Sunday, April 28, 2013

Philippians 1:3-8 / PAUL'S PRAYER (Part 1)

PAUL’S PRISON PRAYER 1:3-11 (Part 1)

The Philippian salutation is followed by a prayer. Physical ministry to these believers due to his imprisonment, but his prayer ministry is unlimited. We observe the text we see that this section is divided between thanksgiving (v. 3-8) and request (9-11).  The thanksgiving is dominated by the pronoun “I” (v 3, 4, 7, 8, 9), while the request is dominated by the pronoun “you” (v. 9, 10). However, the “I” is always used in conjunction with “you” in this text:
I thank … remembrance of you
My every prayer… for you
I have you…
I long for you…’
I pray that your love

Thus, the “I” is always used in a selfless way, not in a selfish way. The “I” always seeks out the “you” in this passage. “I” designates Paul’s’ action, which cannot be separated from the Philippians. Paul’s action has as its object the believers at Philippi. It is the “I” of humility. “In his most dire need, he was benevolent, altruistic, and other-centered,” observes Gromacki.[1]

Thanksgiving (1:3-8)

“I thank my God” (1:3) opens this first section of the prison prayer. Thanksgiving is the first item of prayers by Paul. His thanksgiving is always directed to God. It is also continual, for he is using the present active indicative tense. In this case he adds the pronoun “my.” It denotes his relationship with God; it is personal, not abstract nor impersonal. It denotes not only a personal relationship, but a vital connection and dependence upon God (cf. Acts 27:23; Gal. 2:20). It expresses intense devotion. It literally reads: “the God of me.” “Gratitude to God is uppermost in Paul’s mind.”[2] Gratitude is an element that drives us closer to God. It is the element of praising and glorifying God. The lack thereof drives us away from God and robs Him of glory (cf. Rom. 3:21).

The occasion of his prayer is “in all my remembrance of you” (1:3).  It is possible to translate this phrase as “in all your remembrance of me,” but is not well supported.[3] However both are valid translations. Paul’s gratitude is most likely based up his memories of them, no doubt from their mutual ministry, fellowship, and friendship in the gospel. Remembrance should spark our hearts to “always offering prayer with joy” (1:4) for those believers we know, as it did in Paul. (Interestingly the word prayer and request in verse 4 of the KJV is the same Greek word).

The reasons for Paul’s thankfulness of the Philippians are threefold:

1. “In view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5). The word “for” as the KJV translates is not a connective, but a preposition (epi) normally translated “upon.”[4] It denotes the basis or ground upon which something is done.[5] It is probably best to translate it as “because.” This verse sets forth three things: First, their common participation or fellowship. The Greek is koinonia meaning to share in; fellowship, communion or participation.  It has a secondary meaning of contribution. Thus, included in this idea of participation/fellowship may be the collection sent for Paul’s ministry. Fellowship results in “tangible assistance.”[6] Paul uses this word twice as often as other NT writers, often as a participant, sharer (1 Cor. 10:18; 2 Cor. 1:7) or a partner (1 Cor. 10:20; 2 Cor. 8:23; Philme 17).[7]  Second, this participation/fellowship was “in the gospel,” as well as grace (1:7), the Holy Spirit (2:1), suffering (3:20), and in giving (4:14-15). It denotes active cooperation in ministry of taking the gospel to the gentiles. The church of Philippi stands above the other churches in participation in the gospel (Phil 4:15). They did so willing and joyfully (2 Cor. 8:2-3). Third, their continual or constant participation/fellowship: “from the first day until now.” This denotes their faithfulness in ministry. It began at the time of their conversion and continued constantly. They met the requirement of stewardship (1 Cor. 4:2).

