Salutation

1:1 From Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons. 1:2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Paul…To all the saints – we might have expected the letter to begin, “Saint Paul to the Philippians,” but as Motyer points out, it starts, in effect, with, “Slave Paul to the saints at Philippi.”

Servants of Christ Jesus – “He claims to be the servant (doulos) of Christ, as the King James and Revised Standard Versions have it; but doulosis more than servant, it is slave. A servant is free to come and go; but a slave is the possession of his master for ever. When Paul calls himself the slave of Jesus Christ, he does three things. (i) he lays it down that he is the absolute possession of Christ. Christ has loved him and bought him with a price, (1 Cor 6:20) and he can never belong to anyone else. (ii) he lays it down that he owes an absolute obedience to Christ. The slave has no will of his own; his master’s will must be his. So Paul has no will but Christ’s, and no obedience but to his Saviour and Lord. (iii) In the Old Testament the regular title of the prophets is the servants of God. (Am 3:7 Jer 7:25) That is the title which is given to Moses, to Joshua and to David. (Jos 1:2 Jud 2:8 Ps 78:70 Ps 89:3 Ps 89:20) In fact, the highest of all titles of honour is servant of God; and when Paul takes this title, he humbly places himself in the succession of the prophets and of the great ones of God. The Christian’s slavery to Jesus Christ is no cringing subjection. As the Latin tag has it: Illi servire est regnare, to be his slave is to be a king.” (DSB)

Prayer for the Church

1:3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 1:4 I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you 1:5 because of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
Thinking of others, not of himself

‘Isn’t it remarkable that Paul is thinking of others and not of himself? As he awaits his trial in Rome, Paul’s mind goes back to the believers in Philippi, and every recollection he has brings him joy. Read Acts 16; you may discover that some things happened to Paul at Philippi, the memory of which could produce sorrow. He was illegally arrested and beaten, was placed in the stocks, and was humiliated before the people. But even those memories brought joy to Paul, because it was through this suffering that the jailer found Christ! Paul recalled Lydia and her household, the poor slave girl who had been demon-possessed, and the other dear Christians at Philippi; and each recollection was a source of joy. (It is worth asking, “Am I the kind of Christian who brings joy to my pastor’s mind when he thinks of me?”)’ (Wiersbe)

Ministerial joy

‘One of the highest joys which a minister of the gospel can have, is that furnished by the holy walk of the people to whom he has ministered. Comp. 3 Jn 1:4. It is joy like that of a farmer, when he sees his fields whiten for a rich harvest; like that of a teacher, in the good conduct and rapid progress of his scholars; like that of a parent, in the virtue, success, and piety of his sons. Yet it is superior to all that. The interests are higher and more important; the results are more far-reaching and pure; and the joy is more disinterested. Probably there is nowhere else on earth any happiness so pure, elevated, consoling, and rich, as that of a pastor in the piety, peace, benevolence, and growing zeal of his people.’ (Barnes)

Remember absent friends in prayer

‘Our absent friends should be remembered in our prayers. On our knees before God is the best place to remember them. We know not their condition. If they are sick, we cannot minister to their wants; if in danger, we cannot run to their relief; if tempted, we cannot counsel them. But God, who is with them, can do all this; and it is an inestimable privilege thus to be permitted to commend them to his holy care and keeping. Besides, it is a duty to do it. It is one way-and the best way-to repay their kindness. A child may always be repaying the kindness of absent parents by supplicating the Divine blessing on them each morning; and a brother may strengthen and continue his love for a sister, and in part repay her tender love, by seeking, when far away, the Divine favour to be bestowed on her.’ (Barnes)

Your partnership – lit. ‘your fellowship’, in the sense of ‘giving a share’, or ‘making a contribution’. Fee takes this in the broader (not just financial) sense of participation in spreading the gospel.

‘It is possible that Phil 1:5 is talking about their financial fellowship with Paul, a topic he picks up again in Phil 4:14-19. The church at Philippi was the only church that entered into fellowship with Paul to help support his ministry. The “good work” of Phil 1:6 may refer to the sharing of their means; it was started by the Lord and Paul was sure the Lord would continue it and complete it.

But we will not go astray if we apply these verses to the work of salvation and Christian living. We are not saved by our good works. (Eph 2:8-9) Salvation is the good work God does in us when we trust his Son. In Phil 2:12-13 we are told that God continues to work in us through his Spirit. In other words, salvation includes a threefold work:

  • the work God does for us – salvation;
  • the work God does in us – sanctification;
  • the work God does through us – service.

