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Exhortation to Unity—Part I (Philippians 1:27-30)

I. Translation

1:27 Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ so that—whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear that you are standing in one spirit, by contending together with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 1:28 and by not being frightened in any way by your opponents. This is a sign of their destruction, but of your salvation—a sign which is from God. 1:29 For it has been granted to you not only to believe in Christ but also to suffer for him, 1:30 since you are encountering the same conflict that you saw me face and now hear that I am facing.—NET Bible

II. Outline

    A. The Command: Live Worthy of the Gospel (1:27a-b)

    B. The Way: (1:27c-28)

      1. By Contending for the Faith of the Gospel

      2. By Not Being Frightened

    C. The Ultimate Rationale (1:29-30)

      1. The Ultimate Rationale for Suffering (1:29)

      2. The Example (1:30)

III. Exhortation to Unity—Part I
(1:27-30)

A. The Command: Live Worthy of the Gospel (1:27a-b)

Paul begins v. 27 with the adverb only (monon) which modifies the main verb “conduct yourselves.”77 The term monon goes back to the uncertainty about Paul’s release in v. 20 and anticipates his comments in the rest of v. 27—”whether I come…” It stands first in its clause in the Greek text and is therefore emphasized. Some commentators argue that it strikes up a chord of warning as the apostle shifts from vv. 18b-26 to vv. 27-30 wherein he will exhort the Philippian community. The phrase “whether I come and see you…I should hear” should not be taken to mean that if they do not comply with the command to walk worthy of the gospel, he (or the Lord) would enforce some measure of discipline on them when the apostle finally arrived in Philippi. The term is connected rather to vv. 29-30 where the ultimate reason for obedience is considered: they must walk in a manner worthy of the gospel because it has been granted to them not only to believe, but also to suffer for Christ. Thus, even in the midst of their persecution they had a “bottom-line” responsibility to live in a way pleasing to the Lord (cf. Phil 2:12-13; Col 1:10-11). This is consistent with the idea expressed in 1:29, namely, that both suffering and belief were entrusted to the Philippians.

To walk worthily of the Lord was Paul’s major goal throughout the whole ordeal of his struggle and imprisonment. In 1:20 he talks about exalting Christ in his body and in 3:10-11 he reveals his deepest passion to know Christ so intimately that he might actually attain to the resurrection from the dead. The Philippians too, in their situation of struggle in the Roman city of Philippi, must walk worthily of Christ. Thus the term monon adds a sense of urgency and single-mindedness to Paul’s command.

The only command that appears in this section is conduct yourselves (politeuesthe)—a term uncharacteristic for Paul, and other NT writers for that matter. The only other occurrence in the NT of the verb politeuomai is in Acts 23:1 where Paul is telling the Sanhedrin that he has fulfilled his duty before God with all good conscience. Generally, the apostle uses another term to describe living the Christian life, namely, “walking” (peripateo; Rom 13:13; Eph 4:1; Col 1:10; 1 Thess 2:12). But here he chooses a term which originally carried the idea of taking a personal, active role in the political affairs of the “state” (polis). It concerned the free actions of those who were citizens of Rome and who also had certain responsibilities as well. Thus there existed a corporate focus to the term which considered the good of the whole. The fact that the church was composed of Roman citizens (see Lesson I: Introduction, Background and Outline) may well indicate a play on words where Paul uses their Roman citizenship as a picture of their heavenly citizenship and responsibilities in the church and to the gospel (cf. 3:20). Thus there is distinctively relational aspect to the command which is later highlighted in the participial phrase, “contending together” in v. 27.

To this point then, Paul has sounded an urgent note that they live out their heavenly citizenship (cf. 3:20) in a manner worthy (axios) of the gospel of Christ. Several questions come to mind with the use of the word axios. First, what is the sense of the term? Second, how does it relate to the gospel of Christ? In other words, for the Philippians, what is “worthy” of the gospel and what would be unworthy of the gospel of Christ? Third, how does this term relate to the citizenship language inherent in the main verb?

