My Notes On Philippians 3:17-4:3

Peter F. Ellis, in his book SEVEN PAULINE LETTERS, suggests a concentric structure, in three major parts which I’ve outlined below and put into my own words.  (Note that the first major part, A1. 1:1-3:1, consists of 3 concentrically arranged subsections which I’ve coded using colors, italics, boldface and underlining).

Concentrism is a common form of writing in the Bible, and it is recognized that the middle part of the structure, the “hinge” around which the parallel(s) are built, provides an interpretive key to the entire structure and establishes the writing as a unified product (pace some modern critics who think the letter is a compilation of disparate fragments from other writings).

A1.  (1:1-3:1) The advance of the Gospel and Growth in Christ.

a1. (1:1-30) Paul, Timothy, Epaphroditus are, like good soldiers in the face of conflict and death, serving defending and fighting for the Gospel in partnership with the Philippians. Paul has joy and rejoices.

b. (2:1-18) Unity and Growth According to the Mind of Christ.

a2. (2:19-3:1) Timothy serves with Paul in the Gospel.  Epaphroditus had been sent by the Philippians to serve Paul, and he nearly died in this service.  Paul bids them to have joy and rejoice.

B.  (3:2-16)  Having the Mind of Christ is Dependent on Faith/Knowledge, not Law.

A2.  (3:17-4:21)  The Advance of the Gospel and Growth in Christ.

Notice how the first major section (A1. 1:1-3:1) parallels the last major section (A2. 3:17-4:21).  Our Epistle reading for the 2nd Sunday of Lent is taken from the third major section, and so, as a result of the letter’s structure and what it implies, my notes will take account-at least to a certain extent-of what is said in the A1 and B sections.

Notes: Using the RSV Text.  See copyright statement at end of post.

3:17-19.   17 Brethren, join in imitating me, and mark those who so live as you have an example in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.

Paul began the letter by mentioning the fact that they were “all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel” (1:7).  The grace he has in mind here is somewhat shocking, it is nothing less than his imprisonment, for he goes on to mention that what had befallen him (imprisonment) “has really served to advance the Gospel”, even among “the whole praetorian guard”, with the result that “most of the brothers have been made confident in the Lord” because of that imprisonment, and have become “more bold to speak the word of God without fear” (see 1:12-14).  All of this has caused St Paul to “rejoice”, in spite of the fact that some rivals (enemies) are preaching Christ out of pretense, to cause him “affliction’ (see 1:15-18).

In writing this, Paul, who had identified himself as a “slave of Christ Jesus” in the opening verse of the letter, shows that he has the mind of Christ who, “though he was in the form of God…took the form of a slave” and “humbled himself, obediently accepting even death” (see 2:5-8).  He can then, with good reason and humility, hold himself up as an example to be imitated (3:17) in the face of enemies of the cross of Christ (3:18), who belong to a “crooked and perverse generation” (2:15), who have their minds set on earthly things (3:19), for he is being poured out like a libation, a sacrificial offering for the Philippians (2:17).

3:20-4:1.    20 But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself.
4:1 Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

“Our commonwealth is in heaven, opposed to the “many” whose “end is destruction,” whose “god is their belly,”   “who glory in their shame”, and who “have their minds set on earthly things” (3:18-19).  As “enemies of the cross of Christ” they live by the bodily pleasures of this world, and are not fit to have their “lowly (bodies) to be like his glorious body” (3:21).

“The concepts and even the words Paul uses here bear a strong resemblance to the words of the hymn in 2:6-11 and show that Paul still has that hymn on his mind.  The Greek word for ‘change,’ or better ‘transform,’ used here is metaschematisei, a verb built on the word schemati found in 2:8.  The word for ‘like’ is symmorphon, from the noun morphe found in 2:6.  The word ‘lowly’ tapeinoseos, suggests the words ‘he humbled himself in 2:8.  And the whole transformation from lowly to glorious recalls the contrast between Jesus’ condition before the cross 2:6-8, and after the cross 2:9-11.” (Peter F. Ellis, SEVEN PAULINE LETTERS, pg. 135).

