Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has turned out rather to advance the gospel, so that my imprisonment has become well known in Christ throughout the whole praetorium and to all the rest.
Praise be to God always.
I. Biblical Exegesis – Philippians 1:1-13
A. Background to the letter:
Paul, according to Acts (Acts 16:9–40), established at Philippi the first Christian community in Europe. He came to Philippi, via its harbor town of Neapolis (modern Kavalla), on his second missionary journey, probably in A.D. 49 or 50, accompanied by Silas and Timothy and Luke, if he is to be included in the “we” references of Acts 16:10–17. The Acts account tells of the conversion of a business woman, Lydia; the exorcism of a slave girl; and, after an earthquake, while Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi, the faith and baptism of a jailer and his family. None of these persons, however, is directly mentioned in Philippians. Acts 16 concludes its account by describing how Paul (and Silas), asked by the magistrates to leave Philippi, went on to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–10), where several times his loyal Philippians continued to support him with financial aid (Phil 4:16). Later, Paul may have passed through Philippi on his way from Ephesus to Greece (Acts 20:1–2), and he definitely stopped there on his trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6).
Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi was written while he was in a prison somewhere (Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17), indeed in danger of death (Phil 1:20–23). Although under guard for preaching Christ, Paul rejoices at the continuing progress of the gospel (Phil 1:12–26) and expresses gratitude for the Philippians’ renewed concern and help in an expression of thanks most clearly found at Phil 4:10–20. Much of the letter is devoted to instruction about unity and humility within the Christian community at Philippi (Phil 1:27–2:18) and exhortations to growth, joy, and peace in their life together (Phil 4:1–9). The letter seems to be drawing to a close at the end of what we number as Phil 2, as Paul reports the plans of his helper Timothy and of Epaphroditus (whom the Philippians had sent to aid Paul) to come to Philippi (Phil 2:19–3:1), and even Paul’s own expectation that he will go free and come to Philippi (Phil 1:25–26; 2:24). Yet quite abruptly at Phil 3:2, Paul erupts into warnings against false teachers who threaten to impose on the Philippians the burdens of the Mosaic law, including circumcision. The section that follows, Phil 3:2–21, is a vigorous attack on these Judaizers (cf. Gal 2:11–3:29) or Jewish Christian teachers (cf. 2 Cor 11:12–23), giving us insights into Paul’s own life story (Phil 3:4–6) and into the doctrine of justification, the Christian life, and ultimate hope (Phil 3:7–21).
There is also a likelihood, according to some scholars, that the letter as we have it is a composite from parts of three letters by Paul to the Philippians. Seemingly Phil 4:10–20 is a brief note of appreciation for help sent through Epaphroditus. The long section from Phil 1:3 to Phil 3:1 is then another letter, with news of Paul’s imprisonment and reports on Timothy and Epaphroditus (who has fallen ill while with Paul), along with exhortations to the Philippians about Christian conduct; and Phil 3:2–21 a third communication warning about threats to Philippian Christianity. The other verses in Phil 4 and Phil 1:1–2, are variously assigned by critics to these three underlying letters, which an editor presumably put together to produce a picture of Paul writing earnestly from prison (Phil 1–2), facing opponents of the faith (Phil 3), and with serene joy advising and thanking his Philippians (Phil 4). If all four chapters were originally a unity, then one must assume that a break occurred between the writing of Phil 3:1 and Phil 3:2, possibly involving the receipt of bad news from Philippi, and that Paul had some reasons for delaying his words of thanks for the aid brought by Epaphroditus till the end of his letter.
This beautiful letter is rich in insights into Paul’s theology and his apostolic love and concern for the gospel and his converts.
[1:1] Slaves: Paul usually refers to himself at the start of a letter as an apostle. Here he substitutes a term suggesting the unconditional obligation of himself and Timothy to the service of Christ, probably because, in view of the good relationship with the Philippians, he wishes to stress his status as a co-servant rather than emphasize his apostolic authority. Reference to Timothy is a courtesy: Paul alone writes the letter, as the singular verb throughout shows (Phil 1:3–26), and the reference (Phil 2:19–24) to Timothy in the third person. Overseers: the Greek term episkopos literally means “one who oversees” or “one who supervises,” but since the second century it has come to designate the “bishop,” the official who heads a local church. In New Testament times this office had not yet developed into the form that it later assumed, though it seems to be well on the way to such development in the Pastorals; see 1 Tm 3:2 and Ti 1:7, where it is translated bishop. At Philippi, however (and at Ephesus, according to Acts 20:28), there was more than one episkopos, and the precise function of these officials is uncertain. In order to distinguish this office from the later stages into which it developed, the term is here translated as overseers. Ministers: the Greek term diakonoi is used frequently in the New Testament to designate “servants,” “attendants,” or “ministers.” Paul refers to himself and to other apostles as “ministers of God” (2 Cor 6:4) or “ministers of Christ” (2 Cor 11:23). In the Pastorals (1 Tm 3:8, 12) the diakonos has become an established official in the local church; hence the term is there translated as deacon. The diakonoi at Philippi seem to represent an earlier stage of development of the office; we are uncertain about their precise functions. Hence the term is here translated as ministers.
