Jan 03 2013

58- THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS part 6

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The Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians

(Part 6)

 

E- Interpretation of the Epistle

Chapter 4

 

1. Final instructions and messages to the servants (Phil. 4:1- 3)

In his epistle’s conclusion, St. Paul reiterates his love (he mentions the word beloved twice in one sentence!), expressing his yearning for the Philip­pians, whom he describes as being the source of his joy, and the service of whom was a contributor to his earning the crown in the heavenly wedding.  He asks them to “stand fast in the Lord” (Phil. 4:1) – hence, no return to their disgraceful past.

He then sends a special message to the two servants Euodia and Syntyche (who had labored with him in the Gospel); it would seem that he had been alerted to disagreement between them with respect to some issues.  For the sake of the Church’s unity, he requests them to be of the same mind in the Lord.”(Phil. 4:2)  He also urges Epaphroditus (to whom he refers as his “true companion”) to help those two servants in setting aside their offending differences, and to work in the unity of Christ’s mind with the rest of the church’s servants: “Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.” (Phil. 4:3)

The Lord had previously assured His disciples that this is the greatest reward for any believer or servant: “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)  St. Paul is fully convinced that the names of his co-workers and fighters in the service of the Lord, and of those who endure suffering and persecution for His sake, “are in the Book of Life.” This is consistent with what he wrote about himself, in the concluding remarks of his second epistle to Timothy: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:8)

2.  Rejoice! The Lord is near! (Phil. 4:4, 5)

Despite the difficult circumstances which St. Paul is experiencing, the potential problems which the churches might endure in his absence, and his full awareness of the adversity surrounding the Church, he enjoys perfect peace and the full support of the grace of God, and he exhorts the Philippians to Rejoice in the Lord always.”  He even repeats and emphasizes this instruction: Again, I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)  Amidst the pressures to which they are exposed, he demands that they exercise patience and endurance: “Let your gentleness be known to all men”, being confident in God’s intervention for “The Lord is at hand” (Phil. 4:5) “to those who have a broken heart” (Psalm 34:18) and “to all who call upon Him.” (Psalm 145:18)

3.  Only, pray (Phil. 4:6, 7)

Since God is our hope, it is inappropriate that we fear, worry or fret.  St. Paul counsels his congreg­ation to rely on God in everything and to let known their requests to Him “by prayer, and supplication, with thanksgiving” in all circumstances. (Phil. 4:6)  He prays that God may grant them His unique peace, which is dissimilar to the world’s peace, that being dependent on transient wealth, power, or authority, all of which are slated to perdition.  For this reason, St. Paul refers to the peace from above as “the peace of God, which surpasses all under­standing – in other words, it is unfathomable, unlimited peace, which always keeps the hearts and thoughts of believers in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

4.  Concerning Christian thought (Phil. 4:8 & 9)

It is imperative that we have the mind of Christ.” (1Cor. 2:16)  A person’s mind is the centre of operations which dictates all deeds; sanctification of our thoughts is therefore essential for behavior in accordance with the Gospel.  In this regard, St. Paul teaches the Philippians that their thoughts should be bounded by truth (in other words, they should be consistent with the Spirit of Christ and the word of God); hence, all things which are: (i) “noble,” meaning good, fit, fine, worthy of respect, and transcending above all perishing worldly matters, (ii) “just,” meaning not evasive, but true and directed towards the target,(iii) “pure,” meaning spiritually pure, and untainted by fleshly lusts or desires, (iv) “lovely,” meaning inspiring joy, calling for peacemaking and optimism, edifying love and unity, and renewing hope, rather than strife and discord, and (v) “of good report,” meaning deeds worthy of praise and gratitude, not at odds with the soundness of thought and with Christian behavior.  Furthermore, they should be in conformance with all things which are virtuous, the most important being faith, hope, love, joy, longsuffering, self-control, gentleness, and meekness (Gal. 5:22, 23), and everything which merits praise and recogni­tion, such as things which are in accordance with the Bible’s commandments, and whose purpose is the glorification of God. (Phil. 4:8)

