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 Callan’s Commentary on Philippians 1:18-26

Posted by Dim Bulb on September 4, 2016

This post includes a brief summary of the body of the epistle (Phil 1:12-4:9) along with a summary of its first major section (Phil 1:12-26). The commentary on today’s reading then follows.

A Summary of Philippians 1:12-4:9.

The Apostle explains his personal situation and the progress of the Gospel in the Eternal City, in spite of rivalry and opposition (Phil 1:12-26) ; and then, as if in response to news received, he goes on to exhort his readers to be true to their calling in doing and suffering for the sake of the Gospel, stressing the need of unity and humility (Phil 1:27—2:4). In the practice of humility and in bearing their sufferings they have the supreme example of Christ Himself, who thus merited His exaltation to supreme Lordship (Phil 2:5-11). It is therefore Christ that they should copy; and in so doing they will reflect glory on their Apostle who has not labored in vain and who is willing to die in their behalf (Phil 2:12-18). He is sending to them at once Epaphroditus, Timothy will follow soon, and shortly he hopes to come himself (Phil 2:19-30). Beginning his final injunctions (Phil 3:1), he digresses to warn against Judaizers, citing his own career (Phil 3:2-16), and against pagan self-indulgence and a spirit of worldliness among Christians (Phil 3:17-21). Some final exhortations close the body of the letter (Phil 4:1-9). See Introduction, No. VI, B.

A Summary of Philippians 1:12-26

It seems the Philippians had made known to Paul their anxiety regarding the welfare of the Gospel, as a result of his imprisonment; they feared the Gospel was suffering while he was enchained. But the Apostle informs them here that the contrary is the case, inasmuch as the success of his preaching in prison has excited the jealousy of other preachers and thus stimulated them to greater efforts. This is a cause of great rejoicing on his part. As for his own prospects of release, he is confident that all will turn out for the best. Personally he is torn between the alternatives of dying and being with Christ, on the one hand, and living for the sake of the Philippians, on the other hand. He seems to be confident of the latter; he will again be with them to assist them and give them joy in Christ Jesus.

Phil 1:18. But what then? So that by all means, whether by occasion, or by truth, Christ be preached: in this also I rejoice, yea, and shall rejoice;

But what then? That is, what difference does it make whether those preachers were moved by good or by bad motives in their preaching of the Gospel, so long as Christ was preached? The Apostle was not seeking his own glory, but the glory of Christ; and therefore it made little difference to him whether or not those who promoted the cause of Christ liked or disliked him personally.

By occasion, or by truth, i.e., whether the Gospel was only a secondary or the primary reason of their preaching. “Per occasionem annunciat Christum, qui non intendit hoc principahter, sed propter aliud, puta lucrum vel gloriam” (“One announces Christ in pretense when he does not chiefly aim at this but at something else, as profit or glory.” St. Thomas: Lecture on Philippians 1:18-24).

I rejoice, etc. If those opponents of the Apostle had been preaching false doctrine of any kind, he could never have rejoiced over their preaching in any sense of the word (see Gal. 1:6-9).

Phil 1:19. For I know that this shall fall out to me unto salvation, through your prayers, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

Besides the fact that Christ is being preached by Paul’s enemies, which is the primary cause of his rejoicing, the Apostle finds a secondary cause for joy, now and in the future, in the thought that his sufferings and afflictions, through the help of the prayers of the faithful and the grace of the Holy Ghost, will contribute to his eternal salvation and his greater blessedness in heaven.

It is worthy of note that, notwithstanding all his vast labors for the Gospel, St. Paul rests the hope of his salvation, not on his own merits, but on the prayers of others and the abundant supply of grace of the Holy Spirit. That “salvation” here refers to his eternal reward, and not to liberation from prison, or any lesser spiritual good along the way to heaven, is clear from the usual meaning of σωτηριαν (soterian) elsewhere (i.e., Rom. 13:11; 1Thess. 5:8; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5).

Through your prayers. St. Paul often manifested his confidence in the power and efficacy of intercessory prayer (e.g., Rom. 15:30; 2 Cor. 1:11; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1; Col. 4:3).