This work will continue until we see Christ, and then the work will be fulfilled. “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3:2)

It was a source of joy to Paul to know that God was still working in the lives of his fellow-believers at Philippi. After all, this is the real basis for joyful Christian fellowship, to have God at work in our lives day by day.’ (Wiersbe)

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

Perfect salvation

  1. Commenced – He has begun a good work in you, Phil 1:6.
  2. Continued – God works in you, Phil 2:13.
  3. Completed – The Lord Jesus Christ…will transform our lowly bodies, Phil 3:21.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students)

Being confident – This is strong language, expressing certainty.

A good work – Some take this to refer narrowly to the Philippian’s financial support of Paul. But the meaning, as in v5, is probably broader, referring to their lifelong participation in the gospel. Note that Paul says that it is ‘a good work in you’. Fee along with the majority of commentators, regards this ‘good work’ as their salvation in Christ.

However, the fact that salvation is referred to as a ‘good work’ draws attention to the ethical dimension of the gospel; to the fact that faith in Christ entails a transformed life. Thus Paul will pray that this transformation will be sustained and increased, vv9-11, and in this letter generally he will be concerned to encourage them to live lives worthy of the gospel, Phil 1:27. (Fee)

The day of Christ Jesus – Although this expression may, in the NT, have the overtones of judgment inherent in OT usage, it more frequently denotes the final exaltation of Christ and his people. ‘This is the “not yet” of salvation that Christ has “already” secured and the Spirit appropriated in the life of the believer.’

1:7 For it is right for me to think this about all of you, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel all of you became partners in God’s grace together with me.
1:8 For God is my witness that I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
1:9 And I pray this, that your love may abound even more and more in knowledge and every kind of insight 1:10 so that you can decide what is best, and thus be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ, 1:11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

Ministry as a Prisoner

1:12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel: 1:13 The whole imperial guard and everyone else knows that I am in prison for the sake of Christ, 1:14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having confidence in the Lord because of my imprisonment, now more than ever dare to speak the word fearlessly.
1:15 Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 1:16 The latter do so from love because they know that I am placed here for the defense of the gospel. 1:17 The former proclaim Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think they can cause trouble for me in my imprisonment. 1:18 What is the result? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and in this I rejoice.

Defense – ‘apologia’.

Prepared to be outshone?

Are we prepared to be outshone by others, either in ability or reputation, if God may be glorified, and the gospel proclaimed, thereby? This is a major test of Christian character. ‘Let my candle go out, if the Sun of Righteousness may but shine.’ (Thomas Watson)

See Gal 1:8

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 1:19 for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Hendriksen remarks that at first glance Paul seems to have descended from the lofty idea of the proclamation of Christ, v18, to a rather less lofty concern about his own deliverance.  But, as v19f makes clear, ‘deliverance’ consisted in precisely this: that ‘Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’

1:20 My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die.
1:21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 1:22 Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: 1:23 I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, 1:24 but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.

To me, to live is Christ – ‘To me’, coming as it does at the beginning of this statement, is emphatic.  Paul has in mind a contrast with those who preach Christ from selfish ambition.  His concern is not self-centred, but Christ-centred: he is concerned with glorifying his Redeemer.

Hendriksen suggests that Paul’s meaning may be clarified by reference to parallel passages.  ‘It means: to derive one’s strength from Christ (Phil 4:13), to have the mind, the humble disposition of Christ (Phil 2:5-11), to know Christ with the knowledge of Christian experience (Phil 3:8), to be covered by Christ’s righteousness (Phil 3:9), to rejoice in Christ (Phil 3:1; Phil 4:4), to live for Christ, that is, for his glory (2 Cor 5:15), to rest one’s faith on Christ and to love him in return for his love (Gal 2:20).’

Do I live for his glory?

‘I live for his glory, I would die for his gospel. He is the pattern of my life, and the model for my character.’ For Paul, Christ was not merely something, but everything. Can I, as a Christian, honestly say that I live up to this ideal – not just in measure, but in every department of my life: my family, my friendships, my work, my study, my leisure? And can I say that I do so will my whole being – my mind, my heart, by body, my money and my possessions? Let me present myself afresh to Christ, as willing to die for him as to live for him.

