About Jesus Steve Sweetman
This Section - Chapter 1
Commentary On Paul’s
Letter To The Philippians
This commentary is based
on the New International Bible, 1984 edition.
Chapter titles in the commentary correspond to the chapter titles
in the NIV for easy comparison.
The theme of this letter
might well be “joy”. The
words “joy” or “rejoice” is mentioned 17
times in this short letter by Paul who wrote the letter from
prison. Part of the reason
for this joy was based on the fact that he was now in the midst of his
appeal to Caesar, something that has taken a few years off his life.
Acts 16 tells us the
story of Lydia
coming to Jesus through Paul’s ministry.
She was the first Christian from
Paul first visited
It also appears that Paul
This letter is more like
a real letter from a friend to other friends.
Paul is not dealing with problems like he did in his Corinthian,
Galatian and Colossian letters.
believe, as many do, Paul wrote this letter while in house arrest in
Verse 1 says, “Paul and
Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus”.
We see Paul mentioning Timothy here.
It’s not that Timothy was helping Paul write the letter, but
that he was saying “amen” to the letter for at this period of time
Timothy was with Paul.
Also note that Paul calls
both of them “servants of Christ Jesus”.
This is how Paul viewed himself.
He did not view himself as important in a worldly sense.
He viewed himself as a servant, and not just any servant, but a
servant of Jesus.
Like Paul we should be a
servant of Jesus. A servant
is humble, not arrogant. He
knows his position in life and accepts it.
Most of all he serves his Lord, and a part of serving Jesus is to
serve others in the way Jesus wants.
Human tendency is not to
live as a servant but as someone who thinks of himself first.
The true mark of a mature Christian is how well he serves.
Also in verse 1 we see
that Paul is writing “to all the saints in
Paul also makes mention
that he is writing not only to the saints but also to the “overseers
and deacons”. The
overseers were elders. They
were a group of men who cared for the people of God. Once again, these
people cared for God’s people as if
they were fathers in a family. They
did not view themselves as a board who managed the affairs of a church
organization. To see their qualifications and duties you can read 1 Tim.
3 and my commentary on that chapter.
Deacons were those men
with similar qualities of elders who helped the elders. They did more of
the physical labour. We
first see deacons in Acts 6, although the passage does
not call them deacons. These
men in Acts 6 were chosen to distribute food to the poor so the elders
could give their time to prayer and teaching of God’s Word. These
men had to be filled with the Holy Spirit, meaning, their lives
exhibited the Spirit’s work.
Verse 2 says, “grace
and peace from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Both grace and peace come from God and from Jesus.
As Paul often does, he puts God the Father and Jesus together in
one sentence. This is very
important for the Christian since the God that we serve is the God and
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We
do not serve any other God.
When it comes to grace,
there are two aspects of
grace found in the New Testament. One
aspect is God’s unmerited favour towards us.
This means that God loves us and has mercy on us even though we
don’t deserve it. The
other aspect of grace as seen in the New Testament is that grace is
actually the God given ability to do His will.
God, through His Spirit can help us do what He wants us to do.
In verse 3 Paul says that
he thanks God every time he remembers the Christians at
He uses the phrase “my
God’ in this sentence. This
does not mean that he has a different God than those he is writing to.
It simply means that God to Paul was very personal.
God was his God. The
same could be said of the Philippians.
God was their God too if they had given their lives to Jesus.
In verse 4 Paul says that
in “all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy”.
Once again, the remembrance of these people brought joy to Paul.
This was not always the case with other Christians in other
cities. Paul was quite
distressed over the church at
Verse 5 tells us why Paul
felt this joy and it was “because of the partnership of the gospel”
that he experienced with them. The
preaching of the gospel was the driving force of Paul’s life and to
share this ministry with others was a great joy to him.
He considered those at
Verse 6 starts with the
words “being confident”. The
verb tense here suggests an ongoing confidence.
Paul was confident in the past, still is and will be in the
Paul’s confidence was
in the fact that the one who began a good work in these people would
finish the work unto completion. Obviously
it was God through Jesus who had begun to do many good things in the
Philippians. And if God
began the work, He could certainly finish it.
Yet Paul ends the verse
with the words “until the day of Christ Jesus”.
