Paul’s Thanksgiving & Prayer for the Philippians. 3 I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, 4 praying always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, 5 because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will complete it at the day of Christ Jesus, 7 as it is right that I should think this way about all of you, because I hold you in my heart, you who are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of understanding, 10 to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
Εὐχαριστῶ τῷ θεῷ μου ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ μνείᾳ ὑμῶν – I give thanks to my God in every remembrance of you
- Paul thanks God – which for him meant not just gratitude in the conventional sense for benefits received. No, much more, he thanks God in his every remembrance of the Philippians! How wonderful. He is grateful to God every time he thinks about the Philippians. How different from the usual reasons people have for thanking God.
πάντοτε ἐν πάσῃ δεήσει μου ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν, μετὰ χαρᾶς τὴν δέησιν ποιούμενος – always in every prayer of mine for you all, with joy making prayer
- Notice the repetitive, alliterative use of various forms of πᾶς: πάσῃ… πάντοτε… πάσῃ… πάντων – equivalent in English to “every remembrance…every time…every prayer…every one of you” (Hellerman, from Reumann).
- Every remembrance of the Philippians and every prayer for them are done with joy. “Joy” is the theme that dominates this epistle, forms of the word occurring about 16 times in this short epistle.
How extraordinary is verse 3, and how it reveals Paul’s heart to us. He thanks God every time he remembers the Philippians; he is constantly at prayer for all of them; and he does it with joy. We all pray for our loved ones and friends. But how often do we do it with joy? How often do we thank God in our remembrance? We thank God when prayers are answered. But do we thank God when we experience the joy of thinking of someone dear to us? We watch Facebook videos of children in our families and we smile. But do we thank God as we watch those videos and smile at them? Most of us don’t pause to thank God. Paul did; even in the mere act of remembering people. We too often think of Paul as harsh, demanding and judgmental. This letter shows us another side of Paul; it shows us the wide open and joyful heart of this great apostle.
ἐπὶ τῇ κοινωνίᾳ ὑμῶν εἰς τὸ εὐαγγέλιον – because of your partnership in the gospel
- The preposition ἐπὶ introduces the reason for Paul’s thanksgiving and his joy. He is grateful and rejoices beause the Philippian Christians have partnered, participated, in Paul’s spread of the gospel. Paul uses the word κοινωνία three times in the letter to the Philippians (1:5, 2:1, 3:10), each instance significant in its own way. Here at the beginning of his letter, Paul does not specify how they have partnered with him in promoting the good news (εὐαγγέλιον), because he doesn’t have to; they know! But it will become clearer later in the letter to us too. Paul presents the gospel of Christ’s saving death and resurrection using a variety of images and formulations across his letters. In Philippians, Paul will surprise us with a powerful presentation of what Christ did for us and for our salvation.
ἀπὸ τῆς πρώτης ἡμέρας ἄχρι τοῦ νῦν – from the first day until now
- The Philippian Christians have shared in Paul’s spread of the gospel faithfully from the beginning, continuously to the present when Paul is writing. Their faithfulness and perseverance are among the reasons that Paul holds them in his heart so dearly and why he thanks God for them – not so much for helping him, but for helping the spread of the gospel. Even when Paul is most self-absorbed, he is always at the service of the gospel. He is consumed by the mission to be the apostle to the gentiles, apostle to the Mediterranean world. His greatest love is for those individuals and communities who have shared his passion for the gospel. His greatest disappointment and criticism were reserved for those individuals or communities (most notably the Galatians) that failed to embrace the gospel fully or departed from it. The gospel is everything for Paul, and in this letter to the Philippians he will go on to say some very bold things to express his passion for Christ and the gospel (for example in 3:8).
πεποιθὼς αὐτὸ τοῦτο – fully convinced of this very thing
- The verb πείθω designates the sense of being persuaded, fully confident in something. Confidence, like joy, is a recurring theme in Philippians. The αὐτὸ τοῦτο combination points forward to what follows in this verse.
