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

Analysis

In this chapter, after briefly referring to the subject matter of the preceding, and inviting the Philippians to rejoice at the news which he communicated therein (verse 1), cautions them against certain false teachers, most likely the Judaizantes, whom he designates as “dogs,” falsely circumcised, because only circumcised in the flesh; whereas, the true circumcision is the Christian circumcision of the heart (1–3). He shows that he could himself glory in more external privileges conferred by the Mosaic law, than could any of the false teachers. He enumerates those external advantages (4–7). But these legal privileges, as well as all temporal advantages whatsoever, he has valued as nought in comparison with the exalted knowledge of Christ (8); and he has sacrificed all, ana submitted to suffering, in order to gain Christ, and be rendered a sharer in his merits and at a future day, in the glory of his resurrection (8–11).

In referring, however, to his sacrifice for Christ, he is not to be understood as wishing to convey, that he had already attained to Christian perfection; he is only, by constant and unceasing efforts, endeavouring to attain the summit of this perfection, and to secure the prize held out in the stadium of Christian, virtue. He exhorts the Philippians to do the same (11–16). He invites them to imitate himself rather than the false teachers, whose conduct and unhappy end he describes (17–19). With these he contrasts the God-like conduct of the followers of Christ, and the glorious consummation in store for them.

Paraphrase

1. (Whereas, then, my chains, far from injuring, have on the contrary, served the cause of the gospel, and Epaphroditus is recovered, and Timothy is to be shortly amongst you), it only remains for you brethren, to rejoice in a manner becoming Christians. And to me it is not wearisome to write the same things upon which I had formerly spoken to you; because, such a course is a necessary, or at least, a very useful means of keeping you in the faith.

2. Beware of those teachers, who, like unclean dogs, are placed outside the pale of the Church, or, rather, like snarling dogs, endeavour to devour the true preachers of the gospel; beware of those engaged in the wicked work of destroying the gospel; beware of the falsely circumcised, those scarred merely in the flesh.

3. For we, Christians, are the true circumcised, who serve God, not in these mere external rites, that have been abolished; but, with that spiritual, reasonable service, which comes from the heart; and we glory in JESUS CHRIST, placing all our hopes of salvation in his merits, and not relying on the external advantages resulting from the Mosaic law.

4. At the same time, if the possession of all the external advantages of the Jewish religion could furnish any grounds for boasting or confidence, I should have greater cause than those who make such advantages the subject of boasting.

5. Being circumcised on the eighth day, an Israelite by birth, and of the tribe of Benjamin (the only tribe which, with Juda, remained faithful, and joined not in the schism of Jeroboam), a Hebrew of the Hebrews—all my ancestors beng Hebrews—and, according to religious profession, a Pharisee.

6. And so zealous for the Jewish religion, as to endeavour to destroy everything opposed to it, even to persecute the Church of Christ, thinking that I was thereby doing a service to God, and in the observance of legal justice, free from reproach or censure of any kind.

7. But these prerogatives, which I before regarded as the greatest gain, I afterwards rejected as loss for Christ.

8. But not only these, but all the other goods of this life do I regard as quite useless, as mere nothing, in comparison with the eminence, the exalted advantage of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord, on whose account I have cheerfully parted with all things else as loss, and have reputed all their advantages as filth and ordure, that I may gain Christ.

9. That I may be found ingrafted, as a living member, on his mystic body, not having my own justice, the justice arising from my own natural works aided by the lights derived from the Mosaic law; but that real justice gratuitously coming through faith in Christ—that justice which comes from God and is based on faith.

10. All these advantages I have renounced, that I may know him, and the great effort of omnipotent power exerted in his resurrection (the same that will also raise us to the like glorious state), and the partnership in his passion and sufferings, of which I shall have an experimental knowledge, by becoming conformed to his death, by actual sufferings.

11. If by any means I may attain to the perfect, glorious resurrection of the dead.

12. In recounting the sacrifices which I made for Christ, and the advantages accruing to me there from. I by no means wish to imply that I have already attained the summit of Christian knowledge and perfection; but, I eagerly aspire after it, that I may in some way secure that prize, on account of which I was forcibly seized upon by Christ in his mercy and pressed into his service.

13. Brethren, I do not yet suppose that I have attained the perfection to which I am called. One thing I endeavour to do, never to regard what I have passed over and left behind me, but only to look forward to what lies before me.

14. I exert my utmost might to reach the goal in order to obtain the prize to which God invites me from heaven, through the merits of Christ JESUS.

15. Let us, therefore, who are better instructed and practised in the principles of our faith than others, be of the same opinion, viz., that we have not yet attained perfection in this life; and should you have formed a different opinion on the subject, I hope that God will remove this error, and open your eyes to the light of truth.

16. But, waiving the subject of the degree of perfection at which we may have severally arrived, this much at least should be to us a matter of solicitude, viz., to be united in charity, and firmly to adhere to the same rule of faith and doctrine, which is one and unchangeable.

