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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Philippians Overview

 

 


Introduction.

1. PHILIPPI: ITS INHABITANTS FOUNDATION OF THE CHURCH.

The Epistle to the Philippians was written about thirty years after the Ascension, about ten years after the first preaching of the gospel by St. Paul at Philippi. Christianity was still young, in all the freshness of its first youth. It had come suddenly into the world. The world seemed growing old: the old religions had lost whatever power they once possessed; the old philosophies were worn out; the energies of political life had been weakened or suppressed by the all-pervading despotism of Rome. Avarice, uncleanness, cruelty, were rampant in the earth. There was little faith in God, in goodness, in immortality. "What is truth?" was the despairing question of the age. The gospel flashed upon this scene of moral confusion like, what it is in truth, a revelation from heaven. It brought before the eyes of men a life and a Person. The world saw for the first time a perfect life; not a mere ideal, but a real life that had been really lived upon the earth; a life that stands alone, separate from all other lives; unique in its solitary majesty, in its unearthly loveliness, in its absolute purity, in its entire unselfishness. The world saw for the first time the beauty of complete self-sacrifice. And this life was not merely a thing past and gone. It was still living, it is still living in the Church. The life of Christ lived in his saints. They felt it: "Not I, but Christ liveth in me." They could tell others the blessed realities of their own spiritual experience. They were in earnest; that was plain: they had nothing to gain in the world. St. Paul especially had renounced a career most tempting to Hebrew ambition, for a life of unceasing labor — a life full of hardships, persecutions, dangers, and evidently destined to end in a violent death. He was in earnest, certainly; he was consumed with an untiring zeal; in spite of many personal disadvantages, much natural timidity, the constraining love of Christ urged him to spend and to be spent in his Savior's work. And in that work, amid all its difficulties, anxieties, and dangers, he found a deep and living joy, joy among tears; "sorrowing," he said of himself, "yet alway rejoicing." Joy, he felt and taught, was the privilege and the duty of a Christian, who knew that he was redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, that the Holy Spirit was sanctifying him, that God the Father had chosen him to be his own.

No wonder that those early years were years of fruitfulness. Earnest, truthful natures soon ranged themselves with the preachers of the new religion; a chord was struck that vibrated in all true hearts; all who waited for salvation, who were longing after God, were gathered round the cross.

St. Paul had first come to Philippi about the year 52. It was his first visit to Europe. He had seen in Asia a vision, a man of Macedonia, who said, "Come over and help us;" and he came. Philippi was the first Macedonian city which he reached; for Neapolis, the port of Philippi, was generally (not always) reckoned as belonging to Thrace. The place had been called Crenides, or Fountains, a prophetic name, for it became the fountain of European Christiania. The city was founded by the well-known Macedonian king from whom it derived its name, the ἀνη Ì<sup>ρ Μακεδω</sup> ì<sup>ν</sup> of Demosthenes. The soil was exceptionally fertile; there were gold and silver mines in the neighborhood, which produced a large revenue. But the importance of Philippi was mainly owing to its situation: it commanded one of the principal routes between Europe and Asia; the mountain range which separates the East and the West sinks into a pass near to Philippi. It was this circumstance, not only the mineral riches of the neighborhood, which attracted the attention of Philip; it was this, as well as the wish to commemorate his decisive victory, which led Augustus to plant a Roman colony at Philippi.

