as 'my joy and crown.' Joy is the word he so often uses in the Letter and here he describes them as a community as 'his joy.' Their very existence and the evidence of their continuing commitment to the gospel bring him joy.

They are also his stephanos – crown. This was originally a wreath made of foliage and worn by high-status individuals in the Graeco-Roman world. It could be given as a prize for exemplary conduct or achievement. Here perhaps Paul is wanting to honour them for their loyalty to him and to Christ.

Then the central thrust of the sentence is to, 'stand firm in the Lord' and finally he repeats his epithet of them as 'my beloved’. The verb has to do with standing – but with the connotation also of, 'standing firm in conviction or belief’. Here he uses the present imperative form of the verb. It is the mood of exhortation and the present tense indicates the injunction is meant to be seen as a continuing one.

Paul's exhortation in 4:1 to stand firm – recapitulates a similar sentiment he expressed back in 1:27. In a sense we can see him here summing up what he has been saying in the intervening sections and now he is about to move to refer to some specific issues among the community.

If we had any doubts about a very close and warm relationship between Paul and his friends in Philippi this verse should dispel them. The language is surprising in its affection.

And the depth of relationship reflected here – is the kind of relationship that may develop when one has had the privilege of being intimately involved in key events in the lives of people – and typically though not always – over an extended period. And as bishops, priests and deacons – we are given that privilege. It is a precious one. And deep bonds may and do develop – and one of the challenges in ministry is how we manage those bonds. How do we avoid appearing to have 'favourites'? How do we ensure that our own emotions do not get too closely tied up with a person or persons journeying through an especially difficult time? And how do we manage these close bonds which may have formed when we leave a ministry context – in which we must out of respect for our successor – mostly allow them to be suspended. There may be a few people with whom we maintain a warm relationship – but we know we must be selective there and very soon there will be new ones forming in another context. However we handle them – and it does take sensitivity and thoughtfulness for them as well as for ourselves – Paul's words remind us that there is something deep and warm about the bonds formed in the crucible of shared spiritual life and journeying.

Verses 2-3

2 I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

2 Εὐοδίαν παρακαλῶ καὶ Συντύχην παρακαλῶ τὸ αὐτὸ φρονεῖν ἐν κυρίῳ. 3 ναὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ σέ, γνήσιε σύζυγε, συλλαμβάνου αὐταῖς, αἵτινες ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ συνήθλησάν μοι μετὰ καὶ Κλήμεντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου, ὧν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐν βίβλῳ ζωῆς.

Now the apostle comes to deal with an issue that clearly he has heard about and which is causing him some concern. Paul Holloway observes that an important reason that Paul has written the letter is to encourage his friends, 'to work together in the gospel mission’. And what he now has to say to Euodia and Syntyche is consistent with this purpose and indeed a part of it. Some scholars have argued that he has written the letter primarily to address these two women – but Stephen Fowl makes the good point that most of the letter is specifically addressed to the whole community – not individuals.

Despite much scholarly speculation about them, we know nothing more about these women. Evidently they were quite influential members of the Philippian ekklesia and Paul speaks of the women having, 'struggled beside me in the work of the gospel’. The verb here is the compound form sunathlein συναθλέω. The basic verb athlein is where we get our word athlete. It means to contend in a contest and was used of ancient athletes competing in the Games. The sunathlein only occurs twice in the NT – both times by Paul in this letter. It intensifies the basic sense and so sunathlein is, 'to contend or struggle with’. And its use here suggests that Paul and his co-workers conducted their ministries in the context of quite intense opposition and difficulty and that they really exerted themselves for the sake of the gospel.

And Paul urges them – exhorts them – to 'be of the same mind' – returning to one of his favourite expressions once more. It is our word phronein – carrying the sense of, 'to live in harmony of mind', 'to think', 'to agree with one another’. Paul is aware of disharmony and some strife and tension between them. He knows that this threatens the health and spiritual life of his charges in Philippi and so he exhorts them to find a way of coming to a common mind.

And as we think about this issue that Paul had to deal with – our minds may well turn to people within our own ministry contexts in which we face or have faced in the past conflict between members who are not getting on. Of course, this sometimes happen between us as clergy in our ministry contexts – and there are important challenges for us then. But the issue here is between members of the same Christian community and who are essentially committed to building and supporting the life of that community.
I can imagine that if this happened while Paul was with them – he might have taken them out to coffee together in a comfortable little café with a view to mediating a conversation and dialogue between them and seeking to bring about reconciliation. He would I think – see that as a part of their growth in faith – learning to face up to the difficulties and differences – to talk about them honestly and invite them to participate actively in a restorative process that involves developing a way forward to build a more positive future relationship.