17. Be imitators of me, brethren, and attentively observe (for the purpose of imitation) those who take me for their model.

18. For many live and act quite differently, whom I frequently designated in your presence and captioned you against (and now I repeat the same with tears), as enemies of the cross of Christ.

19. Whose end is eternal perdition, whose God is their belly, or, the gratification of their sensual appetites, whose glorying has for object those deeds of wickedness, which should rather be a cause of shame; who are wholly engrossed with earthly things, without feeling any concern for the heavenly.

20. But we pass through this life as citizens of heaven, whence we expert also our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.

21. Who will transform this vile, earthly body of oars, and conform it unto a likeness with his glorified and resplendent body, and that by an efficacious effort of that power, by which all things are subject to his supreme will.

Commentary

1. “For the rest,” may be understood (as in Paraphrase) to have reference to the preceding chapter, or, the words may be regarded as a familiar kind of transition from one subject to another, common with the Apostle. “To write the same things,” may mean, the same things of which he discoursed among them, or the same things he had written to others, (v.g.) the Galatians, &c., whom he cautioned against the false teachers (as in next verse).

2. “Dogs,” a term of reproach which he applies to the false teachers, on account of their impudence and their endeavours to destroy the preachers of the gospel. It may be also, that he called them “dogs,” to convey that they were unclean and not belonging to the holy people of God. For, the Jews, by whom dogs were reckoned among the unclean animals, applied this opprobrious epithet to the idolatrous Gentiles, to denote that they were not belonging to the people of God, as being profane and impure. “Concision.” It is thus he reproachfully designates their circumcision, which was no longer the religious and honourable rite it formerly was, having now become a mere cutting of the flesh. The abstract term “concision,” is employed for the concrete, circumcised. The Apostle designates the same class of false teachers in the words “dogs,” “evil workers,” and “concision,” and the repetition of the word “beware,” shows the strong feelings from the impulse of which the Apostle denounces them.

It may be asked to what class of heretics does the Apostle refer? Some say, he refers to those who were known under the general denomination of Gnostics, of whom one class—the followers of Cerinthus and others—taught, that Christ never died on the cross, and that the Son of God left the son of Mary at the crucifixion. Hence, he calls them “enemies of the cross,” and “dogs,” on account of their immoral teaching and conduct. Others, however, think, with more probability, that he refers to the Judaizantes, or Jewish zealots, who crept in, and were privately sowing the seeds of Judaism, maintaining the necessity of observing the Mosaic law, for justification. The motives adduced here by the Apostle in refutation of their errors, favour this latter opinion. These motives regard circumcision, his extraction, the justice of the law, which latter error constituted them “enemies of the cross.” For, “if justice be from the law, then Christ died in vain.”—(Gal. 2:4). Then, the “scandal of the cross is made void.”—(Gal. 5:2). Moreover, the teachers in question gloried in the same things, as appears from the words of the Apostle here, that the Judaizantes are charged (2 Cor. 12) with making a subject of boasting.

3. Although the external sign of circumcision is abolished, still the thing signified, viz., the cutting away the vices of the heart, exists. “In the flesh,” means the external advantages of the Jewish religion, such as circumcision, being a Pharisee, &c., as appears from next verse. The words might also be understood of the works performed by the aid of the law without grace.

4. Lest any person should, for an instant, suppose that he depreciates and rejects the Mosaic ceremonial law from feelings of envy, in consequence of not possessing such privileges himself, as men often undervalue in others the accomplishments which they have not themselves, he says that in his case no such feelings can exist. “Though I might also.” “Also,” is not in the Greek.

5. “Being circumcised on the eighth day,” shows that he was not a Jewish proselyte, like many of the Jewish zealots, who, as mere proselytes, received circumcision only after arriving at maturer years. He received it on the eighth day, like Isaac and his descendants. “Of the stock of Israel.” Neither was he descended of parents merely, as proselytes, admitted into the Jewish religion, but, not of the race of Israel. “Of the tribe of Benjamin,” which was the only tribe with Juda that did not apostatize under Jeroboam. “An Hebrew of the Hebrews.” All his ancestors were Jews, or, it might mean, as some understand it, a Hebrew in language, retaining the knowledge of this sacred tongue, which many of the Jews, scattered, as his parents were, among the Gentiles, had altogether lost. These four prerogatives just mentioned were not his own, but were derived from birth, and were common to him with many others. The three following are of his own choice; and hence, a matter of greater commendation for him. “According to the law,” by religious profession, “a Pharisee,” the most respectable religious sect among the Jews, and externally the most observant of the law.

6. “According to zeal, persecuting the Church of God.” So ardently zealous in defence of the laws and institutions of his fathers, that he persecuted everything opposed to them, even the Church of God, from a false and erroneous conscience, thinking he was thereby advancing the cause of God.

7. “The things that were gain to me.” Some Expositors understand these words to mean, these things which might be a recommendation to honour, preferment, and emolument. “I counted as loss for Christ.” I rejected as noxious and injurious, as obstacles in the way of my salvation, which comes from Christ

8. “For the excellent knowledge.” In Greek, for the excellence of the knowledge, i.e., in comparison with the excellence, &c. “For whom I have suffered the loss of all things,” may also mean, that he deprived himself of all earthly advantages for Christ, to become partaker of his grace and merits.