ὅτι ὁ ἐναρξάμενος ἐν ὑμῖν ἔργον ἀγαθὸν – that he who began a good work in you
- Though Paul expresses great gratitude for the Philippians and recognizes their constancy and faithfulness from day one, he knows that ultimately it is God who is at work in and among them. He doesn’t name God, but clearly God is implied. He is certainly not referring to himself – even though his work was responsible for the beginning of the Christian faith in Philippi (cf. Acts 16). No, Paul is not the referent here. It is always God who begins a good work.
ἐπιτελέσει ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ – will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus
- And it will be God who will bring it to completion. In Isaiah 55:11, God memorably asserts: “so shall my wordbe that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Note the use of the preposition ἄχρι here, in parallel with the similar use in the previous verse. There the ἄχρι pointed to the present, as it designated the duration of the Philippians’ work for the gospel. Here the ἄχρι points to an indefinite future, “the day of Christ Jesus,” when God will complete the work that God began. The minute Paul shifts the attention from the Philippians to God, the time scale and the frame of reference broaden, expand to an undefined realm. The day of Christ Jesus of course referred to the consummation that will come when Christ appears again (what we call the Second Coming). Did Paul expect the day of Christ to occur in the near future? In some of his letters that is clearly the case. Philippians was written near the end of his life, while he was in a Roman prison, and it is possible that his expectation of that day had receded further into the unknown future.
καθώς ἐστιν δίκαιον ἐμοὶ τοῦτο φρονεῖν ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν – as it is right for me to think this of all of you
- The beginning of verse 7 with the adverb καθώς seems a little strange grammatically. And why does the Nestle-Aland edition of the critical text – the standard for all serious study of the New Testament – capitalize this word? I prefer to see here a continuation of the thanksgiving that started in verse 3; hence I prefer not to capitalize καθώς.
- Addendum: On closer investigation, it is possible that the capital letter was a misprint in the digital version of the Nestle-Aland 28th edition which I have in my Logos library. The raised period at the end of verse 6 is equivalent to a semicolon in English, hence not the end of a sentence. My hard copy of the UBS 5th edition, which is known to be identical to the Nestle-Aland, does not capitalize καθώς. So I’m tempted to think that the capital is either a misprint in the digital version of the Nestle-Aland or some other quirk. When all is said and done, I’m confident in my choice not to capitalize καθώς and to treat it as a continuation of the same sentence that began in verse 3.
- What is the frame of reference for this conditional opening? Most translations avoid the problem by rendering the beginning of this sentence as It is right… But if I am right in questioning whether it is even a new “sentence” in the Greek original, I choose to translate: as it is right… or, proper, justified.
- As it is right for Paul τοῦτο φρονεῖν… What is τοῦτο? Clearly what has come before: the gratitude and joy that Paul feels for the Philippians, and his conviction that God would complete the work that God began among the Philippians.
- The verb φρονέω was of major significance to Paul. He used it 23 times in his letters, and ten of those times were in this letter to Philippians. It is the verb with which he launches the most imporant section of this letter (2:5). It’s a strong word for the act of thinking or pondering, and it couples nicely with the equally strong phrase ἐν ἐπιγνώσει in verse 9.
- Note again the all-inclusive reference to all the Philippians: ὑπὲρ πάντων ὑμῶν.
διὰ τὸ ἔχειν με ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ ὑμᾶς – because I have you in my heart
- In the Bible, the heart does not designate the literal body part. The heart is the center of the human being, the inner self, including: the will, the emotions, the desires, the mind, the intellect, etc.
ἔν τε τοῖς δεσμοῖς μου καὶ ἐν τῇ ἀπολογίᾳ καὶ βεβαιώσει τοῦ εὐαγγελίου – [for] in my chains and in my defense and confirmation of the gospel
- The word δεσμοῖς (chains) is the first reference to Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, from where he writes this letter. This begins a long prepositional phrase that culminates in recognizing their participation in everything that has happened to him: his imprisonment, his defense and confirmation of the gospel.
