Prayers of the Apostle Paul
(Commentary + Life Application)
compiled by Greg Williamson (c) 2019

  • ACTS
  • ROM
  • 1-2 COR
  • EPH
  • PHIL
  • COL
  • 1-2 THESS
  • 1-2 TIM
  • PHM
• Acts 13:2-3 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 14:23 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 16:25 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 20:36-38 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 21:5-6 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 22:17-21 - Comm + Life App
• Acts 28:7-10 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 1:8-10 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 8:26 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 10:1 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 12:12 - Comm + Life App
• Rom 15:30-33 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 7:5 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 11:4-6, 13 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Cor 14:13-15 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Cor 1:11 - Comm + Life App
2 Cor 9:14-15 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Cor 13:7-9 - Comm + Life App
• Eph 1:15-19 - Comm + Life App
• Eph 6:18-20 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:3-5 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 1:19 - Comm + Life App
• Phil 4:6-7 - Comm + Life App
• Col 1:3-4 - Comm + Life App
• Col 1:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• Col 4:2-4 - Comm + Life App
• Col 4:12-13 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thes 1:2-3 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thess 3:9-10 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Thess 5:16-18, 25 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Thess 1:11-12 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Thess 3:1-2 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 2:1-2 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 2:8 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 4:3-5 - Comm + Life App
• 1 Tim 5:5 - Comm + Life App
• 2 Tim 1:3-4 - Comm + Life App
• Phm 1:4-7 - Comm + Life App
• Phm 1:22 - Comm + Life App


Philippians 1:3-5

Philippians 1:3
Paul begins with his standard formula of thanksgiving, "I thank my God." Thanksgiving and prayer in Paul are always directed toward God. The "my," which occurs in each of his thanksgivings where the verb is singular, denotes personal relationship. The expression has its roots in the OT, especially the Psalter, where "the God of our fathers" is addressed over and again as "the Lord, my God." On the one hand, of course, "my God" refers to the only God there is, who is therefore God over all; on the other hand, this God had arrested Paul and made him his own (cf. Php 3:12). Hence on the basis of divine election, God is "my God" in a very personal way, the One in whom Paul puts his trust and the One whom alone he serves.

... [O]n the occasion of "all of his remembrance of them," triggered most recently by their gift, to be sure, he thanks God for his beloved Philippian sisters and brothers in Christ. The basis of the thanksgiving will be given in the second epi phrase (in Php 1:5) -- their past and present partnership in the gospel. Paul, after all, rarely thanks God for "things"; his thanksgivings are for people, for those special "gifts" whom God has brought into his life, who, despite whatever frustration or grief they may also cause him, are invariably a source of great joy and thanksgiving. Here, I would offer, is a beginning point for understanding the nature of Pauline spirituality.

Philippians 1:4
It is also Paul's habit not only to note that he thanks God for his friends, but also (a) that he does so regularly ("always") and (b) that such thanksgiving is a regular part of his praying for them. Having reminded the Philippians of his thanksgiving for them at all times, he now turns to these other matters. But in so doing he compounds phrases in a way that makes the rest of this opening clause (through Php 1:5) particularly awkward.

First, he reminds them that he "always" gives thanks for them when praying for them. This does not mean that he offers unceasing thanksgiving, but that he does so continually -- over and again. On every occasion when he remembers them in prayer he always does so first with thanksgiving.

Second, his thanksgiving takes place in the context of "all my prayers for all of you." That is, on every occasion that he petitions God on their behalf, he does so with thanksgiving. It is difficult to get around the significance of this collocation for our understanding Paul as a person of the Spirit. Not only is he a man of prayer, but a man whose prayer is as filled with thanksgiving as with petition, and whose thanksgiving is for God's people, for whom Paul himself feels deep and passionate longing.

Third, his prayer and thanksgiving are for "all of you." We have already noted (in Php 1:1) the possible significance of this emphasis in Philippians, where some posturing is apparently under way that has all the possibility of leading to real division among them. Thus, in this letter, Paul's "all of you" includes both Euodia and Syntyche, not to mention everyone else.

