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Final Greetings September 6, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 4:21-23.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians to greet all believers in a Christian manner; also, his personal companions and fellow-travelers greet them. In addition, all of the believers in Rome – including the slaves and freedmen who are attached to the palace – greet them.

Paul concludes by praying that the grace of Christ would be with them.

Thoughts: Strolling through Philippians was rather enjoyable; it even served as a welcome break from my relatively in-depth strolls through Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, and Ephesians. To understand why many believers have delighted in reading this letter, one must peruse Alister McGrath’s introduction to Lightfoot’s commentary:

Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi is one of the gems of the New Testament. Freed from the need to engage in controversy with his opponents, Paul was able to share his joy in the gospel with his beloved fellow believers in Philippi. Even though he wrote from prison, Paul’s letter exults in the joy of the gospel and the great hope which it brings to those who know Christ.

I should also note that the personal nature of this letter provides the reader with a glimpse into the lives of various Biblical characters, including Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche and Clement. Yet Paul’s intimate connection with the Philippians does not preclude him from defending the Gospel in this letter – he still needs to refute the threats of the Judaizers and the Antinomians. Thus, the “warmth-to-defense” ratio in this letter is not infinite – yet it is high compared to the other epistles that I have strolled through. I am now curious as to which of the remaining Pauline epistles contains a similar “warmth-to-defense” ratio – perhaps Philemon fits the bill.

Thanks for Their Gifts September 3, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 4:10-20.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that he must not forget to thank them for their gift; now he does not want to rebuke them for not sending their gift to him earlier, as they had been unable to provide it until that time. He stresses that he has learned to be content in the position in which God has placed him. Moreover, he possesses the secret of being content in all and every situation.

Paul then notes that it was good of the Philippians to make common cause with his affliction. In fact, he does not need to remind them that shortly after their acceptance of the Gospel, after he left Macedonia no other church engaged in credit and debit with him – except for their church. Not only this, but while he was still in Thessalonica, they occasionally sent him gifts. Now he does not desire their gifts per se, but he does desire that revenue be placed to their accounts – stemming from their display of their love for him. Indeed, their latest gift to him has the sweet smell of an offering; it is pleasing in God’s sight. Thus, God – on his behalf – will supply their needs by placing them in glory through their union with Christ Jesus.

Paul concludes by praying – in union with the Philippians – that God would be forever glorified.

Thoughts: In verse 11, we see that Paul had learned to be content regardless of external circumstances. Lightfoot offers some insights in his commentary:

Socrates, when asked who was the wealthiest, replied, “He that is content with least, for contentment is nature’s wealth.” The Stoics especially laid great stress on this virtue.

Thus, we see that Christian and secular worldviews agree on this point – it is good to have a deep-seated contentment in life. Of course, as believers we often fall short in this regard and live with an anxious, restless mindset. To me, this highlights a fundamental tension between our sinful and spiritual natures, as they are inherently focused on the short term and the long term, respectively. Being content in every situation requires focusing on eternal matters, yet we are naturally inclined to focus on ephemeral matters. We must constantly remind ourselves of our eternal mission, just as Christ was acutely aware of the eternal consequences of His time on this earth.

In verse 15, we see that the Philippians supported Paul in his ministry shortly after they believed the Gospel message. Lightfoot, though, provides some sobering notes in his commentary:

But though the see is said to exist even to the present day, the city itself has long been a wilderness. Of its destruction or decay no record is left; and among its ruins travelers have hitherto failed to find any Christian remains…Born into the world with the brightest promise, the church of Philippi has lived without a history and perished without a memorial.

Given the Philippians’ ecstatic response to the Gospel – as we know, “money talks” – I wonder what became of the Philippian church after Paul wrote this letter to them. Did they became spiritually complacent, causing their commitment to the Gospel to fade over time? Or did they stand firm in their faith, only succumbing to the brutality of an invading army? Regardless of the circumstances of their downfall, what we do know is that when Paul wrote to them, they had a genuine heart for missions work; this is a great example that modern believers should follow.