First, the sense of this term—one which was extremely important to Paul and one which clearly indicates that the gospel has ongoing ethical dimensions to it (not just purely forensic)—can be gleaned from several other Pauline texts in which the term is found. In 1 Thessalonians 2:12 Paul tells the Thessalonian believers, who are in the midst of trials (2:14), that they must walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls them into his own kingdom and glory. We might note that in 1 Thess 2:13, the following verse, their reception of the Word is characterized by Paul as akin to welcoming a guest; they received the gospel message as the very word of God, not just the words of men! Accepting the Bible—the inscripturated truth of God—as nothing less than the word of God through the words of men, is the place where walking in a manner worthy of the Lord begins. Do not reject his word, rather cherish and obey it (James 1:22).

Further, in Colossians 1:10, Paul defines living (peripateo) worthily of the Lord as bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, and being strengthened by God for patient endurance and long-suffering. Again in Ephesians 4:1 he urges the Christians to walk worthily of the calling with which they were called, by exhibiting such qualities as humility, gentleness, long-suffering, love, and unity. Recall that unity is a major issue in the Philippian church.

Using very similar language to the apostle Paul, the venerated bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp—martyred at age 86 (155-60CE)—later wrote to the Philippians urging them to walk (peripateo) in a manner worthy of God’s commandment and glory. Thus the term means to live in accordance with a standard. Here in Philippians 1:27 that standard is the “gospel of Christ.”

Now that we understand the meaning of the term “worthy,” we return to the second of our series of questions, namely, what constitutes action worthy of the gospel of Christ and what kind of action is not? This can only be grasped once we work through what Paul means by the gospel of Christ (tou euaggeliou tou christou). Since the gospel is a complex set of ideas we need to ask what particular aspect(s) of it the apostle is focusing on here.

Generally speaking, the gospel can be characterized as “good news” about Christ. It includes in it knowledge of the person of Christ himself, as well as his work and its significance for people of all time. The fact that Paul commands his Philippian readers to live out their “heavenly citizenship” in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, and that he juxtaposes this command to the hymn in 2:6-11, indicates that the truths outlined in 2:6-11 are those about which Paul is thinking when he refers to the gospel of Christ in 1:27. In other words, the hymn of 2:6-11 unpacks what the gospel of Christ is. Thus, in 2:6-11 the gospel involves Jesus’ humiliation, that although he was God, he humbled himself by taking on human nature, suffering and dying. The gospel also involves his resurrection and subsequent exaltation and the application of his “victory” to those who believe (cf. Phil 2:9-11; Acts 13:37-38). This, then, is the narrative framework of the gospel of Christ.

Now when Paul says “conduct yourselves” in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ he is thinking about the Philippians living humble, loving, united lives in the midst of persecution. To be certain, the victorious Christian life is based on Christ’s resurrection, but the aspect of the gospel to which Paul is pointing here in Philippians 1:27 mostly concerns humble suffering and unity among the members of the church. Thus the kinds of actions that are not worthy of the gospel include disunity and fear (cf. 1:27-28), as well as other related sins such as grumbling and complaining—two actions completely unworthy of the gospel (2:14). These habits are sinful and we are reminded that it was because of such sin that Christ was put to death (cf. 2 Cor 5:21). The kind of life that is worthy of the gospel is one that promotes unity in the church (according to the truth, cf. Eph 4:15) and seeks the interests of others ahead of itself (Phil 2:3-4). This is in keeping with the good news about the one who also lived a humble life of love and who consistently sought the interests of others, even though he was persecuted to the point of death (cf. 2:5). Inj fact, his death, was an example of pursuing the interests of others to the point of the ultimate sacrifice (cf. John 15:13). Thus we have answered the question posed above concerning what it means to walk worthy of the gospel of Christ.

We now move on to consider the meaning of the remainder of the verse. Paul’s plan is to send this letter, and then send Timothy to the Philippians later (2:19). Then, he hopes that he too will go to see them, but he’s not sure if by the time he gets to go, whether Timothy will be back with news about them. Thus, he says, whether I come and see you or whether I remain absent—I should hear (akouo)….

