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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Notes on Philippians 4

            First, I would like to provide a little explanation about my notes on various chapters of the Bible.  At the church I am a part of, I, and everyone there, usually knows what the chapter for study will be.  In this aspect, a participatory Bible study takes the place of a sermon in an institutional church.  As such, anyone can ask a question, and there is the great possibility that the actual topic taught is not the one that those who prepared for the study prepared for.  One might say that this method would not work in most settings, but I would maintain that, if something came up that no one knew the answer to, the proper response is (and would also be in a witnessing discussion), “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.”  Over the past three years, this has actually happened a couple of times, even though my church has a few people who have been believers for decades.  I think of this, as such a point comes up in these notes on Philippians 4.


            Usually, I put footnotes at the bottom, but just to highlight the works I looked at, I wish to mention them right up front.  One reference work I find invaluable is:

Craig Keener, ed., “The IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament”.

            Two other works I used, which I have not in previous chapters:

Luke Timothy Johnson, “The Writings of the New Testament”

IVP New Testament Commentaries, Phil. 4, online,   I have been using a commentary that was printed in about 1928, but this online one I find to be more thorough, and deals with issues current to our world culture.


Verse 1:  I covered verse 1 back with Phil. 3, because it belongs with the previous paragraph.  We need to remember that chapter and verse divisions were added centuries later and are not part of the inspiration of the Bible, along with any notes and even the book names, i.e. the book we call Genesis, if one translates the name of the book in Hebrew, would be In the Beginning.  Both were added later.

Verse 2: “Euodia, Syntyche” are Greek names.  It may have been more acceptable in Philippi than in some other cities to refer to these women as co-workers. 

Verse 3: “Clement” was a common Roman name, so this person may or may not have been the author of the New Testament Apocrypha book 1 Clement.  “Book of Life” is an idea that appears in the Old Testament (Ex. 32:32-33, Dan. 12:1, Mal. 3:16, other non-scripture writings) and would be further developed in Revelation.

Verse 4:  The threefold expression of Jewish piety was a) rejoicing in the Lord, b) prayer, and c) thanksgiving. (Ps. 61, 64, 84, 95, 97, 100)  From Old Testament days, devotion and ethics were considered responses to grace.  Gratitude begets generosity, which is the opposite to anxiety.

Verse 5:  “Gentleness” was a trait then and now of how a believer cares for those around him/her, and differentiates one from the average person pushing for their own wants. In Hellenistic culture, gentleness was an attribute of the gods and the nobles.  This is similar to 1 Pt. 2:23.

“The Lord is near” could be referring to the Second Coming, that the Holy Spirit indwells, it could be referring that He is close to us and knows our needs and troubles, or all at the same time. The believer was to live without care, but not uncaring or careless.  Since this mentioned wants and needs, in that day “needs” were thought of very narrowly, as those things one needed, like food, health, clothing—the extreme basics. 

“…be evident to all” includes those to opposed the believers.

Verse 6:  “Peace” could mean inner or outer tranquility, or peace with another (person or nation).  The latter was a common theme in Roman oratories on this subject, and Paul often either quoted or parodized common cultural ideas, as comes up again and again in this chapter.

“…be anxious for nothing” there was opposition and suffering at the time.

Verses 6 through 8:  Paul recites a list of virtues, similar to what Roman moral speakers might, and he uses their phrasing, although what he says here would not be objectionable to Jews or Christians, as it is Jewish wisdom in the terms of Hellenistic morality.  Notable is that the Roman moralists would have included “beauty” in their lists of virtues, and it is notable by its absence.  Beauty, then and now, was less a virtue, from a Jewish/Christian perspective, as an open door to the opposite.

“Meditate” meant to think upon what believers  had been taught about following Jesus, and is nothing like the modern western culture’s acceptance of blank-minded eastern meditation.

Verses 8 and 9: “Praiseworthy/excellent” (arête) was a word used by Greek moralists; “learned and received and heard” reflects Paul’s Jewish background. This is an example of how Paul wove different cultures phrases together to communicate.

Verse 9:  Paul uses himself as an example on how to live.  It is notable how rarely we hear this from Christian leaders today, in part because they are separated from average believers and the rest of society in a way that those not on a salary cannot possibly be.

“God of peace” is a rough equivalent to “Wisdom” in Proverbs.  Peace guards the hearts and thoughts, not just of individuals, but of the community.  “Lovely, admirable” relate to the concept of common grace (God has given gifts and/or abilities to all men).

Verse 10 and 15:  The Roman writer Seneca indicates that a person from Macedonia, where Philippi was, was prosecuted for being ungrateful.  In the section beginning with verse 10, Paul indicates gratitude without directly saying “thank you”, which in that culture might have implied being subordinate to the giver, which was connected to the Greek-Roman concept of friendship.  At Jesus’ death, it was understood that the Law of the Old Covenant held had been completed in Jesus, but the New Covenant’s Law of the Spirit was that the believer desired to give all of oneself to honor Jesus, so such generosity was only reasonable, if it was possible to do so.

“At last” might, in our culture, sound like a subtle complaint, but Paul is indicating that he means that they had the “opportunity” to help.  “…flourished again” is literally “blossomed again” as in perennials or flowering trees.

Verse 12:  “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.”  Stoics and Cynics held similar statements, although the Cynics made certain that they were always in the abased situation.  Paul’s statement differs, in that he makes it clear that it isn’t just a matter of self-control, but to honor Jesus.  We should note that Paul’s “abundance” would still be considered basic by our modern standards.

Verse 15: “Philippians” was bad Greek, but it was what Roman citizens of Philippi called themselves.  It indicates Paul was being sensitive to local traditions and culture.

Verse 16:  “…for my necessities” comes from the language of that day’s business documents, such as if a special account was set up for when he was in need.  We need to remember that Paul was under house arrest, and prisoners received extremely little unless others helped them while in prison.

Verse 17: “I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.”  Paul’s joy is more in their growing maturity in Jesus than in the items received.  This phrase also comes from commerce, as many transactions of the day involved crops.

Verse 18: The church (group of believers) in Philippi gave money to help Paul.  We see in the New Testament that the church spent money on two things—helping the poor and helping mature believers communicate the message of Jesus out to the world, of which this help fits both categories.  “I have all and abound” is a specifically Stoic phrase.

Verse 19:  Unlike how this verse is quoted among prosperity teachers, Paul’s prayer here is for their most basic needs, which was a matter of constant struggle for most people of that day.

Verses 21 to 23: This is a specifically Greco-Roman way of ending a letter, with concluding greetings, and a grace-benediction.

Verse 21:  Unlike the Romans, Paul is general in his greetings. “Saint” refers to individuals, “church” to the group.

Verse 22:  “…those of Caesar’s household” tells us that even at this early time there was at least one, and since “those” is plural, probably more, believers in Caesar’s household, which could refer to civil servants working directly for Caesar, slaves, and freedmen, and probably refers to the Praetorian Guard.  A slave working for Caesar held more prestige than most free persons.  Like Acts 17:6 “turned the world upside down”, this implies that faith is seditious to the world’s status quo.

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