Exhortations August 31, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 4:2-9.

Summary: Paul begins by appealing to two women in the Philippian church – Euodia and Syntyche – to halt their dissensions. He requests that Epaphroditus, along with Clement and the fellow believers who:

  • have assisted Paul
  • are immortally blessed

assist Euodia and Syntyche in this regard.

Paul then bids the Philippians farewell and exhorts them to be cheerful. He also exhorts them to let their forbearance be evident to all men, as the return of Christ is at hand. They should not entertain harassing cares, but in all situations they should:

  • desire to generally offer up their wishes to God
  • make special requests to Him for the supply of their needs

while expressing thankfulness to Him for past blessings. In this way God will enable them to halt their dissensions, granting them an eternal satisfaction and standing guard over their thoughts and feelings.

Paul concludes by exhorting the Philippians to entertain thoughts that are:

  • true and noble
  • right and stainless
  • lovely and admirable
  • even compatible with the heathen concept of virtue
  • able to elicit the praise of men.

Thoughts: Verses 2 and 3 contain an explicit plea from Paul to Euodia and Syntyche that they case their dissensions. Lightfoot offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

Euodia and Syntyche appear to have been ladies of rank, or possibly (like Phoebe, Romans 16:1) deaconesses in the Philippian church.

Readers of this blog are aware of my desire to meet various Biblical characters in the next life, and this is certainly the case with Euodia and Syntyche. How did they come to believe the Gospel, and how did they serve in the Philippian church? How did they respond to this explicit plea from Paul? Did Epaphroditus, Clement and other Philippian believers assist them in overcoming their differences? How do they feel about the fact that generations of believers – including me – know of their dispute at that time?

In verse 6, Paul exhorts the Philippians to thank God when lifting up their prayers to Him. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

Great stress is laid on the duty of thanksgiving by St. Paul, for example in Romans 1:21; 14:6; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 4:15; 9:11-12; Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 2:7; 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; 1 Timothy 2:1. All his own letters addressed to churches, with the sole exception of the letter to the Galatians, commence with an emphatic thanksgiving.

This is certainly a stumbling block for me. I often fall into the trap of asking God, “what have you done for me lately?” In those instances I willfully ignore all of the blessings that He has given me. Now I do find it helpful to heed the advice in Count Your Blessings by actually compiling a mental list of these blessings. This exercise compels me to remember how God has blessed me in the past, and reliving those memories spurs me to give thanks to Him. Moreover, His inherent consistency assures me that He will continue to bless me in the future.

Pressing on Toward the Goal August 28, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 3:12-4:1.

Summary: Paul begins by stressing to the Philippians that he was not raised from the dead at his conversion, and he is still imperfect. He draws their attention and notes that while others view themselves as perfect, he does not view himself in that way. Instead, he strives to attain that heavenly state to which God has called him – as a Christian.

Now Paul notes that all Christians who are truly “grown men” should have this mind; then, if they are at fault on any point, God will reveal their error to them. They should strive to attain that heavenly state to which God has also called them.

Paul then exhorts the Philippians to vie with each other in imitating him. He has previously warned them about the Antinomian reactionists; now he warns them with much grief, as the Antinomians refuse to conform to the cross. The Antinomians will be condemned, and their liberty will degrade them. In contrast, the Philippians are citizens of a heavenly commonwealth. Moreover, Jesus Christ will transform their earthly bodies that are exposed to earthly passions, sufferings and indignities.

Paul concludes by exhorting the Philippians, who:

  • he has longed for
  • are the basis of his wearing a crown of victory at the return of Christ

to stand firm as Christians – given their heavenly citizenship and their anticipation of their bodily transformation at the return of Christ.