It was a Roman city that St. Paul found when he came hither in his second missionary journey: "a Roman colony in Greece," says Bishop Wordsworth, "an epitome of the Gentile world." The settlers brought by Augustus were mainly Italians, discharged Antonian soldiers. Along with these there existed a large Greek element in the population; we may say Greek, for the Macedonians possessed, from the period when they first assumed prominence in Grecian history, many of the distinctive characteristics of a Hellenic people (comp. Mure's 'Literature of Ancient Greece,' I. 3:9). The official language was Latin, but Greek was the tongue commonly spoken. Inscriptions in both languages have been found among the ruins of Philippi; the Latin, it is said, outnumber the Greek. The colonists were Roman citizens; the ensigns of Roman rule, the S.P.Q.R.. he were everywhere to be seen. The colony was a miniature of the imperial city. Its magistrates, properly called dnumviri, were addressed by the more ambitious name of praetors ( στρατηγοι ì) they were attended by lictors ( ῥαβδοῦχοι) The inhabitants claimed the great name of Romans (Acts 16:21), the name which Paul and Silas vindicated to themselves in the house of the Philippian jailor. The Philippians possessed some of the simple virtues of the old Roman stock. Romans and Macedonians were mingled together at Philippi, and the Macedonian character seems to have resembled the Roman more nearly, perhaps, than that of any other of the subject races. The Macedonians, like the old Romans, were manly, straightforward, and affectionate. They were not sceptical like the philosophers of Athens, or voluptuous like the Greeks of Corinth. Holy Scripture gives a very favorable view of the Thessalonians and Berceans, as well as of the Philippians. There were only a few Jews resident at Philippi, for it was a military colony, not a mercantile city. There was no synagogue, only a proseuche, a place of prayer, by the river-side, and that so little known that (according to the best-supported reading in Acts 16:13), Paul and Silas only supposed that they should find a place of prayer by the Gangites. Thither they went, with Timothy and Luke, on the sabbath. They found only a few women. But that sabbath was an eventful day; that little congregation was the germ of great Churches; the gospel was preached for the first time in that continent of Europe which was destined in the providence of God to be the scene of its greatest successes. The first convert, Lydia, strange as it may seem, came from that Asia where Paul had been forbidden to preach. She, with her household, was the firstfruits of Philippi unto Christ. Afterwards, as Paul and Silas were on their way to the same place of prayer, they met a slave-girl possessed with a spirit of Pytho; she recognized them again and again as "servants of the most high God." St. Paul cast out the spirit. This led to the apprehension of Paul and Silas. It was the first direct conflict of Christianity and heathenism; hitherto, as at Lystra, Jews had been the instigators of persecution. It was the first appearance of St. Paul before a Roman tribunal, the first beating, and the first imprisonment. Then came the conversion of the jailor and his family. Thus the Philippian Church was formed — the purple-seller from Thyatira, the Greek slave-girl, the (probably Roman) jailor, with the households of the first and last. Two of them were women — one engaged in a profitable trade, the other a slave; the third remarkable for his earnest question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" and for his kind attentions to Paul and Silas. We observe already some of the blessed results of Christianity — the Christian family, Christian hospitality, the religious equality of women and slaves. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). There were others not known to us by name; there was a Church in the house of Lydia, where Paul and Silas saw the brethren and comforted them before their departure from Philippi (Acts 16:40). We notice the prominence of female converts in Macedonia. At Thessalonica (Acts 22:4) and at Beroea (Acts 17:12) many women, and those ladies of rank, became Christians. Women formed an important element in the early Philippian Church.

2. SUBSEQUENT HISTORY OF THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH.

St. Paul's first visit to Philippi ended in suffering. In the Roman colony he and Silas claimed the privilege of Roman citizens. They were soon released, but the persecutions which the teachers were the first to feel did not pass away. The Churches of Macedonia, the Philippian Church especially, were called to suffer tribulation. St. Paul mentions their afflictions more than once (see 2 Corinthians 8:1, 2, and Philippians 1:28-30). It was given to them, it was their privilege, not only to believe in Christ, but also to suffer for his sake. Their sufferings, their "deep poverty," did not check that liberality which was characteristic of the Philippian Church. St. Paul had not left them long, he was still at Thessalonica, when they "sent once and again unto his necessities." And from 2 Corinthians 11:9 compared with Philippians 4:15 we may safely infer that his Philippian converts supplied his wants during his first sojourn in Corinth. Philippi was the only Church from which the great apostle was willing to accept help; it is a striking testimonial to their zeal and love.

