Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians – Friends in the Gospel (5)

Church Picnic (2017)

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians: Friends in the Gospel
Study Five

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

• • •


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.

• • •

Ordinary Time Bible Study
Philippians – Friends in the Gospel

12 thoughts on “Ordinary Time Bible Study: Philippians – Friends in the Gospel (5)

  1. She was the first performer to do a show at the Fox Theater in Detroit after Chris Cornell performed there with Soundgarden a few days earlier, on the night he committed suicide in his hotel room. I know of Nora Jones, and have liked the few songs of hers I’m familiar with, but I wouldn’t say I know her music well. I do know that this live version of Cornell’s “Black Hole Sun”, which she sang as a tribute to him, is one of the most haunting performances I’ve ever heard, haunting and yet comforting. It is almost as if she is channeling his pain in her voice and playing, expressing for him what he can no longer, and perhaps never could, express for himself. She must be a beautiful soul to have such depth of understanding for a fellow human being’s suffering, and to enter into it through her music.


  2. Robert, I am astounded that you know Nora Jones. And in Detroit, of all places. She may be all we have today to understand Billie Holiday, and I can only take their grasp of the human condition in limited doses. Thanks for this.


  3. That’s good, Rick. I find Paul very balanced. The same list in Ephesians 5 is prefaced with “Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God” and that usually gets left out, with the “Wives submit…” verse stressed.

    The Colossians list you mentioned is prefaced with “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

    Again: “one another.” Very balanced.


  4. No, it’s an important point, Chris. I think Fee goes too far, as do most commentators. The very point Paul is making in 1Cor 13 is that we can do all the right things, even for good reasons, and still not have love. I think that must mean a sense of affection and devotion is inherent in what he means by love.


  5. Just as there seems to be a Yin and Yang for everything and a counterpoint to every point, I just have to make a tiny pitch for affection. Having said what I just said I hope it’s clear that I agree with it in whole. In addition, and only to counter the savage beasts who like to say things like, “I did that out of love brother”, affection is not a necessary element to love but it attends most acts of love. When we do something loving for someone there is often, though granted, not always, spontaneous affection toward that person that joins in. It’s like smiling to a joke or closing our eyes to a sneeze. Tough love is different. I guess I just fear the cold heartedness that sometimes attaches itself to things that people call love. Doing something that we call loving while simultaneously feeling hatred, disgust or derision toward the person becomes questionable at best. Im just saying let’s not fool ourselves but rather hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to love. Ok, I’ve beaten this horse dead.


  6. –> “Thus the primary connotation of love is not ‘affection’…but rather a sober kind of love that places high value on a person…”

    We just read the entirety of Colossians in a class I facilitate, followed by a discussion of the overall theme and message of the letter. The benefit of reading it in its entirety is to avoid taking individual verses and building them up to be larger than they are. Take the series of commands in chapters 3 and 4:

    “Wives, submit…Husbands, love…Children, obey…Fathers,do not embitter…Slaves, obey…Masters, provide…”

    Some teachers (of the Law) build these up to be huge things that “must be followed” (and in a male dominated society, we know which one gets preached most often.) My comment to the class was that, when taken in context, what Paul was talking about was RESPECT. After reading this post, I think it’s even better said that Paul is talking about “a sober kind of love that places a high value on a person.” In other words, whatever your “label” (wife, husband, child, father, etc. etc.) VALUE THE OTHER PERSON, even if you have “authority” over them.


  7. Great study CM and very practical for our relationships with family, church and others.


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