Monday, February 28, 2011

Philippians 1:7-11

Read the Text

7Thinking about you all in this way is the right thing to do, since my affection for you is well-deserved. You cared for me when I was put in prison and now support me when I go before the magistrate to give a defense and validation for the gospel ministry. All of you in Philippi share as colleagues this opportunity.
8I could call God as my witness how much I long for all of you in such a very visceral way, just like Christ Jesus. 9This is what I hope for you: for your love to steadily increase intellectually and insightfully 10for the purpose of you being able to make moral judgments about the proper way to live so that you might be judged unpretentious and impeccable when Christ returns. 11May you be overflowing with the expressions of the moral life to be found in Jesus Christ that brings honor and praise to God.

Think about the Text

In this text Paul seems to refer to the completeness of his love for the Philippians. In Greek thought the soul consisted of three parts, the head, the chest, and the abdomen. Paul first says he “thinks about them;” next he says “I have you in my heart” (Phil 1:7). Thirdly, “I long for all of you in the bowels of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:8 KJV). Paul loves the Philippians with all of his soul.
Paul refers to his trial as a defense (apologia), an “apology.” You might recall the famous work of Plato called “The Apology (of Socrates).” Paul’s language in these verses seems reminiscent of this story. In each case the person has been accused of persuading people against the socially acceptable way of thinking. Both express the dilemma of whether to defend oneself against the charges and accept the consequences, as dire and fatal as they may be, or whether to recant and escape the penalties for the sake of others.
“share as colleagues” – Paul’s language is emphatic, “co-partners.”
Paul continues the metaphor of the trial by calling God as a witness.
“very visceral way, just like Christ Jesus” – It’s like saying, I love you so much it hurts my stomach.
Love is more than an emotion or feeling. Above all, Paul wants the Philippians to love each other in the way that Paul loves them – which is like the kind of love Jesus has. This love is enacted by the Philippians as they increasingly are able to agree on the right moral actions.
“proper way to live” (to determine what is best) – Paul wants them to be able “to distinguish the things differing (ta diapheronta) (Rom 2:18).” Stoic philosophers considered that actions were either good, bad, or indifferent (adiaphora). We should avoid vice, pursue virtue, but not concern ourselves too much with those things that are morally indifferent or neutral. This third group, as Epictetus is quoted as saying, is "outside our control." A summary can be found in Diogenes Laertius, "Those are indifferent which are neither beneficial nor injurious, such as life, health, pleasure, beauty, strength, riches, a good reputation, nobility of birth; and their contraries, death, disease, labour, disgrace, weakness, poverty, a bad reputation, baseness of birth, and the like" (DL 7.102).
“unpretentious and impeccable” (sincere and blameless) – The typical way to describe the false teacher was to charge him with being a charlatan, a sophist who only teaches for personal gain. The pretentious teacher has impure motives and fails to live consistently with his own teaching. The virtuous person is none of these.
“judged ... when Christ returns” (unto/for the day of Christ). As I said above, the day of Christ is the time of judgment. The conduct of life now has an impact on judgment then. The day of resurrection and a change of the body does not change the character the person was. We are to become what we will be.
“overflowing with the expressions of the moral life” (having been filled with the fruit of righteousness, NASB) – Fruit as the effect of right living is a commonplace in Greek philosophical texts. One philosopher wrote, “He is most happy who harvests from himself the fruit of righteousness, which is happiness (eudaimonia, “the divine flourishing life”)” (Atticus, Fragmenta 4.17.4). Epicurus wrote, “The greatest fruit of righteousness is to be undisturbed by the passions” (Stromata 6.2.24). This quotation from a letter of Seneca (a Roman Stoic writing in Latin, a close contemporary of Paul), which he has written to a pupil, contains the metaphor of fruit and includes many of the concepts we’ve already discussed.
I grow in spirit and leap for joy and shake off my years and my blood runs warm again, whenever I understand, from your actions and your letters, how far you have outdone yourself; for as to the ordinary man, you left him in the rear long ago. If the farmer is pleased when his tree develops so that it bears fruit, if the shepherd takes pleasure in the increase of his flocks, if every man regards his pupil as though he discerned in him his own early manhood, - what, then, do you think are the feelings of those who have trained a mind and moulded a young idea, when they see it suddenly grown to maturity?
I claim you for myself; you are my handiwork. When I saw your abilities, I laid my hand upon you, I exhorted you, I applied the goad and did not permit you to march lazily, but roused you continually. And now I do the same; but by this time I am cheering on one who is in the race and so in turn cheers me on.
Hence it is that the larger part of goodness is the will to become good. You know what I mean by a good man? One who is complete, finished, - whom no constraint or need can render bad. I see such a person in you, if only you go steadily on and bend to your task, and see to it that all your actions and words harmonize and correspond with each other and are stamped in the same mould.

Meditate on the Text

Think about those who support you and the things they’ve done for you.
How deep is your love for others? Does it involve your whole being? Imagine someone you love and sense that love from the top of your head, to your chest, and into your abdomen.
In what way do your friendships help you to live life in the best way possible. Do they make you a better person? Do you make others better people?
Do you waste time worrying about those things in life that really don’t make a difference to the quality of your character? Could you make a mental list of those things?
Are their ways in which you might be faking the spiritual or religious life? Are their flaws in you that you want to work on?
Close your eyes and see yourself as a branch growing in a vineyard. The effect your life has are the fruits growing on you. See the luscious grapes or the plump strawberries cover you as you do what’s right and perform acts of kindness for others.

