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Philippians- Everyman's Bible Commentary

Philippians- Everyman's Bible Commentary

by John Walvoord

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It seems unlikely that a chained prisoner would write a paper on triumph, but in his letter to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul did exactly that. 

John F. Walvoord's refreshing analysis of this popular New Testament epistle combines an unusually fascinating style with a careful exegesis of the original Greek text.


It seems unlikely that a chained prisoner would write a paper on triumph, but in his letter to the Philippian believers, the apostle Paul did exactly that. 

John F. Walvoord's refreshing analysis of this popular New Testament epistle combines an unusually fascinating style with a careful exegesis of the original Greek text. After discussing the epistle's authorship, date, character, and relevance to modern Christianity, Walvoord moves to a consideration of prominent phrases in the Pauline writings. Additionally, cross-references and historical background help to explain the text to the layman or student.

Learn how the principles expressed by the apostle Paul can help Christians today to consistently experience peace in Christ.

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Triumph in Christ

By John F. Walvoord

Moody Press

Copyright © 1971 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-57567-902-0



Salutation, 1:1-2

The Warm, Intimate Relationship of Paul and Timothy to the church at Philippi is indicated in the absence of apostolic titles, also omitted in the two letters to the Thessalonians and Philemon. As Marvin R. Vincent expresses it, "The character of the whole epistle is reflected in this introduction. It is unofficial, affectionate, familiar, unlike the opening of the Galatian Epistle, and more nearly resembling the introductions to the two Thessalonian letters."

Since Paul's first memorable visit to Philippi about A.D. 52, there had been many friendly contacts as both Paul and Timothy had visited the church frequently. Paul had been there twice in A.D. 57. Timothy also had been at Philippi several times (Ac 16:1-3; 17:14-15; 19:22; 20:3-4; Phil 2:19-23). The church had ministered to Paul's physical wants (2 Co 11:8-9; Phil 4:15-16), and just prior to the writing of this epistle had sent another love gift to Paul through Epaphroditus (Phil 4:15-18). Probably no other church provided the loving fellowship and thoughtfulness so encouraging to Paul in his prison experience.

Instead of claiming apostolic office and title, Paul and Timothy are described simply as "the servants of Jesus Christ," literally slaves of Jesus Christ. Although in Philemon Paul calls himself "a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Phile 1:1), and in Romans and Titus he refers to himself as a slave in addition to the mention of his apostolic office (Ro 1:1; Titus 1:1), only here is the expression used alone in the salutation of Paul's epistles. Significantly, he takes the same place as Timothy who had had such an effective ministry in Philippi. Timothy is mentioned with Paul in seven epistles: 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Timothy, who was with Paul in Rome during most of his imprisonment, is omitted only in Ephesians in the prison epistles.

The letter is addressed "to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi." The expression "saints" is a general designation of those dedicated to God, and therefore holy or sacred; hence, reserved for God and His service. It is used both for angels and men.

The mention of bishops and deacons indicates the advanced state of organization of the church at Philippi now composed of mature and gifted believers from whom recognized leaders had come. As A. R. Fausset notes, "This is the earliest epistle where bishops and deacons are mentioned, and the only one where they are separately addressed." Of course, as early as Acts 6, men were appointed in the church to serve in a way similar to deacons. Although not called deacons, the prominence of this appointment of men to special service in Acts seems to recognize its significance. Elders were appointed in every church as early as Acts 14:23, and are mentioned in Acts 11:30; 20:27-28; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.

As Calvin and most commentators since have understood it, the address to bishops and deacons is evidence that a bishop is equivalent to a pastor or teacher, and that a deacon usually is the one in charge of charity and temporal things in the church. As Calvin states.

The titles, therefore, of bishop and pastor, are synonymous. And this is one of the passages which Jerome quotes for proving this in his epistle to Evagrius, and in his exposition of the Epistle to Titus. Afterwards there crept in the custom of applying the name of bishop exclusively to the person whom the presbyters in each church appointed over their company. It originated, however, in the human custom, and rests on no Scripture authority.

The custom of appointing bishops and deacons was characteristic of the early Christian communities. While not mentioning his own apostolic office, Paul extends the courtesy of recognition to these church leaders, and with it a subtle suggestion that the unity of the church (which seems to have been threatened) could be maintained by proper recognition of leadership.

After the epistle is introduced with the usual salutation found in all of Paul's epistles, the apostolic greeting is extended, "Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." The words "grace" and "peace," wonderfully significant of the Christian's relationship to God, beautifully express the content of Christian salvation and the triumph of Paul in suffering, which is the theme of chapter 1. In grace, the unmerited favor of God toward those who have trusted in Christ is revealed, and with it the whole sustaining power of God for the Christian is embraced. The result is "peace," peace with God through Jesus Christ, and the peace of God, the inner, supernatural tranquility which is produced as the fruit of the Spirit (Ro 5:1; Phil 4:7; Gal 5:22). Although a customary form of greeting, it expressed the longing of Paul's heart that the Philippians would realize to the full the wonderful provision of God for both grace and peace.

