Philippians - Pursuing Christ to Know Him

by Thomas W. Finley

Chapter One – Christ to be Honored

Greetings (1:1-2)

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

Paul and Timothy take the position of “servants” (in New Testament Greek the word is doulos, Strong’s #1401)[1], following Christ’s example (2:7). The term doulos could mean a slave, but the word in the NT (the abbreviation used in this book for New Testament) was often used generally of a servant. The idea here is a person being in subjection to another. Paul and Timothy served Christ Jesus, just as Christ served the Father in complete obedience, putting aside his own will. Christ’s humility and obedience are a core thought in this letter and may be the reason for Paul’s language here in describing himself and Timothy. Although Paul is an apostle, and is not hesitant to identify himself as such in other letters, here he puts himself on the same plane as Timothy. Paul identifies both of them as servants of Christ Jesus. They share a common service to God and a common service to the Philippians (2:19-24).

Paul sends the letter to “all the saints,” (meaning all the believers) with the recognized leaders (overseers and deacons) noted secondly. The word “with” in verse one actually indicates that the leaders are in union with all the others in Philippi and these leaders are included in the group of “all the saints.” Paul does not write to a “leader” group and then add on the other saints in the church. That would elevate the “leaders” who actually are to be servants. Paul writes to the all the saints, and then notes the servant-leaders who are included.

Servant-leaders are those who lead others in the way of Christ and service. This is the only place in the NT where these two types of serving ones (overseers and deacons) are mentioned in a combined way. And, in no other Pauline epistle does Paul make a special greeting to overseers or deacons. Rather, if not written to specific individuals, the greetings in Paul’s letters are to the assemblies, consisting of all the saints. We should recognize and appreciate those who teach us and lead us in the ways of Christ and God’s truth. However, we should be careful not to elevate these serving ones above the rest of the saints, making them a special class. If we are an overseer or a deacon, we should not think of ourselves as above others or belonging to some special class. An overseer or a deacon has a distinct function in the body of Christ, but not a “position.” To know and practice these truths exhibits spiritual maturity in a church world too often tainted by men’s natural ideas of positions “over others.”

Thanksgiving (1:3-8)

3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus

Paul is thankful upon every remembrance of these believers, who were obviously tied to him in a deeply spiritual way. Their relationship began on the “first day” when Paul initially brought the gospel to Philippi (Acts 16:9 ff). Paul was so thankful and joyful as he remembered these saints in prayer. His joy was especially real when he considered their “partnership in the gospel.” The word for “partnership” here is koinonia (Strong’s #2842). The word basically means a “sharing in common” or “partnership” in something. Some good translations have translated this word in Philippians 1:5 as: “participation,” “fellowship” or “partnership.” This sharing with Paul in the advancement of the gospel included financial contributions to him (2:25; 4:15-17), co-laboring (4:3), prayers (1:19), and a participation with him in the supply of God’s grace (1:7).

Because of the partnership that Paul had witnessed in them in the gospel work, Paul had a certain confidence (v. 6). His confidence was that God, who had begun a good work in them, would carry that good work on to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. What is the “good work” in verse six? Some Bible teachers believe that this good work is the continuing work of God in the salvation of the Philippians, including sanctification of the life. This view holds that God would complete this salvation of believers at the coming day of Jesus Christ.[2] This interpretation would mean that Paul had an expectation that all of these believers would be fully matured in their Christian life by the end of their lifetime, thus being ready for “the day of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, we will examine Paul’s own striving for maturity in his Christian life in 3:9-16 so that he would receive approval for positive reward in that future day. That coming day has particular reference to the time of Christ’s judgment of the saints at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Although it is tempting to wish for that meaning of full maturity, we must always use the context and other good Biblical analysis for interpretation.

The context shows us this: verse five notes the Philippians’ partnership in Paul’s gospel work. Then, verse seven shows that Paul has this confidence because he has these believers in his heart, and they were “partakers with me of grace” in the gospel work. In other words, Paul had witnessed that these believers had a genuine working of grace (supply and activity of the Holy Spirit) in the same manner as he did. And this is something which Paul describes as being shared together with him. The working of grace here is defined as that which was involved with the gospel. Thus, the context would point to an interpretation of the “good work” as the Philippians’ partnership with Paul in the cause of the gospel. In the last chapter Paul specifically recognizes this partnership as one especially involving the Philippians’ financial support of Paul (4:15-18).

Interestingly, if one searches the New Testament for the phrase “good work” or “good works,” he will note that all of the other verses (besides Phil. 1:6) show a “good work” as some good deed done by a believer or by Jesus (all involving human activity). Jesus lived as a man under God the Father’s headship, with His good works coming from the Father working in Him (Jn. 5:19-20, 36; 10:32; 14:10). In this way Jesus was a pattern for us and our good works should be those originating from God’s Spirit operating within us. Compare John 10:32 and Phil. 1:6. Also, note that in Chapter Two Paul speaks of God who works in us to will and to do, but we must carry out the doing through obedience (Phil. 2:12-13). The point being made here is that the “good work” in verse six would most likely be a good deed actually carried out in human activity. Such human activity would fit well with an interpretation of the “good work” in verse six being financial support of Paul and other gospel activities with him. The alternative interpretation — that this “good work” is simply the work of salvation accomplished by God alone in maturing the believer — would not fit as well with the idea of “good works” as seen in other NT passages.

