The Book of Philippians was a written to the church in the city of Philippi in eastern Macedonia. Founded in 358-357 B.C. by Philip the Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, Philippi was a wellplaced city sitting in an area with rich natural resources and geographical value. The proximity to gold mines and fresh springs made it a prime location as a regional hub. Philippi had an interesting history. After the Romans took the city from the Persians in 168 B.C., it became a Roman station along the Egnatian Way, an east-west road that connected Rome and Byzantium. Philippi became famous in 42 B.C. when it was the site of a battle between Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesar’s assassins) and Antony and Octavian. Philippi was rebuilt and became a Roman colony, the highest privilege given to a provincial municipality: legal status of a Roman territory in Italy. The city was filled with Roman soldiers, and veterans from his wars; thus, Philippi was a city with a heavy Roman influence.
1. Introduction to Philippians
The background of the city of Philippi and the founding of the Philippian church help us understand the letter written to the Philippians. Paul’s letter was one of encouragement to unity, humility and thanksgiving. Paul wrote to encourage the believers in Philippi regarding his imprisonment, to thank them for their support, to spur them on to humility and unity by providing an example in both Christ and himself.
As believers we are slaves to Christ and to His righteousness. We must see that our lives are not our own and that we are bought with a price (cf. 1 Cor 7). We are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness – there is no third way.
3. The Body of Christ
Paul’s usage of the word “saint” to describe the church at Philippi is not accidental. The word “saint” is common throughout the New and Old Testaments to describe the people of God, specifically those whom God has chosen (Ex. 19:6, cf. Ps. 16:3; 74:3; and Dan 7:8). Being a holy people of God does not mean that we intellectually assent to a set of facts and figures. We are to be holy slaves of God, completely submissive and locked into His will.
4. Paul's Focus
Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one full of joy, rejoicing, encouragement and humility. As we’ve learned before, the greeting to a letter often serves as an introduction to the themes present in the subsequent paragraphs. Verses 3-11 give us a taste for the message that he will be giving to the Philippians, which applies to us today. Paul’s introduction is not simply an outline of theology. His introduction is in the form of a prayer. Paul thanks God for their partnership and love, and he uses this prayer to affirm God’s faithfulness and love for them.
Paul is able to say with confidence that Christ’s work in the hearts and minds of the Philippians will be brought to completion at the day of Christ Jesus. He speaks to them not out of confidence in their works or abilities, as seen in the next few verses, but rather he roots that confidence in their participation in the gospel and their partaking of the grace of God. Although those in the world may claim to be the source for hope and change, God’s grace and faithfulness is always the catalyst for such transformation.
6. Christ Exalted
In the next portion of chapter 1, Paul moves on from his prayer for the Philippian church into encouraging them about his imprisonment. Sometimes we forget the difficulty of Paul’s situation when he was writing to his dearly loved friends in Philippi. Roman prisons weren’t the most pleasant places in the 1st century world, but Paul’s choice in adverse circumstances was to rejoice in the Lord. His confidence in Christ’s work both in his heart and the hearts of the church brought him joy and gave him grounds for rejoicing. Paul’s focus was the advance of the gospel, and its advance allowed him to encourage the Philippians to use their own suffering for the advance of the gospel as well.
7. To Live is Christ
As we look into this next section, we see that Paul’s view of life through a Christ-centered lens allowed him to view both life and death as beneficial. Paul’s writings in verses 21-26 and 27-30 give us a glimpse into his passion for the advance of the gospel and for his desire to be with Christ. He establishes the beauty of unity within the body of Christ and also models what it looks like to joyfully serve one another. Circumstances for Paul were a means to rejoice in the fruit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether he died or was set free, Christ was proclaimed. He encourages us to live as faithful citizens of the kingdom of God and to stand firm in unity against suffering and opposition. Paul’s model gives us much to learn from in order to faithfully follow Jesus well.
