An Introduction to the Book of Philippians

January 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

Today’s post is the beginning of blog posts I will be sharing looking at leadership lessons in the book of Philippians. The material below serves as a basic introduction to the book. Below I have included material on who wrote the book, when it was written, who it was written to, as well as what some of the messages and themes of the book are. 

An Introduction to the Book of PhilippiansPhoto Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I. AUTHOR

Paul is the author of the book of Philippians. The first and most clear indication of this is Phil 1:1, “This letter is from Paul and Timothy slaves of Christ Jesus. I am writing to all of God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons.”

The beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is very similar to the beginning of his other letters. In Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Timothy, and 2 Timothy, Paul starts the letter with “Paul, an apostle” (1:1). Titus begins with “Paul, a servant” (Tit 1:1) and Philemon starts with, “Paul, a prisoner” (Phlm 1:1).

The letter also reveals that Paul was in the midst of suffering when writing the letter (1:30). Most likely, Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned in Rome (Acts 28:16, 30-31). While some people have advocated that Caesarea and Ephesus could be two alternatives, the strongest evidence suggests that Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians while in Rome (See Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1990], 545-555).

II. AUDIENCE

The recipients of this letter from Paul are “God’s holy people in Philippi who belong to Christ Jesus, including the elders and deacons” (Phil 1:1). Paul personally knew the audience of this letter because he had visited them in the past (Phil 1:12). This visit Paul was also shared by Luke in Acts 16.

After Paul had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3), Paul and Silas (and probably Timothy too) traveled to a major city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony called Philippi (Acts 16:12). While in Philippi Paul shared the Gospel (Acts 16:13-15), commanded a demon to come out of a girl (Acts 16:16-21), was severely beaten (Acts 16:22-14), and was finally let go (Acts 16:35). After that encounter, Paul and Silas returned to Lydia’s house (the woman who accepted the Gospel in Acts 16:13-15), encouraged the believers and then left Philippi (Acts 16:40).

This letter was written to those believers that Paul met in Acts 16. About five years after this meeting in Acts 16, Paul is said to have “left for Macedonia. While there, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through” (Act 20:1-2). This trip likely included another visit to the Philippian believers (Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, 542).

The Philippians were “proud of their city, proud of their ties with Rome, and proud to observe Roman customs and obey Romans laws, proud to be Roman citizens” (Hawthorne, “Philippians, Letter to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 707). Many residents of Philippi were veterans of Antony’s army (A.A. Rupprecht, “Legal System, Roman” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 548).

The city of Philippi was old and historic when Paul was addressing them. The city had been built by Philip of Macedon in 358-357 BC. It was one of the main stations along the main overland route that connected Rome and the East. After having been destroyed by wars it was rebuilt by Emperor Octavian who established it as a military outpost, populated the city with veterans of his wars, made it a Roman colony, and gave it what was called, ius italicum which was one of the highest privileges attainable by provincial municipality (Hawthorne, “Philippians, Letter to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 707).

III. OCCASION

Paul writes “It’s true that some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives” (1:15). The Philippian believers might have had a question about the people preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. They probably heard some preachers whom they suspected had impure and unethical motives despite the fact that the preachers were preaching truth. These believers might have been unsure of what to think or do in response to those preachers sharing the Good News with impure motives. In the first chapter of Philippians, Paul tells them he does not really care whether or not their motives are pure. The most important thing is that the Good News was being preached and that Christ was shared.

Paul was also responding to the dissension in Philippi among believers. Paul told the Philippians that the spiritually mature should agree (3:15) on the righteousness of Christ (3:7-11). Direct appeals went to Euodia and Syntyche for their disagreement to be settled (4:2-5). Indirect instructions to the Philippians to get along with each other are also seen in Phil 1:9, 27; 2:1-4, 12, 14-18.

IV. DATE WRITTEN

If this letter was written by Paul while imprisoned in Rome (Phil 1:7; 13-14, 20-24, 30: 2:17) it likely was written between AD 60-63. Other “captivity” or “imprisonment” letters are Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. However, if the letter was written from Ephesus, Corinth, or Caesarea then the date could have been as early as AD 50. For a detailed discussion see G. F. Hawthrone, “Philippians, Letter to the” in Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, edited by Gerald Hawthorne, Ralph Martin, and Daniel Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 709-711 and Philip Comfort, “Philippians” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, 16 (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), 142-144. 

