Philippians Chapter 4

Philippians 4:2-23

4:2       The repetition of παρακαλῶ puts emphasis on both of the women mentioned. The infinitive φρονεῖν provides the content of the exhortation, i.e., the indirect discourse. Because the subject of the infinitive is the same as the main verb, it does not need to be repeated. Paul has used the expression φρονεῖν τὸ αὐτὸ (“to think the same (thing, way)”) before (2:2; 3:15 cf. 3:15). Similarly the phrase ἐν κυρίῳ has served to describe the sphere in which their relationship is to be defined and moderated.

4:3       Paul makes a request (ἐρωτῶ – present indicative) of the person he addresses καὶ σέ (you also), but does not name the person. The vocative γνήσιε σύζυγε is the only definer of the person he is addressing. As far as we know σύζυγος was not a proper name; the adjective suggests good character, sincerity. Συλλαμβάνου is the present, middle imperative, second person singular, with the sense of “give aid to, help, assist.” Perhaps Paul here is addressing one of the managers/superintendents or assistants mentioned in 1:1. These two women deserve his help because of their partnership with Paul in the gospel.

The relative clause is marked by αἵτινες which focuses upon the quality or type of person being identified. The verb in the clause συνήθλησάν μοι is aorist active and defines mutual struggle to achieve something, perhaps within military terms of reference. By placing ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ before the verb, he emphasizes this as the context of the struggle. It may refer to the presentation of the gospel per se or the mission that carries forward the gospel message. Paul now mentions others who worked with him and also μετὰ καὶ Κλήμεντος καὶ τῶν λοιπῶν συνεργῶν μου. The repeated καί could mean “both…and.” Note how Paul piles up the words prefixed with the preposition σύν.

The final relative clause ὧν τὰ ὀνόματα ἐν βίβλῷ ζωῆς raises some interesting questions. Undoubtedly it adds an eschatological flavor to the context and the clear sense that however these people might be valued from a human perspective, God certainly has noted them. Structurally this is a nominal clause, without an expressed verb. The verb might be a form of εἶναι or γράφειν. The genitive form of the relative pronoun probably defines its function as a possessive modifier of ὀνόματα, e.g., “the names of whom are in Life’s Book.” The phrase “life’s book” is used also in Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 20:15; 22:19, as well as 1 Enoch 47:3; 90:20. Presumably having one’s name in this book is a sign of divine blessing and participation in God’s future.

4:4       No connecting particle is used here. Paul begins a new series of instructional, imperative statements. The neat structure of this repeated command should not be overlooked – same verb at the beginning and end and two adverbs juxtaposed in the centre. Why this sudden command to “rejoice” (χαίρετε…χαίρετε)? Note the same expression in 3:1 and 4:10. Consider other uses of ἐν κυρίῳ in Philippians (1:14; 2:19, 24, 29; 3:1; 4:1, 24, 10). May define the focus of the rejoicing or the sphere/relationship within which it occurs. What does πάντοτε imply here and how does it shape the command? Is it behavioural, a mindset/attitude, a specific mode of worship?

4:5       The characteristic of ἐπιεικές (generosity, moderation, clemency – that which moderates severity; as a character trait seems to emphasize honesty/virtue and opposition to wickedness) was a mark of Jesus (2 Cor.10:1); it should characterize spiritual leaders (1 Tim. 3:3); it is a general trait of believers (Titus 3:2; James 3:17) and especially it is practiced towards all people. So how specifically should the Philippian Christians act with respect to one another and others beyond the borders of the house church – πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις? Why the aorist passive 3rd person imperative γνωσθήτω? How does this character/attitude reflect awareness that ὁ κύριος ἐγγύς? In what sense “near” – eschatologically, intimately, residentially through the Spirit?

