Review: Philippians (Mentor)

Mentor

In signing up for my first Bible college semester in York, one of the classes to be taught by my (now) good friend Lindsay Kennedy was Job. Since Job is a big book, I knew that by taking it as a semester class I would get at least a bird’s-eye view of the book. However, about a week before leaving for York, the class changed to Philippians/Colossians, and I was pretty disappointed ( – just think of how many sermons you’ve heard on Philippians/Colossians, and then how many you’ve heard on each chapter of Job). But that disappointment left as soon as I entered the classroom.

Even still, Philippians has never been a book that’s been on my radar. There are parts of it that still stumped me, but it still never really caught my interest. And most Philippians commentaries haven’t had the right pull for me to look into Philippians. That is, until Matthew Harmon’s commentary in the Mentor series came out.

Summary

In his Introduction, Harmon covers topics like authorship, information on the city of Philippi and its citizens, Paul’s circumstances, and where he wrote the letter from. He looks at the unity of the letter, the purpose, and the false teachers. He summarizes key themes of the book such as the Gospel, Jesus Christ, the Day of Christ, Joy, Already/Not-Yet, the Use of the OT, Adam-Christ, the Isaianic Servant, and more. It’s a huge benefit having this summary in the beginning, especially when it’s as well written as it is here.

The rest of the commentary covers Philippians like an ordinary commentary would. Harmon goes through the text until he gets to the end. It basically laid out how you would expect. There are a few tables and charts. One helpful section for pastors is the “Suggestions for Preaching/Teaching and Application” at the end of each chapter. These sections aren’t very long (about a page or so), but any amount from Harmon is helpful.

But this isn’t the only place to find application. It’s scattered all throughout the commentary. When speaking about having always obeyed Paul in his presence and absence (2.12), Harmon says,

But what is remarkable about Paul’s statement is that the Philippians’ obedience was even more diligent in his absence than in his presence. Human nature would suggest quite the opposite. Children are much more likely to obey their parents when in the same room than when their parents are out of sight. Drivers are far more likely to obey the speed limit when a police car is visible than when there is none in sight.  But obedience when no authorities are visible is an excellent evidence of a heart that desires to truly submit to authority out of joy…. Their obedience… is evidence of the work of God’s Spirit transforming them into the image of Jesus Christ, the pre-eminently obedient one (241).

In each chapter, Harmon gives the verse followed by the commentary on the verse. Instead of quoting words from the verse, Harmon puts them in bold print. This makes it easier to find when he’s speaking on the verse, and you’re eyes aren’t confused by seeing an array of quotation marks.

Exegesis

1.17, the preachers teach the gospel but it is their motives the are false. Their attitude of selfish ambition doesn’t match Paul’s command in 2.3. Paul brings up the two parties of 1.15-17 because this may reflect a problem in Philippi, a lack of unity, humility, and servanthood. They are not in the same category as those spoken of in 1.27-30, 3.2, or 3.18-21.

2.12, for working our your own salvation, Harmon says, “In effect, the call to work out your own salvation is another way of saying ‘live out your kingdom citizenship in a manner worthy of the gospel’ (1:27),” and that “only those who have been made citizens of God’s kingdom through… Christ… are able to work out their own salvation,” a salvation that is both personal and corporate (242).

3.1, hearing “finally” here sounds odd to us English speakers, and a number of scholars that that chapters 3-4 are a separate letter. But Harmon says the Greek expression “has the sense of ‘as far as the rest is concerned, beyond that.’ It signals that Paul is moving on from describing his plans to send Epaphroditus and Timothy to a new section of exhortation.”

Harmon follows Paul’s argument, and is sensitive to the surrounding context, not only of Philippians, but of the entire Bible.

In 3.20, unlike the enemies of the cross who focus on earthly things (3.18-19), the Philippians are to lead lives that represent “their true homeland and lead lives worthy of their citizenship” in God’s kingdom (379). Harmon lets the rest of Scripture inform us on this heavenly citizenship: this reality is the “Jerusalem above” (Gal 4.21-5.1; cf. Isa 54.1) that will descend from heaven (Rev 21-22). While through the Holy Spirit we are raised and seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 2.6), the focus of of this verse is “on the future consummation of that citizenship in the new heavens and earth” (380).

Recommended?

Most certainly. Rather than giving the reader what every other commentator says about every passage (which Harmon leaves in the footnotes), Harmon deals with the text, what’s going on, and what it means. He follows the argument, is sensitive to the context of the letter, Paul, and the Bible. This is a perfect resource for students, laymen, teachers, Bible studies, pastors, and all in between. Harmon is solid and easy to read. Though I know they can’t all be like this, I wish more commentaries were this enjoyable to read. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Mentor Commentary
  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Mentor (February 20, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon or at CFP!

(Special thanks to Christian Focus for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

What really is this “partnership in the Gospel”?

Basics For Believers, Philippians

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;”
 – Philippians 1:3-6

What does fellowship (or partnership, as some translations have it) in the Gospel look like? What’s the difference between a friendship and a partnership? Is it like a Limited Liability Partnership (you’re regretting that I went to school for business) where each person is liable over their own misconduct and responsibilities? “You do your own thing, I’ll do mine?

If that’s a partnership, then what is fellowship? If I hang out with the unsaved, it’s friendship. If I spend time with other Christians, then it’s fellowship? Bring over some cake and it’s fellowship. Forget the cake and it’s only hanging out?

In D. A. Carson’s Basics For Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, he shows that in the first century, the word “partnership” had a business connotation to it:

If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to financial matters. Thus, when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem, they are entering into fellowship with them (Rom. 15: 26). The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision” (Kindle Locations 104-108).

What is of most importance? The central vision we have to Christ which calls forth and demands our commitment. 

“So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ ‘partnership in the gospel” or “fellowship in the gospel,” he is thanking God that these brothers and sisters in Christ— from the moment of their conversion (“ from the first day until now,” Paul writes)— rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry— all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel. That is more than enough reason for thanking God” (Kindle Locations 110-115).

And this leads into what Paul says in v6, “…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul could see the difference in their lives. He saw real fruit from their faith. He saw an actual, genuine faith that didn’t sit back with fire insurance in-hand, but got up and did something. Because God is preserving them, they will persevere.

Paul isn’t sitting back, basking in the nostalgia of the television programs they attached together, the sports games they played, or the barbecue’s their families shared together (though those are all fine things in and of themselves). His focus was on how God was moving in their lives, changing them to be more more like His Son: servants.

So what do our conversations look like? How do we speak to one another? In what manner do we speak about others when they aren’t around us? Are we really living out what we say we believe? Do we care about each other’s growth in our relationship with Christ? Does every conversation have to be about church? No, but we should want to advance the gospel, not just to the unsaved, but in our own lives and in the lives of others as well.

Do we merely hang out because we get along? “I’ll put up with you for an hour just to make Jesus happy.” Are we really partnered together in the Gospel, or is our church just another social gathering?