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Barnes' New Testament Notes
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EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 1

 

EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.

 

INTRODUCTION.

I. THE SITUATION OF PHILIPPI.

PHILIPPI is mentioned in the New Testament only in the following places and connexions. In Ac 16:11,12, it is said that Paul and his fellow-travellers "loosed from Troas, came with a straight course to Samothracia and Neapolis, and from thence to Philippi." It was at this time that the" Lord opened the heart of Lydia to attend to the things which were spoken by Paul," and that the jailer was converted under such interesting circumstances. In Ac 20:1-6, it appears that Paul again visited Philippi after he had been to Athens and Corinth, and when on his way to Judea. From Philippi he went to Troas. In 1 Th 2:2, Paul alludes to the shameful treatment which he had received at Philippi, and to the fact, that having been treated in that manner at Philippi, he had passed to Thessalonica, and preached the gospel there.

Philippi received its name from Philip, the father of Alexander the Great. Before his time its history is unknown. It is said that it was founded on the site of an old Thasian settlement, and that its former name was Crenides, from the circumstance of its being surrounded by numerous rivulets and springs descending from the neighbouring mountains, (from krhnhkrene, a spring.) The city was also called Dathos, or Datos—datov. See Barnes "Ac 16:12".

The Thasians, who inhabited the island of Thasus, lying off the coast in the AEgean Sea, had been attracted to the place by the valuable mines of gold and silver which were found in that region. It was a city of Macedonia, to the north-east of Amphipolis, and nearly east of Thessalonica. It was not far from the borders of Thrace. It was about fifteen or twenty miles from the AEgean Sea, in the neighbourhood of Mount Pangeeus, and had a small river or stream running near it which emptied into the AEgean Sea. Of the size of the city when the gospel was preached there by Paul we have no information.

This city was originally within the limits of Thrace. Philip of Macedon having turned his attention to Thrace, the situation of Crenides and Mount Pangeeus naturally attracted his notice. Accordingly he invaded this country, expelled the feeble Cotys from his throne, and then proceeded to found a new city, on the site of the old Thasian colony, which he called after his own name, Philippi. Anthon, Class. Die. When Macedonia became subject to the Romans, the advantages attending the situation of Philippi induced that people to send a colony there, and it became one of the most flourishing cities of the empire. Comp. Ac 16:12; Pliny, iv. 10. There is a medal of this city with the following inscription: COL. JUL. AUG. PHIL.; from which it appears that there was a colony sent there by Julius Caesar. Michaelis. The city derived considerable importance from the fact that it was a principal thoroughfare from Asia to Europe, as the great leading road from one continent to the other was in the vicinity. This road is described at length by Appian, De Bell. Civ L. iv. e. 105, 106.

This city is celebrated in history from the fact that it was here that a great victory, deciding the fate of the Roman empire, was obtained by Octavianus (afterwards Augustus Ceesar) and Antony over the forces of Brutus and Cassius, by which the republican party was completely subdued. In this battle, Cassius, who was hard pressed and defeated by Antony, and who supposed that everything was lost, slew himself in despair. Brutus deplored his loss with tears of the sincerest sorrow, calling him "the last of the Romans." After an interval of twenty days, Brutus hazarded a second battle. Where he himself fought in person he was successful; but the army everywhere else gave way, and the battle terminated in the entire defeat of the republican party. Brutus escaped with a few friends, passed a night in a cave, and, seeing that all was irretrievably lost, ordered Strato, one of his attendants, to kill him. Strato for a long time refused; but seeing Brutus resolute, he turned away his face, and held his sword, and Brutus fell upon it. The city of Philippi is often mentioned by the Byzantine writers in history. Its ruins still retain the name of Filibah. Two American missionaries visited these ruins in May, 1834. They saw the remains of what might have been the forum or market-place, where Paul and Silas were beaten, Ac 16:19; and also the fragments of a splendid palace. The road by which Paul went from Neapolis to Philippi, they think, is the same that is now travelled, as it is cut through the most difficult passes in the mountains. It is still paved throughout.

II.—THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI.