Fourth, the combination of "every prayer of mine" and "for all of you" triggers yet another reminder, that when he does offer up prayer for them, now meaning "petition," he does so with joy. Whatever else the Philippians meant to Paul, they were for him a cause of great joy. This little phrase, however, also creates the awkward repetitions in this clause. The word order ("with joy the prayer making") gives this phrase special emphasis; indeed this is the first of 16 occurrences of this word group ("joy") in the letter. While this may not be as dominant a motif in the letter as some contend, it is a recurring motif, and can scarcely be missed. The very awkwardness of the phrase in this case forces it upon the Philippians' -- and our -- attention.

Joy, it should be noted, which occurs only here in the Pauline thanksgivings, lies at the heart of the Christian experience of the gospel; it is the fruit of the Spirit in any truly Christian life, serving as primary evidence of the Spirit's presence (Gal 5:22; Rom 14:17). Precisely because this is so, joy transcends present circumstances; it is based altogether on the Spirit, God's way of being present with his people under the new covenant. Hence joy prevails for Paul even in prison; he will urge that it prevail for the Philippians as well in their present suffering in the face of opposition.

Here, then, is the paradigm of Pauline spirituality: thanksgiving and prayer, filled with joy, on behalf of all of God's people in Philippi. See further on Php 4:4-7.

Philippians 1:5
But Paul's thanksgiving is not finished. [Php 1:3-4] focused on the Philippian believers themselves. Having just mentioned that his petitions on their behalf -- for all of them -- are filled with joy, he now offers a brief word as to the basis of his joy, which also serves as further reason for his thanksgiving. The reason is expressed in terms of their koinōnia in the spread of the gospel and focuses on the long, enduring nature of their participation/partnership.

It does not take much reading of Paul's letters to recognize that the gospel is the singular passion of his life; that passion is the glue that in particular holds this letter together. By "the gospel," especially in Philippians, Paul refers primarily neither to a body of teaching nor to proclamation. Above all, the gospel has to do with Christ, both his person and his work. To preach Christ (Php 1:15-16) is to preach the gospel, which is all about Christ; to preach the gospel is to proclaim God's good news of salvation that he has effected in Christ. As elsewhere, "Christ" and "the gospel" are at times nearly interchangeable. Living "worthy of the gospel of Christ" in Php 1:27, therefore, means to live worthy of Christ as he has been made known and proclaimed in the gospel which has him as its focus and content. Thus Paul's joy in prayer is prompted by their "partnership for (the furtherance of) the gospel."

The rest of the thanksgiving is an elaboration of Paul's and their mutual relationship with Christ in the gospel -- Paul's as a prisoner in the defense and vindication of the gospel, theirs as partners with him in the spread of the gospel, expressed both in their gift and in their living out the truth of the gospel in Philippi. But the present focus is on the Philippians' long-time association with Paul in the gospel, thus "your participation/partnership toward the advance of the gospel from the first day until now." ... At the least ... its basic sense is "participation in the spread of the gospel." But since that "participation" is expressly linked in Php 1:7 to Paul's own work in the gospel, very likely in this clause it carries the further connotation of their "participation" in "partnership with Paul" in the advance of the gospel.

But what specifically does Paul have in mind by this reference to their "participation/partnership in the gospel"? ... [T]he best understanding of "your koinōnia in the gospel" is that which takes the word first of all in its "neutral" sense to refer to their participation in spreading the gospel itself, in every possible way, which in particular includes their recent partnership in the gospel by sending him a gift while he is imprisoned for the defense of the gospel. ...

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

Assemble a group of old classmates, or army buddies, or teammates, and memories become so vivid you can almost reach out and touch them. Paul hinted that such memories can put new energy into prayer. Try this:
  • Today when a bank clerk reminds you of a friend from long ago, pause for a moment to pray.
  • When a kid on a bike reminds you of a grandchild, take a minute to pray.
  • When a song reminds you of an old boyfriend or girlfriend, pray for that person you once couldn't get out of your mind.
  • When a different dialect jogs your memory of a foreign friend, pray for Christians in his or her country (and for your friend too).

