Philippians 1 Commentary

v.1 “Paul’s word for “servants” (douloi) does not refer to hired household help but is the term commonly used in ancient times for “slaves.” Although in the Old Testament the term “slave” sometimes appears as a title of honor to indicate the special relationship of great heroes like Moses, Joshua, and David to God (Josh. 14:7; 24:29; Ps. 89:3), in the Greco-Roman context of Paul and his Philippian readers, it would have had unmistakable overtones of humility and submission. Paul’s readers would probably have understood the term as Paul used it here to refer to people conscripted into the service of Christ instead of into service to sin (cf. Rom. 6:16 – 23; Gal. 4:1 – 9; 5:1).”[1]

vv.3-6 “Paul begins the description of his prayers of thanksgiving in verses 3-4 with the comment that he prays for the Philippians ‘with joy.’ His primary intention for this description is simply to affirm his affection for the Philippians, but it also announces a theme that runs throughout the letter: The believer should be joyful. For Paul, joy is not the result of finding himself in comfortable circumstances, but of seeing the gospel make progress through his circumstances and through the circumstances of the Philippians, whatever they might be (1:18, 2:17). Thus, Paul is joyful when he remembers the Philippians in prayer because God is at work in their midst for the advancement of the gospel.”[2]

v.5 “The term ‘partnership’(koinonia) means more than ‘fellowship’(KJV) or even ‘sharing’(NRSV). It refers to the Philippians’ practical support of Paul’s efforts to proclaim the gospel and meet the needs of other believers. […] The ‘partnership’ of the Philippians for which Paul thanks God in verse 5, therefore, is their practical assistance of his efforts to proclaim the gospel.”[3]

v.6What work will God finally complete in us? God will finally complete the work of saving us.  If we trust in Christ, we are already fully saved.  But God’s work in our lives continues until the day of Christ Jesus—the time that he returns, or until the time when we die and stand before him.  Only then shall we be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2).”[4]

v.12 “the word translated ‘advance’ was commonly used to refer to removing obstacles, as before an advancing army.”[5] “The purpose of Christ’s suffering was the advancement of God’s redemptive work, and so it was an evil through which God effected great good for humanity (Rom.3:21-26; 5:12-21; 2Cor 5:21). Paul believes that his own suffering, since its origin lies in his efforts to fulfill the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ to which God has called him (2 Cor 5:18), has the same quality. Thus his imprisonment is not simply a result of his Christian commitment, but is the necessary means through which Paul fulfills his calling.”[6]

v.18Why did Paul seem to condone insincere preachers? Paul was tolerant toward preachers whose hearts were not entirely pure (v.15) –  but who preached Christ nonetheless.  He was not indifferent toward false teaching, nor was he excusing immoral or hateful behavior.  But he knew that Christ could be preached even out of the mixed motives found in imperfect human beings.  What really mattered, Paul insisted, was that Christ be preached.”[7]

v.19 “The ‘Spirit of Jesus Christ’ is the divine means through which this help will come. The word ‘help’ (epichoregia) in the NIV rendering of verse 19 can also mean ‘supply’ and is closely related to a Greek verb that means to ‘furnish, provide, give, grant.’ […] Paul is suggesting that the presence of the Spirit will be supplied to Paul through the prayers of the Philippians. In some mysterious way, those prayers are linked with God’s furnishing of the Spirit to him, and together they provide the help he needs to face the Roman tribunal with courage.”[8]

“Thus this phrase, ‘the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,’ is not incidental. […]  from such a phrase and its close relationship with the prayer of the believing community, one learns a great deal about Paul’s own spiritual life and his understanding of the role of the Spirit in that life. He simply does not think of Christian life as lived in isolation from others. He may be the one in prison and headed for trial; but the Philippians – and others – are inextricably bound together with him through the Spirit. Therefore, he assumes that their praying, and with that God’s gracious supply of the Spirit of his Son, will be the means God uses yet once more to bring glory to himself through Paul and Paul’s defense of the gospel (vv. 7. 16).”[9]

v.20 “The word [eagerly expect] refers to the intense expectation of something that is sure to happen. It seems unlikely, therefore, that Paul would use this word to refer merely to the hope that he will conduct himself properly during his impending court appearance. Instead, he sees the upcoming test in court as a divinely appointed opportunity to defend the gospel (Phil 1:16) on his way to the final salvation he eagerly awaits.”[10]

vv.21-26 “Paul exhorted the Philippians in a way which would have appealed to them. What he said, literally, was: ‘Exercise your citizenship worthily of the gospel of Christ.’ Philippi was a Roman colony, a title seen as one of the coveted prizes of the Roman empire. ‘Colonial’ status meant that the people of Philippi were reckoned as Roman citizens. Their names were on the rolls at Rome; their legal position and privileges were those of Rome itself. They were a homeland in miniature. But all this is also true of them spiritually as men and women in Christ. Grace has made them citizens of a heavenly city; in their far-off land they are the heavenly homeland in miniature; heaven’s laws are their laws, and their privileges, its privileges. The life worthy of the gospel is an inescapable obligation: it is the essence of the homeland where the Lamb standing, as thought it had been slain, forms the focal point of all life.”[11]


[1] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 33-37.

[2] Ibid., 38.

[3] Ibid., 38.

[4] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1621.

[5] Fred B. Craddock, Philippians,  Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching  (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1995) 25.

[6] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 59.

[7] Quest Study Bible, study notes (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1994) 1621-1622.

[8] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 76.

[9] Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1995) 135.

[10] Frank Thielman, Philippians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 77.

[11] J.A. Motyer, The Message of Philippians, The Bible Speaks Today Series (Downers Grove, IL:  Inter-Varsity, 1984) 93.

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