These words are in reference to when this good work would be
finished. It would not be
finished until the day of Christ Jesus which means the day of Jesus’
return to earth. At the end
of this age Jesus will complete the good work of sanctification of His
people, and it is clear to me that the finished work will not happen
before that day, even though there always seem to be some throughout
history claiming perfection before the return of Jesus.
In verse 7 Paul tells his
readers that “it is right for me to feel this way because I have you
in my heart…” It is
clear that his readers aren’t literally in Paul’s heart. What he is saying is that his heart’s emotions have been given
to these people. They are
very dear to him as are all his fellow believers.
I don’t know how you
view Paul, but to me, especially after studying his second letter to the
Corinthians, I believe Paul was a very emotional and passionate person.
When he gave himself to someone or something, he gave with all
his heart. Thus Paul’s
heart’s emotions were filled with the Philippian Christians.
Then Paul says,
“whether I am in chains or defending the gospel”.
It did not matter what situation Paul found himself in.
He could be in the darkness dungeon or free preaching the gospel.
He did not allow circumstances to effect his trust in Jesus and
his love towards the church.
The last phrase of verse
7 says that “all of you share in God’s grace with me”.
God’s grace was not exclusive to Paul.
He did his best to share the message of God’s grace and when
those he preached to received this grace, he was full of joy.
Again, the idea of sharing of grace shows us that Paul viewed
other Christians as fellow workers with him in the gospel.
Paul did not view himself as a big shot.
He saw himself as one of many people involved in the work of the
In verse 8 Paul tells his
readers that “God can confirm what” he is saying to be true, and
that he actually has the “affection of Christ Jesus”.
This means that as Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life
for us, so Paul loved others so much that he gave himself for them. Here
again you see what drove Paul to be who he was after he met Jesus.
The love of God drove him to preach and care for God’s people.
He did not do it for money and he did not do it for fame.
He simply did it because of the love of Jesus.
In verse 10 Paul states
part of his prayer for these people, and that is, that “their love may
abound”. That is to say,
the same love that drives him, he prays will drive them.
But this love is not formless or abstract love.
It is based on “knowledge and depth of insight” as he says.
What Paul is saying here is that the more his readers, which includes
us, understands about Jesus and what He has done for us, that knowledge
will produce a loving and servant’s heart within us.
Christian love is not based on mere sympathy for people. It is
based on knowledge and understanding.
The knowledge and understanding is about Jesus.
To love properly is to love the way God loves, and the way God
loves is not the way the world loves.
Verse 10 gives us the
reason why we need love based on knowledge.
Paul says, “so that you may be able to discern what is
love doesn’t just give whatever a person wants. Real love discerns.
Real love is based on truth, and sometimes real love is
“tough” as the modern saying goes.
Real love is also “pure
and blameless” as Paul says. It is pure in the sense that it does not
show favouritism. It does not have ulterior motives.
One does not love to get something back from the one he is
loving. Love is also
blameless. When one loves as
God loves, he can’t be blamed for anything when expressing that love,
and if he is, there’s no real foundation for the blame.
Then this love will carry
on to the day of the Lord as Paul states in the last phrase of verse 10.
The day of the Lord is the day Jesus returns to earth. Real works
of God’s love will endure and will survive the fire of judgment.
Works that are done out of a false love, will be burned by the
judgment of God at that last day. We should all stop from time to time
and evaluate why and how we love, to be sure that it is God’s love
that we are expressing, and not a humanistic love for the wrong reasons.
The phrase “filled with
the fruit of righteousness” appears in verse 11.
When we give our lives to Jesus, God views us as being totally
righteous, just as Jesus Himself is righteous, even though we are far
from righteous. If we’ve
really been considered righteous by God and if we understand this
righteousness, then this understanding will produce good fruit in our
lives. There are fruits of
righteousness. The fruit is
the love and the things we do in the name of our Lord.
If there are no fruits of righteousness in our lives, then it is
clear that we don’t understand the righteousness that God has freely
These fruits are from
Jesus Paul says, who is “the glory and praise of God”.
Jesus, both now and while He was on earth is the exact image of
God. This is what Paul means
when he says that Jesus is the glory and praise of God.
When you see Jesus, you see God because they are one and because
whatever God does, Jesus does. Such
likeness should begin to be seen in us as well.
In verse 12 Paul says,
“now I want you to know brothers”.