And so it seems to me that is the kind of intervention that we might seek to facilitate. And of course it not just about them as individuals and what God may be wanting to show them about themselves – it is also and especially about community and what needs to happen for us all to be contributing to building up the life of the body of Christ and not weakening its life.
There much more that could be said about verse 3 but I will not follow that up now.

Verses 4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

4 Χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ πάντοτε· πάλιν ἐρῶ, χαίρετε. 5 τὸ ἐπιεικὲς ὑμῶν γνωσθήτω πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις. ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς· 6 μηδὲν μεριμνᾶτε, ἀλλ’ ἐν παντὶ τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ τῇ δεήσει μετ’ εὐχαριστίας τὰ αἰτήματα ὑμῶν γνωριζέσθω πρὸς τὸν θεόν· 7 καὶ ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ ὑπερέχουσα πάντα νοῦν φρουρήσει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν καὶ τὰ νοήματα ὑμῶν ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ.

Paul begins this section with a whole series of imperatives – mostly present imperatives with that sense of continuation. And the first one is to rejoice – to rejoice in the Lord – which he repeats. It is very similar to his exhortation at the start of chapter 3 and highlights once more his concern for them that their life is characterized by a sense of rejoicing and joy.

Stephen Fowl notes that Paul uses the concept of rejoicing and joy in quite specific ways and he says of his call to rejoice verse 4 (and I quote), Further, it would appear then that rejoicing is not something that Christians will simply do as a matter of course. Instead, it results from a disciplined formation of our ways of thinking and acting in the world.

And this sense of joy is meant to be a resource for us as Christians. It helps to sustain us in our lives. Fowl notes that it arises from this distinctively Christian way of approaching our lives and being in the world. It is of course one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. And I have come to use this list of the fruits of the Spirit as a kind of mental salve and so if I find my mind starting to wander into places where the thoughts are unhelpful or even dark – I repeat them quietly to myself a few times and say them in threes: love, joy, peace; patience, kindness, generosity; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don't imagine this was Paul's intended use for them but I find that they help evoke a sense of inner peace and calm. And that then helps engender a sense of joy.

It is interesting that he also specifically mention the value of 'gentleness' here which is also of course one of the concepts in the list of the fruits of the Spirit. The Greek term for this is epieikes ἐπιεικὲς and has to do with 'graciousness' and 'continuing forbearance' and 'gentleness'. The root idea of the word eikos – means reasonable, fair, equitable and the addition of the preposition epi = intensifies the meaning.

Gentleness is not a value that was always highly esteemed in ancient communities where strong leadership and power were built into the cultural and social structures of society. And it is not a value that in many quarters is esteemed today because it is seen to equate with weakness. But to see a strong person being gentle is not a reflection of weakness. The concept does not refer to weakness but rather to something that is a strength.

The word has a breadth of meaning. It has to do with not insisting on our rights, not insisting on the letter of the law. It has to do with allowing some mercy and a willingness to offer some leniency and acting with graciousness. It has to do with fairness and even a sense of controlling oneself under provocation.

And so this a Christian value which he encourages his Philippian friends to spread around liberally. It links in with his exhortations at the start of chapter 2 when he encourages them not to do anything from, 'selfish ambition or conceit' but rather, 'in humility to regard others as better than themselves.'

And the application of this value whether within the Christian community or outside of it – is one which goes to the heart of building relationships with can be life-giving for others. And within the church family – if it is a value everyone is trying to apply in their lives – it fosters community building. And we see a slightly different emphasis in the idea with Paul Holloway's translation of the phrase as, 'Let your graciousness be known to all people.' Whichever way we take it – it is a value that enhances life-giving relationships among the community.

There is a long discussion that could be had about the phrase, 'The Lord is near.' But I will be very brief. Does Paul mean it in relation to his understanding of the second coming of Christ? – or does he just mean to reassure his friends that as disciples of Jesus – he is near to them in their daily lives as Risen Lord. I take it in the latter sense here. And again we are reminded of a fundamental resource for the Christian. In all our doings – Christ is with us – present to us and with us by the Spirit of God. If the Psalmist (Ps 18) can say that he can charge an armed troop or leap a city wall because of his faith in God – how much is this also true for we for whom the Lord is near.

This affirmation that the Lord is near links to Paul's next statement in verse 6. It is because of this reality that they are to be a worry-free people. Oh that it were that easy!

