Believers in Philippi (1:1), most of whom were Greeks. The church in Philippi was the first church God established in Europe during Paul’s second missionary journey (A.D. 49-52). After seeing the vision of the Macedonian man’s plea, Paul realized that the Lord had called them to preach the gospel in that region (Acts 16:6-12). The first converts in this city were Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, and the keeper of the prison, as well as their families (Acts 16:13-40). The church probably met at Lydia’s house during its early days.
Probably around 61-62 A.D. Place: It is evident that Paul was in prison when he wrote the epistle. But the place of his imprisonment is unknown, although three possibilities have been suggested—Rome, Ephesus, and Caesarea.
The Philippian church had sent a gift with Epaphroditus (one of their members) to be delivered to Paul (4:18). In response to the love of the believers, he wrote this letter to thank them for their gift. He also made use of this occasion to 1) report to them about his situation and express his longing for them, 2) encourage them to endure persecution and rejoice in all circumstances, 3) exhort them to be humble and live in unity, 4) and warn them against those who preached and practiced false doctrines.
1. Paul wrote with a deeply personal tone about his relationship with the believers and his relationship with Christ.
2. The letter is full of commendation for the believers.
3. The theme of joy is prominent.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).
1. Read through the entire epistle and record section headings in chart D.
2. Identify the section divisions that begins with the phrase “…brethren” or “…my beloved.”
Paul first mentions his joy as a preacher of the gospel. He rejoices every time he remembers the Philippian believers because of their participation in the gospel (1:3,7). He urges them to fulfill his joy by being like-minded (2:2), and he exhorts them to live blameless lives so that he may rejoice in the day of Christ that he has not run in vain (2:16). If the believers could offer their faith as a pleasing sacrifice to God, Paul would rejoice even if he is the drink offering that is poured on this sacrifice (2:17). Paul further invites the believers to share his joy (2:18). In fact, he commands them to rejoice in the Lord (3:1; 4:4). According to Paul, Christ is the source of spiritual joy, and the joy of believers is rooted in Christ (1:26; 3:3). By living in Christ, believers can rejoice always and not be anxious about anything (4:4-7). Because Paul’s joy is founded on Christ, he is able to rejoice in any circumstance (4:11-13). His joy transcends personal happiness and finds its fulfillment in Christ alone. Some preach out of envy and with an intention to add to Paul’s affliction. But Paul still rejoices because Christ is preached. This selfless and Christ-centered attitude is the ultimate expression of Christian joy.
The Philippian church has brought Paul great joy because they are one in heart and mind with God’s worker. They have participated in the preaching of the gospel from the first day and have joined Paul in his ministry, whether he is in chains or in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (1:3-7).
Paul encourages the Philippians to fulfill his joy by applying this same-mindedness to the fellowship of believers (2:1-2). Such unity comes about when believers have the mind of Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death (2:5-11). Christ’s humility teaches us to esteem others better than ourselves (2:3). Christ’s sacrifice reminds us to look out not only for our own interests, but also for the interest of others (2:4).
Towards the end of the epistle Paul implores his fellow workers, Euodia and Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord (4:2) and asks the believers to help these women as well as all of Paul’s fellow workers.
Salvation is the ultimate concern for all Christians. Thus Paul teaches the Philippians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). He reminds them of their heavenly citizenship and that we as believers eagerly wait for the Savior, who will transform our bodies to be like His glorious body (3:20-21). To this end Paul has suffered the loss of all things (3:7-11). He also forgets what is behind and presses on toward the goal (3:12-14).
However, salvation is not by human effort. In the same breath that Paul teaches the believers to work out their salvation, he attributes their salvation to the work of God (2:13). Paul stresses that our righteousness does not come from observing the law but through faith in Christ Jesus alone (3:1-9). Even all the effort that Paul puts into pressing on towards the goal is possible only because Christ has laid hold of him and because God has called him through Christ (3:12,14). Therefore, the grace of God and His work in our lives is the basis of our salvation.
Concern for the gospel is central to Philippians. For Paul, preaching the gospel is of utmost importance, and it was for the sake of the gospel that he willingly suffered. Therefore, he rejoices when Christ is preached and when believers take part in the ministry (1:5, 18). A special characteristic of the Philippian church is its active involvement in preaching the gospel. Their sending of Epaphroditus to Paul and their generous gift all demonstrate their eager participation in the ministry. Their fellowship in the work of the gospel consequently fosters the close relationship that they have with Paul.
Many of the exhortations in this epistle center on the gospel. It is Paul’s earnest desire to see the believers live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ and strive together for the gospel with one mind and spirit (1:27). He asks the believers to receive Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are fellow workers for the gospel (2:19-30). He also appeals to the believers to be united and to support those who are in the ministry (4:2,3). Thus, in many ways, the church as a whole may have a share in the work of preaching the gospel.
In this epistle, we can learn much from Paul’s discussion of his Christ-centered outlook on life. Because of his knowledge of Jesus Christ and his deep relationship with Him, Paul is able to live a victorious and dynamic Christian life. His personal experience in Christ demonstrates to us the meaning of faith in Christ and the power that we can derive from Christ. As such, studying Philippians helps us reevaluate our own relationship with Christ and find the key to a successful Christian life.
Furthermore, Philippians reminds the church today the importance of unity as we advance the work of the gospel. Not only does unity make our ministry effective, unity is also a necessary requirement if we want our service to be acceptable to the Lord. The epistle gives practical guidelines on achieving unity with the example of Jesus Christ Himself as our model. While unity is often difficult to achieve, the church today, in particular, the fellow workers of the church, must place this Christian virtue as priority so that we may please the Lord and carry out His work to His glory.
Map & Chart
Map A Geography in the time of the early church