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The Context and Historical Background

This passage is a hymn in use by the early church as it developed ideas based upon their concept of the Christ, a hymn that would perhaps be familiar to his audience, the church newly established by him at Philippi, a Roman colony. Paul had reached Philippi on his travels. There was a place of prayer close to the river. This is recorded in Acts 16 The result of his teaching was the establishment of a new church, the first in Europe, was established in about C. E. 50 -51. C.

Biggs traces the characteristics of Luke’s Gospel as meeting the needs of the Philippians, according to the later commentary by H. Herklots who describes the epistle as reading like a personal letter In Chapter 4 v 15 and 16, we see how generous this new church was. In his introduction to this passage Herklots says that the whole of Philippians reads like a personal letter. Controversies Most scholars would agree that it was written from Rome, but there are other views. Metzer and Coogan include three cities, Ephesus, Corinth and Caesarea, as also being contenders.

Wherever place it was Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner there . The letter as a whole. ‘Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’. This bitinarianism i. e. with no mention of the Holy Spirit, of early Christianity has been described by Larry Hurtado He tells the Philippians how, despite the fact of his imprisonment, the gospel continues to grow. In Philippians 1: 19-26 he states that he will at some point return to them.

In Chapter 1: 28, despite persecution he seems certain that they will persevere. Chapter 2 v 5, where he urges them to take Christ as their example, is at the heart of Paul’s message . He wants what is best for them and believes this is the way to achieve it. He promises later in the same chapter to send help in the persons of Timothy and Epaphroditus in order that they might encourage them. Chapter 3, very different in subject matter, warns against those, within and without the church, who would teach anything contrary to the gospel.

The letter closes with a final appeal for unity in the gospel and with thanks to the Philippians for their gifts.. Despite his personal circumstances at the time of writing the letter as a whole carries a very positive message. According to Polycarp, himself a first century Christian, the letter was one of several Paul wrote to his beloved church. Paul felt that believers all belonged to one family and so the letter or letters are addressed to his brothers and sisters.

Often he addresses himself in his letters to particular individuals or groups, but this is for the whole body of believers. The church members had apparently previously written to Paul, in a letter no longer known ,expressing their concern about the condition of Epaphroditus, but also reported quarrels and ill discipline within the fellowship church members as well as the fact that local Jews were trying to win back converts. So this letter is part of an ongoing conversation between Paul and the Philippian church. There were problems, but these are nothing as compared to life in Christ.

Throughout his life as a Christian, including his words in this letter, Paul was consistent in maintaining that in whatever circumstances they found themselves Christians must remain true to the good news of Jesus Christ. This is one of several ‘prison epistles, the others being Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon, and the view of most scholars is that all the prison epistles were written while Paul was held prisoner in Rome, but wherever it was it there was some sort of official imperial residence where certain members of Caesar’s household were present.

But whichever place it was the letter originated some time before the gospels as we have them were in circulation Another point on which scholars are not all agreed is as to whether the epistle as we now read it is made up of one letter or is part of several written on different occasions.. Peter O’Brien quotes D. E. Garland who claimed that in the view of some scholars that not only does the epistle contain parts of more than one missive, but that they also out of their original order. The reason they think so is mainly the awkward change in tone at the beginning of the third chapter.

3:2 seems to suddenly jump, to a denunciation of ‘the dogs etc. ’ Chapter 4 :4 on the other hand seems to follows 2 :30 more naturally. It is possible that part of another letter has been inserted at this point. D. F. Watson is quoted by O’Brien as believing that the shift in tone was used in the rhetoric of the day as a means of gaining attention. and according to him does not therefore necessarily indicate either break or the insertion of text. There is disagreement as to whether there were originally two or three letters. A. M. Parrent believes the breaks are possibly as follows:-

In a 2 letter theory – firstly 3:1b – 4:20 and then1:1 -3:1a and 4 :21-23. In a 3 letter theory – letter one, 4:10-20, (b) 1:1 – 3:1a, 4:4-7, letter two 4 :21-23 (c) 31b-4:3 and letter three 4:8,9. This may seem rather strange to modern thinkers, but it is perhaps akin to producing an anthology. This was long before the days of printing and the original letter, passed among many readers, may well have deteriorated in condition and even lost sections as it progressed from one reader to another. Verse by verse analysis 2:5 Paul is a man of action – action based upon belief.

Action for Christians must be based upon faith in Christ. Living as Christ would have them do so is the ultimate Christian action. 2:6. The beginning of the hymn. It is known that the early church regularly sang such hymns. Hawthorne comments that because this passage is in the form of a hymn that it should be understood as a whole , rather than as individual words . ‘Being in the form of God. ’ J. C. du Buisson claims that though this word implies pre-existence it does not necessarily state eternal existence. This is possibly an example of Gnostic ideas creeping in, but not necessarily so, it may just be a matter of syntax.