4:6       μεριμνᾶτε – aorist active imperative; same verb used by Jesus in Matthew 6:25-34;1Peter 5:6-7. μηδέν is an accusative of respect, i.e., “have concern for nothing.” ἐν πάντι contrasts with the previous μηδέν. The way to deal with anxiety is to pray, using τῇ προσευχῇ, τῇ δεήσει. How do these terms differ? Perhaps δέησις focuses on supplication, humble pleading (Phil. 1:4, 19). With the supplications, they should also express thanksgiving (μετὰ εὐχαριστίας). The other content of these prayers is defined as τὰ αἰτήματα ὑμῶν (your requests) (Luke 23:24; 1John 5:15). The neuter plural noun as subject takes a singular verb form γνωριζέσθω – “let it (them) be known.” The fronting of the means prior to the subject puts emphasis upon it. God is the one to whom we make these supplications – πρὸς τὸν θεόν. This is the same kind of structure which a person used to describe making a petition to a human authority.

4:7       How should we interpret the initial καί? Is it resumptive with a resultative sense, i.e., “and (as a result of your prayers) the peace of God…,” or should we consider it emphatic, i.e., “the peace of God indeed that…?” ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ may be a genitive of source, in that God is the one who produces and provides this peace. Or perhaps it is subjective, i.e., the God who creates Shalom. The adjectival, present active participle ἡ ὑπερέχουσα has the sense of “surpassing” either in quality, or amount, or authority (cf. Phil. 2:3; 3:8; meaning of authority in Rom. 13:1; 1Peter 2:13). The “surpassing” nature of this peace (shalom) is perhaps not so much that it surpasses all human understanding, but rather that God’s peace surpasses all human attempts to generate and provide security. In the OT God provides “peace” (rest) to his people based upon their covenantal experience.

This peace stands as guardian of a Christian’s heart (centre of being) and thoughts (τὰ νοήματα). The verb φρουρήσει is future active indicative and has a military sense of protective guarding (cf. 1 Peter 1:5). God’s peace is able to bring stability and confidence into one’s whole being and thus influence all aspects of life. How does the phrase ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ work in this context? Does it explicitly modify the two objects, i.e., hearts and thoughts in the sphere of Jesus Christ for the person whose life now belongs to the Messiah? Or is Messiah Jesus in some sense the sphere in which this guarding occurs. Or does Paul intend us to go all the way forward to the beginning of his letter and understand that this peace of God is found “in the Messiah Jesus” (cf. Phil. 1:2)?

4:8       τὸ λοιπόν is an adverbial accusative expression, i.e., a noun structure in the accusative case that idiomatically has an adverbial meaning. It is a set phrase which means “for the rest” and is used when moving to a new concept or nearing the end of a literary work (cf. Phil. 3:1). In this case it probably communicates Paul’s intent to end the letter and so he moves to conclusion.  ὅσα ἐστίν forms a relative clause formation, with the relative pronoun communicating a general idea (whatever things) and the neuter nominative plural form governing a singular verb. Paul offers a series of these clauses and ends this series with two first class conditional clauses. All of these then are taken up in the demonstrative pronoun ταῦτα which functions as the direct object of λογίζεσθε. We end up with a long list of things that Paul desires these Philippian believers to focus their attention upon. So instead of being consumed with anxiety or enmeshed in conflict, believers need to give their attention to more worthy things. In the conditional clauses Paul shifts his attention from meditation on good things to consideration of good people (“if any one is virtuous”).

σεμνά – things that have grandeur, majesty and dignity, often associate with divine elements.

δίκαια – just, right things.

ἁγνα – pure things, suitable for use in God’s service

προσφιλῆ – delightful or lovely things

εὔφημα – commendable, praiseworthy

ἀρετή – virtue, excellence of character, noble

ἔπαινος – something approved as praiseworthy.

The verb λογίζεσθαι occurs numerous times in Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, with the sense of reckon, calculate or ponder (cf. Phil. 3:13). It is a present middle imperative, which may suggest “start or keep on pondering these things” and the middle voice indicates the involvement of the subject in the action in a way that affects the subject.

4:9       Paul gives a second command πράσσετε, a parallel present imperative, which requires action. Again the object of the verb is the demonstrative pronoun ταῦτα, which is defined by a relative clause in which there are four coordinated aorist indicative active verbs, all modified by the concluding prepositional phrase ἐν ἐμοί, referring to Paul. Here again he holds himself out as a model to emulate. These verbs define various ways in which these Christians have interacted with Paul – as teacher, conveyer of tradition, communicator and actor.

