Understanding The Bible
Clarence E. Mason's "Later New Testament Epistles"



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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible



A Thank-You Letter to the Philippian Church from its Missionary Founder and Former Pastor


Written during the first imprisonment about AD 63 (Spring?).


"It was at Philippi that the first Christian church was founded in Europe by St. Paul. Here the cry, 'Come over into Macedonia and help us!' received from him its first practical answer. Here he enjoyed the loving hospitality of Lydia. Here he endured the outrage for which the magistrates had to apologize. Here the prison became a temple of God and Christ. It was to the Philippians that, of all his converts, Paul looked back with most loving affection, with most unwavering confidence. From them alone would he consent to accept anything to relieve his personal necessities.


A member of the Philippian church, named Epaphroditus, came to Rome bearing a pecuniary contribution (the fourth) from that church for the apostle's needs. While there, his visitor was attacked by an illness which brought him to death's door. News of this caused great distress among his friends in Macedonia. On his recovery, weak and shattered as he was, he longed for home; and Paul sent by him this letter, which is distinguished from all the rest by the fact that he has to blame his converts for no errors of doctrine and he censures them for no irregularities of life. Its leading exhortation is 'Rejoice!--in spite of all you have to bear.' It was a strong, manly church, and its one peril was over-independence. The prowling mongrels of the Judaizing party, who had made havoc of the Galatian church and against whom he had warned and armed the Roman church, had not ventured to invade loyal Macedonia yet; but, since he believed that they were skulking near the fold, he says (3:2), 'Take heed of these dogs!' implying that while they would fain discourage believers by telling them that they were unclean in God's sight unless they submitted to circumcision, it was they who were really unclean before Him." (Arthur S. Way in The Letters of St. Paul)



Many, if not most, expositors of r-his book find the emphasis on "rejoicing" to be the key thought. Certainly this is an exceedingly important theme running right through the book. See 1:4,18, 25, 26; 2:2,16,17 (twice), 18 (twice), 28; 3:1,3; 4:1, 4 (twice).


It appears, however, to me that there is an underlying note even more basic to the book. The rejoicing of Paul is just the normal expression of a Spirit-filled life and an almost unconscious testimony to God's power to make one joyful even when circumstances seem dark from the human viewpoint. Rather, in my judgment, Paul's theme and emphasis to the Philippians is an appeal to ONENESS OF MIND, made possible by having and practicing the MIND OF CHRIST.


It will be seen that the climax is reached in 4:2, where two dear sisters are openly called upon (as this was read right out in meeting) to be of the SAME MIND, not "in themselves" (which they could have never been, because they were evidently two very different types of individuals) but "IN THE LORD."


Observe how tactfully and carefully Paul works up to this climax. In the very opening of the book his emphasis is on "you all" (1:4,7). He refuses to "take sides, " as evidently the church was beginning to do, but calls upon them ALL as one body in Christ to refuse to permit division (1:27; 2:2). Paul feels God is going to release him from prison because of their particular need for him at this time (1:23-26), but he writes this letter to keep the matter from becoming a cause for an open church "split" before- he gets there to straighten up the matter in person.


The great passage about the self-effacing "mind of Christ" (2:3,4,5-8,12,13,14-16) is introduced to show them how unlike Christ a self-important "mind of one's own" is. The apostles, and their own Epaphroditus, found that having this self-effacing "mind" is the only thing which makes Christian service worth­while (2:17,19-22, 26). And, unless the Philippians exercise this "mind, " they will cheat the apostles out of the reward that their sacrificial labor so richly deserves (2:16).


Having this "mind" in one's relation to all fellow Christians and all Christian work (3:15-16) is alone that which makes possible a proper pressing toward the goal (3:14); only by forgetting past unpleasantness (3:13) and thinking in the present on the things that are '"lovely" and worthy of "praise" in other Christians (4:8) can a person have the "peace of God" (4:6-7).


The climax (4:2), as has been said, lovingly calls on the principals in what might have developed into a real church fight "to put their arms around each other, " with the added plea that all the church help them to this desired end (4:3), especially by prayer, which will be effectual, even if all other means fail (4:6-7).


The solemni2;ing thought which should cause our "sweet reasonableness" (moderation) "to be known unto all men" (4:5), instead of our stubborn obstinacy, is that the Lord (our MASTER) is ever present (at hand), watching! And, as the negro spiritual expresses it: "He hears all you say, and sees all you do." "Every" saint is to be saluted and no division permitted, even in their minds, much less in practical relations (4:21). And as a "parting shot, " the apostle commends them "all" to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, which alone can make it possible for them to fulfill these tender, yet forceful, appeals to unity of mind (4:23).


Thus, this book is God-designed to serve as a model case of HOW to bring unity of mind to any group of Christians where there will naturally be as many different "minds" as there are leaders with strong minds, unless all have the MIND OF CHRIST (2:5), which cuts put the foundations from under the possibility of trouble between Christians (2:2-4).





There is more basic agreement in outlines of this book than of any other NT book. Before giving my own, I give those of B. B. Sutcliffe and William A. Dean.





Introduction 1:1-11

  1. The Christian's PRINCIPLE of life 1:12-30

  2. The Christian's PATTERN of life 2

  3. The Christian's PRIZE of life 3

  4. The Christian's POWER of life 4:1-19

Conclusion 4:20-23




  1. Joy in SUFFERING 1
    Christ, the great PRINCIPLE governing life (21)

  2. Joy in SUBJECTION 2
    Christ, the great PATTERN shaping life (5)

  3. Joy in SACRIFICE 3
    Christ, the great PRIZE energizing life
    as to salvation (8);
    as to experience (14).

  4. Joy in SERVICE 4
    Christ, the great PROVISION strengthening life (13)



  1. INTRODUCTION 1:1-11


    1. Christ's LIFE in us (or Christ our LIFE) 1:12-26

    2. Christ's LOWLINESS in us (or Christ our MEEKNESS) 1:27-2:30

    3. Christ's RIGHTEOUSNESS in us (or Christ our RIGHTEOUSNESS) 3:1-9

    4. Christ's FELLOWSHIP with us (or Christ our LOVER) 3:10-16

    5. Christ's PATTERN for us (or Christ our VICTOR) 3:17-4:9

    6. Christ's SUFFICIENCY for us (or Christ our PROVIDER) 4:10-19

  3. CONCLUSION 4:20-23

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