συγκοινωνούς μου τῆς χάριτος πάντας ὑμᾶς ὄντας – you [being] communicants with me in grace
- In verse 5 Paul recognized the κοινωνία of the Philippians (their fellowship, participation, communion) in his work for the gospel. So here he elevates the thought with this beautiful word, συγκοινωνούς. Not only are they in communion with Paul’s work for the gospel, they are in communion together with Paul in grace! They are communicants with Paul in grace; they share the same grace, the same favor with God, the same saving grace, the same kindness that Paul has received. And not just some of them – but πάντας, all of them! This is an amazing statement. This is how deeply Paul considered his own work of spreading the gospel and how profoundly he saw the Philippians’ sharing in that work. He now has a bond with them that is not just human affection, but is an experience of being in communion together in the grace of God. A magnificent statement of deep Christian fellowship. Where today can such fellowship be found?
- Of course these last two clauses must be translated in reverse order to make sense.
μάρτυς γάρ μου ὁ θεὸς – for God is my witness
- Paul calls on God as his witness – not about external facts, but as a witness to the inner feelings and convictions that Paul has been expressing and will express immediately following:
ὡς ἐπιποθῶ πάντας ὑμᾶς ἐν σπλάγχνοις Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ – that I have great affection for you all in the affections of Christ Jesus
- When the Gospels referred to Christ’s compassion, they invariably used the verb σπλαγχνίζομαι, which comes from the noun σπλάγχνα – literally, the intestines of a person, the guts. When Jesus was moved to compassion it was a gut reaction, as we might say today. In the depths of his being he was moved to action. His love and affections for human beings was in the depths of his being, in his guts. So it’s good to use the word affection(s) twice in this verse, to directly connect the affection of Paul for the Philippians with the affection that Christ himself has for these people. It is with the affections, with the gut love, of Christ that Paul loves the Philippian Christians. A truly marvellous statement of Paul’s heart. In no other epistle does Paul expose his heart as beautifully as he does in this letter.
Καὶ τοῦτο προσεύχομαι, ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ὑμῶν ἔτι μᾶλλον καὶ μᾶλλον περισσεύῃ – And this I pray, that your love may more and more abound
- The word ἀγάπη was rare in classical Greek writers. It was used in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (the so-called Septuagint, LXX) to translate the Hebrew ’hb, and was thus distinguished from the common Greek words eros and philia. It was used for God’s love for his people (as in Deuteronomy 7:8 – it is because the Lord loves you…) and also for the two commandments to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5 – and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might) and the neighbor (Leviticus 19:18 – you shall love your neighbor as yourself). Jesus, of course, famously combined these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).
- Paul does not name an object for the Philippians’ ἀγάπη. Does he have to? If they are co-communicants, συγκοινωνοί, with Paul, Paul is praying that their love, their participation in the gospel, their fellowship in grace, may all abound and overflow; the verb περισσεύῃ indicates overflowing, excessive abundance. The double μᾶλλον further emphasizes the excess: “that your love may more and more excessively abound (or keep growing).”
ἐν ἐπιγνώσει καὶ πάσῃ αἰσθήσει – in full knowledge and every insight
- The preposition ἐν marks the area in which ἀγάπη moves. The ἀγάπη that Paul identifies in the Philippians operates with knowledge and insight. It is focused love.
- The knowledge Paul speaks of here, ἐν ἐπιγνώσει, is a full knowledge, based on direct experience. The ἐπί prefix does signfy a focused knowledge.
- The πάσῃ αἰσθήσει designates every insight and understanding that is necessary for their ἀγάπη to abound.
It is remarkable how extensively Paul describes the operation of love. This is true ἀγάπη, in the fullest New Testament sense. Without any reference to the Gospels, Paul here exhibits a total understanding of Christ’s love and transfers that love to his fellowship with the Philippians, as he and they together work for spreading the message, the good news (the gospel) of Jesus Christ. Love is the only attribute that should define the “slave” of Christ Jesus.