Live the Text

As you meet people this week, make your love real and come from your entire being, not just something superficial.
Be a friend to someone this week and make a difference in that person’s life.
Remember to evaluate the things you spend time thinking about or doing. Does it really matter? Is it something that is actually out of your control? Change your thoughts to what’s important.
Repeat to yourself this week, “Am I keeping it real?”
Think about the Fruit of the Loom characters from the commercial. Which fruitful (not fruity) character are you being each day?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Covered in the dust of your Rabbi

It seems like this quotation about dusty Rabbis ("May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi") is all over the internet. It has made me want to figure out exactly where it comes from.
Rob Bell says
One of the Sages from the Mishna is quoted as this, "May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi." Rabbis are passionate and animated. They would spend their days taking their disciples around teaching them, and as they traveled from place to place, they would literally kick up a cloud of dust. And because the disciples were following the Rabbi, at the end of the day, they would actually be covered in the dust their Rabbi kicked up - May you be covered in the dust of your Rabbi.…
http://offqueue.com/archives/dust_rabbi.pdf
This is from Mishnah, Abot, what's known as Pikrei Avot, "the sayings of the fathers."
http://www.shlomosdrash.com/beth_emet/perkei_avot_1.pdf
MISHNAH 4. Yose b. Yo'ezer (a man) of Zeredah, and Yose b. Yohanan [a man] of Jerusalem received [the oral tradition] from them. Yose. b. Yo'ezer used to say: “Let your house be a house of meeting for the sages cover yourself with the dust of their feet, and drink in their words with thirst.”
The Neusner version of the Mishnah reads (p. 673):
"Let your house be a gathering place for sages.
"And wallow in the dust of their feet.
"And drink in their words with gusto."
The verb ´äbäq translated as "cover" or "wallow" means "to cover oneself with dust, to be dusted." My first inclination when I read this text was to think of the context of sitting at a teacher's feet, rather than walking behind a rabbi. The word "sage" here literally means "the wise one." The term "rabbi" does not appear in the text. Remember that Mishnah is the core of the Talmud; the Talmud contains commentary on the Mishnah. It can help us interpret what the context is for the language found in the Mishnah. Here's the section of the Talmud on this passage:
http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t05/abo05.htm
MISHNA D. Jose b. Joezer of Zereda and Jose b. Johanan of Jerusalem received from them. Jose b. Joezer used to say: "Let thy house be the meeting place of the wise; sit gladly at their feet, and drink in their words with avidity."
Tosephtha--Aboth of R. Nathan.
"Thy house shall be the meeting-place for the wise." What does this mean? That the house should be for the use of scholars, their disciples and their disciples, in the sense that one man says to the other: "I shall wait for you at that place." Another explanation of that phrase is this: If a scholar comes to thee for the purpose of being instructed by thee, and thou art able to comply with his wish, do so; if thou art not able to teach him, dismiss him at once. Neither shall he sit before thee on the bed, chair, or bench, but on the floor; and every word that thou utterest he shall receive with awe, terror, fear, and trembling./p>

"Sit gladly at their feet." It means that when a renowned scholar comes to the city you shall not say: "I need him not," but go to him; and do not sit before him on the bed, chair, or bench, but con the floor; and every word that comes from his lips, receive with awe, terror, fear, and trembling, for so our ancestors received the Torah from Mount Sinai. According to another explanation the words: "Sit gladly at their feet," are referred to Rabbi Eliezer, and the words: "Drink their words as a thirsty man drinks water," are referred to Rabbi Aqiba.
It's a nice image to think of Rabbi's walking around like Jesus did. But that's not what Mishnah describes as the social location of teaching. It was sitting in a house. It's problematic to read back into the first century from second century texts, particularly after so much had changed during the intervening years. We also need to do our research and understand what we're talking about before we make sweeping generalizations about historical practices.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Philippians 1:1-6

Read the Text

1:1A letter from Paul and Timothy, devotees of Christ Jesus.
We are writing to all of you who have committed yourselves to Christ Jesus, living in Philippi, including your leaders and ministers.
2May you experience the favor and serenity that comes from God, who is our divine Parent, and from Jesus Christ, who is the Sovereign of the universe.
3Let me express gratitude to my God for every memory I have of you. 4I pray for you religiously, and joyfully make requests on your behalf. 5I do this because you Philippians have been my colleagues in the gospel ministry from the very first to the present. 6In fact, I am confident that God will complete the good work God started within each one of you by the day of Christ Jesus’ return.