Thoughts: In this passage, Paul warns the Philippians against the Antinomians and their negative influences. Lightfoot offers some insights in his commentary on verses 13 and 18:

He is in fact protesting against the false security, the Antinomian recklessness, which others deduced from the doctrine of faith…The Antinomians, who refuse to conform to the cross (3:10; 2 Corinthians 1:5-6) and live a life of self-indulgence; compare 1 Corinthians 1:17.

I am definitely curious as to whether Antinomianism had begun to infiltrate the Philippian church at the time of the writing of this letter, or if Paul was warning the Philippians of future peril in that regard. Did the Antinomians themselves have the opportunity to read this letter from Paul? If so, how did they respond to his condemnation of their abuse of their liberty in Christ? I hope to meet at least some of the Antinomians in heaven and see how they avoided condemnation.

In verse 1, we see that Paul regards the Philippians as his victory wreath at the return of Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

The idea conveyed by stephanos is not dominion, but either (1) victory, or (2) festivity, as the wreath was worn both by the conqueror and by the holiday-maker. Without excluding the latter notion, the former seems to be prominent in this and in the parallel passage; for there, as here, the apostle refers in the context to the Lord’s coming. His converts will then be his wreath of victory, for it will appear that he “did not run or labor for nothing” (2:16), and he will receive the successful athlete’s reward; compare 1 Corinthians 9:25.

This verse reminds me of the 2004 Summer Olympics where olive wreaths were placed on the heads of the medalists. As believers, we should be mindful of the reasons for God placing a “wreath of victory” on our heads at the return of Christ. We must strive to speak and act in ways that will have an eternal impact. We must focus on eternal goals such as bringing glory to God and advancing His kingdom – instead of focusing on temporal matters. Though this is a rather lofty bar for us to clear, we must direct our lives to the time when we will finally clear it – with God’s help.

No Confidence in the Flesh August 26, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 3:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that in conclusion, they should rejoice as Christians; also, it is not tedious for him to warn them again about their internal dissensions.

Now Paul is interrupted in his concluding remarks – and so he warns the Philippians to be on their guard against the Judaizers; he condemns their actions and even states that their circumcision is equivalent to heathen mutilation. In contrast, all believers:

  • are spiritually circumcised
  • render a spiritual service to God
  • boast as Christians
  • do not trust in external privileges.

Now he, for the sake of the following argument, trusts in external privileges.

If anyone seems (to himself) to have external privileges, Paul can stake his claim to greater external privileges:

  • he was born to Jewish parents
  • his parents were descendants of the original twelve tribes of Israel
  • his parents were descendants of the faithful tribe of Benjamin
  • he is a Hebrew Jew
  • in terms of law, he lived as a Pharisee
  • in terms of zeal, he persecuted the church
  • in terms of righteousness in the law, he was blameless.

Yet all of these privileges which Paul formerly reckoned to his credit are now regarded by him as a single loss for Christ. Indeed, he views these privileges as the refuse from God’s banquet table. He desires to be known as a Christian on the day of judgment; he does not desire a righteousness that comes from works, but he desires a righteousness that comes from God on the condition of faith. He desires to recognize Christ and have the following benefits that are connected with His resurrection:

  • assurance of immortality
  • participation in His sufferings
  • union with Him in his death.

Paul concludes by hoping that he will be resurrected from death to life.

Thoughts: This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture – yet it commences in a rather disjointed fashion. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

As the apostle is on the point of referring once more to the divisions in the Philippian church before concluding, he is interrupted. Whether the interruption was momentary, or whether some hours or even days elapsed before the letter was resumed, it is vain to conjecture. But it has diverted, or at least modified, the train of thought…It seems probable therefore that he had meanwhile been told about some fresh antagonism or reminded of some old antagonism on the part of his Judaizing opponents in Rome.

