THE LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
Lesson 1
Introduction and Chapter 1
Paul's Greeting and Present Circumstances

Holy and Eternal Lord,
You called St. Paul as Your apostle to bring both Jews and Gentiles into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus. He served You with unwavering faith, submitting himself in Your service to many sufferings without complaint. Despite Paul's sufferings and afflictions, he maintained a joyous confidence in Your providence over his life. He considered it an honor to receive beatings and imprisonment for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even to the ultimate sacrifice of his life in martyrdom. St. Paul serves as an example for us in what it means to completely submit one's life into Your hands. Both his victories and his sufferings in the name of Jesus Christ counted in the final tally of his life's successes. May we be so honored by You at the end of our journeys of faith when we stand before Your throne of judgment. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, pray for us! Amen.

+ + +

During the night Paul had a vision. A Macedonian stood before him and implored him with these words, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, we sought passage to Macedonia at once, concluding that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas, making a straight run for Samothrace, and on the next day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, a leading city in that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We spent some time in that city.
Acts 16:9-12

INTRODUCTION

Authorship

The Philippian Christians were St. Paul's first converts to Christianity in Europe (Acts 16:9-40). St. Paul identifies himself as the writer of the letter to the church at Philippi in the first verse of his letter. That St. Paul is the inspired writer of the letter to the Christian community at Philippi has never been seriously denied by Biblical scholars and theologians, except for a few Biblical scholars in the 19th century. The Church Fathers unanimously held the view that Paul was the inspired writer.

Background

By his account, St. Paul was born a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin in the city of Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia. Please consult a map of Asia Minor in the first century BC/AD and locate the Roman Province of Cilicia on the coast of modern southeastern Turkey and its capital city of Tarsus on the Cydnus river about 20 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus received special status as a "free" Roman city by Marc Antony (died 31 BC), and its privileges were confirmed and enlarged by the first Roman emperor, Octavian/Augustus Caesar (ruled 27 BC " 14 AD).

The great apostle to the Gentiles, who we know as St. Paul, was named Saul (Sha'ul in Hebrew) by his parents; it is a Hebrew name meaning "to desire" or "to ask." As a member of the tribe of Benjamin, it is likely that he was named for that tribe's most illustrious member, Saul the first King of Israel (Acts 13:9 and 1 Sam 8:1-5; 9:1-2, 15-17; 10:1a). It was not uncommon for Jews of Paul's time to use two names, their Hebrew name and a Gentile name that facilitated their interaction in the Gentile community. Therefore, Paul probably always used two names: Saul, his Hebrew name, and Paulus, his Latin name that helped to define his Roman citizenship.

Paul's hometown was a Roman provincial capital, and his father was a Roman citizen, and Paul was therefore born a Roman citizen (Acts 22:28). Paul's father was granted citizenship either by providing some important service to the Empire, or he was a freed Roman slave. It was the Roman custom to grant citizenship to emancipated slaves. When St. Paul was in trouble with the Roman authorities, he always used his Roman citizenship to his advantage, as he did when he and his associates were arrests in Philippi (see Acts 16:37-39; also see 22:25-29).

Paul writes that he was an orthodox Jewish Pharisee who was born a citizen of Rome but called from his mother's womb to serve God (Rom 3:5-6). As a youth, he was sent to Jerusalem to study under the great rabbi and Sanhedrin council member Gamaliel. He later served as an officer of this same Jewish law court which condemned both Jesus and St. Stephen to death. It was Saul/Paul's assignment as an officer of the Sanhedrin to hunt down and persecute suspected follows of Jesus of Nazareth. It was a task he pursued with enthusiasm before his conversion experience: Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains (Acts 9:1-2).

