RSS Feed

Philippians 1:21-30: Fruitful Labor

Posted by Gary Labels: ,

Because, to me, life is Christ, and death is gain. If I am to continue physically living, this is fruitful labor to me. I do not know which I will choose, for I am torn between the two. On the one hand, I desire to depart and be with Christ (because that would be so much better!)...

But it is more necessary for me to remain here physically because of you. Since I am confident of this, I know that I will refrain and remain with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your boast in Christ may abound because of me, because of my presence again with you.

Measure your citizenship solely by living worthily of the Gospel of Christ. Do this regardless of whether I come and see you or just hear about you in my absence, so that you would stand in one spirit. Strive together with one mind in the faith of the Gospel (and don't be shaken by anything set forth by our opponents), which to them signifies destruction, but it actually is your salvation -- this is from God.

For you have been given this task on behalf of Christ: not only to believe in him, but also to suffer on his account, to have the same struggle which you saw in me before and hear of from me now.

_____Translation notes
- "Life is Christ, and death is gain." We tend to be slavish about parts of speech. Just because they're infinitives ("to live" and "to die") in Greek doesn't mean that makes good English. Greek loves infinitives and participles. English doesn't.

- "But it is more necessary." I am not sure if it's good to do a paragraph break here. I feel that Paul paused his thoughts between 23 and 24. He found the inner resolve to make up his mind (mostly) that he is going to choose to continue living. It seems that he did not completely write off the possibility of martyrdom, as evidenced later in the epistle, but his immediate choice is to continue. I want to try and bring out the implication that he paused, hence the ellipsis at the end of verse 23.

- "Refrain and remain." It's literally "remain and stay with," but it has alliteration. I tried to get across the basic point "I will choose to continue physically living [and thus refrain from the opposite choice] so that I can remain with you all" and I tried to make the poetry come through. I think this was a moderate success. Unfortunate that I couldn't work in the alliteration of "through my presence again with you" in Greek (διὰ τῆς ἐμῆς παρουσίας πάλιν πρὸς ὑμᾶς), which repeats eta, alpha, and especially sigma.

- "Measure your citizenship solely..." I have never in my life come across a Greek sentence starting with the word "only," except here. I don't have a wide range of texts under my belt (1/2 the NT and a tiny amount of the Septuagint, plus the Didache), but this seems to be rare. In English, it's almost unheard of. It seems to be emphatic enough to deserve italics. As for "measure your citizenship," the verb is related to the idea of loyalty, conduct, and citizenship. It is a rare verb with only one other occurence in the NT. Since I do not have an in-depth lexicon, I may be reading my Pacifist beliefs into this by emphasizing the citizenship thing. The meaning I give makes sense, but someone with a better lexicon might be able to shed light on this.

- "which you saw in me before and hear of from me now." Literally "which you saw in me and now hear in (=hear of through) me." The "in" with regard to "hear" doesn't work in English, so the double-use of "in" won't work. Since that poetic element is lost, I tried to restore balance by adding a "before" to correspond to the "now."

____Commentary: tracing themes
Life is connected with service in this passage, while death is profitable. To live is Christ. This means to live a life of service and the suffering that comes as part and parcel to that life of service. To die, however, is gain. Death rather than life would be the thing profitable for oneself. (Paul later develops "death" in another direction. Stay tuned.) And then, Paul immediately turns around and calls life fruitful (i.e. profitable/gainful) labor. Labor is hard work. It entails suffering, yet also has gain. This is why he is torn between the two. Both life and death can be persuasively argued to be profitable. Which kind of profit will he choose? He makes a choice by talking things out.

We see another example of confidence in this passage. Now Paul is confident about the proper task: that he is to remain here with the Philippians to serve them.

Boasting also appears again here. Paul wants them to have pride in Christ Jesus and attribute praise to Christ as thanksgiving for allowing Paul to return to them.

Citizenship makes its first appearance here. Since we are all fellow-citizens, we are to measure ourselves by one standard only. That standard is the one thing we all have in common: the Gospel. As to what other standards one might hold oneself to, that will be revealed later on.

Also, unity as a theme makes its first appearance here. Paul admonishes them to stand like soldiers drawn for battle. He wants for them to "advance" in faith, like front line soldiers whose morale suddenly spikes when the field commander visits and remains with them. With his continued presence, he hopes, they will be reminded of the common purpose that holds them together.

Note that "joy" is connected here with progress/advance and unity. Joy as a theme has appeared before but Paul has not elaborated on that theme yet. We're still in the dark as to what he's talking about, but the pieces are ever-so-slowly coming together to show us that it has to do with unity.

I'd appreciate comments on this. What of this translation feels awkward? Does it speak to you? Is it clear or unclear? What are your thoughts on the themes I'm trying to trace out? I hope this study is helpful to someone.