Emphasizing the historical distance between the New Testament and contemporary culture, Philippians—part of the new, highly-anticipated Story of God Bible Commentary series on the New Testament—provides pastors, students, Sunday School teachers, and lay people a clear and compelling exposition of the text in the context of the Bible’s overarching story. The authors move away from “application” language, which has been criticized as being too simplistic, instead encouraging discussion of how the Bible’s story can be lived today.
Offering a new type of application commentary for today’s context, the Story of God Bible Commentary series explains and illuminates Scripture as God’s Story, with each New Testament text examined as embedded in its canonical and historical setting, in order to foster discernment in living the story faithfully and creatively with and for the Church in the 21st Century
About the Author
Lynn H. Cohick (Ph D in New Testament/Christian Origins, University of Pennsylvania) is the provost at Denver Seminary. Lynn has written Philippians in the Story of God Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 2013) and Ephesians in the New Covenant Commentary (Cascade, 2010), as well as Women in the World of the Earliest Christians (Baker Academic, 2009). She explores early Jewish/Christian relations in her book, Melito of Sardis: Setting, Purpose, and Sources (Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), and in several articles on women in Early Judaism and earliest Christianity.
Tremper Longman III (Ph D, Yale University) is a distinguished scholar and Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. He is on the advisory council of the Bio Logos Foundation, and is the Old Testament editor for the revised Expositor's Bible Commentary and general editor for the Story of God Bible Commentary Old Testament, and has authored many articles and books on the Psalms and other Old Testament books.
Scot Mc Knight (Ph D, Nottingham) is the Julius R. Mantey Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. He is the author of more than fifty books, including the award-winning The Jesus Creed as well as The King Jesus Gospel, A Fellowship of Differents, One.Life, The Blue Parakeet, and Kingdom Conspiracy.
Read an Excerpt
Story of God Bible commentary; 11
By Lynn H. Cohick
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Lynn H. Cohick
All rights reserved.
LISTEN to the Story
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Listening to the text in the Story: Slaves: Numbers 12:7; Jeremiah 25.4; Romans 6:19; Philippians 2:7; Saints: Exodus 19:5–6; Deuteronomy 7:5–6; Acts 15:14; Timothy: 2 Timothy 1:5; Acts 16:1–3.
In his opening address to the Philippian church, Paul offers important personal, ecclesial, and theological hints about which he will expound in greater depth. Paul foreshadows here his forthcoming magnificent proclamation of Jesus as both God and human (2:6–11) by introducing the term "servant" ("slave"). With "grace" and "peace" Paul encapsulates his gospel message (3:8–11), and with his declaration that Philippian believers are "holy people" ("saints"), he prepares them for his discussion on godly living. Finally, declaring Jesus as "Lord" implies a distinction between the claims of Christ and the claims of Nero, the Roman emperor, and the pagan, imperial establishment.
EXPLAIN the Story
Turning to the issue of slavery and the term "slave" (doulos), we should point out that though some English texts translate this as "servant" (see NIV), this weakens the force of the term in the minds of modern readers. A slave in Paul's day was owned legally by another and had no freedom apart from what the owner allowed. In Paul's churches, some members were slaves, perhaps owned by other church members; the most prominent example is Philemon and his slave Onesimus. Paul and Timothy use the historical force of such reality when they speak symbolically of being slaves of Christ. Paul elsewhere develops that every believer is a slave of righteousness (see Rom 6:19). Moreover, we should not forget that the common word for a slave owner is kyrios ("lord"; see Eph 6:9). Thus the terms "slave" and "Lord/lord" had an extensive tradition in the Greco-Roman culture, which Paul mines to highlight aspects of the gospel.
Ancient Israel practiced slavery, and the Old Testament includes numerous stories about it. One of the most famous slaves is Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, Abraham's first son (Gen 16:1–15). Recall too Israel's enslavement in Egypt, the defining moment in their history when God delivered them out of Egypt, "the land of slavery," and brought them to the land he had promised (Exod 12:40–13:3). Thus at key points in Israel's history, slavery played a role. But later Israelites owned other Israelites or Gentiles, who were enslaved through wars or to pay debts. Laws established appropriate treatment of slaves and restricted abuse (21:1–27). God's people were to release fellow slaves in the seventh year of their enslavement (Lev 25:39–43).
