Sometimes it is hard to say in a letter what one feels compelled to put to a close friend—like when writing to urge a ninety-one-year-old father to stop driving, for his sake and that of others. Without body language, voice inflections and facial expressions, the words might seem cold. Even though good friendships will endure such moments, confrontations and appeals always have the possibility of bringing some momentary tensions.
This is where Paul now is in his letter; and in his case there is the added burden that he has sometimes appeared to be more forceful when writing than in person (2 Cor 10:10). But speak into their situation he must, even though (perhaps especially because) they have partnered with him in the work of the gospel for these many years (see 1:5; 4:15-16). His friends are now in double jeopardy: there is some posturing going on among them that has all the potential of open conflict at the very time they are also facing strong opposition in Philippi.All of these cards Paul lays on the table in this opening paragraph, which in fact is one long, convoluted sentence in Greek. Its complexity is due in part to the friendship thing, as he makes transition from his hoped-for future coming (vv. 25-26) to present realities in Philippi, and in part to his attempt to say it carefully while putting it all in front of them. The various parts of the sentence can be easily traced (the numbers reflect the actual order of the sentence): (1) He starts (v. 27a) with an appeal to live worthy of the gospel in Philippi, using a metaphor that also contains an appeal to their civic pride, (3) followed (v. 27c) by a clause that spells out what that will mean for them, contending for the gospel in the unity of the Spirit while (4) not being intimidated by the opposition (v. 28a). Part of this is complicated (2) by his adding the presence/absence motif (v. 27b) as a way of transition from verses 25-26. (5) After an aside that spells out the eternal destiny of both sides (v. 28b), (6) he concludes with a theological explanation of Christian suffering (vv. 29-30).
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