Think about the Text

“devotees of Christ Jesus” (slaves of Christ Jesus) - Paul describes his (and Timothy’s) relationship to Jesus with the metaphor of slavery. In this context the person is a “slave” to a divine being. Rather than being a negative idiom of servility and bondage, it rather implies the way in which the person is religiously and spiritually devoted.
“you who have committed yourselves” (saints) - Paul addresses the Philippians as “saints” or “holy ones.” This language is not meant to say that the people are untainted by their humanity, but that they have committed themselves not to cross the line from being on God’s side to rejecting the values represented by being God’s people.
“to Christ” (in Christ) - Being “in Christ Jesus” refers to the participation these Gentile Christians have experienced in Jesus which has included them in the people of God.
“favor and serenity” (grace and peace) – Paul expresses in a formulaic way what his wish is for the recipients of his letter. He wants for them to experience God's benevolence through God's providential care. This early Christian idiom does not follow any Greek or Hebrew/Aramaic pattern. By using the word serenity I'm emphasizing the kind of peace Paul will describe at the end of this letter (Phil 4:7,9).
In this letter of friendship Paul begins by conveying his warm feelings for the audience. He remembers the time he spent with them and he emphasizes the frequency and intensity of his petitions to God on their behalf.
“colleagues in the gospel ministry” (fellowship in the gospel) – The common Christian term “fellowship” refers to that which people share in common. Throughout Philippians Paul will use idioms that represent his relationship to his associates and their relationship to each other. These generally reflect the social relationship of friendship, a highly structured social bond within the Greco-Roman world.
The Philippians could be considered to have been integral to Paul’s mission in Greece, since they were the first place he established a house-church on the Greek mainland.
“complete the good work” – Paul uses “goal” (telos-) language. On the one hand, God is working within people to bring them to completion (perfection or maturity). On the other hand, Paul says “I press on toward the goal (skopos, a synonym for telos) for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:14). In the next verse Paul says, “as many as are perfect” (teleios). When one becomes a follower of Jesus, the infant stage is meant to be followed by progress towards the culmination in a mature and completed human person to be achieved before death (or Christ’s return). Paul is confident God will do this for those who follow Jesus’ example.
“day of Christ Jesus’ return” (day of Christ Jesus) – The expression “day of the Lord” is prophetic language for the day of judgment. In Hebrew this is the “day of Yahweh.” Since the early Christians are reading the Bible in Greek and Jesus is called “lord” (kurios), the “day of the Lord” is also the “day of Christ” or “day of Christ Jesus.” God has given judgment over to Jesus, and Paul imagines a future day when he and his followers will be judged. The quality of his converts will somehow reflect on his work and his reward.

Meditate on the Text

What name or label would you use to describe your spiritual role? Slave of God? Friend of God? Church-goer?
What is your level of commitment to Christ? What line are you not willing to cross to maintain your level of commitment?
Think of people for whom you have fond memories and make requests to God on their behalf.
Are the people with whom you go to church the people with whom you have the most in common in your life? Do you see yourself as partners with them in the work of the church in the world? With whom do you collaborate in God's work?
Think of spiritual development in terms of human development. Are you an infant, who still needs being spoon-fed and can’t walk? A toddler who often falls down along the way? A young person still sowing wild oats? A middle-aged person facing a crisis of faith? A mature adult who knows how to live life and has discovered how to keep from getting tripped up? A wise and mature person who sees life in perspective and is content with how you’ve lived your life?

Live the Text

In Stephen Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” he recommends people write a mission statement for their life. Think about how your mission statement would include your spiritual life and your connection to your faith community. How is what you do this week helping you to achieve your mission in life?
Throughout the week reflect on the phrase “God’s favor and serenity.”
Take time this week to tell someone that they have been in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Introduction to Philippians

About this Study Guide

The book of the Bible we call Philippians has been a favorite of many people. For those experiencing difficulties in life, Philippians contains words of comfort and encouragement. Verses from Philippians serve as mottos for life or motivational messages that help Christians get through the week. Theologians have found in Philippians core Christological concepts. Biblical scholars wrestle with Paul’s confusing and sometimes contradictory language. One scholar can seem persuasive that Paul’s language throughout the letter idiomatically alludes to the financial situation. Another scholar takes Paul’s language as reflecting military idioms. A different group of scholars can claim Paul’s language should be placed in a philosophical context. As enlightening as the letter of Philippians can be for the average person, it can also be as elusive to those who desire something deeper than a superficial reading.
In this study guide to Philippians, I will not attempt to show every possible interpretation of Philippians or explain every word and phrase. There are very deep theological concepts that can only be briefly introduced. I will be clear that I am presenting a particular interpretation to Philippians. My interpretation is based on the study of the text, the other writings of Paul, and the cultural context in which Paul wrote. It is also informed by scholars working on Paul, who approach Paul’s writings from this point of view. This approach to Paul takes seriously Paul’s philosophical language, his practice of writing letters of moral exhortation and instruction, and Paul’s apparent education and training in Greek schools and in a form of Hellenistic Judaism. When understood in this context, Paul’s writings come alive in new ways that have powerful implications for how Christians live.
In order to convey this interpretation of Paul’s letter to the Philippians, I am presenting this fresh translation of Paul’s Greek writing. Instead of attempting a literal, word-for-translation, I am creating a conceptual-interpretive translation: a form somewhere between what we would normally call a translation and a paraphrase. All translations are necessarily an interpretation of the text, in spite of the attempt to be neutral and objective. I am being more obvious in my translation to illustrate the concepts within Paul’s language as I think the first-readers would have understood him – or at least what Paul might have been hoping they would have understood.
For the purposes of this study, we need to make some assumptions about the reason for studying the Biblical text and its relevance for our lives. In order to facilitate our dialogue, we will need to have a working agreement that the text has intrinsic value as Scripture for the faith and practice of those who follow in the Christian tradition. One doesn’t need to accept any particular theological belief about the inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture or the canonical integrity of the Bible to have this study be beneficial to the way we think and live. Discussions about these issues are important and indispensable. But this study assumes that people have had those discussions and are entering this study with the conclusion that this is beneficial and valuable as a basis for how we choose to live life.
For the purposes of this blog, I will post an entry once per week for 20 weeks. (I have already written this guide to Philippians and will be editing each section as I go along.) Each week has the participant spending time thinking about Philippians. For each week the blog posts will have the following sections. First is my translation. Before reading my translation, you might want to read the passage in your own Bible, such as the New Revised Standard, New International Version, or New American Standard Bible. After you’ve thoughtfully read the text, I will give some brief comments about the text for you to study. Next, I will try to guide you in some meditation on the text. Finally, I will suggest some ways for you to think about practicing the concepts we’ve discovered in the text.
As with any blog, there is the function of commenting on any blog post. You might have some questions you need answered. I will try to answer them. In our discussion together, we will want to focus on how we can have our lives transformed and share what these concepts have meant to us in the way we live our lives. How is the way we think and live being changed?

