The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Philippians 3:17-4:3

Posted by Dim Bulb on October 26, 2014

This post begins with Fr. MacEvilly’s brief analysis of Philippians 3, followed by his comments on today’s first reading. Text in purple indicates MacEvilly’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on. Text in red, if any, are my additions.


In this chapter, after briefly referring to the subject matter of the preceding, and inviting the Philippians to rejoice at the news which he communicated therein (Phil 3:1), cautions them against certain false teachers, most likely the Judaizantes, whom he designates as “dogs,” falsely circumcised, because only circumcised in the flesh; whereas, the true circumcision is the Christian circumcision of the heart (Phil 3:1–3). He shows that he could himself glory in more external privileges conferred by the Mosaic law, than could any of the false teachers. He enumerates those external advantages (Phil 3:4–7). But these legal privileges, as well as all temporal advantages whatsoever, he has valued as nought in comparison with the exalted knowledge of Christ (Phil 3:8); and he has sacrificed all, ana submitted to suffering, in order to gain Christ, and be rendered a sharer in his merits and at a future day, in the glory of his resurrection (Phil 3:8–11).

In referring, however, to his sacrifice for Christ, he is not to be understood as wishing to convey, that he had already attained to Christian perfection; he is only, by constant and unceasing efforts, endeavouring to attain the summit of this perfection, and to secure the prize held out in the stadium of Christian, virtue. He exhorts the Philippians to do the same (Phil 3:11–16). He invites them to imitate himself rather than the false teachers, whose conduct and unhappy end he describes (Phil 3:17–19). With these he contrasts the God-like conduct of the followers of Christ, and the glorious consummation in store for them.

Today’s reading ends with the Apostle exhorting the Philippians to persevere in Christian virtue.

Phil 3:17 Be ye followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model.

Be imitators of me, brethren, and attentively observe (for the purpose of imitation) those who take me for their model.

These words build upon what St Paul has written in Phil 3:2-16, part of which formed yesterday’s first reading. It seems likely that he has in mind people like those mentioned in Phil 4:3. No doubt also Timothy and Epaphroditus whom St Paul plans on sending to Philippi (Phil 2:19-30).

Phil 3:18 For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ:

For many live and act quite differently, whom I frequently designated in your presence and captioned you against (and now I repeat the same with tears), as enemies of the cross of Christ.

The reason why he tells them to imitate himself is, because many who affect to labour for Christ and preach his gospel act a part wholly unsuited to their profession. “Enemies of the cross.” This has been already explained of the Jewish zealots, and it has been shown how they are enemies of the cross (Jewish zealots is a reference to Jewish Christians who continued to insist on the observance of the Mosaic Law as necessary for salvation; see Phil 3:2-4). Others, however, understand the words to refer to their immoral lives, so opposed to mortification and the self-denial pointed out by the cross.

Phil 3:19 Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things.

Whose end is eternal perdition, whose God is their belly, or, the gratification of their sensual appetites, whose glorying has for object those deeds of wickedness, which should rather be a cause of shame; who are wholly engrossed with earthly things, without feeling any concern for the heavenly.

Far from being wholly engrossed with earthly things, our conversation, or manner of living, is such as becomes men aspiring after heaven; our citizenship is there; as free citizens of heaven, we are engaged only about heavenly things. How few, even of those engaged in God’s service, can say this of themselves!

Phil 3:20 But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ,
But we pass through this life as citizens of heaven, whence we expert also our Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
Phil 3:21 Who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.
Who will transform this earthly body of ours, and conform it unto a likeness with his glorified and resplendent body, and that by an efficacious effort of that power, by which all things are subject to his supreme will.

He refers to our bodies committed to the earth, and to the glorified property of clarity.—(See 1 Cor. 15:42, 43, 44).

Phil 4:1 THEREFORE my dearly beloved brethren and most desired, my joy and my crown: so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. 

Wherefore, my brethren—whom I love affectionately, and am most anxious to behold, who are the subject of my joy and the occasion of the crown to be given me for having effected your conversion—persevere steadfastly, my dearly beloved, in the Christian faith, as I have pointed out to you, both by example and teaching,

“Therefore,” since such great glory, both as to soul and body, is promised you by Christ. “So stand fast to the Lord;” persevere in a Christian life, following me, and those who imitate me, as models. “My joy and my crown.” For every Prelate and Pastor his people must be the source of his joy and crown, or, of his sorrow and damnation.

Phil 3:2  Beware of dogs: beware of evil workers: beware of the concision.

I entreat Euodia, and Syntyche, laying aside all differences, to have but one mind and will, to live in charity and concord for the sake of the Lord.

These were two women of quality residing at Philippi, who had rendered great service to the Apostle in the work of converting the Philippians. From this verse it appears that there must have been some misunderstanding between them at this time. In place of feelings of estrangement, he Apostle, however, beseeches; them to substitute charity and unanimity.

Phil 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who in spirit serve God and glory in Christ Jesus, not having confidence in the flesh.

And I entreat thee also, my sincere and faithful colleague, to assist these women (either in administering to their temporal support, or in bringing about a reconciliation), who, with Clement and my other fellow-labourers, whom I cannot here enumerate, but whose names are enrolled in the book of life, have laboured with me in promoting the cause of the gospel.

“Book of life,” means the catalogue of those predestined for grace or glory—which catalogue is treasured up in the prescience of God. This book of life is referred to by Moses (Exodus, 32:22)—and David says, “may they be blotted out from the book of the living.”—(Ps. 68). It is most probable that he refers to the predestination of these to grace, in which case, their names are inscribed in an incomplete, conditional way; when there is question of predestination to glory, their names are inscribed absolutely and completely. “My sincere companion” (σύζυγε γνησι) probably refers to the Bishop of Philippi, who may have been Epaphroditus. Some Protestants refer it to St. Paul’s wife, but in the 7th chap. 1st Ep. to Cor., St. Paul equivalently asserts that he was unmarried. Again, the words are masculine in the Greek, and although, by an Attic turn, they might have a feminine signification, still, it is improbable that St. Paul, not well versed in the Greek tongue, wrote in the Attic dialect. All the Fathers (with the exception of Clement of Alexandria, who holds that the Apostle, though married, was still continent), concur in saying that St. Paul was unmarried. Besides, to use the reasoning of Œcumenius, can we suppose that in a letter addressed to the entire Church, St. Paul would address his wife?—why leave her at Philippi?—why not leave her at Tharsis, or Jerusalem, and not be bringing her about with him—a thing he expressly denies his having done in reference to any woman?—1st Cor. 9. Hence, the word “companion,” in Greek, yoke-fellow, is metaphorically understood of some faithful co-operator in planting the gospel.


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