Ephesians 2:10 is a verse that matches this concept exactly. God began the good work of gospel partnership with Paul in the lives of the Philippians. This concept is further seen by the prayer that follows this portion and is connected to it. There Paul prayed that the believers would be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (1:11). The righteousness in this verse is not speaking of imputed righteousness (our standing of perfect righteousness in Christ),[3] but is speaking of our actions of righteousness, fruit borne in our lives. True spiritual fruit can only come from God Himself. Thus we see the strong principle that runs throughout this epistle: Christ’s life is available to the believer and is at work in us, but we must cooperate with the Spirit of God so that Christ’s life might be lived out.

For further support of this position that the “good work” in verse six means gospel partnership engaged in by the believers, please see Appendix A in the back of this book.

What does verse six mean by “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ?” It means that the spiritual impact of the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel would continue, with God carrying it onward to a final conclusion in the day when Christ judges His believers. The term “the day of Jesus Christ” seems to have a particular emphasis upon the judgment of believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (also known by its Greek term, Bema). We can see this from verse ten, which highlights our need to have pure and blameless lives in preparation for “the day of Christ.” Also, the third reference to this “day” is in Philippians 2:16. There Paul expresses his hope “that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” His hope is based upon the godly living of the Philippian believers being made evident in that day (2:14-16). This should refer to the manifestation of the deeds of the believers at the Bema (2 Cor. 5:10). Good works which we have done will be carried onward by God to figure into the believer’s reward at the Bema. The letters that Paul wrote, as an example, are still impacting lives today tremendously. The work of those letters will be carried on by God to final completion for reward at the day of Christ.

1:7 – According to Greek language experts a clause here may be translated in one of two ways: “I hold you in my heart,” or “you hold me in your heart.” There are reasonable arguments for either translation from the context. In any case, the sympathies of Paul and the Philippians are close and real and based in the reality of the Spirit, not just emotions. Indeed Paul wrote that the Philippians were “partakers with me of grace.” This means they identified and empathized with the apostle in his imprisonment and experienced a strong burden in prayer for him (see Heb. 13:3; Phil. 1:19; cf. Col. 4:18). And while in prison Paul longed for them (v. 8).

The believers in Philippi were also partakers of grace with Paul as he defended and confirmed the gospel. Paul had known the Philippians for about ten years at the time he wrote this letter. During that time the Philippians had no doubt kept Paul in their hearts and prayers. This is evidenced by their remembrance of him in the giving of multiple gifts and by their sending of Epaphroditus to him (2:25; 4:15-17). Over those ten years Paul had to defend the gospel message against the attacks of Jewish and Gentile unbelievers, Jewish legalists and false apostles. He also worked to confirm the gospel message to all. Paul confirmed the message both by his persuasion from the OT Scriptures and the proofs of his apostolic ministry through signs and wonders (Acts 17:2-3; 18:4, 28; 19:26; Heb. 2:3-4; Rom. 15:16-19; 2 Cor. 12:12). The Philippians were truly “with Paul” in his great enterprise of the gospel work by experiencing God’s grace (His inward working). We should note that the Philippians themselves worked in gospel efforts apart from Paul’s presence and efforts, but in the same experience of God’s grace (1:27-28; 2:17).

1:8 – Paul’s longing for the Philippians is rooted in his experience of Christ, not fleshly emotions. He longs for them “with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

Prayer (1:9-11)

9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Bible commentators note that the opening prayers of Paul’s letters often act as a summary of the contents of the letter. At least we can say there are key themes in this prayer which are enhanced throughout the letter. Love is mentioned explicitly again in the letter (1:16; 2:1-2). Love is also seen implicitly, especially in connection with the idea of discernment and choosing the excellent things (3:7-8 is one example). The last part of the prayer deals with the theme of being approved in the day of Christ (the day of His judgment). This reward theme is seen throughout the epistle (2:12-16; 3:10-14; 3:18-19; 4:5; 4:17).

To work on the meaning of this prayer, let us first try to learn the meaning of some words and phrases within the prayer. Then we can put it all together. For learning the meaning of Greek words used in the NT text, see Appendix B.

“love” – The Greek word used here is agape (Strong’s #26). As respects love toward people, the word is used in the NT of love governed by the will in valuing, loving, and caring for someone. Such love is not based upon feelings or emotions, or even the attractiveness of the person loved.

This love can be directed towards people or things. Love can be misdirected by men, including believers (Lk. 11:43; Jn. 12:43; 2 Tim. 4:10; 2 Pet. 2:15; 1 Jn. 2:15).