St. Paul probably visited Philippi twice during his third missionary journey. After leaving Ephesus he went into Macedonia; "and when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece." It is not likely that Philippi was omitted. Philippi, with the other Churches of Macedonia, was then suffering that "great trial of affliction" mentioned in the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, which St. Paul wrote during this visit to Macedonia. We gather from that Epistle that he was busily employed in collecting alms for the saints in Jerusalem, and that the Macedonian Christians contributed readily and liberally; and we also learn (see 2 Corinthians 7:5 and 8:2) that it was a time of persecution and distress for himself as well as for the Macedonian Churches. After three months in Greece, he "purposed to return through Macedonia," and, St. Luke continues (Acts 20:6), "we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread." St Paul chose to keep the Passover, the greatest of the Jewish festivals, at Philippi, among those whom he calls his dearly beloved, his joy and crown. There were very few Jews at Philippi: did he keep the feast as a Christian Easter among Christians, rather than a Jewish festival among Jews? It was the last Passover for several years which he could keep where and as he pleased.

At this point in St. Luke's narrative (Acts 20:6) we notice the resumption of the first person, which St. Luke has not used since Acts 16, in which St. Paul's first visit to Philippi is related. From this circumstance it has been inferred that St. Luke was left at Philippi to carry on the work of organizing the Macedonian Churches; and perhaps remained there till he rejoined St. Paul on his way to Jerusalem. Thus it may be that the Christians at Philippi had the benefit of the teaching of the evangelist during the seven or eight years which followed St. Paul's first visit. Thus their love for St. Paul, their unhesitating submission to his apostolic authority, their steadfast adherence to his teaching, may in part be the result of the labors of his trusted friend and follower, who continued faithful (2 Timothy 4:11) when others forsook him.

St. Paul "sailed away from Philippi" in the year 58. His imprisonment soon followed; he remained a prisoner for four or five years, the first half of the time at Caesarea, the second half at Rome. The Epistle to the Philippians has been assigned to the Caesarean imprisonment by Paulus and others. St. Paul was kept at Caesarea in Herod's praeterium (Acts 23:35), and in the Epistle (Philippians 1:13) he says that his bonds in Christ have become manifest in the whole praetorium. But it is most probable that in the last-quoted passage the word "praetorium" signifies, not a building, but the Praetorian Guard (see note on Philippians 1:13). Rome is not mentioned in the Epistle to the Philippians (nor in any of the other three supposed to have been written there); but St. Paul's reference to Caesar's household, his account of the success of his preaching, his expectation of a speedy release, all point to Rome rather than to Caesarea. Accordingly, the very great majority of commentators are agreed in ascribing the Epistle to the Roman captivity.

From the Epistle we learn that the Church at Philippi was already an organized society: two orders of the Christian ministry are mentioned by name. The Philippians were suffering persecution. There was a tendency to discord among them; especially there was a quarrel between two of their female members. Otherwise there is no hint of moral corruption or erroneous doctrine. There is nothing to disturb the joy and thankfulness with which the apostle contemplates their growth in grace. Their love for him was unchanged. They had sent Epaphroditus, possibly their chief paster, to convey their gifts and to minister to St. Paul in his affliction.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Phillppians, expresses a hope (Philippians 2:24) of shortly seeing them again. We gather from his mentioner a journey into Macedonia in 1 Timothy 1:3 that this expectation was fulfilled. From the notices in 2 Timothy 4:13 and 20 it has been inferred that he may possibly have visited them a second time during the interval between the two Roman imprisonments.

