Philippians 1:3-11


The preacher ought to begin by reading Acts 16:12-40 and the Epistle in its entirety. This congregation was very dear to Paul's heart. Though the members were not very wealthy, they contributed to Paul's well being while he was in prison in Rome. These Notes assume the so-called first Roman imprisonment as the occasion for writing the Captivity letters.

Philippians 1:1 (NIV) Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints 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.

Verses 1 and 2:  "Slave of Christ Jesus," Christians are slaves whom Christ redeemed and therefore they have no will of their own. The genitive is possessive.  "Saints" is found only in the plural in the New Testament, except at 4:21. This word is often used of Christians in the New Testament.  "In Christ Jesus" occurs 164 times in Paul's writings. Phillips translates:  "All true Christians" and AAT has "all who are holy in Christ Jesus."  "Grace and peace" always appears in that order. The first is the favor of God in Christ Jesus and the second is that which results for the Christian from this favor. The second "and" in verse 2 implies that Jesus Christ is true God. "Our Father" is genitive of relationship. No one can call God his Father unless he believes in Jesus his Savior. Look at John 14:6. It is no accident that the Moslems and Jews do not pray the Lord's prayer.

Philippians 1:3 (NIV) I thank my God every time I remember you.

In the Nestle Greek text verses 3-6 comprise one colon. (The punctuation at the end of verse 6 amounts to a semi-colon.) We would say that verses 3-6 are one sentence. The thanking is going on at the same time as the remembering.

Philippians 1:4 (NIV) In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

This verse clearly indicates that Paul spent much time in prayer. "Pray" and  "prayer" are key words in this Epistle. A word search will turn up a treasure of insights. Note that Paul says that he prays joyfully. That's something to remember. 1:25; 2:2,29; 4:1; 1:18; 2:17,18,28; 3:1; 4:4,10.

Philippians 1:5 (NIV) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

At this point we must say something about the punctuation and grammar of verses 3-5:

  1. Luther and the NIV make verse 4 parenthetical. Thus verse 5 becomes the object or occasions of "prayer" in verse 3.

  2. KJV, NKJV, RSV, NASB and NEB read these verses as one sentence. KJV, RSV and NASB make verse 5 dependent on verse 3. NEB makes verse 5 dependent on verse 4.

  3. AAT, Phillips and the LB make verse 3 one sentence and 4-5 another, thus making verse 5 dependent on verse 4.

  4. Thus the real question is whether the key word epi in verse 5 means "for" (going back to verse 3) or "because" (going back to verse 4, depending on "praying joyfully"). There Notes suggest that AAT has the best arrangement though that can be debated. AAT, Philippians 1:3-5:  "Every time I think of you, I thank my God. Every time I pray for all of you, I always do it with joy because you have shared in telling the good news from the first day till now." 

We have already mentioned above that epi means either "for" or "because" depending on the punctuation of these verses.

Rienecker: 'Fellowship' is sharing. The word signifies 'your cooperation toward, in aid of the gospel.' The word refers not only to financial contributions but also denotes cooperation in the widest sense, their participation with the apostle whether in sympathy or in suffering or in active labor.

Look at Acts 2:42. The term surely includes faith, confession, worship and the Christian life. Compare Acts 16:15 where Paul is referring to the occasion of receiving a gift of money from the Philippians while in prison.

Philippians 1:6 (NIV) being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

"Being confident" is a strong word. Paul is truly confident. "Of this" is an emphatic expression, pointing to that which follows. "He who began" is, of course, God. "Completion" means "to bring to its goal." AAT has: "Will go on to finish it."  "The day" clearly includes the resurrection from the dead, otherwise Paul could have said: "Until you die. God does not abandon his good work when the individual dies." 

Question number 171 in our Synodical Catechism reads: "What has the Holy Ghost lastly wrought in you by the Gospel?" Answer: "The Holy Ghost has, by the Gospel, kept me in the true faith." Then 1 Peter 1:5; Philippians 1:6 and 1 Thessalonians 2:13 are listed as proof passages.

If the preacher does not know what else to preach on this Sunday, let him devote himself entirely to this wonderful and comforting passage of Gospel. People need to be assured that God will carry them all the way to Abraham's bosom.

Philippians 1:7 (NIV) It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me.

"Just as," in the Greek text, not translated here, means "just as" but that does not say it all. Rienecker says: "The word has a slight causal sense and is often used to introduce new ideas." KJV has "Even as," NKJV has "Just as." NIV and RSV omit it. NASB has  "For," while AAT has "and" and NEB has "indeed." Note that the Nestle Greek text begins a subparagraph here.

Place a coma after "gospel" to make clear under what circumstances Paul holds them in his heart. Paul began this verse by saying that it is right for him to have the thought of verse 6 concerning the Philippian Christians. Now he gives the reason. "I have you in my heart" means "you are very dear to me." The words "in chains or defending and confirming the gospel" inform us under what circumstance the Philippian Christians are dear to Paul as fellow partakers of God's grace.