“knowledge” – Actually, a better translation here would be “full knowledge” (used in Darby, LITV, YLT). The NASB uses “real knowledge.” These other translations take into account that the Greek word used here differs slightly from the one normally translated as “knowledge.” The normal Greek word for knowledge is gnosis (#1108), but the word here is epignosis (#1922). The word epignosis denotes a more special or fuller knowledge of the object known than the simple term gnosis. It suggests a basis in experience. When God is the object known, it suggests some participation in Him. In the NT this word often speaks of the true knowledge of moral and divine things.

“discernment” – aisthesis (#144). This Greek word means keen spiritual perception or insight. This word also suggests experience being a base for discernment.

“approve” – dokimazo (#1381). This word means to test something to verify its value. This word was used in classical Greek literature to depict the testing of metals to see if they were approved upon testing. Gold was so tested to determine its purity. The phrase “approve what is excellent” could also be rendered “distinguish between the things which differ.” The idea is to so test situations and choices with spiritual knowledge and discernment so as to discover that which is excellent, as distinguished from that which is not.

“pure” – eilikrinēs (#1506). The word means pure, as though brought out into the sunlight for examination to detect any impurities.

“blameless” – aproskopos (#677). It could also be rendered “without offense.” It refers to character which is exemplary and does not cause others to stumble (be led into sin). This does not mean sinless perfection, but exemplary character, including the forsaking and confession of known sin.

“the day of Christ” – This future time seems to hold emphasis upon Christ’s evaluation and judgment of His believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ in that day (1:6, 10; 2:16; cf. Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Paul prays that the love of the Philippians will abound yet more and more. This means that he has already witnessed their love and is praying to see it displayed even more in their lives. How had Paul seen the love of the Philippians? Obviously, in the context, he has seen their love displayed towards him and towards the gospel work of God. Also included would be their love toward all men, since the gospel represents God’s love toward man and those who take out the gospel do so in love toward men.

Some Bible commentators feel that the love in verse eight is talking only about the believers’ love for one another. The love among believers is an important theme picked up later in the letter, sometimes expressed under the idea of unity (1:27; 2:2-4; 4:2). But, the “love” in verse nine is not modified (as in “love for one another”, as it is, for example, in 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9-10).

Surely these saints loved God’s apostle, God’s good news, and the work of genuine ministry. They had also demonstrated to Paul that they loved the saints most sacrificially in their giving to the poor. The passage is 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 speaks of such giving from the churches in Macedonia, which included Philippi. Certainly the saints here had a love for the cause of the gospel, to see it spread. Hebrews 6:10 speaks of doing things in ministry as showing love towards His name. The “labor of love” in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 seems to speak of ministry performed out of love for Christ. Paul opens his prayer, then, that the love of these saints will increase still more, in all kinds of ways. Some Bible commentators do agree that the “love” Paul prays for here is not narrowly defined, as in “love one another.” Rather, it covers love in the many avenues that it may be expressed.

The meaning of the prayer: On Paul’s heart is the earnest spiritual desire that the Philippians will enter more and more into the experience of Jesus Christ in their lives. The “love” he prays for is nothing less than the expression in attitude and actions of the indwelling Jesus in their lives. After all, Paul states: “for to me to live is Christ” (1:21). Also, his great goal is to know Christ intimately in His resurrection power and in the self-denying obedience that marked His path of suffering (3:10-14).

This love is to be exercised “with [full] knowledge and all discernment.” In other words, it is love that is governed and directed by a real knowledge of God and sound spiritual principles. Such knowledge and careful spiritual discernment are applied in order to perceive what is excellent. Naturally, our knowledge of God is something that should grow as we mature as believers (Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:10; 2 Pet. 1:8; 3:18). Linked to the knowledge of God is knowledge of His word, which reflects Him, His ways and His will.

The letter to Colossae was written during this same period when Paul was in prison. A roughly parallel passage in the opening prayer of that letter reads: “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:9-10a).

We use this knowledge and discernment as a spiritual tool to test things – people, situations, choices before us, etc., in order to approve and select the thing that is excellent. The thing that is excellent is that thing or way that is of Christ. It is what or whom He is loving and how He is doing it. Paul wants our love to abound, but within the will and way of Christ. Do our attitudes and actions follow the living Christ within us?

If we choose to follow the living Christ in the giving of ourselves in love, then we will indeed be pure and blameless in our lives. In this way we will be prepared for His approval in the day of Christ (v. 10). Notice how 2:12-16 picks up this exact theme. In that passage we see that when the Spirit of God is followed, we become blameless and innocent in our living, ready for the day of Christ.

In verses 9-10 we see how to be prepared for His approval at the Judgment Seat. Notice that this preparation is really equivalent to the description in verse 11, which is a summary statement regarding the preparation under discussion: “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” If we practice verses 9-10, then we will have the practical fruit of righteousness in our lives. This is not “imputed righteousness.”[4] It is the righteous living and deeds of our lives, and this righteous fruit “comes through Jesus Christ.” Think of the fruit borne by the branch abiding in the Vine (John 15). An example of this fruit is the partnership that the Philippian saints had in Paul’s gospel ministry by financially supporting him (4:15-18). In 4:17 Paul says that he is not seeking a material gift as such for himself. Rather, he is seeking the spiritual fruit which increases to the credit of the believers in Philippi. Paul’s idea of “fruit” which increases to the “credit” or the “account” of the Philippians points to reward at the coming Judgment Seat of Christ. This reward is based upon their participation in the gospel work of Paul.