This is an interesting tidbit; I had never noticed this rather abrupt transition between verses 1 and 2 in my previous excursions through Philippians. I am confident that believers through the ages have been thankful that God kept Paul from concluding the letter at this point; if he had wrapped up the epistle here, we would have been deprived of an excellent (and quite lofty) passage. Now I am unsure as to whether any other books of the Bible contain a similar “delayed conclusion”; any insights are welcomed.

Verses 7-9 contain a marvelous explanation by Paul of the true value of his external privileges. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Rubbish. The word seems to signify generally “refuse,” being applied most frequently in one sense or other to food. The two ways this word is used are: (1) “Excrement,” the portion of food rejected by the body as not possessing nutritive qualities. This sense is frequent in medical writers. (2) “The refuse or leavings of a feast,” the food thrown away from the table…The Judaizers are themselves the “dogs” (verse 2); the meats served to the sons of God are spiritual meats; the ordinances, which the formalists value so highly, are the mere refuse of the feast.

In some sense, this passage reminds me of the church that I attend, which includes a disproportionate number of alums of top-ranked colleges. Many of our members are professionally successful, and many of them are doctors, engineers and lawyers. Yet this passage reminds us that these external privileges are truly “refuse” compared to the awesome “feast” that lies in knowing Christ and possessing His righteousness. As believers, if we can stake our claim to any external privileges, we must view them with the proper perspective – the only thing in this life that we cannot afford to lose is our saving relationship with Christ.

Timothy and Epaphroditus August 22, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 2:19-30.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that he – as a Christian – intends to send Timothy to them shortly, that he may be comforted when he hears of their circumstances. Indeed, none of Paul’s current companions in Rome share Timothy’s level of concern for them; he is Paul’s son in Christ. Also, the Philippians recognize that Timothy has an approved character; Paul testifies to this fact. Paul trusts that he will be able to see them in person shortly.

Paul notes that in the meantime, he will send Epaphroditus, who:

  • has a common sympathy, work, danger and suffering with him
  • had been sent by the Philippians with their monetary contribution to him

back to them. Epaphroditus had been in a confused and restless state since the Philippians had heard of his illness. As he has now recovered, Paul will send him to them with this letter – that they may receive their cheerfulness and that Paul’s sorrow may be lessened. He exhorts them to welcome Epaphroditus joyfully. Paul concludes by noting that they should act in this way, as Epaphroditus gambled with his life in working to spread the Gospel – supplying what the Philippians could not provide Paul.

Thoughts: In the first part of this passage, Paul commends Timothy to the Philippians. Lightfoot offers some thoughts on this in his commentary on verse 20:

Timothy was neither an illegitimate nor an adopted son, but, as St. Paul calls him elsewhere, “my true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2; compare Titus 1:4). He recognized this filial relationship (“as a son with his father,” verse 22); he inherited all the interests and affections of his spiritual father.

Some day I hope to chat with Paul and Timothy about their strong relationship, which spawned two of the Pauline epistles. What aspects of Paul’s character commended him to Timothy? Conversely, what aspects of Timothy’s character commended him to Paul? Assuming that they engaged in the occasional dispute, how did they overcome those valleys in their relationship? How did Timothy react to the news of Paul’s execution in Rome? Did Timothy have the opportunity to mentor a younger Christian, just as Paul had mentored him?

In the second part of this passage, Paul tells the Philippians that he will be sending Epaphroditus back to them with this letter. Lightfoot offers some insights on this in his commentary on verse 25:

Epaphroditus is not mentioned except in this letter. The name was extremely common in the Roman period. It was assumed by the dictator Sylla himself in writing to the Greeks. It was borne by a freedman of Augustus; by a favorite of Nero, likewise a freedman; by a grammarian of Chaeroneia residing at Rome during this last emperor’s reign; by a patron of literature who encouraged Josephus. The name occurs very frequently in inscriptions both Greek and Latin, whether at full length Epaphroditus or in its contracted form Epaphras.