Paul must have been one of the brightest young men of his generation to have been chosen to study in Jerusalem with Rabbi Gamaliel, the great Jewish scholar, teacher of the Law of Moses, and member of the Jewish High Court (Acts 22:3 and 5:34-39). Paul probably studied with Gamaliel the customary three or four years and was then appointed an officer of the Jewish High Court, the Sanhedrin. He was serving in this capacity when he witnessed the martyrdom of St. Stephen in circa 37 AD (Acts 7:58-8:1). As an officer of the Sanhedrin, Paul was sent to Damascus, Syria to arrest other Jewish Christians who had fled persecution in Jerusalem.

The turning point in Paul's life was his encounter with the risen Savior on the road to Damascus: On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said, "Who are you, Lord?" The reply came, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:3-5). It is a story repeated three times by Luke in Acts of Apostles (9:1-19; 22:4-16; and 26:1-23).

Paul continually defended his right to be called an apostle, which came about, he writes, through an experience with the living, resurrected Christ. It is this experience that Paul referred to in 1 Corinthians 15:8-10. First, he mentioned others who had seen and spoken with Christ after His resurrection, and then Paul wrote, Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me. Paul zealously defended his right to be called an apostle in his letters to Christian communities, challenging those who might say he doesn't deserve the title "apostle," which means an emissary sent by Christ (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1). However, in his letter to the Philippians, it is not necessary for Paul to defend his apostolic authority since the community at Philippi was united in their loyalty to him.

After his conversion experience, Paul spent three years in retreat in Arabia (Gal 1:17-18) before journeying to Jerusalem where he conferred with Jesus' vicar of the New Covenant Church, St. Peter. After spending about two weeks with Paul, Peter approved Paul's mission to the Gentiles: Only after three years did I go up to Jerusalem to meet Cephas. I stayed fifteen days with him but did not set eyes on any of the rest of the apostles, only James, the Lord's brother (Gal 1:18), referring to St. James the first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem. In his letters, Paul will refer to St. Peter as Cephas, which is the Greek transliteration of Kepha, (pronounced kay-fah), the Aramaic title "Rock" that Jesus gave to Peter in Matthew 16:18. He uses the name Cephas for Peter eight out of ten times in his letters and only twice in the Greek, Petros, or Peter in English.

After receiving St. Peter's approval, with St. Barnabas's patronage, Paul joined the Jerusalem community and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Paul's preaching drew the wrath of the Hellenists (Greek culture Jews) who viewed Paul as a traitor and were determined to kill him, the members of the Jerusalem faith community arranged for his escape from Jerusalem. Paul returned home to Tarsus in Asia Minor to await the Church's call to a ministry (Acts 9:30).

The call would come from St. Barnabas who was sent by the church in Jerusalem to teach the Gospel to the community of Jewish and Gentile converts at Antioch, Syria. It is this community, founded by refugees from the persecution of New Covenant believers in Jerusalem following the death of St. Stephen, that first used the term "Christian" to describe themselves as disciples of Jesus the Redeemer-Messiah (Acts 11:19-26). The evangelical preaching of this community of believers was so successful that the Jerusalem community sent Barnabas to the Antioch church (Acts 11:22). Encouraged by the great harvest of souls for Christ in Antioch, Barnabas sent to Tarsus for Paul to join him in Antioch. This thriving Christian community, which St. Peter would later shepherd for seven years before leaving to found the Church in Rome, would send Paul on three missionary journeys to bring the Gospel of salvation to the Gentiles of Asia Minor and Greece.

It was after Paul was sent out on his first journey that he began using the Latin patrician name Paulus in his missionary work. Like all Jews, even priests and scholars, Paul was taught a trade to be able to support himself. He provided for his basic needs with his skill as a tent-maker or prayer shawl maker (the Hebrew word for prayer shawl "tillit" can also be translated as "tent" (see Acts 18:3) so he did not become a burden to the communities he founded.

Paul zealously dedicated his life to fulfilling Jesus' commission as His Apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16; Gal 2:7-9). He interpreted a dream he had of a Macedonian man calling him to bring the Gospel of Jesus into Greece as the Holy Spirit calling him to take the Gospel farther west into Europe (Acts 16:9). Paul visited the city of Philippi in Macedonia (northern Greece) on his second missionary journey c. 50/51 AD and established a Christian community. His missionary team included Silas, Timothy, and Luke. See the chart of Paul's second missionary journey in the handouts.

