The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians
E- Interpretation of the Epistle
Chapter 1 (contd.)
4- Between evangelization and the desire to depart (Phil. 1:21–26)
St. Paul continues his discussion in this context by saying “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) On his way to Damascus, his meeting with the Lord constituted the beginning of his new life, which continued by serving Him and glorifying His name. This means that his life is Christ, is in Christ, and is for Christ’s sake; this also means that his death will by no means represent a loss entailing evangelization’s demise – rather, it will be a gain in any case, since it leads to everlasting existence with Christ. (Phil. 1:21) He furthermore cites two issues facing him in prison: one is the possibility of his release leading to his continuing to preach Christ, while the second is his being sentenced to death leading to residing with Christ – which of the two should he choose: continuing to lead a life of evangelization and service to the Church, thus extending Christ’s kingdom on earth, or death and departure to permanent existence with Christ and eternal rest (Phil. 1:22)?
In this regard, St. Paul says, “… yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two …” (Phil. 1:22, 23). Despite the fact that, practically, no one has the power of choosing between life and death, since God determines our destiny (1 Sam. 2:6), St. Paul is thinking out loud: he is torn between two desires – the service, on the one hand, which he acquired through our Lord Christ (Acts 20:24) “… Who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry …” (1 Tim. 1:12), and the desire to depart, on the other hand, and be with Christ; he finds the latter choice to be “… far better.” (Phil. 1:23)
When all is said and done … St. Paul concludes that, as far as evangelization and believers are concerned, they would be better off by his remaining in the flesh; he is confident that he will remain, returning to serve them, for the sake of their progress and joy of Faith. In this way “… your rejoicing for me may be more abundant in Jesus Christ …” (Phil. 1:24–26)
5- A call for steadfastness in the faith and endurance of suffering (Phil. 1:27–30)
Whether he was reunited with them – which was his desire – or whether his absence persisted, St. Paul gives them one instruction: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ … striving together for the faith of the gospel.” (Phil. 1:27) Put differently, they must always remember that they are following the Person of Christ, that their conduct must be in accordance with the gospel, and that their success lies in their unity, steadfastness and struggle with one spirit and in one Faith; that Faith is based on the gospel’s commandments, and on rejection of this world’s vanities and of the old way of life.
As believers fully dependent on the saving grace of God, he demands of them to be fearless of those who contradict and persecute them, and who, through their conduct, are sliding into perdition; additionally, the suffering they are enduring with thanksgiving, because of those perishing souls, is not lost before God, rather, it is counted all the more towards their salvation and glorification (Phil. 1:28). St. Paul gives this essential instruction to them and to all believers “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” (Phil. 1:29) He also offers himself as an example of enduring suffering as they had previously seen him (when he was beaten and imprisoned – Acts 16:19), and as they hear of him (Phil. 1:30); he neither complains, loses heart, retracts his steps, nor bemoans his plight; on the contrary, he endures joyfully, and is confident that “… if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” (Romans 8:17)
1- Being like-minded, and having the same love, in all humility (Phil. 2:1-4)
While still jailed, St. Paul continues to instruct his congregation in Philippi. His primary preoccupation, filling him with joy, is their unity and their avoidance of schisms and tribalism. In discouraging tribalism, he exhorts them to be selfless, with one accord, and like-minded, while maintaining the same love, and the same goal. He also asks that Christ and His glory be both their aim and the subject of their preaching, noting that the purpose of their speech should be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What brings people together in their discourses and gatherings should be love. Hence there would be no room for foul language, bad habits, rowdiness or hate. All fellowships and relationships should be in the Spirit, Who strips all circumstances of self-interests and tendencies of the flesh. And in love there is brotherly kindness, gentleness, mercy, and deep affectionate fellowship.
Austerity and lowliness support and foster unity, through which each one of you esteems others better than himself, and looks out for the interests of others and those of the Church as a whole, before his own. While unity satisfies Christ’s intent, schisms open the door for Satan to enter, control, weaken your resolve, and estrange Christ in His own Church.
2- Christ is our example (Phil. 2:5-11)
Standing before the multitude, Christ says, “….learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29) Therefore, St. Paul directs the attention of the Philippians to the Person of Christ, Who is the true humble One. Humility cannot be attributed to dust and ashes (that is man); rather, he just proclaims his true reality. But the Lord, Who is the immutable image of God, “…being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power …” (Hebrews 1:3), Who “… did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, …” (Phil. 2:6), Who by nature is in, and one with, the Father (John 10:30 and 14:10&11), accepted to deprive Himself, condescend from His glory, and be incarnate from a woman according to the scripture, for the sake of our salvation. Even when He became Man, He never aspired to a higher or greater stature; rather, He took the form of a bondservant and, “… though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, …” (2 Corinthians 8:9). He was born in a manger, He worked as a carpenter, He had no place to lay down His head, and He carried neither purse nor money bag as He toured the countryside doing good. Despite His authority over life, death, disease, evil spirits, humans, beasts, plants and nature, He was treated with hate, rejection and betrayal, and He was accused of blasphemy and collusion with Satan. When He was led to be tried, He obeyed the will of the Father, and gave Himself up, “and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross [the death of slaves].” (Phil. 2:7&8) By granting humanity salvation of this magnitude, He was glorified through the power of His Divinity by His resurrection, conquering death; He “sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (Hebrews 1:3) He was exalted by God (the Father) “far above all principality and power and might and dominion,” (Ephesians 1:21) and God gave Him [not only in this age but in future ones also] “the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9 – 11) Let us always bear this in mind, for “he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12, Luke 14:11 and 18:14)
3- Work out your own salvation (Phil. 2:12-18)
Belief on the Person of Christ is the beginning of salvation. Through baptism, we die and are buried with Christ; we then rise with Him in a new life, and become children of God. We thus acquire a different form, our minds are renewed, and we proceed to do “… good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Salvation therefore accompanies us throughout our lives. Through our struggle, repentance, service, good works, and patience unto the end, we complete our salvation, until our final salvation is proclaimed on the last day (Matthew 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13, Phil. 3:20, Hebrews 9:28 and 1 Peter 1:5).
A natural result of life in salvation is good works “… which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Hence, we should neither be boastful of those works, nor should we ask to be rewarded for them. Our salvation is the offspring of grace, and our faith (which is a gift of God – Ephesians 2:8) is our means of enjoyment of the Lord’s salvation; our works are therefore more attributable to the Holy Spirit than to us, “for it is God Who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) In other words, for His pleasure and good will, God stands before us saying, “He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Matthew 19:12) We therefore pray that God grant us an obedient, positive, will, and that we say, “We do desire, O Lord … help the weakness of our will.”
St. Paul calls on the Philippians to obey the commandment “as you have already obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence….” (Phil. 2:12) He also exhorts them in the same verse to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;” in other words, they should treat with diligence and care, that which God granted them, stressing their new fruitful life, and having confidence that it is God Who instills within them an obedient will and good works (Phil. 2:13).
Furthermore, St. Paul urges them to “do all things without complaining and disputing,” (Phil. 2:14), and to demonstrate behavioral traits which are different from those prevailing in the world. Hence, amidst a crooked and perverse generation, they should come across as harmless, blameless, children of God, and they should “shine as lights in the world” (Matthew 5:14 and Phil. 2:15), being steadfast in the word of God, the word of life, and being the cause for Paul’s pride in “the Day of Christ,” at His coming – in other words, showing that Paul’s labors and quest were not in vain. In this way, Paul pours himself out before God, offering the Philippians’ faith and service as a sacrifice; he is joyful, and invites them to rejoice and exult with him.
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“Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26)