I am definitely looking forward to the time when I can meet Epaphroditus and learn more about his earthy life. How did he come to hear and believe the Gospel message? Ostensibly his life was turned upside down after his conversion, as he almost worked himself to death while assisting Paul in his labors in Rome. What drove him to exert himself so forcefully for the Gospel message? How did he respond to God’s grace in guiding him through his near-death experience? How did the Philippians respond to Paul’s letter when he brought it to them?

Shining as Stars August 14, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 2:12-18.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Philippians, as they have obeyed God, to not only work out their salvation in his presence – they should do so in his absence, acting with a nervous and trembling anxiety to do what is right. Indeed, they should work out their salvation as it is actually God who works effectively in them, enabling them to first desire and then act according to His plan of salvation.

Paul then exhorts the Philippians to neither grumble nor entertain inner questionings. In this way they can be pure and sincere, as the faultless children of God in the midst of a wicked generation; they can appear like heavenly bodies and light up the universe – in a moral sense. Thus, on the day of judgment, he can assert that his “Christian training” yielded eternal benefits. Now even if he is to die, with his life being metaphorically poured out on the Philippians’ good works (as a libation on a heathen sacrifice) that stem from their being priests, he will congratulate them. Paul concludes by inferring that the Philippians should also rejoice and congratulate him.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Paul exhorts the Philippians – in the midst of “a crooked and depraved generation” – to act in such a way that they will be found blameless on the day of judgment. This reminds me of a common refrain in the modern church – namely, that society’s moral standards continue to rapidly decline. While that may be the case, this verse reminds believers that the Roman Empire was far from a paragon of morality in the first century AD. Perhaps the HBO series Rome provides concrete examples of the galling behavior in Roman society that swirled around Paul when he wrote this letter, though this is just a hunch on my part. What I can assert is that since the time of the Fall, human societies have been morally bankrupt; thus, Paul exhorts Christians through all generations to stand up to depravity.

Imitating Christ’s Humility August 11, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 2:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that if the following statements are true:

  • their life in Christ speaks to their hearts with a persuasive eloquence
  • they have an incentive from being loved by Him
  • they have a genuine communion with the Holy Spirit
  • they have an abode of tender feelings that manifests itself via compassionate actions

then they should complete his joy by:

  • exhibiting concord out of a common love
  • exhibiting harmony in their feelings
  • directing their thoughts to a single end.

They should not promote party interests or their selfish desires – but in their lowliness of mind they should honor each other above themselves. They should aim beyond their own interests to those of others.

Now Paul asserts that in the Philippians’ hearts, they should be like Christ. He eternally exists as God, yet He did not view His divine nature as a treasure to be retained at all costs. Instead, He divested Himself of the prerogatives of deity and took the attributes of a servant; He came to represent the human race. Moreover, He was obedient to God and even endured a death reserved for criminals. Given His humiliation, God then directed all adoration and praise to Him. Indeed, all worship and praise will be given to Christ by the whole universe – both its animate and inanimate parts. Paul concludes by reiterating that all praise and thanksgiving will be given to Christ, which will glorify God the Father.

Thoughts: In verse 8, we are reminded that our Savior, Jesus Christ, died via crucifixion. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

The contrast of his own position must have deepened St. Paul’s sense of his Master’s humiliation. As a Roman citizen he could under no circumstances suffer such degradation; and accordingly, if we may accept the tradition, while St. Peter died on the cross, he himself was executed by the sword.

As Christians, we often forget that our Savior died a horrible, in the words of Lightfoot, “death reserved for criminals and slaves.” This highlights the depths to which He sank in order that we might be exalted far beyond the station that we deserved – eternal damnation. Indeed, before our salvation, we were “criminals and slaves.” Christ, though He is our innocent Master, became a “criminal” and a “slave” in our stead. We will always be indebted to Him for his humility and willingness to endure unfathomable shame.