[1:2] The gifts come from Christ the Lord, not simply through him from the Father; compare the christology in Phil 2:6–11.
[1:3–11] As in Rom 1:8–15 and all the Pauline letters except Galatians, a thanksgiving follows, including a direct prayer for the Philippians (Phil 1:9–11). On their partnership for the gospel (Phil 1:5). Their devotion to the faith and to Paul made them his pride and joy (Phil 4:1). The characteristics thus manifested are evidence of the community’s continuing preparation for the Lord’s parousia (Phil 1:6, 10). Paul’s especially warm relationship with the Philippians is suggested here (Phil 1:7–8) as elsewhere in the letter. The eschatology serves to underscore a concern for ethical growth (Eph 1:9–11), which appears throughout the letter.
[1:6] The day of Christ Jesus: the parousia or triumphant return of Christ, when those loyal to him will be with him and share in his eternal glory; cf. Phil 1:10; 2:16; 3:20–21; 1 Thes 4:17; 5:10; 2 Thes 1:10; 1 Cor 1:8.
[1:12–26] The body of the letter begins with an account of Paul’s present situation, his imprisonment, and then goes on with advice for the Philippians (Phil 1:27–2:18). The advance of the gospel (Phil 1:12) and the progress of the Philippians in the faith (Phil 1:25) frame what is said.
[1:13] Praetorium: either the praetorian guard in the city where Paul was imprisoned or the governor’s official residence in a Roman province (cf. Mk 15:16; Acts 23:35).
II. Patristic References
“Who would not have been amazed? Who would not have marvelled?… that noble and heaven-reaching soul; in that, while bound in Rome and imprisoned, at so great a distance, he wrote a letter to the Philippians? For you know how great is the distance between Macedonia and Rome. But neither did the distance, …nor anything else, drive out his love for and remembrance of the disciples; but he held them all in his mind; and not so strongly were his hands bound with chains, as his soul was bound together with longing for the disciples:.. declaring, in the preface of the Epistle he said, “On account of my having you in my heart, both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel. … Every day therefore he was in anxious thought, at one moment for Corinthians, at another for Macedonians, Philippians, Cappadocians, Galatians, Athenians, and how they who inhabited Pontus, how all were. But all the same, having had the whole world placed into his hands, he continually cared not for entire nations only, but also for each single man; and now indeed he despatched a letter on behalf of Onesimus,…it was the individual who had sinned and needed advocacy;…a human being, the living thing most precious to God; and for whose sake the Father had not spared even the Only-begotten.” – St. John Chrysostom, Homily against those who improperly use the apostolic declaration which says, “Whether in pretence, or in sincerity, Christ is preached”
On the next day, when the great crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, (even) the king of Israel.” Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as is written: “Fear no more, O daughter Zion; see, your king comes, seated upon an ass’s colt.” His disciples did not understand this at first, but when Jesus had been glorified they remembered that these things were written about him and that they had done this for him. So the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from death continued to testify. This was (also) why the crowd went to meet him, because they heard that he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the whole world has gone after him.” Now there were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.
This is the Truth. Peace be with you.
I. Biblical Exegesis – John 12:12-22
A. Historical Background
“The Gospel according to John is quite different in character from the three synoptic gospels. It is highly literary and symbolic. It does not follow the same order or reproduce the same stories as the synoptic gospels. To a much greater degree, it is the product of a developed theological reflection and grows out of a different circle and tradition. It was probably written in the 90s of the first century.
The Gospel of John begins with a magnificent prologue, which states many of the major themes and motifs of the gospel, much as an overture does for a musical work. The prologue proclaims Jesus as the preexistent and incarnate Word of God who has revealed the Father to us. The rest of the first chapter forms the introduction to the gospel proper and consists of the Baptist’s testimony about Jesus (there is no baptism of Jesus in this gospel—John simply points him out as the Lamb of God), followed by stories of the call of the first disciples, in which various titles predicated of Jesus in the early church are presented.
The gospel narrative contains a series of “signs”—the gospel’s word for the wondrous deeds of Jesus. The author is primarily interested in the significance of these deeds, and so interprets them for the reader by various reflections, narratives, and discourses. The first sign is the transformation of water into wine at Cana (Jn 2:1–11); this represents the replacement of the Jewish ceremonial washings and symbolizes the entire creative and transforming work of Jesus. The second sign, the cure of the royal official’s son (Jn 4:46–54) simply by the word of Jesus at a distance, signifies the power of Jesus’ life-giving word. The same theme is further developed by other signs, probably for a total of seven. The third sign, the cure of the paralytic at the pool with five porticoes in chap. 5, continues the theme of water offering newness of life. In the preceding chapter, to the woman at the well in Samaria Jesus had offered living water springing up to eternal life, a symbol of the revelation that Jesus brings; here Jesus’ life-giving word replaces the water of the pool that failed to bring life. Jn 6 contains two signs, the multiplication of loaves and the walking on the waters of the Sea of Galilee. These signs are connected much as the manna and the crossing of the Red Sea are in the Passover narrative and symbolize a new exodus. The multiplication of the loaves is interpreted for the reader by the discourse that follows, where the bread of life is used first as a figure for the revelation of God in Jesus and then for the Eucharist. After a series of dialogues reflecting Jesus’ debates with the Jewish authorities at the Feast of Tabernacles in Jn 7; 8, the sixth sign is presented in Jn 9, the sign of the young man born blind. This is a narrative illustration of the theme of conflict in the preceding two chapters; it proclaims the triumph of light over darkness, as Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. This is interpreted by a narrative of controversy between the Pharisees and the young man who had been given his sight by Jesus, ending with a discussion of spiritual blindness and spelling out the symbolic meaning of the cure. And finally, the seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus in chap. 11, is the climax of signs. Lazarus is presented as a token of the real life that Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, who will now ironically be put to death because of his gift of life to Lazarus, will give to all who believe in him once he has been raised from the dead.