The general form of verses 1 and 2 follows the custom of the first century in writing letters. Such correspondence usually begins with the name of the writer, and Paul follows this custom in all of his letters. After the name of the writer there is usually an expressed prayer or wish for the wellbeing of the person receiving the letter. This is often followed by a brief statement of what is being communicated. While the body of the letter often differed, it usually closed with a prayer or benediction. The form of Paul's letter, therefore, is not unusual; its content and inspiration set it apart. Archeological discoveries confirm that Paul's letters were similar to the letters of others. As J. H. Harrop points out, letters were used not only for ordinary social purposes, but to express philosophic, scientific, and other literary productions, some having more rhetorical character and more definite plan than others, as illustrated in the epistle to the Romans.

Thanksgiving For Their Fellowship in the Gospel, 1:3-8

Philippians, like 1 Thessalonians, which is a letter of appreciation for the faithfulness of Christians in Thessalonica, is essentially a thanksgiving for the work of grace in Philippi, and for their thoughtfulness in sending Epaphroditus with a gift to Paul in prison in Rome. With a full heart he writes, "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you." Paul's heart was filled to overflowing as he reviewed in his mind how God had worked in Philippi in leading them to salvation, in forming the church, his own sensational deliverance from jail at Philippi, the subsequent development of the church, and their kindness to him on many occasions. The Philippians were constantly in his prayers, and an unfailing source of joy and satisfaction (v. 4).

The apostle's prayer life is a remarkable aspect of his total testimony and is frequently mentioned in his epistles (Ro 1:9; Eph 1:16; Col 1:3, 9; 1 Th 1:2; 2 Th 1:11; Phile 4). In his busy life on his missionary journeys as well as now in his imprisonment, Paul dedicated many hours to prayer. In our modern day when program and publicity and promotion characterize the Lord's work, it is sometimes overlooked that without prayer no eternal work can be accomplished for God. Paul's prayer life is a noble example to all who would be effective in Christian work and testimony. No doubt the Philippian church had also prayed for him, and this forms part of their fellowship with him. He mentions, "your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now" (v. 5). Their fellowship was not only social and spiritual, but they were fellow laborers through their prayers and gifts in all that Paul had wrought, as he states in Philippians 4:15-16.

Significant in the early verses of this epistle is the reference "to all the saints in Christ Jesus" (v. 1), and "you all" (v. 4). One of the problems with which the apostle deals in chapter 4 is a minor rift in the church; it was of a social rather than a theological nature, and Paul was seeking to heal it on the basis of their common love for him and for the Lord. The word "all" is repeated twice in 1:7 and again in 1:8. The fact that he can thank God for each one of them sets a high standard for relationship between a pastor and his people, whether in the first or the twentieth century. Many pastors would have difficulty thanking God for everyone in their flock.

His joy in their present fellowship is matched by his confidence in the certainty of their future perfection at "the day of Jesus Christ." This expression, which occurs three times in Philippians (1:6, 10; 2:16) and three times in Paul's other epistles (1 Co 1:8; 5:5; 2 Co 1:14), is probably a reference to the day when Christ will come for His church (1 Th 4:13-18). If so, it is used in contrast to "the day of the Lord," which contextually refers to the time of judgment and the millennial kingdom of Christ on earth. The day of the believer's perfection will be the day of his translation or resurrection. Meanwhile, Paul is confident of God's continual working in them. Having saved them, God would complete His work of grace in their future deliverance and glorification.

Paul's confidence in God and in the Philippians has sound basis in the past evidences of their faith mentioned in verse 7. He declares his confidence is fitting "because I have you in my heart," and "in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace." An alternate translation, "because you have me in your heart," as Lightfoot points out, is not supported by the order of words in the original. His reference to "in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel," is not evidence that his trial had already begun. It is rather that the Philippians had shared his suffering, as well as his labors, and had been partakers of the same triumph over suffering made possible by the grace of God.

In these seven verses of introduction, an amazing expanse of theological truth had already been introduced. The words "servants," "saints," "grace," "peace," "prayer," "joy," and his expression of confidence, thanksgiving, and hope constitute an impressive background for the rest of the epistle.

The apostle's thankfulness for them, his joy in their fellowship, his confidence in their ultimate spiritual triumph, and his assurance that they are partakers of the grace of God only serve to increase his love for them. Paul calls upon God to record how greatly he longs after them in the compassions of Christ. He yearns for them as a mother for a child. He mentions that Epaphroditus had the same feeling toward them (Phil 2:26). His longing for them was born of the Spirit who had produced the fruit of love in Paul's heart. As F. B. Meyer expresses it, "The Apostle had got so near the very heart of his Lord that he could hear its throb, detect its beat; nay, it seemed as though the tender mercies of Jesus to these Philippians were throbbing in his own heart." Having the heart of Christ and His compassion transforms all human relationships; places love on a supernatural plane; enables us to love the unlovely, the unthankful, and the indifferent; and impels us to prayer. This is the heart and compassion of God supernaturally implanted in the human breast. This compassion is further expressed in the following passage which reveals Paul's deep concern for them.