Let your memories spark the engine of prayer. And let people know that you thank God when you think of them.

The Philippians were willing to be used by God for whatever he wanted them to do. When others think about you, what comes to their minds? Are you remembered with joy by them? Do your acts of kindness lift up others?

- Bruce B. Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman [ref]


Philippians 1:9-10

Philippians 1:9
At the beginning of his thanksgiving (Php. 1:4), Paul told the Philippians that he prayed for them on a regular basis, and that he made those prayers with joy. Now, flowing directly out of his own longing for them "with the affection of Christ Jesus" (Php. 1:8), he tells them what that prayer consists of.

First, he prays (item 1) that "your love may abound more and more." Many years earlier, where an existing love also needed some further prodding, Paul prayed similarly for the Thessalonians that their "love [might] increase and overflow" (1 Thess. 3:12). In that case he specified the direction of the love for which he prayed: "for each other and for everyone else." The linguistic and contextual similarities between these two prayers suggest a similar direction to the love for which he now prays -- that their love for one another abound all the more, a concern that is expressly picked up in Philippians 2:2 ("that you have the same love [for one another]").

"Love" is such a common word to us that it is easy to miss Paul's concern. As used by Paul, and following the lead of the Septuagint, "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 its primary connotation is not "affection," as in the preceding phrase about Christ (Php. 1:8), but rather "a sober kind of love -- love in the sense of placing high value on a person or thing," which expresses itself in actively seeking the benefit of the one so loved. And this is what Paul now prays will "abound 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).

On the other hand, both the present tense of the verb and the qualifier "yet more and more" indicate that Paul is not by this prayer "getting on their case," as it were, for something they lacked. Quite the opposite. His concern is that they not let behavior motivated by "selfish ambition or vain conceit" (Php. 2:3) undermine the very thing that has long characterized them, to which 2 Corinthians 8:1-6 bears eloquent testimony. The problem is similar to that occasionally experienced by families, where love is sometimes more easily shown toward those on the outside, who are known very little and with whom one does not have constant association. But actively to love on the inside, those with whom one is in constant relationship and where one's own place in the sun is constantly being threatened, that can be another matter. Thus he prays that the love that has long characterized them will continue "still more and more" toward one and all.

Second (item 2), he prays for a similar increase "in knowledge and depth of insight." The single preposition controlling both nouns suggests a very close relationship between them. The first word (epignōsis) is probably the key. Its primary sense is not so much "knowledge about" something, but rather the kind of "full," or "innate," knowing that comes from experience or personal relationship. The second word (aisthēsis), which occurs only here in the NT, is more difficult to pin down. In secular Greek it denotes moral understanding based on experience, hence something close to "moral insight." This is the sense which the translators of the LXX picked up, for whom it becomes a near synonym for "wisdom" (sophia) or "insight/understanding" (sunesis). Very likely, therefore, this phrase is something of an abbreviated equivalent of the similar phrase in the (roughly contemporary) prayer in Colossians 1:9 ("that by means of all of the Spirit's wisdom [sophia] and insight [sunesis] you might be filled with the knowledge [epignōsis] of God's will").

Thus, even though the phrase grammatically modifies "that your love may abound more and more," and may indicate the "manner" in which he hopes that love will abound, more likely the grammatical link is with the verb ("I pray") alone, so that conceptually Paul has moved in a new direction with the prayer. This seems to be verified by the clause that follows, which again grammatically should modify the whole of the preceding clause, but in fact seems to be related singularly to the prepositional phrase ("in knowledge and depth of insight"). If this be the case, then Paul is now praying a second thing, that along with an ever-increasing love they may also experience an ever-increasing knowledge (of God and his will) and moral insight. An increased knowledge of God is what is needed in order for them to "walk worthy of the gospel" and in the one Spirit to contend for that gospel as one person (Php. 1:27).

Philippians 1:10
The opening clause of the prayer, for ever-increasing love accompanied by ever-increasing knowledge and moral insight, is followed by two purpose clauses. The first (item 3) expresses immediate purpose -- why they need ever-increasing "knowledge and (moral) insight." The second (item 4) expresses the ultimate purpose of the whole prayer -- why they need ever-increasing love and ever-increasing knowledge and insight in order to determine what really counts.