The letter to the Philippians certainly contains references to the ways that Christ’s love should be manifested toward fellow believers (2:2-4; 4:2, 5). Yet, I also believe that love expressed toward those who are servants of God is also included in Paul’s mention of love in his prayer. We should take note again that such love toward ministers and ministries should be exercised with full knowledge and discernment. In 1:16 Paul said that some preached out of love (agape) toward him, knowing that he was appointed for the defense of the gospel. Love, then, can surely be expressed toward ministers and ministries. In 1:15-17 Paul uses spiritual discernment to examine the preaching of others. In 3:1-3 he expresses concern that the Philippians be on the alert for evil workers and false religious teaching.

It is my observation that today many believers have little or no discernment concerning preachers, teaching and ministries. Those without spiritual knowledge and discernment often give themselves to follow and support ministers and ministries which are not truly led by the Holy Spirit. Undiscerning believers “love” these ministers just as Paul was loved by the Philippians. But, the result of loving such ministers is not true spiritual life or fruit for these undiscerning ones. Too many times the result of following unspiritual ministries is either a life of legalism or religious activities not led by the Holy Spirit. Non Spirit-led ministries can also cause people to seek after mere “mental knowledge” of the Bible that does not touch the living. Such ministries sometimes direct their followers to sensationalism and charismatic excesses not of God. Today we also see many unspiritual ministries focus on the pursuit of earthly things, such as preached by the promoters of a “prosperity gospel” (note this pursuit in 3:18-19).

Concerning spiritual discernment, in 3:3-8 Paul draws a contrast between the religious “flesh” and its efforts and the pursuit of Christ for life and ministry. Here we see a very significant principle. The flesh (the natural power of man) is ever present to operate in “doing things for God.” It works from the base of religious ideas and self-effort, without the reality of the Spirit’s enlightenment, leading and empowerment. In this realm, doing “good works” becomes the way of religious life.

Today there are multiplied Christian ministries and efforts of churches doing all kinds of works, but how many are producing “the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” (1:11)? To the mind of many anything that seems “good” from a human perspective equals a work of God. However, Paul’s prayer is that love would abound, but only from full knowledge and keen discernment, to test and approve what things are truly of Christ Himself.

In summary, the prayer in 1:9-11 is for the saints to grow in their knowledge of Christ. This knowledge of Him, going hand-in-hand with true spiritual perception, equips them to test, discover, and choose what is excellent. What is excellent is that which is truly of Him, and by following what is excellent they will live Christ out practically (love abounding). As a result, the saints will be prepared for approval by Him in the day of Christ at His Judgment Seat. They will have the experience of being filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ. This prayer sets the major themes of the entire epistle.

Life Application

The first section of Chapter One provides us much to consider. Our participation in the true work of the good news of Jesus Christ is vital. At the time of the writing of this letter, only the Philippian church, out of all the Macedonian assemblies, had supported the apostle in his God-ordained gospel work. We should understand the gospel work in a broad way, to include the teaching of all the truth of God. This support was out of a love for the spread of the gospel, a love of God, a love for Paul, and a love for mankind. Paul’s prayer certainly provokes us to deeply consider and pray over what we embrace, love and practice in living out our Christian lives and service. Good application often begins with dependent prayer to God for His work and enablement in our lives.

Here is a suggested prayer: “Father, I come to You in dependence and humility, confessing my need to grow in Christ in order to properly discern the will and way of God. I do desire to participate in the work of genuine Spirit-led ministry. I ask You to open my eyes to see more clearly what is really of Christ in the work of service. I want to see and follow the things that are truly excellent. Let me learn of Christ, His will and His ways in Your word. I want to be prepared for the day of Christ and be approved at the coming Judgment Seat of Christ. I pray that You would grant me discernment. I pray for the Spirit’s enablement in my life to be filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ alone. I ask for these things from You in the name of Jesus.”

Progress of the gospel (1:12-18)

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

1:12-14 — This imprisonment was Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, probably 60-62 A. D. Scripture tells us that he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters, being able to talk to others who came to visit him (Acts 28:30). Paul was allowed to stay by himself instead of being placed with other prisoners (Acts 28:16). Nevertheless, he was chained to a Roman guard at all times, per Roman regulations (Acts 28:16, 20).

This guard was part of the imperial guard encampment near the Emperor’s palace on the Palatine hill, the very center of the Roman Empire in those days. Paul was most likely in a building somewhere on this hill and near the guard barracks. He had daily discussions with other believers in the presence of different guards, who took turns guarding him. Such activity probably became the primary means by which the gospel advanced throughout the guard and Caesar’s household nearby (Phil. 4:22).