The statement recalls Jesus' teaching in Matt 6:25 'not to worry about your life.' It is the same Greek word. It is just possible that, as James W. Thompson suggests, this may reflect an awareness by Paul of aspects of the Jesus tradition. But no doubt Paul mentions this as important because he knew his friends were inclined to be anxious about him – and Epaphroditus as well as anxious about the safety and position within the Philippian community. But unlike the Stoics for whom this was also an important aspiration but one to be achieved through the exercise of will-power on the mind, Paul associates it with prayer.
In other words, as Stephen Fowl notes at this point – their freedom from worry can and should arise from a sense of dependence upon the grace of God and the awareness of the reality of God at work among them in the world.

And you and I need reminding about being a worry-free people - especially in the context of our daily lives with Covid 19 where we know that any moment there can be an outbreak which suddenly closes down our places of worship and other places of ministry and confines us to our homes. Worry and anxiety can be deeply energy-sapping and at a more serious level it affects our mental health and well-being and of course we should always be ready to seek and get professional help when we need to.

But our faith is a very significant resource in attaining and sustaining a way of living and of conducting our ministries with all their challenges – that helps us to manage the worry and give of our best to our loved ones and the communities among whom we minister.

In the final part of verse 6 Paul, as we noted, encourages his readers to pray - in part as a response to worry. And everything – en panti - is to be brought to God. Nothing is outside the boundary of matters that may be brought to God. in prayer. And Paul says to do it with 'thanksgiving' – with eucharistia – and we cannot in English fail to hear the echo there of the ultimate act of thanksgiving. The context in which his friends can be worry-free and dependent upon God bringing all the life matters concerning them to God – is within a framework of thanksgiving. It is done with a deeply grounded awareness that God in Christ has redeemed them and gifted them the Spirit and is near to them and desires that everything be brought before him in detailed and intimate conversation.

And this now leads into those words of Paul's which are a kind of underlying, soothing melody to Anglican ears: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus albeit that the original here is slightly different from our Anglican Liturgical use of the verse.

The reference to the peace of God echoes - partially at least - words on the lips of Jesus in John 14 when he says, 'my peace I give to you (14:27).' We might also recall his post-resurrection words to Thomas as reported by John when he says, eirene umin – 'peace be with you' (20:26). Here in Philippians 4 'the peace of God' is seen as an antidote to the worry and anxiety which his friends may have been feeling. And so the peace of God is offered as a gift to the believer and is now permanently available.
And this peace from God – is a peace that, 'surpasses the power of thought' as one commentator has put it. It is an extraordinary gift. It is something energizing and life-giving. I think for St Paul it is not just a static absence of negative emotions. It is something much richer than that.

The peace of God is a positive, active affective state that arises because of the deep reconciliation with our Maker through Christ that has taken place at the level of our inner life. It arises also because we are women and men who have come to be 'in Christ' and are actively seeking to open our interior life more and more to the working of the Spirit of God who dwells within us.
And Paul speaks of this peace of God as 'guarding your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.' The verb here for guarding means 'to protect', 'to keep someone locked up as a prisoner.' It is only used 5 times in the NT but for the people of Philippi who would have been very conscious of Paul being guarding and locked up by the Roman state – the word would have resonated.

Stephen Fowl notes that would also have been a Roman garrison in Philippi guarding the interests of the Roman state and so this word might have doubly resonated for them. And so Paul is indicating here that in his view – this peace of God has a deeply protective impact on our minds, hearts and emotions.

And so once again Paul is articulating some aspects of what I like to call the resources available to the follower of Christ. And although these words are overly familiar to us – I encourage us to hear them afresh with the power and vigour of the language Paul is using. Because as we hear them afresh – they can remind us of what a precious resource we have available to us in the peace of God which passes all understanding- a resource to accompany us through the journey of every day.

Verse 8-9

8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

8 Τὸ λοιπόν, ἀδελφοί, ὅσα ἐστὶν ἀληθῆ, ὅσα σεμνά, ὅσα δίκαια, ὅσα ἁγνά, ὅσα προσφιλῆ, ὅσα εὔφημα, εἴ τις ἀρετὴ καὶ εἴ τις ἔπαινος, ταῦτα λογίζεσθε· 9 ἃ καὶ ἐμάθετε καὶ παρελάβετε καὶ ἠκούσατε καὶ εἴδετε ἐν ἐμοί, ταῦτα πράσσετε· καὶ ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης ἔσται μεθ’ ὑμῶν.

In verse 8-9, the apostle has his eye on the finishing up of his epistle to his friends, beginning with the word 'finally.' And following on from what he has just said about the peace of God, and as he has in mind concluding the Letter, he proceeds to list a collection of virtues and values with which he wants them to fill their minds. It is interesting that two of his words – for 'pleasing' and 'admirable' only occur here in the NT. A number of these values and virtues reflect conventional values of the ancient world but Paul wants his friends to learn to discern what really is true, what really is excellent, what really is worthy of praise as compared with the valuations that many of his pagan contemporaries might have of those things.

