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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

The Apostle commences this Epistle with the usual form of salutation (1, 2). He next declares his affection for the Philippians, which he shows, by thanking God for the gift of beneficent generosity, conferred on them, towards the ministry of the Gospel (3–8); and by fervently begging of Him to grant them an increase of knowledge and charity, and also to enable them to persevere in the performance of good works (8–12). And as the Philippians sent Epaphroditus for the purpose of knowing how matters fared with the Apostle in prison, and also the effect of his imprisonment on the cause of the Gospel, he informs them, that his imprisonment rather served the cause of the Gospel than otherwise; since it had the effect of making the Gospel more extensively known (13), and of inspiring others with greater courage in preaching it (14). And although, in the preaching of it, some might be actuated by unworthy motives, still, he is delighted to find that, be their motives what they may, the truth of the Gospel is preached (12–20).

He is indifferent about what may befall himself, provided in every contingency the glory of Christ be promoted. He cares not whether he die or live; as, in either case Christ will be glorified (20, 21). He is perplexed which course to adopt, whether to die, and enjoy Christ, or remain longer in life, to promote the good of others. As, however, his continuance in life is useful to the Philippians and all Christians, he resolves his doubt, and determines to continue in life, and to visit the Philippians (20–26). He exhorts them to steadfast co-operation in the cause of the Gospel, and to patience under the persecutions they may have to endure (26–28). He tells them it is a great gift from God to be accounted worthy of suffering for Christ’s sake.

Paraphrase

1. Paul and Timothy, servants of Jesus Christ, (salute) all the faithful of Philippi, who are sanctified through the merits of Jesus Christ, and incorporated, with him in baptism, as also the Bishops and Deacons.

2. May you enjoy the abundance of all spiritual gifts, together with their undisturbed enjoyment, from their efficient cause, God the Father, and their meritorious cause, our Lord Jesus Christ.

3. I always return thanks to God, whenever the remembrance of you occurs to my mind.

4. And in all my prayers I always pray to God for you with joy.

5. On account of the pecuniary aid which you have generously furnished towards the propagation of the gospel of Christ, and that, not on one occasion merely, but constantly, from the very first day of your conversion to the faith.

6. Firmly trusting and feeling a moral persuasion that God will perfect the good work which he hath begun in you unto the day of judgment, when the Judge, JESUS CHRIST, will reward you according to your works.

7. It is but just for me to entertain this firm hope and confidence that you will receive from God the gift of perseverance; because I love you most tenderly, and you are always present to my mind, as sharers in the joy which I feel and the grace which I possess in my chains, and in the defence of myself and confirmation of the truth of the gospel.

8. For, I call God to witness the tender and deep love which I entertain for you, a love similar to that with which Jesus Christ has loved you.

9. And this I beg of God—viz., that your charity may daily more and more increase, according to the rules of Christian knowledge and discernment.

10. That you may be able to choose and discern what is better and more useful, and may be free from the admixture of false doctrines, and persevere in a blameless course until the coming of Christ to judgment;

11. Abounding in good works, which both confer and preserve justice and sanctification, through Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.

12. Now, brethren, I wish you to know that the persecutions which have befallen me have rather advanced, than retarded the propagation of the gospel.

13. So that my chains and imprisonment for Christ have become known not only in the palace of Nero, but also in other parts of Rome.

14. Another advantage is, that many of our brethren in the Lord, strengthened by the happy fruits and success that have resulted from my chains, are inspired with courage to preach the word of God fearlessly and with greater confidence.

15. Some, indeed, preach Christ from motives of envy (seeing me occupy the first place), and of contention (being anxious to obtain that place and the glory attached thereto, themselves, now that I am in prison), but some, with a sincere desire of promoting the glory of Christ.

16. And some preach from a feeling of charity and kindness towards me, knowing that I am destined by Christ for the preaching and defence of the gospel (which office they now discharge, in order to gratify me, who am prevented by chains from performing it myself).

17. Others announce Christ from corrupt motives, from motives of contention, thinking that they will add the inward torture of envy to the chains with which I am bound—judging of me from themselves.

18. What are their motives and intention to me? Provided Christ is in any way announced, and his true doctrine preached, whatever may be their intention, whether they act from corrupt motives and under the pretext of piety, or from the pure and true motive of charity, I rejoice and will always rejoice at the fact.

19. For, whatever may be their motives, I know that all this will contribute to my salvation, through the assistance of your prayers, and the abundance of the grace of the Holy Ghost, which you will obtain for me.