In verse 11, we see that the entire creation will praise and give thanks to God for His Son, Jesus Christ. Lightfoot offers some head-scratching thoughts on this point:

In itself the Greek word is simply, “to declare or confess openly or plainly.” But as its secondary sense “to offer praise or thanksgiving” has almost entirely supplanted its primary meaning in the Septuagint, where it is of frequent occurrence, and as moreover it has this secondary sense in the very passage of Isaiah which St. Paul adapts, the idea of praise or thanksgiving ought probably not to be excluded here.

This is a rather curious interpretation of this verse. In particular, can we assume that the entire creation in this case includes all unbelievers who have been sentenced by God to endure eternal damnation? In that case, how could those unbelievers give thanks to God in the midst of their suffering? The lake of fire cannot be a pleasant environment for a condemned unbeliever; would they even have the presence of mind to shift their focus from their pain and suffering to giving thanks to God? The primary meaning of “confess,” as Lightfoot notes above, appears to be a better fit for this verse.

Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel July 26, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:12-30.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that his circumstances – instead of hindering the Gospel – have advanced it. His captivity has borne testimony to the Gospel among:

  • the soldiers in the imperial regiments
  • a wider circle.

His captivity has also spurred a majority of believers to have confidence in the Lord to preach the Gospel more zealously – without fear.

Now Paul notes that in Rome, there are:

  • Judaizing Christians who preach the Gospel from their envy of his influence
  • others who preach the Gospel out of benevolence.

Those in the latter group know that Paul has been destined to preach the Gospel. Those in the former group, though, act to promote the interests of their party and behave selfishly, aiming to annoy him during his captivity. Yet he knows that whether the Gospel is preached out of 1) a desire to promote the interests of a particular party or 2) selflessness, it is preached; thus, he is determined to rejoice.

Indeed, Paul will rejoice, as the Philippians have prayed for him, and their prayers have been answered by God, as He has supplied the Holy Spirit to Paul; this bountiful supply will save him. He earnestly desires that he would not be cowardly – but confident, so that Christ would always be glorified in him. Now he knows that living entails serving Christ, while dying entails a complete realization of his union with Christ. Yet he wonders if his life might bear fruit for Christ; he does not understand what would be the better option in this case. He is hemmed in both sides; his own desire is to leave his earthly tent and be in the presence of Christ – yet it is better that he clings to his present life. Being persuaded of this fact, he is convicted that he will continue to strengthen the Philippians in their faith. Thus, they would be able to boast in him.

Now Paul exhorts the Philippians – whether he visits them or not – to live as citizens of heaven and hold their ground. More specifically, they would not be timid in the face of opposition; their fearlessness would show their opponents that:

  • God would deliver the Philippians
  • they would be destroyed.

Indeed, God has granted the Philippians the privilege of suffering for Christ. Paul concludes by noting that they are contending for their faith, just as he was persecuted at Philippi – and is enduring opposition in Rome.

Thoughts: In verses 15-18, Paul addresses the issue of Judaizing Christians in Rome who preach the Gospel with the twin objectives of 1) gaining converts to their theology and 2) belittling him. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

Here…the choice is between an imperfect Christianity and an unconverted state; the former, however inadequate, must be better than the latter, and therefore must give joy to a high-minded servant of Christ. In Rome there was room enough for him and for them. He was content therefore that each should work on independently. It was a step in the right direction to know Christ, even though he were known only in a worldly way.

Now this is a rather difficult passage to digest, notwithstanding Lightfoot’s explanation. I wonder how Paul would react to a pastor who insisted on his congregants wearing formal clothing to Sunday services and claimed that those who dressed casually were not truly saved. Also, how would Paul react to a pastor who insisted that his congregants refrain from consuming alcohol and claimed that only teetotalers are truly saved? Perhaps God had already revealed to Paul that the converts of the Judaizing preachers would eventually know the freedom of the Gospel, which would have been quite encouraging.