Some Basics about Paul, His Travels, and His Work

We can’t really know what Paul’s readers understood Paul to say or even what Paul intended. We have the text as a unit within the context of other writings by the same author and a literary world with which to compare it. The implied author of the text we call Paul and the implied audience of the letter we call the Philippians. We know something about the historical figure Paul and the group of Christians (we’ll use this term as a shorthand for these early followers of Jesus) who lived in Philippi and were the addressees of the letter. We’ll try to understand something about this historical and cultural context in hopes that it will help us imagine the original context of the letter.
We know about Paul from his letters, both the collection of letters we call the “undisputed” letters (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, and Philemon) and the “disputed” letters (Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians. The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) are also addressed as coming from Paul. Hebrews has also traditionally been ascribed to Paul, though the document does not contain an epistolary address. Within these letters are references to people and places Paul visited, which helps us to reconstruct a chronology.
We also know something about Paul from the New Testament book of Acts. This two-part work known as Luke-Acts relates the historical development of the gospel mission from its beginnings in the infancy narrative of Jesus to the passion narrative in Luke; and from the beginning of the gospel mission with Peter to Jews in and around Jerusalem to the spread of the gospel among the non-Jewish people, the Gentiles, as that mission became embodied in the mission of Paul and his colleagues. Luke, the supposed author of this document, focuses his attention more on the telling of the story and its themes than he does being a dispassionate chronicler of events. His work is more a painting of a landscape than it is a detailed map; he is an artist more than he is a cartographer.
The bare facts are that Paul (Paulus in Latin; Paulos in Greek) was a Jew who lived in both the culture and tradition of Judaism but also seemed comfortable participating in the culture of the Greco-Roman world. From Acts we are told that Paul’s Hebrew name was Saul (Sha’ul). From all indications he excelled in his Jewish training and was highly respected in the echelons of power within Jerusalem. At the same time, we are well aware of his standing as a Roman citizen, his education in Greek, and an apparent training in Greek rhetoric and philosophy. By comparison, Paul’s writings put him more closely aligned to a Hellenistic type of Judaism (understanding Judaism through Greek philosophy and interpreting the Hebrew Bible through a Greek translation) rather than the type of Judaism we know of from later centuries, which we call rabbinic (writing in Hebrew/Aramaic, composing midrash or homiletical commentaries on the Bible and engaging in Jewish legal statements and argument).
The story we get from Acts is that Saul has been persecuting Jews who were followers of Jesus. A vision of the risen Christ persuades Saul to stop his actions and become a messenger to bring God’s good news of including the Gentile nations under God’s favor to the non-Jewish people outside of Judea in the Roman empire. He takes some time to think about his calling and becomes involved with the Jesus followers in Antioch. From there he joins with others to bring the gospel message to Roman cities. Over the course of his life he would make several trips with various groups of people, who are his associates.
Wherever he went, he traveled with a group. When he arrived in a city, he would begin talking with people, sharing his message. During more lengthy stays, he seems to have contracted his services as a leather worker. Households typically had some kind of shop that faced the street. The head of the household conducted business from the perimeter rooms of his household with the inner rooms functioning as more personal and family space. From the clues we get from Paul’s writings, he seems to have attached himself as a “client” to the patron within a household. He not only worked there, but functioned as a teacher and philosophical guide.
From the stories in Acts and his letters, we learn that Paul often faced hostility, both from Jewish authorities within cities and from the magistrates responsible for the social order. Much of Paul’s practice would have reminded citizens of Cynic philosophers, who traveled around and preached a counter-cultural back-to-nature sort of message. Perhaps they would even be reminded of the most classic example of Socrates, a gad-fly who disrupted the life of people by asking too many questions and demonstrating that there was more to life than just doing what society expects. In any case, Paul frequently experienced antagonism and physical abuse, sometimes even landing him in jail.
Paul’s practice was to write letters to these small communities, usually ones he himself had formed while visiting in a city. His letters were primarily written to encourage the people to continue and strengthen their allegiance to Jesus as Lord, God’s sovereign representative to humanity. Paul might talk about specific issues, respond to questions asked of him, or further explain his own teachings. Centrally and climactically in his letters was his exhortation to faithful living, his admonition against doing wrong, and his advice for loving each other in community and each one being responsible to live the best sort of life following Christ’s example.