2. “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:6). Paul is confident of both the Philippians and God. If the first reason of thanksgiving centers upon the Philippians, the second centers on the work of God. In verse 5 we saw the perseverance of saints; in verse 6 we see the preservation of God. The two go hand in hand. One cannot persevere without the preservation of God. Paul is confident in the work of God preserving them by his work in them. God will not fail them in the work of ministry and in the gospel. Here is the secret behind their participation in the gospel. First, what God began was the good work. “He who began a good work in you” speaks of God’s personal involvement in their lives and ministry from the very start. It began in salvation. It has been noticed that the personal pronoun is used, and not the name of God. Hendricksen notes that this is often done to emphasize the activity of God,[8] rather than the person of God. God’s preservation includes: an unending faithfulness by God (Psa. 89:33), no separation (Rom. 8:29-30); the sealing of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14), and His ability to keep His word (Rom. 4:21). It is not our work, but God working in and through us as the reason we can persevere. It is a co-labor relationship (1 Cor. 3:9; Phil. 2:12-13). Perseverance cannot be created by the Philippians; rather it is the creative work or activity of God, initiated by Him and will be completed by Him through the means of the Philippians. God began the good work and He will finish it. He “will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” The word perfect (epiteleo) means to bring to an end, complete, or realization. It speaks of His faithfulness (cf. 1 Thess. 5:24). It denotes certainty of completion and the assurance of that completion. The time of completion is in the day of Christ Jesus. This speaks of the day in which Christ comes for His church. It involves the resurrection and translation of the saints (1 Cor. 15:51-53; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). Then we shall be what we should be. We will be glorified in His sight (Rom. 8:30).

3. He is thankful for their relationship with one another. “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me” (1:7). While scholars see an end of thanksgiving with verse 6,[9] I think verse 7 indicates a new thought or reason for Paul’s thanksgiving for this assembly. Hawthorne notes that Paul “frequently begins a sentence with kathos not followed by outos, and in so doing gives to kathos something of the meaning of “because”…He does that here and thus connects v 7 with vv3-6 to show that his gratitude to God for each one of the Philippians, his joy over them, his confident expectation of their constant fidelity, are feeling on his part that are justly and rightly due them.”[10] It is a reinforcement or confirmation of his feelings and thankfulness for them. His affection for them is a spring to his thankfulness. The object is that they “all are partakers of grace with me.” He was thankful because they were sharers of grace together (with me). They share the grace of suffering (bonds) and the ministry. “Both had been saved by grace, and both were experiencing sustaining grace in the midst of their respective trials” says Gromacki.[11]  It is a reference to God’s sustaining grace working through His people. They shared that grace together. It speaks of the process of His completing His work in them

This affection and thankfulness created in him a desire for them. “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (1:8). He expresses that God witnesses his desire and longing for them. The text brings out that this longing was a strong intense desire. The object of this desire was them (for you), not their gifts (cf. Phil. 4:1). His desire was wrapped in the affection of Christ. It was an affection that was patterned after (Phil 2:5), and energized by Christ’s love (cf. Gal. 2:20).[12]

[1]  Gromacki, STAND UNITED IN JOY, 34.
[2] O’Brien, NIGTC: PHILIPPIANS, 56.
[3]  On this see Hawthorne, WBC: PHILIPPIANS, 16. However, O’Brien supports it, 58.
[4]  Gromacki, 38
[5]  Silva, PHILIPPIANS, 50
[6]  Hawthorne, 19.
[7]  William Hendricksen, NTC:PHILIPPIANS, 94.
[8]  Hendricksen, 54.
[9]  O’Brien, 65.
[10]  Hawthorne, 22.
[11]  Gromacki, 42.
[12]  Hendricksen, 58. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013



As we open the epistle of Philippians, we read the salutation of the epistle. It was Paul’s habit to open most of his epistles with a salutation. The salutation is written in the normal form of a letter in the Hellenistic style.  This included: author, receiver, and greeting/blessing. Instead of signing a letter at the end like we do today, in Paul’s day the author put these items at the beginning of a letter. We have actual letters from the time showing this form. Deissmann gives us an example: Asclepiades, the son of ‘Charmogon, to Portis, the son of Peramis, greeting….”[1]

1. Author (1:1)

“Paul” is the author of the epistle. He is the greeter in the salutation. This is the Apostle of the Gentiles writing to a gentile church. Interestingly, Paul does not in this instance include the fact that he is an apostle, as he does in other letters (cf. Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1, 2 Cor. 1:1, Gal. 1:1, Eph. 1:1, Col.1:1).  Why? This is not really known, but most commentators say there was “no need to refer to his apostolic authority”[2] in this letter, evidence of a warm friendly relationship between them.

