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English: St. Paul by El Greco, c. 1608-1614. O...

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Galatians Chapter 6

In the last chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatians in verses 1-10 he offers practical  advice to his readers. Verses 11-18 are the conclusion of the letter. ( For more about the letter to the Galatians, see our previous post.)

Letter to the Philippians

Philippi was a city in Macedonia, on a main east-west road and was, in spite of its location in Macedonia, heavily influenced by Rome.

The church at Philipi was the first European church established by Paul. Acts 16:11-40 tells the story. Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison but because he was imprisoned several times, scholars are unsure which imprisonment Paul is referring to.  This letter may have been written anytime from the late 50s to early 60s. Paul’s location when he wrote it is uncertain.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians has a much friendlier tone than his letter to the Galatians. Scholars think this suggests that Paul had a close relationship with the church in Philppi.

Friendship was an important concept in the Greco-Roman world. Luke Timothy Johnson writes;

…[I]t is necessary to remember how the topic of friendship fascinated Greek moralists, finding distillation in a series of proverbs universally used and endlessly expounded. Friendship could be defined simply as fellowship (koinonia). Everyone agreed that ‘friends hold all things in common [tois philois panta koina].” Such sharing included both material and spiritual goods. Friendship was a form of equality (isotes). So close was the spiritual unity between friends that a friend was “another self.” Friends were one soul (mia psyche), sharing a common frame of mind (to auto phronein). Friendship language employed many compound words using the prefix “with” (syn-), since fellowship always involved some sort of “life together.” The proverbs are so well known that they are reversible. To speak of being one soul or holding all in common automatically implied as well equality, friendship, and fellowship.

It is important for us to keep this full and rich understanding of friendship in mind when we read this letter. In Greek, Paul’s emphasis on friendship is more easily appreciated. He uses “fellowship” four times (1:5, 2:1, 3:10 and 4:15). But he uses the “syn” prefix 15 times in this short letter. Paul’s friendship language makes his references to disharmony( 1:15, 2:14, 4:2-3) within the community more striking.

For Christians, fellowship was not based on similar interests or shared benefits as in Hellenistic clubs or benevolent associations. Neither was friendship based on philosophical ideas. Christian fellowship is a result of the work of the Holy Spirit received through the hearing of the “good news”. The Philippians have struggled together and they have given financial support to Paul. Paul writes to encourage the Philippians in their life together. Their unity in fellowship calls them to a humble concern for each other. Service, humility, the common good, friendship, and concern for each other are part of the churches’ life. The most important example of this way of life is Jesus. But Paul, Timothy, and Epaphroditus are also examples for the Philippians.

1:1-11 Opening

1:1-2 Salutation

1:3-11 Thanksgiving. “I give thanks to my God…”

1:12-4:20  Body

1:12-26 Paul’s situation: imprisoned yet the Gospel proclaimed

1:27- 2:18 The  Philippians situation

2:19-3:1a  Visits to Philippi by Timothy and Epaphroditus

3:1b-4:1  Warning and exhortation

4:2-9 Specific appeals

4:10-20 Thanks for the Philippians’ gift

4:21-23 Closing

4:21-22 Greetings

4:23 final prayer

Note: Verses 2:6-11 are considered to be a very early hymn and gives us insight into the early church’s understanding of Christ. Christ’s death and resurrection are interpreted in terms of humiliation and exaltation and becoming slave and being made master.

A prayer from Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) an early church father from Alexandria, for your use as you read 1 Thessalonians.

Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.

Read More About It:

Hock, Ronald F. “Philippians” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary, rev. ed.James L Mays, ed. (New York: Society of Bible Literature) 2000.

Johnson, Luke Timothy, The Writings of the New Testament: An Interpretation, rev. ed. (Minneapolis:Fortress Press) 1999. Chapter 15 “The Letter to the Philippians”

Knox, John, “Philippians” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Bruce M. Metzger, Roland E. Murphy eds. (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994