Some have considered Bible study to be frustrating. Maybe you’ve felt that way a time or two as well.  Part of the frustration is trying to make sense of the various books.  After all, there are 66 of them.  66 mountains to climb.  That can be intimidating and frustrating!  In the previous articles, we discussed this Bible study method, which I call “the Four P’s.”  The four P’s provide four simple ways that each book of the Bible can be studied.  They provide a great head-start on understanding what these books are all about.

So far, we have considered the following “Ps.” Prevalence, which looks at the words the inspired writers used most frequently. Purpose Statements are where the writer states the purpose of the book.  In the last article, we studied the third P, Petition Verbs. These are where the inspired writer makes a strong appeal to pay attention to what he is saying.  Petition Verbs are frequently translated as “I urge,” “I beg,” and “I beseech.”

In Philippians 4:2, Paul adds extra emphasis by giving the petition verb twice!  For the exegete, this verse jumps off the page in importance.  Sadly, many commentaries put this verse among some concluding admonitions without attaching any special significance.  However, as one examines this verse, he will find that Paul also uses the word “mind” (or attitude in some translations).  This is the Greek word phroneo (φρονέω), a word that occurs eleven times in this short book!  So, it is apparent that the attitude problem exhibited by these two women is on Paul’s mind throughout the epistle (and is probably the purpose of the epistle).

Let’s go on a journey through the Philippian letter together, beginning with Philippians 4:2.  If Paul is appealing to Euodia and Syntyche to “be of the same mind.” This concept rises to the top of importance.  When we survey the epistle, we see a concentration of this word phroneo in 2:1-5.  There, Paul commands them to make his joy complete (it wasn’t with these two women not getting along) by being of theroneo), having the same love, united in spirit, and  “same mind” (ph“intent” (phroneo), on one purpose.  Then, in the next verse, he appeals to them to have “humility of mind” (phroneo). The next phrase provides the humble mindset that Paul wants them to have.  He says clearly, “regard one another as more important than yourselves.”  If we wanted to identify the solution to these women’s conflict, that would be it.

So, if we take the “others above self” idea, does that help us better understand the letter to the Philippians? That is, if we understand Philippians 4:2 as a key to unlocking the whole epistle, how might it help us interpret it?

First, we note that after a typical Pauline greeting, we have a prayer – 1:9-11 (one of our four P’s, so we know it rises to the top of importance).  Look at those verses in the context of Euodia and Syntyche. Their love must abound…they need to be sincere, blameless, etc.  There is a lot there that, if we put it in the overall context, we can see how it applies to our problems with each other, these sisters, and how the whole church needs to become more caring and united.

Beginning in 1:12, down through v. 26, Paul has much to say about himself and his situation.  Most commentaries say that Paul is assuring them he is doing fine, even though he is in prison. It is more of an update than a doctrinal part of the letter.  However, such would be inconsistent with the way Paul writes. After his prayers, he always gets into the purpose of the letter.  So, if you looked at this section (1:12-26), how might it advance the main idea of “others above self”?  Let’s have some fun with this.  Get out a piece of paper and write down everything or everybody that Paul puts above himself.  I’ll provide a list at the end of this article – so don’t look ahead until you’ve done this short exercise!

After talking about himself, Paul makes a specific and direct appeal to them in 1:27-2:4.  Notice the emphasis on unity and getting along!  This section has our keyword (phroneo) three times, in addition to three synonyms.  Then, Peter begins talking about Jesus.  Especially notice how he introduces this amazing section in v. 5: “Have this attitude(phroneo) in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”  What “attitude” did Jesus convey that Paul commands the Philippians to have? Have you ever looked at this pericope as one that reveals an “attitude” we’re supposed to have? Most haven’t, yet that is the purpose of the section! It is that “others above self” attitude!  So, let’s do the same with this section (2:5-11) that we did with Paul in chapter one.  Can you list who or what Jesus put above Himself?  Again, I’ll provide a list at the end of this article.

Then, in 2:12-18, Paul again appeals to them to apply the “others above self” motif.  Look at this section from the perspective that Paul thinks of Euodia and Syntyche.

In our next two sections, Paul discusses Timothy (2:19-24) and Epaphroditus (2:25-30).  Most commentators reduce the significance of these sections by suggesting that Paul is merely catching them up on the latest information regarding these two brothers.  Such is far from the case.  They are presented as examples of those who put “others above self.”  Go through those sections and answer the following questions:

  1. Who or what did Timothy put above himself?
  2. Who or what did Epaphroditus put above himself?  (answers given at the end).

Chapter three has been a real puzzle for scholars because Paul says, “to write the same things again is not trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you” (3:1).  What, ask the commentators, does Paul “write again”?  They don’t see it.  However, if we follow our “others above self” theme, Paul returns to himself as an example – and doesn’t this fit beautifully here?! Go through this section (3:2-14) and note who or what Paul puts above himself. (answers given at the end).

 After this fifth and final example (Paul, Christ, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Paul), the apostle makes another powerful appeal to apply the “others above self” motif.  Our keyword (phroneo) is found three times in this section (3:15[2], 19).  This leads us to chapter 4, where Paul uses the petition verb “I urge” twice! When we understand the significance and importance of petition verbs, we better understand the role 4:2 plays in this letter.  The remainder of the chapter is Paul’s appeal to the whole church to practice the “others above self” attitude.  This admonition was not just for Euodia and Syntyche – it was for the whole church as well.

Perhaps now you can see why petition verbs are so important!  Understanding how they were used in first-century writings helped us to not dismiss 4:2 as a concluding exhortation but as the core or theme of the entire letter!

NOTE: A complete list of Petition Verbs is available on Bear Valley’s website:  Look for the link “Study resources” on the homepage.

Answers to questions:

  1. What/who did Paul put above himself? Christ (1:13, 15, 17, 18), the Philippians (1:23-26), the gospel (1:12).  So Paul becomes example #1 of the “others above self” motif.
  2. What/who did Christ put above Himself? God (2:6), and mankind (2:8).  So Jesus becomes example #2 of the “others above self” motif.
  3. What/who did Timothy put above himself? The Philippians (2:19, 22), Christ (2:21), Paul (2:22), and the Gospel (2:22). So Timothy becomes example #3 of the “others above self” motif.
  4. What/who did Epaphroditus put above himself? The Philippians (2:25, 26, 30), Christ (2:30), Paul (2:27, 28), the Gospel/work of Christ (2:30).  Note especially v. 29.  So Epaphroditus becomes example #4 of the “others above self” motif.
  5. What/who did Paul put above himself? Christ! (just about every verse – 3:7-14).
Denny Petrillo
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Denny is married to the former Kathy Roberts.  They have been married since January 1978.  They have three children (Lance, Brett, and Laura) and Six grandchildren (Chloe, Ashlyn, Sophie, Easton, Brelyn, and Kyson).  He has served as the President of the Bear Valley Bible Institute since 2004 and has been a full-time instructor since 1985.  He has preached in Mississippi, Arkansas, Nebraska, and Colorado.  He has taught numerous classes for the World Video Bible School and has authored several books and commentaries.  He graduated from the Bear Valley School of Preaching (now the Bear Valley Bible Institute), received an AA degree in Bible (York College, York, Nebraska), BA in Bible and Biblical Languages (Harding University), and an MA in Old and New Testaments (Harding Graduate School of Religion), and a Ph.D. in Religious Education (University of Nebraska).