PHILIPPI was the first place in Europe where the gospel was preached; and this fact invests the place with more interest and importance than it derives from the battle fought there. The gospel was first preached here, in very interesting circumstances, by Paul and Silas. Paul had been called by a remarkable vision Ac 16:9 to go into Macedonia, and the first place where he preached was Philippi; having made his way, as his custom was, directly to the capital. The first person to whom he preached was Lydia, a seller of purple, from Thyatira, in Asia Minor. She was converted, and received Paul and Silas into her house, and entertained them hospitably. In consequence of Paul's casting out an evil spirit from a "damsel possessed of a spirit of divination," by which the hope of gain by those who kept her in their employ was destroyed, the populace was excited, and Paul and Silas were thrown into the inner prison, and their feet were made fast in the stocks. Here, at midnight, God interposed in a remarkable manner. An earthquake shook the prison; their bonds were loosened; the doors of the prison were thrown open; and their keeper, who before had treated them with peculiar severity, was converted, and all his family were baptized. It was in such solemn circumstances that the gospel was first introduced into Europe. After the tumult, and the conversion of the jailer, Paul was honourably released, and soon left the city, Ac 16:40. He subsequently visited Macedonia before his imprisonment, at Rome, and doubtless went to Philippi, Ac 20:1,2. It is supposed that after his first imprisonment at Rome, he was released, and again visited the churches which he had founded. In this epistle Php 1:25,26; 2:24, he expresses a confident hope that he would be released, and would be permitted to see them again; and there is a probability that his wishes in regard to this were accomplished. See Introduction to 2 Timothy.

III.—THE TIME WHEN THE EPISTLE WAS WRITTEN.

IT is evident that this epistle was written from Rome. This appears,

(1.) because it was composed when Paul was in" bonds," Php 1:13,14;

(2.) because circumstances are suggested, such as to leave no doubt that the imprisonment was at Rome. Thus, in chap. i. 13, he says that his "bonds were manifested in all the palace;" a phrase which would naturally suggest the idea of the Roman capitol; and, in Php 4:22, he says, "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar's household." It is further evident that it was after he had been imprisoned for a considerable time, and probably not long before his release. This appears from the following circumstances:

(1.) The apostle had been a prisoner so long in Rome, that the character which he had manifested in his trials had contributed considerably to the success of the gospel, Php 1:12-14. His bonds, he says, were manifest "in all the palace;" and many of the brethren had become increasingly bold by his "bonds," and had taken occasion to preach the gospel without fear.

(2.) The account given of Epaphroditus imports that, when Paul wrote this epistle, he had been a considerable time at Rome. He was with Paul in Rome, and had been sick there. The Philippians had received an account of his sickness, and he had again been informed how much they had been affected with the intelligence of his illness, Php 2:25,26. The passing and repassing of this intelligence, Dr. Paley remarks, must have occupied considerable time, and must have all taken place during Paul's residence at Rome.

(3.) After a residence at Rome, thus proved to have been of considerable duration, Paul, at the time of writing this epistle, regards the decision of his destiny as at hand. He anticipates that the matter would soon be determined. Php 2:23. "Him therefore (Timothy) I hope to send presently, so soon as I see how it will go with me." He had some expectation that he might be released, and be permitted to visit them again. Php 2:24. "I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly." Comp. Php 1:25,27. Yet he was not absolutely certain how it would go with him, and though in one place he speaks with great confidence that he would be released, Php 1:25, yet in another he suggests the possibility that he might be put to death. Php 2:17: "Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy and rejoice with you all." These circumstances concur to fix the time of writing the epistle to the period at which the imprisonment in Rome was about to terminate. From Ac 28:30, we learn that Paul was in Rome "two whole years;" and it was during the latter part of this period that the epistle was written. It is commonly agreed, therefore, that it was written about A.D. 61 or 62. Hug (Intro.) places it at the end of the year 61, or the beginning of the year 62; Lardner, at the close of the year 62. It is evident that it was written before the great conflagration at Rome in the time of Nero, (A.D. 64;) for it is hardly credible that Paul would have omitted a reference to such an event, if it had occurred. It is certain, from the persecution of the Christians which followed that event, that he would not have been likely to have represented his condition to be so favourable as he has done in this epistle. He could hardly have looked then for a release.