No matter what happens, the thing that the apostle really wants to hear is that that [they] are standing (stekete) firm in one spirit. The term stekete may have been used in the context of military battles referring to “soldiers who determinedly refuse to leave their posts irrespective of how severely the battle rages.”78 Paul uses the term stekete 7 times in his letters (Rom 14:4; 1 Cor 16:13; Gal 5:1; Phil 1:27; 4:1; 1 Thess 3:8; 2 Thess 2:15). In most cases it means to stand firm according to one’s conviction regarding their faith (i.e., belief in the Lord) and with the power the Lord provides (cf. Phil 4:13). In Romans 14:4 God can cause the man who is viewed as having a weak faith to stand in his conviction. In 1 Corinthians 16:13 Paul urges the men in the church to stand firm in the faith, adding to that further admonitions to be courageous and strong. In Galatians 5:1 Paul exhorts the Galatians to stand firm in their conviction that Christ has set them free from the Law once and for all. There was no need for them, under any circumstances, to return to fleshly works of the Law in an attempt to gain merit with God. In 1 Thessalonians 3:8 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul speaks about standing firm in the midst of opposition (e.g., false teachers) and standing firm by holding on to the apostle’s teaching as truth. Paul talks about his own life as an example to the Philippians of how they ought to stand firm in the Lord in the face of those who persecute or teach erroneous doctrines contrary to the way of God’s grace (see 4:1). So here in Phil 1:27 Paul wants to hear that the Philippian believers are standing firm in one spirit. For the Philippians, then, Paul wants them to stand firm, that is, to maintain and develop a deep-seated conviction about the gospel, as well as its ethical demands, with the result that no external pressure can alter their allegiance!

Paul knows that if the Philippians allow division to further develop in their church, the faith of all of them will be incalculably injured and the church will lose its witness for Christ (cf. John 17:21-22). Thus he adds that their standing for the faith must be a united stand, in one spirit (en eni pneumati). He wants them to contend for the faith as if they were one man, totally committed to one goal (cf. James 1:5-8 for an example of a double-minded man). However, some scholars have taken “spirit” in the Greek text as a reference to the Holy Spirit, but this not convincing since the context is focused on attitudes of humility and unity (cf. the parallel with “one mind” in this verse and the attitudes mentioned in 2:3-4). Paul wants the Philippians to maintain unity as they contend together for the faith. Further, if “spirit” in v. 27 is a reference to the Holy Spirit, then the passage reads as if Paul is attempting to discern whether they actually have the Spirit. By conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel, it is argued, he will be convinced that they do. But there is nothing in the immediate context that suggests that he doubts whether or not they possess the Holy Spirit (cf. 1:6).79

B. The Means (1:27c-28)

      1. By Contending for the Faith of the Gospel (1:27c)

The expression by contending together is actually one word (i.e., a present participle) in the Greek text, namely, sunathlountes. It is found in the NT only two times, here and Phil 4:3—a fact which tends to closely link these two passages. The term means “to struggle with” or “contend alongside” someone for something.80 The word “by” indicates that the way in which Paul envisions the Philippians standing firm is by contending together with one mind (mia Psuke), that is “completely unified” and as if they were a single devoted person. While the metaphor of “standing firm” may well have been drawn from the life of the military, the expression “contending together” is a metaphor having to do with the realm of sports. As Hawthorne suggests:

With it [i.e., sunathlountes] Paul quickly changes the picture from soldiers at battle stations to athletes working as a team, side by side, playing the game not as individuals but together as one person with one mind, for one goal.81

The Philippians are to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ by contending in a unified manner for the faith of the gospel (te pistei tou euaggeliou). They key word to grasp in order to understand the phrase “for the faith of the gospel” is “faith.” There are at least three common senses in which it is found in Paul and in the New Testament. First, the term can mean “faithfulness” or “ reliability.” Thus Paul says in Romans 3:3 that man’s faithless condition cannot nullify the “faithfulness” of God, i.e., his commitment to his promises and redemptive course of action.