St. Paul’s instructions are supported by what they had previously heard, learned and received through his teaching and evangelization, and what they witnessed in his behavior, since he led by example.  He prayed on their behalf, asking the “God of peace” (Rom. 16:20, 1Cor. 14:33, and 1Thes. 5:23) to be with them in their struggle and success in keeping the commandments. (Phil. 4:9)  In addition to referring to God as the “God of peace,” St. Paul also refers to Him as the “God of hope,” (Rom. 15:13), the “God of patience and comfort,” (Rom. 15:5), and the “God of love,” (2Cor. 13:11), since “our sufficiency is from God.” (2Cor. 3:5)

5.  Concerning the Philippian Church’s offering, and the mystery of sufficiency (Phil. 4:10-20)

In his letter’s concluding remarks, St. Paul refers to the gift which the Philippians had sent him with Epaphroditus; he expresses his great joy in the Lord that they, once more, had revealed their zeal for caring for him, and for serving him – just as they did when he was in their midst. (Phil. 4:10)  He seizes that opportunity to tell them that his joy for receiving the gift was not because it satisfied any particular need of his, rather, because it showed their faith, love and enthusiasm.  Throughout his service, St. Paul had learned to be content and satisfied with whatever he had: whether he was leading others, retreating to the rear, extolled and honored as an evangelizing apostle and teacher, chased by death, or imprisoned awaiting the death sentence.  He trained himself to be content whether he was replete or hungry.1 (Phil. 4:11, 12)  These traits are manifested in him through divine support, and he expounds on the secret of his contentment, “I can do all things in Christ Who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13) This is the grace awarded to all true believers: without Christ, we are capable of nothing – but in Christ, we can do everything.

In expressing himself thus, St. Paul also took great care not to give them the wrong impression that their gift was unimportant; he therefore unambig­uously praises them, stating clearly that they did well, that they shared his hardship, and that since his departure from Macedonia (Acts 17:1) “no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only” (Phil. 4:15, 16) who sent to him even in Thessalonica “once and again” for his necessities. (He also mentioned this to the Corinth­ians whom he freely evangelized – 2 Cor. 11:7-9).  Here, the significance lies not simply in the gift itself, rather, in its pleasing God, and in “the fruit that abounds to your account.” (Phil. 4:17)  He then says that he has more than he needed: “I have all and abound,” especially after he had accepted the “things,” (it would seem that they did not send him only money), which Epaphroditus had brought, “a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Phil. 4:18)  In the Old Testament (Genesis 8:21 and Leviticus 1:9, 13, 17), this is how an acceptable sacrifice was depicted.  At this point, St. Paul prays for them, and entreats God to fill their lives and to supply all their “need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Phil. 4:19, 20)  Our gifts, therefore, do not lead to our impoverishment, rather, to the enjoyment of “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Eph. 3:8)

6.  Concluding salutations (Phil. 4:21-23)

Since all the Philippian Christians are now saints, having been numbered among God’s elect, we find St. Paul in his concluding salutations asking that they “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:21)  In return, he conveys to them greetings and salutat­ions of the brethren who are with him; these latter are not only Timothy, Mark and the prominent Roman believers who had the right to his visit, but they also include those who knew Christ through his evangelization, starting with his jailers at the time of his imprisonment in Rome (four per day, since the guard was changed every six hours), plus all the officers and employees who worked in “Caesar’s service” and whom St. Paul labeled “those who are of Caesar’s household.” (Phil. 4:22)  May God be glorified!  Behold, the name of Christ, whom the Romans had crucified, has now spread among Caesar’s staff!  This spread originated from a solitary prison cell, housing one of the greatest of Christ’s apostles, even though he was destined to die, shortly, a painful death.  This was but the start, which culminated triumphantly three centuries later in the conversion to Christianity of the emperor himself, and the submission of the entire Roman Empire to Christ’s sovereignty.

In the end, St. Paul petitions God, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” (Phil. 4:23) The best way to conclude letters to our loved ones is to pray on their behalf, or to entreat God that His grace flows over them.

This part concludes the study of Philippians

Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, comments or additional references, whether for publication in these “Short Notes” or in private correspond­ence. Write to us:
PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045

  1. He later wrote to Timothy saying, “Now godli­ness with contentment is great gain … And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” (1Tim. 6:6, 8)

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