Philippians, Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern
1. From: Sha’ul and Timothy, slaves of the Messiah Yeshua
To: All God’s people united with the Messiah Yeshua and living in Philippi, along with the congregation leaders and shammashim:
Rabbi Sha'ul from Tarsus is Paul (Ac 13:9&N). He himself circumcised Timothy (Ac 16:1-3), who, as his closest co-worker (Ac 16:4-8, 17:14-15, 18:5, 19:22,20:4), received two of Sha'ul's thirteen letters and is mentioned in eight others, also at MJ 13:23. Philippi, in Macedonia, was the first city in Greece evangelized by Sha'ul (Ac 16:9-40).
Congregation leaders and shammashim, which the King James Version renders "bishops and deacons," transliterating the Greek words "episkopoi" ("overseers, supervisors") and "diakonoi" ("those who serve"). Two terms similar to "episkopoi" are "presbuteroi" ("elders") and "poimenoi" ("shepherds," usually rendered "pastors"). In the New Testament these seem to be used sometimes interchangeably and sometimes not; those who think that they are not usually consider the office of episkopos higher, carrying responsibility for several congregations in a region rather than one (as with "bishops" today, as compared with "pastors"). In any case, these have responsibility for the spiritual progress of believers in their congregations and will have to render an account to God for them (MJ 13:17).
Two of the three major forms of congregational organization found in Christendom take their names from these Greek words:
(1) the episcopal system, with a hierarchy of bishops largely controlled from the top (comparable with monarchy),
(2) the opposite, the congregational system, wherein local congregations elect their own pastors and constitute the final authority (comparable with democracy), and
(3) the presbyterian system, somewhere between, in which the congregation elects elders or "presbyters," who in turn appoint local pastors and elect general presbyters (something like a republic). The three major Christian denominations named for each of these systems are also examples of them (Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregational). All three systems can work and all can be abused. There is no scholarly consensus that the New Testament requires any one of them; the one agreed-on element of polity is that Yeshua is Lord.
The task of "deacons" is to care for the practical affairs of the Messianic Commu-niiy. "serving tables" as distinct from "praying and serving the Word" (Ac 6:2, 4); Ac 6:1-6 tells how the first seven were appointed. The Encyclopedia Judaica describes the shammash (Yiddish shammes) as the "salaried beadle or sexton in the community, the synagogue, rabbinical court or a chevrah [cemetery committee]. A shammash performed a number of functions varying in accordance with the measure of autonomy or the nature of the religious institutions he served: tax collector, bailiff, process server, secretary, messenger, almoner, all-around handyman, grave digger, or notary." (14:1292)
In the Messianic Community, tiie term "shammashim" does not mean salaried functionaries but persons appointed to serve without monetary remuneration in a spiritual office because of their spiritual qualifications. Sha'ul gives requirements for serving in the capacity of congregation leader at 1 Ti 3:1-7 and Ti 1:6-9; those for shammash are at Ac 6:3 and 1 Ti 3:8-13.
2. Grace to you and shalom from God our Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah.
3. I thank my God every time I think of you.
4. Whenever I pray for all of you I always pray with joy,
5. because you have shared in proclaiming the Good News from the very first day until now.
You have shared both financially (4:14-19, 2C 8:1-5, Ro 15:26) and by praying for my safety (v. 19, Pm 22) and for success in communicating the Gospel (Ro 6:19-20). Compare v. 7.
6. And I am sure of this: that the One who began a good work among you will keep it growing until it is completed on the Day of the Messiah Yeshua.
In an age when theology is done with slogans, one of the more sanguine and modest bumper stickers reads, "Be patient, God isn't finished with me yet." After someone has responded to God's call, God promises to continue making him ever more godly and holy, until the Day of the Messiah Yeshua's return.
7. It is right for me to think this way about you all, because I have you on my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and establishing the Good News, you are all sharing with me in this privileged work.
8. God can testify how I long for all of you with the deep affection of the Messiah Yeshua.
9. And this is my prayer: that your love may more and more overflow in fullness of knowledge and depth of discernment,
10. so that you will be able to determine what is best and thus be pure and without blame for the Day of the Messiah,
So that you will be able to determine what is best, instead of pursuing what is adequate yel falls short of the highest standard ("the good is the enemy of the best"), and thus be pure and without blame for the Day of the Messiah (compare v. 6).
11. filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Yeshua the Messiah — to the glory and praise of God.
Compare Ер 1:6 and last paragraph of Ep 1:3-14N.
12. Now, brothers, I want you to know that what has happened to me has helped in advancing the Good News.
13. It has become clear to the whole palace and to everyone else that it is because of the Messiah that I am in chains.
14. Also, my being in prison has given most of the brothers in the Lord confidence, so that they have become much more bold in speaking the word of God fearlessly.
Trusting in Yeshua the Messiah gives Sha'ul such strength (Co 1:26) and comfort (2C 1:3ff.) that, far from needing these himself from others, he from his prison cell can strengthen the brothers who are free and comfort those worrying about him with the assurance that the Good News is advancing, and that his own state is one of joy (v. 18b).