V. KEY VERSES

8And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you (Phil 4:8-9, NLT).

VI. PRIMARY MESSAGE

Believers ought to live righteously based on the example of Christ, by staying in harmony with each other, enduring suffering, and focusing on the righteousness we all have through Christ.

VII. THEOLOGICAL THEMES

A. The Work and Result of Christ

One of the messages about Christ in Philippians is that he will return again (1:6, 10; 3:20; 4:5). Additionally, Christ produces a righteous character seen as the fruit of salvation (1:11). Christ was the reason for the suffering of Paul and the Philippians (1:13, 29). Living should mean living for Christ by doing fruitful work (1:21-22, 27).

The attitude of Christ was used as an example for what type of attitude the Philippian believers should have had. While Christ was God, he gave up his divine privileges, took the position of a slave, and was born of a human being (2:7). In order to do the work God wanted him to do, he died a criminal’s death on the cross (2:8). In that act, God elevated Jesus and gave him the name above all other names (2:9) in that every knee should bow and tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord (2:10-11).

Paul later explained that believers no longer rely on the Law or work for their righteousness, but instead they rely on what Christ has done (3:3, 7-9).

B. Sanctification

God began a good work in the Philippians and Paul said that work would continue (1:6). Paul wrote that he wanted the Philippians to live pure and blameless lives until Christ’s return (1:10) because righteous character brings glory and praise to God (1:11). Furthermore, the people of Philippi were supposed to live as citizens of heaven conducting themselves in a manner worthy of the good news of Christ (1:27).

Several clear goals of sanctification are laid out in this letter: don’t be selfish or try to impress others, be humble by thinking of others as better than yourself, and don’t look out only for your own interests, but take interest in others too (2:3-4). Part of the work of sanctification is serving others for Christ (2:16) just as Timothy (2:21) and Epaphroditus (2:30) did.

Paul no longer counted his own righteousness by obeying the Law, but instead counted himself as righteous by faith in Christ (3:9). With that said, Paul stated he had not yet reached perfection, because he was reaching forward to that perfection (3:12). Paul encouraged the Philippians to pattern their lives after his (3:17). As citizens of heaven, Christ would take the Philippians’ weak, mortal bodies and make them into glorious bodies like Jesus’ body (3:21).

Paul’s emphasis on sanctification continued into chapter four where he urged the Philippians to fix their thoughts on what was true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable (4:8).

C. Paul’s Imprisonment

Paul started his letter to the Philippians by stating that he and Timothy were slaves of Christ Jesus (1:1). Then, he told the Philippians that they held a special place in his heart because they shared in his imprisonment (1:7). Paul attested that all the things that happened to him helped to spread the good news (1:12). Everyone knew that Paul was in chains because of Christ (1:13). Paul wanted the readers to know that believers gained confidence and boldly spoke God’s message without fear because of Paul’s imprisonment (1:14). Paul referenced that he was in the middle of his struggle and suffering (1:29-30).

D. Suffering Because of Ministry

The Philippians had a special place in Paul’s heart because they shared with Paul in his imprisonment (1:7). Paul wrote that he was in chains (1:13) and prison (1:14) because of Christ. Later Paul said that he and the Philippians had been given the privilege of knowing of Christ and suffering for him (1:29).

In addition to the suffering Paul and the Philippians were encountering, Paul mentioned that Epaphroditus had risked his life for the work of Christ to the point of death (2:30). Nearing the end of Paul’s letter he wrote that he wanted to suffer with Jesus sharing in Jesus’ death (3:10) and that the Philippians were sharing with Paul (in some way) with his present difficulty (4:14).

VIII. AN OUTLINE OF PHILIPPIANS 

I. PAUL’S GREETING, LIFE PURPOSE, AND GOAL FOR BELIEVERS (1:1-30)

A. Paul’s Introduction (1:1-11)

1. Greetings from Paul (1:1-4)

2.  Paul’s thanksgiving and prayer (1:5-11)

B. Paul’s Joy about Christ Being Preached (1:12-18)

1.Paul’s imprisonment had been fruitful to spread the Good News (1:12-14).