The reason for an overflow of "knowledge and (moral) insight" is so that they will "be able to discern what is best," that is, so that the faculty for making proper assessments about what is absolutely essential regarding life in Christ will increase as well. For truly Christian life, some things matter, and others do not. In light of the term "fruit of righteousness" in Philippians 1:11 and the contrast between "righteousness in terms of Law-keeping" and that which is through faith in Christ in Philippians 3:1-11, it is possible that this anticipates the warning and personal testimony of that passage. Especially so, (a) since Paul begins that passage by reminding them that he is once again returning to that oft-repeated subject for their "safety," and (b) in light of what he says elsewhere about circumcision. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for a thing, Paul says; one is no better off with one, or worse off with the other (1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6; 6:15). "What counts," he goes on, "is keeping the commandments of God[!]" (1 Cor. 7:19), which in Galatians 5:6 is interpreted as "faith that manifests itself through love." Whether this part of the present prayer intentionally anticipates Philippians 3:1-11 or not, this is the kind of "insight" he prays for them to have, so that they will be able to continue to "discern what counts."

But if the reason for the penultimate purpose clause is not fully clear, there is no ambiguity as to the ultimate purpose for the preceding concerns -- that they might be "pure and blameless until the day of Christ." This reflects the urgency already voiced in the thanksgiving that they be found "complete" at the coming of Christ. The only surprise is the language Paul uses to express concern for their being "blameless." The word translated "pure" appears twice in 2 Corinthians to describe Paul's apostleship as absolutely sincere, without the "mixed motives" he ascribes to his opponents (Php. 2:17). In 1 Corinthians 5:7, in a corresponding ethical context, it bears the sense of a pure lump of dough, "unmixed" with leaven. In the present context it most likely refers to purity (sincerity) of motive, in terms of relationships within the community. Likewise, aproskopos is not Paul's regular word for the idea of "blameless." Ordinarily, as in Philippians 2:15 and Philippians 3:6, he uses a form of amemptos, a word denoting behavior that is without observable fault. But aproskopos has to do with being "blameless" in the sense of "not offending" or not causing someone else to stumble.

Thus this choice of words that speak to Paul's desire for the Philippians when they stand before God at the end also seems to reflect the present situation in Philippi. The behavior of some appears to have the latent possibility of "mixed motives," or at least is a potential source of "offense." Paul prays that they may stand blameless on the day of Christ, not having offended others through equivocal behavior.

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

Have you ever longed to see a friend with whom you share fond memories? Paul had such a longing to see the Christians at Philippi. His love and affection for them was based not merely on past experiences, but also on the unity that comes when believers draw upon Christ's love. All Christians are part of God's family and thus share equally in the transforming power of his love. Do you feel a deep love for fellow Christians, friends and strangers alike? Let Christ's love motivate you to love other Christians and to express that love in your actions toward them.

- Bruce B. Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman [ref]

After patting them on the back, Paul says to the Philippians, "My prayer is that your love may abound more and more." Paul's was not a "sloppy agape" -- where anything and everything was fine with him. No, he says, "I want you to do better." How? Read on.

How will our love grow? Not by fault-finding, not by "sin sniffing," but by "excellence approving." That is, we grow by saying, "I can glean from that ministry, book, teacher, parent -- from anyone who models any aspect of the nature of Christ, imperfect though they may be."

- Jon Courson [ref]


Philippians 1:19

Philippians 1:18-19
Without breaking stride Paul begins this new section by picking up where he has just concluded, moving from his present joy ("because of this I rejoice") to his prospect of still greater joy ("what is more, I will continue to rejoice"). The explanatory "for" indicates that Philippians 1:19-20 are intended to explain why he "will continue to rejoice."

