Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Note: When passages are quoted at the beginning of new sections, I will be using The Message translation because of its conversational, friendly tone. You can compare this version with others, as well as have access to Gordon Fee’s commentary, at Bible Gateway.
Paul’s primary concern for the church in Philippi, as he will exhort them in 2:2, is that their love may abound [yet] more and more. Love is such a common word to us that it is easy to miss Paul’s concern. Following the lead of the Septuagint, his use of love first of all points to the character of God, and to God’s actions toward his people based on that character. God’s love is demonstrated especially in his forbearance and kindness (1 Cor 13:4), manifested ultimately in the death of Christ for his enemies (Rom 5:6-8).
Thus the primary connotation of love is not “affection,” as in the preceding phrase about Christ (Phil 1:8), but rather a sober kind of love that places high value on a person and actively seeks that person’s benefit. This is what Paul now prays will abound ( be present in an abundant way) yet more and more among the Philippian believers. The rest of the prayer, after all, emphasizes love not as affection but as behavior, behavior that is both pure (stemming from right motives) and blameless (lacking offense).
• Gordon Fee
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So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.
Having greeted and given thanks for his friends in Philippi, Paul prays for them. Once again, Paul is following the standard form of a friendship letter, but filling it with Jesus-shaped content.
In his prayer, Paul focuses on the one main thing we should pray for one another: that God’s love will fill us and overflow to others through our lives. As the Apostle’s prayer puts it…
- That we and our friends will be people of love.
- That we will be people of overflowing love.
- That we will exhibit that love more and more in our lives and relationships.
- That the love we practice will be wise and understanding.
- That we will practice love in discerning ways that will help us choose the best ways of benefiting others in our lives.
- That the love we show will plant seeds of new creation in the world around us, and ultimately produce a harvest of lives, relationships, and situations put right in the age to come.
Peterson’s idiomatic translation puts it in simple, vivid terms:
- That we will love much.
- That we will love well.
- That we will love sincerely and intelligently.
- That our love will be fruitful, making Jesus attractive to all.
The rest, my friends, is application.
How, specifically, to practice this love is contextual to your life and mine, to our own personalities and histories and experiences, to the relationships we have, to the communities in which we find ourselves, to the seasons of life and situations in which we live at the moment.
I can’t tell you how to do that. Nor you me. But we can pray for each other like this.
I think someone once said it well: all we need is (this kind of) love.
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Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel