Introduction to Philippians

By James M. Rochford

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Authorship

The apostle Paul claims authorship of the letter to the Philippians (Phil. 1:1), and the letter as a whole “is almost universally recognized to come from Paul.”[1] Even among critical scholars, Paul’s authorship is “virtually unquestioned.”[2] Paul came to Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12-40), and later, he wrote this letter to the Philippians under house arrest in Rome. While imprisoned, Paul seriously considered the fact that he could die (Phil. 1:21-25; 2:17). However, he was confident that God would bring him through alive (Phil. 1:25).

Historical Background of Philippi

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia. Philippi rested on a major east-west highway (called the Via Egnatia), which crossed northern Greece. Luke records that Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12).[3] In 42 BC, Octavian and Mark Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesar’s assassins) in Philippi. Fee notes, “Octavian honored Philippi by ‘refounding’ it as a Roman military colony, thus endowing its populace with Roman citizenship… Octavian populated the town and its surrounding agricultural area with discharged veterans from the war.”[4]

Historically, Philippi was a major city of Macedonia, and it was an accessible place where people would rest to hear about news in the Roman Empire. This became a fertile place for the spread of Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness.

Paul started this church on his second missionary journey. Paul was able to lead Lydia to Christ—a business woman who sold expensive, purple fabrics (Acts 16:14). She offered her home to Paul, Luke, and Silas (Acts 16:15). This was also the city where Paul cast out the demon from the young slave-girl, who was blowing his missionary cover (Acts 16:16-18). As a consequence, the people launched false accusations against Paul and Silas (Acts 16:20-21). The two men were beaten (Acts 16:22) and thrown in prison (Acts 16:23). God caused a miracle to have them released (Acts 16:26), and used this as an opportunity to lead their prison guard’s entire family to Christ (Acts 16:30-31). Later Paul used his Roman citizenry as leverage for their release (Acts 16:37).

Paul later revisited this church on his third missionary journey. He came back to visit them for a week in ~AD 56 (Acts 20:6).[5]

Philippi was a very generous church. The Philippian church regularly supported Paul’s ministry (Phil. 4:15-20; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 11:7-9), and he wrote them to thank them for their most recent gift (Phil. 4:10, 14) delivered by Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25).

The Philippian Christians were enduring opposition from false teachers. Paul tells them to be “in no way alarmed by your opponents” (Phil. 1:28). Primarily, these must have been Jewish false teachers (Phil. 3:2-3), and (or) licentious opponents of Christianity (Phil. 3:18-19). While Paul sits in prison, he says that they are suffering with him (Phil. 1:7). Fee writes,

By the time of our letter, the primary titles for the emperor were Kyrios and Sōtēr (“Lord and Savior”). Not only so, but the cult of the emperor, honoring the emperor in a way approaching deification, had found its most fertile soil in the eastern provinces. In a city like Philippi this would have meant that every public event (the assembly, public performances in the theater, etc.) and much else within its boundaries took place in the context of giving honor to the emperor, with the acknowledgment that (in this case) Nero was “lord and savior.”[6]

This may be precisely why Paul emphasizes the lordship of Jesus, and why he writes that their “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). It also sheds light on Paul’s comment that he is reaching the Praetorian Guard for Christ (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It must have been encouraging to read these words while they were enduring persecution—at least their suffering wasn’t as bad as Paul’s suffering. If Paul could rejoice in prison, couldn’t they rejoice in the face of their contemporary opposition? Paul is hoping that they will continue to stand for Christ even in his absence (Phil. 2:12).

The Philippian church was suffering from selfishness. Obviously, every church struggles with selfishness! Yet Paul goes out of his way to describe certain people who were using ministry for a selfish agenda (Phil. 1:17). He urges them to seek humility (Phil. 2:1-5), as they had seen in Christ (Phil. 2:6-9) and Timothy (Phil. 2:20-32). This could also be at the root of the conflict between Euodia and Syntche.

Where was Paul imprisoned?

Scholars divide over this subject:

(1) Ephesus?

Ephesus was a very short distance from Philippi. Thus Timothy and Epaphroditus would not have needed to travel very far to bring money (Phil. 4:18). Moreover, Paul had been in Ephesus for three years—plenty of time to write letters like his prison epistles.

However, Ephesus was a “senatorial province” with “no (imperial) praetorium” or Roman guard.[7] Moreover, the book of Acts doesn’t mention Paul being in prison in Ephesus, so scholars need to make a tenuous case from the epistles (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 11:23). Based on the lack of evidence, this view isn’t likely.

(2) Caesarea?

Paul lived in Caesarea from 57 to 59 AD, and his enemies tried to kill him during this time (Acts 23:33; 24:27). Advocates of this view believe that Paul’s “defense” of the gospel (Phil. 1:7, 16-17) might refer to standing before Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa II. Moreover, the “Roman garrison headquartered in Caesarea was at times called a praetorian guard.”[8]

However, Paul claimed that the gospel would spread “throughout the whole praetorian guard” (Phil. 1:13). Caesarea was only a small subsection of the guard. Furthermore, when Paul was in Caesarea, his goal was to go to Rome—not Philippi (Phil. 2:24). Additionally, Paul doesn’t mention Philip the evangelist or Agabus the prophet, who were with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-10). While these are arguments from silence, they may carry some weight. For these reasons, we do not hold this view either.

(3) Rome?

We saved the best for last. All ancient sources believed that Paul wrote his letter from Roman imprisonment sometime in AD 59-61.[9] The ancient Marcionite Prologue comments that the letter came from Rome, rather than Ephesus or Caesarea,[10] and scholars like Craig Blomberg,[11] Gordon Fee,[12] and Homer Kent[13] hold this view.

Paul’s two years in house arrest gave plenty of time for visitors to travel to see him (Acts 28:16), and his comments about the “praetorian guard” and “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 1:13; 4:22) fit best with Roman imprisonment, as well. We hold to this view throughout the rest of our commentary.

Date

If we are correct on Paul’s Roman imprisonment, this would date the letter sometime around AD 61.[14]

Canonicity

The letter to the Philippians has not come under scrutiny with regard to its canonicity (i.e. its belonging in the New Testament). Kent writes, “Evidence for the early acceptance of this Epistle by the leaders of the church is plentiful and raises no questions… No suspicion regarding the canonicity of Philippians is to be found in early external testimony.”[15] Kent points out that some of the earliest church fathers implicitly reference this letter (e.g. Clement of Rome, AD 95; Ignatius, AD 110). Others, like Polycarp, explicitly references the letter (To the Philippians, chapters 3, 9, 12). The Muratorian Fragment (AD 170) contains Philippians in its list, and even the heretic Marcion contains the letter in his canon. Later church fathers like Tertullian (AD 200), Irenaeus (AD 200), Eusebius (AD 350), and Athanasius (AD 367) considered the letter to be inspired Scripture.

Bibliography

Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991).

We found Melick’s commentary to be the best resource on Philippians.

Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981).

Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987).

Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995).

We only read small portions of Fee’s commentary, but didn’t read the entire book.

Table of Contents

Philippians 1. 5

Philippians 2. 19

Philippians 3. 32

Philippians 4. 42

Commentary on Philippians

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Philippians 1

Philippians 1:1-11 (Prayer and rejoicing)

Wouldn’t it be great to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and just be happy with yourself? Wouldn’t it be incredible to have access to infinite joy at any time and in any place and in any circumstance? As we read Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, we see that he had this sort of happiness. In fact, he mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 16 times in this short letter.

What was Paul’s secret? According to Paul, it wasn’t from acquiring inordinate wealth. It wasn’t from having perfect circumstances in his life or relationships. It wasn’t even from the absence of suffering or pain. In fact, when Paul wrote this letter, he was sitting in jail, falsely accused, and chained to a prison guard. Moreover, all of his great ambitions had ground to a halt! Yet we see him filled with joy and happiness… What was his secret? We’ll discover this as we study through this letter.

Paul really loves this church!

(1:1) “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.”

“Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus…”

Paul doesn’t mention himself as an apostle, but rather as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus (cf. 2 Thessalonians). This could be intentional, because he wants to emphasize a serving mindset to the Philippians. Later, he notes that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7). In other words, if it was good enough for Jesus to serve as a slave, then it was good enough for Paul.

Timothy helped plant the church in Philippi (Acts 16:1-12), and helped oversee this church (Acts 19:22; 20:3-6). His character of love was so outstanding that Paul could point to Timothy as an example of a Christ-like servant (Phil. 2:19-24). Thus it’s no wonder that Paul would mention him at the beginning of the letter.

“…including the overseers and deacons.”

This letter is addressed to the average people in the Christian community—first and foremost. In addition, it is addressed to the leaders (including the overseers and deacons…”). This shows that Scripture should be read by everyday lay people—not just leaders.

Incidentally, this helps to disprove the critical view that church leadership didn’t exist until the 2nd century. After all, even critics accept Philippians as one of Paul’s letters, and in this introduction, we see that “overseers and deacons” are present by AD 60-61 (see introduction).

(1:2) “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Grace” and “peace” were frequently brought up at the beginning of Paul’s letters, and these concepts are the foundation for the rest of what Paul would write. Thankfully, these are inexhaustible resources for us.

Joyful

Paul was a master of encouragement. 11 of his 13 letters begin with prayer and appreciation for his audience. Some might not think that encouragement like this is important, and we should just get to the content of the letter. However, when you receive a letter, do you breeze over the appreciation and care? How does Paul encourage this particular group of Christians?

(1:3) “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.”

The preposition (epi) implies that we can render this as the NIV does—namely, “every time I remember you.”[16] In other words, Paul didn’t think about them 24/7. Instead, whenever Paul thought of these believers, he learned to develop a knee-jerk reaction to thank God for them. What a lesson for us today! Leading people can become frustrating and discouraging if we’re not careful. But Paul had learned to give thanks for the good things in this church.

If Paul gave thanks for these people, they must have been incredible Christian workers… right? Wrong! This was not a “super church” filled with “superhuman Christians.” It was a mixed bag—just like yours or mine. They had disunity (Phil. 2:1-2), selfishness (Phil. 2:3-4, 21), complaining (Phil. 2:14), and personal conflict (Phil. 4:2-3).[17] At the same time, they were generous financial givers (Phil. 4:15). Paul addressed all of their issues in this letter—the good, the bad, and the ugly. But he chose to give thanks for their positive qualities first (v.5) and to make this his mental focus (vv.3-4). No wonder Paul had joy! How much would it change your life if you chose to focus on the positive qualities in others, rather than their failures?

(1:4) “always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all…”

Paul’s thanksgiving for the church (v.3) led him to want to pray for them more. His prayers for them were filled with “joy.” How different Paul’s prayer life is from most Christian leaders, who complain about their own people in conversation and even in prayer!

(1:5) “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…”

The term “participation” (koinonia) means “sharing.” This probably refers to their generosity which was extraordinary. The Philippians were some of the Christians who gave to the giving fund for Paul’s mission, as well as for the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-5). This group had financially supported him in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16) and Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9).

“From the first day…” They began to give immediately.

“…until now.” They continued to give in a discipled manner. They had only been a church for about a decade, but they were already known for their generosity. Paul will return to their financial generosity in chapter 4.

Confident

(1:6)For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

“Confident” (pepoithōs) comes from a root word (peithō) that means “persuaded” or “convinced.” Some interpreters think that this promise to believers is contingent on their “participation in the gospel” (v.5). That is, believers will be glorified if they continue to follow Jesus (i.e. perseverance of the saints).

Such a view may be true, but this passage doesn’t teach it. Surely Paul’s “confidence” didn’t come from the faithfulness of the Philippians and their good works (v.5). No, Paul is “confident” in someone else entirely. He is “confident” in Jesus Christ’s promise and power to sanctify and glorify his church (cf. 1 Thess. 5:23-24). After all, who was the one to begin the “good work” of starting the church in Philippi?[18] Paul? Timothy? The Philippians? Wrong, wrong, and wrong! Jesus Christ began the good work, and Jesus Christ is the one who will finish it. Indeed, Paul begins a new thought in verse 6. He is not looking backwards to the good works of the Philippians (v.5); rather, he is looking forward to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.

Here in verse 6, Paul is remembering the beginning of their salvation, and then he’s reflecting on where they will be in the end in glorification. Then, he concludes that Christ will continue to work on these believers every step of the way in between.

Why is this important? Simply for this reason: If our hope and joy are grounded in the performance of people, we will be regularly disappointed! But not so for Paul. He had joy—not in Philippian faithfulness—but in Jesus Christ’s promise and power to grow his church. If we base our hope in God’s promise, this will result in unchanging, stable, and inexhaustible access to the joy Paul himself had discovered.

Of course, this refers to the collective church—not individual Christians—because the “you” here is plural (i.e., “you guys” or “y’all”). Paul saw Christians as having a corporate identity, as well as an individual identity. This promise might be conditional in view of their “participation in the gospel” (v.5).

Proper (or Emotional?)