The place to begin our way through Paul's "explanation" is with a phenomenon literary critics call "intertextuality," the conscious embedding of fragments of an earlier text into a later one. Since Paul's spiritual life and theology are thoroughly imbued with OT realities, we should not be surprised that he not only quotes the OT but also at times borrows or "echoes" the language and setting of a specific OT passage (or motif) and refits it into his own setting. In this sentence he echoes the situation of the "poor man" in the OT, especially Job and the Psalmists, who in their distress look to God for "vindication," which will function as "salvation" for them. Paul's first clause is in fact a verbatim borrowing from Job 13:16 (LXX); and the second clause, with its collocation of "shame" and "magnifying," picks up the language of the "poor man" in such Psalms as Psalm 34:3-6 and Psalm 35:24-28. Thus, even though this is now Paul's own sentence, and must be understood within its present context, it is best understood as intentionally echoing the analogous circumstances of Job.

Job 13 contains one of the more poignant of Job's speeches, where he abjures the perspective of his "comforters," who insist that his present situation is the result of "hidden sin." Job knows better and pleads his cause with God, in whom he hopes and before whom he would plead his innocence. Indeed, the very hope of appearing before God in this way will be his "salvation" because the godless shall not come before God (Job 13:16). And "salvation" for Job means "I know that I will be vindicated" (Job 13:18). So with Paul, but in quite different circumstances.

The "this," which belongs to the Job citation, now means (probably), "this whole affair (= my present circumstances)." Thus, "my present circumstances will issue in my sōtēria." Also in light of the Job citation, sōtēria probably refers first to Paul's final eschatological "salvation," when he appears among the redeemed at the heavenly tribunal. But the final clause indicates that it also, especially, entails "vindication," God's "vindication" of him and his gospel by "magnifying Christ -- now as always -- through Paul" before the Roman tribunal, whichever way it turns out. Such "salvation/vindication" is his "earnest expectation and hope." The result is a sentence which reads (paraphrased): "This whole affair will turn out to my ultimate salvation and present vindication, when, through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Christ my earnest expectation and hope are realized at my trial and not only am I not brought to shame but in a very open (or bold) way Christ is magnified in every way -- whether I am given 'life' or sentenced to death."

The initial modifier indicates how Paul expects God to bring all of this about: "through your prayers and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." The grammar assumes the closest kind of relationship between their prayer and the supply of the Spirit. Through their prayers, and with that, God's special provision of the Spirit, his most eager expectation and hope about Christ's being magnified through him will be realized. But as the NIV reveals, not all interpreters think so. At issue are (1) the meaning of the word "supply," translated "help" by the NIV (and others), and (2) whether "Spirit" is the object or subject of "supply" (= supply or supplier). These are related issues, since "help" is an invented meaning which apparently evolved because scholarship was generally convinced that the Spirit was the subject of "supply," not its object.

The noun derives from its cognate verb, which invariably means "to supply, furnish, or provide for." Its non-compounded form originated as a term for supplying choristers and dancers for festive occasions. But even as it moved beyond that original specific sense, it always kept the nuance of supplying or providing someone with something. Thus the verb, and the verbal idea of this noun, is clearly transitive, requiring or expecting an object in terms of what is supplied. That Paul here intends the Spirit as the "supply" is confirmed by the almost identical usage of the cognate verb in Galatians 3:5, where it can only mean "God supplies you with the Spirit." There he appeals to believers who had already "received" the Spirit (Gal. 1:2) that God's continuing "supply" of the Spirit, including miracles, is further certain evidence that "works of Law" do not count. Likewise here he is not thinking of the Spirit's "help" but of the gift of the Spirit himself, whom God continually provides. The oft-debated question as to whether the genitive is "objective" or "subjective" is therefore nearly irrelevant. Since the noun does not mean "help," but "supply," and an object is implied by the word itself, the Spirit in this case can only be the object -- to be supplied so as to magnify Christ -- not the one who as "subject" will help Paul as he faces trial.