Second, the term is frequently used to refer to one’s act of believing in God or Christ (Mk 11:22; Ac 19:20; 1 Pt 1:21; Heb 6:1; 1 Thess 1:8). “Faith” can refer to “faith in God” when God is not mentioned in the context (cf. Abraham’s faith in Rom 4:5, 9, 11-13, 16). In Col 2:12 Paul refers to “faith in the working of God who raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” Further, there were those who trusted Christ’s help in physical and spiritual distress (Matt 8:10; 9:2, 22, 29; 15:28; Mark 2:5; 4:40; 5:34; 10:52; Luke 5:20; 7:9, 50; 8:25, 48; 17:19; 18:42; Acts 14:9). Faith is clearly designated as faith in Christ by the addition of certain prepositions after the word “faith” (Acts 20:21; 24:24; 26:18; Col 2:5; Gal 3:26; Eph 1:15; Col 1:4; 1 Tim 3:13; 2 Tim 3:15). “Faith” can also be characterized as “faith in his (Jesus’) name” (Ac 3:16a). There are also other uses of “faith” including “faith” as a virtue alongside love (1 Thess 3:6; 5:8; 1 Tim 1:14) and hope (1 Cor 13:13; 1 Peter 1:21) as well as “faith” as a special gift which only few possess and which apparently enables them to trust God for amazing things (1 Cor 12:9). In all the uses of the term in this category, the verbal or active sense of the term is implied; it denotes the act of believing.

There is yet a third use of the term in Paul and in the New Testament. The term can refer to a body of belief or to a given set of doctrines. Perhaps the clearest example of this nominal (non-verbal) use of the word is in Jude 3 (cf. v. 20) where Jude found it necessary, given the influx of false teachers, to encourage his readers to struggle for the “faith” once for all “entrusted to the saints.” In this case the term refers to:

…the apostolic teaching which was regulative upon the church (Acts 2:42). Indeed, in this verse, he [Jude] comes very near to asserting propositional revelation, a concept widely denied today. God, he implies, has handed over to his people a recognizable body of teaching about his Son, in feeding on which they are nourished, and in rejecting which they fall…Jude is therefore saying that the Christian apostolic tradition is normative for the people of God.82

The idea of “faith” referring to a normative body of teaching is found much earlier in Paul as well (Rom 1:5;12:6?; Gal 1:23; 3:23-25?; 2 Tim 4:7).83 This third sense is that which the apostle intends in Phil 1:27. He wants them to contend for the truth which indeed is the gospel. The phrase could also be expanded as: “for the truth which should be believed about the gospel.” Thus if the gospel was under fire at Philippi, the church there could withstand the opposition if they united around apostolic teaching and refused to allow certain people to move them from it.84

      2. By Not Being Frightened (1:28)

Paul not only wants them to stand firm by “contending as one man” for the truth about the gospel, but he also wants them to stand firm by not being frightened in anyway (me pturomenoi en medeni). The term pturomenoi is a rare word, found at no other time in the Greek OT or NT. In Greek literature it is almost always used in the passive voice and means “to be frightened,” “terrified,” or “let oneself be intimidated.”85 It could denote the uncontrollable stampede which ensues when a herd of horses are spooked or alarmed for some reason.86 The Philippians were not to become frightened to the point where they “ran” from their opponents. It is obvious from this that these people were trying to throw the church into panic in an attempt to dismantle it. Paul exhorted the Thessalonians along similar lines when he told them not to be alarmed or unsettled at the trials they were facing (1 Thess 3:3-4).

Paul refers to the people causing the problem for the Philippians as your opponents (upo ton antikeimenon). The term antikeimenon is used on several occasions, eight in all, in the NT. In Luke 13:17 the ruler of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed a woman on the Sabbath. Jesus rebuked the man (and all those who were in league with him), calling him a hypocrite and reminded him of his willingness to help an animal on the Sabbath, but not a human being. As a result of the rebuke, Luke says that “all Jesus’ opponents were humiliated.”

