Thomas Moore and Timothy D. Sprankle, Philippians

Moore, Thomas and Timothy D. Sprankle. Philippians. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2019. 293 pp. Hb. $27.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

As with each volume in the Kerux Commentary series, the two authors are an exegete and a preacher. In this case, both have experience in the academy and the church. Moore serves as an adjunct professor for Columbia International University, Luther Rice University, and Bryan College and currently pastors at Fellowship Church in Knoxville. Sprankle is senior pastor at Leesburg Grace Brethren Church in Northern Indiana and contributed to the Zephaniah-Malachi volume of the Kerux series.

Moore and Sprankle, PhilippiansIn the thirteen-page introduction, the authors state that there is no good reason for doubting the authenticity of Philippians. The only exception would be 2:6-11 which may be an early church hymn (whether or not Paul wrote it). They survey arguments for Philippians as a composite letter, although they ultimately find them unconvincing. They then offer five arguments in favor of the unity of the letter. Regarding the place of writing, Paul certainly wrote the letter from prison, but which imprisonment? They offer the typical arguments for Rome, Caesarea and Ephesus and conclude that since there is no consensus, they assume the traditional view, Rome 60- 62. But the decision on where Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter does not greatly affect interpretation.

Regarding the occasion for the writing of Philippians, there are several interlocking issues. First, Paul’s imprisonment led to sending Epaphroditus from the church to assist him. The letter explains why Epaphroditus is late in returning and thanks the church for assistance provided. In addition, the Philippian church is experiencing threats and intimidation, including false teachers. Paul therefore writes to encourage the church concerning his own imprisonment and to encourage them toward Christian thinking and behavior in several areas, summarized as living “a life worthy of the gospel.”

The introduction includes an overview of the founding of the Philippian church (Acts 16:11-40) and some suggestions concerning Paul’s longstanding partnership with the church. The authors discuss the history and culture of Philippi, including the Jewish presence of the city in the mid-first century.

The introduction briefly discusses the doctrinal and practical theological emphasis of the book. With respect to doctrine, Philippians focuses on the preexistence and deity of Christ, his self-emptying in the incarnation, and his exaltation after the resurrection (2:5-11). The letter discusses God’s work sanctifying believers and the need for unity in the church. This unity is to be achieved through following Christ’s humble example as a paradigm for the Christian life.

Since one goal of the Kerux series is preaching, Philippians is divided into 18 preaching passages with an exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching idea (short one line) and “preaching pointers” (usually two paragraphs). The authors helpfully summarized these preaching passages on pages 11-23 of the commentary and then repeat them at the beginning of each section of the commentary.

In the exposition section of the commentary, there is no new translation provided. Moore often discusses vocabulary in a sidebar comparing various English translations, especially when there is a wide variation (later volumes in the Kerux series call this “translation analysis”). The comments in the exposition are heavily weighted towards lexical issues, usually citing BDAG or theological lexicons. There seems to be less syntactical discussion in this volume than others in the series, although there are occasional references in the rare footnotes to grammars such as Daniel Wallace’s Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. The commentary treats textual critical issues in sidebars, although only eight variants appear in the entire commentary. This makes the commentary quite easy to read. The prose is clear and very well organized.

The homiletical section of the commentary begins with a brief paragraph summarizing the theological focus of the unit. As with other volumes in this series, the preaching and teaching strategies summarize the exegesis into a preaching idea and offers presentation guidance under three headings: What Does it Mean? Is it True? Now What? For each section, the Sprankle provides suggestions for creativity in presentation. These are suggestions for illustrating the text from contemporary culture, including films (The Lego Movie, Remember the Titans), sports and a few personal anecdotes.

Each unit concludes with a series of discussion questions and occasionally suggestions for further reading. These bibliographical lists appear five times in the commentary at the end of major sections in the outline rather than at the end of each chapter.