He also opens the letter by naming Timothy along with himself. He links Timothy with himself which could indicate co-authorship. However, most hold that this is not the case. The letter clearly indicates a single author by the use of the singular pronouns (I, me, and my, are found 51 times) used throughout the epistles, not the plural “we.”  The is a clear indication that only Paul was the author, but Timothy does act as co-greeter. Silva warns us however not to make light of this connection, it is more than just a gesture. He points out the link to give Timothy’s endorsement and influence to Paul’s words.[3] Timothy was well-known to the readers; theirs was a special relationship,[4] so the link would mean something and reinforce the words of Paul to the readers. Some hold that he was Paul’s stenographer.[5]

This special connection and link between Paul and Timothy is seen in the phrase, “servants of Christ Jesus.” Notice the plural—servants or bond-servants. This is a rare occasion, it is normally singular. The term is inclusive and refers to both Paul and Timothy. Both are servants of Christ. Hawthrone suggests that this indicates humble equality among them.[6] This is a good suggestion, since the book itself deals with humility and service is a major emphasis. Gromacki suggests that it was because of their unique relationship since Paul looked upon Timothy as a son. The word used is for served is edouleusen (related to doulos), meaning to serve as a slave. In the ancient world, sons born to slaves were automatically slaves also.[7] So Paul may be using the plural to indicate the closeness of their own personal relationship. Timothy, like his spiritual father, is a servant of Jesus Christ.

The word servant is the Greek word douloi. Paul lifts this word out of contemporary setting as being a repugnant concept, and lifts it to a place of honor. “In Christian parlance it not an insult, but the highest commendation possible” denotes Silva.[8] In the Septuagint it is used as a special term for the God’s ministers and people (Ex. 14:3; Num 12:7; Jer. 25:4; Ezek. 38:17; Zech. 1:6). It denotes being co-labors with God and being His instrument. They are chosen instruments entrusted with a task. While there is still the idea of ownership inherent in the term, it is not the emphasis. Humble service is the emphasis.  

2. Readers (1:1)

The second feature of a letter is that the readers or the receivers are named—the addressees. Philippians is the only letter that Paul addresses to both the congregation and the leadership. They are the identified under two names. First of all he uses the word saints. This word is used in almost every letter to indicate the congregation (cf. saints at Corinth). It is descriptive of all believers; they are saints (hagiazo).  The word means “set apart” or “set apart ones.” Loh and Nida discourage the translation of saints, saying it is misleading and should be rendered “people who worship God” or “people who are related to God.”[9] This completely disassociates the word from its root meaning and therefore I reject it. All believers have been “set apart” by and for God at the time of their conversions and continues throughout their lives. Thus, they are saints (set apart ones).  All believers are saints by calling (Rom.1:7). We are set apart “in Christ Jesus.” This denotes the sphere in which believers are set apart. “In Christ” denotes our position. We are set apart through God’s grace, not through any merit of ours, but because of His merit and work on the Cross. We are baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). Spiritually these believers are in Christ, but they also are physically in the city of Philippi.

In addition, Paul singles out “the overseers and deacons.”  Grammatically the phrase can refer either to two different groups, or a single group which are referred to as bishops as well as deacons.[10]  The word “overseer” (bishop-KJV) is the Greek word episkopos which is a compound word epi (over) and skopos (sight), thus literally meaning oversight or overseer. Jesus Christ, of course, is the head overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). Here it refers to one who is a leader in the church. The other term “deacon” is the Greek word diakonois, and primarily means a servant, or one who serves. Serving lies at the heart of this word. They are those who assist in ministry (cf. Acts 6:2-3). It is best to see overseer and deacon as referring to two different leaders. In 1 Timothy, Paul gives the qualifications of bishop and deacons as two separate offices (1 Tim. 3:1-13).  