By saying this he is stresses the point that he wants to make in
the next sentence. He wants
these people to be sure to understand what he is about to say.
The point he is making is
that “the things that have happened to him have served to advance the
gospel”. What things Paul talking about? Paul is
saying that his imprisonment and years of being in jail that has led him
Being put in jail for the
sake of Jesus was no problem to Paul.
He viewed it as an opportunity to share Jesus.
He also understood that it was God’s will.
In Acts 9:15 God told Paul that he would suffer greatly for the
name of Jesus.
So, you can’t say that
suffering hardship is always from the devil.
It could well be the will of God. It also doesn’t mean that the
one suffering is being punished or has a lack of faith. It doesn’t
mean that the sufferer is outside the will of God either.
That certainly wasn’t so with Paul.
Verse 14 says that it
became evident to everyone in the Roman palace that the reason why Paul
was in chains was for the sake of Christ.
How would they have known that.
Paul would have made that very clear.
He was never at a loss for words when it concerned sharing the
gospel. We might well want
to imitate him in this respect. So
the prophecy of Acts 9:15 over Paul reached its ultimate fulfillment as
Paul was ready to proclaim the gospel as his defense before Caesar, the
highest ranking authority in the known world in those days.
The use of the word
“palace” here may be a little misleading.
This was not the Emperors palace.
This was the building where the guards were. This is also why
Paul mentions the guards specifically in verse 13.
the word "palace" in verse 13.
I believe this to be Caesar Nero's palace, especially in light of
the believers Paul speaks of in chapter 4:22.
In verse 14 Paul states
that since he was in chains for Jesus, this encouraged his brothers in
the Lord to “speak the Word of God more courageously and
fearlessly”. They saw Paul’s strength.
They saw Paul speak the Word of God no matter what situation he
was in. They felt that if
Paul could be so devoted to Jesus, they could be too.
Often persecution does just that. It often strengthens the church
instead of destroying the church as it is intended to do.
The book of Acts ends
with Paul being able to stay in his own rented home while awaiting his
trial. During this time he
could not leave the house but many came to him to hear the Word of the
Lord. It is estimated by
scholars that up to half of the Jewish leadership came to Paul during
this time, and there were 7 synagogues in
In verse 15 Paul says,
“it is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry”.
Paul most likely uses the words “it is true” because this was
being rumored around the country-side, even untoPhilippi.
The word “some”
refers to the brothers in the previous verse who had received more
courage themselves to preach because of what Paul was experiencing.
These brothers were clearly divided into two groups.
One preached Christ for right reasons and the others preached for
The wrong reasons were
based on “envy and rivalry”. Envy
because they were envious of the attention Paul was getting, even though
it came through much trouble for Paul.
His upcoming trial appeared that it would turn out to be
favourable towards him. This
would actually make it easier for others to preach, knowing that there
was a good chance that Paul would be set free.
Rivalry was the other
reason Paul gives. Human
nature is such that when one person succeeds some others get jealous
and want the same success. So they try to imitate the success of
the other and actually begin to do things that hurt the other in order
to bolster their own position. This
was true in Paul’s day and it is certainly true in our day. It’s the
whole idea of competing one with another.
That is to say, ministry competing against ministry, and church
competing against church, something that seems to be taking place in our
present day and age.
Yet Paul does not end
with those who preach for the wrong reason.
At the end of verse 15 Paul states that there are those who do
preach for the right reason.
In verse 16 Paul says
that those who preach for right reasons know that he is in chains for
the defense of the gospel and they preach because of love.
This love is for Jesus. This
love is for Paul. This love
is for those they are preaching to. This should always be the motivating
factor for anyone who preaches or teaches.
To serve Jesus for any other reason is to not serve Him out of
pure motives and such works will burn in the fire of God’s judgment,
even though the person will be saved.
See 1 Cor. 3:10 to 16.
Verse 17 tells us that
those preaching for the wrong reasons are being selfish and hoping they
can stir up trouble for Paul.
There is no place in the community of believers to cause
another Christian or Christian leader to be hurt as these men were
doing. This doesn’t mean
that one can’t rebuke another on the grounds of Scripture in order to
bring correction as Paul did with Peter. See Gal. 2:11 and following.
Surprisingly enough in
verse 18 this whole thing doesn’t really matter to Paul.
