« ZurückWeiter »
IV. State of the church to which the epistle was originally addressed. This church consisted of Gentile and Jewish christians, chiefly the former. The members generally seem not to have been in affluent circumstances. This may be inferred from 2 Cor. viii. 1, 2: “We do you to wit of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia; how that, in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.’ Hence the presents sent to the apostle exhibited no small affection on their part towards him. This christian people contributed to the relief of his necessities out of their poverty; and the apostle knew how to estimate the sacrifice. That they were not numerous may be gathered from the extent of the place. If Philippi be the smallest city to which Paul addressed any of his letters, the christians belonging to it could not be many. There is no evidence that the church was large and externally flourishing. Many have supposed that this church was divided into parties or factions, arising from the efforts of false teachers who insisted on the necessity of observing the ceremonial law, especially of practising circumcision. Although the community had continued on the whole stedfast to the truth, it was not free from divisions. Judaising christians had insinuated themselves into it, giving rise to disunion, and awakening the apostle's solicitude. According to Eichhorn and Rheinwald, there were two parties in the church, a Jewish-christian and a Gentilechristian. Bertholdt conceives that teachers of a Sadducean tendency had appeared among the Philippians. Michaelis conjectures that Euodias and Syntyche, who were at variance, had occasioned a schism among the other members. The passages supposed to imply the existence of parties are chap. iii. 1–8, 18, 19. The following admonitions are also regarded as inti. mating the same condition,-rè adri ogovärs, ii. 2; iv. 2; rà èv £govely, ii. 2; wig Jux; a uvaoxov, i. 27; a subuxos, ii. 2; comp. ii. 3, 4, 12, 14; iv. 5; iii. 2, &c. Such a foundation is insufficient to support the hypothesis built upon it. These passages do not imply the existence of parties in the community. That there were Jews at Philippi is clear from the xvi. chapter of the Acts; for though they had no synagogue, they had a proseucha; that there were also Judaising teachers may be assumed; but that the latter had made any impression on the members of the church, or that they had undermined the authority and doctrines of the apostle in the church's esteem, is a position that cannot be established. Because the Philippians were enjoined to beware of dogs, i.e. false teachers of a Judaising tendency, it
does not follow that they had been already seduced by such persons, or even that they had lent a favourable ear to their insinuations. Probably these evil men had made attempts upon some of the brethren; but the latter were too firmly established in the faith to surrender themselves an easy prey to the corrupters of truth. Paul knew that they were in danger. He had often warned them. ‘To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe,’ (iii. 1). Yet he does not state, either plainly, or by implication, that the Philippians had so far forgotten the essential principles of christianity as to submit to the legal observances of the ancient economy, or to range themselves into factions distinguished by opposite sentiments. He writes, indeed : “For many walk of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ;' but this lauguage does not indicate teachers of the gospel who had insinuated themselves into the Philippian church. Men whose lives were so immoral—whose minds were so much addicted to earthly pursuits, could scarcely have been mistaken by the spirituallyminded believers; although their real character may have been concealed, and their true motives carefully covered. While, therefore, we believe, that there were at Philippi many Jews who made a profession of christianity in order to promote their own selfish ends, expecting to make a gain of godliness and turning away the simple from the faith, there is no good cause for supposing, that these Judaising teachers had gained a decided advantage over any; or that they stood in intimate connexion with the church. Nothing more can be assumed with propriety than that they had attempted to instil their doctrines into the minds of the members, in order that the Gentile christians might submit to circumcision. Philippi was the habitation of these errorists; but their doctrines had not yet found a welcome response in the bosom of the church. The propriety of the exhortations to which allusion has been made, will be more apparent if it be remembered, not only that similar admonitions are applicable to the purest church, but that the Philippians were then exposed to temptations, which would naturally produce dissension. The great object of the Judaisers was to mar the peace, by destroying the purity of the church. The tendency of their doctrine was divisive. Hence we find, that wherever they had been successful in insinuating their peculiar tenets into the minds of various members, dissatisfaction arose in others, and parties formed themselves around different teachers. It was therefore highly pertinent to admonish the Philippians to be of one mind—to be of the same sentiments in religion—to strive together in one harmonious body, united by a similarity of feeling—to be perfectly unanimous, and to aim at an increase of their mutual love. As long as they were thus united in heart and soul for the gospel's sake, they were secure against the influence of those temptations. A reception of the pernicious doctrines taught by the errorists, would produce mutual disaffection and estrangement; while differences of sentiment, and want of unanimity in feeling, would tend to render them an easy prey to the enemies who endeav. oured to seduce them.