Paul and the Philippians

The Evidence from the Letter

From Paul’s letter to the Philippians we get some indication of what has been happening.
1. Paul is writing to the Philippians along with Timothy (and sends greetings from other associates with him).
2. Paul wants to develop among the Philippians a pattern of moral thinking that puts the needs of the others as more important than personal desires. This is the way Jesus thought and it’s the way of thinking that leads people to a mature and deep contentment with circumstances and a type of tranquility that enables them to cope with any difficulties of life.
3. He is in an unnamed city and being held in custody at a praetorium and there are believers who are part of the administrative center.
4. He is in a place where there is both support and opposition to his preaching.
5. The Philippians were involved in Paul’s early ministry and they have recently provided Paul with financial support delivered to him by Epaphroditus.
6. Paul is aware that the Philippians have heard that Epaphroditus had become ill while bringing their support to Paul.
7. Paul desires to send Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippians to learn about their condition.
8. Paul hopes to be freed soon and visit the Philippians.

The Story of the Founding in Acts 16

Acts tells us the story of Paul first visiting Philippi (c. 49 CE). Before making the trip from Asia Minor to the Greek mainland, Paul meets Timothy (Acts 16:1), who becomes his associate and fellow-traveler (Acts 16:3), along with Paul’s co-missionary, Silas. When Luke begins to chronicle the events of making the sea-voyage, he starts to use the language of “we,” suggesting that he also accompanied Paul and Timothy at this point.
Luke accurately describes Philippi as “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12). This Macedonian city had been founded by Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. The city became a Roman colony and a favorite retirement city for Roman soldiers. After Augustus became emperor the city was renamed Colonia Augusta Iulia Philippensis. The city was wealthy due to the gold mines in the area and the main roads passing through the city.
Luke’s story begins on the Sabbath (Acts 16:13), probably early on Saturday morning, when Paul and his companions look for a Jewish gathering place (“synagogue”) to worship. They have to go outside of the city gate next to a river where the Jews of the city had a place of prayer (the common designation in Greek for a Jewish synagogue but not necessarily a building). One would have to guess that a minimum number of Jewish men were present, but Luke only mentions that Paul takes up a conversation with a group of women. We are told one of them is named Lydia. Apparently, she is a widowed woman originally from Thyatira, who has continued the household business of dying cloth purple. Although she is a gentile, she has come to be a worshipper of the One God of the Jews. Paul would have found her an interesting conversation partner, not only because of her practice of Judaism but also because they would have shared a common interest in the production and market of textiles. Lydia accepted Paul’s gospel message about Jesus and she and her household were all baptized. She impressed upon Paul and his friends to stay with her in her home.
On another Sabbath visit to the place of prayer, Paul meets another woman. She is a slave, who is being used as a fortune-teller. As so often happens in Luke’s stories, those who are possessed recognize the power of God in the followers of Jesus. She began chasing Paul and his companions, yelling “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Out of annoyance, Paul exorcizes her demon. The fact that Paul had destroyed her masters’ source of revenue greatly irritated them. They grabbed Paul and Silas and brought them to the magistrates in the Agora claiming, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe” (Acts 16:20-21). After receiving a beating, Paul and Silas are dumped into a holding cell. Paul and Silas hold a midnight vigil of prayers and hymns at which time an earthquake frees all the prisoners. The jailer is so impressed that Paul and Silas did not escape that he accepts their gospel message along with all the others in his house. When the magistrates learned that Paul and Silas are both Roman citizens, they apologize for their incarceration and set them free. Before leaving Philippi, Paul, Silas, and the others visit in Lydia’s infant house-church, where they exhort them how properly to conduct their lives as followers of Jesus.

