Vincent's Word Studies

Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

Baldwin Professor of Sacred Literature in Union Theological Seminary New York.

The Epistle to the Philippians


For Philippi, see on Phi 1:1.

With the arrival of Paul at Philippi (Acts 16), the Gospel entered Europe. On his departure he left Luke to complete the organization of the Church. He subsequently visited the city twice, after which we hear nothing of the Philippian church until he writes to it from his Roman prison. On hearing of his transfer to Rome, the Philippians, with the same generosity which they had shown on former occasions (Phi 4:15, Phi 4:16; 2Co 11:8, 2Co 11:9), sent a supply of money by Epaphroditus, who, on his return, brought this letter.

The epistle is unofficial and familiar in character, even the apostolic title being dropped in the opening salutation. In its unsystematic structure it rivals Second Corinthians. It opens with an account of the progress of the Gospel in Rome since his arrival, the efforts of his opposers, and the zeal of his friends, and an expression of his own feelings as to his possible death or continued life. An exhortation follows to christian unity, courage, and humility, the latter illustrated by the great act of Christ's humiliation. He hopes soon to be released: he is about to send Timothy to Philippi; Epaphroditus has been sick, and is about to return home. Let them beware of the Judaizers - the dogs, the concision. Their arrogant claims are contrasted with the rights and privileges of Christians, and the contrast is pointed by his own spiritual history and a recital of the legal privileges which he relinquished for Christ. Then follow an exhortation to steadfastness, a lament over the victims of sensuality, and a contrast of such with those whose life and hope are heavenly. Two prominent ladies are entreated to reconcile their differences, after which come some parting admonitions to entertain pure thoughts and high aims, and a grateful acknowledgment of the gift brought by Epaphroditus.

In the tone of strong personal attachment which pervades the epistle, it resembles the first to the Thessalonians. It contains no formulated doctrinal teaching, and no indication of the presence of doctrinal errors within the Church. Only the severe allusions in the third chapter, to Judaizers and Antinomian loose-livers, have the flavor of controversy, and the treatment of these is not argumentative, but denunciatory, hortative, and expostulatory. The only warning to the Church is against internal dissensions. Christ is set forth, not in His relation to great christian mysteries, but as a living power in personal experience - notably in the apostle's own.

The words and imagery reveal occasional traces of the contact of Stoicism, as citizenship (Phi 1:28; Phi 3:20); content, or self-sufficient (Phi 4:2); and the passage, Phi 1:21-27, presents a vivid contrast with the Stoic's theory of life and his justification of suicide. The epistle abounds in picturesque words, as earnest expectation (Phi 1:20); terrified (Phi 1:28); depart (Phi 1:23); robbery (Phi 2:6); holding forth (Phi 2:16); offered: (Phi 2:17); not regarding (Phi 2:30); keep (Phi 4:7); learned (Phi 4:11), etc. See notes.

Bishop Lightfoot observes: “The Epistle to the Philippians is not only the noblest reflection of Paul's personal character and spiritual illumination, his large sympathies, his womanly tenderness, his delicate courtesy, his frank independence, his entire devotion to the Master's service - but as a monument of the power of the Gospel it yields in importance to none of the apostolic writings.... To all ages of the Church - to our own especially - this epistle reads a great lesson. While we are expending our strength on theological definitions or ecclesiastical rules, it recalls us from these distractions to the very heart and center of the Gospel - the life of Christ and the life in Christ. Here is the meeting-point of all our differences, the healing of all our feuds, the true life alike of individuals and sects and churches; here doctrine and practice are wedded together; for here is the 'creed of creeds' involved in and arising out of the 'work of works.'”

The authenticity and genuineness are generally conceded, though violently assailed by the Tubingen critics. The date of composition is probably about a.d. 62, and the epistle is, I think, to be placed in order before the other three. 

Taken from: "Vincent's Word Studies" By Marvin R. Vincent, D.D.

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