Luke uses the term again in his version of the Olivet discourse. There Jesus urged his disciples not to worry about how they might defend themselves when Jerusalem is overrun by an army, referring ultimately to events preceding the second coming. They will be given words, Jesus says, which none of their adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

Paul also used the term to refer to those who opposed him and his message, including those who were violent in their opposition. In 1 Corinthians 16:9 he says that his work was not yet completed in Ephesus because there was a great door (cf. “door” in Acts 14:27; 2 Cor 2;12; Col 4:13) of opportunity open for him there. He does not tell the Corinthians in his letter who his opponents in Ephesus were, but they probably included “the pagan craftsmen engaged in making miniature silver shrines of Artemis” (Acts 19:23-27).87 Further, the apostle uses the term to refer to immoral practices which are contrary to (=oppose) the gospel (1 Tim 1:10) and to refer to the man of lawlessness who will oppose and exalt himself over everything that is [called] God or worshipped (2 Thess 2:4). Satan also is referred to as one who opposes Christians and their efforts to maintain a good testimony for the gospel (1 Tim 5:14). Finally, according to Paul, the war that goes on between the flesh and the Spirit in the Christian’s life is because the two are placed in opposition to one another (Gal 5:17). Thus it is a term that can refer to tremendous conflict within and between people (and between Satan and people) and graphically conveys Paul’s understanding of the present conflict in Philippi.

The precise identification of the opponents of the Philippians is difficult to say for certain and is obviously not crucial to an understanding of the passage as a whole. Nonetheless, certain suggestions are worth mentioning. Some argue that since there were not enough Jews in the city of Philippi (cf. discussion in Lesson 1: Introduction, Background, and Outline) it is unlikely that the church’s opponents were Jews.88 But as Kent points out:

Some have insisted that the reference could not have been to Jews because the Jewish population of Philippi was too small (Lenski, p. 755). This ignores the fact that hostile Jews often dogged Paul’s steps and caused trouble in the churches he founded. Such was the case in other Macedonian churches (Thessalonica: Acts 17:5; Berea: Acts 17:13).89

Also against the idea that these could not have been Jews is the fact that certain specifics of Paul’s discussion in 3:2-3 seem to indicate that indeed Jews were involved, in one way or another. He refers to Christians as the “true circumcision” which seems to indicate that his opponents were of Jewish origin, though he regards them as the “false circumcision.”90 Also, when he says that he “puts no confidence in the flesh,” this makes more sense if Jews who do put confidence in the flesh were behind at least some of the problems in Philippi.

Thus, there is room in the term “opponents” for Jews. But could they have been Jews who were saved and were simply arguing for their legalistic version of the gospel (cf. Acts 15)? This is unlikely since it is difficult to conceive of Paul referring to Christians, no matter how astray they wandered as heading for “destruction” (apoleias).91

Further, there is one factor that makes it unlikely that if Jews are involved, that they are the primary threat to the church in 1:28; while the Gentile Christians in Philippi may have been upset by Jewish opponents, it is unlikely that they would have been “frightened,” at least not to the extent that Paul’s language suggests.

Thus, while there may be room in the term antikeimenon for unsaved Jewish persecutors, there may be a more central source for the persecution. Fee suggests that the “opposition” might have come from the Roman citizens themselves:

There were those in Philippi who “stood in opposition to them.” Since the Philippians knew to whom Paul was referring, he does not elaborate; we can only surmise. But in light of several hints within the letter, especially the emphasis on Christ as “lord” and “savior,” and of the loyalty of this colony to the cult of the emperor, it seems very likely that the (Roman) citizens of Philippi, who would have honored the emperor at every public meeting, were putting special pressure on the Philippian believers; their allegiance had been given to another kurios, Jesus, who himself had been executed at the hands of the empire. The present context, in which Paul asserts that they are undergoing ‘the same struggle’ he is now engaged in—as a prisoner of the empire—gives us good reason to believe so.92

O’Brien, who also argues against the idea that Jewish legalists are in mind in 1:28, suggests that the opposition came from the Philippian populace who reacted to the high ethics of the Philippians. The pure lives of those who formed the church evoked guilt and conviction among the pagans at Philippi.93 While this is probably true to some extent, it seems less likely than that the opposition came from Philippian citizens reacting to the lack of adherence among Christians to the worship of the emperor.

