Good morning! How fitting that just prior to Joy Sunday (the Third Sunday in Advent), we read the lovely and joyful book of Philippians. I have always loved this book for its ability to evoke joy and gratitude in every season. I chose Philippians 4:4-9 for my ordination service, and continue to refer to it regularly. What I didn’t remember until rereading the book now is that Paul writes this book of joyful encouragement from prison, amid the peril of possibly imminent death. This experience seeps into Paul’s letter here, not as fear but as confident and encouraging joy.
A key verse for understanding Philippians comes in 3:10, where Paul writes of his desire “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings”, including even death itself. Being so united with the life and death of Christ, Paul believes he will then hopefully experience the resurrection of Christ as well. Remembering the endurance of Christ through suffering encourages Paul also, and the believers who live in Philippi as well. Paul’s message to them combines “well done, good and faithful servants” with “keep on keeping on”. We hear a little more of Paul’s biography when he claims himself the ultimate “winner” by the privileges of the past (Jew, male, Pharisee, defender of the faith), but sets that all aside for the privilege of knowing Christ and suffering with him. Therefore, he instructs the Philippians to continue honoring Christ in their living and in their dying.
Two other items to note in passing are the famous “hymn” in Philippians 2 and the place of women among the believers Paul greets in chapter 4. The so-called “Christ hymn” is set apart with poetic line breaks in chapter 2, suggesting that this was perhaps an early song about Christ that the church used to sing. Such a proposal hasn’t been confirmed with more recent scholarship, but even if it’s prose instead of song lyrics, the “hymn” fits Paul’s message of turning suffering into joy. After all, it emphasizes God’s immanence and accessibility in Jesus, Christ’s leaving behind glory and taking up suffering, then God’s exaltation of him after the resurrection.
Those who have been following the comments about women in Paul’s letters may be surprised by Philippians 4:3, where he extends greetings to the women Euodia and Syntyche as equal evangelists with him: “they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.” I agree with those who see in this early letter’s mention the suggestion that early decades of the church were more fluid in terms of female leadership than the calcifying male hierarchy would ultimately prove to be. Enjoy this rich, delightful little book—happy reading!
(Note that the link here is only to Philippians 1. For copyright reasons, you will need to click the button at the bottom of the linked page to read further chapters.)
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Colossians. Thanks for reading!