In connexion with this topic, it is necessary to allude to the sufferings to which the christians of Philippi were exposed. 'In nothing terrified by your adversaries : which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake : having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me,' (i. 28–30.) It cannot be denied, that these words imply persecution, in some form or other. Credner refers verse 30 merely to the statement which Paul makes in regard to his inward struggle, (verse 23, &c.), and is inclined to disbelieve the fact that the Philippians were exposed to persecutions. But the 30th verse is so closely connected with the preceding, that it cannot be referred, at least exclusively, to the inward struggle in the apostle's bosom. The whole passage clearly shows, that the christians at Philippi were surrounded by formidable foes, by whom the apostle exhorts them not to be terrified; and that thus they were called to suffer for Christ. It is probable that the Judaisers, elsewhere characterised as the enemies of the cross of Christ, belonged to these adversaries; although it seems unreasonable to restrict the expression to them alone. We take it in its widest sense as including, along with Judaisers, all the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles with whom the Philippian believers came into contact. They had endured the same conflict which Paul had formerly sustained on account of his having expelled the demon from the divining damsel, when he was scourged and put in prison. They underwent afflictions similar to those which, as they heard in the present letter and from various individuals, Paul then endured from the combined opposition of Jews, Judaising teachers, and heathen magistrates. In what particular ways these causes operated to disturb and vex the Philippian believers we need not stop to inquire. The malignancy of Satan worked in various channels and with different instruments. It is no rash assumption, that he instigated these classes to do their utmost against the religion of Christ and its adherents. Heathen power and Jewish influence, in connexion with the selfishness of the human heart, were directed against christianity and its votaries. But the Philippians evinced fortitude and endurance in resisting the yoke of the Mosaic law which their adversaries endeavoured to impose upon them; as also, in refusing to have any connexion with the heathen worship. They were not terrified by threats, or by the number and power of their adversaries; but stedfastly adhered to the apostolic doctrine, so that their firm resistance might serve as a prelude and a demonstration of the destruction of their foes, while it was an evidence of their own salvation. From the preceding remarks it will be seen, that we do not admit the existence of divisions in the church at Philippi arising from the efforts of false teachers; although Eichhorn, Storr, Flatt, Rheinwald, and others, entertain such a view. Neither is there satisfactory evidence in the epistle that doctrinal errors had obtained currency among the believers. On the contrary, the members of the church seem to have stood firm against the assaults of persecution, and the temptatious arising from doctrinal corruption. The apostle does not censure them for having apostatised from the purity of the gospel; nor does he accuse them of vicious conduct. The letter contains commendations and encouragements, not reprehensions or reproofs. It presents exhortations to perseverance in the course on which they had entered, and various cautions as well against dangerous teachers as against particular states of mind. The opinion entertained of his readers by the apostle is concentrated in one verse: ‘Therefore, my brethren, dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.' (iv. 1.) With Calvin, we refer the particle so in this passage to their state, not to the preceding affirmations of the apostle himself. It has been conjectured by De Wette, Credner, and others, that spiritual pride was an ingredient in the Philippian character. In proof of this assumption, reference has been made to chaps. i. 12—ii. 16; iii. 15, 16; iv. 2. But it is not easy to see how the last part of the first chapter is appropriate, since it relates to Paul himself, and the conduct of two classes of preachers at Rome. The only legitimate conclusion to be drawn from the passages just quoted is, that there was a tendency in the Philippian character to vain-glory and high-mindedness. Into such a frame of mind they were in greater danger of falling than any other. Their besetting sins were just the qualities mentioned. Hence the apostle cautions them in regard to such propensities. It is easy to see how a high degree of spiritual advancement may coexist with a near approach to mental states incompatible with the true christian character. The very condition in which the christians at Philippi were, when the apostle addressed them — a condition of great promise and progress, would be more liable to beget pride within them, based upon remaining corruption, than a low and languishing piety. Such is the weakness of humanity, that the highest spirituality stands near the verge of pride, superciliousness, and vain-glory. It has been thought by Credner, that the natural
It has been there are no Credinom hot the worum character of the Philippian people was strongly tinctured with vanity and self-conceit, as manifested in their claiming from the Romans for their city the empty title apútn nós. The same qualities, as he supposes, reappeared within the church in the form of spiritual pride. Perhaps there may be some truth in this conjecture, although it is impossible to arrive at any definite knowledge upon the point. One thing is certain, that such high-mindedness would prevent the full development of chris. tian unity, and prepare the way for the entrance of Jewish corruptions. Yet the actual existence of spiritual pride, vain-glory, and strife in the bosom of the Philippian community, cannot be proved. We can only affirm, that the believers appeared to the apostle to require especial warning against such unseemly phases of character.
V. Some peculiarities in the exordium and conclusion of the epistle.
It is contrary to Paul's usual method to specify bishops and deacons in the general salutation. The reason why he mentions them particularly in this letter is not obvious. Theophylact supposes, that the bishops are saluted separately from the members of the church because, in conjunction with the brethren, they had exhibited their zeal towards the apostle in sending Epaphroditus with the contribution. The Philippians alone had thus ministered to Paul's necessities. This supposition has been generally adopted as probable. It will be observed, that the members are first mentioned: "To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. This precedence is contrary to modern ideas, and would doubtless be censured as unseemly, were it not stamped with infallible authority. The majority of the clergy in these days suppose that the people are a kind of appendage to themselves. This idea is particularly liable to rest in the minds of those who have been elevated to episcopal dignity. Yet an apostle mentions all the saints first : the bishops and deacons come after. Here there is nothing to feed the vanity of the human mind. . It will be also observed, that allusion is made to several bishops. Presbyters or elders are not mentioned. Hence it has been rightly inferred, that presbyter and bishop were synonymous terms in the apostolic age. The same conclusion is demonstrable from other passages. There was no distinction
ticularly liaba kind of the clerg here is saints first to episcopalto rest in the dage
apostolic apresbyter anationed.