The Occasion of the Writing of the Letter

Unfortunately, letter writing in Greco-Roman antiquity did not involve postmarks and dates. We don’t know for certain when Paul wrote this letter or from where he was writing as a prisoner. Traditionally, there are two candidates based on evidence from Acts. Rome has been considered a likely candidate with Caesarea as a second possibility. Nothing in Philippians suggests these places other than Paul’s mention of the praetorium (Phil 1:13) and the people working at the imperial headquarters (Phil 4:22). Both of these imprisonments were late in Paul’s career. Many scholars feel that Philippians seems to come from an earlier time in Paul’s experience. The mention of frequent travel between where Paul is being held and Philippi implies to some that the two locations are close enough to traverse more quickly than Rome and Caesarea.
There are other possibilities for the place of writing. Paul’s letters refer to many occasions in which he had a run-in with the law, which might have landed him in jail (1 Cor 11:23; 6:5). The early second century text 1 Clement says of Paul,
By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance (1 Clem 5:5-6 Lightfoot).
One place that is a favorite candidate is Ephesus. Some have taken 1 Cor 15:32 as evidence that Paul was imprisoned in Ephesus and even made to be part of gladiatorial games. Paul writes from Ephesus to the Corinthians,
And why are we putting ourselves in danger every hour? I die every day! That is as certain, brothers and sisters, as my boasting of you-- a boast that I make in Christ Jesus our Lord. If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it (1 Cor 15:30-31 NRSV)?
However, in an important article Abraham Malherbe ("Beasts at Ephesus," JBL 87, 1968) shows convincingly that Paul’s language is not literally about gladiatorial competition but the struggles that a philosopher faces from adversaries. This certainly conforms to the experience Paul describes in Philippians. That’s not to say Paul wasn’t also imprisoned in Ephesus. He wrote again to the Corinthians about his conflict in Ephesus.
We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many (2 Cor 1:8-11 NRSV).
According to Acts 19 Paul spent a considerable amount of time living in Ephesus. After teaching in a synagogue for three months and then experiencing conflict, Paul moved his teaching from the Jewish community center to a school, “the lecture hall of Tyrannus” (Acts 19:9). The language suggests philosophical dialogue. Paul taught here for two years.
Acts 19 tells the story of two different controversies at Ephesus. The first involved itinerant Jewish exorcists (Acts 19:13-20). Paul was a hero with the locals after this adventure. Subsequently, we’re told that Paul planned to go to Macedonia, which surely would have included Philippi. He sends Timothy, while he himself stays in Ephesus and then really gets himself into trouble.
To whatever degree Paul’s teaching is a synthesis of Hellenistic philosophy and Jewish thought, he remains a monotheist and a critic of idolatry and polytheism. Some merchants begin to fear Paul’s success might impact their sale of Artemis figurines. Some rabble rousers make trouble for Paul and he is under threat of bodily harm. Two of Paul’s associates, Gaius and Aristarchus, are dragged into the theater. When Alexander, a local Jew, tries to give a defense, he is shouted down. It’s not until the town clerk speaks to the crowd that order is restored. In fact, that’s the primary concern, that social order is restored so that the Romans don’t get wind of rioting in Ephesus and respond with a military presence. Paul finally decides to leave Ephesus for Macedonia and Greece, which undoubtedly would include Philippi.
In the end, however, we’re not able to say with any certainty that Paul wrote to the Philippians from Ephesus – or from Rome or Caesarea, for that matter. In fact, some scholars argue that Philippians does not have a single place and time of authorship. They consider Philippians to be a compilation of three or more letters from different times in Paul’s life. I find it a fascinating theory, though I’m convinced of the letter’s unity. For instance, Phil 2:12-18 reads like a conclusion to a letter. Then Phil 2:19-24 and 2:25-30 read like two different recommendation letters. Philippians 3:1 could be read as a concluding statement to a letter. But 4:1 also introduces a conclusion and so does 4:8. Even with all the stops and starts, Philippians still contains linguistic and thematic integrity.

A Generic Description of the Goal of Life

I have already stated that I think the proper context for interpreting Paul’s letters is a Hellenistic form of Judaism focused on Jesus as the ultimate example and guide for life. Paul is not a Stoic philosopher, but his letters show him to have been influenced by a form of Judaism that observes the tenets of Judaism within the paradigm of Greco-Roman moral philosophy. Some Jews were attracted to the philosophical life just as some non-Jews, who were trying to live the philosophical life, considered Judaism to be the best way to achieve it. Among these two groups were people who became converts to the Way of following Jesus as Lord. Let me give you a concise, generic statement about what this philosophical life was.
The goal of human life is for people within communities of friendship to progress in their psychological, moral, and spiritual development toward a mature form of life in which they thrive or flourish in spite of hardships, pain, suffering, lack of basic necessities of life and regardless of their wealth, status, physical appearance, or national/ethnic identity. This is accomplished by forms of therapy that correct wrong ways of thinking about what is most important in life, making proper judgments about what is beneficial, what is unnecessary, or what is harmful to our progress. Negative emotions and desires have to be avoided, while we must strengthen our ability to think properly about what is best in life. This therapy involves knowing what is good and what is evil and making proper choices. We train our mind not to succumb to irrational fears, to give in to lusts and desires for things that only harm us, to indulge ourselves in wealth and leisure, and to seek fame, reputation, status, and personal glory. We meditate on the good, imitate examples of the best sort of life, encourage each other, and also warn each other and give each other criticism when we allow ourselves to go wrong. The result is that we are able to live above our circumstances. We can experience joy in life whether we have an easy life or a hard one. The more mature we become the less selfish we are and we come to place the needs of others as more important than our own and are even willing to suffer and die for others no matter who they are, because all people are our brothers and sisters in the world. We then as humans experience a godlike existence within this life.

