Lesson 4 of 6
In Progress

Introductory Issues in Philippians

Commercial language

Paul concludes the letter with a prayer of thanksgiving for the participation and partnership in the gospel that he and the Philippians share (4:10-20). To express the binding reality of this relationship, Paul draws on words that come directly from the commercial world. The words translated “shared with me” (v. 15)  connote “opened an account”; “giving and receiving” (v. 15)  relate to matters of “debit and credit”; “gift” (v. 17) may refer to “profit”; “profit” (v. 17) is associated with “interest”; and “accumulates” (v. 17) with “drawing interest”; “paid in full” and “fully satisfied” (v. 18) suggest “complete settlement.” With this language, Paul states that he has invested the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. If Paul thought this investment carried a risk, he claims that he has been completely compensated in the partnership of their mutual ministry. Paul does not seek profit from his investment, but what comes to him is the complete settlement of debits and credits in an account that increases in interest and accumulates. By investing himself and the gospel with the Philippians, Paul has been paid in full.

Imperial language

Residents of Philippi, “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12) with close ties to the imperial capital, would take special notice that the spread of the gospel had increased through Paul’s imprisonment insofar as “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that [Paul’s] imprisonment is for Christ” (Philippians 1:13). Paul concludes the letter with greetings from the community where Paul is imprisoned: “All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household” (4:22). These imperial references would be of interest to the Philippians, indicating that Paul’s presence is acknowledged in the highest places of military and civil office in the Roman Empire.

Military and athletic language

The Greek word prokopē, translated “spread” and “progress” (1:12, 25), reflects a strategic military movement of soldiers “advancing” on an enemy. The phrase “put here for the defense” (1:16) refers to a soldier stationed as “a sentinel on duty”  who remains on watch and is relieved of duty only when a replacement is sent. “Standing firm” (1:27) likewise reflects the stance of one who is unyielding in the call to duty. “In no way intimidated” and “opponents” (1:28) refer to military or athletic images on a field of either military engagement or athletic competition. “Evidence of their destruction” (1:28) refers to the “omen” or “sign” of destruction, like that of an arena crowd giving the thumbs-down sign to the gladiator, sealing the fate of the victim. The words translated “striving side by side” (synathleō, 1:27) and “struggle” (agōn, 1:30) signify intense engagement in either battle or athletic competition.

Present and future realities in Christ

The language of time pervades Paul’s opening prayers of thanksgiving and intercession,  as he refers to the Philippians’ faithfulness “from the first day until now” (1:5) and prays with assurance that “the one [God] who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” (1:6). Paul’s present “defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7) also anticipates a time that is coming soon: “so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless” (1:10). Paul’s prayer of intercession calls the Philippians to live independent of present realities, as he reminds them of the joy and hope that are centered in “the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (1:11).

Sacrificial language

Paul includes sacrificial language in his opening prayer: “so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless” (1:10). Paul pictures himself and the Philippians joined with Christ in selfless, sacrificial living during hard times: “For he [God] has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well–since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (1:29-30). Such sacrifice may extend even to death, as it did for Jesus on the cross (2:6‒8). Paul’s self-identity as a servant of Christ is heavily shaped by images of personal sacrifice which he gladly embraces: “But even if I [Paul] am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you–and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me” (2:17-18).

Contemplative language

Philippians is one of Paul’s most personal, emotional, and reflective letters, both expressing and encouraging deep thought and feeling about one’s relationship with Christ and fellow believers. Paul longs for the Philippians to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” In particular, he urges them to “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,” namely, the “mind” disclosed in the Christ hymn (2:5‒11). This exemplary disposition is nurtured through “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” and meditative focus on true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy matters (4:6‒9).