2.Some people were preaching without pure motives (1:15-17).

3. But, Paul didn’t care about motives (1:18).

C. Paul’s Life for Christ (1:19-26)

1. Paul would never be ashamed because he lived for Christ (1:19-21).

2. Paul was torn between living and dying, but he wanted to live for the sake of the Philippians (1:22-24).

3. Paul remained to help the Philippians and take joy in what Christ was doing through him (1:25-26).

D. Live as Citizens of Heaven (1:27-30)

1. Paul told them to live as citizens of heaven as one body and don’t be intimidated by enemies (1:27-28).

2. The Philippians had been given a struggle to share which we are in the midst of (1:29-30).

II. THE CHRISTIAN LIFE THEY SHOULD HAVE (2:1-30)

A. Focus on Others (2:1-4)

1. What was the result of Christ’s work (2:1-2)?

2. Be humble and look out for others (2:3-4)

B. Have the Same Attitude as Christ (2:5-11)

1. Christ’s Humility – Have the same attitude that Christ had (2:5-8).

2. Christ’s Exaltation – God elevated Jesus back up high for others to worship him (2:9-11).

C. Shine Brightly for Christ (2:12-18)

1. Work hard for God is working in you (2:12-13).

2. Don’t complain, live cleanly, shine bright, and hold on to the word of life (2:14-16).

3. Paul rejoiced because of his life poured out for others (2:17-18).

D. Applause for Timothy (2:19-24)

1. If God allowed, Paul hoped to send Timothy because no one was like Timothy (2:19-20).

2. While others cared only for themselves, Timothy served others (2:21-22).

3. Paul hoped to send Timothy and maybe even visit Philippi too (2:23-24).

E. Applause for Epaphroditus (2:25-30)

1. Paul sent Epaphroditus back to the Philippians as Epaphroditus longed for them and had been ill (2:25-27).

2. Paul would send him back because Epaphroditus risked his life (2:28-30).

III.  PAUL’S PAST AND THE FUTURE GOAL FOR CHRISTIANS (3:1-21)

A. Paul’s Heritage and its Lack of Value to Righteousness (3:1-11)

1. The Philippians should Rejoice in the Lord focusing on what Christ had done for us (3:1-3).

2. Paul had strong self-confidence (3:4).

3. Paul’s heritage was a Pharisee, Benjaminite, zealous persecutor, and person obedient to the law (3:5-6).

4. Yet, it all was worthless because of what Christ had done because righteousness was based on faith (3:7-9).

5. Paul wanted to experience the resurrection from the dead by sharing in Christ’s sufferings and death (3:10-11).

B. Press on Toward the Goal of Righteousness (3:12-21)

1. Perfection was not yet received, but Paul continued on (3:2-14).

2. If disagreement occurs, we must hold to the progress we have already made (3:15-16).

3. Pattern your life after Paul’s life (3:17-21).

IV. PUTTING THE CHRISTIAN LIFE TOGETHER (4:1-23)

A. Direct Instructions for the Philippian Believers (4:1-9)

1. Stay true to the LORD (4:1).

2.Euodia and Syntyche need to settle their disagreements (4:2-3).

3. Always be full of joy and let others see it (4:4-5).

4. Don’t worry but instead pray and have peace (4:6-7).

5. Focus their thoughts on excellent things that are worthy of praise (4:8-9).

B.  Paul’s Gratefulness for What Little He Had (4:10-20)

1. Paul was grateful that they were concerned about him (4:10).

2. Paul had learned to be content with what little he had (4:11-12).

3. Paul could live without anything because of Christ’s strength, yet he was still grateful to the Philippians for their support (4:13-14).