IV.—THE DESIGN AND CHARACTER OF THE EPISTLE

THE object of the epistle is apparent. It was sent by Epaphroditus, Php 2:25, who appears to have been a resident at Philippi, and a member of the church there, to express the thanks of the apostle for the favours which they had conferred on him, and to comfort them with the hope that he might be soon set at liberty. Epaphroditus had been sent by the Philippians to convey their benefactions to him in the time of his imprisonment, Php 4:18. While at Rome, he had been taken ill, Php 2:26,27. On his recovery, Paul deemed it proper that he should return at once to Philippi. It was natural that he should give them some information about his condition and prospects. A considerable part of the epistle, therefore, is occupied in giving an account of the effects of his imprisonment in promoting the spread of the gospel, and of his own feelings in the circumstances in which he then was. He was not yet certain what the result of his imprisonment would be, Php 1:20; but he was prepared either to live or to die, Php 1:23. He wished to live only that he might be useful to others; and, supposing that he might be made useful, he had some expectation that he might be released from his bonds. There is, perhaps, no one of the epistles of the apostle Paul which is so tender, and which abounds so much with expressions of kindness, as this. In relation to other churches he was often under the necessity of using the language of reproof. The prevalence of some error, as in the churches of Galatia; the existence of divisions and strifes, or some aggravated case requiring discipline, or some gross irregularity, as in the church at Corinth, frequently demanded the language of severity. But, in the church at Philippi, there was scarcely anything which required rebuke; there was very much that demanded commendation and gratitude. Their conduct towards him, and their general deportment, had been exemplary, generous, noble. They had evinced for him the tenderest regard in his troubles: providing for his wants, sending a special messenger to supply him when no other opportunity occurred, Php 4:10, and sympathizing with him in his trials; and they had, in the order, peace, and harmony of the church, eminently adorned the doctrine of the Saviour. The language of the apostle, therefore, throughout the epistle, is of the most affectionate character—such as a benevolent heart would always choose to employ, and such as must have been exceedingly grateful to them. Paul never hesitated to use the language of commendation where it was deserved, as he never shrank from reproof where it was merited; and he appears to have regarded the one as a matter of duty as much as the other. We are to remember, too, the circumstances of Paul, and to ask what kind of an epistle an affectionate and grateful spiritual father would be likely to write to a much-beloved flock, when he felt that he was about to die and we shall find that this is just such an epistle as we should suppose such a man would write. It breathes the spirit of a ripe Christian, whose piety was mellowing for the harvest; of one who felt that he was not far from heaven, and might soon "be with Christ." Though there was some expectation of a release, yet his situation was such as led him to look death in the face. He was lying under heavy accusations; he had no hope of justice from his own countrymen; the character of the sovereign, Nero, was not such as to inspire him with great confidence of having justice done; and it is possible that the fires of persecution had already begun to burn. At the mercy of such a man as Nero; a prisoner; among strangers; and with death staring him in the face, it is natural to suppose that there would be a peculiar solemnity, tenderness, pathos, and ardour of affection, breathing through the entire epistle. Such is the fact; and in none of the writings of Paul are these qualities more apparent than in this letter to the Philippians. He expresses his grateful remembrance of all their kindness; he evinces a tender regard for their welfare; and he pours forth the full-flowing language of gratitude, and utters a father's feelings toward them by tender and kind admonitions. It is important to remember these circumstances in the interpretation of this epistle. It breathes the language of a father, rather than the authority of an apostle; the entreaties of a tender friend, rather than the commands of one in authority. It expresses the affections of a man who felt that he might be near death, and who tenderly loved them; and it will be, to all ages, a model of affectionate counsel and advice.

 

THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS. CHAPTER I.

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER.

This chapter embraces the following points :—

I. The salutation to the church, Php 1:1,2.

II. Php 1:3-8, the apostle expresses his gratitude for the evidence which they had given of love to God, and for their fidelity in the gospel from the time when it was first proclaimed among them. He says that he was confident that this would continue, and that God, who had so mercifully imparted grace to them to be faithful, would do it to the end.

