Philippians 1:27-30, Paul’s Thesis Statement

Tonight we will be completing our discussion of Philippians 1. Paul concludes his introduction by describing his present circumstances. vv. 12-26. Paul follows this description of his life with a brief discussion of what the public life of a Christian looks like. vv.27-30. These four final verses are the beginning of the substantive discussion of Paul’s letter and serve as Paul’s thesis statement that his audience must live a life worthy of the Gospel.

Citizenship: (v.27a)

As we looked in our discussion of Paul’s salutation, one of the overarching idioms that Paul uses in this letter is where our true citizenship lies. See, Phil. 3:20. For Romans, citizenship was not merely a collection of rights that only a small elite percentage of the population possessed (about 3% in Greece), rather citizenship was also about cultivating and practicing civic virtues. Citizens not only had rights but also had obligations to conduct themselves appropriately to their social status. (The “pursuit of happiness” of which Thomas Jefferson writes, is better translated as the “exercise of virtue”.) It is these Christian virtues that Paul calls his audience to and which Paul will spend the remainder of his letter expanding upon.

Paul begins his thesis statement by writing “Only live as citizens worthy of the good news of Christ” v.27. The word Paul uses is politeuesthe which literally means to “live as a citizen.” As residents of a Roman colony and descendants of a Roman legion, the Philippians would intuitively understand what citizenship entails and thereby what citizenship in Christ would mean. At least here, Paul is not calling on the Philippians to renounce their Roman citizenship, but simply asking them to recognize that citizenship in Christ is eternal. In contrast, Roman citizenship is ephemeral because it is of this world that is passing away. See, 1 Cor. 7:31.

The Phalanx of Faith: (v.27b-28)

Paul’s imagery in his thesis moves from one of citizenship to one of soldiering. From ancient Greek phalanxes to British squares at Waterloo, historically, most infantry fought and defended in a tight formation of armed and armored foot soldiers who operated as one unit. An infantryman never fights alone, he always fights with and for the man next to him because once the formation breaks, the battle will be lost and all will perish. (If you have seen the movie “Gettysburg”, Col. Joshua Chamberlin’s (20th Maine) defense of Little Round Top is one of the last great uses of this type of formation. VIDEO HERE.)

Paul describes this formation to the Philippians and commits this type of formation to them. They are to (1) stand firm, (2) in one spirit, (3) strive side by side with one mind, and (4) not be frightened by the opponent. Paul is not calling the Philippians (or us) to stand alone in the world. Rather, Paul is commending his audience to stand firm together as a community, to strengthen and reinforce one another, so that we may face adversity together without fear. (Remember, that although the New Testament has much military imagery, the only weapon that we are allowed is the sword of our testimony. See, Rev. 1:6.)

These military virtues are the ones that the Philippians should show publically. All of the other virtues that Paul will discuss later in his letter, such as humility, are to be exercised within the context of these basic virtues in verse 27. They are citizens of Christ Jesus. They are to conduct themselves as a unit. This is their witness to the world. This is our fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer for us. John 17:11, 21-23.

The Opposition: (vv. 28-29)

We do not know who the opposition to the Philippians is. In Acts 16 Paul was thrown in jail in Philippi because he exorcised a demon from a fortune-telling slave girl (to the financial detriment of her owners) and because he taught a Jewish religion. The opposition could be official persecution or simply being shunned at the marketplace. Paul reassures the Philippians that their salvation is assured, despite this opposition and the suffering that it causes, and therefore they can live into the above virtues.

Paul essentially states their suffering is not a defect of following Christ but a feature. Paul says that suffering for Christ is a gift of grace (Gk: echaristhe from charis meaning “grace”). v.29. Paul will later use this same formula that through his suffering, God graced Christ with the name that is above all names. Phil. 2:9. (Paul has a longer discussion on the role of suffering in the life of a Christian in Romans 5:1-5.)

Paul ends with an observation and invitation to the Philippians. They had personal knowledge of Paul’s opposition and suffering and they knew of Jesus opposition and suffering. Paul invites them (and us) to join him and to join Christ in this battle and in Christ’s suffering through their demonstration of Christ-like virtues.

Read these three verses carefully. This teaching of Paul will run through the rest of his letter.

Dinner is at 6. The menu is butter chicken and chana saag. Discussion about 6:45. Please join us!

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear? *
     the Lord is the strength of my life;
     of whom then shall I be afraid?
When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh, *
     it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.
Though an army should encamp against me, *
     yet my heart shall not be afraid;
And though war should rise up against me, *
     yet will I put my trust in him.
Psalm 27:1-4

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  1. Pingback: Philippians 2:1-4, Unity through Humility – Ancient Anglican

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