A Detailed Outline of Philippians

I. Opening (1:1-2)
A. Senders: Paul & Timothy (1:1a)
B. Addressees: Saints in Philippi (1:1b)
C. Greeting (1:2)
II. Gratitude & Prayer for their Continued Growth (1:3-11)
A. Prayer for the Completion of their Formation (1:3-6)
1. Thank & Pray to God about Your Participation in the Gospel (1:3-4)
2. Persuaded God will Bring Work in you to Completion until Day of Christ (1:6)
B. Mutual Affection & Participation (1:7-8)
1. Basis for Affection in Participation (1:7)
2. Gut-wrenching Longing for the Philippians (1:8)
C. Prayer for the Full Development of Heart & Mind (1:9-10)
1. Love Overflows with Moral Knowledge and Discernment
2. Ability to Approve the things that Matter (1:10)
3. Result of Moral Development (1:10b-11)
a) Pure & Blameless at Day of Christ (1:10b)
b) Exemplifying the Virtue of Righteousness (1:11)
c) Preaching & Living the Gospel in Philippi (1:12-30)
D. Narration of Paul's Circumstances (1:12-19)
1. Circumstances Have Benefited the Gospel (1:12-14)
2. Comparison of Virtuous and Vicious Proclamation (1:15-17)
a) Comparative Exchange with men/de construction (1:15)
(1) Anti-Paul people preach with vice-ridden motives (1:15a)
(2) Pro-Paul People Preach with Good Intentions (1:15b)
b) Comparative Exchange with men/de construction (1:16)
(1) Pro-Paul Preach with Motivation of Love for Paul's Benefit (1:16a)
(2) Anti-Paul People Preach for Selfish Reasons Meant to Hurt Paul (1:16b)
3. Conditions lead to Paul's Salvation (1:18-19)
E. Living and Suffering for Christ (1:20-30)
1. Choosing to Live for the Benefit of Others' Growth (1:20-24)
a) Hopeful Expectation Not to Be Shamed by Behavior (1:20)
b) Choice of Life or Death (1:21-24)
2. Helping the Philippians to Progress in Spite of Hardship (1:25-30)
a) Paul's Intent to Help Them in Their Progress (1:25-26)
b) Paul's Encouragement to Them to Continue (1:27-30)
(1) Remain Faithful in the Face of Opposition (1:27-28a)
(a) Faithfulness Confirms Standing Firm (1:27)
(b) Faithfulness Shows Boldness Regarding Opponents (1:28a)
(2) Benefits of Struggling for Christ (1:28b-30)
(a) Evidence of Moral Progress or Retrogression (1:28b)
(b) Privilege of Living for Christ (1:29-30)
III. Forming Minds and Hearts Together (2:1-4:9)
A. Encouragement to a Community of Mind (2:1-11)
1. Think the same way as each other (2:1-4)
a) Think alike for Paul's sake (2:1-2)
b) Regard the Interests of One Another as More Important (2:3-4)
2. Think the same way as Jesus (2:5-11)
a) Imperative to Think this Way (2:5)
b) Jesus' Way of Thinking (2:5-8)
(1) Did not Regard God-likeness as Plunder (2:6)
(2) Demoted Himself to Role of Slave (2:7a)
(3) Degraded Himself to Despicable Death (2:7b-8)
c) Result of Jesus' Way of Thinking (2:9-11)
(1) God Promotes Jesus to Lord (2:9)
(2) All Creation Should Acknowledge Jesus' Lordship (2:10-11)
B. Exhortation to Work Toward the Goal (2:12-18)
1. Produce a Salutary Form of Life (2:12-13)
2. Cooperate toward the Ultimate State of Virtue (2:14-15)
3. Through Endurance be Presentable on the Day of Christ (2:16-18)
C. Examples of Altruism: Timothy & Epaphroditus (2:19-30)
1. Timothy (2:19-24)
a) Intention to Send Timothy to the Philippians (2:19)
b) Recommendation of Timothy (2:20-22)
(1) Timothy is Equal-Souled & Has Care for Others’ Interests
(2) Others Do Not Seek the Interests of Jesus (2:21)
(3) Timothy Has Passed the Test as a Slave for the Gospel (2:22)
c) Plans to Send Timothy and to Visit in the Future (2:23-24)
2. Epaphroditus (2:25-30)
a) The Sending of Epaphroditus and His Condition (2:25-27)
(1) Regard as a Necessity the sending of Epaphroditus (2:25)
(2) His Concern for the Philippians (2:26)
(3) His Near-Death Condition & Recovery (2:27)
b) Reason for Sending Him (2:28)
c) Recommendation to Receive Him (2:29-30)
(1) Receive Him with Joy and Honor (2:29)
(2) He nearly died for the benefit of others (2:30a)
(3) He Endangered His Life, Taking up Your Slack (2:30b)
D. Externals are to be Rejected and Value the Attainment of Christ-likeness in Virtue (3:1-16)
1. Rejoice in being Reminded of Condition (3:1)
2. Rejection of External Values for the Gaining of Christ's Virtue (3:2-9)
a) The Impropriety of Valuing External Factors (3:2-5)
(1) Beware of those who place value on Ethnic Identity (3:2)
(2) A Better Claim based on Allegiance to Jesus (3:3-4)
(3) Paul could boast of External Values (3:4b-6)
(a) More Reason for Boasting in Externals (3:4b)
(b) Listing of Externals (3:5-6)
(i) Proper Identity Marker: Circumcision (3:5a)
(ii) Proper Lineage: Israelite, Benjaminite (3:5b)
(iii)Pure Ethnicity: Hebrew (3:5c)
(iv) Party Affiliation: Pharisee (3:5d)
(v) Practice in Career: Jewish Bounty Hunter (3:6a)
(vi) Reputation: Observant Jew (3:6b)
