Category Archives: Philippians

Sermon Audio – Philippians

The presidential election is almost upon us. And regardless of what your political views may be, I think we are all looking forward to the end of the campaign. That way our social media feeds that are filled with links to articles and fierce debates over which candidate is better or worse can go back to what God intended Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for in the first place: pet and recipe videos.

But regardless of your political views, my sense is that the most common reaction to our current election season is a profound sense of disappointment and frustration. In a country of nearly 300 million people surely these cannot be the best candidates, right? Beyond disappointment and frustration, I have seen a good number of people, including believers, express despair at the future of our country. Some have gone so far as to claim that if a certain candidate is or is not elected, it could mean the end of Christianity here in the United States.

So at a time like this, when it seems like the broader culture around us and the political sphere in particular is so broken, how should we as followers of Jesus Christ live?

I believe the book of Philippians can help us answer that question. It does so by reminding us as believers that we are called to live joyfully as citizens of God’s kingdom. We do so by understanding our calling, seeing our King, accepting our commission, and embracing our confidence.

Want to learn more? You can listen to the sermon audio here:

And of course, for even more in Philippians, see my commentary: Philippians: A Mentor Commentary.

A Proven Servant – Philippians 2:19-24 (Sermon Audio)

When you think back on your spiritual journey, who were the people God used to encourage you in the faith? Your parents? Maybe a teacher or a pastor? A grandparent? A close friend? Most believers can think of at least one or two people who were instrumental in their Christian growth.

In Philippians 2:19-24, Paul introduces Timothy, his spiritual “son in the faith,” whom he planned to send to the church in Philippi as an encouragement. Paul trusted that Timothy would show genuine concern for the people there and would serve as a positive role model of Christ-like living.

What can we learn from Timothy’s example? And what does his life teach us about Jesus?

That is the question I tried to answer this past Sunday when I preached this passage at Christ’s Covenant Church. You can listen to the audio here.

And of course, if you want to read more about this passage, you can check out my commentary here.

Citizens of God’s Kingdom – Phil 1:27-30 (Sermon Audio)

One thing you realize very quickly when you travel internationally is the value and importance of a passport. As you enter and leave a country you need to be able to show that passport, or you aren’t going anywhere. That passport is tangible proof of your citizenship, the place you call home. Indeed, in the past it was even common to refer to the country you were from as your homeland.

When we talk about citizenship, we are at some level also talking about our identity. Our citizenship plays a role in shaping who we are, what we value, what is important to us, and how we live. Since as believers we are citizens of God’s kingdom, that reality should shape the way that we we live as sojourners and exiles in this world.

What does it mean to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom? What is it that governs our lives as citizens of God’s kingdom?

This past Sunday I had the privilege of answering these questions as I preached on Philippians 1:27-30. You can find the audio here, and read even more about it in my Philippians commentary.

Noteworthy Book – Philippians: A Mentor Commentary

CoverAs some of you know, I have been working on a Philippians commentary for the past several years. What a privilege it has been to live inside this rich letter and see my joy in Christ and his gospel deepen as a result. Philippians has much to say to us as believers today, so I have written this commentary to help pastors, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and all Christians understand and apply it to their lives.

I am excited to announce that it has finally been released in the United Kingdom (the publisher, Christian Focus, is located in Scotland) and will soon be available here in the United States and internationally. You can order it through Amazon or

Here are the endorsements:

Matt Harmon explains Paul’s letter clause by clause, traces Paul’s argument, reads Paul’s argument in light of the rest of the Bible, and applies the letter to people today. He reminds me of two of his professors when he was working on his PhD at Wheaton: Doug Moo and Greg Beale.

Andy Naselli, Assistant Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis


Historically aware, exegetically astute, and theologically sensitive, Matt Harmon’s commentary on Philippians is full of insight and ideas for those who want to understand this beautiful epistle. He is not simply up to date on recent scholarship, but digs deeply and appropriately into evangelical commentaries of the past too, to enliven and enhance his own exposition. His suggestions for preaching and applying Philippians are crisp, clear, and eminently useable. A new go-to resource for pastors and students!

Dr Lee Gatiss, Director of Church Society and Editor of the NIV Proclamation Bible.