(1:7) “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart…”

If this message was being written to a woman, you’d be saying, “Wow, get a room!” Paul’s feelings were obviously not romantic. But he did have deep affection for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was a very tough Christian leader, but he was able to show affection like this. This was probably developed from his discipline of praying and giving thanks for them. After a long bout of giving thanks, it’s amazing how your emotions will change toward a person.

“…since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel…”

The terms “defense” (apologia) and “confirmation” (bebaiōsis) are legal terms for rationally defending one’s view (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 6:16). Paul is not thinking about his own defense with Nero, but about how he can defend and confirm “the gospel” message itself.

“…you all are partakers of grace with me.”

If one of your Christian leaders was thrown in prison, it would be a good time to abandon him or disassociate with him (e.g. Peter’s denial at Jesus’ trial). But instead of fleeing from Paul during such a difficult time, the Philippians identified with him all the more! This unity led to the feelings of closeness and comradery. This is why Paul can gush with regard to his emotions (e.g. “I feel this way… I have you in my heart”).

(1:8) “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Paul didn’t generate his own affection for them. He believed this came from Jesus. Paul’s “affection” is only a fraction of the “affection” that Jesus has for all believers.

Prayer for the Philippians

We discover many similarities between Paul’s prayer for spiritual growth here, and Paul’s prayer in Colossians 1:9-11.[19]

(1:9) “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment…”

“Still more and more…” Melick writes, “‘More’ would have sufficed, ‘more and more’ was better, but ‘still more and more’ accentuated the point being made.”[20] This is emphatic language showing that we always have room for growth.

Who are we supposed to love? Paul doesn’t include a direct object, so their love was for all people (Gal. 6:10; Lk. 10:25-37). As Melick states, “There are no boundaries to a Christian’s neighborhood.”[21]

“Real knowledge and all discernment…” We agree with the NASB rendering of “discernment” (aisthēsis). This term refers to a “capacity to understand” (BDAG). Kent writes, “Love must be intelligent and morally discerning… if it would be truly agapē.”[22] He adds, “The joining of the expression ‘depth of insight’ to ‘knowledge’ stresses moral perception and the practical application of knowledge to the myriad circumstances of life.”[23] Martin renders it as “the employment of the faculty which makes a person able to make a moral decision.”[24] The LXX translated this word as “wisdom” (Prov. 1:4, 7, 22; 3:20; 5:2). This could relate to the disunity found in this church (see Phil. 2:1ff; Phil. 4:1-3).

Paul prayed for their discernment before he admonished them for it. Martin rightly states, “Christians, it seems, are slow to learn this valuable lesson: the most effective way to influence another is to pray for that person, and if a word of rebuke or correction has to be spoken let it be prayed over first, and then spoken in love.”[25]

(1:10) “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…”

“Approve” (dokimazō) means to “discern” or “put to the test.”[26]

“Sincere” (eilikrinēs) comes from the roots “sun” (helios) and “to judge” (krinō). So it can be understood to mean that we “hold up to [the] sunlight for inspection.”[27]

“Blameless” is the same term used for Paul’s Pharisaic righteousness (Phil. 3:4-6).

Discernment extends beyond the black and white teaching of Scripture. As we develop wisdom on grey issues, we develop discernment. This is why the NIV translates “approve the things that are excellent” with “discern what is best.” Kent writes, “Some things are clearly good or bad. In others the demarcation is not so readily visible. In Christian conduct and the exercise of love, such factors as one’s influence on others, as well as the effect on oneself, must be considered (1 Cor 10:32). The question should not only be ‘Is it harmful?’ but ‘Is it helpful?’ (1 Cor 10:23).”[28] So true! Christian maturity focuses on what is best for others—not merely what is permissible for ourselves (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).

What are common examples? We can think of several.

  • Judgment calls we make when trying to influence others.
  • How to effectively motivate and inspire different types of people.
  • Taking the right approach in a sensitive conversation.

We shouldn’t act like we’ve got this all figured out, but depend on the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations, prayers, and thoughts. We might have a good idea, but ironically, that’s not good enough! The goal is to discern what is best in various situations and circumstances. This doesn’t mean we give in to “paralysis by analysis.” Paul’s point is that we should grow into people that know a good idea when we hear it.

(1:11) “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”

In view of the “day of Christ” (v.10), Paul wants these believers to see fruit in their lives. This sort of fruit is what will “glorify” and “praise” God. However, we don’t produce fruit. Paul uses the passive mood. That is, Jesus is the one who produces this fruit in us (cf. Gal. 5:22-23; Jn. 15:1-6).

Philippians 1:12-26 (Perspective is everything)

Paul was a brilliant, relentless, and charismatic leader. He had a restless drive to plant churches throughout the ancient world. He was doubtless the most gifted man in the Christian church at this time… And yet, he was languishing in prison! Imagine how this would psychologically destroy a person like this: You’re driven, gifted, and effective; yet you’re locked in jail. It would be easy to imagine Paul becoming frustrated, depressed, or maybe even bitter with God. Yet what do we see in this text…?

(1:12) “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel.”

Wait just one minute! The Roman government had Paul under arrest in a one room house, chained to a Roman guard 24/7, and waking up each day to see if he’ll be executed. And all of this has been going on for three to four years. Imagine the boredom, the fear, the lack of privacy, the loneliness. This would be psychologically destructive. Are these really the “circumstances” Paul is referring to?

Yes! Instead of complaining about his “circumstances,” Paul was able to view his situation with a marvelous worldview.

“Greater progress” (prokopēn) originally meant “making headway in spite of blows and so depicted progress amid difficulties.”[29] It also described “blazing a trail before an army.”[30] In other words, Paul was a realist. He admits the suffering and problems that confronted him. But he didn’t choose to focus on them. Instead, he chose to focus on the progress of Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness.

Paul’s “circumstances” didn’t diminish his joy, but fueled his joy. He chose to see the real effects that were springing from his circumstances. Indeed, Melick observes, “Paul did not say ‘in spite of’ these events, but rather ‘through them.’”[31]

Paul gives several concrete examples of this.

#1. Paul’s enemies

(1:13) “So that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.”

“Imprisonment in Christ.” Paul viewed his situation literally as “my bonds in Christ” (see NASB footnote). The chains weren’t from Satan, from Nero, or from the religious leaders. In Paul’s mind, if he was incarcerated, it was because Jesus wanted him there (cf. Eph. 3:1; 4:1).

Who were the Praetorian Guard? Some take this term (praitōrion) to refer to a place (e.g. Mt. 27:27; Mk. 15:16; Jn. 18:28ab, 33; 19:9) or to the people (i.e. the soldiers themselves). Since Paul rented out his own quarters (Acts 28:30), it can’t refer to a location or place. It must refer to the soldiers themselves. This fits with the reference to “those of Caesar’s household” (Phil. 4:22).

The Praetorian Guard were an elite unit in the Roman military who personally protected the emperor himself (see especially under Augustus, AD 14). After retirement, they would take jobs as guards for political prisoners. Wealthy patrons could pay to have a Roman guard to watch their friend, rather than send them to Roman prison. They would’ve guarded Paul “around the clock” on a “four-hour shift.” Though, this would’ve allowed Paul to “access to visitors, to the writing of letters, and to other routine matters.”[32]

Imagine being a Roman guard chained to Paul. The last time Paul was in prison, he sat with Silas singing praises to God (Acts 16:25). And this was after he took a sadistic beating! What must Paul have been talking about with these Roman guards? Surely, it isn’t hard to imagine that he frequently (and perhaps incessantly) talked with them about the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We would bet that most people in Paul’s situation would be depressed or scared, but Paul had a different attitude. As a result, the guards saw something different in Paul. Kent writes, “As the guards were assigned in succession to Paul, it soon became clear to them that he was no ordinary captive.”[33]

This is an incredible reversal! The Praetorian guard were guarding Paul, and stopping him from serving Christ across the world. Yet, in an incredible turn of events, the very thing that was blocking Paul’s ministry had now become Paul’s ministry! Ray Stedman says, “If you want to feel bad for someone, don’t feel bad for Paul. But for those guards chained to Paul!” Only a worldview like Paul’s could interpret the events in such a realistic and reassuring way.

Paul didn’t just share his faith with the guards but with “everyone else.” This would include the Jewish religious leaders (Acts 28:17ff) and Onesimus (Phile. 10).

#2. Paul’s friends

(1:14) “Most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.”

Paul continues to focus on the good effects of his imprisonment. True, he was in prison. But this had the effect of instilling courage in other believers to share their faith in Christ. Instead of causing other believers’ fear, it galvanized their faith; instead of leading to cowardice, it increased their courage. After all, if Paul could share his faith with the Roman Praetorian guard, then couldn’t others share their faith with their loved ones and neighbors?

#3. Paul’s competitors

(1:15) “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will.”

“Most” of the believers had the right perspective (v.14), and Paul focused on those people. However, there were other Christians who turned Christianity into an opportunity to enlarge their egos.

Paul wasn’t ignoring the problems. He was a realist. Truly in all churches, we see the good with the bad, and so did Paul. And yet, he chose to view these negative realities through the eyes of faith. He chose to see that even the envy and rivalry of some Christians was resulting in the gospel reaching lost people.

(1:16) “The latter do it out of love…”

Preaching Christ (v.15) should be done out of “love.” When we have the love of Christ, the most natural response is to give it away. Some ask, “Why can’t you just keep your beliefs to yourself?” They might as well ask, “Why don’t you keep your thoughts about your wife and kids to yourself?” When people are the love of your life, you can’t help but talk about them. When it comes to Jesus Christ, he is not just loving to me, but to everyone. Therefore, it isn’t sentimentality or subjectivity that leads me to share about him, but a deep care and compassion for my fellow friends and loved ones.

“…knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel…”

“Appointed” (keimai) is a “military term, emphasizing the point that in prison he is enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and as much ‘on duty’ as the guards posted to watch over him are on duty in the service of Rome.”[34]

“Defense” (apologia) is the root word for “apologetics” (or the intellectual defense of our faith). Paul viewed his ministry as being focused on defending the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(1:17) “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.”

It’s possible to “preach Christ” out of “selfish ambition.” What a scary thought! While Paul is inhumanly gracious with this group of preachers, we should pause to consider how spiritually insane this is. This passage doesn’t give us license to pursue egotistical ministry. Instead, it urges us to be patient with believers who have impure motives—even ourselves (cf. Phil. 3:15).

These believers must have been jealous of Paul’s influence. We can imagine them building a ministry while Paul was locked in prison. This would be equivalent to the second-string quarterback silently rejoicing when the first-string quarterback was taken out of the game. They may have even been thinking, “Now we can build a bigger ministry than Paul, because he’s locked up!” They thought that Paul would be “distressed” by this. Far from it! Instead of falling into the trap of ego and pride, Paul was grateful that Jesus was being preached. Instead of seeing which of them would “win” in this “ministry competition,” Paul took the vertical perspective and saw that, in the end, God would “win” from their preaching.

(1:18) “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.”

Paul took his mind off of the “competition” with these fellow believers. Instead, he focused on the more important issue: the spread of the gospel. Their motives were not good (v.17), but Paul still gave thanks for the fact that the message of love and forgiveness was being spread. He says that he continued to “rejoice,” only to add, “Yes, and I will rejoice.” It’s as if Paul was saying, “Did I stutter?”

#4. Paul’s mortality

Here is where the rubber meets the road. Up until now, Paul was choosing to see the real and reassuring effects of his “circumstances” (v.12). But now, he confronts the specter of Death itself. Surely there’s no way for him to rejoice in the face of death itself, is there?

(1:19) “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”

From what was Paul going to be delivered? Commentators argue that Paul’s “deliverance” (sōtērian) could refer to a number of things:

  • Deliverance from death? Paul leaves open the distinct possibility that he could die (v.20), but he also states his confidence that he would “remain and continue” with the Philippians (v.25). Yet it seems odd that he would use such strong language for his hope of deliverance (“I know… earnest expectation… hope”), when he believes that he could indeed die (“whether by life or by death”). Melick comments, “His deliverance would come in spite of imprisonment or even death.”[35]
  • Deliverance from prison? Paul could realize that God has more work for him to do, and he might reason that God is going to get him out. However, this has the same difficulties as the first view—namely, he could die!
  • Deliverance from prison—whether by life or death? We favor this final view. In Paul’s thinking, he was going to make it out of prison—one way or another. Either he would be vindicated by the Roman authorities and released, or he would be executed and go to heaven and be released that way. But he was definitely getting out of those chains!

“Through your prayers…” Paul constantly asked people for prayer (Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25). If even the “mighty Paul” asked for prayer, shouldn’t we?

“The provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Paul not only counted on prayer, but on the Holy Spirit himself. Jesus taught that the Holy Spirit would empower his witnesses in these exact situations (Mt. 10:20; Mk. 13:11; Lk. 12:11, 12).

(1:20) “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

“Eager expectation” (apokaradokia) comes from the root words apo (“away”) and kara (“head”) and dechomai (“to take”). Kent understands this word to mean “stretching the head forward.”[36] Picture a wide receiver stretching out to catch a ball, giving it everything he has to reach for it. His entire focus is on that ball, and on nothing else. Likewise, Paul was singularly focused on bringing glory to Christ “whether by life or by death.”