Paul adds the promise that as they focus on these good ideas and people (perhaps Paul is one who provided both the ideas and the model). God will be μεθ’ ὑμῶν (sense of accompaniment or presence), even though Paul may not be able to be present because of his imprisonment. God is one who provides peace (v.7). We have ἡ εἰρήνη τοῦ θεοῦ (7) and ὁ θεὸς τῆς εἰρήνης (9).

4:10     Paul shifts into some thoughts regarding his personal situation and how the Philippians have responded to his needs. The δέ is not contrastive, but continuative, even as Paul introduces a new idea (“now”). ἐχάρην is the second aorist passive form, which functions in place of a normal aorist formation – “I rejoiced, was gladdened.” He has encouraged the Philippians to χαίρετε ἐν κυρίῳ (4:4) and now he affirms that he has already had this experience and the Philippians have been the catalyst for it.

The ὅτι clause provides the cause for his gladness. The two adverbs ἤδή, ποτέ are temporal adverbs indicating “already, once more,” but when used together have the sense “at last, finally.” For whatever reason it seems that Paul did not have access to this congregation. The aorist indicative active ἀνεθάλετε usually describes the reviving of plants, blooming afresh as spring has come. Here Paul applies it to the Philippians’ compassionate help extended to Paul once more. The structure τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ φρονεῖν may be analysed in two ways:

  1. An articulated infinitive (τὸ φρονεῖν) modified by an adverbial prepositional phrase (ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ), altogether functioning as the object of the verb, i.e. “to exercise concern on my behalf.”
  2. A prepositional phrase functioning as a substantive (τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ) and serving as the object of φρονείν, with the infinitive providing the purpose for the act of reviving, i.e. “you have revived to give thought for the things about me.”

At the end of the day the semantic difference between the two is minimal. Paul elsewhere in Philippians has used prepositional phrases as substantives (e.g., 2:19 τἀ περὶ ὑμῶν) but usually they are in plural formations. We have noted how frequently Paul has used the verb φρονεῖν in Philippians.

Paul concludes this sentence with a compounding and contrasting relative clause. ἐφ’ ᾦ probably refers back to τὸ ὑπὲρ ἐμοῦ, “the stuff that concerns me.” He used the imperfect tense ἐφρονεῖτε to assure the Philippians that he is not criticizing their delay for they were continuing to have thoughtful concern for him (truly! (καί),  “but (δέ) they were continually given no opportunity” to respond.  ἠκαιρεῖσθε is a form of ἀκαιρεῖσθαι, to have no opportunity.

4:11     Paul moves quickly to assure them that he is in no dire straits. The οὐχ stands for an initial οὐχ ἐστίν, “it is not….” The ὅτι clause functions as the “subject” of the implied verb. The prepositional phrase καθ’ ὑστέρησιν modifies the verb λέγω. The γάρ explains why this is true.

There are two elements related to the verb ἐμαθον. One is the relative clause ἐν οἷς εἰμι and the other is the indirect discourse αὐτάρκης εἶναι, describing what Paul has learned. The adjective αὐτάρκης has connotations of sufficiency, contentment. A common term in Stoic and Cynic philosophies, its usage in gospel contexts suggests a sufficiency rooted in divine confidence, i.e., being ἐν κυρίῳ, which then produces contentment because of one’s trust in God’s mercy, love and justice. Here Paul probably is referencing his imprisonment and uncertain future. How did he “learn” this?

4:12     As a result of his learning, Paul says he has knowledge (οἶδα), repeated for emphasis. The repeated καί probably has a correlative sense “both…and”. The contrast between the two present infinitives ταπεινοῦσθαι…περισσεύειν (humbled…abounding) may suggest a financial contrast, because the normal contrast with “humbled” would be the verb “exalted” (ὑψοῦν). He will expand on the sense of this contrast in the second part of the verse. The infinitives express the content of what he knows.