Whatever the particular source(s) and precise mixture of the opposition in 1:28, Paul wants the church to stand in one spirit by contending for the gospel and not being frightened. Now as the church does this, Paul says that such behavior (=this [hetis]) will be a two-pronged sign to those who are opposing the Philippians. Some scholars argue that the word this could refer back to the Philippians’ faith (v. 27), or their sufferings, or their steadfastness, or the opponent’s persecution of the church. Most likely, the pronoun takes in these ideas in general, except the last one mentioned, i.e., the persecution by the opponents. Thus, with the word “this” Paul is referring generally to their steadfastness in the face of persecution—and all this because of their faith.

The term sign (endeixis) occurs four times in Paul (Rom 3:25, 26; 2 Cor 8:24; Phil 1:28) and carries the idea of “proof”94 or “evidence.” Thus the sterling behavior of the Philippians while under persecution is “proof” that they will be saved, but that their persecutors will suffer destruction. Because these are “future events,” i.e., “salvation” and “destruction,” some translations have rendered endeixis with the word “sign” so as to point to the future (so e.g., NIV). But it may be better translated as “omen.”95 This does not deny the futurity of the statement, but it does give the whole affair a rather somber and ominous tone. This does not necessarily mean that the opponents of the Philippians understood these events as proof of their destruction, except perhaps only marginally,96 for the word their in the expression “their destruction” may simply mean “with reference to their destruction.”

The word destruction (apoleias) includes the idea of separation from the Lord and final and eternal loss (cf. 2 Thess 1:8-9). In contrast to their opponents, the Philippians would experience salvation (humon de soterias), that is, the blessing of being with the Lord in peace in the future. There may also be a sense of vindication in the term soterias in this context as well (see discussion on soterias in 1:20). All this, including their opposition, courageous stand, and ultimate salvation (and the destruction of the opponents) is from God (apo theou).

C. The Ultimate Rationale (1:29-30)

      1. The Ultimate Rationale for Suffering (1:29)

The word For (oti) indicates that what follows in v. 28 is an explanation of what has just preceded. The question surfaces as to what exactly it is connected. It is probably best to see it as an explanation of why the Philippians should not be frightened, that is, because God is the one who has ordained their suffering or persecution. To the true believer this would definitely be an encouragement in suffering, to know that your heavenly father was in control of all of it.

Paul says that two things have been granted (echaristhe) to the Philippians and that both of them, i.e., believing and suffering, are on behalf of Christ. The word “granted” is the same verb Paul uses on many other occasions to speak about God’s salvation, freely and graciously given to believers (cf. Eph 2:8-9; Rom 8:32; 1 Cor 2:12). Note here that the verb is in the passive voice, referring to God’s activity and that it is past tense (aorist in Greek). Thus the “granting” of the suffering occurred at the time they believed. Therefore, God has a plan for the life of his children worked out from the very beginning of our salvation. Obviously the Lord has a plan for us from before all eternity (Eph 1:4), but Paul’s specific focus here is from the time of our initial conversion/belief forward. It might also be noted that Paul credits the faith of the Philippians as ultimately something which God granted them (cf. Eph 2:8-9). A similar theology appears again in Phil 2:12-13 in respect to sanctification.

We note too that “the believing” and “the suffering” were granted on behalf of Christ (to huper christou). What Paul is saying is that just as Christ suffered at the hands of sinful men in order to procure their salvation (cf. 2:6-11), so also the Philippians now have an opportunity to suffer for their Lord. A disciple is not above his master. It is not that the Philippians are suffering simply because they are allied with the name of Christ. It is much more intimate than that idea will allow (cf. Phil 3:10-11). They are suffering for the one whom they now love and for the one whom they are waiting to return from heaven (3:20). This may have been a strange idea to the ears of former polytheistic worshippers, but the knowledge that it was God’s will for them to suffer for Him would have been a strengthening force.