(1:21) “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

What does it mean “to live is Christ”? This refers to how Christ will be “exalted” in Paul’s life (v.20), as well as the “fruitful service” mentioned later (v.22). Melick states that this statement “must mean that Paul so totally wanted to glorify Christ that as long as he lived everything about him was to point people to Christ.”[37]

What is the “gain” Paul was referring to here? In context, it was the “gain” that God would use Paul’s martyrdom to exalt Jesus and spread the gospel (v.20),[38] and it was also “gain” that he would go to be with Christ (v.23).

“To live is _____.”

“To die is _____.”

“To live is to feel good.”

“To die is to feel nothing.”
“To live is to have people like me.”

“To die is to be forgotten.”

“To live is to gather money.”

“To die is to lose it all.”
“To live is meaninglessness.”

“To die is to cease existing.”

“To live is to be a good person.”

“To die is to hope it was good enough.”

(1:22) “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.”

From a secular perspective, both options look terrible: either sacrificing my entire life in service to others or sacrificing my life in martyrdom. Both sound awful!

But not so for Paul! Like picking between the Lamborghini or the Ferrari, both choices looked so good that Paul had a hard time choosing. Paul knew that heaven would be “better by far” (v.23 NIV), but he also knew that God had incredibly important work for him to accomplish.

(Phil. 1:22) Was Paul considering suicide?

(1:23) “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”

This is so counter-intuitive for a man on death row. Paul doesn’t feel “hard-pressed” by the walls or the shackles, but by two good outcomes! If he continues to live, he’s happy because it will result in many meeting Christ; and if he dies, he’s happy because it will result in meeting Christ himself.

“Desire” (epithumia) normally carries a negative connotation in the NT. It comes from the root words two roots epi (“over” or “on”) and thumia (“desire”). Thus, this is an “over desire.” We could translate this as a “great desire” or “inordinate” desire (BDAG). Here, it carries a positive connotation, because Paul’s “over desire” was for Jesus—not any material thing.

“Very much better” carries a “triple comparative meaning.” It can be literally rendered “much rather better” or “by far the best.”[39]

As a side note, Paul did not believe in “soul sleep” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thess. 4:13) or in the existence of purgatory. When he died, Paul believed he would immediately be in the presence of Christ.

(1:24) “Yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.”

Paul knows that his martyrdom would glorify Christ. Yet he is still thinking about the work he could do in the lives of these believers.

(1:25) “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”

When Paul says that he “knows” (oida) that he will be released, this does not imply certainty. After all, Paul uses the same term in Acts 20:25 to say that he “knew” he would never see the Ephesians again (which he most likely did, according to 1 Timothy 1:3). Instead, Paul had been kicking around the possibilities in his mind, and he concluded that Christ likely still had use for him—especially for the Philippians (cf. 2:24). He must have somehow reasoned that his ministry wasn’t finished yet (v.24).

“Progress” (prokopē) is the same term from 1:12. Here the term refers to the Philippians’ progress in their faith and joy.

(1:26) “So that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”

Perhaps, Paul thought that his death may have had a devastating effect on their faith.

Discussion Questions

Based on verse 13, what is the difference between being content in suffering versus being fatalistic? In other words, do you think Paul’s attitude could result in passively accepting poor circumstances without seeking to change them?

Based on verses 17-18, what might be the dangers of judging people’s motives?

Paul chose to focus on the good consequences of his imprisonment, rather than focus on the negative circumstances. Does a mindset like this develop overnight? Or are there ways to develop a mindset like this? What could prevent us from developing such a mindset?

Conclusion

As you could see above, Paul’s views were not imaginative or optimistic. They were reflections of reality. Paul sat and reflected on his circumstances until he realized the truth of his “circumstances.” When we’re down and grumpy, we aren’t thinking too much, but too little. The negative person actually has a cognitive distortion with regard to reality. They aren’t seeing their circumstances accurately.

Philippians 1:27-30 (Take a Stand)

(1:27) “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Regardless of whether he lives or dies, Paul urges them to keep a strong faith. Good leaders do not want people to depend on them for their faith. They want them to learn to pursue God regardless.

“Conduct yourselves” (politeuesthe) is a word used for citizenship in a country: literally “to be a citizen” (BDAG), “live as citizens of heaven” (NLT), or “conduct yourselves as citizens.”[40] Incidentally, Paul used his Roman citizenship to leverage legal power when he was in Philippi. Later, Paul will write, “Our citizenship [politeuma] is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

“…worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The term worthy means that the subject has worth. We might say, “She is worthy of her pay.”

“Whether I come and see you or remain absent.” What does it suggest if I act one way when people I admire are around, but act totally differently when they’re gone? This is the equivalent of the junior high kids acting up when the substitute teacher walks out of the room.

“Standing firm” (stēkete) refers to taking a collective stand. Of course, we have an objective unity through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:18; 4:3),[41] but Paul’s point seems to be that we need to take this stand with a collective spirit. Hence, when Paul writes “standing firm in one spirit,” this would refer to the subjective unity of mind and mission based on the subsequent terms (“with one mind striving together”). We don’t strive to defend our faith separately, but together. Indeed, if you sit before God, you can stand before people.

“…with one mind…” Unity is not unanimity or uniformity. Debate is healthy. However, when we’re under pressure, we tend to turn on each other. We can’t afford to divide because of the importance of the mission. We need to set aside the differences. Those who are constantly bickering need to get into the real fight. I wouldn’t say this to a person, but I will say it to 200 people: “Would you shut up with the bickering and help out with the mission?”

Everyone is talking about the importance of community today. However, as Christians, we know that community is not enough if we aren’t a part of an outward mission.

“Striving together” (synathlountes) refers to “fighting side by side.” Martin writes, “This imagery would remind the Philippian readers of the phalanx, consisting of a body of trained spearmen who fought in closed ranks.”[42] Paul uses the same term in Philippians 4:3 with a “stress on the bravery of Euodia and Syntyche” and is “perhaps military imagery” (BDAG).

(1:28) “In no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.”

“Alarmed” (ptyromenoi) is a “vivid term” that was used to refer to “the uncontrollable stampede of startled horses.”[43] Melick writes, “It was used of horses which ‘spook’ because of something that scares them.”[44]

Our courage and stability in the face of persecution communicates to our persecutors that they are in the wrong. They see that God is empowering us to stand up for Christ, and this serves as a “sign” that they are going to face judgment, unless they turn to Christ. This is similar to an action film where the hero knows that the villain’s plan is not going to work. So, he’s confident in this situation—perhaps even smiling.

“Your opponents…” We aren’t sure of the nature or extent of the persecution in Philippi. While Philippi had a small Jewish population, these “opponents” could be Jewish persecutors (Phil. 3:2). On the other hand, Paul himself was persecuted in Philippi under Roman law and by Roman magistrates (Acts 16:20-24, 35-40).

(1:29) “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…”

“Granted” (charizomai) means “to give freely as a favor, give graciously” (BDAG). Suffering for Christ is a privilege. Melick writes, “It is one thing to accept suffering and resign oneself to it. It is another to realize the privileges that come through it.”[45]

Did God cause this suffering? No. The word is in the passive form—not the active form. Therefore, it is not “a mark of divine punishment as though God were angry with them.”[46]

(1:30) “Experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”

The Philippians had witnessed the suffering and “conflict” (agōn) Paul endured while he was in Philippi, including his public beating and wrongful imprisonment (Acts 16:19-24). Now they were hearing about his reports from prison.

Philippians 2

Philippians 2:1-11 (The Condescension of Christ)

(2:1) “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion.”

Paul is assuming the truth of each of these clauses, because they are first-class conditional clauses. Kent writes, “All are stated as ‘if’ clauses (with the verb understood), but the condition is assumed to be true.”[47]

“Any encouragement in Christ.” This “encouragement” (paraklēsis) means an “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation” (BDAG). By being “in Christ,” we have access to this encouragement.

“Any consolation of love.” The term “consolation” (paramytheomai) means to “comfort someone… [by] instinctively draw[ing] close to him in a friendly way” (TDNT). It can also mean “to exhort” (TDNT).

“Any fellowship of the Spirit.” Since we are all baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), we have “fellowship” (koinonia) with the same Spirit. We are all identified together in the Body of Christ.

“Any affection.” The term “affection” (splanchna) refers to the “inward parts of a body, including especially the viscera, inward parts, entrails” (BDAG). We usually say that we love people from the heart, but ancient people would love people deep in their gut.

“Any compassion.” The term “compassion” (oiktirmoi) means a “display of concern over another’s misfortune” (BDAG). Compassion isn’t simply feeling a certain way, but showing our feelings for others.

(2:2) “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”

What would make Paul happy while he languished in prison? Paul’s great joy was to hear that this church was healthy! Based on the indicatives of verse 1, here are all of the imperatives:

“Being of the same mind.” This doesn’t refer to “group think.” (see comments on Phil. 1:27) Instead, it means that we are all united by the same truth. As Kent observes, this passage assumes that “‘the same thing’ is also ‘the right thing.’”[48]

“Maintaining the same love.” Truth without love is dead.

“United in spirit.” When truth and love are present (“same mind… same love”), unity follows closely behind. This sort of unity is not phony, but an actual closeness with others.

“Intent on one purpose.” When we have truth, love, and unity, our mission (or “purpose”) becomes important. Christian community doesn’t exist for itself, but for a lost and dying world.

Yet, is this picture of Christian community a pipedream? How is it possible to be loving and unified at this level? Paul tells us in the next verse: we need humility!

(2:3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.”

Paul speaks against the “selfish ambition” of the competitive preachers in Philippians 1:17. The solution to humility begins in the “mind,” and the way we think about God, others, and ourselves. Kent writes, “The Greek concept of a free man led to contempt for any sort of subjection, whereas the Bible proposes that we should be controlled by God and thus assumes that to subject ourselves to God is praiseworthy.”[49] See our earlier article “Humility.”

(2:4) “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

We have basic needs that need met. However, beyond these, we should keep our focus on others. How do we develop an others-centered focus like this? Paul tells us in the next verse: adopt the same mentality as Jesus himself. Melick writes, “The Philippians were to imitate him because, in so doing, the problems of disunity would be solved.”[50]

(2:5) “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

“Have this attitude” (phroneite) is in the active voice.[51] This word means “to think” or “to have an opinion with regard to something, think, form/hold an opinion, judge” (BDAG). The key to humility is a transformation in our thinking. We don’t passively develop Christ-like humility like this. We need to desire it and enable this mindset. Furthermore, as we will see in this section, Jesus’ “attitude” resulted in actions (vv.6-11). Humility is a farce without treating others differently.

Paul views the abstract concepts of the incarnation and the kenosis as intensely practical. This section (vv.5-11) is one of the clearest descriptions of the incarnation and deity of Jesus in the Bible. But notice that Paul almost seems to make this as a side point. His main point is to direct these believers toward humility, and he assumes that they agree about the incarnation and deity of Jesus. To become selfless, we need to get our focus off of ourselves and onto Christ and others.

(2:6-7) “Although [Jesus] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

Jesus lived eternally (Jn. 1:1-3; 17:5) in a pre-existent state. It was only later that God the Father sent him in the incarnation (Rom. 8:3; 1 Cor. 10:4; 2 Cor. 8:9; Gal. 4:4). He originally and eternally “existed” as God, but only later was “made” in human form.

Jesus existed in the “form of God.” This word “form” (morphē) means that he had the same nature as God.

(Phil. 2:6) Does God have an embodied “form”?

Jesus “not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” This is a parallel concept to existing in the “form of God.” This is why he didn’t need to “grasp” (or hold onto) his deity—namely, because he already had it.[52] Instead of clinging on to his rightful status, he willingly surrendered it. Jesus was “rich” in his divine attributes, but chose to become “poor” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Humans have always wanted to be “like God” (Gen. 3:5), controlling every aspect of their lives and not surrendering a square inch to another’s authority. Indeed, this was the original sin. Yet, in a great act of love, God substituted himself to be “like us” (cf. Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14). John Stott writes, “The essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be. Man claims prerogatives that belong to God alone; God accepts penalties that belong to man alone.”[53]

Jesus “emptied himself” (ekenōsen). He did not give up his divine attributes in the incarnation. Instead, he laid aside the use or utility of these attributes. He possessed all of the attributes of deity, but he chose not to use them.

(Phil. 2:7) Did Jesus cease to be God on Earth?

Jesus “took the form of a bond-servant.” Just as he had the very “form” (morphē) or nature of God, he now took on the “form” (morphē) of man. He didn’t subtract deity from his nature, but he added a second (human) nature in the hypostatic union.

This level of humility defies human conception or imagination. Consider being a brilliant young athlete and scholar. You have double PhD’s, good looks, success, and a thriving life. Yet, one day, you see a dog walking in front of a city bus, and you save the animal by choosing to be run over by the bus—being blinded, deafened, and paralyzed from the neck down. This would be infinitesimally less than what Jesus did by condescending to humanity! He went from having access to all of the attributes of the infinite-personal God to willingly choosing not to use them.

