Paul expresses his affection for the Christians at Philippi, as we see in today’s second reading (Phil 1:4-6, 8-11). He confides to them that he is: “… constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you” (Phil 1:4).
Why is Paul especially moved by these Christians? Paul speaks of their kononia, that is, their “participation” or “sharing” in the Gospel from the very first day.
St. Thomas Aquinas describes this as their “communication” of the Gospel: “You share in the doctrine of the Gospel by believing and fulfilling it in work; for this is true partnership” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians). In other words, the Christians were evangelizing, sharing their faith with others.
Paul asserts: “I am sure of this much: that He who has begun the good work in you will carry it through to completion …” (Phil 1:6).
Thomas points out that “God has begun this good work”: “This is by God’s power … ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (Jn. 15:5)… the principle in us of every good work is to think of it, and this itself is from God: ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our sufficiency is from God’ (2 Cor. 3:5)” (Commentary on Philippians).
Paul reminds them that God will support them “right up to the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil 1:6). Paul assured the Corinthians: “He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8).
Paul describes his prayer for them: “My prayer is that your love may more and more abound” (Phil 1:9).
Thomas reflects: “The interior affections are perfected by charity; therefore, if one lacks charity, he should desire to obtain it; if he has it, he should desire that it be made perfect. Hence he says, that your love may abound more and more. God is the one from whom an increase of charity should be sought, because God is the only one who works this in us … Hence it is necessary that we pray for it” (Commentary on Philippians).
Thomas recalls Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).
Paul prays that their love may abound in understanding and perception (Phil 1:9).
Thomas questions: “But does knowledge arise from charity? It seems so, because it is stated, ‘But the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie’ (1 John 2:27):
Furthermore, Thomas reflects: “Charity is the Spirit, of whom it is said, ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth’ (Jn 16:13): The reason for this is that when a person has a habit, if that habit is right, then right judgment of things pertaining to that habit follows from it; but if it is corrupted, then false judgment follows. Thus, the temperate person has good judgment in regard to sex, but an intemperate person does not, having a false judgment” (Commentary on Philippians).
Thomas emphasizes the importance of charity: “Now all things that are done by us must be informed with charity. Therefore, a person with charity has a correct judgment both in regard to things knowable; hence he says, with knowledge, by which one recognizes the truth and adheres to the truths of faith” (Commentary on Philippians).
Thomas says that a person is called “sensible” because he or she is able “to judge correctly and quickly about the proper object of sense… the internal judgment of reason” (Commentary on Philippians).
This discernment goes beyond identifying good and evil: “… This discernment should be able not only to recognize, but also to distinguish between, good and evil, and between good and better; hence he says, so that you may approve what is excellent”(Commentary on Philippians).
Paul encouraged the Christians at Corinth: “Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31) and in “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 15:1).
Paul prays that the Christians may have “a clear conscience and blameless conduct so that you may learn to value the things that really matter” (Phil 1:10). Paul urged the Corinthians that they also have a good conscience and have: “the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor. 5:8).
The Christians should be blameless: “Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please all men in everything I do” (1 Cor. 10:32); “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Cor. 6:3).
Paul expresses his hope: “It is my wish that you may be rich in the harvest of justice, which Jesus Christ has ripened in you, to the glory and praise of God” (Phil 1:11).
Thomas comments: “As to the effects of grace Paul says, filled with the fruits of righteousness. Good works are the fruit: ‘The return (fruit) you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life’ (Rom. 6:22). Or, the fruits of righteousness, i.e., the reward of justice, namely, the crown: ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness’ (2 Tim. 4:8) …This is obtained through Jesus Christ, because all that we do is good through Him. ‘Apart from Me you can do nothing’ (Jn. 15:5). Furthermore, these things must be done for this end, to the glory and praise of God, because God is glorified by the works of the saints, since they cause other people to break out in praise of God” (Commentary on Philippians).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas’ Commentary on the Letter of Paul to the Philippians may be found on the web page of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/