Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one of the most enlightening books in the Bible. It is also one of the books whose provisions ring true to date despite the time lapse between the advent of the early church and the contemporary church. There are a myriad of resources that have been written to interpret Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. Fee’s commentary is a good example that demonstrates how internal strife had damaged fellowship between the Christians in the early church. The book under review dwells on Christ’s glorification through suffering and unity through humility as espoused in Philippians 1: 19-26 and 2: 1-4 respectively. Analysis indicates that Gordon Fee does not embrace a free grace perspective necessary to aptly understand and interpret Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The paper will show this by demonstrating how the author uses the gaps in meanings to arrive at his own conclusions. Published in 2010, Fee’s book follows a host of other commentaries on other books in the Bible.
This commentary on the book of Philippians dwells on the problems such as persecution that plagued the early church. It demonstrates how Paul seeks to show Philippians the price of being true disciples. In light of the preaching texts that have been assigned, the main theme of the commentary is Christ’s glory. In his own, peculiar way, Fee seeks to demonstrate how Paul managed to influence the will of the Church of Philipp to continue spreading the Gospel. Fee, for instance, points out that regardless of the motives for preaching the Gospel, Paul still encourages them to preach it believing that Christ is in control. The commentary highlights how Christians can partner with Christ in spreading the word of God. Salvation becomes the eschatological reward for Christians who persevere and hold firm to Christ’s preaching.
Another dominant theme that relates to the preaching text is unity through humility as evidenced in Philippians 2:1-4. Fee shows how Paul beseeches the Church of Philippi to achieve joy in Christ through unity in mind and love. Human and divine relationships, that is, between God and the Philippians as well as between Paul and the Philippians, become an underlying condition to achieve unity in Christ. Through showing how the idea of comfort was appropriated to encourage Christians to commit themselves to Christ, Fee demonstrates the different way of appealing to believers. The commentary is an invaluable resource to have for one seeking to understand the message in the book of Philippians.
While the whole commentary gives invaluable ideas and interpretations of the Philippians, this critique gives special consideration to Philippians 1:19-26 and 2:1-4 as they are the area of interest. The goal of the author is to demonstrate that to die is to gain. Paul wished to die to achieve salvation. In trying to arrive at this conclusion, the author makes plausible observations that are theologically assertive. However, in some instances, the author turns to other devices such as intertextuality and blaming language insufficiency as the reasons why the connections between ideas are not readily established. Philippians 1:19-26 details Paul’s craving to have Christ glorified through his actions and those of the Church of Philippi. Paul makes the all-important statement that he considers death to be a benefit. Fee rightly observes that Paul prefers death. To Paul, this will bestow him the chance to unite with Christ in eternal life. Nevertheless, it is not his choice to make.
However, Fee’s assumption that Paul’s craves death as his ultimate prize is misleading. The line of interpretation shows that the author’s perspective is devoid of free grace. Fee writes thus, “Paul's clear preference is death (italics his), since that means to gain the final prize--Christ himself (cf. 3:12-14).” The author clearly negates the fact that Paul had no choice in the matter whether he will live or die. Stating that Paul preferred to die demonstrates the event was decontextualized. In real sense, Paul had no choice. Other commentaries on the same, for instance Croy’s, have gone ahead to suggest that Paul contemplated suicide to get the ultimate price of being with Christ in his death. The theological and Biblical perspective that Fee uses is strange and enlightening in the same measure. Fee suggests that death is a glorious prospect. However, that would not have brought glory to Christ as Paul had intended, it would have glorified those who had managed to slay Paul. What is more, it may not have served to improve the relationship between the church and Christ, which should culminate in them experiencing progress and joy in Christ. Using his own expanded translation of Job’s words in Job 13, Fee appropriates intertextuality to control Paul’s concerns and provide the notion of comforters. Death in Christ is not a loss.
However, the question whether death is the ultimate prize remains. Fee points out that it should not, instead the eschatological salvation is. A review on the commentary by Wilkin raised a very critical concern. Wilkin, in relation to the advanced point about death, observes that since God already provided a way to salvation through the death of Jesus Christ, having to die to gain salvation is theologically flawed. Fee justifies his interpretation by making a claim that Paul’s language fails him. The text should be interpreted as he considered the limitations of language. However, since humans already have God’s spirit, Paul did not have to die in order to be vindicated and to receive salvation. In as much as to die was advantageous, it could only amount to an escape from the earth’s surface, never a gateway to experiencing eternal life.
On the issue of unity and humility, Gordon Fee observes that Paul intended that there be peace and love among the members of the early church. He detested the strife that was evident amongst them. The author identifies the Trinitarian grace that is supposed to encourage the church to unite in love and mind. In so doing they will please and glorify God, the Philippians would consequently experience God’s love, and Paul’s joy would be complete. However, this surprising correlation insinuates that Paul wished for his eschatological joy, and not that of the master. It is self-ambition. Yet, Paul preaches about unity and humility, which is not self-focused. In light of the above discussion, a Christian should be better placed understanding that following Christ is a costly venture full of misery, as Paul found out. Contemporary church should be willing to make these sacrifices for the sake of Jesus Christ just as Paul did. Additionally, Christians should have unity of love and mind and they should be humble in their endeavors.
In conclusion, it is evident that the commentary is an invaluable resource. It provides insights that helps one understand the book of Philippians in great depth. However, while it makes a host of popular interpretations, it also makes a few peculiar ones. Fee defeats the notion that Paul wanted to commit suicide by preferring death to living in the face of his trial. However, the author makes a wild suggestion that Paul wanted to die to gain salvation. The commentary also rightfully points out the relationship between Paul’s joy and the church’s practices. Paul rejoices in their unity, like-mindedness, and love. Gordon Fee’s commentary is extremely helpful as it is informative and should prove a good read as far as acquiring deeper knowledge of the book of Philippians is concerned.