The word translated “imprisonment” here is literally “bonds,” meaning a chain in Paul’s case. The guards and others of the area learned that Paul was in “house arrest” and chained to a guard simply because of his stand for Christ and the message of Christ. Paul writes that his “imprisonment is for Christ,” meaning that, to him, these chains were simply his present lot due to his pursuit of Christ. Paul’s chains were part of his sharing of Christ’s sufferings (3:10). Paul’s second imprisonment was not in the exact same place as his first imprisonment, as the great fire in A. D. 64 did much damage to the buildings there. His second imprisonment was probably more severe as he wrote that for the gospel “I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal” (2 Tim. 2:9).

Paul’s gospel also spread to the believers in Rome through his contact with his visitors. The text tells us that most of the brethren were confident in the Lord because of Paul’s imprisonment, and thus were bold to speak the word of God without fear. Naturally speaking, if we see someone preach and then be put into prison for this activity, this would tend to make us less bold to preach. What emboldened them was Paul’s example in preaching and the life of Paul in his imprisonment. That Paul would be willing to preach at the cost of imprisonment no doubt provided inspiration for them to follow in this path of costly discipleship.

Yet perhaps additionally the saints outside of prison saw how Paul was living Christ and proclaiming the gospel while in prison. In other words, the imprisonment was not a real hindrance for Paul and his life of testimony. It only increased his witness, so that he could say “it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (see also 4:22). In other words the imprisonment did not extinguish the light of Paul’s testimony — it only increased that light (1:20-21).

It is most impressive that Paul’s writing tells us that what had happened to him through his imprisonment “really served to advance the gospel.” The Greek adverb for “really” is mallon (Strong’s #3123). Here it reflects an ironic comparison. Circumstances that might be expected to suppress the gospel actually worked to advance the gospel! This shows the amazing work that God can accomplish even when things look bleak and unpromising.

1:15 — Some now preached Christ out of envy and rivalry. This means that they wanted to use their preaching as a way of self-promotion. They were envious of Paul’s stature, power and success. Such competition in “God’s work” is a problem we see in the NT (2 Cor. 11:12; Gal. 4:17). It causes rivalry, leading to factions. Others, however, preached “from good will.” They preached Christ for His glory and His kingdom plans, and for the benefit of people’s salvation. They preached Christ sincerely (v. 17).

1:16 — Those who preached out of love for Paul and the truth were those who recognized Paul’s appointment – being placed, or “put here,” for the defense of the gospel. They were not trying to outdo Paul and be recognized by others. This reminds us of some of the characteristics of God’s love: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant” (1 Cor. 13:4). Those who preached out of love wanted to support Paul by continuing his gospel work with proper motives. They probably knew that that this would encourage the apostle while he was in prison.

1:17 — Those who preached from a wrong motive probably thought that their activities would cause Paul pain. This would be because Paul was replaced by other preachers in the public square. They probably felt that Paul was like them, seeking recognition by being in the public spotlight. They figured that he would feel pain because he was locked up in prison without freedom to preach in public.

1:18 — “What then?” Paul is asking, “What is my reaction now that others are trying to cause me pain and that others are being the public preachers?” Instead of feeling crushed by these things Paul breaks out into praise. He does not focus at all on revenge or condemnation of others. Nor does he focus on his own hurts, but he focuses on the fact that Christ is proclaimed. This causes him to rejoice. This is a picture of how Paul has lost his self-life. This is a picture of how Paul is living Christ. This does not mean that to preach with wrong motives is acceptable with God. Of course it is not, and all of our motives will come out at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 2:6; 1 Cor. 4:4-5; 2 Cor. 4:2).

Paul’s desire to live Christ (1:19-26)

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Verses 18-20 comprise one long complex sentence. The greatest controversy among commentators is over the meaning of the word “deliverance” (also translated as “salvation” by some Bible versions) in verse 19. The Greek word here is soteria (Strong’s #4991). The word can be used in a variety of ways and simply denotes some type of deliverance. It must always be interpreted according to the context of its usage. Some commentators say that Paul means a “deliverance” from prison. This is implausible because this deliverance is accomplished not only by prayer, but also through the help of the Spirit (v. 19). We will see later that this Greek word for help would mean a personal provision to Paul from the Spirit. This would not be needed for a release from prison.

Additionally, the whole thought of the “deliverance” here is explained in the sentence by the expectation that Christ would be honored — or “magnified” (a more literal translation) in Paul. This honoring or magnification of Christ is anticipated, whether by life or by death (v. 20). Death would mean non-release and the execution of Paul. Obviously, then, this deliverance cannot refer to a physical release from prison.

Other commentators claim that the deliverance here is pointing firstly to a future “vindication” of Paul at his final appearance before Christ the Judge at His coming. Or, they say this vindication perhaps refers to his exaltation of Christ in his appearance before the tribunal in Rome as a prisoner. An account of Job’s accusers and hope of vindication in Job 13 is supposedly on the mind of Paul, according to these interpreters. Note Job 13:16 which speaks of Job’s expectation of salvation, and Job 13:18 which speaks of vindication.