20. It will contribute to my salvation, conformably to my ardent expectation and firm hope; that in nothing that may happen, shall I be confounded or frustrated in my hope of advancing the cause of Christ; so that by preaching the gospel intrepidly and fearlessly now, as well as hitherto, Christ will be magnified and glorified in my body, whether I be permitted to live, or be put to death, for his sake.

21. For if I live, my life will be for Christ, and will be devoted to his service; and my death will be to me gain, by uniting me immediately with Christ, and freeing me from the miseries of this life.

22. But, if to live in this mortal body be attended with fruit for the glory of Christ, resulting from my laborious exertions in his service, and (if to die be immediate gain to myself) I am perplexed what choice to make, whether to live or die.

23. I am constrained on two sides. I wish, on the one hand, to have the union between my soul and body dissolved, and be with Christ, which in itself is incomparably the better choice.

24. But it is necessary, on the other, for your salvation that I should live and continue in this mortal body.

25. And firmly persuaded of the fact that I am necessary for you, I feel morally certain, and I firmly trust and hope, that I shall remain, and that for a long time with you, for your spiritual advancement, and to procure for you that holy joy which can come from faith alone.

26. So that by my arrival amongst you again, you may have more ample matter for congratulating yourselves and glorying at my restoration to you in Christ Jesus, who will have liberated and preserved me for your sakes.

27. This only attend to, that your lives be in accordance with the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come to see you or not, I may hear of your perseverance in one spirit of concord, and of your labouring with one mind to advance the faith of the gospel.

28. And, that I may also hear, that you are no way terrified or shaken by the persecution and opposition of the enemies of our faith, which opposition will cause their damnation, and will be the occasion of your salvation, according to the holy disposition of God.

29. For to you is given the grace not only of believing in Christ, but also of suffering for his sake.

30. Engaged in a contest similar to that which you saw me undergo (Acts, 16:22), and to that which you hear of my being now engaged in at Rome.

Commentary

1. “Paul and Timothy.” He adds “Timothy” in the salutation, because he was greatly beloved by the Philippians. “Servants of Jesus Christ.” He refers to the special engagement in the duties of preaching the Gospel. And he uses “servants” in preference to Apostles, because the former was a title common to himself with Timothy; and, moreover, his Apostleship was never questioned by the Philippians, so that there was no necessity for asserting it.

“To the Bishops and Deacons.” It may be asked, what is become of the “PRIESTS” Some Interpreters join the words “Bishops and Deacons” with the words “Paul and Timothy”—thus, “Paul and Timothy with the Bishops and Deacons” (who are at Rome) “salute all the saints who are at Philippi.” This, however, is commonly rejected as a very forced and unnatural construction. Hence, others reply to the question thus:—They say the word “Bishops” includes the clergy of the second order, and means both Priests and Bishops; for the same office of watching over the spiritual interests of their flocks (which the word, επισκοπος, or “bishop,” implies) was exercised by Priests of the second, as well as by those of the first order. And they have many duties in common, such as absolving from sin, offering sacrifice, &c. In the infancy of the Church, Bishops and Priests observed no distinction in the discharge of ecclesiastical functions—(those of course, excepted, that exclusively belong to Bishops)—until, in consequence of the insolent demands of some of the Priests, the Bishops, “in order,” as we are told by St. Jerome (Commentar. in Titum, and Ep. ad Evagrium), “to remedy schism,” were forced to assert the superiority which, faith tells us (Council. Trid. SS. 23, Can. vii.) they possess over the clergy of the second order. According, then, to these Expositors of SS. Scripture, under the word “Bishops” are included Priests, as under “Deacons” are included, Subdeacons.

Some Expositors of Scriptures understand the word “Bishops,” of the Priests of the second order exclusively.—(See Beelen in hunc locum, and Acts, 20:17–29). These maintain that in the New Testament, the words episcopus and presbyter were indiscriminately employed to designate the clergy of the second order, while in the Apostolic age, they were called Apostoli, not only who were proximately sent by God, as in the case of the twelve, but those also who were proximately instituted by man, and vested with the Episcopal character.

Others, taking the word “Bishops” in its ordinary ecclesiastical acceptation, understand it of the clergy of the first order only; and, although in conformity with the discipline of the Church, and the Apostolical canons, there could be only one Bishop at Philippi; still, as this Epistle was intended as a circular for the neighbouring Churches, it is most likely, the Apostle includes the Bishops of these places. The omission of the Priests may be easily accounted for on the ground, that the Bishop alone, aided by the Deacons, in consequence of the paucity of the faithful in these Churches, performed all the requisite priestly functions. St. Gregory Thaumaturgus had only seventeen souls under his charge when he entered on his Episcopal office—(See 1 Tim. 3:8, 9; Titus, 1:6). The Apostle places Bishops and Deacons last among those whom he salutes. Although included in the entire Church, which he addressed in the first instance, he now, by way of special honour, addresses them in particular—(See 1 Tim. 3:8).