And he refers to this list of virtues in rhetorical language but the key main verb - as well as the object of the sentence - comes at the end: 'think about these things.'

And the verb 'to think' is now is not his favourite phronein but the verb logizesthai (or in lexicon form logizomai) which has a wider meaning. The word is cognate with logos and was originally an accounting term with the sense of 'to reckon' or 'calculate' but it came to refer to mental or cognitive processes and carries the sense of, 'to think about' or 'ponder' or 'let one's mind dwell on something.' It is quite a common NT word especially used by Paul in Romans although much more often in the accounting, reckoning sense (see Romans 4:3). Here Paul means it in the cognitive sense of 'to ponder.' Again it is a present imperative verb form. And so he is exhorting them to dwell upon this list of virtues and values and to deeply ponder them and to go on doing so. And so they to fill their minds with and ponder the things that are true, that are honourable, that are just and pure and pleasing and commendable and so on.

And you and I now live in a world in which our minds are so often filled with distressing images of illness and death and war and conflict as well as all the constant reporting of the impact Covid-19 – and all of this can have a depressing, darkening impact upon our mental health.

And Paul would say to us I think – certainly be aware of what is going on around you – but let the things that your mind dwells upon be things that are uplifting, that make you feel more alive and not half dead.

In verse 9 Paul uses another present imperative main verb form – prassete πράσσετε. They are to do – and to keep on doing – the things that they have learned and received and that they have seen and heard – from him. It is reminiscent of his earlier exhortation to them to imitate him. He wants them to be able to be discerning and make right judgments about the things and actions that are commendable and praiseworthy. And Stephen Fowl makes the point that they are enabled to do these things both by the peace of God guarding their minds and hearts and by following closely Paul's teaching and the example he has set them.

Verse 10-19

10 I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

15 You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16 For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18 I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

10 Ἐχάρην δὲ ἐν κυρίῳ μεγάλως ὅτι ἤδη ποτὲ ἀνεθάλετε τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ φρονεῖν, ἐφ’ ᾧ καὶ ἐφρονεῖτε ἠκαιρεῖσθε δέ. 11 οὐχ ὅτι καθ’ ὑστέρησιν λέγω, ἐγὼ γὰρ ἔμαθον ἐν οἷς εἰμι αὐτάρκης εἶναι· 12 οἶδα καὶ ταπεινοῦσθαι, οἶδα καὶ περισσεύειν· ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν μεμύημαι, καὶ χορτάζεσθαι καὶ πεινᾶν, καὶ περισσεύειν καὶ ὑστερεῖσθαι· 13 πάντα ἰσχύω ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντί με. 14 πλὴν καλῶς ἐποιήσατε συγκοινωνήσαντές μου τῇ θλίψει.

15 Οἴδατε δὲ καὶ ὑμεῖς, Φιλιππήσιοι, ὅτι ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου, ὅτε ἐξῆλθον ἀπὸ Μακεδονίας, οὐδεμία μοι ἐκκλησία ἐκοινώνησεν εἰς λόγον δόσεως καὶ λήμψεως εἰ μὴ ὑμεῖς μόνοι, 16 ὅτι καὶ ἐν Θεσσαλονίκῃ καὶ ἅπαξ καὶ δὶς εἰς τὴν χρείαν μοι ἐπέμψατε. 17 οὐχ ὅτι ἐπιζητῶ τὸ δόμα, ἀλλὰ ἐπιζητῶ τὸν καρπὸν τὸν πλεονάζοντα εἰς λόγον ὑμῶν. 18 ἀπέχω δὲ πάντα καὶ περισσεύω· πεπλήρωμαι δεξάμενος παρὰ Ἐπαφροδίτου τὰ παρ’ ὑμῶν, ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας, θυσίαν δεκτήν, εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ. 19 ὁ δὲ θεός μου πληρώσει πᾶσαν χρείαν ὑμῶν κατὰ τὸ πλοῦτος αὐτοῦ ἐν δόξῃ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. 20 τῷ δὲ θεῷ καὶ πατρὶ ἡμῶν ἡ δόξα εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων· ἀμήν.

I am not going to spend much time on this section as it deals with the specific issue of the money gift that his friends sent to him.

There is a lot of debate and discussion about this section and its role and it is often noted that Paul 'rejoices' but he does not actually thank them for their gift. Paul Holloway notes that it was normal practice in the Graeco-Roman world for one who had received goods or money via a third party to give an acknowledgement that those goods or that money had been received. And that is one of the important purposes of this letter – though by no means the only one. In verse 18 he refers specifically to receiving the gift from them brought by Epaphroditus.

