December 5, 2020

Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians – Friends in the Gospel (8)

Carrying the Cross with Christ. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Eight

Note: When passages are quoted at the beginning of new sections, I will be using The Message translation because of its conversational, friendly tone. You can compare this version with others, as well as have access to Gordon Fee’s commentary, at Bible Gateway.

Nothing can frustrate the advance of the gospel more, both in a Christian community’s effectiveness in their witness for Christ and in Christians’ individual lives, than internal unrest among believers. The gospel is all about reconciliation, and unreconciled people do not advertise it well.

• Gordon Fee

• • •


Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance. Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition. Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting. You’re involved in the same kind of struggle you saw me go through, on which you are now getting an updated report in this letter.

Today’s passage begins the “body” of this friendship letter. The focus turns at this point from Paul’s news about himself to words of encouragement and instruction to the Philippian congregation. And, as the quote from Gordon Fee above indicates, the Apostle’s main concern is that the church be unified in their life together as they face the pressures of living for Christ in the midst of a community that didn’t always appreciate their faith and practice.

You will observe the note of “suffering” in this passage, a suffering that Paul describes as “the same kind of struggle you saw me go through.” This may have reference to the troubles Paul and Silas endured on their first visit to Philippi (Acts 16), and/or to his present circumstances in prison that he just informed them about in 1:12-26. At any rate, the Apostle who brought the strange good news of a crucified and risen Lord to Philippi, had also exhibited in his own body that Jesus’ followers are those who take up the cross as well.

In his commentary, Fee points out a key metaphor that Paul uses here to motivate the Philippians to maintain “courage and unity.”

At issue is how the Philippians conduct themselves, meaning live out the gospel in Philippi. Pivotal to the present appeal is that instead of the ordinary Jewish metaphor “to walk [in the ways of the Lord],” Paul uses a political metaphor, which will appear again in 3:20-21. The people of Philippi took due pride in their having been made a Roman colony by Caesar Augustus, which brought the privileges and prestige of Roman citizenship. Paul now urges them to live out their citizenship (conduct yourselves) in a manner—and the sentence begins with these emphatic words—worthy of the gospel of Christ. What is intended by this wordplay is something like “Live in the Roman colony of Philippi as worthy citizens of your heavenly homeland.” That, after all, is precisely the contrast made in 3:17-20, where “our citizenship is in heaven,” in contrast to those whose minds are set on “earthly things.”

The use of this metaphor is a brilliant stroke. Not only does it appeal to their own historic pride as Philippians, but now applied to their present setting, it urges concern both for the mission of the gospel in Philippi and especially for the welfare of the state, meaning in this case that they take seriously their “civic” responsibilities within the believing community. Their being of one mind and heart is at stake; disharmony will lead to their collective ruin.

We can admire Paul’s brilliant way of communicating in terms to which his audience can relate. In essence, Paul is urging people who have been raised to have strong civic pride in their Caesar-blessed city of Roman privilege, to imagine what it would mean to carry that same attitude in their life together as blessed saints in their Lord Jesus Christ’s community of faith and love. Even when it means that others might not appreciate the new community and her new Lord.

In chapter two, Paul will put even more flesh on this overall exhortation, setting before the Philippians real examples of people who were willing to sacrifice their own agendas for the sake of serving their neighbors, suffering that others might have life.

Apparently, God’s plan is that his people will win, but not by winning. “The suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.” Not because suffering is good or to be desired in and of itself. But because God’s only way to life is through death.

• • •

Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. at Flickr. Creative Commons License

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel


  1. senecagriggs says

    My apologies if this is too off topic but I found it this a.m. and thought it fascinating.