This understanding is further supported by the unusual designation, "the Spirit of Jesus Christ." This qualifier, yet another genitive construction, again could be construed as subjective (i.e., the Spirit sent by Christ. But the close tie of this phrase to the prayer of the Philippians suggests otherwise. Prayer for Paul would be directed toward God the Father, in this case to supply Paul with the Spirit of his Son. This is how Christ lives in him -- by his Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10). The reason for this unusual qualifier lies in the context. Paul's concern throughout the "explanation" is on Christ and the gospel. In anticipation of the final clause expressing the nature of his "salvation/vindication," Paul knows that Christ will be glorified in his life or death only as he is filled with the Spirit of Christ himself. That is, it is Christ resident in him by the Spirit who will be the cause of Paul's -- and therefore the gospel's -- not being brought to shame and of Christ's being magnified through him.

Thus this phrase, "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ," is not incidental. Here is the key to Christ's being glorified in every way: by Paul's being "supplied" the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself, who will live powerfully through Paul as he stands trial. At the same time, from such a phrase and its close relationship with the prayer of the believing community, one learns a great deal about Paul's own spiritual life and his understanding of the role of the Spirit in that life. He simply does not think of Christian life as lived in isolation from others. He may be the one in prison and headed for trial; but the Philippians -- and others -- are inextricably bound together with him through the Spirit. Therefore, he assumes that their praying, and with that God's gracious supply of the Spirit of his Son, will be the means God uses yet once more to bring glory to himself through Paul and Paul's defense of the gospel (Php. 1:7, 16).

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

Paul, the prisoner, expected to be delivered, but not by a daring raid. In fact, the means of his escape are downright curious: prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit. What kind of talk is this?

Prayer -- his own, no doubt, and the prayers of many Christians. Paul counts them as part of his life's treasure.

The help of the Holy Spirit -- the calm assurance that God is present and potent.

Paul may never escape detention; his shackles may never be loosened. So what? He is delivered.

Today, try prayer, and whatever your circumstances, accept the help of the Holy Spirit, the key to real freedom.

- Bruce B. Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman [ref]

Paul is sure that he will be saved on the final day, but he views his impending opportunity to testify to the gospel before his accusers as an important step on his way to that final destination. Moreover, he is dependent on the Philippians' prayers, particularly their prayers that God will supply him with the sustaining presence of the Spirit, so that he may take this step successfully.

Paul frequently asked the churches to which he wrote for their prayers that he would be kept safe (Rom. 15:30-31a; 2 Cor. 1:10-11; 2 Thess. 3:2; cf. Philem. 22), that his apostolic labor would progress unhindered (Rom. 15:31b-32; 2 Thess. 3:1, cf. 1 Thess. 5:25), and that he would proclaim the gospel clearly (Col. 4:3-4) and fearlessly (Eph. 6:19). Only in Philippians 1:19, however, does he speak of prayer for his ultimate salvation. This is a difficult concept for many Christians to grasp, and indeed if grasped incorrectly could lead to the notion that Christians can somehow distribute salvation through their prayers -- that they hold the keys to the kingdom and can give or deny them at will. Such a notion, of course, is utterly foreign to the Paul who wrote elsewhere that "God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden" (Rom. 9:18).

On the other hand, it is important to recognize that God ordains the prayers of his people as a means through which to accomplish his purposes, including his purposes for the perseverance of Christians in the faith and for their ultimate salvation. Paul's own prayers for the sanctification and final salvation of the believers to whom he wrote (1 Cor. 1:4-9; Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; Phil. 1:3-11; Col. 1:9-14; 2 Thess. 1:11-12) show how seriously he took this duty, and Philippians 1:19 shows that he expected his churches to take it seriously on his behalf as well. Although it grates against Western notions of the autonomy of the individual, Paul did not conceive of sanctification and ultimate salvation as solely private enterprises. Individual Christians need the prayerful intercession of their brothers and sisters for their spiritual well-being so that they "may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ" (Php. 1:10).

The Philippians' prayers ... are closely linked in Paul's mind to "the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ" (Php. 1:19, KJV), and this concept too is difficult to grasp. Does Paul's statement mean that the Spirit came and went in his life? Does it mean that one believer can pray for another to receive the Spirit? Paul could hardly be clearer elsewhere that the Spirit dwells within every believer. "You… are controlled not by the sinful nature," he wrote to the Romans, "but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9). It is unlikely, then, that here Paul suddenly reverts to the notion that he can be deprived of the Spirit and may need the prayers of other Christians to restore it.