The Book of Acts records his adventures in Philippi that include his successes among some Jews the Gentiles, his failures among most of the Jews and other Gentiles, his beating and arrest, and his miraculous release from prison (Acts 16:6-40). He may have visited Philippi again on his third missionary journey (Acts 20:1-3). The community considered Paul to be their spiritual father and kept in touch with him, sending him material help when he needed it and causing Paul to praise them as his partners in the Gospel (Phil 1:5). Later, he may have passed through Philippi on his way from Ephesus to Greece (Acts 20:1-2), and he stopped to visit the community on his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 20:6).

Question: Summarize St. Paul's activities in establishing the Christian community in Philippi in Acts 16:6-40. Who sent him to Philippi and who was his first convert?
Answer: The Holy Spirit sent him to the Macedonian city of Philippi through a dream. His first convert was a Jewish woman named Lydia. She was originally from Thyatira, and she was probably a widow since Scripture only Lydia mentions as the owner of a business selling purple cloth. Paul baptized Lydia and her entire family. Paul and Silas were arrested and put in prison when Paul cast a demon-spirit out of a slave girl who had made money for her owners by fortune-telling from her demon-knowledge. While in prison, Paul converted his prison guard and was released by the city magistrate when they discovered he and Silas were Roman citizens.

Philippi was of historic, commercial, and strategic importance in the region. Situated in northern Greece at the border of eastern Macedonia and Trace, the city rose to prominence when King Philip II of Macedon (the father of Alexander the Great) brought the village under Macedonian domination and renamed it after himself in the 4th-century BC. The Romans conquered Macedonia in the 2nd-century BC, establishing the Roman Province of Macedonia. Over the next century, Philippi served as the provincial capital on the Via Egnatia, the main overland route linking Rome to her territories and provinces in the East. Philippi was a Hellenistic culture city with a large population of former Roman soldiers who settled with their families there when they were granted land in the province after retiring from military service to Rome.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians from prison, probably in Rome, sometime between 61-63 AD, a decade after he founded the community (Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17). It is one of his four "prison letters" that also includes his letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon (Eph 3:1; 6:20; Phil 1:7, 13, 14, 17; Col 4:3, 10; Phlm 1:1, 9, 10, 13). Paul wrote letters to seven Christian communities: Romans, Corinthians (two letters), Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (two letters) and three letters to individuals: Philemon, Timothy (two letters), and Titus. Many scholars, both ancient and modern, also believe the Letter to the Hebrews was Paul's homily to the church in Jerusalem on his last visit and sent out to the churches for a total of fourteen letters. Paul's letters make up approximately one-third of the New Testament.

SUMMARY OF ST. PAUL'S LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS
Biblical Period #12 The Kingdom of the Church
Covenant The New Covenant in Christ Jesus
Focus Reflecting the Life of Christ in word and deed Standing firm in the knowledge and peace of the Lord
Scripture 1:1--------------------2:1---------------------3:1----------------------4:1-----------------4:23
Division Greeting and Paul's present circumstances Appeal to have the mind of Christ Appeal to have knowledge of Christ Appeal to live in the peace of Christ and Paul's farewell
Topic Suffering and submission Belief expressed in behavior
Examples from experience Exhortation
Location Probably from house arrest in Rome
Time Probably sometime between 61-63 AD

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2018

The principal divisions of the Letter to the Philippians:

  1. Paul's greeting and report on his present circumstances (1:1-30)
  2. Paul's appeal to have the mind of Christ (2:1-30)
  3. Paul's appeal to have knowledge of Christ (3:1-21)
  4. Paul's appeal to live in the peace of Christ and his farewell (4:1-23)

The reason for Paul's letter is to express his gratitude to the Philippian church (1:3-11; 2:19-30; 4:10-20) for supporting him spiritually by their prayers and materially during his imprisonment (1:7). It is one of the most personal of St. Paul's letters.