Holloway also observes that Paul finds himself in a slightly awkward position with his friends because he wants to play down his present sufferings in gaol – partly to reduce their anxiety for him - but in doing so there is some implication that their generous gift was not necessary. What he tries to do is to indicate that while the gift was not necessary, it was kind of them and he says in verse 19 it was a 'fragrant offering…pleasing to God.'

Stephen Fowl argues that Paul is carefully threading his way through on the one hand trying to respect the fact his friends probably hold to the social conventions about gift-giving and receiving current in the ancient world while on the other hand he is wanting to undermine those conventions somewhat because some of the presuppositions behind them are inappropriate for the Christian. Stephen Fowl notes that there is a third party involved in this whole instance of gift-giving and receiving and that is God.

And I find his arguments here quite cogent and, coupled with Holloway's point I just mentioned that Paul is conscious also he didn't actually need the gift - it becomes more clear why this passage is not simply a straightforward message of thanks as we might have expected. Paul is trying to steer a course around a matter that is quite delicate.

One particular point we might note briefly is Paul' comment in verses 11-12 that he has learned to be content and learned what he calls the secret of managing all circumstances in which he may find himself. The concept of 'being content' was widely used by Stoic and Cynic philosophers to refer to a state of independence and freedom which typified the experienced philosopher. Paul appears to be familiar with this vocabulary and the ideals of these philosophers and here he may be borrowing from them. The word he uses for 'being content' is the adjective autarkes which occurs only here in the NT and means, 'resourceful' or 'self-sufficient.' Paul is indicating that he too has learned to live with a degree of surrender of self-control of his life. He has in effect developed the capacity to have some detachment from his personal circumstances. But Paul's framework for understanding this sense of self-sufficiency is very different from that of the Stoics. For Paul his sense of detachment arises because of his fundamental attachment to God.

And there is a challenge there for us to think about in relation to our own deep human need to be in control and to be in charge. Intentional Christians down the centuries have recognized that we must offer that need to God and let go of anxiety about it and work at learning a degree of detachment ourselves. And that in doing so – we can begin to develop a graced liberty that is freeing and opens to door to a deepening and strengthening of our interior life with Christ.

Verses 21-23

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The friends who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

21 Ἀσπάσασθε πάντα ἅγιον ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ. ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς οἱ σὺν ἐμοὶ ἀδελφοί. 22 ἀσπάζονται ὑμᾶς πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι, μάλιστα δὲ οἱ ἐκ τῆς Καίσαρος οἰκίας. 23 ἡ χάρις τοῦ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν.

And so we come to Paul's final greeting and the end of the Letter. It broadly follows a typical pattern used in his Letters and includes greetings and prayer and sometimes exhortation. Here he begins by making clear that he desires to greet 'every saint' (panta hagion) and we note that the use of the singular makes it very personalized. Despite this there are no individuals named which contrasts quite sharply with the big list of names noted at the end of Romans. The reference here to 'every saint' may be unique and certainly Paul normally addresses his readers in the plural. His descriptor for them again highlights their position in relation to God – they are holy (hagioi) because of their redemption in Christ.

He also assures them that greetings come also from his friends (NRSV) – the Greek is actually adelphoi – brothers (NIV) – or brothers and sisters if we render it that way rather than friends. He sends greetings also from 'all the saints' – presumably speaking here in a general way about the Christian community or communities in Rome if that is indeed where he held prisoner. Holloway describes him at this point conveying greetings, 'from the members of his missionary team present in Rome.'

But he then refers to greetings especially from 'the emperor's household' (hoi ek tes Kaisaros oikias). What does he mean by that phrase? Holloway observes that the phrase could refer to a wider range of relatives of Emperor Nero (he takes it that Paul is in Rome) as well as household slaves, various retainers and freedmen and so potentially quite a large number. It is reasonable to think there were some converts to faith in Christ among this cohort of people and especially if some of them had previously been attracted to Judaism.

And so he concludes with a kind of benediction – a prayer that grace – charis – that unique and distinctive gift given to the Christian – may be with their spirit.

Commentators note that in the undisputed Pauline Letters, he always concludes with the phrase, 'The grace of the /or/ our Lord Jesus [Christ] be with you – or 'with your spirit'. And the reference is plural – he is thinking of them again as community not as individuals. He began praying for and wishing them grace and peace from God and now he concludes praying and wishing grace for them – the grace that comes from the Lord Jesus Christ. Holloway describes charis – grace - as a leitmotif of Paul's theology and notes that it is significant that he concludes in this way.