III. He expresses the earnest hope that they might abound more and more in knowledge, and be without offence to the day of Christ, Php 1:9-11.

IV. In Php 1:12-21, he states to them what had been the effect of his imprisonment in Rome—presuming that it would be grateful intelligence to them that even his imprisonment had been overruled for the spread of the gospel. His trials, he says, had been the means of the extension of the knowledge of Christ even in the palace, and many Christians had been emboldened by his sufferings to increased diligence in making known the truth. Some indeed, he says, preached Christ from unworthy motives, and with a view to increase his affliction, but in the great fact that Christ was preached he says he rejoiced. Forgetting himself, and any injury which they might design to do to him, he could sincerely rejoice that the gospel was proclaimed—no matter by whom or with what motives. The whole affair he trusted would be made conducive to his salvation. Christ was the great end and aim of his life; and if he were made known, everything else was of minor importance.

V. The mention of the fact, Php 1:21, that his great aim in living was "Christ," leads him to advert to the probability that he might soon be with him, Php 1:22-26. So great was his wish to be with him, that he would hardly know which to choose—whether to die at once, or to live and to make him known to others. Believing, however, that his life might be still useful to them, he had an expectation of considerable confidence that his life would be spared, and that he would be released.

VI. The chapter closes, Php 1:27-30, with an earnest exhortation that they would live as became the gospel of Christ. Whatever might befall him—whether he should be permitted to see them, or should hear of them—he entreated that he might know that they were living as became the gospel. They were not to be afraid of their adversaries; and if called to suffer, they were to remember that "it was given" them not only to believe on the Redeemer, but also to suffer in his cause.

Verse 1. Paul and Timotheus. Paul frequently unites some person with him in his epistles. See Barnes "1 Co 1:1".

It is clear, from this, that Timothy was with Paul at Rome. Why he was there is unknown. It is evident that he was not there as a prisoner with Paul; and the probability is, that he was one of the friends who had gone to Rome with a view to show his sympathy with him ill his sufferings. See Barnes "2 Ti 4:9".

There was special propriety in the fact that Timothy was joined with the apostle in writing the epistle, for he was with him when the church was founded, and doubtless felt a deep interest in its welfare, Ac 16. Timothy had remained in Macedonia after Paul went to Athens, and it is not improbable that he had visited them afterwards.

The servants of Jesus Christ. See Barnes "Ro 1:1".

 

To all the saints in Christ Jesus. The common appellation given to the church, denoting that it was holy. See Barnes "Ro 1:7".

 

With the Bishops. sun episkopoiv. See Barnes "Ac 20:28".

The word here used occurs in the New Testament only in the following places: Ac 20:28, translated overseers, and Php 1:1; 1 Ti 3:2; Tit 1:7; 1 Pe 2:25, in each of which places it is rendered bishop. The word properly means, an inspector, overseer, or guardian, and was given to the ministers of the gospel because they exercised this care over the churches, or were appointed to oversee their interests. It is a term, therefore, which might be given to any of the officers of the churches, and was originally equivalent to the term presbyter. It is evidently used in this sense here. It cannot be used to denote a diocesan bishop; or a bishop having the care of the churches in a large district of country, and of a superior rank to other ministers of the gospel; for the word is here used in the plural number, and it is in the highest degree improbable that there were dioceses in Philippi. It is clear, moreover, that they were the only officers of the church here, except "deacons;" and the persons referred to, therefore, must have been those who were invested simply with the pastoral office. thus Jerome, one of the early fathers, says respecting the word bishop:—"A presbyter is the same as a bishop. And until there arose divisions in religion, churches were governed by a common council of presbyters. But afterwards, it was everywhere decreed, that one person, elected from the presbyters, should be placed over the others." "Philippi," says he, "is a single city of Macedonia; and certainly there could not have been several like those who are now called bishops, at one time in the same city. But as, at that time, they called the same bishops whom they called presbyters also, the apostle spoke indifferently of bishops as of presbyters." Annotations on the Epistle to Titus, as quoted by Dr. Woods on Episcopacy, p. 68.

