Philippians 4:1–3 – Euodia and Syntyche

women_fightingPaul does something unusual in Philippains 4, he specifically names at least two leaders in the congregation have some problem hindering the church. Specifically, Euodia and Syntyche need to demonstrate unity. For Paul to specifically name people is very unusual since the letter would have been read publically to the whole congregation. He treats them equally by repeating the verb twice (“I encourage Euodia, I encourage Syntyche”).

We know nothing about these two women, although there have been a few Christian writers who denied they were women, perhaps because Paul called them co-laborers, and a few who have wondered if they were actual people! But the pronouns throughout the three verses are feminine, so very few (if any) modern scholars deny Paul is talking about two women who worked with him in Philippi.

  • Syntyche is a feminine name in Philippians, but it appears in inscriptions as a masculine. The early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350 – 428) therefore tried to argue this refers to a man rather than a woman. He went as far as to identify Syntyche as the Philippian jailer from Acts 16!
  • Euodia is also a common name in the Greco-Roman world (BDAG cites Greek grave inscriptions on Cyprus); the name means “prosperous” or “successful,” sometimes in the context of a journey. Like Syntyche, the name has a masculine and feminine form.
  • The Tübingen School interpreted Euodia and Syntyche as symbols for Jewish and Gentile Christians (for a summary, see Gillman, “Euodia (Person),” ABD 2:670). If this was the case, the Syzygus is the one who unifies the two opposing sides of the early Christian church.

The motivation for making Syntyche into a man is to avoid the implication that an early church like Philippi had women leaders on a level with Paul.  These women are not opponents of Paul nor are they false teachers: their names are “written in the book of life.” This is a common way of describing someone who have suffered for their faith yet remained faithful (Dan 12:1, Rev 3:5). This may therefore be a hint the church has suffered for their faith and these two women were instrumental in guiding the congregation through that difficult time.

Verse three asks someone in the congregation to help the women to work through their dispute. The Greek word (σύζυγος) has sometimes been interpreted as a name (Syzygus), a name which would mean “yoke-fellow” if it is a name at all. The name does appear in Greek literature as a description of a wife (T.Rub 4:1, for example), so sometimes Syzygus was thought to be Paul’s wife! (She is Paul’s loyal wife, left behind in Philippi, perhaps Lydia herself.) Paul also calls on Clement and the “rest of my fellow workers” to help the women to reconcile.  We know nothing of Clement. Although it is the same name as a bishop of Rome in the late 90s, it is unlikely to be the same man.

eudoiaandsyntychePaul clearly loves and respects these fellow-workers (v. 1), but he does strongly encourage them to set aside these difference.  He uses a strong word for his affection for the church: he earnestly desires to see them (ἐπιπόθητος). The church is Paul’s “joy and crown.” This is similar to saying “pride and joy” today, the church is something Paul can boast about and on the day he stands before the Lord he can consider the church a victor’s crown.

In summary, Paul deeply cares for the church at Philippi and wants them to endure in the trails they will face. Because he loves them so deeply, he needs to call out two people who are causing disunity. But the whole church needs to have the same sort of unity as well; everyone is to “think similarly.”

 

Partnership in the Gospel (Philippians 1:3–6)

As is typical of Paul’s letters, he begins by expressing his thanks for the church in prayer.  Most letters in the Greco-Roman world began with some sort of thanksgiving section in order to set the tone for the letter. Here Paul recalls his time with the church, probably going all the way back to his first visit to the city in Acts 16. He likely had other contacts with the church over the years.

The reason for his thanksgiving is the church’s partnership in the Gospel. A “partnership” (κοινωνία) is a close association of individuals, a fellowship. While contemporary English uses the word with the sense of a business friendship, or sometimes as a verb for a ministry asking for money (they want you to “partner” with them by giving money), the use of this word in the first century was more complex.  It can be used, for example, to describe the marriage relationship (3 Macc 4:6) although this is not found in the New Testament.  It is often used for close participation Phil 3:10, we “participate” in the suffering of Jesus; 1 Cor 10:16 the believer “participates” in the blood of Jesus; in 2 Cor 8:4 the readers are asked to “participate” in sending famine relief. The Philippian church has participated in Paul’s ministry by sending him financial support via Epaphroditus, a servant from their church.