15. True, some are proclaiming the Messiah out of jealousy and rivalry, but others are doing it in goodwill.
16. The latter act from love, aware that I am put where I am for defending the Good News;
17. while the former announce the Messiah out of selfish ambition, with impure motives, supposing they can stir up trouble for me in prison.
18. But so what? All that matters is that in every way, whether honestly or in pretense, the Messiah is being proclaimed; and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice,
In God's providence, many have responded to the Good News of Yeshua the Messiah proclaimed by a hypocrite. It is the Gospel that saves, not the preacher. The insincere evangelist is storing up for himself judgment, but those who have come to Yeshua because of his words have entered eternal life.
19. for I know that this will work out for my deliverance (Job 13:16), because of your prayers and the support I get from the Spirit of Yeshua the Messiah.
20. It all accords with my earnest expectation and hope that I will have nothing to be ashamed of; but rather, now, as always, the Messiah will be honored by my body, whether it is alive or dead.
21. For to me, life is the Messiah, and death is gain.
22. But if by living on in the body I can do fruitful work, then I don’t know which to choose.
23. I am caught in a dilemma: my desire is to go off and be with the Messiah — that is better by far —
24. but because of you, the greater need is to stay on in the body.
Consider the charge that New Testament faith is otherworldly, selfish, oblivious to this world's pains. On the one hand, death is gain (v. 21); and v. 23 teaches that when a believer dies he is immediately with the Messiah in some unspecified way (according to 3:21 and 1С 15:35-58 he will later receive a resurrection body). This is better by far for Sha'ul himself than staying alive, precisely because eternal life is the Messiah (v. 21; Yn 1:4, 11:25, 14:6). Nevertheless, Sha'ul's choice is to remain alive "because of you" (v. 24), because the Philippians need him. Conclusion: precisely because of his Messianic faith Sha'ul does not ignore the needs of this world; though recognizing the benefits to himself of the 'olam haba, he chooses to minister to others here in the 'olam hazeh.
25. Yes, I am convinced of this; so I know I will stay on with you in order to help you progress in the faith and have joy in it.
26. Then, through my being with you again, you will have even greater reason for boasting about the Messiah Yeshua.
27. Only conduct your lives in a way worthy of the Good News of the Messiah; so that whether I come and see you or I hear about you from a distance, you stand firm, united in spirit, fighting with one accord for the faith of the Good News,
28. not frightened by anything the opposition does. This will be for them an indication that they are headed for destruction and you for deliverance. And this is from God;
United in spirit... one accord. Unity is a major theme of this letter (2:2-16, 4:2; compare Yn 17:20-26), as well as of 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Ephesians.
With its context, verse 28 is important for Messianic Jews. Sha'ul counsels boldness in communicating the truth of the Gospel. When, as Jews who trust in Yeshua the Messiah, we are united in spirit, fighting with one accord (using non-worldly weapons! — 2C 10:3-5&N, Ep 6:10-18&N) for the faith of the Good News, then we are enjoined to be not frightened by anything the opposition does. On the contrary, our boldness, reflecting our refusal to succumb to fear, will be for them, the opposition. an indication that our destiny is superior to theirs; one hopes also that it "will heap fiery coals of shame" on their head (Ro 12:21), leading them to repentance.
Wherever the Gospel is preached there is opposition, but a believer is not to be frightened by anything it does. This doesn't mean he must repress fear, but that by God-given strength he should not let it govern his behavior. He should overcome it by realizing that "God causes everything," even opposition, "to work together for the good of those who love God and are called in accordance with his purpose" (Ro 8:28).
The content of fear differs from place to place. Throughout the world Messianic Jews face rejection by family, friends and the Jewish community. In the State of Israel believers fear loss of their jobs, unpleasantness from Gospel-opposing neighbors and co-workers, violence from anti-Gospel zealots, governmental imposition of restrictions on evangelism. Non-permanent residents fear being expelled from the country, since the Interior Department need not give reasons for refusing to extend visas.
Nevertheless, many in the Land are brave witnesses who believe 1 Ke 4:14-16: "If you are being insulted because you bear the name of the Messiah, how blessed you are! For the Spirit of the Sh'khinah, that is, the Spirit of God, is resting on you!... If anyone suffers for being Messianic, let him not be ashamed; but let him bring glory to God by the way he bears this name." Sha'ul writes that when tempted to give in to fear he "does not lose courage" (2C 4:1-2&N). Let Messianic Jews and all believers everywhere continue to communicate the Good News about Yeshua "with humility and fear," (1 Ke 3:16) not of the opposition but of God. who will one day judge whether we obeyed his commission to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19), including our own. (For more on evangelism, fear and opposition to the Gospel in Israel see my Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pp. 221-227.)
29. because for the Messiah’s sake it has been granted to you not only to trust in him but also to suffer on his behalf,
30. to fight the same battles you once saw me fight and now hear that I am still fighting.
- chapter 1
- chapter 2
- chapter 3
- chapter 4