Paul’s Greeting, Gratitude, and Group Focus (Philippians 1:1-11)

This post is part of my series examining the book of Philippians. You can read my introduction and translations to the book of Philippians here

Paul's Greeting, Gratitude, and Group Focus (Philippians 1:1-11)

Photo Credit: Kim S.

This passage provides revelation about Paul, his life, and ministry. Let’s take a look at Paul’s introductory statements.

A strong emphasis of this letter is the sanctification of believers and their right standing with God. Paul wanted the believers to be wholesome and pure. These introductory statements reflect Paul’s main focus and desire that will be shown in prayer.


A. Paul and Timothy Greet the Saints with Grace to those at Philippi (vv. 1-2)

1. Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus addresses saints at Philippi (v. 1).

Take notice of the use of “supervisors” and “assistants” (in my translation) or “overseers” and “deacons” (NET) or “elders” and “deacons” (NLT). These are common ways to address all the believers while looking at a few with special responsibilities and authority.

The Greek word ἐπισκόποις, translated as supervisors or elders “refers to one who has a definite function and fixed office of guardianship and related activity within a group” (BDAG, 349).

The Greek word διακονος, translated as assistants or deacons refers to “one who gets something done” under the request and instruction of a supervisor (BDAG, 230).


Different People, Different Leaders, Different Responsibilities

While each member of a church has an equal position under God, there are Christians who occupy different levels of responsibility in the church.

Thinking about this reminds me of a conversation I once had with Aubrey Malphurs, a man who has planted a church and authored numerous books on leadership. Once when I was listening to him describe the different “levels” of leaders in church he said that he often received negative feedback from people. That negative feedback was because people did not like the idea of some people within the church being called, “Level 1” or “Level 3.” While it might seem anti-Christian to create “levels” in our politically correct churches, it is important to remember that Paul used two terms to distinguish different people in the church that had specific roles and responsibilities in the church.

2. Grace and peace to the believers from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ (v. 2)

Notice the order here: grace first and peace second. Robert Lightner observes, “In his greeting to the Philippians, Paul used two words descriptive of Christian graces: grace and peace. The order in which he used them is significant. Before there can be any genuine peace there must be a personal response to God’s grace, His unmerited favor manifested climatically at Calvary. Both grace and peace find their source in God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians.” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, vol. 2 edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 649).

B. Paul’s Prayers for the Philippians (vv. 3-4)

1. Paul thanks his God in all remembrances of the Philippians (v. 3).

Paul was grateful to the Philippians because they had been generous to him in the past (4:14-18). As a result, Paul thanked God when he remembered the Philippians.


The Abundant Gratitude of a Great Leader  

The verb used here is εὐχαριστω, translated as “I give thanks.” Peter O’Brien notes that this verb and its cognates are used 46 times in Paul’s letters (Peter O’Brien, The Epistle to the Philippians, in The New International Greek Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991], 56).

Leaders sometimes struggle to give thanks to the people they lead. This is somewhat ironic because leaders can only accomplish great things through others, yet it is easy for leaders not to thank people. It is too easy to get focused on tasks and projects, doing one thing after another, only to forget to slow down and say thank you to people who are getting the work done.

Paul had no trouble expressing his gratitude in his letters. Examples are:

  • “Let me say first that I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith in him is being talked about all over the world” (Rom 1:8, NLT)
  • “I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 1:4, NLT)
  • “We always pray for you, and we give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Col 1:3, NLT)
  • “We always thank God for all of you and pray for you constantly.” (1 Thess 1:2, NLT)
  • “How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.” (1 Thess 3:9, NLT)
  • “Dear brothers and sisters, we can’t help but thank God for you, because your faith is flourishing and your love for one another is growing.” (2 Thess 1:3, NLT)
  • “Timothy, I thank God for you—the God I serve with a clear conscience, just as my ancestors did. Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.” (2 Tim 1:3, NLT)
  • “I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon,” (Phl 4, NLT).

Paul had no hesitation to express his gratitude to the people he ministered to and with, therefore leaders should not have any hesitation either.

2. Paul always prayed with joy (v. 4)

Phil 1:4 begins a series of statements by Paul which provide a brief glimpse into his prayer life. Pay close attention to Paul’s words in vv. 4-11 and look for what you can learn about how Paul prayed.

Content: Always and in every prayer he thanked God for the Philippians.

Manner: Paul prayed with joy.

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

A. The Philippians Were Paul’s Partners in Spreading the Good News (v. 5)

Paul was thankful for the partnership that he and the Philippians shared. Paul thanked them for their “fellowship” and their work regarding the “Gospel.” Apparently the Philippians had a good faith and a strong faith.


Paul’s Ministry with Others as a Team

Paul’s life and ministry were marked by his work with other men and women to share the Gospel. The clearest examples of Paul’s partnership are in the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Both pieces of work were written by a man who was once a doctor (Col 4:14) but spent time with Paul in his ministry.

From my perspective, the clearest evidence that Luke was involved with Paul is based on the narrative of the book of Acts. Luke describes Acts 1:1-16:9 in the third person narrative, e.g. “he did that” or “they did this.” But, starting in Acts 16:10 and until the book’s end in Acts 28:31, the text is told in first person narrative, e.g. “we did this” or “we said that.” The latter section of Acts with the first person narrative form suggests that Luke was the author of the book of Acts as well as a companion to Paul in his ministry starting in Acts 16:10.

As an introverted man I am probably guilty of not including partners in my ministry. I like to be by myself, work by myself, and take the credit for good work by myself!