εἰς τὸ δοκιμάζειν ὑμᾶς τὰ διαφέροντα – so that you may discern the things that are superior
- The verb δοκιμάζω signifies the act of examining and judging something as genuine or worthy. The participial verb τὰ διαφέροντα designates things that are different – but different in the sense of superior. So Paul is praying that the Philippians will exercise their love to discern/approve those things that are superior. So the love that Paul describes here is a love that is overflowing in knowledge and insight and is able to judge and approve the things that are superior, the things that really matter!
ἵνα ἦτε εἰλικρινεῖς καὶ ἀπρόσκοποι εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ – so that you may be transparent and blameless
- I owe the translation “transparent” for εἰλικρινεῖς to a friend in Scotland with whom I exchange theological insights. The noun εἰλικρινής is formed from two roots: εἵλη and κρίνω. The feminine noun εἵλη refers to the sun’s heat and light; the verb κρίνω means to decide, to judge or choose one thing over another. So the noun εἰλικρινής came to mean, unmixed, without alloy, pure. The image is of holding something up to the bright light of the sun to confirm that it is without stain or impurity. Thus, we get the commonly spoken idea of bringing something to light. It’s an easy jump to transfer the image to moral purity; hence my friend’s translation as “transparent”. Thus, when we are judged at the day of Christ, εἰς ἡμέραν Χριστοῦ, we may be held up to the light and be found transparent to the light, no spots or stains to block the light of judgment. That is the idea of the word εἰλικρινεῖς in this verse. Shouldn’t our lives always be “transparent”?
- Likewise, the word ἀπρόσκοποι comes from the verb προσκόπτω or the noun προσκοπή, both of which designate the idea of stumbling, causing offense. With the α- prefix, it becomes the idea of not causing offense, not causing others to stumble; or the Philippians themselves not stumbling, not failing in the faith. Both transitive and intransitive senses are possible. In all this, of course, Paul is addressing the community as a whole, as we’ve already seen. Paul throughout has been addressing a community, not individual members – a very important thing for us to remember in an age of individualistic morality and faith.
πεπληρωμένοι καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης τὸν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ – filled with the fruit of the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ
- Throughout the Bible, God looks for fruit, results, of our faith and morality. So here too, after praying for the love, discernment, moral purity and blamelessness of the Philippians, he adds his prayer that they may be filled to the fullest extent, πεπληρωμένοι, with the fruit of righteousness, καρπὸν δικαιοσύνης. “Righteousness” is one translation of δικαιοσύνη. But equally valid is the translation “justice”. But this is too big a topic for discussion here. Righteousness / justice … but it comes from/through Jesus the Christ. He is the means by which we produce fruit worthy of our faith. Jesus himself made this clear in John 15:5 – I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
εἰς δόξαν καὶ ἔπαινον θεοῦ – to the glory and praise of God.
- The fruit of righteousness results in glory and praise of God. Again, in John 15, we hear this from Jesus himself: My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples (verse 8). Some scholars make a big deal of one textual variant, θεου και επαινον εμοι, found in 𝔓46, an important papyrus from around the year 200, thus an early witness to the text of the New Testament. Because it is such an early artifact, scholars are prone to give it extra weight. But it is a lone witness to this textual variant and most translators and scholars prefer the text found in the majority of manuscripts, including all authoritative codices of the Bible. But 𝔓46 is nevertheless earlier than all the codices and all other witnesses to the text. Is it conceivable that Paul would have written “to the glory of God and praise of me”? Within the Greco-Roman world (and the church world of today, sadly enough) public honors and recognition were standard practices. But would Paul fall into those standard practices? Didn’t he just pray that the Philippians pursue τὰ διαφέροντα, the things that matter, that are different, that are superior? The standard text is to be preferred over this intriguing variant in the very important Chester Beatty papyrus, 𝔓46.