The second sentence begins with the repeated singular and plural formations ἐν παντὶ καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν, which together cover every circumstance. Μεμύημαι is a perfect tense form probably emphasizing what Paul has come to understand. In 3 Macc 2:30 Ptolemy provides a means for Jews to escape persecution for not offering public sacrifice, presumably to declare loyalty to Ptolemy’s regime, if they will “adopt the practices of those who have been initiated according to the rites (ἐν τοῖς κατὰ τὰς τελετὰς μεμυημένοις).” The verb has sense of being initiated into religious rituals or secret processes (particularly associated with mystery religions). See the comments regarding 1:6. Paul affirms his “initiation” by means of his experience in widely varying situations so that he now understands how “both to be satisfied and to hunger and to abound and to lack.” Again we have a series of present infinitives providing the content of what is understood, i.e., indirect discourse. χορτάζειν is used by Mark to describe the outcome of the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:42; cf. Matthew 5:6). πεινᾶν means to be hungry. For the other pair compare their use in 1Corinthians 8:8.

4:13     The verb ἰσχύειν describes as state, i.e., “I have power, ability, strength.” πάντα is an adverbial accusative, probably with sense “in all these kinds of situations that I have just described.” Paul remains strong in all of these situations, presumably strong with respect to his commitment to Jesus and his mission. He then adds ἐν τῷ ἐνδυναμοῦντι με, explaining (as I would understand it) the sphere within whose authority he is empowered with this strength. In other words, this is not self-sufficiency, but Christ-sufficiency. Commentators draw parallels with the common Pauline phrase ἐν Χριστῷ, or as Paul has been using in this context ἐν κυρίῳ. The participle is a present active participle from the verb ένδυναμοῦν, to cause a person to be empowered or strengthened (cf. Ephesians 6:10 and its use with similar terms for strength, power and authority).

4:14     Paul brings to a conclusion his reflections by commending the Philippians. The conjunction πλήν (cf. 1:18; 3:16) is adversative, with the sense “except that, nevertheless.” The aorist active participle συγκοινωνήσαντες describes the basis for this commendation. They have “had common share in my difficulty” Paul affirms.

4:15     Paul reminds the Philippian Christians of their support of his ministry. The initial οἴδατε rhetorically draws them back into the discourse. The emphatic καὶ ὑμεῖς coupled with the vocative Φιλιππήσιοι, marks them particularly as the subjects being addressed. This is the only occurrence of this gentilic in the NT.

The ὅτι introduces a content clause of indirect discourse. The main verb is ἐκοινώνησεν and it is modified by the temporal ὅτε (when) clause, whose verb is ἐξῆλθον. This main verb is also modified by the exception clause εἰ μὴ ὑμεῖς μόνοι, with an implied verb, presumably a repeated form of κοινωνεῖν. We are not sure what Paul meant by ἐν ἀρχῇ τοῦ εὐαγγελίου. It is a time indicator. This cannot refer to the “beginning of the gospel” which Mark denotes at the begins his Gospel narrative (Mark 1:1). I suspect it relates to Paul mission, i.e., the spread of “good news” particularly in the Greek peninsula. The subject of the verb in the ὅτι clause is οὐδεμία …ἐκκλησία. The negative adjective is separated from the head noun by the dative object μοι. That Paul could identify specific groups of Christians by this term is an interesting statement about the way Messianic assemblies were understood at that time. The verbal phrase ἐκοινώνησεν εἰς λόγον means “share in the matter of.” Compare this usage to Galatians 6:6. It does not necessarily imply financial sharing, but general sharing among friends. The genitives δόσεως καὶ λήμψεως (giving and receiving) frequently do refer to financial transactions.

Paul reflects upon his missional work after he left Philippi and proceeded south towards Thessalonika. This would set this work in the context of his second missionary journey.

4:16     This causal ὅτι clause completes the sentence started in v.15 and gives reason for Paul’s statement about their support for him. The three uses of καί probably differ in that the first is emphatic (“even”) and the last two form a “both…and” construction. For the idiom καὶ ἅπαξ καὶ δὶς see I Thessalonians 2:18. The aorist main verb ἐπέμψατε is a common verb meaning “send.” Presumably human messengers were the transporters. Εἰς τὴν χρείαν explains why they sent these resources, namely “for the need,” and verb is completed by the dative indirect object μοι (cf. Acts 11:29).  Thessalonika was the chief city in Macedonia. So Paul seems to be suggesting that they give constantly during his mission in Macedonia, but especially when he was in Thessalonika.

