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Paul's Affairs: Reflections on Imprisonment (1:12-26)

After opening with something like "I trust this letter finds you well," letters between friends most often begin by catching the friend up on the writer's present situation. The same was true of friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world, which appeared often with the very words Paul uses here. This material was usually brief and sometimes made up the whole of a (very brief) letter. In the present case, however, this section is quite long (vv. 12-26) and (as is typical for Paul) is thoroughly transformed by the gospel. What begins as a word to relieve the Philippians of anxiety (v. 12) evolves into a word about the current spread of the gospel (vv. 13-18), followed in turn by a reflection on Paul's desires and expectations regarding his forthcoming tribunal (vv. 18-26).

One can scarcely miss the focus of Paul's concern, here and always: Christ and the gospel. His present imprisonment has ultimately been to the advantage of the gospel, which is cause for joy (vv. 12-18); his singular longing regarding his trial is that Christ will be magnified, whether through life or death (vv. 19-20); if it were to result in death (execution), that means he finally reaches the goal of his life—Christ himself—and if choice were his, he would go this route (vv. 20-23); but most likely the outcome will be life (freedom), which will cause the Philippians' own boasting to abound in Christ Jesus (vv. 24-26).

There is nothing else quite like this passage in Paul's extant letters. Very likely, since his and their present suffering stems from the same source—the Roman Empire—he intends much of this to serve as paradigm. Here is how they too should respond in the context of their present difficulties.

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