Paul is confident God will bring their work to completion “at the day of Jesus Christ.” When the gospel was preached in Philippi God began to do something good, and Paul is absolutely confident that God will finish the good work he began.  Having been persuaded, this is a perfect participle; Paul was persuaded that the members of the church. It is not the case that Paul was unconvinced until the church sent him some money!

The Szkieletor

The Szkieletor

Modern Christians might reading something like “good work” as a reference to ministry, maybe a mission goal, etc. But a “good work” in a Greco-Roman context would refer to doing some sort of civic project for the good of a community. Imagine someone donating a great deal of money and material to begin the building of a new public building for the good of the community, a museum or library. If the money ran out before the building was finished, this would be a shameful thing for the one who began the project.

There is a tower in Poland intended to be the new regional office of the Main Technical Organization in 1975. Work was stopped in 1981 due to civil unrest, but nothing has been done since to the 92 meter tall structure since. The building known as “Skelator” is too expensive to re-purpose or demolish. This unfinished project is an embarrassment to those who originally planned it.

In the case of the Philippian church, God began the project of building up the church and he will bring the project to a glorious completion on the Day of Jesus Christ. Paul is confident there will be no shame or embarrassment from a half-completed project in the case of this church since God himself is the builder and he cannot fail.

Paul therefore opens his letter with a look back at how the Philippian have already participated in his presentation of the Gospel but also forward to the completion of that partnership when those who are in Christ meet him in glory. Paul can feel this level of confidence because he knows the church also participates in God’s grace.

There are other examples of “participation” in Philippians. How can this way of thinking about ministry change the way we “do church”?

 

Book Review: Douglas Connelly, Seven Letters to Seven Churches

Connelly, Douglas. Seven Letters to Seven Churches. Lifeguide® Bible Studies. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2017. Pb; 64 pp; $9  Link to IVP

Seven Letters to Seven ChurchesInterVarsity Press sent me a copy of this short Bible Study for the Letters to the Seven Churches found in Revelation 2-3. There are eight chapters in all since the study includes the vision of Jesus in the first chapter of Revelation. This is important since each of the seven letters makes some allusion back to this vision. Connelly provides a short paragraph of orientation for each section before the student reads the biblical passage for the chapter. There are then a series of short questions on the content of the unit as well as reflective questions intended to guide either an individual or group to think about the meaning and application of the sections.

Following the workbook section of the study is a leader’s guide with a suggested lesson plan for guiding a small group discussion. Each chapter has additional notes with background content, parallel biblical texts and suggestions on presenting the material.

Like other Lifeguide® Bible Studies, Connelly’s Seven Letters can be used as a personal Bible Study tool or in a small group discussion. Since the emphasis is on personal application, the book avoids controversial points such as millennial positions and historic interpretations of these letters. The guide could have been improved with a list of books for further reading.

NB: Thanks to InterVarsity Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

Free Books for Logos Bible Software – John Piper, Look at the Book

Look at the BookOnce again Logos is offering something a little different for their Free Book of the Month promotion.  Instead of a traditional book in the Logos format, the free “book” is John Piper’s Look at the Book, a series of 101 short videos on a wide variety of biblical texts.

Look at the Book is a “new online method of teaching the Bible,” in which the camera is on focus on the text, not the teacher. As John Piper speaks, the video shows him “underline, circle, make connections, and scribble notes.” Piper’s goal in the series is to help readers see what he sees and how he sees it.