And Deacons. On the appointment of deacons, and their duty, See Barnes "Ac 6:1".

The word deacons does not occur before this place in the common version of the New Testament, though the Greek word here rendered deacon frequently occurs. It is rendered minister and ministers, in Mt 20:26; Mr 10:43; Ro 13:4; 15:8

1 Co 3:5; 2 Co 3:6; 6:4; 11:15,23; Gal 2:17; Eph 3:7; 6:21; Col 1:7,23,25; Col 4:7; 1 Ti 4:6; servant and servants, Mt 22:13; Mt 23:11; Mr 9:35; Joh 2:5,9; 12:26; Ro 16:1; and deacon or deacons, Php 1:1; 1 Ti 3:8,12.

The word properly means servants, and is then applied to the ministers of the gospel as being the servants of Christ, and of the churches. Hence it came especially to denote those who had charge of the alms of the church, and who were the overseers of the sick and the poor. In this sense the word is probably used in the passage before us, as the officers here referred to were distinct in some way from the bishops. The apostle here mentions but two orders of ministers in the church at Philippi; and this account is of great importance in its bearing on the question about the way in which Christian churches were at first organized, and about the officers which existed in them. In regard to this we may remark,

(1.) that but two orders of ministers are mentioned. This is undeniable, whatever rank they may have held.

(1.) There is no intimation whatever that a minister like a prelatical bishop had ever been appointed there, and that the incumbent of the office was absent, or that the office was now vacant. If the bishop was absent, as Bloomfield and others suppose, it is remarkable that no allusion is made to him, and that Paul should have left the impression that there were, in fact, but two "orders" there. If there were a prelate there, why did not Paul refer to him with affectionate salutation? Why does he refer to the two other "orders of clergy," without the slightest allusion to the man who was set over them as "superior in ministerial rank and power?" Was Paul jealous of this prelate? But if they had a prelate, and the see was then vacant, why is there no reference to this fact? Why no condolence at their loss? Why no prayer that God would send them a man to enter into the vacant diocese? It is a mere assumption to suppose, as the friends of prelacy often do, that they had a prelatical bishop, but that he was then absent. But even granting this, it is an inquiry which has never been answered, why Paul did not make some reference to this fact, and ask their prayers for the absent prelate.

(3.) The church was organized by the apostle Paul himself, and there can be no doubt that it was organized on the "truly primitive and apostolic plan."

(4.) The church at Philippi was in the centre of a large territory, was the capital of Macedonia, and was not likely to be placed fix subjection to the diocesan of another region.

(5.) It was surrounded by other churches, as we have express mention of the church at Thessalonica, and the preaching of the gospel at Berea, Ac 17.

(6.) There is more than one bishop mentioned as connected with the church at Philippi. But these could not have been bishops of the Episcopal or prelatical order. If Episcopalians choose to say that they were prelates, then it follows

(a.) that there was a plurality of such persons in the same diocese, the same city, and the same church—which is contrary to the fundamental idea of Episcopacy, It follows also,

(b.) that there was entirely wanting in the church at Philippi what the Episcopalians call the "second order" of clergy; that a church was organized by the apostles defective in one of the essential grades, with a body of prelates without presbyters—that is, an order of men of "superior" rank, designated to exercise jurisdiction over "priests" who had no existence. If there were such presbyters or "priests" there, why did not Paul name them? If their office was one contemplated in the church, and was then vacant, how did this happen? and if this were so, why is there no allusion to so remarkable a fact?

(7.) It follows, therefore, that in this church there were but two orders of officers; and, further, that it is right and proper to apply the term bishop to the ordinary ministers of the churches. As no mention is made of a prelate; as there are but two orders of men mentioned to whom the care of the church was entrusted, it follows that there was one church at least organized by the apostles without any prelate.

(8.) The same thing may be observed in regard to the distinction between" teaching" elders and "ruling" elders. No such distinction is referred to here; and however useful such an office as that of ruling elder may be, and certain as it is that such an office existed in some of the primitive churches, yet here is one church where no such officer is found; and this fact proves that such an officer is not essential to the Christian church.

{a} "with the bishops" Ac 16:12

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