It is not reasonable to think Paul has this account of Job in mind at all, which includes Job’s thoughts that God was “against him” in his circumstances (Job 13:20-28). That is certainly not a thought of Paul who wrote Romans 8:31-39 at an earlier time. Also, Paul’s expectation that he would not be put to shame is not oriented to some future vindication at the Judgment Seat. Rather, it is oriented to “now,” and indeed to “as always” — his past experience. It has to do emphatically with Christ being seen in him now, as verse 21 explains: “for ( gar ) to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

The idea of Christ being manifested in our lives as an explanation of “deliverance” here should be understandable in NT theology. In our practical sanctification (our daily living) we can be delivered from the dominion of self and sin and brought into the reality of living His life. And such deliverance is not only before God, but also before men. This same word for deliverance here is used twice more in this letter, in 1:28 and in 2:12. When we arrive at these verses in this commentary, we will show that they also refer to a current experience of our deliverance, or salvation. This is a deliverance from sin, self and the influence of the present age by experiencing our union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

Therefore, the explanation of 1:19-20 (and 21) is put in summary fashion as follows: Paul knows how “this” (his present suffering circumstances of imprisonment and even preaching intended to cause him pain) will turn out. It is his expectation and hope that now, as always, Christ will be honored in his body (meaning in his life). And he expects that this will happen, whether through life or death (regardless of the outcome of his trial in Rome). By the help of the Spirit, and the prayers of the saints, the apostle will not live for himself in his own natural and fallen life, and thus be put to shame before God and others. Rather, Paul’s confident expectation is that Christ will be honored (enlarged, magnified) in his life. Thus, for Paul to live is Christ — his living expresses Christ. But if he dies, that is gain. So, the present negative circumstances provide a personal opportunity for Paul — “my deliverance” (v. 19). They also served to advance the gospel (v. 12).

Paul sees the “big picture” in what God has allowed in his present circumstances and he rejoices at how Christ can be preached and exalted through them!

As commonly stated by good Bible teachers, salvation comes in three phases for the believer: 1) We have been saved from the penalty of sin,delivered from God’s condemnation upon sin. We may call this a “justification” salvation. (Acts 16:30-31; Rom. 4:5; 5:1; Titus 3:5-7); 2) We are being saved from the power of sin, , the ongoing process of a “sanctification” salvation in our living. In this sanctification we are being delivered from the dominion of sin in our experience. (Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Thess. 4:3-4); 3) We shall be saved from the presence of sin. This future deliverance is the “glorification” stage of our salvation. Our bodies shall be glorified when Jesus returns (Phil. 3:20-21).

Critical to Paul’s deliverance in his circumstances are two things: 1) the prayers of the saints; 2) the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Here we see great instruction for us in the Christian life. Firstly, it is critical that we learn to pray for one another. We are in an intense spiritual battle against the evil spiritual forces and against indwelling sin. Ephesians 6:18 tells us that we should be alert in prayer, praying in the Spirit with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints. This intercession works in the spiritual realm to aid struggling saints (and we all have struggles, even Paul).

Secondly, we see the importance of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in this ongoing salvation struggle. This Spirit is Jesus realized by us in the Holy Spirit. It is called the Spirit of Jesus Christ because He entered into the realm of the Spirit after His resurrection and functionally became available to us through the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17; 15:45; 2 Cor. 3:15-17; 1 Pet. 3:18). Romans 8:9-10 shows a close identification between the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and Christ. God wants to supply us with this Spirit, strengthening and enabling us to live victoriously. By this Spirit we can honor or magnify Christ in our living and service. Thus we are not put to shame by being defeated and giving in to the self-life and sin.

The noun used for “help” in verse 19 is a rarely used word in Greek. This noun is derived from the verb epichoregeo (Strong’s #2023) which originally meant to furnish supplies that were needed for a chorus of singers. The same verb is used in Galatians 3:5 in a passage which says that God supplies us with the Spirit through faith in order to live the Christian life. Paul was human and suffered in a prison in Rome, awaiting trial for his life. Yet, these circumstances did not bring him into self-pity, disillusionment and ongoing depression. In fact, he was supplied by the Spirit of Jesus Christ so that he was strengthened and inspired to minister to the saints by writing four books of the New Testament while in that prison: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon.

In actuality, Paul does not have a “choice” to make on his own for the outcome of his imprisonment: execution or future ministry. The sovereign Lord is the only One with this choice. But, Paul presents the dilemma of the two possible outcomes in line with his aspirations. Here he sorts through the outcomes in terms of “Christ.” The outcome described as “to die is gain” means that if Paul dies he goes into the immediate presence of the Lord to experience His fullness. This surely is in line with the longing of Paul’s life (3:10-14). Although it is gain for Paul personally it also fits Christ’s plan for him and every believer at some point. So, it could be the will of the Lord for Paul at this time. On the other hand, for Paul to continue on in the flesh would mean fruitful labor for him. This outcome too would be in line with God’s desires.