4:17     Paul seems to continue with an implied λέγω, followed by the indirect discourse marker ὅτι, which also governs the second clause introduced by the contrastive conjunction ἀλλά. The repeated verbs ἐπιζητῶ function as the main verbs of the clauses following ὅτι. Paul was not seeking or asking for a δόμα, “gift.” Rather Paul is seeking continued evidence of their Christian faith, as they support him in the gospel. τὸν πλεονάζοντα functions as an adjectival participle (“increasing”). λόγον in the prepositional phrase has the sense here of “account.” Some financial idiom may lie behind this reference to καρπός and λόγος.

4:18     ἀπέχω may continue the commercial idiom of 4:17 because it means “paid in full” with respect to financial transactions in the papyri. So it could mean “I have received everything and I have abundance,” due to their generosity. Paul then defines more specifically what these gifts include. Πεπλήρωμαι is the first person perfect middle or passive form, “I stand full/fulfilled.” The aorist participle δεξάμενος could be causal (“because I received…”) or circumstantial (“having received…”). Epaphroditus, mentioned at the end of chapter 2, is the messenger who brought some of these gifts to Paul’s aid. τὰ παρ’ ὑμῶν is the object of the participle, designating “things from you,” another substantivizing use of the article with a prepositional phrase. These then are defined in three subsequent expressions:

ὀσμὴν εὐωδίας  – head noun is ὀσμή = fragrance; εὐωδία = aroma. This expression occurs frequently in the Greek OT to describe offerings acceptable to Yahweh (cf. Exodus 29:18. [note the similarity to the personal name in 4:2 Euodia]. Cf. Eph. 5:2.

θυσίαν δεκτήν   – “a received offering/sacrifice” Cf. Lev. 1:9,13,17.

εὐάρεστον τῷ θεῷ – probably modifies θυσίαν and means “well-pleasing to God”  Cf. Romans 12:1-2.

Why does Paul use this sacrificial language to describe the actions of the Philippian Christians on his behalf?

4:19      Paul turns the tables now and gives a promise to the Philippian Christians. He assures

them that ὁ θεός μου πληρώσει πᾶσαν χρείαν ὑμῶν. Why does he personalize this reference to God? Πληρόω is the third different verb Paul has used in these verses to describe “make full” and here it is future indicative. The object is inclusive of every need and Paul used that noun in 2:25 to describe his needs. The basis of this divine action is in full accord with (κατά) “God’s wealth” which is ἐν δόξῃ. Is this a reference to the place where this wealth exists or does it means something else? ἐν Χριστῷ  Ἰησοῦ perhaps indicates how the Philippians are connected now to God’s wealth, but also that God’s wealth is located in Messiah Jesus.

4:20     This doxology follows the normal syntax where the dative of possession identifies the one to whom the glory rightfully is due, namely God. Paul identifies him as “our God and father,” with the father motif perhaps underscoring God’s desire and ability to provide for the needs of those who follow Jesus. Paul emphasizes the extent of this glory in the phrase εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων, “to the ages of the ages,” i.e., eternally.

4:21     The final salutation contains the common injunction ἀσπάσασθε, aorist imperative. Paul picks up the language with which he began, by identifying every Christian as πάντα ἅγιον ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ (cf. 1:1). Paul shares greetings from “the brothers with me,” probably indicating that he is the major composer of this letter. He had named Timothy in 1:1. If Paul is in Rome, then this might include some members of the Roman church. Paul then expands the greeting to include πάντες οἱ ἅγιοι. Again the emphasis upon this term ἅγιος should be noted. Perhaps this status is what enables believers to offer acceptable sacrifices to God. He notes “especially” greetings from οἱ ἐκ τῆς Καίσαρος οἰκίας. Exactly who this refers to is not known. This would include soldiers, civil servants, and slaves who supported the emperor’s governance.

4:23     Paul refers to the full title of Jesus – κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός (cf. 1:2; 2:10). What does Paul mean by μετὰ τοῦ πνεύματος ὑμῶν? Why the singular (cf. Gal. 6:17; Phl 23)? Is this a reference to the Holy Spirit or their human spirit?