Study of Philippians


The Background of Philippians

Paul wrote Philippians from prison in Rome in approximately A.D. 61 or 62, about ten years after Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke first arrived in Philippi with the gospel message. Acts closes in about A.D. 60 with Paul in prison in Rome awaiting trial. Philippians seems to have been written after the close of Acts but before Paul's release from his first Roman imprisonment. No correlations are able to be made between what is stated in Philippians and the events recorded in Acts to enable anyone to be more specific than this. In addition to Philippians, Paul would also write Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon at about this same time during his first Roman imprisonment. As Paul writes Philippians, he is hopeful of being released soon; whereas, in II Timothy, which was written about five years after Philippians, he is expecting execution. Certain statements in Philippians hint that Paul's trial may have already concluded and that he was only awaiting the verdict of life or death at the time he wrote this epistle. Although the verdict could call for him to be executed, Paul was expecting to be released from prison. Philippians 1:19-26 says,

(19) For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,

(20) According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.

(21) For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

(22) But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not.

(23) For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better.

(24) Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.

(25) And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith;

(26) That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again (emphasis added).

In Philippians 2:17 Paul recognizes that he may soon be executed,

(17) Yea, and if I be offered upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I joy, and rejoice with you all (emphasis added).

In Philippians 2:23-24 Paul indicates that he is expecting to be able to visit Philippi soon. To do this, he will have to be released from prison first. Philippians 2:23-24 says,

(23) Him therefore I hope to send presently, so soon as I shall see how it will go with me.

(24) But I trust in the Lord that I also myself shall come shortly (emphasis added).

Paul would eventually be released from prison and enabled to continue his missionary travels for a few years. He would then be rearrested and imprisoned in Rome a second time before his execution in approximately A.D. 67. He would write I Timothy and Titus between his first and second Roman imprisonments.

A famous road named Via Egnatia ran through Philippi from east to west. It was the trade route between East and West. It would eventually become the way the gospel message would make its way to Philippi.

Acts 16:1-40 says,

1 Then came he to Derbe and Lystra: and, behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timotheus, the son of a certain woman, which was a Jewess, and believed; but his father was a Greek: 2 Which was well reported of by the brethren that were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Him would Paul have to go forth with him; and took and circumcised him because of the Jews which were in those quarters: for they knew all that his father was a Greek. 4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem. 5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily. 6 Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, 7 After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not. 8 And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. 10 And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. 11 Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course to Samothracia, and the next day to Neapolis; 12 And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. 13 And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither. 14 And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. 15 And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us. 16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: 17 The same followed Paul and us, and cried, saying, These men are the servants of the most high God, which shew unto us the way of salvation. 18 And this did she many days. But Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. 19 And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, 20 And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, 21 And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. 22 And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. 23 And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: 24 Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. 25 And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 26 And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. 27 And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. 29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, 30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. 32 And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway. 34 And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. 35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the serjeants, saying, Let those men go. 36 And the keeper of the prison told this saying to Paul, The magistrates have sent to let you go: now therefore depart, and go in peace. 37 But Paul said unto them, They have beaten us openly uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison; and now do they thrust us out privily? nay verily; but let them come themselves and fetch us out. 38 And the serjeants told these words unto the magistrates: and they feared, when they heard that they were Romans. 39 And they came and besought them, and brought them out, and desired them to depart out of the city. 40 And they went out of the prison, and entered into the house of Lydia: and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.

After visiting with their fellow believers and encouraging them, they left town (Acts 16:40) and headed toward Thessalonica, where the Philippian believers sent gifts to them on several occasions (Philippians 4:16). It would only be a matter of a few weeks before they would be forced to flee for their lives from Thessalonica.

Paul refers to his treatment in Philippi in I Thessalonians 2:2, which says,

(2) But even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention.

The Message of Philippians

Philippians was written as a thank you note for a gift sent to Paul by the believers in Philippi. This gift was apparently delivered by Epaphroditus, but specifics regarding the gift are not known. This was not the first time the Philippian believers had sent gifts to Paul. When he was in Thessalonica, the believers in Philippi had sent gifts to help him on at least two occasions. Philippians 4:15-17 says,

(15) Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.

(16) For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity.

(17) Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account (emphasis added).

Paul left Thessalonica and fled to Berea, but Berea was still in Macedonia. However, when Paul fled from Berea, he left Macedonia and entered Achaia.

Apparently, Epaphroditus advised Paul of some difficulties among the believers in Philippi between Euodias and Syntyche, which also involved others. In Philippians 1:27, 2:2-5, and 3:13-16 Paul urges the Philippian believers to be likeminded, and in 4:1-3 he admonishes Euodias and Syntyche to be likeminded. Philippians 1:27 says,

(27) Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (emphasis added).

Philippians 2:2-5 says,

(2) Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

(3) Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.

(4) Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

(5) Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (emphasis added).

Philippians 3:13-16 says,

(13) Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

(14) I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

(15) Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

(16) Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing (emphasis added).

Philippians 4:1-3 says,

(1) Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

(2) I beseech Euodias, and beseech Syntyche, that they be of the same mind in the Lord.

(3) And I intreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life (emphasis added).

Unfortunately, problems between two individuals in the same church are not terribly uncommon and are often left unresolved. This always adversely affects the entire church. Paul was preparing to send Epaphroditus back to Philippi, and Paul would take advantage of his return to send this letter to the Philippian believers along with him. In Philippians 4:8-9 Paul lays out an appropriate and unified mindset for their consideration. This is in contrast to any disunity or squabbling among themselves. Philippians 4:8-9 says,

(8) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

(9) Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

An Outline of Philippians

Although many outlines have been made of Paul's letter to the Philippians, no two are alike. This indicates that this love note was never intended by Paul to be outlined. Paul jumps from one subject to another as an individual would in a personal letter. The following outline tracks this writer's understanding of Paul's thinking as found in Philippians.

I. Paul's Opening Greeting - 1:1-2

II. Paul's Thanksgiving and Prayer - 1:3-11

III. Paul's Circumstances and Desires - 1:12-26

IV. Paul's Exhortation to Unity - 1:27 - 2:18

A. In View of Difficulties from Unbelievers - 1:27-30

B. In View of Difficulties from Believers - 2:1-4

C. In View of Christ's Example - 2:5-11

D. In View of Paul's Own Example - 2:12-18

V. Paul's Commendation of Timothy - 2:19-24

VI. Paul's Commendation of Epaphroditus - 2:25-30

VII. Paul's Exhortations for Godly Living - 3:1-21

A. Have No Confidence in the Flesh - 3:1-14

1. A Warning Against Legalism - 3:1-3

2. Regard all Things as Loss for Christ - 3:4-7

3. Press on Toward Christlikeness - 3:8-14

B. Live Christlike Lives - 3:15-21

1. Follow Paul's Example of Godly Living - 3:15-19

2. Live as Citizens of Heaven Who Will Soon Be Glorified - 3:20-21

VIII. Paul's Appeals to the Philippian Believers - 4:1-9

A. To Steadfastness - 4:1

B. To Euodias and Syntyche - 4:2-3

C. To Rejoicing and Self-control - 4:4-5

D. To Prayer - 4:6-7

E. To Appropriate Thinking - 4:8

F. To Appropriate Conduct - 4:9

IX. Paul's Expression of Thanks for the Philippians' Gift - 4:10-20

X. Paul's Concluding Greetings and Benediction - 4:21-23