In addition, in the Old Testament the terms "slavery" and "slave" are used metaphorically, often translated as "the servant of the Lord" ('ebed yhwh). Such a person had divine authority from God to speak and act on his behalf. For example, Numbers 12:7 speaks of his servant/slave Moses, who was faithful in God's house and to whom God spoke face to face (see also Jer 25:4; Ezek 38:17). Drawing on the Exodus narrative, Israel understood itself as God's slave, based on the exclusive covenant that Israel's God had established at Mount Sinai. Like a slave, Israel was to obey their God in all things, especially by rejecting idolatry.
Paul probably had both the literal and the metaphorical uses of the term in mind when he described himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ. This phrase is used several times in the New Testament, primarily referring to apostles and Christian leaders. He will soon emphasize the socially demeaning aspect of slavery when he reinforces the point that Jesus Christ took on flesh and made himself nothing, a mere slave (Phil 2:7).
Holy People (1:1)
If the slave image draws from the lowest rung of the social ladder, Paul's description of the Philippian believers as "holy people" ("saints," hagioi) conveys a portrait of those at the top. Our modern understanding of the term carries a sense of human perfection preserved in stained glass windows—a far cry from our average existence. But not Paul's audience; in Exodus 19:5–6, God declares that if Israel will keep his commandments, they will be his treasured possession, a priestly kingdom, and a holy nation. Moses reiterates this in Deuteronomy 7:5–6, explaining that idolatry has no place among them for they are a people holy to the Lord. Paul indicates that the Philippians are "holy in Christ Jesus." Chrysostom, a fourth-century presbyter of Antioch and later bishop of Constantinople, notes that Paul had to distinguish the holy ones he spoke of as those in Christ, for Jews were likely to have used the label for themselves.
Paul's intention in using the term hagioi and what it came to mean within church tradition do not line up. With the veneration of martyrs in the second century, the church began to develop what is now an elaborate system of canonization to sainthood in both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. They define a saint as one who has demonstrated extraordinary piety, such as Mother Teresa, or attribute to him or her miracles based on their intercession before God. The modern structure of sainthood, however, should not be imposed back into Paul's day.
Overseers and Deacons (1:1)
To this community of believers in Philippi Paul bestows "grace and peace." He replaces the typical Greek "greetings" (chairein) with the word "grace" (charis) and thereby transforms the mundane for the gospel. Each letter, each message, is shaped by the grace of God shown in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5:16–17).
Having so carefully stated his own status as a slave of Christ, it seems a bit ironic, if not contradictory, for Paul to mention the two leadership titles in the Philippian church: "overseers [bishops] and deacons." These terms are used infrequently in the New Testament, which makes it difficult to be precise about their meaning. Peter describes Jesus as the "Shepherd and Overseer" of believers' souls (1 Pet 2:25). In Acts 20:28, Paul addresses the Ephesian elders as "overseers" who shepherd both themselves and the church among (not over) whom the Holy Spirit has placed them. The image of the caring shepherd who lovingly attends to the sheep permeates these texts (see also Rom 16:1; 1 Tim 3:1–13; Titus 1:7).
Neither "overseer" nor "deacon" is found in the list of spiritual gifts; some have suggested that the terms are parallel to helpers and guides in 1 Corinthians 12:28. Chrysostom suggests that the bishops (overseers) and deacons were responsible for collecting funds and sending Epaphroditus to support Paul while he was imprisoned. Although Paul does not mention these groups again when he thanks the community in 4:10–20, the Greek text of 1:3 can be understood as Paul thanking the Philippians for remembering him, in which case Paul would be connecting "the overseers and deacons" with the gift sent by the church to aid him in his chains. Because both words are plural, Paul is not speaking of a single bishop or overseer. Moreover, he does not speak of the "office" of bishop. Therefore it is best to see these words as functions of administration and leadership within the Philippian community.
A final question relates to Timothy's role in this letter. At first glance it appears as if Paul and Timothy coauthored the letter. This would match the practice in 1 and 2 Thessalonians. But in Philippians 1:3, we find the singular pronoun "I," not "we," where Paul is perhaps alluding to the gift that the Philippians extended to him while in prison. Perhaps, then, Timothy functions as Paul's secretary, so his own expressions intertwine with Paul's thoughts in this letter.
LIVE the Story
One can hardly enter a bookstore or public library without noticing the numerous titles dealing with leadership. Moreover, the internet is filled with websites promising leadership training, and colleges and churches are establishing leadership programs. The task before us is to describe Paul's vision of godly leadership. In general, leadership carries with it responsibilities and the authority to get done what is required in the organization. We understand intuitively the need for moral character in our leaders, but again, not everyone who lives uprightly is what people would call a leader. In fact, leadership is a rather slippery term; it is difficult to isolate specific leadership characteristics. Said another way, those characteristics we want in a Christian leader–trustworthiness, kindness, goodness—we hope to find in all believers.