      2. The Example (1:30)

Paul now turns to his own life as an example of one who had carried out his struggle for the gospel and had done so on behalf of Christ. Paul said that he had the same struggle as the Philippians and that they had seen him face it before. This is probably a reference to his first visit to Philippi—on his second missionary trip—recorded in Acts 16. On that occasion Paul (and Silas) was stripped and flogged because of the accusations made by the owners of the slave girl and the impetus of the crowd which joined in to attack the missionaries (16:16-24). The Philippian jailer and his family, as well as Lydia—all converts in Acts 16 and probably still members of the church in Philippi when Paul sent this letter—constitute some of those who saw Paul face those struggles. Since Phil 1:30 indicates that the Philippians had the “same” conflict that Paul had when he wrote the letter (i.e., persecution from Rome) it is likely that they too were suffering at the hands of their countrymen—i.e., Roman citizens (see discussion on 1:28 above). The term conflict (agon) occurs in Paul four times (Col 2:1; 1 Thess 2:2; 1 Tim 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7) and the cognate verb agonizomai six times (1 Cor 9:25; Col 1:29; 4:12; 1 Tim 4:10; 6:12; 2 Tim 4:7). He uses it to refer to an intense struggle or wrestling, including both inner conflicts and outer pressures as well. The goal of the struggle involves the countless difficulties the apostle endured in the course of promulgating the gospel and maturing the saints (Col 1:28-2:1).

IV. Principles for Application

Though generally speaking we have not suffered in the United States and Canada to the same degree as the Christians at Philippi, the following applications flow from the text:

1. If you are not suffering, what does it mean for you to walk worthy of Christ? Compare Col 1:10-11.

2. How do we respond to people who oppose us or our message? What would it look like for us to stand firm in our faith? (cf. 1 Pet 3:15ff)

3. How committed are you (we) to sharing the gospel and advancing the kingdom of God? When was the last time you shared your faith? These may be difficult questions to face, but they nonetheless must be faced by all of us if we are to faithfully carry out the work the Lord entrusted to us (cf. Matt 28:19-20).

4. Are we willing to undergo stress to help other believers in the faith? Paul was deeply committed to the gospel and those who came to trust in Christ. He agonized over new believers’ growth in the Lord and used all his available energy (which he received from the Lord), to help those Christians. Each of the letters he wrote can in some way be deemed a “follow-up” letter, written in order to bless, direct, encourage, and in short, “to mature,” those Christians. A good place to learn about the process of following-up new believers is in the books of 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Also, see “The ABCs for Christian Growth” on this website. What could you do this week to help another Christian grow in their faith? Surely there is someone God has placed in your life that you could help. Pray for them and then help them in love.


77 Verses 27-30 are one long sentence in the Greek text with politeuesqe as the main verb.

78 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 43, ed. Ralph P. Martin (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 56.

79 But see Fee, Philippians, 163-66; Martin, Philippians, 83.

80 BAGD, s.v. sunaqlew.

81 Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. Ralph P. Martin, vol. 43 (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983), 57. Some commentators argue that Paul is here drawing on the image of a gladiator and so he imagines the Philippians as gladiators in the arena of faith. Other s feel there is more a sense of suffering in the passage. Perhaps both elements are present in a general way. See O’Brien, Philippians, 150-51.

82 Michael Green, 2 Peter and Jude, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, rev. ed., ed. R. V. G. Tasker (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 171-72.

83 The material here is derived largely from the discussion of “faith” (pistis) in BAGD, 662-665. The reader is also encouraged to read Rudolph Bultmann, TDNT, 6:174-228 for an extended discussion of the “faith” word group.

84 See Martin, Philippians, 83.

85 Cf. BAGD, 727.

86 O’Brien, Philippians, 152; Martin, Philippians, rev. ed., 89.

87 W. Harold Ware, “1 Corinthians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 10, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 294.

88 Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 153, who discusses the unlikelihood of Jewish opposition.

89 Homer A. Kent, Jr., “Philippians,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 119.

90 He sarcastically refers to them as “mutilators of the flesh (not peritomh, but katatomh).

91 This is a term, along with others such as apolllumi, olethros, and kolasis, that often refers to eternal suffering in hell (cf. 2 Thess 1:9.

92 Fee, Philippians, 167.

93 O’Brien, Philippians, 153.

94 BAGD, s.v., endeixis.

95 BAGD, s.v., endeixis. Fee, Philippians, 169, fn 55.

96 If there were any understanding on the part of those who opposed the Philippians, it was probably quickly submerged in their conscience so as to avoid the concomitant guilt.

Related Topics: Fellowship, Sanctification