"Joy" is the keyword in Paul's letter to the Philippians and helps to define the theme of his letter. Paul expressed his joy sharing in the life and mission of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in partnership with the Philippian community (1:5). He repeats the noun "joy," chara in Greek, five times in 1:4, 25; 2:2, 29; 4:1. He also uses the verbs "to rejoice" (chairo) eleven times: twice in 1:18; 2:17, 18; 4:4; and once in 2:28; 3:1; 4:10 and "rejoice with" (synchairo) in 4:17 and 18 for a total of eighteen expressions of joy (Interlinear Bible Greek-English, vol. IV, pages 532-540).

Despite Paul's sufferings and afflictions, including his present circumstance as a prisoner, he maintains a joyous confidence in God's providence over his life and the lives of the Philippian Christians. He urges the community to maintain a spirit of unity and humility. He asks them to continually image Christ's life in the kenosis (self-emptying) of His incarnation and crucifixion to bring salvation to humanity. Paul's point is, as Christians, we have a duty to imitate Christ's self-sacrifice in service to His Kingdom by unselfishly sharing Jesus' Gospel to advance the salvation of our families, our communities, and the world.

Chapter 1: Paul's Greeting and Report on his Present Circumstances

Chapter 1 of his letter divides into four parts (1:1-30):

  1. Paul's greeting and prayer of thanksgiving (1:1-11)
  2. Paul's afflictions that promote Christ's Gospel (1:12-18)
  3. Paul's afflictions serve to exalt the Lord (1:19-26)
  4. Paul's exhortation to those suffering afflictions to persevere (1:27-30)

Paul's letter is in response to material support the Philippians sent him through their emissary Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25; 4:18).1

Paul's Greeting and Blessing for the Church at Philippi

Philippians 1:1-2 ~ Paul's Greeting
1 Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers: 2 grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the majority of St. Paul's letters, his greeting follows a standard form with only slight variations. The three basic elements, also found in this letter, are:

  1. Paul's name (along with any co-senders)
  2. The name or identity of the addressee
  3. The personal greeting and blessing in the name of the Lord

Question: Who was Timothy? See Acts 16:1-3; 18:5; 19:22; 20:4; Rom 16:21; 1 Cor 4:17; 16:10-11; 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; 2:19-22; Col 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1; 3:2; 2 Thes 1:1; Phlm 1; 1 Tim 1:2-3; and 2 Tim 1:5, 7.
Answer:

Question: Why does Paul call himself and Timothy "slaves" of Christ Jesus?
Answer: They were committed to serving Jesus Christ as their Lord in the same way a slave was committed to a master.

Question: What is missing from Paul's greeting to the church at Philippi that is present in the greeting of his letters to the Romans, Galatians, Corinthians, Ephesians, and Colossians? Why?
Answer: Paul does not defend his apostolic authority because it isn't necessary. The Christians of Philippi completely accept Paul's authority as their founder and that he represents the authority of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Paul will refer to his "apostleship" in his personal letters to Timothy and Titus (1Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Tit 1:1). He does this not because of any fear they might dispute his authority but because he writes to them concerning spiritual and ministerial matters not simply as a friend but as an official representative of the Church and their superior. His letter to Philemon, however, is entirely a personal letter, and he does not include any mention of his authoritative role as an "apostle" in that greeting (Phlm 1:1).

In this greeting, he refers to the Philippians as "the holy ones" or saints in Christ in Philippi. This is a common designation for the status of those committed to a covenant relationship with the Almighty God (see Ps 34:10; Is 4:3; Dan 7:18), and Paul applies the same term of holiness to the Christian communities and individuals (Rom 1:7; 8:27; 12:13; 15:25, 26, 31; etc.).