On the other hand, many Christians today believe that the Spirit is more inactive than Paul's language allows. Paul can speak of the Spirit being given to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4:8) and being supplied to the Galatians (Gal. 3:5), he commands the Ephesians to be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18), and he tells Timothy to fan the gift given to him (probably the Spirit) into flame (2 Tim. 1:5). All believers have the Spirit all the time, but they sometimes experience the Spirit's presence in greater power and abundance than at other times. Thus Luke tells us that Peter was "filled with the Holy Spirit" when he bore witness to the gospel before a hostile Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8), that the persecuted Jerusalem community was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and spoke God's word boldly (Acts 4:31), and that Stephen, prior to his martyrdom, was "full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:55). Paul was similarly "filled with the Holy Spirit" when he confronted the magician Elymas (Acts 13:9), and despite the persecution that Paul and Barnabas left in their wake when they departed Pisidian Antioch, the disciples there were "filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 3:52). The Holy Spirit lived within each of these people prior to these occasions (see, for example, Acts 6:5), but each apparently received an unusual abundance of the Spirit's infilling during a time of special testing. Paul awaited such a time when he wrote Philippians 1:19, and he hoped that through the prayers of the Philippians on his behalf, the Spirit would be supplied to him in such measure that he would witness boldly to the gospel before his accusers. In the words of Henry Barclay Swete:

He was confident that, as his converts prayed, a fresh abundance of the Spirit which was in Jesus Christ and had been sent by Him would be poured into his heart, making for his final salvation whether the present captivity should result in life or death.

It is appropriate and desirable that believers today should in a similar way pray for their fellow believers that, especially in times of trial, God will fill them with his Spirit in unusual abundance so that they may stand firm and even be strengthened in the faith.

- Frank Thielman [ref]


Philippians 4:6-7

Philippians 4:6
Paul now turns to the second consequence of the Lord's being "near." They are to live without anxiety, instead entrusting their lives to God with prayer and thanksgiving. In so doing, he borrows from the Jesus tradition, that the children of the Kingdom are to live without care -- but not "uncaring" or "careless." Jesus invites his followers to live "without anxiety" because their heavenly Father knows and cares for them; in Paul's case it is because their "Lord is near." Apprehension and fear mark the life of the unbelieving, the untrusting, for whom the present is all there is, and for whom the present is so uncertain -- or for many so filled with distress and suffering, as in the case of the Philippians.

On the contrary, Paul urges, "in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." "In everything" stands in contrast to "not about anything," and means "in all the details and circumstances of life." In situations where others fret and worry, believers in "the Lord" submit their case to God in prayer, accompanied by thanksgiving. ... The three words for prayer are not significantly distinguishable; "requests" are "made known" before God "by prayer and petition." In so doing one acknowledges utter dependence on God, while at the same time expressing complete trust in him.

Especially striking in the context of petition is the addition, "with thanksgiving" -- although it is scarcely surprising of Paul. His own life was accentuated by thanksgiving; and he could not imagine Christian life that was not a constant outpouring of gratitude to God. Lack of gratitude is the first step to idolatry (Rom 1:21). Thanksgiving is an explicit acknowledgment of creatureliness and dependence, a recognition that everything comes as gift, the verbalization before God of his goodness and generosity. If prayer as petition indicates their utter dependence on and trust in God, petition "accompanied by thanksgiving" puts both their prayer and their lives into proper theological perspective. Thanksgiving does not mean to say "thank you" in advance for gifts to be received; rather, it is the absolutely basic posture of the believer, and the proper context for "petitioning" God. Gratitude acknowledges -- and begets -- generosity. It is also the key to the final affirmation that follows.

Philippians 4:7
With a rare expression of parataxis Paul deliberately conjoins the "peace of God" with the exhortation to pray in trusting submission with thanksgiving, and thus offers God's alternative to anxiety. ... [I]t is affirmation and promise. As they submit their situation to God in prayer, with thanksgiving, what they may expect from God is that his "peace" will "guard" their hearts and minds as they remain "in Christ Jesus."