The commentary includes several helpful sidebars in each chapter. For example, there are brief notes on love/agape; Paul and knowledge; circumstances of Paul’s imprisonment; the praetorium; Humility; What does Preexistence Mean? There are brief biographies of Timothy and Epaphroditus. One of the best sidebars in the commentary is a note on Paul’s use of the phrase “in the flesh” in Philippians 3:3 (p. 177). There is an excellent chart comparing Philippians 2:6-11 to Hellenistic hymns (p. 122). In fact, the most detailed section of the commentary is the Christ Hymn. This is not unexpected since there are entire books written on this important passage. However, the preaching section for the Christ hymn is exactly the same length as the other chapters.

Conclusion. Like other volumes in the Kerux series, Moore and Sprankle combine a solid exegetical analysis and clear theological focus with preaching and teaching strategies which will be of value to pastors and teachers preparing to preach the book of Philippians.


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

Other volumes reviewed in this series:




Philippians 4:10-13 and Contentment

I had an interesting talk with a man at church recently. He shared with me that the first church he attended after accepting Christ was a “health and wealth” type church. If something “bad” happened in your life, there was an assumption that you had sinned and were being punished for it. On the other hand, if you had good health and a decent salary, you must be doing pretty well spiritually. I do not have much patience for this sort of theology since it is a bad application of a few texts from the blessing passages of the law mixed with some American optimism, and occasionally a greedy pastor or two.  In fact, I am not sure how anyone could believe that God will automatically bless you for proper behavior or curse you for your sins after reading Philippians 4:10-13.

I think that most people can agree that Paul the Apostle is a “model” Christian. If you can’t agree with this, go read 1 Thessalonians 2 where Paul himself tells his readers to follow his example as a “model” of Christ. Paul is in fact a man who was so led by the Spirit of God that he is virtually responsible for Christianity in the western world, 13 letters in the NT and a major influence on Luke and Acts.  One cannot discuss “Christian theology” without discussion Paul.

Yet in Philippians 4 he says he knows what it means to be in want, he knows what it means to be “brought low.”  At the writing of this letter Paul is in prison and it is entirely possible he will die as a result of this imprisonment.  I am not sure that it can get any lower than that!  Yet Paul does not connect his present suffering with any behavior, with any “curse” of God for something he has done or not done.  His suffering is exactly what God has planned and he could not be happier about it.  Rejoice! Paul says, and again, I say, Rejoice!

Mega ChurchWhat is remarkable is that Paul says he has learned the secret to being content in all circumstances, whether blessed with “health and wealth” or blessed with painful suffering physically. That secret is that any success he has is not his at all.  He can only be successful through Christ, who strengthens him.  The way Paul expresses this is interesting.  The verb μυέω is only found here in the NT, but it has the sense of being let in on a secret which is a dark mystery.  It is used of the mystery religions which had elaborate rituals are deep secrets that only the really advanced people understood.

Perhaps this is a hint from Paul that one does not learn the secret to contentment without a lengthy initiation, and that initiation is a road filled with suffering and heartbreak.  You do not learn the secret of contentment by being blessed with wealth, you learn in by making due with very little indeed.

Here is a lesson American Christianity needs to learn quickly. Perhaps it is not the church with money and power which has learned the secret of contentment after all, but the little country church will no money and only a few loyal believers.

Philippians 4:1–3 – Euodia and Syntyche

Paul does something unusual in Philippians 4. He specifically names at least two leaders in the congregation who 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 publicly to the whole congregation. He treats them equally by repeating the verb twice (“I encourage Euodia, I encourage Syntyche”).

Euodia and Syntyche

We know nothing about these two women, although a few Christian writers denied they were women, perhaps because Paul called them co-laborers, and a few 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 as a masculine name in some inscriptions. For example, the early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch Theodore of Mopsuestia (ca. 350–428) argued this name 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 or false teachers: their names are “written in the book of Life.” This is a common way of describing someone who has 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 loves and respects these fellow workers (v. 1) but strongly encourages them to set aside these differences.  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 the trials they will face. Because he loves them so deeply, he needs to call out two people causing disunity. But the whole church needs to have the same unity as well; everyone must “think similarly.”


