Friday, September 6
Philippians 2:12-18: Paul now returns to the theme of Christian obedience, the very theme that had prompted him to quote the hymn recorded in 5:5-11. He wants the Philippians (“Therefore”) to be obedient according to the model of Christ Himself (verse 12).
However, having just recalled that hymn about salvation, Paul’s mind is full of this latter theme as well. In just two verses (12-13), then, he goes from speaking about obedience to speaking about salvation.
In verses 12-18 we discern a ringing resemblance to the farewell discourse of Moses in Deuteronomy 31—32. In that passage, where Moses reprimanded the Chosen People for their disobedience, we note an emphasis on “rebellion” (erethismon in the Septuagint of Deuteronomy 31:27), an idea very close to Paul’s warnings against “partisanship” (eritheia; cf. 1:17; 2:3).
Moses feared for what those Israelites would do in his absence (for he was about to die), since they had been so consistently disobedient while he was present. Paul, by contrast, does not worry about what the Philippians will do in his absence (verse 12). Moses, likewise, had called the Israelites “wicked children . . . a crooked and perverse generation” (Deuteronomy 32:5), whereas Paul calls the Philippians “blameless and harmless children of God . . . in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (verse 15).
It is possible that Paul, as he waited in prison for a death that seemed perhaps imminent (1:20-23), perceived some parallel between himself and Moses as the latter awaited death east of the Jordan. Both were, it appeared, taking leave of the people they had pastured. Whereas Moses, however, was filled with misgivings about those whom he was leaving, Paul felt nothing but confidence in his Philippians.
These latter, after all, had always been obedient (verse 12), and Paul believed that obedience was an essential component of the Christian life (cf. Romans 1:5; 6:16; 16:18; 16:19,26; 2 Corinthians 7:17; 10:5-6; 2 Thessalonians 1:8). Such obedience was a quality of Christ in the accomplishing of our redemption (verse 8).
In obedience the Philippians are together to work out their salvation. The verb is plural and denotes a common effort. Clearly Paul has in mind here more than the salvation of the individual; he is concerned, rather, with the salvation of the whole congregation. This salvation is “worked out” in the Church, as the Church “works out” its problems. This is why Paul warns the Philippians against rivalries and squabbling. Those things in which salvation consists—freedom from sin and communion with God—are matters of joint and shared striving.
Saturday, September 7
Philippians 2:19-30: What sort of man was Timothy? Well, we know what Paul thought of him. In today’s reading he tells the Macedonians, “I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state” (Philippians 2:20), and goes on to speak of his “proven character” (2:22).
Indeed, Paul refers to Timothy as “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; Philemon 1), “as a son with his father” (Philippians 2:22), and “my beloved and faithful son in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:17). Paul addresses him, moreover, as “son Timothy” (1 Timothy 1:18), “Timothy, a true son in the faith” (1:2), and “Timothy, a beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2).
Paul knew that Timothy had been raised in a devout, believing family
(2 Timothy 1:5), where he was trained in the Holy Scriptures (3:15).
Still young, Timothy had joined Paul’s company during the second missionary journey (Acts 16:1–3) and remained with him through the ensuing years, carefully following his “doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra” (2 Timothy 3:10–11).
Along the way, Paul found that he could entrust Timothy with important responsibilities in the ministry. The young man had not been a missionary even a year before Paul sent him from Athens to Thessaloniki for a needed pastoral visit (1 Thessalonians 3:1–5). Later, from Ephesus, Paul sent Timothy to visit the Macedonians (Acts 19:22; Philippians 2:19–23) and the quarrelsome, spiteful congregation at Corinth (1 Corinthians 4:17; 16:10). It was to Timothy, finally, that Paul wrote the last letter of his life, asking him to “be diligent to come to me quickly” (2 Timothy 4:9).
Epaphroditus is the second of Paul’s companions mentioned today. A member of the parish in Philippi, he had been sent to bring assistance to Paul during the time of his imprisonment at Ephesus. Epaphroditus, however, falling sick, needed Paul to care for him. Indeed, Paul remarks, this loyal churchman had nearly died. More recently he has recovered his health, so Paul is able to share this good news with the Philippians, who had been worried by a report of the illness. It is he who will carry this epistle to Philippi, to the great joy and relief of the congregation in that city.
Sunday, September 8
Philippians 3:1-11: I have argued that Philippians was written relatively early in Paul’s ministry, some time during his three years (52-55) in Ephesus. This dating would put it close to the composition of Galatians.
In the present section of Philippians, in fact, the reader is much reminded of the double principal theme of Galatians, salvation by faith and freedom from the works of the Mosaic Law. For example, in Paul’s comments about his communion with Christ, one can hardly fail to observe the resemblance between verses 8 to 10 and Galatians 2:20.
There is a difference between Philippians and Galatians in this respect, however: Whereas Galatians was written for a congregation that had already begun to succumb to the teachings of the Judaizers (namely, that the Gentiles were obliged to be circumcised and to observe the Mosaic Law), in Philippians this teaching is regarded as a threat only, not an immediate and critical danger. The Judaizing errors that had already reached Galatia had not yet found their way to Philippi.