These videos are accompanied by an outline for Piper’s teaching and a few study questions. Logos has a textbox below the question so you can type your answers which are saved as notes in the book. I could see this resource being used for a personal Bible Study or in a small group (listen to the video then discuss the questions). Since they are all around ten minutes, the videos could be used as a “daily devotional,” but the purpose is to model how John Piper reads the Bible. After hearing a few of these videos, the method can become your own as you read the text and mark your Bible in similar ways. Although there are a few Old Testament examples, most of the videos are based on New Testament texts.

Here is a screenshot of the video and the outline in my Logos setup:

Piper Capture

For $1.99, you can add Finish the Mission: Bringing the Gospel to the Unreached and Unengaged (Crossway, 2012), a collection of seven essays by  David Platt, Louie Giglio, Michael Ramsden, Ed Stetzer, Michael Oh, David Mathis, and John Piper. “Finish the Mission aims to breathe fresh missionary fire into a new generation, as together we seek to reach the unreached and engage the unengaged.”

Noet is a division of Faithlife focusing on classics and they still have Guide for the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides and his The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics  for only 99 cents. This free book has not changed lately, hopefully someone at Faithlife will notice and change the free book soon.

Like every other month, the Logos Free (and almost free) Book of the Month is accompanied by a give-away, in this case the Crossway John Piper Collection (39 vols.), a $359.99 value. There are many ways to enter, so if you ever had the desire to own everything John Piper published through Crossway, now is your chance!

Fitzmyer the-impact-of-the-dead-sea-scrollsVerbum is offering The Impact of the Dead Sea Scrolls by Joseph A. Fitzmyer and a collection of essays by Fitzmyer, Interpretation of Scripture for only 99 cents. Fitzmyer is a well-known New Testament scholar and has written extensively on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Both are excellent additions to your Logos Library.

Both Verbum and Noet is part of the Faithlife family of companies. Verbum focuses on Catholic resources and Noet on classics. Both use the same Faithlife account as Logos, so these books are available to anyone with a Faithlife / Logos username and password.

Paul’s Confidence in the Flesh (Philippians 3:4–6)

Paul’s opponents may have claimed to be better qualified to explain the role of the Law for Gentiles because of their heritage and training. This is more or less equivalent to someone who claims to be an expert because they graduated with a PhD from Harvard (as opposed to a certificate from DeVry Institute? Fill-in your own institutions here…) Paul therefore takes a moment to boast about his personal heritage and achievements. Paul claims in Philippians is that he is a proper Jew who excelled in the practice of Second Temple Judaism more than anyone else of his generation.

First, he was circumcised on the eighth day. This indicates he comes from a family that is keeping the Jewish traditions despite living in Tarsus.  It is possible that there were Diaspora Jews who did not keep this tradition or even did not circumcise their boys.

Mudbloods-and-How-to-Spot-themSecond, he is a member of Israel connects Paul to the covenant as a member of Abraham’s family.  Paul was not a Hellenistic Jew from Tarsus pretending to be a Greek, but rather a Jew who was well aware of his heritage as a child of Abraham.

Third, he is from the tribe of Benjamin is significant since not every Jew in the first century could claim to know they were from a particular tribe.  Paul’s Jewish name “Saul” is taken from the first king of Israel, from the tribe of Benjamin, and Paul’s teacher in Jerusalem, Gamaliel, was also from the tribe of Benjamin.

Fourth, the phrase “Hebrew of the Hebrews” can be taken in several ways.  This phrase may mean that Paul was born of true Jewish blood, that there is no Gentile in his linage. It is sometimes suggested that Paul is referring to his ability to speak and read Hebrew. Not all Jews spoke the language, especially in the home.  If there is an increasing specificity in the list of descriptions, then perhaps Polhill is right and Paul is saying that he is from an extremely Jewish family, one that still speaks the language at home (Paul and his Letters, 26).