But Jesus went even further…

(2:8) “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus not only became human, but he died in his human nature. He not only died, but he died an incredibly painful and humiliating death. Illustrations don’t capture these immense theological truths, but we will try anyhow. Imagine a rich CEO who had a younger brother on death row. To save his brother, he undergoes plastic surgery to look like him, and he uses his money and influence to enter the prison and switch places with his brother. He goes to his death to save his brother, substituting for him.

“Obedient to the point of death.” Martin writes, “His obedience is a sure token of his deity and authority for… only a divine being can accept death as obedience; for ordinary people it is a necessity.”[54]

(2:9) “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”

“For this reason…” Why does he open this verse in this way? For what reason? Truly, this passage exemplifies God’s economy versus our economy. In God’s method of operations, humility is the way to exaltation. The way “up” is “down” in God’s view of things. The words “highly exalted” (hyperypsōsen) can be translated “superexalted.”[55]

It isn’t that Jesus’ “name” was changed. In verse 10, he still has the “name” Jesus. This is referring to his name being glorified and exalted. It also implies that people will call him “Lord” (v.11).

(2:10) “So that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Paul cites Isaiah 45:23. In that passage, it is the name of Yahweh that “every knee will bow.” Here it is the name of Jesus. Paul is applying the divine nature to Jesus.

(Phil. 2:10) Does this passage imply universalism?

(2:11) “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

In the end, all people will become perfect theologians.

Conclusions

Is my sacrifice worth it? Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12). Peter writes, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6). Jesus repeatedly said, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.”

We see nothing like this in human religion. Yet, if God was truly all-loving, what sort of act would he do to love us? It would probably look something like this!

Jesus knows what you’ve been through. Have you suffered? So did he. Have you lost a loved one? So did he. Were you alienated and ostracized? So was he. Have you been betrayed? So was he. Yet, there was no hospice care or morphine drip for Jesus. He took on our pain and sufferings out of unadulterated love.

Jesus was the perfect example of living a life by faith—not his own power. He is the perfect model and example to follow (1 Cor. 11:1; Heb. 12:1-2).

Gospel message. Jesus humbled himself to death. Will you humble yourself to accept his life? Jesus didn’t “grasp” his rights as God, why? Because he wanted to grasp you!

Philippians 2:12-18 (The effects of rejoicing on a lost world)

(2:12) “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

(Phil. 2:12) Does this mean that we earn our salvation?

“…not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence…” What does it imply if my actions drastically change depending on who is around? It shows that I give control of my convictions to other people. Our first step in spiritual growth is to build our own convictions.

What does it mean to “work out” our salvation?

Since God has worked salvation into us (i.e. justification), our role is to work it out. This doesn’t state that we work for, work toward, or work at our salvation. Fee writes, “Under no circumstances can it be stretched to mean ‘work at,’ as though salvation were something that needed our work (as in good works) in order for it to be accomplished.”[56] Instead, we work out our salvation because God has already worked in our salvation (Phil. 2:5-11, 13).

We might compare the Christian life to a gold mine.[57] The gold is in the mine, but our role is to work it out. God gave us the gift of Christ (Phil. 2:5-11); God will enable our will to serve him (Phil. 2:13), and he will empower us to grow (Phil. 2:13). However, we need to choose to seek him, trust him, put ourselves in his hands, and then take steps of faith—trusting that he will bring the power.

Should we follow God out of fear?

“Fear” (phobos) is the root from which we get our modern word “phobia.” Thus it can refer to being scared, but other times, it refers to astonishment, awe, reverence, or wonder. This is why BDAG defines “fear” as either “an intimidating entity” or as “reverence or respect” (see comments 1 Peter 1:17). The context of the word defines its meaning.

“Trembling” (tromos) means to shake or quiver.

“Fear and trembling” is likely an idiom, because these two words are almost always combined in the NT (with the exception of Mk. 16:8). In its three other uses, Paul uses it to refer to respecting a Christian leader (2 Cor. 7:5), displaying personal weakness (1 Cor. 2:3), or desiring to be authentic and sincere (Eph. 6:5). Thus, in this context, Fee understands the idiom to refer to “awe and wonder.”[58] Likewise, Melick understands this to refer to “seriousness and reverence.”[59] We agree. Hence, we would understand this idiom as reference to awe, reverence, and wonder—not fear and terror.

When we realize that the Cosmic Creator is “at work” in me, it leads to a growing sense of reverence and respect for God changing my life. If a world renowned, Olympic weight lifter wanted to train me in the gym, I would show up on time and with a good attitude to “work out.” Why would I give any less to God when he is empowering me to “work out” my salvation? This must be why Isaiah writes, “My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the LORD, have spoken! I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word” (Isa. 66:2 NLT). The same Being who created the world has also communicated through his word. If I stand in awe of the stars in the sky, how much more should I revere the very words of God himself?

Many Christians disregard God, showing apathy, feet-dragging, or downright disrespect to his words. They must not really understand the gravity of what we’re reading here: God himself lives in you and he is at work in you!

Is Paul only referring to the group—not individual salvation?

Martin places a large emphasis on the “social view” of salvation, taking the word “salvation” to refer to “the health of the church.”[60] Several reasons support this view. For one, “salvation” (sōtēria) or “saved” has a broad semantic range (see James 2:14-26), which could include the health of the church. Second, Paul uses the plural “you,” which would refer to the entire group. Third, the earlier context referred to the collective “salvation” of the church (Phil. 1:28). Fourth, Paul earlier mentioned persecution and the “alarm” of the Philippians (Phil. 1:27), which could match their “fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). Fifth, being “present or absent” links with Philippians 1:27, where Paul writes that “whether I come and see you or remain absent.”

We reject this view. For one, just because salvation has a broad lexical range, this doesn’t imply that such a meaning is being used here. Indeed, the “salvation” mentioned in Philippians 1:28 refers to salvation from judgment. In this context, we understand “salvation” to refer to spiritual growth or sanctification, because the subsequent verses relate to attitudinal change (Phil. 2:14) and evangelism (Phil. 2:15-16). Second, the plural “you” is used in every epistle, because Paul is writing to a group. And, what is true of the whole is also true of the part. In this case, each individual Christian needed to work out their salvation. Finally, the context of Philippians 1:27-28 gives a number of links, but this is far from demonstrating that Paul is precluding or excluding individual sanctification. Melick summarizes the situation well when he writes, “Paul must have meant the individuals of the group were to live consistently with their salvation. If they did so, the group problems would be solved.”[61]

(2:13) “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

God is constantly at work. These verbs are all in the present and active voice (“God is currently willing and working”). This means that he is constantly working on his end to grow us. God enables our “will” (thelein) which refers to our desires, wishes, wants, goals, and purposes (BDAG). Likewise, he brings power through his “work” (energōn) or energy. This doesn’t mean that God will change our desires through his will, any more than it means that he will force us to change by his power. Instead, it means that he is constantly working on us, and we need to decide if we will relationally reciprocate.

We see counterfeit forms of spiritual growth

Fraudulent faith. Watch a child standing in three feet of water, flapping their arms and pretending to swim. They often draw attention from their parents to convince them that they are actually swimming. Many Christians pretend to grow spiritually to those around them. But they are merely doing activities within their own power—not stretching their service or taking steps of faith. Once they get thrown into the “deep end,” we see that they weren’t depending on God at all.

Suppressing negativity. Many people think that they can rid themselves of anger or bad attitude by taking deep breaths and listening to a Kenny G album. (In my own view, this would be a way to aggravate my anger and bad attitude!) Whatever the solution may be, we cannot see deep transformation through suppressing our problems. It’s better to call them out for what they are, and confess them to God and close friends.

(2:14) “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.”

What were the Philippians “grumbling or disputing” about? It could be that they had disunity and in-fighting in their church (Phil. 2:2; 4:2), or perhaps it was the persecution they were facing (Phil. 1:28-30). It doesn’t matter. Human beings are experts at finding reasons to grumble and dispute!

“Grumbling” (goggusmos) is an “utterance made in a low tone of voice” or “behind-the-scenes talk” (BDAG). It is an onomatopoeia—the naming of a thing or action by a vocal imitation of the sound associated with it” (Merriam-Webster). For example, the words “sizzle” or “giggle” or “hiss” are examples of onomatopoeias.

“Disputing” (dialogismos) The disciples argued over “as to which of them might be the greatest” (Lk. 9:46). The term refers to a “verbal exchange that takes place when conflicting ideas are expressed, dispute, argument” (BDAG).

Why shouldn’t we grumble and dispute? As Christians, how much do we have to grumble about? We are like the little kid comparing stacks of toys on Christmas morning, rather than being happy with what we have.[62] Whether we realize it or not, according to the Bible, our grumbling is ultimately aimed at God himself (Ex. 16:7-8). After all, if he has allowed us to be in a certain situation, then our grumbling signifies that we hate his plan for our lives and his will for his world. But God’s will is always “good, pleasing and perfect” (Rom. 12:2 NIV), and the only time that his plan doesn’t produce goodness is when we refuse to trust him (Rom. 8:28).

The overwhelming amount of disputes are selfish. Most Christians would agree that shoplifting or slashing tires is wrong, but what about this?

Grumblers and disputers are contagious. Your attitude affects others—not just yourself. We have observed entire groups of people who try to “one up” each other in sharing how miserable their lives are.

Grumblers and disputers are unfounded. Because we have the “perfect picture” of what our lives should be, our hopes are crushed when God doesn’t get on board. But he never promised to be our “personal life assistant,” who caters to our every whim.

Grumblers and disputers are out of touch with reality. They magnify problems, and minimize blessings.

Grumblers and disputers misrepresent Christ. This is why Paul goes on to write verses 15-16.

A test for grumblers. Many Christians work hard and are willing to “do all things” in service to God. However, they aren’t able to do this without “grumbling or disputing.” Our attitude matters in serving God! Elsewhere, Paul writes, “If you have a gift for showing [mercy] to others, do it gladly” (Rom. 12:8 NLT). Again, many people will give out mercy to others, but because of their messianic mentality, they can’t seem to do it “gladly.”

(2:15) “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent…”

The reason that we need to give up our “grumbling and disputing” in this text is because of evangelism.

“Blameless” (amemptoi) means “irreproachable, living a life at which no finger of criticism may be pointed.”[63]

“Innocent” (akeraioi) was used of “wine which is undiluted or metals which contain no weakening alloy.”[64] (cf. Mt. 10:16; Rom. 16:19)

“Above reproach” (amōma)

These three are likely synonyms, and shouldn’t be “pressed into strong differences of interpretation.”[65]

“…children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…”

Jesus called himself the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), and because of our identity with Jesus, we reflect God’s “light” to the world (Mt. 5:14). Thus, followers of Jesus will follow him into the world as well (Jn. 17:18).

“…among whom you appear as lights in the world…”

Is Paul referring to stars in the sky? Not necessarily. He could be simply referring to lights in our dark world.[66] Regardless, our interpretation doesn’t change: believers are lights to those steeped in darkness. This is why believers are called “children of light” (1 Thess. 5:5).

“Crooked” (skolios) is the root word for the medical condition called Scoliosis—a sideways curvature of the spine.

“Perverse” (diastrephō) means “distorted, deformed, crooked, or perverted” (BDAG).

(2:16) “holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.”

Should we understand this to mean “holding fast the word”[67] or “holding out the word”? Either translation is acceptable,[68] yet as is often said, “Context is king.” The context refers to lights shining in the dark sky, and therefore, we agree with Martin that Paul is referring to giving out the gospel—not holding onto it.[69] That is, believers hold out the truth of Christ to a dying world (rather than holding it near and dear to our hearts). Moreover, the “glory” probably relates to eternal rewards as well (cf. 1 Thess. 2:19-20). Thus “holding out the word of life” refers to evangelism.

“Run in vain or toil in vain…” This implies that his efforts could have amounted to nothing substantive. If this church didn’t grow spiritually, it wouldn’t have an impact on eternity. Paul struggled with the fact that his work wouldn’t produce results (Gal. 2:2; 4:11; 1 Thess. 3:5). He clung to biblical promises that God would use his works—if he continued to persevere (1 Cor. 15:58; Gal. 6:9).

(2:17) “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.”

The drink offering was a way in the OT to express gratitude to God (Num. 15:10; 28:7).[70] In this context, Paul picks up this symbolism as a metaphor for his life. That is, Paul viewed his ministry as an act of worship (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6). While we can never out give God, we can show our appreciation for his gifts by giving our lives away to people He loves. This is our form of worshipping God.

(2:18) “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.”

Instead of grumbling and complaining (v.14), Paul urges the Philippians to rejoice. After all, if Paul could rejoice in prison, how could the Philippians grumble as free people?

Two examples of selfless men: Timothy and Epaphroditus

Paul puts forward two examples of Christian workers who have the joy and humility of Christ: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Sacrificial love and humility are abstract concepts, so Paul offers two people as concrete examples.

