Philippians 1:2-11

1:2 Timothy joins Paul in a customary but genuine prayer for the Philippians to experience God’s grace and peace.  Grace is God’s love in action, empowering, uplifting, redeeming, and enabling us.  Peace is the state of harmony and well being that was God’s original intention for all his creation.  These blessings come from God our father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who are inseparably linked together.

1:3-6 Paul now adds his own prayer, though Timothy of course would join in spirit and add his amen.  I thank my God at every memory of you, or “every time I remember you.”  Paul no doubt continued to observe the Jewish practice of having set hours of prayer every day, but he also “practiced the presence of God,” living his life in a continued awareness of God’s presence.  In this sense, it is possible to pray without ceasing, to pray with one’s eyes open, to pray short prayers specifically for others whenever you think of them.  Prayer for others is not a burden but a joy, and since we cross paths with so many others we can never run out of people to pray for.

When we pray for others, we are sometimes disappointed and we may wonder “What good does prayer do?”  Prayer is first of all a way of caring, a way of sharing someone else’s burden.  It is also true that sometimes surprising things happen when we pray.  Prayer is also a way of tuning our hearts to God.  As we become more experienced in prayer and walking with God our prayers will become more and more in line with God’s desires, and we should expect to see more and more of our prayers answered.

Paul is thankful for the community’s participation (koinoniain the Gospel from the first day until now.  Koinonia refers to the spiritual fellowship we have with each other and to the active participation and sharing in an activity.  When Paul first came to Philippi he received hospitality from Lydia and the jailor, and many other unnamed believers.  They had also contributed financially to Paul’s mission in other places and had continued that support in his imprisonment.  They had experienced the blessings that come from the Gospel.  They had shared the Good News with their neighbors and continued to do so in spite of opposition.  The Gospel is the news of what God has done for the world through Jesus Christ.  In Jesus Christ God had fulfilled the promises found in Isaiah:

You who bring good tidings to Zion . . . lift up your voice with a shout . . . say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!”  See the Sovereign LORD comes with power . . . He tends his flock like a shepherd (Is 40:9-11).

Paul had seen the evidence of God’s work in their hearts, and he was convinced that God would finish what he started and they would be found strong and faith on the day when Jesus Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, to renew the earth, uniting heaven and earth, to call the wicked to account, and to reward the faithful.

Salvation is God’s work, and God can be trusted to finish what he starts.  A Christian should never be presumptuous–God expects us to participate in what he is doing in our lives.  But we should never be anxious.  We have good reason to have confidence in God.  It is true that we can never see completely into another person’s heart, and that people often surprise and disappoint us.  But we can see on people’s faces and in their actions a consistency in spiritual growth (or lack thereof).  Paul had seen the reality of their faith and has good reason for confidence in them personally.

1:7 Therefore he adds, it is right for me to think this way for all of you because I have you in my heart.  Greek is often more precise than English, but in this case it is more ambiguous.

Paul uses an infinitive construction in which the subject and object both use the same grammatical form (the accusative), so the last clause could also be translated, “because you have me in your heart.”  A painfully literal translation would be “because of the to have me in the heart you.”

The immediately following context would support the translation “because you have me in your heart,” but recent research into the usage of infinitive clauses tends to support “because I have you in my heart” as the translation.  Both ideas are true, but Paul probably had one in mind.

Paul’s confidence in them is based on the personal relationship he has with them and the knowledge he has of their character.  They have been partners with him in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel as well as in his imprisonment.  The work of the Spirit of Christ in their lives manifested in “the fruit of righteousness” is the confirmation of the Gospel.  Their confession of faith and steadfast faithfulness is their participation in the defense of the Gospel.  The best apologetic is a believing community from whose lives flows the love of God.

1:8God is my witness” is an oath.  Paul evidently did not see this as a contradiction of Jesus’ words “let your yes be yes.”  Paul uses this kind of oath when he wants to express something strongly, sometimes when his motives or truthfulness has been challenged.  Here the physical separation caused by his imprisonment causes a frustration that leads Paul to say, “God is my witness how I long for all of you with the passionate affection of Christ.”  The Greek word splankhna, refers literally to the organs in the chest (lungs, spleen, liver, etc.) where emotion is deeply felt.  Metaphorically it conveys intense compassion or affection, so I have translated it “passionate affection.” Maybe “the passion of Christ” would convey the idea just as well.

Bible translators tell amusing stories about where in the anatomy emotions are perceived to be experienced in different cultures.  Some peoples say “I love you with my kidneys,” for example.  (The expression found in the KJV certainly is not help for today’s readers.)