Philippians 3:12–17 – Pressing On to the Higher Calling

In order to reach the goal to which he has been called, Paul does not look back at any of his achievements but keeps his attention fixed on the goal God has placed before him. Forgetting what lies behind. To “forget” (ἐπιλανθάνομαι) is fairly clear, although this word can mean “do not think about it” or “do not concern yourself with it.” When someone thanks you for a simple favor, the response is often “forget about it.” What we mean is, “don’t be concerned about it, whatever I did is not that big of a deal.”

Paul may refer to his persecution of the followers of Jesus after the resurrection, since he likely had a great deal of guilt and remorse for his attacks on the earliest church. This is very preachable since most people have some guilt over the things they have done in the past. Pastors can use this as an opportunity to encourage people to forgive themselves as Christ forgave them and not dwell on the past.

In the context of Philippians, however, he may refer here to his heritage as a well-trained and highly respected Jewish leader, someone who could claim to be “blameless” with respect to righteousness according to the Law. He has just described his “boast” (vv 4-6) even though he now considers it a loss compared to what he has in Christ.

But there is another factor in “forgetting what lies behind.” Paul was called to be the “light to the Gentiles” by the risen Lord Jesus himself.  Jesus gave to Paul a unique commission and revelation and has directly guided him on a number of occasions. He has already planted many churches and is responsible for spreading the Gospel throughout Roman Empire, he has already written letters which will eventually become a major component of the canon of the New Testament. Paul could review his life in Christ and conclude he has made a spectacular contribution and served God better than anyone else in the first century. These “good things” have to be set aside as well, “forgetting what is behind” must include everything including these things that might be counted as bearing much fruit for God.

Finish LineSecond, Paul is “straining forward” to what lies ahead. This word (ἐπεκτείνομαι) only appears here in the New Testament, although it is the compound form of the more common word (τείνω) for stretching something or pulling tight on something (like reins, a helmet strap, both from Homer).  Since this is a compound form, the meaning is probably intensified, stretching for something that is just out of your reach, so far that you pull a muscle in your shoulder.

There might be a hint of an athletic metaphor here, since a runner “strains forward” to cross the finish line first, often making a final push to win the race. In 2012  U.S. Olympic trials, Allyson Felix and Jenebah Tarmoh “both crossed the finish line in 11.068 seconds.” Neither of the cameras shooting 3,000 frames per second clearly showed a winner. If either runner had been distracted just a little, or looked to the side a fraction of a second would be lost and the other runner would have clearly won the race.

This is the kind of focus Paul is talking about in Philippians. If one is straining for what is ahead of them, their focus is not on what is behind them, or even what is around them at the moment. They are completely focused on the goal, crossing the finish line and winning the prize. A runner cannot think about who is behind them or running alongside them, they can only focus on the future goal of finishing the race and winning the prize. For Paul, this means the terrible things he had done as well as his admirable service for the cause of Christ. This also means he cannot focus on his opponents who are also running the race (even if they are not completing as properly as Paul is).

It is important understand what Paul is saying here. He forgets whatever is in his past, both good and bad, so that he can run the race set out for him unhindered. This means the one who is in Christ must set aside both negative baggage as well as positive achievements. Paul does this as best he can, considering his former life as an advancing young Pharisee to be rubbish, but also all of his achievements since meeting Christ on the road to Damascus. He has planted churches and developed leaders who will carry his ministry on well after his death. One could argue without Paul, the church would have never spread out into the western Roman Empire as it did. Yet that huge accomplishment is also rubbish to Paul!


Philippians 3:7–11 – Everything is Rubbish!

Paul develops an accounting metaphor in Philippians 3:7. All of his achievements listed in the previous verses count for nothing when it comes to his position in Jesus Christ. On one side of the ledger is his human achievement, on the other is the sake of Christ. He writes them off as a loss in comparison to knowing Christ Jesus as his Lord.

