Lesson 4 of5
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) literally express “opened an account”; “giving and receiving” (v. 15) literally express “debit and credit”; “gift” (v. 17) literally expresses “profit”; “profit” (v. 17) literally expresses “interest”; “accumulates” (v. 17) literally expresses “draws interest”; “paid in full” and “fully satisfied” (v. 18) literally express “complete settlement.” With this language, Paul states that he has invested the gospel of Jesus Christ with them. If Paul thought his investment of the gospel 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 an account of debit and credit, an account that increases in interest and accumulates. Paul has been paid in full from his investment of the gospel with them.

Imperial language

The theme that Paul might soon experience death runs through this letter. Paul also prepares the Philippians for a wave of persecution that might soon be present for them. It would be likely that the persecution of Christians in Rome under Emperor Nero, during the last years of his reign (61-68 C.E.), would move quickly to Philippi, which had close ties with the imperial capital. Residents of Philippi, “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12), 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 were 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

Paul’s rich use of language is reflected in his use of military and athletic terms. The Greek word translated “to 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) literally refers to a soldier who is assigned as “a sentinel on duty,” one 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) literally refers to the “omen” or “sign” of destruction, with reference to the crowd in an arena giving the thumbs-down sign to the gladiator, sealing the fate of the victim. The words translated “striving side by side” (1:27) and “struggle” (literally, “agony” in 1:30) signify intense engagement in either battle or athletic competition.

Present and future realities in Christ

Paul’s opening prayers of thanksgiving (1:3-8) and intercession (1:9-11) for the Philippians flow together with a joy that is distinctive to the new life that Christ gives. Language of time pervades these prayers, as Paul 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). The sacrificial reality is present for Paul and the Philippians: “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). Paul uses the language of sacrifice (2:1-5) to prepare the Philippians to hear the Christ hymn, which expresses their identity in Christ’s death and exaltation (2:6-11). Sacrificial language also follows the Christ hymn: “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).