3, 4. The Apostle thanks God for the graces they received and the good works they performed from the very beginning of their conversion, and prays for their perseverance unto the end; for, “he that shall persevere unto the end, the same shall be saved.” Some Interpreters include verse, 4, in a parenthesis, and connect verse, 3, with the following verse, 5. Others give the passage a continuous meaning, thus:—I give thanks to God as often as the recollection of you occurs to my mind, and that happens always in my prayers. “Making supplication for you all with joy.” These latter words, which form a portion of verse 4, are, according to them, nothing more than a repetition of the former verse, as if he said, with thanksgiving praying to God; for the subject of his joy and thanksgiving was the same—viz., their charity and generosity, referred to in next verse.

5. “Communication” refers to the pecuniary aid which they sent him. This is the usual meaning of the corresponding Greek word, κοινωνιᾳ, in the Epistles of St. Paul—viz., 4:14, of this Epistle; Rom. 12:13; Hebrews, 13:16; Gal. 6:6. Again, if we compare this phrase with chapter 4 verse 15, where this signification of the word is more clearly expressed, the same will appear. Moreover, one of the objects of this Epistle was to thank the Philippians for their generosity. “In the gospel of Christ.” The Greek reading omits, Christ.

6. “Being confident;” πεποἰθὼς, expresses only a hope and moral certainty. The word does not by any means imply, that St. Paul believed, as a matter of faith, that all the faithful at Philippi would persevere. He says, “who hath begun a good work in you, will perfect it,” rather than, you who began will perfect it, to commend the efficacy of divine grace, to which our salvation from beginning to end is principally to be ascribed. The “good work” refers to the good work of contributing to the support of the ministers of the gospel; or, it may refer to a good life in general. “The day of Christ Jesus,” refers to the Day of Judgment, whether particular, when every one will be rewarded according to his works; or general, when the sentence passed at the particular will be solemnly ratified; the Apostle wishes us to keep this continually in mind, the better to prepare for it.

7. He states the grounds of his confident hope of their receiving the gift of perseverance. He ardently wishes for it on account of his great affection for them. “He has them in his heart,” and constantly before his mind, and he keeps always in mind, that they are partners of his joy, &c. “In the defence,” may also refer to the defence of the gospel. The sense amounts to the same, since the reasons adducible by him in his own defence and apology, would serve to defend and confirm the gospel.

“Of my joy.” The Greek is, of my grace. The similarity of both words in the Greek, χάριτος and χαρας, would account for the mistake; both come, however, to the same; since, it was a source of “joy” for them to suffer for Christ, and “a grace” to be able to do so (verse 29). (Both meanings are united in the Paraphrase). Some Interpreters join the words, “in my bands,” with the preceding. It is better, however, place the words, “partakers of my joy,” between them (as in Paraphrase).

8. He explains the word, “I have you in my heart.” “In the bowels of Jesus Christ,” may also mean that his love for them is not a carnal, but a pure Christian love. They express the excess of the Apostle’s love for his spiritual children. His own heart being incapable of loving them with the fulness and intensity he would wish, he recurs to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ, and enters it. In the tepidity of our love for God and our neighbour, let us unite our love to that of Jesus Christ, and offer it to God in union with the ardent, pure love of JESUS.

9. “In knowledge and all understanding.” These qualities are requisite, lest, through the indiscriminate exercise of charity towards the teachers of error, as well as towards the Apostles of truth, their charity would be injurious, and cease to be virtuous.

10. “That you may approve,” &c. So as to be able to discern the true gospel from false teaching, and promote the former, and thus be preserved from the leaven of the latter. “Sincere,” may also mean, free from all sin in the sight of God, and “without offence” before men. “The day of Christ,” virtually commences at death, when the particular judgment takes place, of which the general will only be a solemn and public ratification.

11. “Fruit.” In Greek, fruits. The Vulgate reading is, however, supported by the best Manuscripts and Versions. “Justice” may also mean, eleemosynary good works, as in the gospel of St. Matthew (c. 5).

12. The Philippians dreaded lest his imprisonment might obstruct the extension of the gospel, and probably wished that Epaphroditus would inform them on this subject.