He’s not worried about it.
He says that as long as Christ is preached, that is the main and
important thing. So it is
clear that those preaching for the wrong reasons are still preaching the
true gospel. It’s not that
they are Judaizers as seen in Paul’s Galatian
letter. If these preachers
were preaching a wrong gospel, Paul would rebuke them openly as he did
in his letter to the Galatians. They were preaching the right gospel,
but for the wrong reasons. Now I’m sure that Paul would prefer that
they preach for the right reason, but at least the right gospel was
being preached and maybe not everyone recognized the motives behind
Notice that in the NIV
the last phrase in verse 18 is included as the first phrase in the
sentences that is found in verse 19.
So Paul says that “he will continue to rejoice ”.
He continues to rejoice because he knows that what he has gone
through will lead to his deliverance or salvation.
Some translations use the word salvation while others use the word
Paul is not saying that
all the time he has spent in jail gets him saved.
He knows that only trusting in Jesus can save him.
What he means here is that all the hardships that have gotten him
to this place will mean something. They’re
not for nothing. He believes quite strongly that he will be saved or
delivered from the hands of the Romans. Some scholars do believe that
Paul was eventually set free and he actually got to go to Spain
where he intended to go before he got into all the trouble that he was
presently in. We however
don’t know this from Scripture. The
book of Acts ends with Paul living in a rented house in Rome, waiting for his trial to begin.
Notice the reason why
Paul feels so confident. It
is because of the prayers of these Philippians and also because of the
Spirit of Jesus. It is quite
clear that prayer is important.
Also notice the phrase
“Spirit of Jesus Christ”. Who
is the Spirit of Jesus Christ? The
Spirit of Christ is the Holy Spirit.
Here we learn something about the Holy Spirit.
We know Him mostly from all the verses that call Him the Spirit
of God. Yes, He is the
Spirit of God, but He is also the Spirit of Jesus.
The Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus are the same.
This is one proof for Trinitarian thinking.
Paul goes on to say in
verse 20 that he “eagerly expects and hopes that he will not be
ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ
will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death”.
Paul’s life was all
about exalting Jesus by telling everyone about Him and His salvation.
Much like Jesus, Paul had physical marks in his body because of
his association with Jesus. He
had been beaten like Jesus. He
had suffered much hardship. His body was a living testimony to the fact
that He trusted Jesus. Paul
fully expected that this would not change as he stood before the emperor
of Rome. He had lived for Jesus up
to this point and he certainly wasn’t going to stop now as he had the
chance to testify to Jesus as he defended
himself to Caesar.
Paul expected to be free,
but this verses suggests that in the back of his mind he accepted the
possibility that he wouldn’t be set free, but killed instead.
Much like the three Hebrew men of Daniel’s day.
They believed God would save them from the fire, but if He
didn’t they’d still believe anyway.
Paul believed he would be set free, but if he wasn’t, he’d
still believe. I say this
because of the phrase “whether by life or by death”.
Paul’s life was a
testimony to Jesus and his death would be no different.
Now that he brings up the topic of death Paul has a few other
things to say about the subject. Verse
21 says, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.
“For me to live”
means that every moment of Paul’s life was devoted to Jesus.
You might say that Paul ate, slept and breathed Jesus.
“To die is gain”
means that death is better than living when you are a Christian.
Death is gain because you come into the physical presence of
In verse 22 Paul says
that if he “goes on living in the body that will mean fruitful labour
for him”. Do you see
Paul’s mentality here? Living
meant working for Jesus, and doing all he could do to promote the
gospel, something he was happy to do.
Paul’s view of this life was work, no matter how hard it was.
His view of the next life was to receive his rewards for all the
hard work he did in this life. Paul
did not have the mentality that says he’ll have it all now on earth in
this lifetime. His thinking
was always giving now. He’d
In the last half of verse
22 Paul presents himself
with a question. He asks,
“what shall I choose? I do
not know”. He goes
on to say that he “is torn between two”.
There’s two things he really wants and if given the choice
he’d have a real hard time choosing.
That doesn’t sound like Paul, the one who always seems focused
on the task at hand, but it is.
Verses 23 and 24 tell us
what the two things Paul is torn between.
He says, “I desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is
far better”. Paul simply
means that his desire is to die and be with Jesus.