Hence, there is a difference in tone between these two epistles; nor do we find in Philippians the shock and harshness of reprimand characteristic of Galatians. One thinks of Paul’s “foolish Galatians” (Galatians 3:1) in contrast to the Philippians, whom he calls “my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1).
In discussing the Judaizers in each of these epistles, Paul waxes autobiographical, but here too there is a difference between the two works. In Galatians Paul narrates the circumstances of his conversion, particularly his relationships to the other apostles (Galatians 1:17—2:17), a motif rendered necessary by the way in which the Judaizers in Galatia claimed the authority of those apostles. It is not necessary for Paul to go into these particulars at Philippi, where he is the only apostle known to the congregation. Instead, Paul concentrates his biographical comments on a contrast of “before” and “after” his conversion. The tone is, accordingly, more serene in Philippians than in Galatians, though he does use some pretty tough language to describe the Judaizers themselves (verse 2).
Monday, September 9
Philippians 3:12-21: Especially among converts from paganism (which was by and large the case at Philippi, where there was not even a synagogue), there was a great need for types and models of behavior. More than for Jews who accepted the Gospel, conversion for the gentiles was bound to entail a more radical—even dramatic—change in personal behavior. Whereas good Jews already lived lives in conformity with God’s Law, especially in the areas of sex and economics, this was often not true of gentile converts (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11). Hence the need for role models in this latter group.
The elaboration of a Christian lifestyle, after all, cannot be accomplished from scratch. It is largely put together by the imitation of other Christians. (Indeed, it is imperative that all Christians live in such a way as to serve as models for one another. What we do as Christians we do not do for ourselves. How we speak, how we conduct ourselves, the moral choices we make — all of these things have to do with the spiritual benefit of our brothers and sisters.) Christians learn how to be Christians by observing other Christians whom they believe to be better at it.
Paul especially plays this theme when writing to his converts in Macedonia (verse 17; 4:9; 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7; 2:14; 3:12; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9), though he touches it elsewhere as well (Galatians 4:12; 1 Corinthians 4:14-16; Acts 20:18-21,31-35).
Paul’s exhortation that the Philippians imitate him means more than choosing him as a model because he happens to be available. We should bear in mind that this was something Paul had taught the Philippians long before he sent them epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:17). Paul emphasized that, not only had the congregations learned from watching him, but that he had intentionally given them an example (2 Thessalonians 2:19). His example was part of the “tradition” that he had bequeathed to them (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
This is also the point here in Philippians. It is not that Paul happened to be a good Christian worthy of imitation. His role as a model is part of his authority. He is a “type” by reason of his ministry. The congregation’s imitation of him pertains to their recognition of his authority over them. The imitation is based on paternity (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:14-15). In the sense that Paul speaks of it here, Christian imitation is not simply the replication of a model; it is the enactment of obedience to a standard.
Tuesday, September 10
Hosea 8: Following the death of Solomon, the Northern Kingdom—called here both Israel and, from its largest tribe, Ephraim—was founded as an act of rebellion against Solomon’s successor, Rehoboam. In the mind of the biblical author, however, it was an act of rebellion against God.
From the beginning of that rebellion, its true motive had always been financial: The ten northern tribes had far more resources and advantages than the royal tribe of Judah in the south: their land was more fertile, and, because of their geographical proximity to Phoenicia, they were better situated with respect to the international markets. Consequently, the northern tribes were reluctant to be ruled any longer by a tribe unable to pull its own economic weight. They separated from Judah for financial reasons, which in their estimate were more important than adherence to the covenanted kingship at Jerusalem.
Beginning with Jeroboam, says the Lord, “they set up kings, but not by Me; they made princes, but I did not acknowledge them.” Going further, they set up shrines at Bethel and Dan to rival the Temple at Jerusalem. These shrines quickly became idolatrous. Their financial and political idolatry finally found expression in cultic idolatry.
Now, Hosea warns them, having sown the wind of temporary advantage, they will reap the whirlwind of history which is the lot of all those acting outside the will of God.
And now, says Hosea, they are about to pay for that infidelity. Their love of money was only the first of the idolatrous preferences that have, at last, brought them to the disaster soon to visit them. Hosea sees the signs of that impending doom in the geopolitics of his day, particularly the rivalries among Assyria, Phoenicia, and Egypt. Poor little Israel will be trampled when these elephantine nations begin to march. Like his contemporary, Amos, Hosea foresees the tragedy of 722, barely a generation in the future. The Northern Kingdom will be no more, its tribes dispersed by exile throughout the Fertile Crescent.
Wednesday, September 11
Philippians 4:1-9: From the beginning of this epistle we have suspected that there was some sort of problem at Philippi. Nothing in this epistle has indicated that the problem was doctrinal. In fact, when the Apostle condemned the heretics, there was nothing to suggest that they were Philippian heretics. On the contrary, Paul was obliged to tell the Philippians about those heretics (3:18).
No, we have suspected that the underlying problem at Philippi, if there was a problem, had to do with what we may call “conflicting personalities.” This would explain Paul’s emphasis on respect, humility, and mutual forbearance (2:2-4).