Fifth, with respect to religion, he is a Pharisee.  Second Temple Judaism had a number of sub-divisions, not exactly like modern denominations but that is a fair way to think about them. Sadducees and Pharisees are the two most well known in the New Testament, but there were several others. There are many ways to define the groups, but Paul’s emphasis might be on faithfulness to the Law and loyalty to Israel. Pharisees were not simply observant of the Law; they thought deeply about the Law and guarded themselves against breaking the Law unknowingly. They really could claim to be “blameless” with respect to law

Last, with respect to zeal, Paul says he was a persecutor of the church. Zeal has become a Christian virtue in modern Church-talk, usually equivalent to strong emotional response in worship. But that is not at all Paul’s point here. He is zealous for the Law and the traditions of his people in the same way the Maccabean Revolt was zealous for the Law. In that case, they fought the Greeks for the right to keep the Law. More important, they were willing to enforce the Law for Jews, including circumcision. Paul’s zeal was not a warm feeling of love for God, he was violently opposed to Jews who claimed the Messiah was crucified by the Temple authorities; he was willing to use physical abuse to convince people this Messiah did not rise from the dead.

Paul is, in the words of J. B. Lightfoot, making a progressive argument.  A convert to Judaism may be circumcised, someone with some Gentile in his linage might claim a tribal affiliation, but Paul is a pure-bred true Jew!  If anyone in the Second Temple period could boast about their heritage it was Paul!

What is the point of this boasting? In the light of Paul’s exhortation to humility in Phil 2, what do we make of Paul’s list of his achievements? How would those living in Greco-Roman Philippi hear this boast?

A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27–30)

CrossPaul begins the next section of the letter to the Philippians by calling on the church to live a life worthy of the Gospel.

By living a worthy life, the church will stand firm in one spirit (v. 27-28).  One’s “manner of life” (πολιτεύομαι) refers to being a good citizen. If someone was a Roman citizen, there were a number of expectations for proper behavior in the public forum. This refers to both a legal responsibility as well as conduct in public. By analogy, a “good citizen” in America pays their taxes and votes in elections, properly registers and insures their car, etc. You cannot call a person who refuses to pay taxes, breaks the Law regularly, or runs around burning American flags a “good citizen.”

“Manner of life” can be used as a metaphor for living in accordance with the Law. 3 Macc 3:4, for example, describes the way of those Jews who had kept themselves separate with respect to foods, but had gained a good reputation for various good works. But these differences were so significant that they fell under suspicion as “hostile and greatly opposed to the government” (3 Macc 3:7) and eventually the government oppressions the Jews because their “manner of life” was so different than the Greeks in Egypt (3:11-30).  The same sense of the word appears in 4 Macc 2:8 where one whose “manner of life” conforms to the Law stands in contrast to a number of typical vices. Josephus refers to keeping the Law, but also paying the Temple tax and other civic duties (Ant. 12.142). The word appears in other Jewish literature to describe proper conduct of life with respect to the Law. It is not insignificant that the Jews in 3 and 4 Maccabees were perceived as hostile to their culture and were persecuted for their “manner of life”

To have a manner of life “worthy” of some ideal is a common way of expressing the goal of spiritual life in the New Testament. Perhaps this might be thought of as “live up to an expectation.” For Roman citizen, the expectation is to live like a Roman citizen should; for the one who is “in Christ,” they are to live worthy of the Gospel!  Paul begins the second half of Ephesians with similar words (“walk in a manner worthy of the calling”); in 2 Thess 2:12 he encourages his readers to “walk worthy of God” (cf. 3 John 6); in Col 1:10, it is “walk worthy of the Lord;” in Rom 16:2, it is “walk worthy of the saints.” Deissmann reports this word was used on inscriptions in Pergamum (Biblical Studies, 248). Athenaios, a priest of Dionysus and Sabazius, is extolled as “worthy of god.” Whatever these priests did, they were considered good examples for other worshipers.

The goal in Philippians 1:27 is the Gospel of Christ. The one who is “in Christ” is not a citizen of Rome. Nor should they conform their lives to the Law quite like the martyrs in 3 and 4 Maccabees. Their loyalty is to the Gospel of Christ only. Everything the individual Christian or local church does ought to be viewed through the grid of the Gospel.