He couldn’t think of anything better than that.
He says that by far, that’s the better choice.
Yet Paul is always
practical and is always driven by the love of Jesus and he sees the lost
souls and he sees his brothers and sisters in Jesus who can use his
help. So he continues to
say, “but it is more necessary for you for me to remain in the
body”. The only reason why
Paul didn’t want to die and be with Jesus was those men and women he
was helping in the Lord. These
were his brothers and sisters and he wanted to do as much as possible to
help them be the Christian they should be.
Once again we see the servant heart of Paul.
We see that he always thought of the other person first.
Verse 25 begins with the
words “convinced of this.” If
you saw indecision in Paul’s thinking in the last couple of verses, he
wants to leave you with the thought that he is not an indecisive person.
He tells his readers that he is convinced that he will remain and
continue on his work for “their progress and joy”.
If Paul had a bit of doubt whether he’d live or die at the end
of his trial, in the forefront of his thinking was life.
He was convinced that he would not die but continue on his labour
In verse 26 we see that
Paul had hopes of seeing these Philippians again.
He says, “so that through my being with you”.
If he said these words, he surely believed he would be with them
again. Then once he is with
these people “their joy in Christ will overflow because of him”.
Notice the joy spoken of here is joy as a result of Jesus. It’s
not a superficial happiness. Also
notice that this joy will overflow, as to overflow to others.
They will have something to give others, all because Paul could
be with them again.
In verse 27 Paul says,
“whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the
happens” - there are those words again.
That’s a slight chance that they might not see him.
If for some reason he doesn’t get to
Then Paul basically says
whether he gets to see them or not he’ll be happy because they will be
doing as they should, whether he is there or not.
Paul’s presence in
One point to note here is that Paul understands that the future of the Philippians good spiritual health does not solely depend on him alone. Their good spiritual health depends on their own efforts to trust Jesus on there own.
Notice what things Paul expects these people to be doing. They should be standing firm together in one spirit and one man. as they contend for the faith. The word "contend" is not a passive word. It's a fighting word. Paul expects Christians not only to stand firm in their faith but also to fight for their faith that is under attack. Of course the weapons used in this fight are spiritual, not carnal.
Then Paul says,
“without being frightened by those who oppose you”.
Christians in those days had many enemies.
Our society is beginning to head in the same direction.
Some may live to see Christian persecution in the western world,
something we have not seen to any real extent.
Paul says that the fight
Christians were having with these people was actually a sign to everyone
that the unbeliever would be destroyed and the Christian would be saved.
First of all we clearly see that the unbeliever in Paul’s
thinking would be destroyed. This
is eternal punishment or eternal destruction. Many in this day and age
do not believe in eternal punishment.
Then others believe in eternal death in the sense that the
unbeliever simply will not exist and they interpret Paul’s words here
to mean that. I don’t
believe this since I see other Scriptures that tells us plainly that the
Paul says that this
struggle is a “sign” of destruction for the unbeliever yet a
“sign” of salvation for the believer.
The word sign here means “an indication”.
This struggle indicates that there are eternal matters at war
here, something that both Paul and the Philippians see, but the enemy
doesn’t see. This struggle
then should be viewed in a positive light because it indicates they are
on the right track and salvation will eventually come.
Verse 29 tells the whole
story about the first century Christian.
It says, “for it has been granted unto you on the behalf of
Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him”.
These may not seem like happy words.
They may not seem like the “good news of salvation” that Paul
preached, but it was a part of the first century gospel.
The gospel these men preached was not a gospel of get saved, live
happily ever after on earth and then go to Heaven.
The gospel included serving Jesus, which in those days meant a
good measure of suffering.
Paul tells the
Philippians that they weren’t just called by Jesus in order to believe
in Him. The use of the word “behalf” tells us that Jesus has called
us to do certain things on His behalf.
We represent Him on earth because He is not here to represent
Himself. As we represent
Him, we may, and some will suffer hardship because the world does not
want to hear or do what we have to say.
In our western world, as
we move away from the Christian heritage we once had, we will find
ourselves in the same position as the first century Christian.
We should not let that surprise us when it happens.
The last phrase in
chapter 1 tells us that the Philippians are now experiencing what Paul
has and is experiencing in their fight for the gospel.
So they are not simply brothers in the faith, but brothers in the