We hear nothing more of the Philippian Church till the beginning of second century. About fifty years after the Epistle was written, Ignatius passed through Philippi guarded by ten soldiers (ten leopards, he calls them), on his way to his martyrdom at Rome. He was kindly received, and conducted on his journey by the Philippian Christians. This led to a correspondence with Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, and disciple of St. John. The Philippians, it seems, had written to him, asking for copies of the letters of Ignatius, and for advice and exhortation. He sends the letters according to their request. He cannot, he says, reach the wisdom of the blessed Paul, who had taught them and written to them. He gives them much exhortation, with rules for deacons and presbyters. One presbyter of Philippi, Valens, and his wife, had caused scandal by their avarice. Polycarp hopes they will repent; he begs the Philippians to receive them to forgiveness on their repentance. Polycarp's epistle, like St. Paul's, is rather practical than doctrinal. Like St. Paul, he praises the Philippians for their steadfastness and for their sympathy with suffering brethren; in both epistles we find allusions to strife and disunion; in both we notice the absence of appeals to Old Testament authority.

From the time of Polycarp's epistle the Church of Philippi almost vanishes out of ecclesiastical history. Now and then the name of a Philippian bishop occurs in the subscriptions of the decrees of Councils. It is said that the name is still retained in the title of an Eastern bishop, the Bishop of Drama and Philippi. But the Church of Philippi has disappeared, and the town is represented only by ruins. It is a strange history. The first founded of the European Churches, the foremost, it seems, of all the Pauline Churches for faith and love, has wholly passed away; but the names of many Philippian Christians, unknown to men, remain, and ever will remain, written in golden light with Clement in the Lamb's book of life.

3. PLACE AND TIME OF WRITING THE EPISTLE.

St. Paul wrote four Epistles during his first Roman imprisonment — to the Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and to Phlippians. The three last were evidently written about the same time. The Epistle to the Philippians has been commonly regarded as the latest of the four. But some writers (notably Bishop Lightfoot, to whom all students of St. Paul's Epistles owe more than they can well express) place it early in the first Roman imprisonment, while they assign the other three to as late a date as possible.

The Epistle implies the existence of a large Christian community at Rome, much activity in preaching, party spirit too, and divisions. The gospel had penetrated even to Nero's establishment on the Palatine; there were Christians, apparently not a few, in Caesar's household. The bonds of the apostle were known, not only throughout the praetorium, but "to all the rest." This great progress seems to require a considerable time.

On the other hand, we must remember that there was a flourishing Church at Rome before St. Paul's arrival. The Epistle to the Romans is one of the longest and the most elaborate of all his letters. The salutations (assuming that the last chapter really belongs to that Epistle, and not, as some think, to the Epistle to the Ephesians) are more numerous than in any other. The number of the Roman Christians must naturally have increased considerably during the three intervening years. We are told that two deputations from the Roman Church met St. Paul at Appii Forum and the Three Taverns. The assertion that his bonds were known "to all the rest" may be compared with 1 Thessalonians 1:8, where he says of the Thessalonians, "In every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad." It is a Christian hyperbole, the language of joy and thankfulness, not to be pressed to a literal interpretation.

Again, it is urged that Aristarchus and Luke, who accompanied St. Paul to Rome, are mentioned in the Epistles to Phlippians and the Colossians, but not in the Epistle to the Philippians. It is inferred that they must have left Rome before this last Epistle was written, which, therefore, would seem to be of later date.

This argument is too precarious to be of much weight. They may have been absent for a time; or accidental circumstances, unknown to us, may have caused the omission. They are not mentioned in the Epistle to the Ephesians; nor is Timothy, though that Epistle was certainly written at the same time as those to Phlippians and the Colossians.

Again, the various communications between Rome and Philippi are thought to imply a late date for our Epistle. The Philippians had heard of St. Paul's arrival at Rome. They had sent Epaphroditus with contributions for the relief of his wants. Epaphroditus had a dangerous illness, the result of over-exertion. News of his illness had reached Philippi. And lastly, Epaphroditus had heard that the report of his danger had greatly distressed the Philippians.