1:9-11  Paul summarizes his personal prayer for them:

  1. that your love may overflow more and more.  Here agape expresses a deep concern for the well being of other people, their spiritual as well as physical well being, now and into eternity, that unconditionally seeks their best interest, while respecting their integrity as free and responsible individuals.  Believers are commanded and empowered to love one another and to love their enemies with this kind of Christ-like love.
  2. in all knowledge and ethical sensitivity.  The word aisthesis (whence the English aesthetic) indicates perception, insight, and moral sensibility.
    • A rabbi dealing with an ethical issue today illustrates this kind of sensitivity with a parable: “A woman comes to me with a question about a chicken).  I ask her to tell me about her life, her family . . . ”  What he means is that he will not apply a cookie-cuter ruling to everyone.  It depends on the need of her family and her financial resources.  If they are a poor family, rather than letting the children go hungry, the rabbi will find a way to make the chicken kosher.  If she is wealthy he will say, “just buy another chicken.”
    • The teaching in the Bible is written to help us form this kind of ethical sensitivity.  It is not to give us dueling verses or a weapon to bash people over the head with.
  3. so that you will think critically and make the best decisions,
    • The verb dokimazo means examine, test, prove, or approve; ta diaphoranta the things that are distinguished, excellent, preferred.  In the context of “knowledge and ethical sensitivity” Paul is referring to critical thinking and learning from experience.
    • Love that overflows needs to be guided by wisdom, knowledge, experience, and critical thinking to produce results that really benefit the ones loved.
  4. and so you will be pure and blameless in the day of Christ,
    • Clear thinking and wisdom that comes from experience will also help followers of Christ examine their own motives and actions so they can avoid self-deception and falling into harmful patterns of behavior.
    • On the day Christ is revealed to the world, there will be no partiality: regardless of religion and nationality every person will be held accountable for the life he or she has lived.  All will have to answer how they have responded to the gifts and opportunities they have been given and to the needs they have faced or avoided.
    • Those who turn to God and seek forgiveness can be assured of receiving it.  However, we would hope to have more to show on the day of judgment than a blank slate.  How have we treated those considered “least” by the world but “brothers or sisters” by Jesus?  Have we loved God with pure hearts?
    • There is a paradox here, of course.  Those who do the right thing from pure motives will be rewarded: but having pure motives means not seeking a reward.
  5. filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ and returns to the glory and praise of God.
    • Through faith we are united to Christ and his righteousness becomes ours.  We are “counted righteous” by God and, as we become aware of the presence of Christ in our lives, we become more righteous in our motives and behavior.
    • The fruit of righteousness is the natural outgrowth of a relationship with God.  It consists of qualities such as “love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness,” the renunciation of violence or revenge, seeking to live at peace with all people, and similar Christ-like behaviors, attitudes, and commitments.  See Rom 12:9-21; 14:17-18; Gal 5:22-23.
    • God is glorified when hurting people are healed, when those who are lost are found; when people find wholeness and salvation through a relationship of faith and love with God through Jesus Christ, when children, women, and men understand and respond to God’s love for them.

“Not Even Wrong” is an expression Christopher Hitchens was fond of.  I believe the original expression was “not even false.”  The idea comes first from analytic philosophy, according to which some statements are true, others are false, and others are merely nonsensical.  This idea was taken over into science where it led to the idea that a theory must be testable and, at least in principle, “falsifiable.”  If there is no way a theory could be tested and produce a result that is either true or false, it is “not even false,” it is a worthless theory.

In this sense, two ideas commonly asserted by the aggressive atheists of this new millennium are not even false.

  1. The first is the idea that faith and reason are irreconcilable opposites, that faith requires one to leave his shoes and his mind at the door.  In fact faith requires critical thinking.  I don’t want to promote stereotypes, even positive ones, but everyone knows Jews have been disproportionately overachievers in academics.  Could it be because centuries of debate over the meaning of the commandments in the Torah have created a culture of critical thinking?  Could it be that teaching that study (even secular study) is an act of devotion to God have created a climate that values the intellect?
  2. The second is the idea that Christians serve God out of cringing fearor for base motives of a future reward, that they live a life of drudgery mindlessly following rules and regulations first formulated in the bronze age.  This total misunderstanding of the motivation for Christian behavior so misses the point that it is not even wrong, it is not even close to reality.
    • Unfortunately there are Christians who share the above misunderstandings.  Religion in general does poison nearly everything, it constantly distorts the reality of the relationship God desires to have with us.  From Genesis to Revelation, the prophets and apostles of God fight against religion as it is actually practiced by most of mankind in their day, including those who understand themselves to be the people of God.
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