Robert Greenleaf (1904–1990) was a world-renowned teacher and writer who coined the phrase "servant leadership." In the 1960s he observed that corporations were not run with an eye to the public's needs. He advocated a leadership style that focused on making sure that both their constituents' needs and those of their employees were met. Many Christians gravitated to this message and found support for his principles in the Bible. Soon "servant leader" became the buzzword for describing Christ's own leadership style, but as with any term used too frequently, much of its content has become diluted. It has been used to reinforce an individualistic model of leadership that plagues some Western or American church structures. Moreover, often the description of "servant leader" is so general as to apply to all believers.
"Servant" functions as an adjective in the phrase "servant leader," so perhaps we would do better to speak of "service leaders," which suggests action and behavior rather than flat description. Additionally, because "servant" should be characteristic of every believer, the definition of "leader" becomes crucial, and we are back to the question we began with, namely, what is leadership, and more specifically, what is good or godly leadership.
Paul is described as a great leader because of his singleness of purpose. But is that characteristic of all good leaders? Or at times does leadership need to be flexible and innovative, not only in terms of method but also of goals? Others declare Paul's driven spirit makes him an effective and efficient leader. But this might say more about our Western admiration for efficiency and productivity. Paul seems to speak more about forming and maintaining relationships with his churches (see 1 Cor 3:1–4:16). And there is perhaps nothing less efficient than maintaining relationships, then and now.
Paul's understanding of his own leadership is complex. He does not hesitate to make known his calling as an apostle, but he sees that position not as one that provides perks or even personal respect. An apostle is only as good as the one who called him (2 Cor 11:13–15). Paul describes himself as a clay jar (4:7), a weak vessel filled with a precious message. His mighty strength comes from the gospel, and if he preaches out of human resources or from human wisdom, the powerful message of the cross is eviscerated (1 Cor 1:17, 2:2–5).
To the Philippians, Paul identifies himself and Timothy as slaves of Christ Jesus. The departure from his usual pattern of describing himself as an apostle is noteworthy. Indeed, nowhere in this letter does Paul use the label "apostle" for himself. The predominant reason given for the absence of "apostle" is that Paul is on such good terms with the Philippians that he did not need to bring up his superior status. While it is true that Paul seems at one mind and purpose with the Philippians, the supposition that he mentions his apostleship in his other letters as a push for his authority fails to appreciate his understanding of his apostleship and the role of apostle.
First, Paul maintains that his apostolic authority is from God, and he has no special rights to it (1 Cor 15:8–9). Second, in a poignant snapshot he likens apostles to those prisoners of war paraded through the streets and mocked by the conquerors (4:9). Third, while he insists that apostles establish the correct foundation for the church (3:10; Eph 2:20), his point is not that apostles are better or have more authority, but that apostles must get it right, or the entire building will be off kilter because of a weak or faulty foundation.
Associating Paul's claims about his apostleship to notions of authority skews the vision of service leadership that infuses Paul's understanding of apostleship. The force of his authority is Christ, and the power of the gospel is in its shame and weakness (1 Cor 1:17–18; 2:1–5). Then, as now, we tend to associate authority with dominance and thus conclude that the absence of a power struggle means the absence of the need to stress apostleship. Paul instead emphasizes the weakness of his apostleship, so that the power of God's kingdom might be evident (4:20).
Paul's use of the slave/servant metaphor is critical to his authority among the Philippians. As suggested by Romans 1:1 and Titus 1:1, "apostle" and "servant/slave" inform each other. The mixture of service and authority is nowhere better seen than in Christ Jesus, who "came not to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). The picture of Christ assuming a slave's posture in washing the disciples' feet speaks volumes (John 13:4–17). In the beautiful hymn celebrating the incarnation in Philippians 2:6–11, Paul highlights Christ's perfect demonstration of authority: to embrace the form of a slave and, in obedience to God, endure death on a cross.
What does this type of leader look like today? One characteristic is a lack of fear. The leader Paul envisions is one who is unafraid of a congregation's negative appraisal (1 Cor 4:3). Indeed, the fearless leader does not navel-gaze at his or her work or person. Paul declares that he does not judge the worth of his assignments, or even if he has accomplished them; he leaves that to the Lord (4:4–5). In plain English, the godly leader focuses on obedience, not success as typically defined by material goods or social prestige. Their obedience is driven by love—first God's perfect and effective love for them, and then their imperfect response of love. As John notes, "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). A godly leader, then, freely gives and freely submits to God in obedience.