But the time required for these communications is not very long. The distance from Rome to Philippi is about seven hundred miles. Each journey would occupy about a month. And no one supposes that St. Paul could have written the Epistle till he had resided several months in Rome.

Again, it is thought that St. Luke's words in the Acts of the Apostles and also St. Paul's in the Epistle to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:19, 20) imply a greater degree of liberty than the Epistle before us. When St. Paul writes to the Philippians, he does not seem to be actively engaged in preaching; others preach (Philippians 1:15, 16), his work is almost limited to the silent eloquence of his bonds. This more rigorous imprisonment, and the possibilities of martyrdom hinted at in the Epistle, are thought by some to point to the time when Tigellinus became Praefect of the Praetorian Guard, after the death of the upright Burrus, the captain of the guard to whom St. Paul with other prisoners was at first delivered (Acts 28:16). Burrus died in the year 62, scarcely a year after St. Paul's arrival. It is also thought that the Jewish tendencies of Poppaea, who was married to Nero about the same time, may have led to the aggravation of the apostle's sufferings. But it does not seem very likely that such a prisoner as St. Paul, though to us Christians an object of the very deepest interest, would have attracted the notice of Tigellinus or Poppsea; and indeed, if such were the case, the result in all probability would have been, not closer confinement, but immediate death.

Not much stress can be laid on the other evidence furnished by the Epistle. St. Paul trusts to come to the Philippians shortly (Philippians 2:24); but, on the other hand, he expresses much uncertainty as to the result of his trial; he knows not whether it will end in acquittal or the death of martyr-dom: he is prepared for either issue. He seems to speak with more hope of a speedy release in his Epistle to Phlippians (Phm. 1:22), which must have been written about the same time as that to the Colossians. But these variations of expression may be due to accidental circumstances, or to those changes of feeling which must have taken place in the course of a long imprisonment, and therefore seem scarcely sufficient to furnish reliable arguments in either direction.

Bishop Lightfoot, who thinks that the Epistle to the Philippians must be placed as early as possible in St. Paul's first Roman imprisonment, insists strongly on its undoubted resemblance to the Epistle to the Romans. He points out many close parallels and a considerable number of verbal coincidences. These, he thinks, furnish a strong argument for the earlier date of this Epistle as compared with those to the Ephesians and Colossians, which are connected rather with the pastoral Epistles than with those of the third missionary journey. In the Epistle to the Philippians we have "the spent wave of the controversy" with Judaism. In those to the Ephesians and Colossians we meet with new forms of error, made known to the apostle, it may be, by the visit of Epaphras of Colossae, the shadows of the coming heresies of Gnosticism, which at the time of the pastoral Epistles had assumed something more of distinctness.

There is considerable weight in these arguments. On the other hand, we must remember that the Epistles to the Romans and Philippians cannot be separated by an interval of less than three years; while the last Epistle, on the hypothesis of its priority, cannot have been written more than two years before those to the Ephesians and Colossians. The close resemblance, therefore, between the Epistles to the Romans and Philippians can scarcely be due exclusively to nearness of date. It may result in large measure from the fact that both Epistles are the spontaneous utterances of the apostle's heart. They were not elicited, like the Epistles to the Corinthians or the Galatians, by the special circumstances, errors, or backslidings of the Churches addressed. The one is a treatise, the other a letter; but both represent the apostle's general teaching when not modified by the needs of particular Churches. At Ephesus or Laodicaea and Colossae the tendencies which afterwards took the form of Gnosticism may have shown themselves early; while at Philippi, a European city, there was no appearance of those Eastern heresies. We must not omit to notice that, if this Epistle has many points of contact with the Epistle to the Romans, it exhibits in two or three places (Philippians 1:23, 30; 2:17) a remarkable resemblance to a striking passage in the Second Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:6-8), the last Epistle written by St. Paul.