4. Paul wanted the Philippians to receive a reward for their kindness to him (4:15-17).

5. Paul had all that he needed (4:18-19).

6. All glory was to the Father (4:20).

C. A Final Greeting (4:21-23)

IX. MY TRANSLATION OF PHILIPPIANS BASED ON THE NA28 GREEK TEXT

Chapter 1

1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus to all the saints in Christ Jesus to the ones who are in Philippi associated with supervisors and assistants. 2Grace and peace to you all from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ. 3I am giving thanks to my God on the basis of every mention of you all. 4Always in each of my prayers, for the sake of you all with joy I pray 5on the basis of your fellowship with reference to the gospel from the first day until the present time. 6Because I am certain of this thing, that the one who began good work in you all will bring it to an end at the day of Christ Jesus. 7Since it is right for me to think this on behalf of all of you because I have you all in my heart, both in my boldness and in defense and confirmation of the good news you all are my partners in the grace of Christ. 8For God is my witness how I continually long for every one of you in deep love of Christ Jesus. 9Indeed, I always pray that the love you all have might abound more and more in all knowledge and discernment 10in order that you all prove the things that really matter, because you all might be pure and blameless for the day of Christ. 11Because you all have been filled in the fruit of righteousness that is through Jesus Christ for the purpose of the gory and praise of God.

12But, I want you all to know, brothers, rather throughout my circumstances the gospel has advanced 13so that the entire imperial guard and everyone else knows of my bondage in Christ 14so that our many brothers in the Lord, having known of my bondage, are daring even more fearlessly to speak the word. 15Indeed, some are preaching on one hand because of envy and strife, but others because of good will. 16Some are preaching out of love because they know that I have been appointed for the defense of the Gospel. 17But others are proclaiming Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, because they think it will cause trouble in my bondage. 18So what? Except that in any and every way whether in pretense or in using truth, Christ is being proclaimed, and I rejoice in this. Indeed, I rejoice!

19For I know this: it will lead to my deliverance through your prayer and support of Christ Jesus’ Spirit. 20Accoring to my eager expectation and hope, I want to be disgraced in nothing, but rather always in public and now in my body Christ is exalted, whether through life or through death. 21For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22But if living in body is fruitful work for me, then I do not know which I will choose. 23For, you see, at this present time I am distressed between the two, because I want to leave be with Christ, for it is much better to be with Christ. 24But, it is necessary to remain alive for you. 25I know, since I am convinced of this, that I will remain and stay with you all in your progress and joy in the faith. 26Therefore, the reason for your boasting will abound in Christ Jesus because of my return back to you.

27Only, at all costs live the gospel of Christ in a worthy manner, in order that whether I see you all or while being absent I might hear of your circumstances, that you all stand in one spirit, with one mind, while contending for the faith in the Gospel 28and by not being frightened in anything by the opponents, which is a sign to them of destruction, but of your salvation, and this is of God. 29Because it has been graciously given to you, not only faith but also suffer on behalf of Christ. 30As a result you all have the same struggle, a struggle you saw me in (in the past), and you see me in (now).

Chapter 2

1Therefore, since there is encouragement in Christ, consolation from love, any communion by means of the Spirit, any heartfelt sympathy, 2 then complete my joy. Think the same thing, by means of having the same love, by being united in spirit, by thinking the same thing. 3Do not think with selfish ambition nor with personal conceit, but instead think of one another with humility as better than yourselves. 4In everything do not look out only for your own interests, but also look out for the interests of others.

5Be mindful of this among yourselves, as was exemplified in Christ 6who existed in the form of God, although he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, 7but he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, by being in the form of man, and he was found as a man in appearance. 8He humbled himself, and it resulted in obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore, God has highly exalted him and graciously granted him a name that is greater than every name. 10So that in the name of Jesus every knee of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth will bow 11and every tongue will profess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of the Father.

12Therefore, my beloved, just as you always obeyed, not only in my presence but also now much more in my absence. Bring about your own salvation from reverence and awe; 13for the one working in you all both the will and the working for the sake of good will. 14Continually do all things without gossip and argument 15in order that you may prove yourselves to be blameless and pure, blameless children of God who are blameless in the midst of a crooked and perverted generation, in which you shine like stars in the world, 16by holding fast to the word of life, in order that I may boast in the day of Christ, so that I did not work in vain, nor work hard in vain. 17Yet, even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and priestly service of your faith rejoicing and congratulating every one of you. 18And in the same way, you also rejoice and congratulate with me.