Thus, Paul in these verses is sorting through the possibilities of God’s path for him. When Paul says “which I shall choose I cannot tell,” he is really seeking the right path for him. Both paths seem of value to him. In reality, Paul plans to accept God’s will and is seeking after that. Finally, in his sorting through this he states: “But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith.” This means, at verse 25, Paul has been convinced of what the choice of God is in the matter — to remain on and help others.

In this whole matter of sorting through and evaluating these two choices we see a playing out of the pattern of Paul’s prayer in verses 9-10. Through Paul’s knowledge of God and his spiritual perception he has been enlightened as to what path his life and actions of love will take. He has tested the two things that differ – life and death – and he perceives that the most excellent thing in God’s mind at this point in time is staying alive and helping the Philippians. Paul is thus seeking God’s will, and God shows it to him. He is assured that this path is Christ for him. He is accepting inwardly what he intuitively knows is God’s choice for him.

Life Application

Certainly one of the most challenging things we humans face is difficult and pressing circumstances. Paul, the great apostle, found himself locked up in a prison and chained to a Roman guard. Outwardly, his circumstances were miserable in that awful place. Not only that, but Paul’s calling to preach Christ would seem to be frustrated by these conditions. However, we learn in 1:19-26 that Paul does not allow these things to depress him or block him in his service. Rather, he sees in every circumstance an opportunity to honor and magnify Christ in his life.

Paul has a view of things that we need — a heavenly view. He knows his ultimate aim is to honor Christ, and he seeks to find the Spirit’s way of doing that right where he is. May we take this lesson to heart. So many times our goal is to change our circumstances because they are difficult. Instead our thought and prayer should always be: “Lord, this situation is really hard. Yet, I am here and You have a plan for me. Your plan is for me to learn of Christ right here and to exalt Him, to magnify Him in my life.”

We see that Paul is ever seeking to follow God’s will and plan in the path of his life. He is seeking to know what God’s will is for him so that he can agree with that will. Only when we agree with God’s will shall peace be known unto us. And, when we agree, peace and deep joy comes even when the circumstances do not change.

Finally, we should note that Paul is delivered from a life of self, to a life that lives Christ. This happened with the aid of others’ prayers and the provision of the strengthening Spirit of God. We need one another’s prayers and we should ask for them in a good way, with proper discretion. We should also abandon all trust in our own ability to make it through tough circumstances in a way that honors God. We must place all of our trust in the provision of the Holy Spirit — God Himself as a supply to us.

Paul’s appeal for oneness in the gospel work (1:27-30)

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Verse 27 introduces a dominant theme in the letter — needed unity of the believers. We see this theme again in 2:1-4 and 4:2. It seems obvious that there were some tendencies toward disunity in the assembly, of which Paul was aware.

The clause translated as “let your manner of life” comes from a Greek verb meaning “behave as a citizen” (Strong’s #4176). Thus, Paul is exhorting the Philippians to “live as citizens” of the heavenly kingdom (cf. 3:20). According to one respected commentary, verses 27-30 comprise one long sentence. And, all that follows the opening imperative of this sentence (meaning “live as citizens”) consists of modifying clauses and ideas to that imperative to “live as citizens.”[5]

Paul’s concern is not a minor one. To strive together in oneness was considered as conduct worthy (fitting) of the gospel of Christ (v. 27). To be in disunity is an anti-testimony to the gospel preached! The great work of Christ on the cross not only produced forgiveness of sins, but also produced a oneness among redeemed men (1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 2:12-15; 4:4-6). This unity is to be displayed as a testimony to the Savior, causing belief in Him (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21).

The importance of oneness among the believers, including in the gospel work, should also been seen in light of the opening prayer. Unity in the cause of the gospel should be viewed as something excellent to be approved and chosen. The human tendency may be to disregard unity in our gospel labor in order to do the work “our way,” or the way we think best. That may have been a problem between Euodia and Syntyche (4:2-3). Their own preferences, perhaps bolstered by pride, could have been causing disunity in the gospel labor. Their actions may also have affected others. Paul is pointing all of these believers to the true excellence and importance of unity in our labor for the gospel.

The striving together in unity is described as:

“standing firm in one spirit” – This means to stand, to not be moved from your position in one spirit. Here the “spirit” most likely refers to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us oneness and firmness in the face of opposition (Acts 4:29-31).

“with one mind” – The Greek word translated here as “mind” is more commonly understood as “soul” (psuche, Strong’s #5590). The soul of man is comprised of the mind, emotion and will. To strive “side by side” requires that we all be of the same soul. This can happen only as we have our priority to know Him and experience Him, letting the self-life die to its way (Phil. 3:8-10). Some take this term “one soul” as meaning striving together “as one man.” This is how it should look to the outsiders and how it should seem to those who strive together.

The phrase “the faith of the gospel” means the basic beliefs of the faith that comprise the gospel message about Jesus Christ and His work.

1:28 — Not being frightened in the face of opposition is certainly a sign that these saints, as citizens of the heavenly kingdom, are living another life (compare Acts 5:40-41; Heb. 10:34). Their “salvation” is showing! Compare this thought with 2:15 where those who obey God shine as lights in the world. They exhibit a life different from that of the people who are of the world. This living is a proof of their salvation, revealing that they are being delivered in experience from the world and the old life in Adam. This salvation is their sanctification in actual experience.