A second characteristic is perseverance. The godly leader stays the course and stays in step both with God and with the Christian community. The temptation to run ahead of God's timing or to prod the community to keep up signals a failure to appreciate the service nature of leadership. Paul is clear that the overseers and deacons serve from among the congregation, not above them. To explain this aspect of leadership, the analogy of a shepherd with his sheep rose easily in the first-century Jewish mind. The shepherd theme comes from a rich tradition within the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 34, after chastising the shepherds of the people for growing fat and failing to feed the sheep, God declares that he will be the shepherd of his sheep (34:15). The Lord God continues, "I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them ... and be their shepherd" (34:23). Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11, 14).
The good shepherd demonstrates godly character. Too often leaders, including biblical leaders such as King David, assume that as long as they basically serve the people, they are above God's moral law. Today some Christian leaders rationalize adultery or theft as insignificant compared to their great service to the larger community. Paul's strong words in 1 Corinthians 11:1, "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ," stand in judgment.
A third characteristic of leadership is embracing an attitude of humility. Probably this was the hardest posture to accept in Paul's day, because his was an honor/shame culture. In this setting, people were taught to honor or respect their community and to avoid any behaviors that deviated from the group's values. Honor was gained and retained in competition with others. While today in the West we still want to do what is honorable and avoid the shameful, we tend to focus more on what is right or wrong, and our focus on individual rights lessens the importance of a community's assessment. However, the display of humility is perhaps as difficult an idea to swallow today as it was then. For example, it can be humbling to accept the lower wages paid by Christian nonprofits. The temptation is to announce that one could certainly "do better" but is "choosing" to earn less. Instead, the gospel calls believers to embrace the "shame" of a lower salary as a signal that priorities are rightly placed.
Excerpted from Philippians by Lynn H. Cohick. Copyright © 2013 Lynn H. Cohick. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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Table of Contents
The Story of God Bible Commentary Series.................... x
Scripture and Apocrypha Index.................... 263
Subject Index.................... 275
Author Indexes.................... 281
What People are Saying About This
The Bible is the story of God and his dealings with humanity from creation to new creation. The Bible is made up more of stories than of any other literary genre. Even the psalms, proverbs, prophecies, letters, and the Apocalypse make complete sense only when set in the context of the grand narrative of the entire Bible. This commentary series breaks new ground by taking all these observations seriously. It asks commentators to listen to the text, to explain the text, and to live the text. Some of the material in these sections overlaps with introduction, detailed textual analysis and application, respectively, but only some. The most riveting and valuable part of the commentaries are the stories that can appear in any of these sections, from any part of the globe and any part of church history, illustrating the text in any of these areas. Ideal for preaching and teaching. Craig L. Blomberg, Ph D, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary
The Story of God Bible Commentary series invites readers to probe how the message of the text relates to our situations today. Engagingly readable, it not only explores the biblical text but offers a range of applications and interesting illustrations. Craig S. Keener, Professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary
Getting a story is about more than merely enjoying it. It means hearing it, understanding it, and above all, being impacted by it. This commentary series hopes that its readers not only hear and understand the story, but are impacted by it to live in as Christian a way as possible. The editors and contributors set that table very well and open up the biblical story in ways that move us to act with sensitivity and understanding. That makes hearing the story as these authors tell it well worth the time. Well done. Darrell L. Bock, Executive Director of cultural Engagement, Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and C
In this promising new series of commentaries, believing biblical scholars bring not only their expertise but their own commitment to Jesus and insights into today’s culture to the Scriptures. The result is a commentary series that is anchored in the text but lives and breathes in the world of today’s church with its variegated pattern of socioeconomic, ethnic, and national diversity. Pastors, Bible study leaders, and Christians of all types who are looking for a substantive and practical guide through the Scriptures will find these volumes helpful. Frank Thielman, Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School
I’m a storyteller. Through writing and speaking I talk and teach about understanding the Story of God throughout Scripture and about letting God reveal more of His story as I live it out. Thus I am thrilled to have a commentary series based on the Story of Goda commentary that helps me to Listen to the Story, that Explains the Story, and then encourages me to probe how to Live the Story. A perfect tool for helping every follower of Jesus to walk in the story that God is writing for them. Judy Douglass, Author, speaker, encourager, Office of the President, Cru; Director of Women's Resources, Cru
'[The] easy-to-use format and practical guidance brings God's grand story to modern-day life so anyone can understand how it applies today.' Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor, North Point Ministries
'I love the SGBC series. It makes the text sing and helps us hear the story afresh.' John Ortberg, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church and author of Who Is This Man?