Our Lord calls his own to love God with all their heart, soul and mind (Mt. 22:37). This blend is seldom seen in commentaries, which tend to favor either the academic or the devotional. Authors write as believing pastors, or as detached scholars – which would seem to sunder what God has explicitly joined. Matt Harmon represents this happy marriage in his commentary on Philippians. Harmon has no less a keen eye for the particulars of the Greek text and academic illumination than he does for the splendorous and transforming truths that text communicates. It is clear that Matt has put the text under a microscope; it is just as clear that he is thrilled with the Savior and Gospel it reveals. This will now be my “go-to” book for teaching or preaching Philippians, joining Martin and Silva and Lightfoot and the others. I can’t commend Matt Harmon’s commentary on Philippians highly enough to pastors and students in all areas of church ministry and life. It is deep-rooted, solid, and broadly accessible. God grant that it receives the visibility and use it merits, to His glory and His church’s edification!

Dan Phillips, Pastor, Copperfield Bible Church


Matthew Harmon has given us a fresh and faithful reading of Philippians that will be a powerful help to all who preach and teach the word.

James M. Hamilton, Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary


Matthew Harmon’s commentary on Philippians is a model of good commentary writing: clear prose, adequate interaction with the array of scholarly perspectives, and helpful application. I commend his work to students, teachers, and preachers who seek better to understand this important letter of Paul.

Douglas J. Moo, Wessner Chair of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College


Matthew Harmon is a gifted and trustworthy guide for helping us to understand and apply this Pauline epistle of joy. This commentary strikes me as just the right combination of what most of us need: clear prose, sufficient background and lexical information (without overwhelming the read in technicalities), insightful theological analysis, and practical pastoral application. Pastors and laypeople alike can benefit from this finely crafted work.

Justin Taylor, managing editor, The ESV Study Bible


This commentary is a study in clarity and balance. It is simple in expression, yet profound in insight. It is thorough in scope, yet selective enough not to overwhelm. It is informed by recent scholarship, yet avoids fruitless complexities. It draws on knowledge of ancient languages, yet makes its case in plain English. It is classic in its focus on God, Christ, and redemption, yet current in showing how a gospel from long ago is just as true and powerful today. In a word, this is a fine resource for serious students of Philippians in both church and college settings.

Robert W. Yarbrough, Professor of New Testament, Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, MO


Matthew Harmon’s commentary on Philippians is an outstanding work. We find careful exegesis and a clear explanation of the the text. The commentary is theologically rich, in terms of both biblical and systematic theology, and so there is more than a running commentary. Harmon also applies the text to readers in practical ways. Scholars, students, pastors, and teachers will profit significantly from this work.

Tom Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary





Fridays in Philippians – Living in Light of the Last Day (1:20)

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

Paul’s goal of being vindicated on the final day can be accomplished whether by life or by death. These are the two possible outcomes for Paul as he contemplates his fate before the Roman judicial system. Christ being magnified is not dependent upon a particular outcome to Paul’s legal situation. If Paul is released, Christ is seen to be great in his power to move the hearts and minds of those earthly authorities that have jurisdiction over Paul. If Paul is executed, Christ is seen to be great in that he is worth suffering the ultimate price to follow him.

This verse provides much rich material for reflection and application. First, we should note Paul’s eschatological orientation. All of life, and even death itself, is viewed from the perspective of the last day. All of Paul’s hopes are directed towards that unshakeable reality that one day Christ will consummate his kingdom, cast all his enemies into the lake of fire, and dwell with his people in a new heavens and new earth. Every experience, whether good bad or indifferent, was evaluated within this eschatological framework (cf. 1 Pet 1:13). These are words that much of the Western church has lost sight of in its pursuit of relevance and its focus on social justice devoid of the good news of Jesus Christ and the call to repent and believe. What ultimately matters is the verdict of God on the final day, and this verse lays out the two options: we will either be ashamed and be cast out of God’s presence, or Christ will be magnified as his work through his servant is detailed.

Second, this verse provides one more indication that the ultimate goal of Paul’s life is to glorify God. For the Christian, everything is subsumed under this one heading of glorifying God. And glorifying God is not limited to life; it extends to how we die as well. Such an attitude is possible because death does not have the final word for the Christian (1 Cor 15:54-57; Heb 2:14-18).