The supply. The Greek carries the idea of ample, abundant supply.

The Spirit of Jesus Christ is none other than the Holy Ghost, who proceeds equally from the Father and the Son, and who is called sometimes the Spirit of the Father and sometimes the Spirit of the Son (cf. Rom. 8:9; Gal. 4:6; John 14:16, 26, 15:26, etc.). Whether we are to understand here the Holy Spirit Himself or His grace, makes little difference, since the two ideas would come to the same thing. These final words are also a proof of the divinity of our Lord, the Holy Spirit being His Spirit.

Phil 1:20. According to my expectation and hope; that in nothing I shall be confounded, but with all confidence, as always, so now also shall Christ be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

Through the prayers of the faithful and the grace of Christ the Apostle is ardently hoping (such is the meaning of the Greek) for eternal salvation, but on his own part he is going to see that in nothing shall he be found wanting, that he will continue in the future as in the past to preach the Gospel “with all confidence” (i.e., freely and fearlessly), so that the glory of Christ shall continue to be manifested “in my body, etc.” (i.e., by spending his body and his energies for Christ, if he lives, or by the sacrifice of his life in the cause of Christ if he is put to death). Why he will not “be confounded” (i.e., disappointed), whether he lives or dies, he explains in the following verses.

Phil 1:21. For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain.

St. Paul had already told the Galatians: “I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). He was totally identified with Christ; Christ was the soul and centre of his life, the prime mover in all his actions, the goal and term of all his aspirations; to the Apostle “to live” was to labor for Christ and in union with Christ, and thus augment his merits for heaven, while “to die” was to be with Christ in glory and to enjoy his eternal reward.

Phil 1:22. But if to live in the flesh, this is to me the fruit of labor, and which I shall choose I know not.
Phil 1:23. But I am straitened between two: having a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ, a thing by far the better:
Phil 1:24. But to abide still in the flesh, is more needful for you.

The Apostle is confronted by the alternatives of dying and being with Christ in glory, on the one hand, and of remaining in this earthly life for a time and thus serving the interests of the Gospel and the Church, on the other hand; and he knows not which to choose, as there is great profit in either choice. So he is torn between conflicting emotions, desiring the former, knowing that it would be far better “to be dissolved” (or better, “to depart”), and thus be forever with Christ in paradise, but feeling that the Philippians need him, and that consequently he ought to remain on earth a while longer.

This is to me the fruit of labor. The Greek is concise and therefore somewhat difficult, but the meaning is clear: To continue in this life would mean to the Apostle an occasion of fruitful labor (καρπος εργου = karpos ergou) for the cause of Christ on earth.

Far the better, literally, “much more better,” a phrase indicative of St. Paul’s strong preference to die and be with Christ. From ver. 23 it is evident that the souls of the saints are admitted to the presence of God immediately after death.

The necessarium of the Vulgate (ver. 24) is a comparative in Greek, more necessary.

Phil 1:25. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide, and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith:
Phil 1:26. That your rejoicing may abound in Christ Jesus in me by my coming to you again.

And having this confidence. The Greek means that the Apostle is firmly persuaded, that he enjoys a feeling of personal certainty. But with regard to what? That he is going to live and see the Philippians again? If this is the meaning, it would seem to be out of harmony with the uncertainty expressed just above in verses 20-23, and also with what he says below in Phil 2:17. The best explanation seems to be that of St. Chrysostom and others, who say that St. Paul is speaking above about the uncertainty of life or death in his case, whereas here he is stressing the utility and profit of the event, whichever it turns out to be: if he dies, he will be with Christ in glory; if he lives, he will be a help and a source of joy to the Philippians; in any case the result will certainly be good, of this he is firmly persuaded. In this explanation verse 25 is to be understood, in the light of the whole context, as conditional. “This confidence” refers to what follows: if he continues to live, he knows that he will be of great spiritual profit to the Philippians, and will thus give joy to their faith.

In me. The meaning is that St. Paul will be the occasion of their rejoicing, all the more so because the Apostle’s adversaries have been trying to discredit him while he has been in prison.


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