‘The very essence of Paul’s present life was Christ and all that this entailed. Paul’s identification with Christ in a vital spiritual union (Gal 2:20) resulted in far-reaching practical implications. Christ had become for him the motive of his actions, the goal of his life and ministry, and the source of his strength.’ (EBC)

‘As he put it in Phil 3:12-14, having be “apprehended by Christ Jesus ,” Christ thus became the singular pursuit of his life.  “Christ” – crucified, exalted Lord, present by the Spirit, coming king; “Christ” – the one who as God “emptied himself” and as man “humbled himself” – to death on the cross – whom God has now given the name above all names (Phil 2:6-11); “Christ,” the one for whom Paul has gladly “suffered the loss of all things” in order to “gain” him and “know” him, both his resurrection power and participation in his sufferings (Phil 3:7-11); “Christ,” the name that sums up for Paul the whole range of his new relationship to God: personal devotion, commitment, service, the gospel, ministry, communion, inspiration, everything.’ (Fee)

‘It is the undoubted character of every good Christian that to him to live is Christ. The glory of Christ ought to be the end of our life, the grace of Christ the principle of our life, and the word of Christ the rule of it. The Christian life is derived from Christ, and directed to him. He is the principle, rule, and end of it.’ (MHC)

Paul’s purpose

Barnes suggests that Paul’s purpose may be inferred:-

(1.) A purpose to know as much of Christ as it was possible to know—to become as fully acquainted as he could with his rank, his character, his plans, with the relations which he sustained to the Father, and with the claims and influences of his religion; see Phil. 3:10; Eph. 3:19; comp. John 17:3.

(2.) A purpose to imitate Christ—to make him the model of his life. It was a design that his Spirit should reign in his heart, that the same temper should actuate him, and that the same great end should be constantly had in view.

(3.) A purpose to make his religion known, as far as possible, among mankind. To this Paul seriously gave his life, and devoted his great talents. His aim was to see on how many minds he could impress the sentiments of the Christian religion; to see to how many of the human family he could make Christ known, to whom he was unknown before. Never was there a man who gave himself with more ardour to any enterprise, than Paul did to this; and never was one more successful, in any undertaking, than he was in this.

(4.) It was a purpose to enjoy Christ. He drew his comforts from him. His happiness he found in communion with him. It was not in the works of art; not in the pursuits of elegant literature; not in the gay and fashionable world; but it was in communion with the Saviour, and in endeavouring to please him.

To die is gain – Death would bring a twofold gain: gain for the gospel, for Christ would be exalted, v20, and gain for Paul himself, for he would be ‘with Christ, which is better by far’, v23.  ‘Paul no doubt meant that for the man or woman in Christ to die would be gain, whatever form death took.  But the death that he has specially in mind for himself in the present situation is execution in consequence of an adverse judment in the imperial court.  If such a death in th service of Christ crowned a life spent in the service of Christ, it would be gain not to Paul along but to the cause of Christ throughout the world.’ (F.F. Bruce)

Motyer suggests the Phil 3:4-8 illuminates the idea of ‘gain’ in present passage.  There, Paul looks back to the day when he discovered the surpassing worth of Christ.  But the process is still continuing, as he abandons everything with the purpose of gaining more and more of Christ.  Here, ‘Paul defines his life as gaining Christ, and death as the ultimate gain itself. In life he is absorbed and determined in consecrated living for Christ; in death he expects to possess Christ totally. We could paraphrase and extend his thought by saying, “Life means Christ to me, as I more fully know and love and serve him day by day; death means Christ to me, when I shall finally possess and eternally enjoy him.”‘

Some have postulate that the ‘intermediate state’ is one of suspended animation or even annihilation.  However, as F.F. Bruce remarks, ‘If death meant (even temporarily) less of Christ than was enjoyed in mortal life—above all, if it meant (even temporary) annihilation—it would be absurd to speak of it as gain.’

As Fee points out, Paul’s attitude here is not other-worldly.  He regards himself as a citizen of two worlds, ‘his heavenly citizenship determining his earthly’, Phil 1:21; 3:20.

The character of a Christian

‘It is the undoubted character of every good Christian that to him to live is Christ. The glory of Christ ought to be the end of our life, the grace of Christ the principle of our life, and the word of Christ the rule of it. The Christian life is derived from Christ, and directed to him. He is the principle, rule, and end of it.’ (MHC)

A test

Wiersbe says that this verse provides a good test for our lives.  How might we fill in the following blanks:- “For me to live is…., and to die is…”  There are those, if they are honest, who would have to say:-

  • “For to me to live is money and to die is to leave it all behind.”
  • “For to me to live is fame and to die is to be forgotten.”
  • “For to me to live is power and to die is to lose it all.”