On the whole, the balance of argument seems slightly in favor of the earlier date of our Epistle. It may have been written in 61 or 62. But the evidence, it seems to us, is not decisive; nor would the decision be of much impotence, were it not for the various points of interest which it brings to our notice.

4. CONTENTS OF THE EPISTLE.

The Epistle to the Philippians is a letter from a friend to friends, a letter of spiritual counsel, written in acknowledgment of loving help. The apostle knew that the Philippians would be interested in his personal circumstances, as he himself is interested in theirs, he tells them of his bonds, of the progress of the gospel at Rome, of the conduct of the Jewish party, of their endeavors to distress him by factious opposition, preaching Christ, as they did, out of envy and party spirit. He tells them of the inward peace and joy which bore him up in all his afflictions; he feels sure of their sympathy, he writes in the fullest confidence of Christian friendship, his joy is their joy. He tells them of the uncertainty of his future; he does not know how his trial will end, in death or in life; he is prepared for either event — a holy life is blessed, a holy death more blessed still. He tells them of his thankful acceptance of their gifts: he had been unwilling to receive aid from other Churches, but with them he was on terms of the very closest intimacy, and that affectionate and trusting friendship made him ready to accept their help. But he valued it, not so much as an alleviation of his own hardships, but rather as an additional evidence of their love to himself and of their growth in that charity which is the first of Christian graces. For himself, he was content; he had learned to be self-sufficient in the Christian sense: none felt his own weakness more than he, but he could do all things through the strength of Christ.

He assures them of the sympathy of the Roman Christians; especially he mentions, we know not why, the interest which the Christians of Nero's household felt in their Philippian brethren. St. Paul believed with all his heart in the communion of saints; the sense of Christian fellowship, the sympathy of his brother Christians, was very precious to him; he knew it was so to the Philippians.

He tells them of his own circumstances, and dwells with affectionate friendship upon theirs. He calls them saints in Christ Jesus, his brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, his joy and crown. He mentions their bishops and deacons (see note on Philippians 1:1). He assures them of his constant prayers; he always remembers them, and that with joy and thankfulness. He remembers their fellowship with him in the gospel; they had assisted him, and that loyally and earnestly, in his self-denying labors. He believed that his continued life was desirable for their sakes; he was confident, therefore, that it would be prolonged, and that he should see them again. He hints here and there at their Roman citizenship (Philippians 1:27; 2:20); he urges them to live as citizens of the heavenly country, to show the courage of Romans in the good fight of faith. He knows, he tells them, their trials and persecutions; to suffer for Christ, he says, is a gift from God, a high honor. He reminds them delicately of his own example: he is suffering as they are, more than they are; he and they are partners now in affliction, as they will be hereafter in glory.

They have already given him much satisfaction; he begs them to complete the joy which he has in them. There is one fault in the Philippian Church, a tendency to disunion. He implores them, in the most affectionate language, to be on their guard against strife and vain-glory, to esteem, each one of them, others as better than himself. He exhorts them to cultivate lowliness and unselfishness. He knows how hard the lesson is; precept is not enough, — there is need of a high constraining example. He points to the Savior; he bids them remember his lowliness, his Divine self-sacrifice. This introduces the great doctrinal passage of the Epistle. He soon returns to exhortation. Hitherto, he says, they have obeyed him: they obeyed when he was with them; in his absence, obedience is more needful still. They must work out, each one of them, his own salvation, not depending on the presence of a human teacher, but on God who worketh in the Christian heart, from whom alone all holy desires and all good works do proceed. He again warns them against murmurings and disputings; they must be blameless and harmless, the sons of God. They appear already, he says, as lights in the world; they hold forth the Word of life to others. Let them persevere, for his sake as well as their own, that he may rejoice in the day of Christ. Nothing can give him greater joy than their salvation; for that great end he is willing to be offered up; it would fill him with holy joy to pour forth his own blood as a drink offering upon. the sacrifice of their souls as a whole burnt offering unto God. He will send Timothy to them shortly, that he may have a trustworthy account of their state; he reminds them that they know the proof of him, — he will care for them with a genuine love. He hopes to come himself. In any case, he will send Epaphroditus at once. Epaphroditus had just recovered from a dangerous illness; that illness had been caused in some way by his unselfish labors, possibly during the autumn always unhealthy at Rome (see Philippians 4:10, and note). St. Paul knew that the Philippians felt the deepest interest in their brother's recovery: he will send him at once with the letter.