13. As it was known, that St. Paul was cast into chains for no other crime save the preaching of the gospel of Christ, many of the courtiers, as well of the other inhabitants of Rome, were induced on this account to inquire about the nature of Christianity, of which they would otherwise know nothing; and some, in consequence, were converted (4:22). This was an advantage resulting from his chains. “And in all other places.” The Greek is, and to many others, which may refer to persons as well as places.

14. “In the Lord,” is connected by some Interpreters with “confident,” i.e., growing confident in the Lord, owing to my chains. The Paraphrase is preferable, “brethren in the Lord,” or Christian brethren. “The word of God.” Of God, is not in the Greek.

15, 16. “Some out of charity.” They preach Christ from kind feelings, knowing that nothing could be so gratifying to the Apostle as the advancement and furtherance of the gospel, this being the post assigned him by Christ.

17. Versus 16 and 17 are in inverse order in the Greek; but the Vulgate order is generally supported by ancient MSS. “Supposing that they raise affliction to my bands.” (For, “raise,” the Greek has, add). By this, some Expositors understand a more speedy punishment from Nero, whom they intended to exasperate against St. Paul by their preaching the gospel. However, this is an improbable exposition, as in that case they themselves would not escape punishment. Moreover, the meaning in the Paraphrase is more in accordance with what follows.

18. He is not concerned about the intention with which they preached; he rejoices at the success that attends them; the fact of their preaching, without minding their intention makes him rejoice. From this it appears that these preachers, whose motives were corrupt, were not either Simonians, or Judaizantes, or heretics of any other class; because, surely, the Apostle would not rejoice at the preaching of Christ by heretics; since they would only involve the Pagans in a worse and more dangerous kind of infidelity, viz., Heresy. He speaks of orthodox teachers, who preached from corrupt motives.

19. “Through your prayer.” In this, he tacitly calls for the assistance of their prayers.

20. “According to my expectation.” The Greek word, αποκαραδοκιαν, means, ardent expectation. These words are to be connected with the words “shall fall out to me unto salvation” (as in Paraphrase). “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death; in the former case, by labouring to convert souls; in the latter, by furnishing the most distinguished testimony of the truth of the gospel, sealing it with his blood.”

21. The interpretation in the Paraphrase connects this verse with the words of verse 19, “shall fall out to my salvation,” and this connexion accords better with what follows.

Others connect it with the last words of the preceding verse—“by life or by death,” which latter words, according to them, are explained in this verse—“for, whether I live or die, Christ is my gain;” i.e., my life and death will gain for Christ. If I live, by converting souls; if I die, by bearing testimony to his truth. These transpose the words thus—“Christ to me both to live and to die (i.e., by living and dying), is gain,” or is a gainer both by my life and death.

22. “And what I shall choose I know not.” The particle “and” has caused some difficulty in the construction of this verse. It more probably is joined to a second member of the sentence, which in his doubt and perplexity is not expressed by the Apostle, and may be easily inferred from the preceding verse, “and (if to die is gain for me,”) I am perplexed what choice to make. St. Chrysostom is of opinion that the Apostle had it in his power either to continue in life for the salvation of souls, or to die in order to enjoy Christ; but, that he prefers the former. What an example for those charged with the care of souls! Woe to them, if seeking their own ease, their own gain in everything, they are indifferent to the salvation of those committed to them! It is recorded of St. Ignatius, the founder of the great society of the Jesuits, that were certain salvation offered to him, he would still prefer to remain on earth, uncertain of salvation, to labour for souls.

23. “Having a desire to be dissolved,” i.e., the union between soul and body to be dissolved, this union being the only obstacle to being with Christ. This dissolution has been desired by many of the Saints, and it is desirable; because, it frees us from grief, sin, and dangers, says St. Bernard. This passage furnishes a satisfactory proof that the souls of the saints, who depart this life without sin, are instantly admitted to bliss before the general resurrection; otherwise, the Apostle’s earnest wish “to be dissolved and be with Christ,” i.e., to enjoy Christ and the Beatific Vision of God, the principle of heavenly bliss, would be unmeaning.

24. He feels that his continuance in life is necessary for the good of the Philippians, and all the faithful.

25. And hence he resolves his doubt, and determines on remaining for the good of souls. This he judges preferable to the immediate enjoyment of Christ.

“And having this confidence,” i.e., firmly persuaded that I am necessary for you. “I know.” This word expresses only a morally certain conviction.

30. “Having the same conflict as that which you have seen in me.” He was scourged and cast into prison at Philippi.—(Acts, 16:22). “And now have heard.” In Greek, hear.








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