Third, Paul’s attitude makes it clear that the preservation and extension of physical life is not the highest end. Paul could have virtually guaranteed a longer life had he simply “toned down” his devotion to Christ, but he refused. Unfortunately, too many Christians live as if physical life is the highest goal. The words of an old hymn capture this reality well:[1]


It is not death to die,
To leave this weary road,
And midst the brotherhood on high
To be at home with God.

It is not death to close
The eye long dimmed by tears,
And wake, in glorious repose,
To spend eternal years.

It is not death to bear
The wrench that sets us free
From dungeon chain, to breath the air
Of boundless liberty.

It is not death to fling
Aside this sinful dust
And rise, on strong exulting wing
To live among the just.

Jesus, Thou Prince of Life,
Thy chosen cannot die:
Like Thee, they conquer in the strife
To reign with Thee on high.


Fourth, God expects his Son to be glorified in tangible ways in our bodies. Often when Christians talk about glorifying God it is in the context of doing specifically spiritual things, like Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, etc. But God intends that our entire lives are to glorify God, even to the most mundane activities of eating and drinking (1 Cor 10:31). Others err when they live as if the physical is bad or evil while only the spiritual is good. The spirit of Gnosticism, it seems, has not entirely died out. But Scripture makes clear that God has given us bodies through which he intends to be glorified. Our bodies are the sphere in which God intends the name of Jesus to be made great.

Fridays in Philippians – Perseverance through Prayer and the Spirit (1:19)

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

In conjunction with the Philippians’ prayers Paul envisions his perseverance enabled through the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. The rare Greek word translated help (epichorēgia) emphasizes the generous nature of the assistance provided,[1] which is apt considering that the help provided is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.[2] Paul uses similar language in Galatians 3:5 when he describes God as “he who supplies [epichorēgōn] the Spirit to you.” For Paul the gift of the Spirit was the preeminent blessing of salvation through Christ (see Gal 3:1–5:26). The Spirit is sent out by Jesus Christ to mediate his presence in the life of the believer (Gal 4:1-7). Although as a believer Paul already has the Spirit, he knows that persevering in faith to the end requires fresh supplies of the Spirit like those mentioned in Acts 4:31.

So what then is the relationship between the prayers of the Philippians and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ implied by the grammar? Together they are the instruments that God will use to complete his work of salvation in Paul so that on the day of Christ Jesus (1:6) Paul will be pure and blameless (1:9-11). Furthermore, God uses the prayers of the Philippians to provide fresh supplies of the Spirit to Paul to ensure his perseverance to the end. All three persons of the Trinity are involved—the Father answers the prayers of his people for fresh experiences of the Spirit of his Son Jesus Christ.[3]

Paul did not allow his firm belief in the sovereignty of God to produce an apathy that assumes it does not matter how one lives. Instead his conviction that God was at work in and through him motivated him to persevere in his devotion to magnify Christ. But this devotion was not an individualistic faith that had no use for other believers. God uses the prayers of other believers as the conduit of God’s Spirit to empower his perseverance in the faith. What a motivation to pray for others! What a privilege that God chooses to use the prayers of his people as a means of supplying his people with fresh measures of the Spirit of Christ to enable our perseverance in the faith to the end![4]

[1] The Greek noun epichorēgia occurs just one other place in the NT (Eph 4:16). The cognate verb epichorēgeō is slightly more common, occurring five times in the NT (2 Cor 9:10; Gal 3:5; Col 2:19; 2 Pet 1:5, 11) and once in the LXX (Sir 25:22). In Greco-Roman literature it sometimes referred to generous public service (cf. BDAG), and has been found in the papyri to refer to a husband providing for his wife (cf. LSJM).

[2] Thus the genitive pneumatos (“Spirit”) here is objective – that is, it is the Spirit Himself who is the help given; cp. Fee, Philippians, 132-34; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 84; Silva, Philippians, 76; Fowl, Philippians, 46; Hansen, Philippians, 79-80. Others interpret the genitive as subjective, meaning that the Spirit helps or supplies assistance in various ways; see, e.g., John Young William Eadie, A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Epistle of Paul to the Philippians (Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005), 44-45; Vincent, Philippians, 24; Beare, Philippians, 62; O’Brien, Philippians, 111-12; Hawthorne and Martin, Philippians, 50; Thurston and Ryan, Philippians, 63; Witherington, Philippians, 84-85. Lightfoot sees both, arguing that the Spirit of Jesus is “both the giver and the gift (Lightfoot, Philippians, 91). As for the genitive Iēsou Christou (“Jesus Christ”), it could have a variety of nuances here, including origin (“the Spirit that comes from Jesus Christ”; O’Brien, Philippians, 112; Fee, Philippians, 134-35; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 84; Witherington, Philippians, 84-85), possession (“the Spirit who belongs to Jesus Christ”; Eadie, Philippians, 45; Kennedy, “Philippians,” 427), or apposition/epexegetical (“the Spirit that is Jesus Christ”; Reumann, Philippians, 211-12; Hansen, Philippians, 80).

