Paul and Timothy, slaves of Messiah Jesus, to the holy ones in Messiah Jesus at Philippi including the overseers and helpers –
Kindness to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Messiah.
I give thanks to God whenever you come to mind; and whenever I pray for you all, I make my requests with joy, because of your partnership in the joyful message from the first day until now.
I’m confident that the One who began a good work among you will continue to perfect it until the day of Messiah Jesus.
It’s right for me to feel this way for you all, because I hold you in my heart, whether I am in prison or engaged in the defense and strengthening of the joyful message, for God is my witness how I yearn for you all in the guts of Messiah Jesus.
And this is my prayer: that your love may keep on growing in knowledge and good judgement, learning by experience what is genuinely worthwhile, so that you may be transparent and spotless in Messiah’s day, filled with the fruit of the justice which comes from Jesus Messiah, to God’s glory and praise.
Today I begin a new series of blogs, in which I will translate and comment on the Letter to Philippians.
This affectionate letter was the first of Paul’s correspondence that I read in Greek more than fifty years ago in my degree course at Trinity College Glasgow, under the instruction of Professor William Barclay. I remain grateful to his meticulous scholarship and even more to his enthusiasm for communicating a biblical gospel.
Paul was under house arrest in Ephesos when a messenger, Epaphroditus, arrived from Philippi bringing him news of the believers there along with a gift of money to assist his mission. This letter doubtless went back with the messenger.
The mutual affection of Paul and his Philippian converts is very obvious in this introductory section.
“Kindness and peace” from God is one of Paul’s frequent greetings. I have translated kindness’ rather than the more usual grace because the latter has become a technical theological term and gives a wrong impression of Paul’s blessing. I have for some time translated Greek Xristos as Messiah rather than Christ, because I think it had that meaning for Paul.
Paul often details his thanks and prayers in the intro to a letter; here he emphasises the joy he feels because of the koinonia = partnership of the Pnilippians. This secular word came to mean any common enterprise, in social or business affairs. It is a key term in Paul’s vocabulary designating one of the elements which take over from the racial ties which bound the people of Israel to each other. The new people of God are for Paul a shared life and a shared enterprise. In this case, the Philippians have responded to the ‘joyful message’ ( from Isaiah 40 ‘glad tidings’) speedily and continuously, recognising the international nature of the Assembly of Jesus by supporting Paul even when he was working at a distance from them.
The Philippians may have seen Paul as the initiator of their assembly, but he emphasises that it is a creation of God, which like the rest of creation is on the way to perfection. The day(s) of Messiah is a shorthand expression for Paul’s belief that in the midst of decay God is bringing to birth his children who lead the cosmos into the freedom which God has planned for it. The perfection of the good work in Philippi is part of this universal fulfillment.
Paul vividly expresses his affection for his readers by assuring them that even in the midst of his work as an emissary of Jesus, he holds them in his heart. Then he takes a step further and inhabits the very guts ( the seat of emotion) of Jesus himself! Most translations give the reader the supposed emotion involved, compassion, deep yearning etc. but I’ve tried to give the nearest English equivalent of the Greek which means bowels. Paul imagines the risen Jesus as possessing the bodily organs necessary for strong emotion.
Paul’s prayer for his converts is shrewd, that their love should not be static but grow in knowledge of people and events, which will improve their capacity to judge, especially to judge what behaviours are of genuine value. The result of this will be that their lives will be transparent ( the Greek means “seen in sunlight”) and spotless (the Greek means “without offence”) when human lives are exposed to God’s judgement.
This letter would have been read aloud to the Philippian Assembly. The opening section would surely have encouraged them to hear more.