Hawthorne says that the use of ‘who’ as the initial pronoun links the historical Jesus with the pre-existing Christ. He also, in his translation of the passage, uses ‘Precisely because he was in the form of God’ and goes on in verse 7 to say ‘being born in the likeness of human beings. ’ This would fit, according to some, more with Gnostic ideas than standard Christian ones. The Gnostics, whose beliefs were already circulating, stated that Christ had only ‘assumed ‘ human form and that his ‘death’ was only a deception designed to fool evil forces. He didn’t cling on to the glory of heaven, but voluntarily gave it up for the sake of mankind.

2:7 This emptying himself, technically called ‘kenosis’ by theologians, means that Jesus took on the limitations of humanity as a voluntary act. John Burnaby comments, in his book about the Nicene Creed, that we cannot tell when this idea of the pre-existence of Christ came about, but it is obvious from this passage that it was present at a very early stage. Enoch 48 v 6, speaks of a pre-existent Christ. Collange, quoted by Hawthorne, spoke of giving up deity, omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence, while retaining the ‘essential attributes’ of holiness, love and righteousness.

Peter O’Brien in his ‘Commentary on Philippians’ has a slightly different idea and quotes F. F. Bruce:-The implication ….. is that he manifested the form of God in the form of a slave. 2:8 A coalescence of the resurrection and the ascension. However in the gospels, there is recorded a definite pause between the two e. g. Christ tells Mary Magdalene in John 20 v 17 ‘I have not yet ascended to the Father’. We have the words ‘being found in human form’ closely linked with the idea of conquering death. 2:9. We are given in this passage the reason for God’s exaltation of Christ – because he lowered himself he is raised on high.

This emphasis on him having descended from glory and then returning is not present in the Acts 1 account of the ascension. This was just Jesus the man, even if a very special one, whom they saw ascending. In this verse we are told that Christ has been given a name that is above all other names, but we have to wait for verse 11 to be told what that name is. 2:10 There is mention of beings in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. This fits in which Jewish ideas of a three fold division of the universe These are not just spiritual beings for ‘every knee shall bow’.

O’Brien makes the comment that ‘some will do it gladly; others because they cannot resist. ’ What Paul is trying to convey is the universality of the obeisance that there will be. 2:11The hymn has built up from a position of humility to the highest of heights. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel we have the words of the Risen Jesus ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’. It is because of this authority that he is able to command them to go and make disciples. He has authority and therefore he is Lord as described in Philippians 2 v 11.

’Confess’ a word that Paul uses on several occasions. Perhaps the most well known passage is Romans 10:9 ‘That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. ’ This idea of all giving glory to God parallels Romans 14 v 11 where Paul is quoting from Isaiah 45 v 23, a passage that refers to the God of the Old Testament, so once again we have the idea that Christ and God are one and the same. Application Outline Universal, Everlasting, Consistent,Logical

The message of this passage is Universal i. e. it applies to every member of the church. Not just the young, the old, the new, the long term member – all are included The message is Everlasting i. e. for all time. It applies just as much to Christians today and in the future as it did to those in first century Philippi and throughout history The message is Consistent . From the beginning of the Bible to the end . Genesis 1 v 27, ‘So God made man in his own image’ In Philippians 2 v 5 ‘The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had.

’ We have no excuse to aim at anything less. The message is Logical Christ cared enough to do all this for us. John 3 v 16,’God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. ’ The logical response to such love is to live our lives as he would want us to i. e. thinking ‘What would Christ do? ’ What would he want me to do? ’ in whatever situation we find ourselves. Paul did this – whether in jail or free, persecuted or hailed – it made no difference to his promotion of the good news of Jesus Christ.

We may live in a very different world to those Christians of long ago, but that makes no difference – this command is for us, its for our day, and it is because of our love for the God who first loved us. References Bible, New International Version, Hodder and Stoughton, Toronto 1988 Bruce ,F. F. Bruce,F. F. , “St Paul in Macedonia: 3. The Philippian Correspondence,” Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 63. 2 (Spring 1981): 260-284.. Burnaby,J.. the Belief of Christendom, N. S. and S. P. C. K. , London 1959 Du Buisson, J. C. Philippians, A New Commentary of Holy Scripture, page 553, S.

P. C. K. London 1955 Good News Bible, United Bible Society, Fontana, New York, 1976 Hawthorne, P. Philippians, Word Bible Commentary, Word Books, Texas, 1993 Hurtado, L. At the Origins of Christian Worship, Paternoster Press, Cumbria 1999 Metzger, B and Coogan M. (editors) The Oxford Companion to the Bible, Oxford University Press, New York 1993 O’Brien, P. Commentary on Philippians, New International Greek Testament Commentary, Eerdmans, Michigan, 20005 Electronic Sources Parrent, A. M. Philippians , http://www. vts. edu/ftpimages/95/download/download_group10628_id314982. pdf viewed 31st March 2009

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