[3] Helpfully noted by Fee, Philippians, 138.

[4] For a thoughtful discussion of perseverance, see Thomas R. Schreiner and Ardel B. Caneday, The Race Set before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance & Assurance (Downers Grove: IVP, 2001).

Sabbatical Update

As you may know, I was on sabbatical during the Spring Semester of the last academic year. Since I have now finished that sabbatical (and the summer as well) and resumed by teaching responsibilities at Grace College and Theological Seminary. So here is a brief summary of what, by the grace of God, I spent my time working on:

  1. I finished the draft of my Philippians commentary. I have been working for almost four years (off and on) on this commentary in the Mentor Commentary Series by Christian Focus. It is now in the hands of the publisher, so Lord willing it will come out in 2014.
  2. I began working on a commentary on Galatians. Having written my dissertation on Galatians, I am excited to now be working on a commentary on Galatians. It will be part of a new series published by Broadman & Holman entitled Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation. Look for more details on this series down the road; the lineup of contributors is stacked! At this point I am still in the early stages of writing, but it is not due for another few years.
  3. I began co-writing a book on inaugurated eschatology in the life of the church. My friend Ben Gladd and I are under contract with Baker to write a book that explains how inaugurated eschatology applies to the different aspects of life in the church such as preaching, missions, prayer, worship, etc. The goal is to finish the manuscript early in 2014 with a likely publication date sometime in 2015.
  4. I wrote an essay entitled “Allegory, Typology, or Something Else: Revisiting Galatians 4:21-5:1.” Although I am not at liberty to discuss where this will be published, this essay is my attempt to explain how Paul is using Scripture in this challenging passage. I will be presenting a version of this essay in November at the annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society in Baltimore.
  5. I wrote the introductory notes for Philippians in the forthcoming NIV Proclamation Bible. I will give more details when this is published later this month, but in the meantime you can find more information here.

I’m grateful to God for the opportunity to step away from the classroom to focus on these writing projects. May God use them to display the beauty of Christ and advance his kingdom in this world.

Fridays in Philippians – Rejoicing in the Preaching of the Gospel (1:18)

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

In this context Paul’s joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel through the proclamation of Christ. In other words, it is a joy that is rooted in the gospel rather than his personal circumstances. As he sits in Rome under house arrest his personal circumstances are not favorable, but because his joy is rooted in the progress of the gospel it is impervious to the discomfort he is experiencing personally. The present tense of the verb translated rejoice likely portrays Paul joy as a continual experience.

What is our joy rooted in? If we are honest, we find ourselves looking often to our circumstances for joy. When things in our lives are favorable or going our way, we are joyful. But when life takes a turn we do not like, large or small, joy seems like a distant memory. But when our joy is in the gospel of Jesus Christ and its progress in the world, we have an anchor for our joy that will weather even the darkest storms of life. Only in the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us will we find the kind of lasting joy that God created us to experience. Everything else will at some point disappoint.

Paul also models for us a prioritization of the progress of the gospel. He is not blind to the selfish motives that some have in preaching the gospel, but he remains grateful that the gospel is still going forth. In this he is a model for us as we observe the advance of the gospel through ministries that we have reason to believe have suspect motives. We can rejoice that the message of the gospel is going forward, even while we retain serious concerns about those taking it forward. Notice that Paul does not say that the motives are unimportant! But he does indicate that he can find joy in the fact that people are hearing the gospel, even though the instrument is flawed. The challenge is learning to rejoice in the progress of the gospel without turning a blind eye to those preaching it for selfish motives.