Prayer That They Might Be Filled With the Fruits of Righteousness, 1:9-11

The fruit of the love and compassion of Christ finds its highest expression in prayer. Having mentioned his thankfulness and joy as he prays for them in verses 3-5, Paul declares that the content of his petition is fourfold. In his first petition he prays that their love "may abound yet more and more." How often the Scriptures remind us that love is the primary quality of Christlikeness. It was this quality which should distinguish disciples of Christ from all others (Jn 13:35). Love is the first of the fruit of the Spirit, without which all the other fruit loses its luster (Gal 5:22-23). It is the greatest of the three great virtues—faith, hope, and love (1 Co 13:13), and the indispensable quality to every spiritual gift, whether it be tongues, prophecy, faith, sacrifice, or martyrdom (1 Co 13:1-3). Too often in listing theological fundamentals of the faith, love as a fruit of the Spirit is omitted. It is actually the sine qua non of Christianity today, as well as in the Philippian church. Particularly because there had been a rift in the spiritual fellowship of the Philippian church, alluded to in 4:2, the great need of the Philippians, like the church of Ephesus in Revelation 2, was to return to their first love (Rev 2:4).

In this, the only possible standard is love which continues to abound increasingly. Such love, however, is more than just emotion. It is love rooted "in knowledge and in all judgment." The word for love is agape, the deepest word for love in the Scriptures. The knowledge to which love is to lead is, as Lightfoot expresses it, "advanced, perfect knowledge." Here it means spiritual knowledge, theological knowledge, the comprehension of the total revelation of God concerning Himself, man and salvation. It is only as we comprehend the love of God toward us, unworthy as we are, that we can in turn love those who are imperfect. Then he adds, "in all judgment" (the word occurring only here in the New Testament), referring to "feeling," "perception," "insight," and "experience."

As Lightfoot expresses it, "Love imparts a sensitiveness of touch, gives a keen edge to the discriminating faculty in things moral and spiritual." As knowledge deals with general principles, so perception and insight deal with its application.

The love for which he is praying is that which comes from the heart of God who is omniscient, infinitely discerning, and fully aware of all the deficiencies of His creatures, and yet is impelled to love because He is a God of love. Such love cannot be static, but must abound.

In his second petition in verse 10, Paul logically proceeds from his prayer for love abounding in knowledge and in judgment to the corresponding quality of a discriminating sense of values expressed in the clause, "that ye may approve things that are excellent." The idea of approval comes from a word meaning "to examine carefully" or "to test." The conclusion "that are excellent" more literally means "to discriminate between things that are good and bad," or things that are opposed to each other. Spiritual discernment sorts all things out as good or bad in the sight of God determined by divine rather than human criteria. An accurate translation would be, "that ye may discriminate between things that differ." The same expression occurs in Romans 2:18 where it speaks of knowing God's will and of being instructed out of the law. In a world which has lost its sense of value, a Christian must have unusual sensitivity to what really counts.

Such discernment leads to the third petition of Paul, "that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ." By "sincere" is meant they would have purity of motive, a purpose in life obviously pure and unsullied by selfishness, sin, or worldly standards. The Greek word translated "sincere" is usually considered to be an interesting combination of two words referring to sunlight and judgment, indicating the genuineness of anything examined in the full light of day. Such sincerity in motive leads to a life that is without offense to God or man when judged by God's standards. The desire of the apostle is that the motivation of the Philippians in their service for God would stand the searching test of judgment at the climax, the day of Christ, the day of their resurrection or translation.

The fourth petition of the apostle is that the Philippians would be "filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ." This is a summary statement gathering in all that has preceded—their love, their discernment, and their being without offense. To these spiritual qualities must be added all the other "fruits of righteousness," an Old Testament expression (Pr 11:30; Amos 6:12) also used by James (3:18). The fruits of righteousness which are mentioned are those which come from their relationship to Jesus Christ rather than to the law (Phil 3:9).

The fruits of righteousness comprise evidences of transformed character by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the resulting works of righteousness which fulfill the will of God in the individual life. So, it is a holy life and a holy character manifesting the fruit of the Spirit. Hendriksen expresses it:

Paul prays that in the hearts and lives of the Philippians there may be a rich spiritual harvest, consisting of a multitude of the fairest fruits of heaven; such as, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal. 5:22, 23), and the works which result from these dispositions. One of these works, a very important one, is soul-winning (Prov. 11:30).


Excerpted from Philippians by John F. Walvoord. Copyright © 1971 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

JOHN F. WALVOORD (A.B., D.D., Wheaton College; A.M., Texas Christian University; Th.B., Th.M., Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary), former president of Dallas Theological Seminary and editor of Bibliotheca Sacra, America's oldest theological quarterly, was recognized as one of the leading evangelical theologians in America and an authority on systematic theology and eschatology. His academic background and extensive travel in the Middle East greatly enriched his theological and eschatological studies. He authored numerous books on theology and biblical prophecy, including The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ Our Lord, and Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation.

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