Throughout this section, Paul highlights that unity in humility is key in following Jesus and experiencing the joy of knowing Him. He focuses in on unity by encouraging them to have the same love, thinking the same way, sharing the same feelings and focusing on one goal. This unity, however, doesn’t come naturally. We must work at unity by pursuing humility. We are to do nothing out of rivalry or conceit. We must consider others greater than ourselves. The perfect example of this humility is Christ’s humility in his death on the cross for the sake of others.
11. Why We Worship Him
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12. Obedience: The Manner of Life Worthy of the Gospel
As we have studied in the past few weeks, Paul spends considerable time in his letter walking through what it looks like to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. He gives us the basis for that walk and the perfect model of implementing it – unity through humility in Christ. Now Paul makes another appeal to the Philippian church, and, by extension, us. It’s important, however, not to take these next verses out of context or fail to see the flow of the message that Paul is giving. It’s easy to take a single verse and base an entire theology off of it without understanding the context where it lies.
13. The Jesus War
Paul leads off by telling the Philippians to do everything without grumbling or complaining. This imperative is directly related to the verses coming before it. It’s a practical outworking of “working out our salvation.” Paul’s instruction to stay away from grumbling and complaining is most likely an allusion to the same grumbling and arguing pattern that the Israelites had in the wilderness.
14. The Work of the Gospel
Paul begins this section by commending Timothy to the Philippians and communicates his hope to send him along to aid in their growth. On the surface it would seem like this is simply a narrative piece of scripture that doesn’t have much bearing on the lives of the Philippians and by extension, our lives, but that is not the case. Paul is giving the Philippians church an example of a Christ-like mindset. As we discussed before, real life examples of deep doctrinal truths are needed in order to grow in Christ-likeness and to see what it looks like to live in such a way.
16. Rejoice in the Lord pt. 2
After providing an example of those who are enemies of the cross and who are trying to lead astray the Philippian believers, Paul turned to himself as the final example of what it looks like to follow Jesus well. We saw the model of Christ in Timothy and Epaphroditus but Paul turns to using himself as an example. In verses 4-6 of chapter 3, Paul gave his own resume of being blameless under the law and a Pharisee of Pharisees. Verses 7-11 however give us an interesting insight into what Paul thought of all of his good deeds.
17. Rejoice in the Lord pt. 3
Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a unique one because it is written to specifically address an issue in the church in a logical, stern manner. The Judiazers, those who advocated circumcision in addition to faith in Jesus, had infiltrated the church and were spreading a false gospel. This problem wasn’t a new one to Paul’s ministry but it had reared its ugly head in a destructive manner in the church in Galatia.
Paul highlights the importance of the pattern of living for the believer and pushes the follower of Jesus to imitate those who walk as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Although our behavior and conduct do not save us, that does not preclude us from living in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (1:27). Our behavior is important! Our lives should mirror our transformed hearts.
As Paul moves through his rapid-fire commands to the Philippian church, we can’t miss the intentionality in it. These aren’t random commands but rather they are rooted in all of the theology that comes before it. Joy (or rejoicing) is a recurring motif throughout the letter. Paul uses the word group (joy, rejoice, etc.) 16 times throughout his letter. This letter to the Philippians is one full of joy and affection. Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice! We see Paul talking about joy in two ways throughout this letter: his joy and their joy.
22. Peace of God
Life can be wrought with anxiety — things go wrong at work, the kids aren’t obeying, finances are tight, you lose your job, or your relationships are on the rocks. With all the stresses of life who came blame you for being anxious? For the unbeliever, it’s natural for life to be ridden with anxiety and fear, but Paul exhorts Christians to approach life differently. In this next section of scripture, Paul instructs the Philippian church to be anxious for nothing because the Lord is near to us. Instead of being anxious, we are to bring our requests to God with thanksgiving. Paul tells us that in our gratitude-filled prayer, the peace of God, which surpasses all human reason and understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Paul continues his theme of thanksgiving and rejoicing in the Lord as he moves into a note of thanksgiving for the Philippian church. As we noted before, Paul’s letters have a common theme and thread that ties them together: a Christ-like mindset that produces joy and peace in the life of the believer. Having the mind of Christ transforms the way that we approach all areas of life. Paul demonstrates the mind of Christ in his contentment in all circumstances and calls us to do the same.