 

Philippians 4:4–7 – Do Not Be Anxious

While the following commands from Paul seem unrelated to the theme of unity, Frank Thielman argues they ought to be read in the context of persecution (Philippians, NIVAC, 217-9). While this is not an Empire-wide systematic persecution of believers, we have already seen several times in the letter than the church at Philippi was a small community of believers who are in many ways “different” from the Roman culture around them. The existence of a group of people who “have the mind of Christ” is enough to be suspicious, and suspicion easily gives way to gossip, wild accusations and pressure to conform. This sort of social pressure can be difficult to accept and a source of great fear for the church. Paul’s series of short exhortations in these verses are therefore designed to give comfort and encouragement to endure.

Alfred E. NewmanFirst, Paul encourages the church to set aside worry by rejoicing in their circumstances. If the context is social pressure on Christians in Philippi, then there may be some despair in the congregation. Paul repeats his call for joy regardless of circumstances here, recalling his words in chapter 1. Paul is in prison and may be executed for his faith, yet he rejoices in his circumstances.  He is modeling the kind of attitude he desires from the congregation.

This is not some sort of masochistic pleasure in suffering, but rather the sort of happiness that comes from understanding the circumstances properly. For example, someone who competes in athletics “suffers” greatly when they train. They consider the work they are doing well worth the pain because of the ultimate goal (winning the prize). The same is true for pursuing a college degree or training necessary to advance at a job. It is hard work, and might fairly be called suffering, but as painful as it is, from the perspective of the goal, it is a cause for rejoicing. Paul models this by counting his past achievements as a loss and “forgetting what is behind and straining for what is ahead” (3:12-14).

Second, Paul says the believer is to be “reasonable” (ESV) or “be gentle” (NIV 2011), or perhaps a “forbearing spirit” (BDAG). The Greek word (ἐπιεικής) does have the sense of kindness or courteousness. But it has the sense of kindness in a context where retaliation is expected. This fits well with the possibility of harassment and persecution as well. The believer responds to pressure to conform to the world in ways the world does not expect; instead of revenge and retaliation, we are to be reasonable, gentle, and forgiving.

Third, worry is not necessary because the “Lord is at hand. The phrase, “the Lord is at hand” may go with “be reasonable,” although it is probably better to see it as the reason we should not be anxious. This is not escapist, as if Paul is saying, do not worry about things since God is going to destroy it all soon anyway! The soon return of the Lord is a motivation for unity because the return will vindicate the righteous (rewarding them) while punishing the oppressors. Again, this is not some sort of defeatist, “hunker down and take it” attitude; Paul is once again pointing to the goal and understanding his present suffering in the light of future vindication at the return of the Lord.

Last, instead of worry, we are to bring requests to God in prayer.  Based on this verse, worry is sometimes considered a sin. But “worry” here is refers to anxiety or apprehension concerning present circumstances (suffering for the faith?) rather than faithlessness or a careless attitude toward life. Some worry is a “healthy concern.” If my car makes a funny noise it is a cause for concern; I might worry about some change in my health; I might be worried about how my children behave, or about my family’s health, etc. But if I begin to worry about your children, perhaps I have gone beyond healthy concern.

How much worry is unhealthy? Since Paul says we ought to bring requests to God in prayer rather than worry about them, perhaps the analogy of a “burden” is good here. Some things you can physically carry better than others, some people are stronger, better at carrying things, etc. Sometimes you need a little help carrying something heavy or awkward. Unhealthy worry may vary from person to person, but sharing the concern with others, first with the Lord is the best way to “share the load.”

Rather than be excessively concerned, Paul tells us to commit these things to the Lord in prayer in order to share the burden with the one who is able to carry it for you. If Paul has in mind pressure to conform to the Roman world faced by the church, but the application to contemporary Christianity life is clear. We are to let God carry our burdens rather than bear them alone.