I am torn – He is in a dilemma.  Either alternative – death and being with Christ, or life and service to Christ’s people – is attractive to him.  ‘If the choice were left to him, he would not be able to tell what he would decide. How fortunate that God does not force us to make such choices!’ (EBC)

Remaining here versus departing to be with Christ

A temporary residence, a mere tent-dwelling A permanent abode
Suffering mixed with joy Joy unmixed with suffering
Suffering for a little while Joy forever
Being absent from the Lord Being at home with the Lord
The fight The feast
The realm of sin The realm of complete deliverance from sin; positive holiness

(Hendriksen)

‘Paul is not saying that death is better than the worst of life. He is saying death is better than the best of life. In other words, he was not longing for death as the way out of unbearable circumstances. He was longing for it as the way into unspeakably glorious circumstances.’ (Roger Ellsworth)

Depart – The Gk. word is used both of a ship weighing anchor and of packing up a tent and moving on.

‘The heart of a believer affected with the glory of Christ, is like the needle touched with the loadstone. It can no longer be quiet, no longer be satisfied in a distance from him. It is put into a continuous motion towards him. This motion, indeed, is weak and tremulous. Pantings, breathings, sighings, groanings in prayer, in meditation, in the secret recesses of our minds, are the life of it. However, it is continually pressing towards him. But it obtains not its point, it comes not to its centre and rest, in this world.’ (John Owen, Works, I, 385)

With Christ, which is better by far – ‘Paul’s expression here indicates that he did not foresee a soul-sleep while awaiting the resurrection, nor any purgatory. As he had already explained to the Corinthians, absence from the body means immediate presence with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8). This was undoubtedly “better by far,” because it would bring him rest from his labors (Rev 14:13) and the joy of eternal fellowship in the very presence of the Lord whom he loved.’ (EBC)

Schreiner: ‘One could possibly say that he anticipates being with Christ at his resurrection. It is more natural, though, to conclude that Paul would be with Christ immediately after his death since he seems to find an instantaneous benefit in death.’ (Paul: Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p467)

‘So much about like after death is left, by Scripture, without certain description, but on this central fact there is no hesitation: the Christian dead are “with Christ”.’ (Motyer)

‘One who enjoys the presence of Christ in this life is not to be deprived of it when this life ends, for Christ is alive on the other side of death and because he lives on, his people live on.’ (F.F. Bruce)

Fee ponders the relationship between this expectation of going immediately to be with Christ as death, and biblical teaching on Christ’s return and the general resurrection.  This, he suggests, ‘is probably to be resolved in terms of the inherent tension between the “spatial and temporal elements” (Lincoln) in Paul’s eschatology.  His present existence “in Christ” makes it unthinkable that he would ever – even at death – be in in a “place” where he was not “with Christ”.  Hence death means “heaven now”.  At the same time, a person’s death did not usher him or her into “timeless” existence.  Hence the bodily resurrection still awaits one “at the end”.  Ultimately this matter lies in the area of mystery.  At issue is the interplay between death and resurrection.  From our human perspective, earthbound and therefore time bound as it is, we cannot imagine “timeless” existence; whereas from the perspective of eternity/infinity these may very well be collapsed into a single “moment”.’

“Death is only a grim porter to let us into a stately palace.” (Richard Sibbes)

‘If by excessive zeal we die before reaching the average age of man, worn out in the Master’s service, then glory be to God, we shall have so much less of earth and so much more of heaven.’ (Spurgeon)

O think!
To step on shore
And that shore heaven!
To take hold of a hand,
And that God’s hand!
To breathe a new air,
And feel it celestial air!
To feel invigorated
And know it immortality!
O think!
To pass from storm and tempest
To one unbroken calm!
To wake up
And find it glory!

(G.P Singer, quoted in J. Oswald Sanders, Heaven – Better By Far)

1:25 And since I am sure of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for the sake of your progress and joy in the faith, 1:26 so that what you can be proud of may increase because of me in Christ Jesus, when I come back to you.
1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind, by contending side by side for the faith of the gospel, 1:28 and by not being intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – this has been variously translated:-

“Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ…” (AV)  ‘Conversation’ is, of course, used here in the antiquated sense of ‘behaviour’.

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ…” (RSV, ESV)

“Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (TNIV)

The underlying word verb is ‘politeuomai’  A cognate word is used in Phil 3:20, where it is usually translated ‘citizenship’.

The addition ‘of heaven’ (TNIV, TLB) has no underlying basis in the text of the present verse, but seems rather to  be included to clarify the fact that Paul is speaking of Christians, not as Roman citizens, but citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  Also, this translation anticipates Phil 3:20, where Paul does clearly refer state ‘our citizenship is in heaven’.