Verses 21-26 illustrate Paul’s struggle between living for Christ and dying – whereby he could be with Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 22:

The grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in the apostle’s mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labor for Christ in life, and the desire to be united with Christ by death. The abrupt and disjointed sentences express this hesitation.

Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians – and I would count myself in this camp – fail to truly appreciate this inherent dilemma in Paul’s ministry. More often that not, believers seek the pleasures of life on this planet, bemoan the sufferings that stem from laboring “for Christ,” and fear death – especially as we fail to grasp the concept of infinity. This passage serves as an important reminder for believers to focus on Christ and embrace the concept of eternity – without getting ensnared by impermanent issues.

In verse 29, Paul states that the Philippians are blessed by God in that they are suffering for Him. Lightfoot restates this point as follows:

“God has granted you the high privilege of suffering for Christ; this is the surest sign that he looks upon you with favor.”

This is an interesting statement and it caused me to think about believers who live in different contexts. Are believers in countries where Christianity is denounced, e.g. China and Nigeria, automatically more blessed than other believers in countries where Christianity is tolerated, e.g. the U.K. and the U.S.? Will believers who are being actively persecuted for their faith automatically gain a relatively higher place in heaven than believers who enjoy freedom of worship? Of course, this subject is a can of worms; the question “can Western believers truly suffer for Christ?” has been roundly debated.

Thanksgiving and Prayer July 22, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:3-11.

Summary: In this passage, Paul begins by telling the Philippians that he thanks (his) God at all times. In particular, he is thankful for the Philippians and rejoices in them, because of their cooperation towards the Gospel from his initial departure from Philippi up to the present time. His past experiences assure him that God, who has enabled them to cooperate with him in spreading the Gospel, will enable them to continue acting in this regard until the trial that is connected with the return of Christ.

Indeed, Paul notes that the Philippians have joined him in:

  • suffering for the Gospel
  • removing obstacles to the Gospel and establishing it.

This is a divine privilege, and it anchors them in his memory. God can confirm this, as he eagerly strains for them with the heart of Christ.

Now Paul prays that the love the Philippians possess – which characterizes the state of their souls – would continuously grow in terms of:

  • understanding the general principles of the Gospel
  • manifesting itself via practical application.

Thus, they can understand transcendent things, be unsullied and not stumble – all for the return of Christ. Paul concludes by praying that they would live the life of Christ and possess His righteousness – which manifests His power and causes men to recognize it.

Thoughts: One of the major themes of this passage is the joy that Paul feels regarding the Philippians, as they have cooperated with him in spreading the Gospel. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

…but here, as the context shows, it denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with the apostle whether in sympathy with suffering or in active labor or in any other way. At the same time their almsgiving was a signal instance of this cooperation and seems to have been foremost in the apostle’s mind.

This reminds me of a ministry that one of my friends started a few years ago. I have definitely enjoyed cooperating with him in spreading the Gospel – mainly through prayer and financial support. Whenever we exchange e-mails he always thanks me for my support of his ministry and wishes God’s blessings on me – and so this passage truly hits home for me. Witnessing to those who are resistant to the Gospel is a rather challenging endeavor – both physically and mentally; my assumption is that missionaries view any support that they receive during such trying times as a gift from God, explaining the impassioned nature of their thanksgiving.

The phrase “day of Christ” appears twice in this passage; Lightfoot offers some thoughts on this phrase in his commentary on verse 6:

The idea of a testing is prominent: “God will advance you in grace, so that you may be prepared to meet the day of trial.”

It will be interesting to see if the notion of Christians anticipating a day of trial plays a role in the rest of this letter. For now, as believers we should ask, “are we preparing ourselves for the time when Christ returns? Will we be found faithful when He judges us on that Day?” Paul is definitely reminding us that as believers, we must allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and mold us so that we will be found “pure and blameless” by our Righteous Judge. Along these lines, we must resist the temptation to become overly focused on temporal matters, though that is a topic for another day.