If you are like me you have probably taken what seems like a hundred different personality profiles and strengths tests. Every one of them always includes a question about whether you prefer to work on a project with others or by yourself. I always choose “by myself.” However, regardless of personality and personal preference, leading people means working with partners. And as Paul has shown, leaders must have partners in ministry.

B. Paul Knew that God Would Continue Working in Them until Jesus Christ’ Return (v. 6).

Paul introduces his emphasis on sanctification in the lives of the Philippians. A few important observations should be made here. Paul says that the one (God) began the work of salvation. Paul says that he (God) will bring it to completion. Paul says that it will continue “until the day of Christ.”

This is similar to what Paul had already written to the Corinthians, “He [Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end so that you will be free from all blame on the day when our Lord Jesus Christ returns” (*1 Cor 1:8, NLT).

Additionally, the words “ἐργον ἀγαθον” / “good work” indicate the work that God commenced in the readers’ lives.

ἄχρι ἡμέρας Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ / at the day of Christ Jesus ( or “on the day when Christ returns” [NLT]) need a brief comment. “The expression refers to a definite point of time when Christ will appear, and some anticipation of its near approach seems to underlie ἄχρι here (cf. *1 Thes. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:51). This consummation is the goal of history, which the OT designated the ‘day of the Lord’” (Obrien, Epistle to the Philippians, 65).

C. Paul Had a Special Place in His Heart for the Philippian Believers because They Shared in His Imprisonment and Defense of the Gospel (vv. 7-8).

Paul had the Philippians in his heart in his imprisonment, defense, and confirmation of the Good News. This thought is continued from verse six as it starts with καθώς, which is used to introduce a further idea in the flow of thought.

Basically, Paul says that it is a special favor of God to share in imprisonment, and in defending and confirming the Good News (see NLT translation).

“Defense and confirmation” language suggests “a legal defense. Indeed, both Greek words suggest this. The first (apologia [TG627, ZG665]) is obvious, but even the second (bebaiosei [TG951, ZG1012]) was typically used in first-century papyri in the technical sense of affirming truth by legal means (MM 108). Paul was ready to make a defense before the courts and in so doing defend the gospel” (Comfort, Philippians, 155). This was a real and serious position for Paul. He was ready to take a stand and because he was imprisoned for his faith, Paul certainly had lived this out.

D. Paul Prayed for the Future Sanctification of the Philippian Believers (vv. 9-11).

1. Paul’s prayer for overflowing love and growth in knowledge and understanding (v. 9)

Paul’s first mention of sanctification is that the love of the Philippians will grow in two areas: knowledge and understanding. These two areas have a purpose. See Col 3:14; 1 Thess 3:12.

περισσευῃ (περισευω – to abound, to overflow) is used here in the progressive present tense. The progressive present tense describes a scene in progress that involves a continuous action (Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996], 518-519).

ἐπιγνώσει (ἐπίγνωσις, εως, ἡ — knowledge, recognition) is used here and in several other places in Paul’s letters. Paul likely means “knowledge” related to moral matters. Three main uses of this word occur in these categories: 1) Knowledge of truth (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Tim 3:7; Tit 1:1; Heb 10:26). 2) Knowledge of God (Col 1:10; 2 Peter 1:2, 17). 3) Knowledge of God’s son—Jesus (Eph 4:13; 2 Peter 1:8; 2:20). Sometimes ἐπίγνωσις is best glossed as “recognition” and that is used as recognition of God (Rom 1:28; Phil 1:19) (BDAG, 369).

αἰσθησιει (αἰσθησις, εως, ἡ — discernment, understanding) is used only one time in the New Testament. My translation reads discernment while the NLT and ESV use understanding and the NET uses insightful. This word communicates that something can be affected by external stimuli, perception, sensation or has capacity to understand, discern (BDAG, 28).

2. Paul wanted them to understand what really matters so that they could live pure and blameless lives until Christ’s return (v. 10).

See the conjunction here: “in order that” (“so that” in NLT and NET).

This is the what—pure and blameless lives. They understand and prove the things that really matter. This is the second mention of “Day of Christ.” Paul is painting for us a goal of sanctification: love grows (v. 9), be pure (v. 10), and be blameless (v. 10). Cf. 1 Cor 1:8.

3. He wanted them to be filled with righteous character (v. 11).

This is the why. There is a little more shared here about what the goal of verse 10 is: “filled with the fruits of righteousness.” Most importantly those fruits of righteousness come from God. And, what is the purpose? It will bring much glory and praise to God.

What is the “fruit of righteousness?” Where does it come from? Is it the result of our union with Christ? Or does the fruit of righteousness produce our union with Christ? Elsewhere in the NT we read that “fruit” is the result of our repentance (Matt 3:8); the Holy Spirit produces the “fruit” of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, etc. (Gal 5:22); and you identify false prophets by their “fruit” (Matt 7:16, 20). “Here at Phil. 1:11 the phrase means the fruit resulting from and demonstrating righteousness” (O’Brien, Philippians, 81).

III. Conclusion

In these first 11 verses we have seen Paul express his thankfulness to the Philippian believers (vv. 3-5, 7-8) while praising them for their proclamation of the Gospel in spite of persecution (v. 7). Paul also urged them to continue in the process of sanctification until the day of Christ (vv. 9-11).

By Christopher L. Scott

Christopher L. Scott serves as senior pastor at Lakeview Missionary Church in Moses Lake, Washington. Through his writing ministry more than 250,000 copies of his articles, devotions, and tracts are distributed each month through Christian publishers. Learn more at