Timothy

(2:19) “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.”

Since Paul wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive, he had a contingency plan. He was sending his best guy: Timothy. He planned on sending Timothy once he found out what was going to happen with the trial (2:23).

(2:20) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.”

Paul knows that the Philippians want to see him. This might be why he builds up Timothy so much through public encouragement. He is showing that Timothy is a remarkable worker, and they should receive him as they would Paul.

(2:21) “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.”

The ego-driven preachers in Philippi were obsessed with their own interests (Phil. 1:17). Not so with Timothy! Paul compares him to Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:3-5).

(2:22) “But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.”

Character is something that is proven over time (“proven worth”). Timothy was a man of character, and Paul loved him like a son.

(2:23) “Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.”

When Timothy does come to Philippi, he will bring news updates about Paul’s trial.

(2:24) “And I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.”

This doesn’t imply certainty. Instead, if Paul has any hope of getting out of prison, that hope is “in the Lord.” Most scholars believe that Paul did actually make it out of prison after Acts 28, because of the events mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles and because of early church history which mentions a fourth missionary journey.[71]

Epaphroditus

This is the only mention of Epaphroditus in the NT, yet Paul speaks of this man with glowing praise. Specifically, he mentions this man’s service and character.

(2:25) “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.”

Paul gives encouraging words for Epaphroditus: “my brother,” “my fellow worker,” and “my fellow soldier.” This man was relationally close to Paul, and they served side-by-side.

(2:26) “[Epaphroditus] was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.”

Epaphroditus was terminally ill (v.27), but instead of feeling “distressed” for himself, he was “distressed” for the Philippians!

(2:27) “For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.”

Paul viewed this as an act of divine “mercy” that Epaphroditus made it through. The sickness must’ve been quite serious. If Epaphroditus had died from this illness, Paul would’ve been snowballed under an avalanche of sorrow. Again, Paul was a realist. He shared about his sorrows, but this didn’t rob him of his joy.

(2:28) “Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.”

Paul deeply cared about this man, but he was willing to send him (along with Timothy) so that he could care for this group.

(2:29) “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard.”

Why should they hold a man like this in “high regard”? It is because of the following verse…

(2:30) “because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.”

Epaphroditus had come close to death to see Paul and take care of him face to face. Epaphroditus met the needs that the Philippians couldn’t. The term “deficient” (husterēma) sounds strong—almost as though the Philippians had failed in helping Paul. But the term simply means “the lack of what is needed or desirable, frequently in contrast to abundance” (BDAG).

Discussion Questions

Based on verse 2, what are some differences between being “like-minded” and participating in “group think”? What are some similarities between these two concepts?

Based on verses 12 and 13, compare and contrast what it would look like if a believer placed too much of a focus on our role versus God’s role in spiritual growth. What might you observe in either extreme?

Philippians 3

Philippians 3:1-9 (Paul versus the Legalistic Judaizers)

It was not bad things that kept Paul away from Jesus—it was good things! He had to lose his “religion” to find salvation.[72]

(3:1) “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.”

Do you ever get tired of the same old truths about the love of God? If so, that’s a red flag. Paul had “no trouble” or writing about these “same things” again and again and again, because he had made these truths the foundation of his life.

“Safeguard” (asphalēs) comes from the root word sphallō, which means “to trip up” (NASB Dictionaries), and the alpha privative in front of this word means “no” or “not.” Literally, by repeating these things, this will help us from tripping.

Paul uses the phrase “finally” (to loipon), but then 40% of his letter is still ahead of him. The phrase literally means “to (toward) the rest,” and “that meaning fits here.”[73] Indeed it can be rendered as “furthermore” or “in addition.”[74] On the other hand, it could be that Paul thought he would wrap up, but kept adding more and more as he wrote. In this way, Paul is not unlike many modern preachers who say, “In conclusion…” but then carry on for another 15 minutes!

(Phil. 3:1-2) Was this section added on from another letter?

(3:2) “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.”

“Beware” (blepete) means to “look out for.”[75] Paul uses this term three times for emphasis, and he uses three terms to describe who to be on the watch for.

(1) “Dogs” (kyon) do not describe friendly house pets, but mangy, scavenging street dogs. Indeed, perhaps Paul “envisioned the packs of ravenous dogs which roamed the countryside eating whatever they could.”[76] In extrabiblical literature, some Jewish teachers would refer to the Gentiles as “dogs” (Enoch 89:42). Here Paul turns this around on them. Wiersbe writes, “Like those dogs, these Judaizers snapped at Paul’s heels and followed him from place to place ‘barking’ their false doctrines.”[77] Paul doesn’t base this critique on who they are, but rather what they do (“the evil workers).

(2) “Evil workers” could be irony—namely, these legalists always focus on works, but they are actually evil workers.[78]

(3) “False circumcision” (katatomē) is a play on words in the Greek. The Judaizers are the “false circumcision” (katatomē), but Christians are the “true circumcision” (peritomē, v.3). Kata means “through,” while peri means “around,” as in perimeter (cf. Gal. 5:12). This is why some translations render this as the “mutilators” (NIV, NLT) or “those who mutilate the flesh” (NET). Literally, it means “to castrate.”[79]

(Phil. 3:2) Was Paul anti-Semitic, calling the Jews “dogs?”

This is strong language! But unlike fundamentalist Christians today, Paul isn’t referring to drug dealers or Democrats. He’s referring to highly religious people.

(3:3) “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

“We are the true circumcision” refers to spiritual conversion to Christ. Moses predicted, “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” (Deut. 30:6).

“Worship in the Spirit of God” fits with Jesus’ statement that we should worship God in “spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). The term “worship” (latreuō) was used for Temple service,[80] but here, Paul uses it for Christian service to God.

“Glory in Christ Jesus” (kauchōmenoi) could also read as “boast” or “exult” in Christ. Instead of boasting in ourselves (Gal. 6:13), we boast in Christ (Gal. 6:14).

The term for “putting confidence” (pepoithetes) can mean “to rely” (Lk. 11:22), “be convinced” (Acts 18:4; 28:23), or to “trust” (Phil. 1:14). As believers, we don’t trust in our own moral effort (vv.4-8), but in the power of Christ.

(Phil. 3:3) Does the church replace the promises of Israel?

The religious, false teachers might have boasted about their spiritual pedigree and accomplishments. Paul meets them on their own ground saying that they don’t compare to his own history. In other words, it isn’t that Paul tried legalism and failed, but rather, he tried legalism and succeeded! He did everything right—as well as anyone could—but he ends up calling the whole self-improvement project “rubbish” (v.8).

(3:4) “Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.”

Paul didn’t choose grace because he had failed at the Law. He chose grace because he succeeded at following the Law, but still came up short. Paul was more proficient in the way of the Law than anyone, including the false teachers (v.2). His point is that this entire system is bankrupt. To illustrate, this is like when celebrities say that money, success, and sex aren’t fulfilling. It would be one thing for me or you to make such a claim, because we’ve never had such extreme success. But when a celebrity says fame isn’t fulfilling, it packs more of a punch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04_KjC11s8g&t=83s

(3:5) “Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee…” All of Paul’s legalistic credentials were superb:

“…circumcised on the eighth day…” Some Jews were circumcised in adulthood (Acts 16:3), but not Paul. His parents followed the command given to Abraham (Gen. 17:12) and Moses (Lev. 12:3). This shows that he grew up in a pious, Jewish family.

“…of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin…” Benjamin was a very loyal tribe in Israel, and Paul was born into this tribe (cf. Rom. 11:1; 2 Cor. 11:22). This was the tribe of the first king, Saul (1 Sam. 9), and they were faithful to the Davidic throne during the division (1 Kings 1).

“…a Hebrew of Hebrews…” This means that Paul was not of mixed heritage and had pure Jewish blood.[81] It could also refer to “Paul’s ability to read the Scriptures in Hebrew.”[82]

“…in regard to the law, a Pharisee…” These previous credentials were based on Paul’s birth, but this is based on Paul’s choice. The Pharisees were an elite sect of Jews (see “Judaism in Jesus’ Day”). Paul doesn’t mention his discipleship by Gamaliel, but he could have (Acts 22:3). He may have left this off of the list, because he disagreed with Gamaliel’s laissez-faire attitude toward Christianity. In fact, Paul was a persecutor of the early Christian movement, as he says in the subsequent verse.

(3:6) “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”

Paul didn’t just follow the necessities. If Christianity was false, then he thought he should persecute those who believed in a false Messiah (Acts 22:3ff.; 26:10ff.; 1 Cor. 15:9; Gal. 1:13; 1 Tim. 1:13).

The NIV captures the meaning with the words legalistic righteousness.” It wasn’t that Paul was righteous, but he felt righteous according to the Law. Many religious people are this way. But sincerity doesn’t equal truth!

Paul’s losses

(3:7) “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”

These “gains” were in reality “losses.” Bruce writes, “From the credit side of the ledger they have been transferred to the debit side; they are not merely seen to be valueless and irrelevant, but he would be better off without them. Perhaps the very recollection of such attainments could now be harmful if it carried with it the temptation to put some confidence in them again.”[83]

(3:8) “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.”

“Surpassing value…” All things lose value over time. But Jesus Christ only becomes better and better with time.

Now that he has Christ, Paul views these credentials as a loss. The Greek word translated “rubbish” is really a filthy cuss word (see comments on 1 Corinthians 4:13). In thinking about what he’s given up for Christ, he realizes that these things are really rubbish by comparison to knowing Jesus. Melick notes that Paul compares his former life with knowing Christ three times in verses 7-8, and he writes, “There is increasing intensity, as though the mere thought of that decision brought a renewed appraisal that his former life was useless compared to what really mattered.”[84]

“I have suffered the loss of all things…” Do you consider what you’ve sacrificed for Christ to be good for you? It wasn’t that Paul gave these things up to come to Christ. Kent writes, “It was not limited to the past (as v. 10 shows), but was a growing relationship in which there was blessed enjoyment in the present and the challenge and excitement of increasing comprehension of Christ in personal fellowship.”[85]

(3:9) “[That I] may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”

We don’t give up anything in life to be made righteous. Instead, we gain righteousness based on faith. This doesn’t mean that we act righteously, but that we are declared and seen as righteous before God. Melick explains, “Being found in Christ means being clothed with God’s righteousness rather than one’s own… It means that a judge would pronounce someone righteous. Naturally, the ideal was that the person would actually be righteous, but the focus is on what the judge said. The verdict did not necessarily depend on the moral realities.”[86]

Conclusions

The worst part about legalism is the picture it paints of God.

Philippians 3:10-16 (Resurrection Power)

Paul finished explaining justification by grace through faith (v.9). Now, he begins to speak about sanctification. He started with spiritual birth (v.9), and now he will continue to speak about spiritual growth (vv.10-16).

(3:10) “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.”

Paul had already come to “know Christ” (v.8). When he says that he wants to “know” him, it must be referring to further knowledge and sanctification.

Jesus’ body was dead in the grave when God raised him. We are the same way: We’re dead in our sins and can’t do anything to please God. It’s only as we trust in the “power of the resurrection” that we can have power from God to grow.

“Know… the power of His resurrection.” This doesn’t refer to our future bodily resurrection. For one, this is all in the present tense. Second, later Paul writes, “Not that I have already obtained it” (v.12). It would be nonsensical to think that Paul needed to qualify the fact that he wasn’t dead and resurrected! Third, the language does not refer to bodily resurrection, but the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

How do we access resurrection power?

“The fellowship [sharing] of His sufferings.” Jesus couldn’t experience the “power of the resurrection” without first experiencing “suffering” on the cross (Phil. 1:29). So too, if we want to experience resurrection power in spiritual growth, then we need accept and share in suffering for Jesus’ sake. Of course, our sufferings are obviously not like Jesus’ in the sense that we pay for sin (!). Rather, Paul is showing a similarity between Jesus’ pattern and ours. If we want to see growth, we need to willingly accept the suffering that comes our way, rather than fleeing from it.

What happens when we resist suffering? This results in bitterness, exhaustion, and sourness.

“Being conformed to his death.” We have died with Christ (Rom. 6:3-4), and we are now identified with Christ’s death. This is our position in Christ which never changes. However, being “conformed” to his death implies that we need to align our condition with our position, living out this new reality. Indeed, Paul’s use of the present participle implies an ongoing process, which refers to our condition. Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:11). In other words, we need to think and trust that we are who God says we are. Melick writes, “Being united with Christ in his death was a spiritual reality, but being conformed to his death was the daily process of living. Again Rom 6:11 provides the theological parallel. The task of the Christian is, in part, to realize that the nature of salvation is a death. By constantly choosing that death to sin and self, a conformity to Jesus’ death occurs.”[87] Similarly, Martin understands the conformity to the death of Christ (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 3:21) to refer to our position of dying with him at the Cross (citing Romans 6).[88]

(3:11) “In order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Was Paul unsure if he’d be raised from the dead? Paul uses the subjunctive mood, which implies possibility—not certainty. Some argue that this shows that Paul didn’t affirm eternal security. In fact, if this is true, Paul didn’t affirm his own eternal security! But there are a number of ways of understanding this:

(1) This is referring to expectation—not doubt. Kent[89] points to the NIV which captures this perspective: “And so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Indeed, a few verses later, Paul writes, “[Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil. 3:21).