19And in the Lord Jesus I expect to send Timothy to you soon, so that I might be glad, having courage from you. 20For I have no one like Timothy, who genuinely will care for you all. 21For they are living for themselves, not for Jesus Christ. 22But, you all know of his character, namely, that as a child serves his father, he has served as a slave with me for the spread of the gospel. 23This therefore is why I expect immediately to send him as soon as I find out about my circumstances. 24But, I also trust in the Lord that I myself will also come soon.

25But I thought it was necessary to send Epaphroditus my brother and helper and fellow soldier, for he was your messenger and aide for my need. 26Since I was longing for you all and distressed because you heard that he was sick. 27For indeed he was sick near death; but God had mercy on him, but not only on him but also on me, in order that I not have grief. 28Therefore, I more urgently sent him, in order that I might rejoice by seeing him again and I might be free from anxiety. 29Therefore, welcome him in the Lord with every joy and having honor of themselves, 30because he came near the point of death on account of risking his life, in order that he might complete your lack of service toward me.

Chapter 3

[verses 1-7 will be added later]. 7But, which was a gain to me? I have considered this a loss because of Christ. 8Indeed, more than that even I considered all to be a loss on account of the surpassing greatness of knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ, I suffered because of all of these in order that I might gain Christ 9and be found in him, not by having my own righteousness based on the Law, but based on faith of Christ which is righteousness from God 10in order to know him, namely the power of his resurrection and participation of his suffering by sharing in his death, 11if perhaps with the expectation that I might attain the resurrection from the dead.

12I do not mean that I already received it or I have already been made perfect, but I keep pressing on in order that I attain complete Christlikeness in him and attained by him. 13Brothers, I do not believe that I will win by myself; but I am making one, forgetting the things behind while on the other hand readying for things ahead. 14I am running toward the prize of the upwards calling of God in Christ Jesus. 15Therefore, those of us who are mature might think of this, and if you all think different about this, and then God will reveal this to you; 16in any case to which we attain maturity, let us agree to it. 17Brothers, be fellow imitators of me and look out for yourselves in the way you live as you have us as an example. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ—as I have been telling you about before—but now in weeping I tell you, 19that their end is annihilation, whose god is in the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, for they are setting their minds on worldly things, 20for your state is in heaven, from out of where we await eagerly for the savior Lord Jesus Christ 21who will transform our humble bodies in similar form in his glorious body according to the supernatural power that even enables him to subject all things.

Chapter 4

1And so, my beloved and longed for brothers, my job and pride, stand firm in this man. 2I urge Euodia and Syntynch to hold the same opinion in the Lord. 3Yes, I ask and you true comrade, support them, who struggle with the gospel with me, Clement also, and my many helpers, which are names in the book of life. 4Rejoice in the Lord at all times. Again, let me say, rejoice! 5Let everyone see your kindness. The Lord is near. 6Have anxiety in nothing, instead make your requests in prayer to God with Thanksgiving. 7For the peace of God is better than all the mind, it will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is good, if something is excellent and if something is worthy of praise, think on these. 9You all learned it and accepted it and obeyed it and saw it in me, do this, and then the peace of God will be with you all.

10Now, I rejoice greatly in the Lord, now, finally, you have revived what you think concerning me, with regard to which you were thinking but had no time. 11Because it is not that I am speaking from need. For I learned in these circumstances which I am to be content. 12I know how both to discipline myself to live on humble means and to live in prosperity; I have been initiated in any and all things both in being full and hungry, both abundant and lacking. 13I continually have power by means of the one who strengthens me. 14Nevertheless, rightly you are making connections with me in my affliction. 15Also, indeed all the Philippians have seen that in the beginning of the gospel, when I went out from Macedonia no church gave to me in the matter or giving or receiving if not you giving then to no one, 16for even in Thessalonica both again and again you send favor to me. 17Not that I seek a gift, but I seek the fruit which increases your message. 18But I am paid in full and I am abounding; I am well supplied since I have received from Epaphroditus the things from you as a fragrant aroma and an acceptable sacrifice, which are well pleasing to God. 19And my God will fulfill all your needs according to his glory in Christ Jesus. 20Now to our God and Father be the glory for evermore, amen.

21Greet every holy saint in Christ Jesus. the brothers are greeting with you with me. 22All the saints are greeting you, but most of all the believer’s from Caesar’s house. 23The grace from our Lord Jesus Christ from your spirit.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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