Paul also greets their overseers and ministers. These men are the spiritual leaders of the community. At this time the title "overseer" (episkopoi) and "minister" (diakonoi) probably referred to the community's priests or presiding elders and deacons. Later, in the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch will refer to a local church administered by a single bishop and supported by presbyters (priests) and deacons.2

2 grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul gives the community a blessing at the end of his greeting. It is Paul's typical blessing found in all of his letters. The only exception is the Letter to the Hebrews that the Church Fathers attributed to St. Paul and which was probably the written copy of a homily he delivered to the Jewish-Christians of the Jerusalem Church. The only difference in Paul's greetings from a traditional Greek letter is that he does not use the customary Greek greeting chara or chaire, meaning "joy" or "rejoice." Instead, he substitutes the Greek word charis.

Scholars suggest that Paul intentionally substitutes the Greek word charis, meaning "favor," with the distinctive meaning and understanding of the Hebrew word hen, meaning "grace," a gift of God. The New Testament writers used the international language of Greek to write their letters, but all their concepts were from the Hebrew, and so they adapted Greek words to convey the Hebrew into distinctively Christian concepts.3 And then, to the greeting giving the blessing of God's grace, Paul adds the Greek word for "peace," eirene, which reflects the typical Semitic greeting of peace that is shalom (i.e., see 2 Mac 1:1; Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19, 21, 26). It is a greeting repeated by in our priestly greeting at Mass when the priest, repeating the words of Jesus' post-Resurrection greetings (Lk 24:36; Jn 20:19, 21, 26), says "Peace be with you."

In his greeting of grace and peace, Paul gives what Jewish-Christians would have recognized as an echo the ancient priestly blessing for God's holy people Israel in Numbers 6:24-26, May Yahweh bless you and keep you. May Yahweh let his face shine on you and be gracious to you [give you grace]. May Yahweh show you his face and bring you peace (NJB). If Paul does intend to echo the priestly blessing, then this is an ecclesial blessing. In that case, "grace" represents God's covenantal grace revealed in Jesus Christ and "peace" is the deep and abiding peace that comes from the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit. It is a blessing that would have appealed to a mixed congregation of Christian Jews and Gentiles who are one Body in Christ.

Question: Paul's letters are not the only place where this blessing of "grace and peace" appears as a greeting in the New Testament. Where else is the same blessing found in the New Testament? See Rev 1:4.
Answer: It is the greeting Jesus sends to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.

Philippians 1:3-11 ~ Paul's Prayer of Thanksgiving
3  I give thanks to my God at every remembrance of you, 4 I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, 5 because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 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 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 perception, 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.

St. Paul's joy in this Christian community is the main theme of his letter. The very thought of them brings him joy because they have remained faithful to the Gospel from the day he founded their community (verses 4-5). He writes in verse 7 that they are "all partners with me in grace..." This partnership in defense of the Gospel continues through sufferings and victories, and for the first time, Paul mentions his imprisonment.

The location of Paul's imprisonment when he wrote this letter, and therefore, the date of the letter, is uncertain. It is the traditional view that Paul wrote this letter during his first confinement in Rome between 61-63 AD (Acts 28:14-31) since he mentions converts among Caesar's "household." The first imprisonment in Rome fulfilled what the resurrected Christ told Paul when He said it was part of God divine plan for him to go to Rome to preach the Gospel: ...the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage. For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome (Acts 23:11). Since Paul is a Roman citizen, he is afforded a more comfortable confinement than non-Romans. He appears to be under "house-arrest" since he can receive visitors, some of whom are allowed to stay with him (Acts 28:30).4

Paul writes about his imprisonments and sufferings in his second letter to the Corinthians: ...I am still more, with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, far worse beatings, and numerous brushes with death. Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked ... (2 Cor 11:23-25).

A list of some of Paul's imprisonments:

  1. At Philippi (Acts 16:23-24)
  2. Confined in Jerusalem before being sent to Caesarea Maritima (Acts 21:33; 22:24-29; 24:23, 31-35)
  3. At Caesarea Maritima for two years (Acts 24:27)
  4. In Rome for two years (Acts 28:30)

4 I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you ...
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22). Joy is a Christian virtue intimately connected to works of charity (love in action) and derived as a gift of a soul in the grip of divine grace (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 2-2:23.4):

Notice that St. Paul mentions the promised return of Christ twice, in verses 6 ("the day of Christ Jesus") and 11 ("the day of Christ"). It is a future event that should always be on the mind of every Christian.