    Pew Research has found that, on average, Christian congregants across the world skew about 53% female, 46% male.
    In the U.S., surveys show a split that’s even wider: 61% women to 39% men (the gap occurs in every age category, and is thus not due to the fact that women live longer than men). In sheer numbers, what this means is that on any given Sunday in America, there are 13 million more women than men attending church.
    In a few Christian churches, the ratio of women to men is close to equal; in others it’s a yawning 10 to 1. The gender disparity is greater in smaller, older, rural, and more liberal mainline churches, and lesser in larger, urban, more conservative, and non-denominational churches, but it shows up in every country, amongst Protestants and Catholics alike, and bypasses no denomination (with the possible exception of Eastern and Greek Orthodox); only 2% of Christian congregations in the U.S. do not have a gender gap.
    Men are not only less likely to attend church, they are also less likely to participate in their faith in other ways. According to Pew Research, Christian women are 7% more likely than men to say religion is important to them. And as David Murrow records in his book, Why Men Hate Going to Church, research conducted by George Barna found that women are far more likely to be involved with their church and faith on nearly every level….

  2. It all depends on how those entrusted with this message develop strategies for courage and unity. As a war veteran I have some very personal. and I believe true insight, into courage. And as a church goer for many years I have experienced some different approaches to unity. You don’t get there by control or conformity.
    You can’t control yourself when all hell breaks loose. This is not the method in suffering or situations when others around you are having difficulty due to the stress of the situation. Now trying to control is different than being calm, keeping your voice even, basically using a discipline you have developed, and maintaining even a broader perspective. Earlier in my youth when hovering above treetops and hoisting wounded out , we started taking on rounds from above us( through the roof). We couldn’t leave with a cable down in the trees. My mentor co-pilot, reached over and flipped on our AM radio playing “Happiness is a Warm Gun”. It broke the tension in our crew’s headset and mindset. We knew we couldn’t control that gunfire, but we had courage to do our job no matter what.
    Conformity in so many churches and other groups, speaks for itself. Another military story… basic training I accomplished a perfect PT score, which as previously promised, our old school drill sergeant had to serve me breakfast in bed. So he watched me closely after that in training to get to my true attitudes. And he knew and I knew I really never “got with the program”. There is no take that hill in me. I have to ask the leader….”Why?” And that’s not the military unity way. The old order wanted conformity and I’m not old order. Unity by conformity rubs this guy totally the wrong way. It makes me a done. I was good at war in the long run. Today that doesn’t make me proud. But when I left the military I literally puked. Just rubs me wrong. Don’t try conformity for unity here.
    This all begs for the positive methods for courage and unity to appear. Still looking, praying, projecting for us to be ecumenical…..”that they may be one as ……..”. And that will take leadership that does speak in terms to which people today( and we are not old order) can relate.

    • It sounds like you have a leader’s mentality. That makes it stickier to be a joiner. There are probably still plenty of old order guys out there who are ready to take that hill without asking why but you’re not one of them. Thanks for your stories and your service.

      • And yes I think from the church perspective, which was your main point, a more informed perspective is required for the modern mind but I think the apologists are up to the task. We may search for a deeper meaning to address our ‘whys’ but more penetrating answers seem to be in the air these days as well. I think in particular of God in the Waves and the like. The, loosely speaking, splicing of disciplines like religion and science has made a rational appeal to the modern mind and given fruitful material to the Christian apologist. We don’t just need unity so that we can all sing coomb by Ya, we need it because it’s already in the DNA and we have to get on board with what already is.

  3. Christiane says

    “Nothing can frustrate the advance of the gospel more, both in a Christian community’s effectiveness in their witness for Christ and in Christians’ individual lives, than internal unrest among believers. The gospel is all about reconciliation, and unreconciled people do not advertise it well.”

    • Gordon Fee

    Yes, this!

    recently saw a friend ‘unfriended’ majorly by some people on a blog where she had helped out for a long time . . . . I made some inquiries as to whether or not a reconciliation was possible and I tried offering encouragement, but alas, it was not to be

    I still think it possible that all might have been eventually sorted out, but apparently things had been said that hurt feelings and both parties were each in the middle of their own personal on-going health crises involving a lot of worry and pain to endure. . . . it was not a good situation for these folks, no

    and yet I do believe in those words: “the gospel is all about reconciliation”
    so I will continue to light a candle against the darkness in celebration of the Lord of Light, Who is our reason to believe in all good things to come

  4. Who is ‘the opposition’?

    What does ‘defeat’ mean?