Human achievement is “loss” or “rubbish.” Loss (ζημία) can refer to a financial loss, as in Acts 27:10 (Paul predicts the shipwreck and “much injury and loss”). In the Septuagint, 2 Kings 23:33 used the word to refer a heavy tribute imposed on Judah by Pharaoh Neco when he took Jehoahaz captive. The word can refer to a financial penalty (a heavy fine, for example). In this context, Paul is saying that all of human achievement was a huge loss when it came to knowing Jesus and the power of the resurrection.

money_down_toiletImagine someone who buys an antique at an estate sale, investing a significant amount of money because they were certain it was worth far more (maybe a Civil War Rifle or a colonial document). They take the antique to the Antiques Roadshow and have it examined by an expert and it turns out to be a worthless fake. The person would take a huge loss since they cannot resale the item and recoup their investment. It is still a nice antique and might look nice good hanging over the mantel. It can still be enjoyed and valued. But it is really a total financial loss.

In a similar way, Paul’s “heavy investment” in training as a Pharisee and his dedicated practice of Judaism as a Pharisee have turned out to be a loss if the return on the investment was “righteousness before God.” He still has the value of a thorough knowledge of the Scripture and the satisfaction of a life well lived, good moral values and work ethic, etc. But with respect to being right with God, that investment is a total loss.

RubbishThe second word Paul uses here is more picturesque. Rubbish (σκύβαλον) refers to refuse or garbage, the sort of thing the dogs would scavenge. Often refers to excrement (Josephus, JW 5.571, “sewers and cattle dung”; Sib.Or. 7.58, “the mournful refuse of war”). The word appears in the medical work of Aretæus the Cappadocian, Causes and Symptoms of Acute Disease (SD 2.9), in a section entitled “On Dysentery.” The third edition of Bauer’s Lexicon (BDAG) glosses the word in this context as “It’s all crap.” It is no coincidence Paul is more or less saying the opponents as “dogs” who they are still rooting around in their own skubalon!

It is important to understand Paul correctly here: Paul is not saying Judaism is bad, or that Jews keeping the Law is bad, or that Torah is “garbage.” He is saying that keeping the Law does not make one right with God, only faith in Jesus Christ will do that. In Galatians he will address the reasons why a Gentile is not under the Law, but here his point is only that human achievement (whether good or bad) counts for nothing with respect to being right with God, knowing the “power of the resurrection” or obtaining salvation at the resurrection of the dead.

The righteousness that counts is the righteousness that comes “through faith of Christ” (v.9). There is a serious interpretive issue here in verse nine. The ESV and the NIV both translate the line as “through faith in Christ Jesus” although “in” is not the natural way to read the text. “through the faith of Christ” is a better rendering of the Greek, but what does this mean? (Yes, this is the classic pistis christou debate!)

There are two options here. Paul might mean “the faith that I have in Jesus’ sacrifice saves me from sin.” On the other hand, “the faithful act of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross saves me from my sin (through the faithful obedience of Christ on the cross).” Since both of these options are taught in Scripture (you do place your faith in Jesus, Eph 2:8-9) and Jesus was faithful when he humbly submitted to death of the cross (Phil 2:5-11), it is possible most people do not catch Paul’s subtle teaching here. In the context of Philippians, Jesus is the one who humbly submitted himself to the Father and was obedient to death, Paul has submitted to the Father and suffers in prison at the moment; Epaphroditus humble serves the church at Philippi at the very moment even though he has suffered.

It is difficult to have Paul’s attitude toward personal achievement. In the Roman world, one would naturally boast of their achievements and claim honors for themselves. In contemporary American culture, humility is a virtue, but we still like to boast about our achievements. University professors put their PhD up on their office walls, athletes have personal trophy cases, pastors humble-brag about attendance in their church. How would our ersonal lives be transformed if we really had the attitude of Christ Jesus and set aside our honor in order to serve others? Do we really need to consider all our achievement to be “crap”?