The present chapter proves our suspicions to have been correct, because it finally identifies the two “conflicting personalities” as Evodia and Syntyche, Philippian women who are exhorted to settle their differences and “be of one mind in the Lord.” Three things may be noted of this exhortation to Evodia and Syntyche.
First, even though the conflict between them apparently provided the impulse that prompted Paul to write this epistle, it is a fact that he left the matter aside until this closing chapter. To prepare for it, he laid the groundwork by asserting more general and universally applicable principles about humility, obedience, and mutual service, such as we have seen. That is to say, Paul did not speak to the particular problem directly until he established the basis on which it could be addressed and settled.
Second, it may have been the case that Paul was reluctant to name these two women in public. His explicit exhortation to them, after all, would be terribly embarrassing. Paul’s words would leave them no cover, no room for equivocation or retreat, and perhaps Paul felt reluctant to take such measures. No pastor enjoys singling people out by a public reprimand, and pastors who do so will often enough have to pay a price for it.
Third, when Paul finally does name Evodia and Syntyche in this fourth chapter, he makes clear, by example, a useful pastoral rule—namely, that public sins, such as give scandal to a congregation, are not private matters of the sort covered by Matthew 18:15-20. On the contrary, public sins are subject to public censure and may require public repentance. In the end, Paul decides to call Evodia and Syntyche to public account. They are reprimanded even as they offended—in the sight of the church. (And not just the Philippian church. For nearly two millennia now, the whole world has read about them!)
Thursday, September 12
Philippians 4:10-23: Right from the beginning Paul had experienced the generosity of the Macedonian Christians (verses 15-16; 2 Corinthians 8:1-5), and now once again, a further opportunity being provided, they have not failed him (verses 10,18).
For his part, Paul has learned to be content with whatever circumstances the Lord sees fit to provide for him (verses 11-12), confident that he can do all things in Christ who strengthens him (verse 13; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Timothy 4:17; Acts 18:9-10). This is not self-sufficiency but an ongoing dependence on Christ, a difference that separates Christian contentment from Stoic contentment.
Following the doxology that could form an appropriate ending to the epistle (verse 20), there is added a series of personal salutations which we are probably correct in suspecting to have been written in Paul’s own hand (verses 21-23). This interpretation corresponds to what we know to have been Paul’s practice (cf. 2 Thessalonians3:17; Galatians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 16:21; Philemon 9).
The reference to “Caesar’s house” (Kaisaros oikia—verse 22) means those who work for the Roman government. (The expression “house of” with the name of a king normally carries this meaning in Holy Scripture, as it does throughout the ancient literature of the Middle East.) Ephesus, as the regional capital of Asia, was the site of a great deal of Roman officialdom (Acts 19:38), and Paul’s mention of “saints” inside it shows that some Christians were already finding their place in the Roman government. This is ironical, of course, for this was the same government that was keeping Paul imprisoned. Indeed, it may have been Paul’s own example that led to the conversion of these people (1:13).
Friday, September 13
Colossians 1:1-18: Timothy, listed as a co-author of this epistle, was with Paul at Caesarea at the time of its composition (verse 1; Philemon 1). He had accompanied the Apostle to Jerusalem in May of A.D. 57, assisting in the transport of the collection made for the saints in the mother church (Acts 20:4). Timothy did not accompany Paul on his subsequent journey to Rome in the autumn of 59 (cf. 2 Timothy 4:21).
The problems at Colossae, addressed in this epistle, had to do with Jewish syncretistic theories popular in the religious circles of Phrygia and Lydia. These speculations, which evidently came from the Jews whom Antiochus the Great (223-187 B.C.) had transported from Babylon to this region (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 12.3.4 §149), included reverence for angelic powers (2:8,10) that functioned as mediators in Creation. Such theories, Paul could see, would undermine the Christological principle of Creation.
Paul evidently learned of these heresies from Epaphras (verses 7-8), a Colossian Christian who had somehow gotten himself arrested and was in prison with Paul at Caesarea (4:12; Philemon 23). Because of this condition, this epistle will be borne to Colossae by Tychicus (4:7; Ephesians 6:21), who had also accompanied Paul to Jerusalem, bearing the offering for the mother church (Acts 20:4).
Paul tells the Colossians that he prays for them always (verse 8), and in this chapter he provides an example of such prayer. Its basic form is thanksgiving (verses 3,12), and its outline is structured on the triad of faith, hope, and charity (verses 4-5; cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8; 1 Corinthians 13:13).
Paul prays that the Colossians will be filled with spiritual “understanding” (epignosis—verses 9-10; 2:2; 3:13), which will enable then to escape—and perhaps also to refute—the early Gnostic speculations to which the churches of Asia Minor had been exposed. Such “understanding” included a personal knowledge of God (verse 10) and the perception of His design to save the human race in Christ (2:2). This understanding is identical with “wisdom” (Sophia—verses 9,28; 2:2,23;3:16;4:5).
Paul’s “understanding” does not refer to a speculative knowledge but involves the transformation of the moral life by the sustained effort to please God (verse 10). The believer grows in spiritual understanding by how he lives.