After another doctrinal digression, St. Paul returns to the circumstances of the Philippian Church. He mentions especially two women, Euodia and Syntyche. They evidently held an important position at Philippi; they were at variance with one another; their reconciliation was necessary for the well-being of the Church. He exhorts them in the moss earnest words to be of the same mind, and that in the Lord; they were members of the one body of Christ; the Church's union with the one Lord must not be disturbed by disunion among its members. He begs his "true yokefellow," perhaps Epaphroditus himself. he with Clement and his other fellow-laborers, to assist in the Christian work of restoring peace. He exhorts them all to rejoice in the Lord, for that holy joy is the best remedy against the spirit of dissension. He insists on the paramount duty of prayer and thanksgiving, and the watchful government of the thoughts. He acknowledges with thanks their repeated gifts, and prays that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ may be with their spirit.

This Epistle has been called "the least dogmatic of the apostle's letters". It is natural that it should be so; the apostle is writing a letter in acknowledgment of the gifts of the Philippians, not a theological treatise; a letter of Christian love and spiritual counsel. But, though the doctrine is introduced incidentally, and always employed to enforce Christian practice and holiness of life; nevertheless, the whole Epistle is interpenetrated with Christian doctrine, The great doctrinal passage in the second chapter asserts most of the distinctive articles of the Christian creed. St. Paul insists upon the divinity of Christ, his preexistence, his equality with God the Father, his incarnation, his perfect humanity, his precious death upon the cross, his glorious exaltation. In the third chapter we have his resurrection, his second advent, his Divine power. In that chapter we have also a full statement of the doctrines of justification by faith, of the transitory character of the Mosaic Law, and of the Church as the city of God. Doctrine, then, is here, as elsewhere, the basis of St. Paul's teaching; but here, as elsewhere, he enforces doctrine as bearing upon holiness of life.

In the practical portion of the Epistle, the graces on which the apostle most insists are, especially and above all others, Christian joy; then unity; and, as conducive to unity, unselfishness and humility. He also urges the duty of mutual forbearance, thankfulness, constant prayer, contentment, and the due ordering of the thoughts.