(2) Paul was thinking about the rapture of believers. Some Dispensational authors argue that Paul’s uncertainty is whether he will be raptured in his lifetime, or whether he will die and be raised later. He uses an unusual expression to describe the resurrection of the dead. It literally means “the resurrection from among corpses.”[90] This is because Paul uses the term ek twice, which “strongly suggests a partial resurrection ‘out from’ other dead ones.” Thus Paul is not thinking of a general resurrection, but of “believers only.”[91] Though this is possible, this doesn’t seem plausible to us.

(3) Paul uses the subjunctive because he isn’t sure when he will die. In other words, if Paul’s resurrection is contingent on his death, then he is expressing uncertainty over when this will happen. To paraphrase, Paul would be saying, “I might be decapitated and then be raised from the dead. Then again, I might be acquitted, in which case I won’t die or be raised from the dead.” This fits with Paul’s earlier question regarding being vindicated in his trial in Rome (Phil. 1:22-23). Martin explains, “He would cherish the prospect of death as a decisive step nearer the resurrection, but acknowledges that it may be God’s will for him to remain alive for the Philippians’ sakes.”[92]

(4) Paul is referring to sanctification—not the final resurrection of the dead. As we have already argued, we affirm this final view. In context, Paul referred to “the power of His resurrection” (v.10), and this refers to this life—not the next. So, Paul has been referring to “resurrection power”[93] for spiritual growth. Melick sees this as parallel with our identity in Christ, citing Romans 6. He writes, “The theological substructure of this passage is the Christian’s identification with Christ.”[94]

(3:12) “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

The word “perfect” (teleioō) has a broad semantic range, and it also be rendered “mature.” In context, this translation makes the most sense—especially when we see the same term used in verse 15 (see ESV, NIV, NLT). Paul could be countering the Judaizers who claimed that they had become “perfect.” But Paul, who was “blameless” and “righteous” in regard to legalistic righteousness (v.6), doesn’t even claim this for himself! While he was righteous positionally (v.9), he was well aware of his current unrighteousness conditionally (v.12).

Our role is to “press on.” Before Paul came to Christ, he used to “persecute” (diōkō) the Church (Phil. 3:6; cf. Gal. 1:23), but now he will “press on” (diōkō) for the cause of Christ. This term means “to move rapidly and decisively toward an objective, hasten, run, press on” (BDAG). This implies active mental, physical, and spiritual endurance. The religious teachers thought that they had arrived, but not Paul. He wanted to continue to press on toward the goal.

(3:13) “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

“Forgetting what lies behind.” In spiritual growth, we look forward to Christ—not backward to our own righteousness (vv.4-5) or our sins (v.6). Because of the grace of God, we no longer need to live in the failures or successes of the past. We don’t literally develop amnesia; after all, Paul just finished recounting his pre-Christian life (vv.4-8). Truly, there are times when we need to reflect on the past because we missed lessons God was trying to teach us, or we haven’t learned from past mistakes. However, when we do look into our past, we shouldn’t do so with morbidity, guilt, nostalgia, or longing. Instead, we should only look at the past through the lens of God’s grace.

Are you focusing on your failures? Are you replaying ways that people hurt or betrayed you? Is your heart filled with regret and disappointment? How does any of this help? You need to let this go! Replace this tendency with the idea of reaching forward

“Reaching forward” (epekteinomai) was an athletic term that was “particularly graphic, bringing to mind the straining muscles, clear focus, and complete dedication of the runner in his race to the prize.”[95] The past is fixed and cannot be changed. So why dwell on it? Why not strain, focus, and dedicate ourselves to what can be changed? The future!

(3:14) “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Many commentators see an athletic race in mind here. We agree. But Paul isn’t racing against others competitively; he’s racing with his eyes fixed on the “goal” and “prize.” That is, he isn’t looking at others; he is looking toward Christ. Once again, this cannot refer to our salvation, because salvation is never referred to as a reward or a “prize.”

(3:15) “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude…”

Paul already told us that he himself wasn’t “perfect” (teleioi) (v.12), so this cannot refer to sinless perfection (v.12). Instead, this term should be rendered “maturity” (NIV). Indeed, Paul uses this term five other times, and each time it can and should be rendered “mature” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28; 4:12).

Who are the “perfect” mentioned here? Only those who admit their imperfection are perfect.[96] These are the people shared Paul’s view or “attitude” about spiritual growth.

“…and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…”

The context here refers to an attitudinal change in the heart. Thus, Paul promises that God will reveal our motives, direction, and attitudes. Our role is to respond to this revelation when we hear it. God could do this through our study of the Bible (Heb. 4:12), through prayer (Ps. 139:23-24), or through a faithful friend who speaks a word of insight, correction, or redirection (Heb. 3:13; Col. 3:16; Rom. 15:14).

(3:16) “However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.”

We shouldn’t wait around until our attitudes are perfect (v.15). In the meantime, keep moving toward Christ.

Discussion Questions

Based on verse 13. What does it look like to forget about the past? Does this mean we can never reflect on our mistakes or sins? How can we look at our past without becoming boastful or becoming overcome with guilt?

Based on verse 15. How might we identify God revealing our sinful motives to us? Remember, Paul himself didn’t even judge his own motives (1 Cor. 4:5).

Philippians 3:17-21 (Citizens of Heaven)

(3:17) “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.”

Earlier, Paul told the Philippians to imitate Jesus (Phil. 2:5-11), and now, he tells them to imitate him and “us” (i.e. Paul’s entire apostolic group). Remember, Paul earlier gave two other examples of spiritual role models in chapter 2 (e.g. Timothy and Epaphroditus). It’s appropriate to follow the example of fellow Christians insofar as they are following the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).

(3:18) “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.”

Why is Paul weeping? This is the “only recorded instance that the apostle Paul cried.”[97] Moreover, he tells us that he is weeping while writing the “epistle of joy.” What gives? Surely Paul is finally breaking down over the plight of his circumstances! We can’t blame him. After all, he was suffering under civil injustice and rotting in prison. That would be a good time to cry… But not so fast. Paul isn’t weeping for himself, but for those who reject Christ! Paul’s attitude toward his enemies was not anger or wrath; it was sorrow. Thinking of these people broke his heart.

Who are these “enemies of the cross of Christ”? Some argue that this is a separate group of false teachers from verse 2, because of the licentious behaviors listed in verse 19.[98] However, we disagree. Legalists often hypocritically hide their sins (Rom. 2:21-25; Mt. 23), and these legalistic teachers still had major sin struggles—just like anyone else. Therefore, these are likely Jewish teachers—similar to those for whom Paul would die in Romans 9:1-3.[99] This could be why Paul floods with emotion in writing about them. Whoever these people were, they were certainly not believers, because they were “enemies of the cross” (v.18) and their “end is destruction” (v.19).

(3:19) “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”

“Whose god is their appetite.” If these are Jewish false teachers, this could be “a reference to their distinctions between clean and unclean foods.”[100]

The term “god” (theos) is the regular word used to denote the true God. This makes the “worship” of these false teachers all the more horrendous, because they are worshipping their own “appetite”! This Greek term (koilia) is literally translated as “appetite” (NASB) or “stomach” (ESV, NIV). But like the English word “heart,” it can have a non-literal meaning. For instance, when we say, “Your words broke my heart,” we don’t mean the physical organ. Similarly, the term “appetite” (koilia) can also be translated as the “seat of inward life, of feelings and desires, belly” (BDAG). Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will fill our “innermost being” (koilia), which has a non-literal connotation (Jn. 7:38). This being said, Paul might be saying that these people are broken and empty. They try to fill this emptiness apart from God. He’s saying that their “god” is their feelings, desires, and appetites.

“Glory is their shame.” The NLT translates, “They brag about shameful things” (NLT). This could refer to boasting about their circumcision. Melick writes, “Although Paul generally did not speak of circumcision as a shame, here the term applied because of the focus on the genitals, which should have been a private matter. When made public, it was distasteful.”[101]

(3:20) “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Philippians were quite proud about their Roman citizenship. Being a Roman colony, they had all the same rights as the Roman citizenry. Even though the Roman emperor wasn’t immediately present, they were under his authority and protection. Paul sees a good analogy here: their citizenship was similar to our relationship with God in heaven. Even though Rome was hundreds of miles away, the Philippians still possessed this identity. Similarly, even though we are far from heaven, we are still full citizens of heaven. We are “resident aliens” until we go home to heaven (cf. Heb. 11:13; Jas. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2:11). In contrast to the false teachers who are focused on “earthly things” (v.19), the true believer should have his focus on our citizenship in “heaven.”

“From which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus currently rules and reigns from heaven, but we are waiting for him to physically return to Earth. As citizens of heaven, we are waiting for our King to invade, and bring heaven with him.

(3:21) “[Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.”

Just as Jesus went through a state of humiliation (Phil. 2:8), so do we (“body of our humble state”). However, we will be raised and exalted like Christ—though obviously not to the same extent as him (Phil. 2:9-11).

“Transform” (metaschēmatizō) is the root for our English word “schematic,” which is a drawing or plan for something. The term schēma is the “outward appearance, form, shape.”[102] The term meta (“with, among, after”) shows that this will be an upgrade of some kind. Jesus will use the form of our bodies, but transform them into an unbreakable, immortal, and resurrected state.

Believers will have bodies similar to Jesus’ resurrected body (1 Jn. 3:2). Since Jesus has the power to put everything under his control, why would we doubt that he could transform us as well? This is true perfection, which the legalists knew nothing about.

Discussion Questions

Why do you think Paul uses this metaphor of citizenship to describe our new identity in Christ?

Based on verse 20. What is the difference between someone whose mind is set on “earthly things” and someone whose mind is set on being a “citizen of heaven”?

Philippians 4

Philippians 4:1-3 (Resolving Personal Conflict)

(4:1) “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown…”

Paul will give lots of reasons for which we can feel joy. Here, he gets specific: Paul viewed these believers as his “joy and crown” (cf. 1 Thess. 2:19-20). In Paul’s mind, people were the locus of value—not things. He took a special enjoyment and delight in God’s people.

This doesn’t come naturally. People can annoy us, rub us the wrong way, or outright sin against us. There’s no stopping any of that. So, how did Paul learn to genuinely take joy in sinful people like us?

Discussion Question

What are helpful ways we can grow our love and affection for people who might naturally irritate us?

“…in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.”

“Stand firm” (stēkō) literally means to “stand” (st—) “outside” (exo). Melick writes, “Perhaps the language came from the military and, therefore, had significant meaning for the city populated by military families. The Roman armies were known for standing unmoved against the enemy. The church was to stand in the same way.”[103]

We don’t take our stand in ourselves, our circumstances, our resources, our personal equipping, our spiritual gifts, or on any other merit. Instead, we stand firm “in the Lord.” We stand on our identity that we are “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

(4:2) “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.”

Women were the first people Paul reached in Philippi (Acts 16:13). These may have been some of them. Euodia and Syntyche were two women in the church who were fighting with each other. Why were they fighting? Most likely, they were arguing over which one of them had a worse name! (just kidding)

The key to reconciliation is humility. To “live in harmony” (to auto phronein) means that we are adopting a “common mind” with regard to the subjects of “reconciliation and mutual love.”[104] This harkens back to having the same humility of mind of Jesus (Phil. 2:3, 5).

Is disunity a big deal? Most Christians wouldn’t pawn someone’s laptop or phone, but would see no issue holding bitterness, gossiping, or trash talking others. Is this a big deal? Yes! John writes, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn. 4:20). Paul writes, “Be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).

Paul balanced both confidentiality and gossip. On the one hand, he publicly named these women (contra confidentiality). On the other, he didn’t publicly expose the deep secrets regarding their conflict—not did he name who would adjudicate the conflict (only called him “true companion”).

Both sides need to commit to reconciliation. Paul doesn’t just urge one or the other, but both (“I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche…”). He is showing that conflict needs to be solved by both sides—not just one party. As Euodia heard someone read Philippians 2:3-5, she probably thought, “I hope Syntyche is listening!” And surely Syntyche had the same thoughts. Here, Paul calls them both out.

The goal of reconciliation is peace. We aren’t simply going through this difficult process without a purpose. No. We have a bright light at the end of the tunnel: peace between former friends.

(4:3) “Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.”

Mediation is sometimes necessary. Paul doesn’t take sides in the conflict. Instead, he addresses an individual person to mediate. Notice the singular pronoun (“I ask you).

Often conflict occurs among dedicated followers of Christ. Not necessarily. Often, conflict is quite healthy, and it is a way to grow. Indeed, while these women were in serious conflict, Paul could still call them coworkers (“shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel”). Even strong walking Christians have problems with conflict, and they need help from others to mediate from time to time.