b) The Importance of Valuing the Virtues Gained by Christ's Faithfulness (3:7-9)
(1) Regard Natural Gains as Losses (3:7)
(2) Regard All Externals as Losses (3:8a)
(3) Preference for Achieved Virtue Rather than External Status (3:8b-9)
(a) Regard what has been lost as Crap (8:b)
(b) Result in Gaining the Virtues through Christ (3:8c-9)
(i) Benefit is what is achieved in Christ (3:8c)
(ii) Recognition of Benefit from Faithfulness (3:9)
(a) Benefit of Participation in Christ
(b) Not Righteousness from External Advantage as Law observant Judean (3:9b)
(c) Virtue of Righteousness Based on Faithfulness (3:9c)
3. Imitation of Christ to Attain the Goal of Resurrection (3:10-14)
a) Desire to Imitate Christ's Life to Attain Resurrection (3:10-11)
(1) Imitation of Christ's Experience (3:10)
(a) Know Christ Through Experiencing the Way He Lived (3:10a)
(b) Experience the Power of Resurrection to Immortality (3:10b)
(c) Endure suffering in the Way Christ Did (3:10c)
(d) Be transformed like Christ by a similar Death (3:10d)
(2) The Potential Attainment of Resurrection to Immortality (3:11)
b) Perfection not yet achieved, but pursuit of apprehending (3:12)
(1) Not obtained to Immortal State or Reached Perfection (3:12a)
(2) Pursue to Apprehend the Christ-Experience (3:12b)
c) Pursuit of the Goal of a Heavenly Existence like Christ (3:13-14)
(1) Repetition of Failure to Achieve the Goal Yet (3:13a)
(2) The Practice of Life Focused on the Goal (3:13b-14)
(a) The Singular Focus (3:13b)
(b) The Content of the Practice (3:13c-14)
(i) The Backward and Forward Look (3:13c)
(ii) The Pursuit Toward the Goal (3:14)
4. Like-mindedness of the Perfect without Retrogression (3:15-16)
a) The perfected group should be of like mind (3:15a)
b) God will reveal dissimilarity (3:15b)
c) Encouragement to Retain Progress Rather than Retrogress (3:16)
5. Imitate the Example of the Virtuous Life (3:17-21)
a) Imitate the Positive Examples of Your Spiritual Guides (3:17)
b) Ignore the Example of the Vicious Life (3:18-19)
(1) Many Conduct Themselves as Enemies of Virtue (3:18)
(2) Description of the Vicious People (3:19)
(a) The Goal of their Lives is Retrogression (3:19a)
(b) They Succumb to the Vices of Self-gratification (3:19b)
(c) Their Reputation is Shameful (3:19c)
(d) They Focus their Attention on Material Goods (3:19d)
c) Imagine the Ultimate Goal of Imitating Christ (3:20-21)
(1) Belong to a Higher Plane of Existence (3:20a)
(2) Expect the Return of our Savior (3:20b)
(3) Ultimate Experience of Transformation (3:21)
(a) Reschematization of Material bodies (3:21a)
(b) Conformation of our Bodies to His (3:21b)
(c) Enabling Power of Christ's Lordship (3:21c)
E. Enact the Way of Life in the Community (4:1-9)
1. Be steadfast in the Lord (4:1)
a) Address of Friendship & Kinship (4:1a)
(1) Sibling Relationship
(2) Affection
(3) Indications of Paul's Achievement
b) Entreaty to Steadfastness as His Beloved (4:1b)
2. Admonition for like-mindedness (4:2-3)
a) Euodia and Syntyche Urged to Think Appropriately (4:2)
b) Help Euodia and Syntyche (4:3)
(1) Loyal Companion Asked to Help Them
(2) These Women and Others Have Contended (4:3b)
(a) They have Engaged as Athletes in a Competition (4:3b)
(b) Also Clement and the other co-workers (4:3b)
(c) All their names are in the book of life (4:3b)
3. Concluding Moral Advice (4:4-9)
a) Be Joyful (4:4)
b) Be Gentle (in Speech) (4:5)
c) Warning of Nearness of the Lord (4:5b)
d) Tranquility through Confidence in God's Providence (4:6-7)
(1) Don't be Concerned with Circumstances
(2) Make Requests to God (4:6b)
(3) Divine Tranquility will Guard your Thinking (4:7)
e) Meditation on Virtue (4:8)
f) Constancy in Virtuous Life Results in Tranquility (4:9)
IV. Circumstances in Philippi (4:10-19)
A. Gratitude for Financial Support (4:10-13)
1. Rejoice in Revival of Concern (4:10)
2. Contentment in Any Circumstance (4:11-13)
a) Not speaking of Lacking Anything (4:11a)
b) Learned Self-sufficiency (4:11b)
c) Knowledge of abasement and abundance (4:12a)
d) Initiated into Living under any Circumstance (4:12b)
e) Capable for any eventuality through empowerment (4:13)
B. Financial Support is an Offering to God (4:14-19)
1. Did well to Share in Distress (4:14)
2. Past Giving of Philippians (4:15-16)
a) Only Philippians Shared in the Early Days After Departing Macedonia (4:15)
b) Philippians sent help even when in Thessalonica (4:16)
3. Not the Gift but the Credit for Giving (4:17)
4. Paid in Full for Services Rendered (4:18)
a) The Gift sent with Epaphroditus was more than enough (4:18)
b) God will reward you richly (4:19)
V. Closing (4:20-23)
A. Doxology (4:20)
B. Greetings to the Saints at Philippi (4:21a)
C. My Brothers Greet You (4:21b)
D. All Saints Give Greetings, especially imperial staff (4:22)
E. Benediction (4:23)