After the account of the seven signs, the “hour” of Jesus arrives, and the author passes from sign to reality, as he moves into the discourses in the upper room that interpret the meaning of the passion, death, and resurrection narratives that follow. The whole gospel of John is a progressive revelation of the glory of God’s only Son, who comes to reveal the Father and then returns in glory to the Father. The author’s purpose is clearly expressed in what must have been the original ending of the gospel at the end of Jn 20: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.
[12:12–19] In John, the entry into Jerusalem follows the anointing whereas in the synoptics it precedes. In John, the crowd, not the disciples, are responsible for the triumphal procession.
[12:13] Palm branches: used to welcome great conquerors; cf. 1 Mc 13:51; 2 Mc 10:7. They may be related to the lûlāb, the twig bundles used at the feast of Tabernacles. Hosanna: see Ps 118:25–26. The Hebrew word means: “(O Lord), grant salvation.” He who comes in the name of the Lord: referred in Ps 118:26 to a pilgrim entering the temple gates, but here a title for Jesus. The king of Israel: perhaps from Zep 3:14–15, in connection with the next quotation from Zec 9:9.
[12:15] Daughter Zion: Jerusalem. Ass’s colt: symbol of peace, as opposed to the war horse.
[12:16] They had done this: the antecedent of they is ambiguous.
[12:17–18] There seem to be two different crowds in these verses. There are some good witnesses to the text that have another reading for Jn 12:17: “Then the crowd that was with him began to testify that he had called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead.”
[12:19] The whole world: the sense is that everyone is following Jesus, but John has an ironic play on world; he alludes to the universality of salvation (Jn 3:17; 4:42).
[12:20–36] This announcement of glorification by death is an illustration of “the whole world” (Jn 12:19) going after him.
[12:20] Greeks: not used here in a nationalistic sense. These are probably Gentile proselytes to Judaism.
[12:21–22] Philip…Andrew: the approach is made through disciples who have distinctly Greek names, suggesting that access to Jesus was mediated to the Greek world through his disciples. Philip and Andrew were from Bethsaida (Jn 1:44); Galileans were mostly bilingual. See: here seems to mean “have an interview with.”
II. Patristic References
… In order that He might become a sacrifice for us all; we were nourished in the words of truth, and partakers of His living doctrine, so that we might be able with the saints to receive the joy of Heaven. As He called the disciples to the upper chamber, so does the Word call us with them to the divine and incorruptible banquet. He suffered for us, preparing the heavenly tabernacles for those who quickly follow His summons, unceasingly, with eyes upon the goal, pursuing the prize of their calling. For those who come to the banquet, there is given both a crown, and incorruptible joy. For even though, humanly speaking, the labor of such a journey is great, yet the Savior Himself has made it light. – St. Athanasius, from Letter XXVIII
If Paul’s Letter to the Romans is his epistle of theology, then Philippians is his letter of joy. Paul tells them he is a slave for Christ, not just an apostle, or disciple, but one who now fully realizes the price he must pay in suffering, as he too is conformed to the Cross of Christ. This is given real form in the fact that he writes to them while in prison, in chains, for preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Yet, he is encouraged by their faith, and he assures them that the good work begun in them will come to its fulfillment. He tell them how much he wishes he could be with them – like all good pastors he finds joy in the people who have been entrusted to him.
Paul has fought long and hard battles for the Phillippians and for all those to whom he has been called to preach the Gospel, and build the foundations of the Church. He has had to fight pagan Gentiles, Jews, Roman authorities, Jewish Christians who wished to impose the regulations of the Mosaic Law upon Gentile Christians, and unseen powers wishing to overcome his ministry. With the Phillippians he is allowed to see and feel in his heart that his suffering has not been in vain, that indeed the Gospel has taken root, and is changing hearts, minds, and souls.
The Gospel takes us to the theme of Hosanna Sunday, the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem amid shouts of joy, from the same voices of those who will soon call for his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. The Palm branches that were waved as he entered Jerusalem were symbolic of a triumphant ruler or general entering a city after a great victory. The victory of Christ is foretold by the Pharisees in this passage as they exclaim that “the whole world has gone over to him”.
Indeed, with Hosanna Sunday we begin our walk with Jesus in recalling his death and resurrection – the Paschal Mystery, by which we are saved.