Such living in this verse is also a proof that God has set them aside for Himself, and will be their God and Deliverer when this present age ends. Conversely, this living of the saints sends a signal to the worldly opponents that they are under judgment. “And that from God.” Probably the best translation of the pronoun here is “this,” and it does not refer to some particular prior item as none match in terms of gender. Rather, it means the whole spiritual effect in verses 27-28 is something of God’s doing.

1:29 — This verse begins with a conjunction that is best translated by “because” (as used in the Darby translation and others.) This means that the opposition, perhaps even persecution, that we may face as we stand for the good news of Jesus Christ has a real basis in God’s plan for us. God has graciously given to us the opportunity, or privilege, to suffer for Christ’s sake as well as to believe in Him. Paul tells us in Chapter Three that he sought to share Christ’s sufferings. The Lord’s sufferings included, but are not limited to, the rejection and mistreatment of men. Such suffering produces something for Christ’s sake, for His benefit. As we accept suffering simply for His name He is glorified through us — His life and character are exhibited for others to see.

Note how Stephen glorified Christ in his shining testimony and prayer for forgiveness of his persecutors (Acts 7:55-60). Also 1 Pet. 4:14 declares: “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” When Christ was persecuted He demonstrated much grace, not reviling those who reviled Him and uttering no threats to those who mistreated Him (1 Pet. 2:21-23). Indeed, He prayed for His persecutors’ forgiveness (Lk. 23:34). Hebrews tell us that “although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8)

1:30 — The Philippians had seen this struggle, this hateful opposition to Paul, when he was first in Philippi (Acts 16:19-23; 1 Thess. 2:2). They now hear of it again in Paul’s present circumstances in prison. The Philippians themselves were now engaged in the same conflict with those who opposed their gospel message.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)

[1] All references to Strong’s numbers for Greek words are derived from the Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, compiled by James Strong and published in 1890.

[2] It is unfortunate that many believers have picked up a wrong idea and a false expectation from this supposed meaning of verse six. They think that God will somehow automatically mature their Christian life over their lifetime, thus preparing them for the day of Jesus Christ and the Judgment Seat of Christ. That expectation is false because maturity in the Christian life is not automatically produced in believers by God. God works is us to do His will, but we must “work out our own salvation” by choosing to do His will (Phil. 2:12-14). The testimony of the entire NT is that believers are engaged in a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-23). They are also in a spiritual warfare with the evil angelic forces (Eph. 6:11-13) as well as a struggle against the pull of this world system (1 Jn. 2:15-17). In these struggles the believer must exercise spiritual discipline or he or she will be overcome by these opposing forces. Believers are called to an active responsibility whereby they must: seek the things above (Col. 3:1-2); by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13; Co. 3:5-8); walk by faith (2 Cor. 5:7); walk by the Spirit (Rom. 8:4, 14; Gal. 5:16); carry out those good works which God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:11).

Preparation for approval at the coming Judgment Seat of Christ is not automatic in our lives. Rather, it is achieved by self-control and discipline (1 Cor. 9:24-27). There is the need to consciously prepare for the Judgment Seat (2 Cor. 5:9-10). We should practice living in holiness in anticipation of Christ’s return (2 Pet. 1:5-13; 3:11-12, 14). Any concept derived from Philippians 1:6 that promotes passivity in the Christian life is faulty and dangerous. Any understanding we pick up that diminishes the NT call to our responsibility to live a godly life is not according to the truth.

Yet, having spoken of our responsibility, we must be reminded that we cannot live up to some standard by our own will power and self-effort. This approach is in the principle of being “under law,” whereby the believer uses his efforts to carry out a set of demands. Such efforts will end in failure (Romans 7).

In contrast is the way of living “under grace,” which involves the living union of the believer with Christ. When a believer learns to “abide in Christ,” he experiences Christ as his life and as his power to live in victory by faith (Jn. 15:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:10; Gal. 20-21; 3:2-5; 5:18). The use of the human will is extremely important. However, it is not used to achieve something for God. Rather the believer should exercise his will to continually seek God and receive His empowering grace to obey God through faith. To learn more about living in spiritual victory, please see the author’s book titled, The Victorious Christian Life. This book is available for free viewing, free download, or ordering.

[3] “Imputed righteousness” is the righteousness of Christ reckoned to our account by God because of our being in Christ, placed into union with Him.

[4] “Imputed righteousness” is the righteousness of Christ reckoned to our account by God. This righteousness has nothing to do with our actual living, but is reckoned to our account upon our initial faith in Christ (Rom. 3:22; 4:3-5; 2 Cor. 5:21). “Practical righteousness” is different than “imputed righteousness.” Practical righteousness comes from our actual living in union with Christ and is expressed by our right attitudes and righteous deeds. It comes from living in dependent faith in Christ in our daily lives.

[5] Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians in The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI / Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pp. 159-162.