Bishops are those who are the pastoring and teaching elders within the church. The term is used synonymously and interchangeably with pastor (poimen) and elder (presbuteros) in the New Testament. Paul summoned the Ephesian elders (presbuterous) telling them “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers (episkopous) to feed (poimainein) the church of God” (Acts 20:17, 28 cp. 1 Peter 5:1-2). Thus the term overseer is a term that indicates the general responsibility of an elder or pastor. He oversees the church by being a shepherd and feeding (teaching) the congregation. Elder denotes his official position, oversight is his responsibility, and teaching is his method of feeding the flock. Today we use the shepherding term of Pastor for this person.

It should be pointed out that the reason for singling out the leadership is not that clear in this epistle. The best suggestion is Paul is preparing them for the rebukes and criticism given in the letter.[11] However, this is not done in other epistles that give rebukes and criticism to other churches. So it remains unclear and speculative.  What is clear is that Paul does distinguish them from the congregation, but does not address them over the congregation, but in conjunction with them.[12] The letter is addressed to both equally and intended for the congregation as a whole.  

3. The Greeting (1:2)

The third item in letters of the time, is the greeting or blessing. This is Paul’s standard formula of greeting his readers. This formula is almost a prayer as well and a greeting or blessing. The greeting can be divided into two parts:

Content of the Greeting (“Grace and Peace). The blessing is two-fold: First is grace, which is the unmerited favor of God. Grace always is mentioned first; this formula is never reversed. This is logical because in saving grace, it is always before peace. There are many types of grace. There is saving grace (Eph. 2:8-9), which they have already experienced. Then the sanctifying grace (Titus 2:12); sustaining grace (Rom. 5:2); both which is continual in the life of a believer. They are to grow in the sanctifying and sustaining grace, which is linked with the activity of God. This stresses the daily grace of God in the life of a believer.

Second, is peace. In salvation the believer has peace with God (Rom. 5:1). Peace is the result of grace. However, there is a continual need for the peace of God in the life of a believer. It is the peace of God which guards us as believers (Phil 4:17). We have peace with God through grace; peace with God is the result of God’s sanctifying and sustaining grace.

The source of Grace and Peace (“from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”). The source of this greeting or blessing is from a twofold source: God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice there is only one preposition; “from,” which links the two together as a common source. This denotes coordination of God and Christ as the co-source of grace and peace. Christ is as much of the source as God the Father. They work in conjunction and in harmony with one another as the source of grace and peace. They are equals.

[1]  Deissmann quoted by Gerald F. Hawthorne, WBC:PHILIPPIANS, 2.
[3]  Moises Silva, WEC: PHILIPPIANS, 39.
[4]  J.B. Lightfoot, ST. PAUL’S EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS, 81 calls it as constant and intimate.
[6]  Hawthorne, 4.
[7]  Robert G. Gromacki, STAND UNITED IN JOY, 23.
[8]  Silva, 40.
[10]  Hawthorne, 7
[11]  Silva, 42.
[12]  Hawthorne, 7-8

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Philippians expresses a profound wisdom in a short concise work (104 verses), that is not found in much larger works. Its overall tone is that of rejoicing in spite of terrible situations. Paul was in prison. His outlook was dark, facing the possibility of death. No freedom in the physical sense, being bound to his guards. Yet, his "up" look brought joy to his heart. There is a theme in this epistle that is deeper than simply the manifestation of joy. The book of Philippians deals with how to have joy in spite of it all. The key presented in this book is the mind. The theme is having and expressing the Mind of Christ. The heart of this epistle is found in it exposition of having the same mind or attitude as that of Christ (Phil 2:5f). Warren Wiersbe does an excellent job in showing what the attitudes of our mind should be as expressed in this epistle—a singleness of mind (1:21); a submissive mind (2:3); a spiritual mind (3:19-20); and a secure mind (4:6-7).[1] The Mind of Christ is the source of joy and available to every believer in Christ

[1]  Warren W. Wiersbe, BE JOYFUL, Victor, Wheaton, 1974.