9. “In him,” may also signify, that I may be found in his judgment, who judges truly. This verse does not prove the sufficiency of faith for justification. All that follows from it is, that faith is one of the disposing causes for justification. The Apostle is only opposing the system of justification, of which faith is the foundation, to the system of justification through natural works, or works performed by the aid of the Mosaic law devoid of faith, which faith the unconverted Jews, continuing in their unbelief, could not have. “But that which is of the faith of Christ,” i.e., that justice which is gratuitously acquired through the faith of Christ, which justice “is of God,” comes from God the Father, as its efficient, from Christ, as its meritorious cause, and is infused by the Holy Ghost—hence, altogether divine, and founded and based on the faith of Christ as its foundation.

10. This verse is more probably connected with verse 8, I have sacrificed all wordly advantages &c., “That I may know him,” i.e., all things appertaining to his nature, all his mysteries, but particularly the power of his resurrection, that glorious state of Christ resuscitated, to which we will be likened in our resurrection to glory, and know this practically at a future day, “and the fellowship of his sufferings,” and that I may know by experience how sweet and meritorious it is to suffer in union with Christ and for his sake, “being made conformable,” &c., by conforming myself to his sufferings and death, by my own actual sufferings.

11. “The resurrection from the dead.” The word “resurrection,” in the Greek, εξαναστασιν, means a complete, perfect resurrection, that glorious resurrection which will be followed by no evils, and which is in store for the just. The Apostle almost invariably forbears referring to the resurrection of the reprobate which is rather a misfortune than an advantage. “If by any means I may attain to the resurrection,” &c. Then, St. Paul was not quite sure of his salvation. He feared also lest he should become a reprobate (1 Cor. 9) and if he was not certain, although “a vessel of election,” who else can be secure?

12. This verse is to be connected with the passage, where the Apostle speaks of the sacrifices which he made for Christ, and the advantages he received there from. He does not wish to imply, by saying these things, that he attained the goal of perfection in this life, or acquired a perfect degree of knowledge and Christian virtue, but he is eagerly stretching forward to arrive at it; for, it was for this end that Christ, by the abundance of grace, almost forced him into his service, on his way to Damascus; on which occasion he exclaimed: “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” In the Greek word for “apprehended,” κατεληφθην, there is an allusion to the practice of pressing soldiers and sailors into service.

13. One thing he endeavours to do, like men engaged in a running match, never to look to the part of the course he has gone over, but only to look to the part that yet lies before him. There is an allusion in the words of the Apostle to the exercise of the race course, with which he frequently compares our passage through this life towards the goal of eternity, where the prize is held out by God himself inviting us to struggle earnestly in pursuit of it. The words of the Apostle in this verse show, that in the performance of good works, that is to say, in running the course of the Christian stadium, we should not be puffed up with our past merits, but should only look forward to the future, and fear for our final perseverance in reaching the goal; hence, no one can stand still in the way of Christian perfection; not to advance is to lose ground, and recede farther from the goal.

14. “The mark,” i.e., the goal or winning post, at which God, the master of the race, holds out the prize, and invites me from heaven to secure it, by running in the race, as I should. It is to be obtained through the merits of Christ.

15. “As many as are perfect,” may also mean: as many as aspire to perfection. But even in the sense given in the Paraphrase, there is no opposition between this and the preceding, in which he speaks of himself as not being perfect; because, here he speaks of a lower degree of perfection, which both he and they attained; whereas, in the preceding, he speaks of a more exalted degree of perfection in this life, perfection being quite a relative thing. The word “perfect,” has the same meaning here that it has in the First Epistle to Corinthians (c. 2): “We speak wisdom among the perfect,” i.e., those who are well instructed in the faith. “God will reveal,” implies merely the ordinary exercise of the intellect aided by divine grace; it does not imply any extraordinary revelation.

16. Others, with St. Chrysostom and Theophylact, interpret this verse thus: In the meantime (πλην) let us in our onward course proceed according to the mode of perfect life at which we have arrived, and not deflect from it in any way.

18. The reason why he tells them to imitate himself is, because many who affect to labour for Christ and preach his gospel act a part wholly unsuited to their profession. “Enemies of the cross.” This has been already explained of the Jewish zealots, and it has been shown how they are enemies of the cross. Others, however, understand the words to refer to their immoral lives, so opposed to mortification and the self-denial pointed out by the cross.

19. Far from being wholly engrossed with earthly things, our conversation, or manner of living, is such as becomes men aspiring after heaven; our citizenship is there; as free citizens of heaven, we are engaged only about heavenly things. How few, even of those engaged in God’s service, can say this of themselves!

21. He refers to our bodies committed to the earth, and to the glorified property of clarity.—(See 1 Ep. to Cor. 15:42, 43, 44).








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