... [I]n contrast to other letters, [Paul] does not express "peace" as an imperative but as an indicative, closely related to their trusting God in prayer.

As with joy, peace for Paul is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It is especially associated with God and his relationship to his people. Here it is called "the peace of God" because God is "the God of peace" (Php 4:9), the God who dwells in total shalom (wholeness, well-being) and who gives such shalom to his people. And it is the "peace of God" that "transcends all understanding." This could mean "beyond all human comprehension," which in one sense is certainly true. More likely Paul intends that God's peace "totally transcends the merely human, unbelieving mind," which is full of anxiety because it cannot think higher than itself.

Because the God to whom we pray and offer thanksgiving, whose ways are higher than ours, is also totally trustworthy, our prayer is accompanied by his peace. And that, not because he answers according to our wishes, but because his peace totally transcends our merely human way of perceiving the world. Peace comes because prayer is an expression of trust, and God's people do not need to have it all figured out in order to trust him!

Such peace will therefore "guard" their "hearts and thoughts." In the Hebrew view the heart is the center of one's being, out of which flows all of life (e.g., Mark 7:21). God's peace will do what instruction in "wisdom" urged the young to do: "above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life" (Prov 4:23). In the present context "God's peace" will be his "garrison" around their "hearts" so that they do not fall into "anxiety." It will also guard their "thoughts." Since God's peace surpasses merely human understanding in any case, it will protect the mind from those very thoughts that lead to fear and distress and that keep one from trusting prayer.

As with so much else in this letter, the location of such "protection" is "in Christ Jesus." It is their relationship to God through Christ, in whom they trust and in whom they rejoice, that is the key to all of these imperatives and this affirming indicative. And this is what distinguishes Pauline paraenesis from that of both hellenistic moralists and Jewish wisdom. Thus this is (literally and theologically) the final word in this series of exhortations. Everything that makes for life in the present and the future has to do with their being "in Christ Jesus."

Even though the experience of God's "peace" happens first of all at the individual level, it is doubtful that "peace" in this context refers only to "the well-arranged heart." For Paul peace is primarily a community matter. As noted below (Php 4:9), the ascription "God of peace" occurs in Paul in contexts where community unrest is lurking nearby. Not only so, but the mention of peace in his letters (apart from the standard salutation) occurs most often in community or relational settings. ...

Given the context of this letter, in particular the simultaneous appeals to "steadfastness" and "unity" in the face of opposition, this is a most appropriate penultimate affirmation. They need not have anxiety in the face of opposition, because they together will experience the "protection" of God's "peace" in the midst of that conflict; and they who have been urged over and again to "have the same mindset" are here assured that the peace of God which surpasses merely human understanding will also protect their thoughts as they live out the gospel together in Philippi. ...

- Gordon D. Fee [ref]

Imagine never worrying about anything! That seems like an impossibility -- everyone has worries on the job, at home, or at school. But Paul's advice is to turn our worries into prayers. Do you want to worry less? Then pray more! Whenever you start to worry, stop and pray.

Some realities cannot be fully conveyed by dictionary definition -- the peace of God, for instance. We could read books about it, but somehow never totally understand it. Paul knew the shortcomings of words to describe God's peace, so he just admitted that it transcends our human knowledge.

How do you find this peace? First, it is found only in Jesus Christ. Trust him as your Savior and Lord. Second, God's peace is attained only by practice. Trust Jesus daily in the small worries of your life so that you're ready to trust him when big problems strike. Tell him your needs and anxieties. Third, you can have peace only through prayer and meditation on God's promises. Have you discovered God's Word? Have you prayed through the promises? There is no better time to start than today. And there is no smarter way to invest the first moments of your morning.

When we trust God, he gives us peace in a traffic jam, peace in a phone call, peace in a relationship, and peace when death draws near.

- Bruce B. Barton, Mark Fackler, Linda Taylor, and Dave Veerman [ref]


NOTE: All material is quoted verbatim. Most of the material in the COMMENTARY section is taken from one of the top Bible commentaries as listed at