As followers of Jesus, we can view conflict through the lens of grace. Paul knows that these people are believers (“[their] names are in the book of life”). We don’t have to wonder if we’re going to heaven. God wants us to know this in advance. Therefore, we engage in conflict based on how we have been treated by God—namely, with unmerited grace.

Some scholars (like Origen) believe that this is Clement of Rome (see our earlier article, “Clement of Rome.” However, Martin comments that this is an “exercise in the realm of conjecture.”[105]

Philippians 4:4-9 (Mind over Mood)

(4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”

Paul mentions “joy” or “rejoicing” 16 times in this short letter. Here, he gives the command to rejoice, and then can’t help but interrupt himself with the very same imperative!

It’s hard to overestimate how much Paul valued rejoicing. Gratitude had become the stable center of his life. Paul thought that a lack of gratitude led to a poisoning of the mind (Rom. 1:21), stemming into all forms of sin and idolatry (Rom. 1:23-32). Gratitude, in his mind, was a key to being filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18-20), and he regularly brought it up in connection with a healthy prayer life (Col. 4:2; 1 Tim. 2:1). Indeed, he went to far as to say that we should, “Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16). Even in prison, Paul can tell us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” (For more on this important topic, see “The Lost Virtue of Gratitude”)

How can I make myself feel joy? Wrong question! The word “rejoice” (chairete) isn’t a noun or an adjective, but a verb. It’s an action—not a feeling. In fact, Paul writes that believers are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). If rejoicing is a feeling, then how could believers feel sorrowful when doing it? Let us put this as plainly as possible: Rejoicing is something that we do, which changes how we think and feel. As Chuck Swindoll writes, “Joy doesn’t make you grateful. Gratitude makes you joyful.”[106]

(4:5) “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.”

“Gentle” (epiekes) means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom” (BDAG). This gentleness is directed to all men,” not just fellow believers. Much of our anxiety comes from dwelling on what we feel that we deserve (e.g. conflict with our neighbors, coworkers, family, friends, etc.). Anxiety also grows in a mindset that seeks to control others and our circumstances. When we feel out of control, fear fills the vacuum, and this can lead to various species of anxiety: generalized worry, nervous breakdowns, panic attacks, etc.

God’s solution to anxiety is gentleness—the decision to release our control. James writes that God’s wisdom is “gentle at all times” (Jas. 3:17 NLT), and Paul tells us to have the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1). This doesn’t mean that we should mutate from a high functioning person into a doormat. We are discussing meekness—not weakness. If there is any confusion at all, just look at Jesus, who was gentle but not weak. In fact, this is the model Paul points to…

“The Lord is near.” Instead of focusing on irritating aspects of life, we are to focus on the coming of Christ (cf. Jas. 5:8). Kent writes, “The statement is a reminder that at his arrival the Judge will settle all differences and will bring the consummation that will make most of our human differences seem trifling.”[107] How many worries will you have when Jesus returns? Answer? ZERO! Because this is our future anticipation, we should focus our minds on this in the present moment.

(4:6) “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Not all prayer was created equal. According to Jesus, some forms of prayer are healthy and life-changing, while others can actually do more harm than good. Don’t believe me? Jesus himself said, “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again” (Mt. 6:7 NLT). Look at this example. According to Jesus, we can pray for long amounts of time and with many words, but this is nothing more than “babble” to God. This could explain why we can leave even long times of prayer feeling more anxious than before!

Of course, the key is not to swing from hyperactive prayer to passive prayer—anymore than the solution for the workaholic is to choose a life of unemployment. We do need to have an active mindset in prayer, but we need the right kind of activity. It does seem counterintuitive, but an active time of prayer is the key to soul rest.

Consider a parallel for our physical health: REM sleep.[108] Rapid eye movement sleep (or REM sleep) is when our brain is highly active, and we are dreaming. Even though REM sleep is technically more active than non-REM sleep, it paradoxically gives us greater rest. Indeed, without REM sleep, our brains and bodies will suffer horribly. In the same way, there is a way to pray that is more active that brings greater rest.

With this understood, what does people mean when he writes that we should be “anxious for nothing”? Many believers mistakenly believe that Paul is calling for inactivity. As they try to follow Paul’s wisdom, the believer might sit still, grit their teeth, and try not to worry. But very quickly, they find that this only worsens their worrisome condition! No, Paul isn’t prescribing inactivity. Instead, he is calling on us to be active in the right activity: prayer. Paul explain three different types of prayer followed by an overall attitudinal need.

(1) “Prayer” (proseuchē) is the term used of “prayer in general.”[109] Some people only pray when they encounter a major crisis. God, of course, is happy to hear us pray in any circumstance. But Paul is teaching something different. He writes that we should pray for “everything.” The worry-ridden believer needs to learn this discipline. We can’t wait to pray until we are overwhelmed. Prayer is the way to replace and release our anxiety day by day—hour by hour—minute by minute.

Peter counsels, “Cast all your anxiety (merimnaō) on God because he cares (melei) for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Did you notice the play on words in the Greek? The same root word is used for our “anxiety” and God’s “care” for the anxious. Literally, this passage reads: “Give your anxiety to God, because he is anxious for you.” It’s God’s job to worry about our needs and problems—not ours. Our job is to trust that he is worrying about us. The way to trust God is to bring our needs before him in prayer.

(2) “Supplication” (deēsis) emphasizes and “gives prominence to the sense of need.”[110] This is a specific form of prayer that literally means an “urgent request to meet a need” (BDAG). This refers to actively trusting God for our basic needs.

(3) “Requests” (aitēmata) refer to “precise petitions.”[111] This is where we might pray through a list, or spontaneously bring our friends and loved ones before God in prayer. Worries can fill our mind as we think about our friends and loved ones. Paul himself called this “the worry of all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). By actively bringing these people before God, we find our anxiety decreasing.

“With thanksgiving” (eucharistia) describes the foundation for all prayer. Before we ask for more and more, we should acknowledge what God has already given us. As we reflect on the great gifts of God, this impacts us in various ways:

For one, gratitude helps us appreciate the goodness of God. We begin to recognize that our situation is not that bad, and in fact, remarkably good. Even if God doesn’t answer another prayer, we can still be happy with our circumstances.

Second, gratitude changes our attitude and emotions. Without this clarity, a distracting fog clouds our prayer time. This was a key to Paul’s ability to finding joy in the midst of suffering. He says that he was “always giving thanks” (Eph. 5:20), and we should give thanks “in everything” (1 Thess. 5:18). He tells us that this isn’t just an action, but and “attitude of thanksgiving” in prayer (Col. 4:2). Even after just five or ten minutes of giving thanks, we will observe that our entire demeanor has changed, and our spirit is lifted. (For more on this important topic, see “The Lost Virtue of Gratitude”).

Third, gratitude makes us bolder in our requests. With an accurate view of God and a lifting of our spirit, we begin to pray big prayers. After all, if God is really this good, why would we hold back on making big requests? We would hate to get to the end of our lives only to realize, “You did not have because you did not ask” (Jas. 4:2).

(4:7) “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

“Peace of God.” We get objective peace with God through the blood of Jesus (Rom. 5:1; Col. 1:20). But Paul is referring to the subjective peace of God. Do you have peace with God? You’ll need this before you can get the peace of God. This peace is available to all believers, and the only provision is learning the discipline of gratitude.

“Guard” (phrourēsei) is military language, which refers to putting a garrison in a city (BDAG; 2 Cor. 11:32; Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 3.12; Life, 53). Thus Martin comments, “The Philippians, living in a garrison town, would be familiar with the sight of the Roman sentry, maintaining his watch.”[112] Imagine how safe you would feel surrounded by a large Roman garrison. Now, take this to the next level, and imagine the peace of God himself guarding your heart. That’s true peace! Paul uses this imagery to capture the ultimate peace of God.

This level of change and transformation only comes through Christ (“in Christ Jesus”), not simply through generic gratitude.

Paul tells us that we should keep our focus on really anything that is positive—not just spiritual things…

(4:8) “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

It is our natural inclination to be negative. God can continually bless us over and over again, but without a thankful posture, human nature is to cry and whine about the things we don’t have.

Christians often miss opportunities to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. They’ll even say things like, “I’m just a lucky guy.” But nothing could be further from the truth! As Christians, we should never call ourselves lucky. Our worldview doesn’t allow for luck: “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (Jas. 1:17 NLT). Atheists are lucky; Christians are blessed.

“Whatever is true… honorable… right… pure…” This list of “ethical expressions” was common in “popular moral philosophy.”[113] In other words, when Paul says, “Whatever is true,” he really means it. We should give thanks for both sacred and secular aspects of life. This means that we can thank God for good food, good weather, good music, and even good coffee. These things might seem mundane (and arguably they are), but Paul says to give thanks for “whatever.” From here, our gratitude will often grow into other areas of life.

“…dwell on these things.” In our culture, the term dwell usually has negative connotations (i.e. “Stop dwelling on your breakup and move on!”). But the term “dwell” (logizomai) was an accounting term, referring to a “mathematical process” (BDAG). In other words, Paul is telling us to move away from how we feel to what we think. The term can mean “to give careful thought to a matter, think (about), consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on” (BDAG). Instead of dwelling on the negatives, we need to actively choose to “dwell” on the very real and positive things that God was doing.

To be sure, humans are hardwired to dwell on something. Thoughts of one kind or another will fill our heads. The question is, “What thoughts will we choose to dwell on?”

(4:9) “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Paul closes this section by emphasizing that nothing can substitute for taking action. It isn’t enough to “learn” and “hear” these truths, we need to “practice” them (cf. Jas. 1:22; Jn. 13:17). We won’t understand these deep truths until we act on them.

You might be thinking, “I’ve heard all about the importance of prayer and gratitude before…” Or you might say, “I’ve listened to so many teachings on this topic…” Good for you! But why isn’t your time of prayer thriving, and why aren’t you filled with joy? The issue is not whether you’ve heard these truths, but whether you’ve made these truths the foundation of your life. Many people like to talk about their anxiety, but they never reach the point of doing anything about it. Our role is to cash-in on these truths by deciding to act. Only then will we experience the “peace of God” (v.7).

Discussion questions

Read through Philippians 4:4-9. What do we learn about how to battle anxiety and negativity from these verses?

Philippians 4:10-23 (The Great Secret to Contentment)

(4:10) “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.”

Had the Philippians lost their concern for Paul at some point? No. When Paul writes that they had “revived” their concern, he means that they didn’t have the “opportunity” to help him. Melick understands the syntax to be a “causal construction,” and he translates this as, “You have renewed your concern for me because you have been concerned.”[114] This doesn’t just fit the grammar, but it also makes good sense of the context: Paul wasn’t rebuking their lack of help, because he was content in all situations.

(4:11) “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.”

“Not that I speak from want.” Paul wants to be clear that he could use their financial contribution, but God would provide either way. Why? It wasn’t because another church had given him money, nor was it because he received a raise at his tent-making job or a surprise inheritance from a relative. Rather, Paul learned “contentment” despite the circumstances.

“Content” (autarkēs) is only used here in the NT.[115] The word originally meant “self-reliant”[116] or “self-sufficient” (BDAG). Cynic and Stoic philosophers used the term to refer to “an independent man sufficient to himself and in need of none else.”[117] Not so for Paul. From an outsider’s point of view, Paul may have looked self-reliant; but from Paul’s inner point of view, he was relying on Christ to meet his needs.

(4:12) “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Paul continues to practically explain exactly what he means: The joy of God is independent of our circumstances. We can be rich with contentment; we can be rich without contentment. We can be poor with contentment; we can also be poor without contentment.

(4:13) “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

Paul is thanking them for their financial gift. But before he does, he wants them to know that he’ll be fine without it. Because he gets his contentment from Christ, he has no need of their money.

Paul’s primary focus is on finances, but we can extend the application because of his use of all things.” Does this include throwing a football well, or getting a clutch rebound, as Christian athletes regularly claim? Without giving offense to Christian athletes, we must maintain, No. God obviously isn’t against sports, but that doesn’t mean that he will supernaturally strengthen athletes. When Paul writes “all things,” this is surely restricted only to those things in God’s will. After all, would we claim that God “strengthens” our chests to best press 300 lbs? Would we claim that God “strengthens” bank robbers to carry the bags of money to their getaway car? No. The first example is amoral, and the second is immoral, but they share something in common: they have nothing to do with God’s desired will. We agree with Melick who writes, “The will of God limited the application of the strength he knew. Many who misapply this verse step out of God’s will for their lives. They hope to cover their actions by a blanket promise of power, but power comes in the will of God.”[118]

(4:14) “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.”

Even though Paul would’ve been content without their financial gift, he was still thankful for their contribution. When we financially give to the cause of Christ, we shoulder the burden of other people’s “affliction.” We relieve real suffering, and meet real needs.

(4:15) “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.”

“The first preaching of the gospel” was in Acts 16. This corresponds to Paul’s earlier statement: “In view of your participation of the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). These believers had only been a church for roughly a decade, but they were powerful givers.