Blomberg thinks that ‘conduct’ is to be preferred in Phil 1:27.

‘There is something profoundly moving about this appeal. The apostle is a prisoner, either in Rome (as traditionally thought) or in Ephesus (as some hold). In either case he is under house arrest, his liberty is curtailed, and he is unable either to visit the churches he has planted or to engage in more pioneer evangelism. Moreover, his future is full of uncertainty. He realises that he may be approaching death. Indeed, he feels torn between life and death. His personal desire is “to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” Yet the churches still need him, so that he is fairly sure he will be released and will resume his apostolic labour. Yet beyond both options he longs for the glory of Christ: “so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” Phil 1:20-26.’ (Stott, Evangelical Truth, 136)

Whatever happens – ‘Whether I live or die’. ‘His principle concern is not what will happen to him, but what will happen to the gospel; not for himself and his personal survival, but for the survival and spread of the gospel.’ (Stott, Evangelical Truth, 136)

Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ – Stott refers to this as ‘the call for evangelical integrity’. The word politeuomai originally meant ‘to live as a citizen’, and in Phil 3:20 Paul reminds his readers that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’. Our Christian’s life should be consistent withour calling, and with God and his kingdom. ‘There is to be no dichotomy between what we profess and what we practise, between what we say and what we are, but rather a fundamental consistency’ (Stott).

‘There are many pastors today who, for fear of being branded “legalists”, give their congregation no ethical teaching.  How far we have strayed from the apostles!  “Legalism” is the misguided attempt to earn our salvation by obedience to the law.  “Pharisaism” is a preoccupation with the externals and the minutiae of religious duty.  To teach the standards of moral conduct which adorn the gospel is neither legalism nor pharisaism but plain apostolic Christianity.’ (Stott, I believe in preaching)

Stand firm…contending – ‘Paul urges readers not to break under the pressure of opposition, but instead to exert pressure of their own. This means proclaiming the gospel they have believed, (Eph 1:13) and living worthy of it.’ (New Geneva)

Stott calls this ‘the call for evangelical stability’. He reminds us of the importance of stable government, economy, buildings, character. Scripture teaches the importance of Christian stability, Acts 18:23 Rom 16:5 Eph 6:10 ff, cf. Eph4:14. Such stability takes effort, for it is easier to swim with the stream than against, easier to bend like reeds than to stand firm like rocks.

Contending as one man – Here is ‘the call for evangelical unity‘ (Stott).  Unity is a leading theme in this letter to the Philippians, cf Phil 2:2. A possible clue as to why this be so is found in three conversions that took place during Paul’s visit, Acts 16:11 ff. Lydia was a wealthy businesswoman, the anonymous slave girl was from the other end of the social specrum, while the Roman gaoler, probably a retired soldier, was different again. If these were the three foundation members of the church at Philippi, then it would not be surprising if the old tensions of race, class and personality surfaced again and caused some conflict.

The kind of unity that Paul commends is not unity at any price – the kind that is prepared to compromise fundamental truths. But neither does it insist on agreement in every particular. No: it is unity in evangelical essentials, in ‘the faith of the gospel’. (See Stott, p140f).

‘It is too bad that anything so obvious should need to be said at this late date, but from all appearances, we Christians have about forgotten the lesson so carefully taught by Paul: God’s servants are not to be competitors, but co-workers.’ (A.W. Tozer) Cf. Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 1:10; Eph 4:3.

Contending for the faith of the gospel – This is ‘the call for evangelical truth’ (Stott). It is not enough to stand firm in the gospel, not even enough to proclaim it: we must also contend for it. This is the apologetic task, the task of asserting that what we say is true and reasonable, Acts 26:25. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and he brings people to faith in Jesus Christ through our words and arguments.

‘Phil 1:28-30 Paul offers the Philippian believers four assurances. (a) Their courage in the face of opposition is a sign of the divine judgment facing the persecutors. (2 Thess 1:5-10) (b) Their courage is also a sign of the believers’ own salvation in the full, redemptive sense. (Rom 1:16 13:11) (c) Suffering for Christ is an honor given by God (3:10). (d) Paul shares in their struggle, (Phil 1:7-26 Acts 16:19-24 1 Thess 2:2) and his example can encourage them just as it does “the brethren”.’ (Phil 1:14) (New Geneva)

1:29 For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, 1:30 since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing.

Granted…to believe – ‘Christ did not die for any upon condition, if they do believe; but he died for all God’s elect, that they should believe, and believing have eternal life. Faith itself is among the principal effects and fruits of the death of Christ.’ (John Owen)

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