5. CORRESPONDENCE OF THE EPISTLE WITH THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE PHILIPPIANS.

We must not omit to notice the correspondence which exists between the language of the Epistle and the circumstances of the Philippians. Philippi was a Roman colony; St. Paul refers once and again to the rights and duties of citizenship. Like other Roman colonies, it had a military character; it was a garrison against the Thracian barbarians. St. Paul calls Epaphroditus his fellow-soldier; he derives his metaphors from wrestling and the race; he bids the Philippians to stand fast and strive together for the gospel. It was a city in which there were very few Jews; hence there is nothing in the Epistle which presupposes an acquaintance with the Old Testament. There are references to it here and there (Philippians 1:19; 2:10, 11, 15; 4:18); but no direct appeals to its authority. It was founded by a Macedonian king on Macedonian soil. The official tongue of the colony was of course Latin; but the language, education, customs, religion, of a large proportion of the Philippians were Greek. The apostle not only writes in Greek, as in all his extant Epistles; but user here and there words which remind us of Greek thought and Greek philosophy, αὐτα ì<sup>ρκεια ἀρετη</sup> ì <sup>ἐπιει</sup> ì<sup>κεια αἰ</sup> ì<sup>σθησις μορφη</sup> ì: Greek rites, μυεῖσθαι ἐνα ì<sup>ρχεσθαι σπε</sup> ì<sup>μδεσθαι</sup>. It was not a very populous city, not a great center of trade; but it was situated on the great Egnaatian Way, the main road between Rome and Asia; it was "the first city of Macedonia" as one came from the East. Hence it had something of a cosmopolitan character, which seems to be reflected in the composition of the earliest Church — the purple-seller from Thyatira, the Greek slave-girl, the Roman jailor. Women appear to have had a much higher social position in Macedonia than in other parts of the heathen world; St. Paul in this Epistle speaks of the dissensions between Euodia and Syntyche as a matter of grave importance. The hospitality of Lydia was the first item in that "account of giving and receiving," which he mentions in Philippians 4:15, 16. Philippi was the first European city in which he preached; in writing to them, therefore, he naturally speaks of "the beginning of the gospel" (Philippians 4:15). Timothy was with him during that first visit; he reminds them in Philippians 2:22, "Ye know the proof of him, as a son with the father, he hath served with me in the gospel." suffered much at Philippi — it was the scene of his first imprisonment; he mentions "the conflict which ye saw in me" (Philippians 1:30). At Philippi he and Silas in the dungeon "sang praises unto God;" and afterwards the jailor "rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." It is not without significance that the Epistle to the Phillppians is emphatically the Epistle of Christian joy.

6. GENUINENESS OF THE EPISTLE.

Of the genuineness of this Epistle there can be no shadow of doubt. It has been questioned by F. C. Baur, who finds references to Gnosticism in the second chapter, and creates for himself a historical difficulty by identifying the Clement of Philippians 4:3 with Flavius Clemens, the relation of Domitian, who was put to death by that prince, and was, in all probability, a Christian martyr. But the arguments of Baur have found little acceptance even with the Tubingen school, and are rejected even by such critics as M. Renan. Dean Alford calls them "the insanity of hyper-criticism." The Epistle is essentially Pauline; it reflects the character, the heart, the teaching, of St. Paul. Its language and style are St. Paul's; especially it bears a close resemblance, both in teaching and in words, to the Epistle to the Romans, one of the four Epistles which Baur regards as undoubtedly Pauline. It is simply inconceivable that a forger could have so successfully imitated the apostle's manner, could have poured forth that warm flood of affection, or could have so exactly adapted his production to the circumstances both of St. Paul and of the Philippians.

There is large external testimony to our Epistle. We meet with words and expressions from it reproduced in the earliest Christian writings; in Clement of Rome, in Ignatius, in Polycarp, in the epistle to Diognetus. Polycarp, when himself writing to the Philippians, speaks of the Epistle which they had received from St. Paul. Men who had known St. Paul, who had contributed to his necessities, may well have been living at Philippi when Polycarp's letter was received, A.D. 107. There is a distinct quotation from the Epistle in the letter from the Churches of Lyons and Vienne, preserved in the 'Ecclesiastical History' of Eusebius (v. 2), where the words of Philippians 2:6 are cited. In the same century it is quoted by Irenaeus, by Clement of Alexandria, and by Tertullian. It is found in Marcion's Canon, in the Muratorian Fragment, and other ancient lists of the books of the new Testament. It is contained in the Peshito, the Old Latin, and other ancient versions.

7. COMMENTARIES ON THE EPISTLE.

Among the most valuable patristic helps are the Homilies of St. Chrysostom; there are also the commentaries of Theodoret, Theodore of Mopsuestia, and Theophylact. Among later writers may be mentioned Calvin and Estius; and in modern times, Bengel, Van Hengel, Rilliet, Meyer, Holeman, De Wette, Wiesinger, Neander.

Among the best English commentaries are those of Bishops Lightfoot. he Ellicott, and Wordsworth, Deans Alford and Gwynn, and Professor Eadie.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Philippians:4 Overview". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/philippians-0.html. 1897.

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