6 I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
"The Day of Christ" refers to Christ's gloriousreturn or parousia in Greek. See 1:10; 2:16; 3:20-21; 1 Thess 4:16-17; 2 Thess 1:10; 1 Cor 1:18.Paul expresses confidence that the end of the lives of the Philippian Christians will correspond to the beginning of their rebirth in Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism. The graces of their baptism will lead them to the glory of eternal life. Paul is not suggesting that the Philippians can be absolutely assured of their eternal salvation just because they professed faith and submitted to baptism (the false doctrine of eternal security). God began the process of their salvation in the Sacrament of Baptism and will complete the process so long as they cooperate by striving for holiness in word and deed (Heb 12:14) and working toward their salvation (Phil 2:12). It is the same way Paul writes that he continues "being saved" and "to work out his salvation with fear and trembling" (1 Cor 1:18; Phil 2:12, also see 1 Cor 9:24-27, CCC 1996, 2008-10).

8 God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
Paul uses an abbreviated oath-formula to assure the Philippians of his sincere affection for them (also see Rom 1:9 and 1 Thes 2:5). He identifies so completely with his Lord that he says he has the same affection for the Philippian community as Christ. Supernatural love raises human affection to a higher level. Paul's letter is an example of how the two kinds of love, human and divine, are intertwined in the Christian. Pope Lt. Leo XIII taught: "Love of neighbor has to go hand in hand with charity and love of God, for all mankind shares in God's infinite goodness and are made in his image and likeness" (Sapientiae christianae, 51-52).

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, 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.
In verses 9-11, Paul prays that their love will grow with knowledge and discernment. The love Paul prays will increase is not a sentimental emotion but the grace that motivates the unselfish willingness to lay down one's lives for others as Christ did for the world (1 Jn 3:16; Rom 5:8, CCC 1822-26).

10 to discern what is of value...
The origin of the word "discern" is Latin (discernere) and means "to distinguish between, determine, resolve, decide" (Modern Catholic Dictionary, page 111). Discernment is spiritual wisdom that enables the Christian to view events in life in a supernatural light and to, therefore, make decisions based on the will of God for the Christian's life.

Question: When did the Church receive the gift of discernment in spiritual wisdom? See Acts Chapter 2.
Answer: It was a gift the Church received at Pentecost when the first Christian community in Jerusalem was baptized by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

The gift of discernment is why Christians no longer make decisions based on casting lots as was the practice in the Old Covenant Church before the coming of the Holy Spirit (Ex 33:7; 1 Sam 14:41; Acts 1:26). Instead, Christians pray for the will of God according to direction by the Holy Spirit.

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.
This is the second time Paul mentions "the Day of Christ" (see 1:6) Question: What is the "day of Christ"? How is it like the "Day of Yahweh" in the Old Testament? See Mt 25:31-46; 1 Cor 1:7-8; 1 Thes 4:13-18; 2 Thes 1:10 and CCC 1038-41.
Answer: It is the day of Christ's glorious return in glory, and like the "Day of Yahweh" it is a day of divine judgment. Christ will return to judge the earth by rewarding or punishing every thought, word, and deed, and He will gather His Church unto Himself.

In this passage, Paul's prays for the community concerning their growth in charity that is characterized by love in action towards members of the human family. Such works are a supernatural virtue, and therefore, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: "...one needs to ask God to increase it, since God alone can bring that about in us" (Commentary on Philippians). Growth in discerning the will of God for our lives means attaining greater knowledge of God and thereby greater unity with Him. Such an increased unity prepares us in holiness for "the Day of Christ" when He will return in glory to receive His holy Church.