“Stand firm thus in the Lord” (4:1) recalls St Paul’s description of his own conflict and his confidence that he would come through it (see 1:15-26, especially vss 19-20).  It also calls to mind St Paul’s exhortation that the Philippian’s “manner of life be worth of the Gospel of Christ” so that they might “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel, and not be frightened in  anything by opponents.”  If they do stand firm it is a sure “omen” of the opponents “destruction” and their “salvation” (see Philipp 1:27-30).  Likewise, it also calls to mind these words: Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me (Philipp 2:12-18).

2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord.

Entreat. The Greek παρακαλω is derived from παρακαλέω (parakaleō), meaning to draw near, alongside, etc. St Paul wants the two to get with him concerning the issue at hand, namely he wants them to agree in the Lord.

Agree in the Lord. Literally, have the same mind. See 2:2~complete my joy by being of the same mind. The word agree is the same as that which was used in 2:5 to introduce the famous Kenotic Hymn of Phil 2:6-11~Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus. The two women are clearly engaged is some sort of conflict which is contrary to the example of the Lord’s self-emptying humility that the hymn celebrates and extolls. See St Paul’s introductory to the hymn in Philippians 2:1-4 which begins with the words: So if there is any encouragement (παρακλησις) in Christ… παρακλησις is related to the word entreat (παρακαλω) used twice in this verse.

3 And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

And I ask thee also, true yokefellow, help these women. The manuscripts differs concerning the first word of the verse. This translation is based upon the Greek και (kai = “and”). Other manuscripts use ναι (nai = “yes”). If  the reading, yes, I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women is correct, it suggests that the unnamed yokefellow has sent a request to St Paul seeking to intervene in the conflict in order to reconcile the women. The very fact that St Paul is aware of the conflict and that the yokefellow is not named, suggests that some sort of communication between St Paul and the yokefellow has occurred.

For they (the women) have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.  These words are often taken as proof that these two women were leaders in the early church, indeed, even ordained to official ministry. But St Paul is actually building upon his entreaty (παρακαλω) to the women given in verse 2, calling them to his side of things (see commentary above). The phrasing here calls to mind the beginning of the missive in keeping with its parallel structure outlined above. These women, along with Clement and others, provided encouragement and financial assistance to St Paul during his ministry and imprisonment, thus sharing in both: I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now…It is right for me to feel thus about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (see Philippians 1:3-7). The Philippians served the Gospel by serving Paul, sending him Epaphroditus whom he describes as the Philippians’ messenger and minister to my need.
Epaphorditus had apparently been sent to St Paul bearing a monetary gift from the Philippians (Philippians 4:10-20), and it seems likely that the two women were major contributors.

For they have labored side by side with me in the gospel. The words side by side should be seen as basically synonymous with “being of the same mind,” or like phrasing (see comments on verse 2 above). St Paul is subtly reminding them that their manner of life must be worthy of the gospel for the sake of Christ: Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear omen to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict which you saw and now hear to be mine (Philippians 1:27-30).

Whose names are in the book of life. In the Mediterranean world of St Paul’s day the legal citizens of a city had their names recorded in a book. We may thus understand the book of life  as the official registry of the citizens of heaven. See Philippians 3:20~But our commonwealth (πολιτευμα = community, citizenship) is in heaven.  See also Philippians 1:27~Only let your manner of life (πολιτευεσθε = how a citizen acts) be worthy of the gospel of Christ.

RSV Copyright Statement:

The [New] Revised Standard Version Bible may be quoted and/or reprinted up to and inclusive of five hundred (500) verses without express written permission of the publisher, provided the verses quoted do not amount to a complete book of the Bible or account for fifty percent (50%) of the total work in which they are quoted. Notice of copyright must appear on the title or copyright page of the work as follows:

“Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1952 [2nd edition, 1971] by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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One Response to My Notes On Philippians 3:17-4:3

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C | stjoeofoblog

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