At this point, Paul received this gift while in Corinth: “When the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you” (2 Cor. 11:9). Many Christians feel no need to financially give, and the same was true in this situation (“no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone”). It is an honor to choose to participate in powerful giving like this.

(4:16) “Even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.”

After Paul left Philippi, he went to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-9). Apparently, they were sending money on ahead to support him on his journey. Paul also worked in Thessalonica to supplement his income (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-8).

We give because others are in “need.” We also should have disciplined and repeated giving (“again and again”) to meet these needs, rather than just one-time gifts.

(4:17) “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.”

Paul uses “commercial terms”[119] and “financial terms”[120] to describe financial giving. When we give to the cause of Christ, it is as though our money is “wired” into a bank account in eternity.

“Profit” (karpos) refers to “the sense of ‘interest’ accruing to a financial account.”[121] Thus, this section could be translated in this way: “The interest which is accruing to your credit.”[122]

(4:18) “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.”

The expression “everything in full” (apechō) was a term that “appears regularly in business papyri and ostraca in the sense of receiving in full. It was a technical expression in drawing up receipts.”[123]

“Fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” This is “an act of worship in which God takes pleasure.”[124] Paul uses the language of worship to describe their giving (see our earlier article, “What is Worship?”). One of the ways to worship God is to open up our financial life to him, giving to the cause of Christ. This may have been a way to subvert the Jewish false teachers. Melick writes, “Since Paul used the language of the Old Testament sacrificial system, perhaps even his terms subtly countered the Jewish false teachers.”[125]

Christ-centered giving is focused on God. We give ourselves to God first (2 Cor. 8:4-5), and then we give to others. If you are feeling burned out, something is wrong in your giving.

(4:19) “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

Paul can’t repay these believers for their financial gift. So, he does one better. He promises that God himself will repay them. As we give to the needs of others, we realize that God will meet our needs as well. Christ is ultimately wealthy (“glorious riches in Jesus Christ” NIV), and he can take care of our needs as we give. To be clear, Paul doesn’t promise them wealth. Rather, God will meet our need—not our greed.

This promise was not given to a wealthy church. Indeed, elsewhere Paul writes that the Philippians (Macedonians) gave their money in “a great ordeal of affliction” and in “deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2). In other words, this wasn’t “the right time” to start giving, but they chose to give anyhow.

(4:20) “Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Instead of concluding by glorifying the Philippians for their generosity, Paul concludes by pointing the glory to God.

(4:21) “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.”

Paul had people with him in house arrest. Likely, Luke was there (Col. 4:14; Phile. 24).

(4:22) “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.”

This probably refers back to Paul’s evangelism of the Praetorian Guard (Phil. 1:13). From this small comment, we wonder if Paul had been reaching many people while in prison.

(4:23) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Contentment Killers

We don’t gain contentment immediately. This is something that Paul needed to “learn” over time. This won’t come naturally or immediately to us either. Just as children need to learn to share, we need to learn to be content.

We don’t gain contentment from our personality or temperament. Paul was surely a Type-A personality, but he had learned this ability. Indeed, discontent is built into our very human nature. Solomon writes, “Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied, so human desire is never satisfied” (Prov. 27:20 NLT). He also writes, “For the despondent, every day brings trouble; for the happy heart, life is a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15 NLT).

We don’t gain contentment from our circumstances. Indeed, we learn contentment despite our circumstances. Paul writes that he has contentment “in whatever circumstances.” We can have a wealth of contentment in poor circumstances, and we can have a lack of contentment in rich circumstances. Since we have a transcendent reality secured in our position in Christ, we can be content despite our condition or circumstances.

We think that the answer to our problem is having more, rather than wanting less. After all, how much money would you need to finally be content? Put a number on it. $100,000? $1,000,000? $10,000,000? Psychologists tell us that we are never content from a set amount of money.

Andrew Clark and Andrew Oswald studied 5,000 people from the British Household Panel Survey. They found that salary was based on comparison to coworkers—not the money itself. They write, “Feelings of well-being depend on a reference or comparison level of income.”[126]

We don’t gain contentment from comparison to others. Indeed, envy kills contentment. James writes, “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing” (Jas. 3:14-16). Likewise, Solomon writes, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Prov. 14:30 NIV).

Why is it that social media use has been regularly linked to depression and anxiety? This is likely because we are constantly making upward social comparisons.[127] When we compare ourselves to others, we are often comparing their highlight reel to our worst problems and dysfunctions—their happiest moments to our current sadness. Moreover, we have different personalities, gifts, talents, upbringings, etc. We are comparing apples with oranges when we fall into comparisons with others.

Contentment Builders

We find contentment through giving. Paul writes, “You have done well to share with me in my affliction” (Phil. 4:14). Psychologists regularly find that we can buy happiness… through giving our money away![128] This is referred to as “prosocial spending,”[129] where we give our money for the good of others. Personal happiness was correlated with giving gifts to others and donating to charity. Indeed, in a sample of one million people from 130 countries, prosocial giving was “one of the top six predictors of life satisfaction around the world.”[130]

  • In one experiment, 46 college students could spend $20 on themselves or on someone else by the end of the day. Those who spent the money on others were regularly happier by the end of the day.[131]
  • Economists at the University of Oregon gave participants $100, and asked them if they wanted to give the money to the local food bank. The majority of those who gave the money had a boost in mood.[132]
  • Merely reflecting on a time when they spent money on others resulted in participants in one study reporting higher levels of happiness.[133]
  • The results of prosocial spending are consistent in both affluent and poor cultures. In South Africa, where 20% of the participants were worried about whether or not they would eat dinner, researchers still found that giving resulted in greater happiness.[134]
  • Voluntary giving brought more happiness than involuntary giving.[135]

We find contentment through ongoing giving. Paul writes that the Philippians gave money “more than once” (v.16). This means that giving is a lifestyle—not just a one-off occurrence.

We find contentment through receiving from others. This might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Paul writes that he “rejoiced in the Lord greatly” because the Philippians had given him a financial gift (v.10). What does it mean if we serve others, but refuse to be served? This is nothing other than pride. If others want to voluntarily serve us, we should let them. This is the stuff on which friendships are formed. Instead of saying, “It’s okay… I’ve got this… I appreciate the offer…” We need to learn to say, “Really? Thanks, that would be so helpful! I appreciate your help!”

Paul was a servant leader, and he has emphasized servant love throughout the letter. Yet, he allowed people to serve him as well. God will meet our needs through the means of other Christians. Thus, by saying, No, to help from Christians, we are really saying, No, to God (1 Cor. 12:21; Col. 2:19).

We find contentment through focusing on Christ. How was Paul able to be satisfied despite his circumstances? (v.12) He writes, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (v.13).

Discussion questions

Read through Philippians 4:10-20. What do we learn about financial giving from these verses?

Paul was neither independent of accepting help from the Philippians (v.10), nor was he codependent on the Philippians help (vv.11-13). What is the secret to avoiding these two extremes?

How would you counsel a hyper-independent person?

How are ways to counsel a hyper-codependent person?

[1] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), p.499.

[2] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.96.

[3] Luke uses the term prōtē (“first”) to describe Philippi. This does not mean that Philippi was the capital of Macedonia, because Thessalonica held this title. Instead, because this word lacks the article, Luke simply means that Philippi was a “leading” city (NASB). See Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.95.

[4] Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.25.

[5] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.96.

[6] Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.30.

[7] Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.33.

[8] Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), p.326.

[9] Blomberg writes, “All the ancient testimony agrees that Philippians was penned from Rome.” Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), p.326.

[10] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.97.

[11] Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: An Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), p.326.

[12] Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), p.12.

[13] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.97.

[14] Many scholars hold this view, including:

Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.98.

Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), 327.

Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 35.

[15] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.100.

[16] Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p.65.

[17] These are inferences based on the fact that Paul implores them in these particular areas.

[18] We agree with Melick that the “good work” refers to the Philippians coming to faith—not their act (or acts) or financial giving. He writes, “The good work in 1:6 refers to what lay behind their generosity, the calling and Christian maturity of the church.” Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p.58.

[19] Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p.62.

[20] Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p.64.

[21] Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p.63.

[22] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.108.

[23] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.108.

[24] Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p.71.

[25] Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), pp.71-72.

[26] Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p.72.

[27] Richard R. Melick, Philippians: The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), p.66.

[28] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.108.

[29] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.110.

[30] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 70.

[31] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 70.

[32] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 113.

[33] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.110.

[34] Ralph Martin, Philippians: Tyndale Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), p.80.

[35] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 80.

[36] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.114.

[37] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 84-85.

[38] Martin holds exclusively to this view. Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 84.

[39] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 86.

[40] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 89.

[41] Motyer takes this “one spirit” to refer to the Holy Spirit. J. A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 95.

[42] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 93.

[43] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 94.

[44] See footnote. Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 90.

[45] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 91.

[46] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 97.

[47] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.121.

[48] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.122.

[49] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.122.

[50] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 96.

[51] Technically, both the active and passive are represented in the Greek manuscripts (see KJV). However, Melick writes, “Most Greek texts have the active form, and that is the better reading.” Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 100.

[52] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 103.

[53] John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2021), p.159.

[54] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 111.

[55] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.124.

[56] See footnote. Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 234.

[57] I am indebted to Wiersbe for this illustration. Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 77.

[58] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 237.

[59] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 110.

[60] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 102.

[61] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 111.

[62] I am indebted to my friend Mike Sullivan for this illustration.

[63] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 122.

[64] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 122.

[65] See footnote. Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 113.

[66] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 124-125.

[67] Melick argues that the immediate context refers to being changed by the gospel message, so that we can shine to a dark world. Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 113.

[68] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.129.

[69] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 125.

[70] We disagree with Martin who interprets this in a Pagan context. After all, Paul is thoroughly Jewish (see Phil. 3:4-9), and he wouldn’t use a Pagan cultus to explain his death. Martin writes, “The verb means ‘to pour out as a drink offering’ and denotes, in sacrificial terms, a violent, even a bloody, death. He likens his life-blood shed in death to the libation of wine or perfume which was poured out in the concluding rites of a sacrifice to a pagan deity.” Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 127.

[71] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.133.

[72] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 84.

[73] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 126.

[74] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.138.

[75] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 145.

[76] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 127.

[77] Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 84.

[78] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 146.

[79] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 146.

[80] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 128.

[81] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.139.

[82] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 129.

[83] Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (p. 112). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.

[84] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 131.

[85] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.141.

[86] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 133.

[87] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 136.

[88] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 157.

[89] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.142.

[90] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 158.

[91] Homer A. Kent Jr., “Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 142.

[92] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 158.

[93] Melick doesn’t relate this only to sanctification, but to the “entire process” from justification to sanctification to glorification. Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 135.

[94] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 136.

[95] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 139.

[96] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 140.

[97] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 142.

[98] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.147.

[99] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 143.

[100] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 165.

[101] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 143.

[102] G. Braumann, “Σχῆμα,” ed. Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 708.

[103] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 145–146.

[104] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 172.

[105] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 173.

[106] Chuck Swindoll, “An Attitude of Gratitude,” sermon.

[107] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), p.151.

[108] I am indebted to Tim Keller for this illustration.

[109] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 176.

[110] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 176.

[111] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 176.

[112] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 177.

[113] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 178.

[114] Emphasis his. Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 153.

[115] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 181.

[116] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 153.

[117] Gerhard Kittel, “Ἀρκέω, Ἀρκετός, Αὐτάρκεια, Αὐτάρκης,” ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–), 466.

[118] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 154.

[119] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 186.

[120] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 157.

[121] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 186.

[122] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 186.

[123] Homer Kent, Philippians: The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), pp.156-157.

[124] Ralph P. Martin, Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 11, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1987), 187.

[125] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 157.

[126] Andrew Clark and Andrew Oswald (1996). Satisfaction and comparison income. Journal of Public Economics, 61(3) 373.

[127] Vogel et al. (2014). Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3(4), 206-222.

[128] Dunn et al. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science,319 (5870), 1687-1688.

[129] Aknin et al. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104 (4), 635-652.

[130] Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319(5870), 1687-1688.

[131] Curry, O. S., Rowland, L. A., Van Lissa, C. J., Zlotowitz, S., McAlaney, J., & Whitehouse, H. (2018). Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 76, 320-329.

[132] Harbaugh, William T., Ulrich Mayr, and Daniel R. Burghart. “Neural Responses to Taxation and Voluntary Giving Reveal Motives for Charitable Donations.” Science 316, no. 5831 (2007): 1622-25.

[133] Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., … & Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635-652.

[134] Aknin, L. B., Barrington-Leigh, C. P., Dunn, E. W., Helliwell, J. F., Burns, J., Biswas-Diener, R., … & Norton, M. I. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635-652.

[135] Harbaugh, W. T., Mayr, U., & Burghart, D. R. (2007). Neural responses to taxation and voluntary giving reveal motives for charitable donations. Science, 316(5831), 1622-1625.

Hubbard, J., Harbaugh, W. T., Srivastava, S., Degras, D., & Mayr, U. (2016). A general benevolence dimension that links neural, psychological, economic, and life-span data on altruistic tendencies. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145(10), 1351-1358.