The Progress of the Gospel and Instructions for the Community

Philippians 1:12-18 ~ Paul's Sufferings and Successes Promote the Gospel
12 I want you to know, brothers, that my situation has turned out rather to advance the gospel, 13 so that my imprisonment has become well known in Christ throughout the whole Praetorium and to all the rest, 14 and so that the majority of the brothers, having taken encouragement in the Lord from my imprisonment, dare more than ever to proclaim the word fearlessly. 15 Of course, some preach Christ from envy and rivalry, others from good will. 16 The latter act out of love, aware that I am here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not from pure motives, thinking that they will cause me trouble in my imprisonment. 18 What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice. Indeed I shall continue to rejoice...

Paul's news concerning his imprisonment is that God has turned it into a good. His announcement recalls what he wrote to the Romans several years earlier: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).

13 so that my imprisonment has become well known in Christ throughout the whole Praetorium and to all the rest...
The Praetorian Guard was an assembly of elite Roman troops. The Praetorian formed the personal bodyguard of the Emperor (Caesar's household). However, it was also a term that applied to the Roman guard that protected the Emperor's representative governors in the provinces and imperial cities (see footnote 4 and Phil 4:22). Word has spread to the elite guard that Paul is a prisoner but not a criminal. They have become acquainted with and are sympathetic to his cause. According to 4:22, some have even converted as a result of contact with Paul. Paul may be in chains, but Christ's Gospel of salvation continues to spread unhindered by Paul's circumstances, as he testifies in a letter to Timothy (2 Tim 2:9).

In verses 14-17, Paul writes that other Christian preachers have been encouraged in their preaching because of Paul's success. However, there are also Christian preachers who try to cause Paul more hardship by attempting to undermine his prison ministry, probably out of jealousy of Paul's influence.

18 What difference does it make, as long as in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is being proclaimed? And in that I rejoice. Indeed I shall continue to rejoice...

Paul is generous in writing that all that matters is the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. It is the success of the Gospel message shared far and wide that gives him joy!

Philippians 1:19-26 ~ Paul's Afflictions Exalt the Lord
19 for I know that this will result in deliverance for me through your prayers and support from the Spirit of Jesus Christ. 20 My eager expectation and hope is that I shall not be put to shame in any way, but that with all boldness, now as always, Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me life is Christ, and death is gain. 22 If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose. 23 I am caught between the two. I long to depart this life and be with Christ, [for] that is far better. 24 Yet that I remain [in] the flesh is more necessary for your benefit. 25 And this I know with confidence, that I shall remain and continue in the service of all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that your boasting in Christ Jesus may abound on account of me when I come to you again.

Paul considers that in his current situation that he is in danger of death (1:20-23), but he is not fearful. He professes his belief in eternal salvation, and therefore where some may fear death, he welcomes death as the gateway to eternal life in the company of His Savior.

21 For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Paul believes the commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the key to life and death (verse 21). He is torn, however, between his desire to be united to Christ and his duty to continue to preach the Gospel of salvation in saving souls for Christ and encouraging the faithful like his friends the Philippians (verses 22-24). In 1:25-26, Paul is hopeful that he may be acquitted of the charges against him, and in that case, he intends to visit his friends in Philippi (see 2:24).

Philippians 1:27-30 ~ Paul's Exhortation to Persevere in Steadfastness and Unity in Faith
27 Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear news of you, that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind struggling together for the faith of the gospel, 28 not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. 29 For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him. 30 Yours is the same struggle as you saw in me and now hear about me.

Paul is hopeful and yet unsure if he can visit them again, but if not, it would comfort him to hear of their continuing unity and faith (verse 27).

Question: In his exhortation, what does Paul urge the Philippian Christians to do?
Answer: He urges them to conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ as they:

  1. Persevere in standing firm in the unity of one spirit as the Body of Christ.
  2. Have one mind in proclaiming the doctrinal truth of the Gospel.
  3. Are not intimidated by opponents and detractors.