Fridays in Philippians: Preachers with Questionable Motives (1:17)

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

Who then are these preachers with less than commendable motives?[1] First, since Paul is describing his own circumstances, he is almost certainly referring to preachers who are active in Rome where he is in custody. Second, the fact that they preach Christ indicates that they are not the same people mentioned in 1:27-30, 3:2, or 3:18-21. In each of those passages the actions of these groups are described as antithetical to the gospel message itself, whereas here the message is correct while the motives for preaching it are not.[2] Third, about five years before writing this letter Paul had written the Roman church in part to address disagreements over observing food laws and elements of the Jewish calendar (Romans 14:1–15:13). Although we do not know how the letter was received by those in Rome, it is certainly possible that Paul’s attempt to bring unity may not have succeeded. This, along with various rumors of Paul’s rejection of the Mosaic Law, may have been enough to prompt some Roman Christians to preach the gospel in an effort to diminish Paul’s influence and thus cause him trouble.[3] Some thirty years later, Clement of Rome wrote that “Because of envy and jealousy [phthonon; cp. Phil 1:15], the greatest and most righteous pillars were persecuted and fought to the death … Because of jealousy and strife [erin; cp. Phil 1:15] Paul showed the way to the prize for patient endurance” (1 Clement 5:2, 5).

Regardless of who these preachers are, Paul likely mentions them not merely to explain his own circumstances but because of potentially similar issues in Philippi. Throughout the letter Paul addresses the importance of unity, not looking out for one’s own interests, and prioritizing the gospel above personal preferences. Thus Paul’s own example anticipates his exhortations later (1:27–2:18; 4:1-9) in the letter and prepare the way for the ultimate example of self-denial, Jesus Christ (2:5-11).

Paul demonstrates a tenacious commitment to the progress of the gospel regardless of the implications for him. His attitude reflects that his ministry is not about him, but rather centers on the one he preaches. As Paul testifies elsewhere, “what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5). Yet sadly “The robe of ‘Christian ministry’ cloaks many a shameless idolatry.”[4] The focus of a gospel ministry should not be the personality of the one preaching, but the person who is preached—Jesus Christ.

[1] For a detailed listing of the various suggestions, see Reumann, Philippians, 202-07.

[2] The fact that Paul describes them as preaching Christ makes it clear that these preachers are not false teachers such as those he corrects in Galatians and 1-2 Corinthians. Thus it is not so much that Paul has mellowed in his older years (as suggested by some such as Bockmuehl, Philippians, 81), but rather that Paul is dealing with very different circumstances.

[3] Along similar lines see Fee, Philippians, 121-23; Bockmuehl, Philippians, 77-78; Silva, Philippians, 64-65; Witherington, Philippians, 81-82.

[4] Bockmuehl, Philippians, 80.

Fridays in Philippians: Love-prompted Evangelism (1:16)

NOTEThis is a condensed excerpt from my forthcoming (2014) commentary on Philippians.

Paul continues his description of those who preach Christ because of their delight in him by adding that they do it [i.e. preach Christ] out of love.[1] The fact that Paul does not further specify the object of this love suggests that the term should be understood in a very broad manner. He could be speaking of God’s love for his people and the world as the driving force behind preaching the gospel. In 2 Cor 5:14 describes his own motivation for ministry in terms of Christ’s love compelling him to action. Or Paul could have in mind the believer’s love for God. In Philemon 1:4-5 Paul expresses his gratitude to God “because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” The overlap between the believer’s love for Christ and love for his people fits Philippians 1:16 nicely as well. Indeed, Paul can even claim that the entire Law is fulfilled in living out the command to love your neighbor as you love yourself (Gal 5:13-14). Finally, Paul could also have in mind their love for the gospel itself. Although Paul never explicitly speaks of loving the gospel, it is apparent from his life and letters that he loved the gospel because it revealed the good news of Jesus Christ and his redemption. Such love for Christ and the gospel led him to tireless labor in extremely difficult circumstances (cp. 1 Cor 4:9-13; 1 Thes 2:8-9). Because Paul has left the term so open-ended here in Phil 1:16, we would be wise not to specify too narrowly the kind of love Paul has in view. Those who truly love God and love others will share the gospel.

[1] Rather than use the preposition dia plus the accusative to indicate motive as he did in 1:15, here Paul uses the preposition ek plus the genitive. There is no appreciable difference in meaning.