Kretzmann: They all have received the same blessings of the mercy of God through the vicarious work of Christ. This love is not affected by Paul's captivity. His defense, his apology and confirmation of the Gospel does not stop because of his bonds; it is rather that his defense before the emperor is a guarantee of the Gospel, a warrant of its value and claims. And it is a matter of satisfaction and comfort to the apostle that even in the darkest moments of his career their love and kindness toward him, the fact that they have remained true to the Gospel as preached by him, are proof enough that they hare with him in the grace of God, and that they, with him, will obtain the end of faith, the salvation of their souls.

Philippians 1:8 (NIV) God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

"For," the first word in the Greek text, is explanatory "you see." KJV, NKJV, NASB and RSV translate it "for." The other versions omit it. ATT reads: "God knows how I long for you all with the tenderness of Christ Jesus." 

Rienecker: 'Affection' in Greek is the inward parts, i.e., the heart, liver, lungs which were collectively regarded as the seat of feeling and is the strongest word in Greek for the feeling of compassion.

NKJV has replaced the KJV "bowels" with "affection." The word denotes the upper, not the lower, viscera. In 1611 "bowels" denoted the upper viscera. ICC remarks: "Christ loves them in Paul." 

Bengel: In Paul not Paul but Jesus Christ lives; for which reason Paul is moved not by the compassion of Paul but by the compassion of Jesus Christ.
Lenski: 'Christ Jesus' viscera' is not to be understood in the physical but in the metaphorical sense.

Note that remarkable union among Christ, Paul and the Philippian Christians in these verses. By the way, Paul's longing for the Philippian Christians is obviously not based on humanistic considerations but on their union in Christ Jesus. It is much more than mere liking people. The description of Paul and his hearers in verses 3-8 is a remarkable picture of pastor and parishioners.

Philippians 1:9 (NIV) And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,

In verses 3-8 Paul is grateful for the Philippians' continuance in the faith, assures them that God will carry them all the way into eternal life and assures them of his great love for them despite the adversities which he is experiencing. The Nestle Greek text begins verse 9 with a capital letter, indicating that we have a subparagraph, a related but not totally new subject. In verses 9-11 Paul prays for h is parishioners. It is a model for any preacher who is praying for his parishioners. In verse 6 Paul had assured his hearers that someday they would be with their Lord in heaven. But they are not there yet. Verses 9-11 are directed to the life of the Christian, his sanctification. That needs constant attention and therefore Paul says: "Now this is my prayer." 

"Your love" is the fruit of their faith in Christ. Paul prays that their love abound more and more. Love is never a static thing. How will it abound? "In knowledge." 

Rienecker: The word indicates a firm conception of those spiritual principles which would guide them in their relations with one another and the world.

This knowledge of how the Christian should think, speak and act, comes from the Word of God. Paul adds "depth of insight." JB has: "Deepening your perception." NEB: "Insight of every kind." 

Rienecker: It refers to moral and spiritual perception, related to practical applications.

Philippians 1:10 (NIV) so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,

The more the unbelieving Jews at Christ's time got away from the true meaning of the Word of God the more rules and regulations they made for the people. Not so with the true Christian. The more he grows in his love, knowledge and perception, the more he is able on his own to make the right distinctions. "Discern" means to test and then either to accept or reject. There are many, many situations in life in which Christians must make hard decisions as to what is best for themselves, for others and for God. This ability comes through growth in love, knowledge and perception.

The last part of the verse reads: "So that you might be pure and without offense until the day of Christ." JB reads: "This will help you to become pure and blameless, and prepare you for the Day of Christ."  "For" might mean "until." 

Philippians 1:11 (NIV) filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.

AAT: "As Jesus Christ has filled your life with righteous works by which you glorify and praise God." Christ fills us with righteous fruits for the purpose of giving God the credit and praise. The point is that when people see these fruits they give God, not man, the credit. In what sense is a Christian "filled" with good works? He is totally occupied with them.

By the way, these verses in no way deny the daily sins and weaknesses of Christians. We must take care not to demand perfection from fellow Christians any more than we demand it of ourselves.

The Formula of Concord, Article XI, Election, paragraph 32, Tappert 621, reads:

Holy Scripture assures us that God who has called us will be so faithful that after 'he has begun the good work in us' he will also continue it to the end and, complete it, if we ourselves do not turn away from him but 'hold fast until the end the substance which has been begun' in us. for such constancy he has promised his grace. (1 Corinthians 1:8; Philippians 1:6ff; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 3:14.

Even the elect of God, whom we comfort with the fact that God will preserve them unto eternal life, are in constant need of repentance, remission of sins and instruction in sanctification. Philippians 1:3-11 is one of the many texts which brings this thought out clearly.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Epistle Texts, Festival Season Sundays, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1985, pp. 4-7. Used with permission.

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