28 not intimidated in any way by your opponents. This is proof to them of destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God's doing. 29 For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him.
Verses 28 and 29 suggest that the Philippian Christians were experiencing persecution. Their opponents are possible the Roman citizens of Philippi who are loyal to Caesar and against the religious sect that honors another king in Christ Jesus (see 2:11). Paul's point in verse 29 is that even our faith is a gift of divine grace (see Acts 18:27 and Eph 2:8). The opponents of Christ see the suffering of Christians as a sign their destruction, but they are wrong. Suffering for the sake of Christ has redemptive value.

Verse 29 is reminiscent of what Paul wrote to the Romans in 57/58 AD: The Spirit itself * bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, their heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him (Rom 8:16-17, underlining added for emphasis). *In the Greek this word is an indefinite pronoun that can also be translated "himself" as in the RSV Catholic Edition.5

We are purified by our sufferings in dying to self and living for Christ as we become sharers in Christ's work of redemption (see Phil 3:10; 2 Cor 1:5; Col 1:24; 1 Pt 1:6-7). Christians enduring suffering also work to proclaim the Gospel as believers bearing witness to Christ through persecution and even martyrdom (1 Cor 4:9-13; 2 Cor 5:11). St. Paul viewed suffering for Christ as a privilege we should embrace and not simply endure (Rom 8:17). St. Peter shared the same conviction, writing: Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Pt 4:12-14).

30 Yours is the same struggle as you saw in me and now hear about me.
Paul and his beloved Philippian brothers and sisters are united in their struggle to share the Gospel of salvation despite their afflictions. They shared sufferings only brings them closer to each other and to Christ!

Questions for discussion or reflection:
St. Paul writes about the Holy Spirit's gift of discernment. How does a Christian use this gift effectively? See CCC 800, 407, 1780, and 2690.

Endnotes:
1. It is possible that he is the same man as Epaphras, perhaps a shortened form of the name Epaphroditus. Epaphras was a Christian from Colossae mentioned by Paul as a "fellow servant" (Col 1:7) and thought highly of by Paul (Col 1:7; 4:12). Paul credits him with teaching the Colossians (Col 1:7) and with bringing him news of the Colossian's faith (Col 1:4) while he was in prison.

2. St. Ignatius wrote: "You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God's commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid." St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, martyred circa AD 107/110, Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 6:1-8:2.

3. For example, there was no Greek word for the Hebrew word "Messiah," the one "anointed by God." Therefore, Christians used the Greek word christos, meaning "one smeared with oil" for Jesus the "Christos," the Messiah sent by God. They also changed the meaning of the Greek word agape which meant "spiritual love" and gave it the distinctive Christian meaning as the kind of love with which Jesus loves us and commands us to love each other. Agape in the Greek, therefore, came to mean "self-sacrificial love.

4. Other theories of modern scholars propose that Paul wrote his letter from Caesarea, the headquarters of the Roman governor of Judah, in c. 57 or 58 AD (Acts 23:23-26) or Corinth (cf. 2 Cor 11:9), while others favor his temporary incarceration at Ephesus when he was detained because of a riot c. 55 AD (Acts 19:23-20:1). The mention of "Caesar's household/Praetorium (Phil 1:13; 4:22) can also be understood to refer to the imperial guard or government house at Ephesus or Caesarea and not only the Praetorian Camp of the Emperor's guards in Rome. However, Paul's mention of death/martyrdom in the letter suggests he is in Rome. When he was imprisoned at Caesarea, he appealed to the Roman governor for a trial by the Emperor, as was the right of all Roman citizens. The governor granted his request and sent him to Rome (Acts 25:11b-12; 26:31-32).

5. "Itself" is more accurately translated "himself" since the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity is not an "it" but a "He" (see John's references to the Holy Spirit using the pronoun "He" in Jn 1:33; 14:26).

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2018 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
1:3-3 (CCC 2636*)
1:9-11 (CCC 2632*, 2690)
1:21 (CCC 1010, 1698)
1:23 (CCC 1005, 1011, 1021*, 1025*)
1:27 (CCC 1692)