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June 16, 2005

Philippians Overview

I'm giving an overview of the book of Philippians tonight. My outline is below the fold. Any Bible scholars (or not) care to comment, please feel free. It's only my second study, so go easy ;-).


Paul the apostle.


A letter to the church in Philippi.


Imprisoned. Most agree it was in Rome.


Around 59-61 AD.


How did the church start?

During Paul’s “second missionary journey” (49 AD), Paul with Luke, Timothy, and Silas sailed for Europe in response to a vision (Acts 16: 5-12). Note that Paul did not choose Philippi. They tried to preach in Phrygia and the region of Galatia, but the Spirit prevented them. Same thing in Bithynia, Mysia.

While in Philippi, Paul met Lydia “a seller of Purple” (Acts 16:14-15) and cast out a demon in a slave girl (Acts 16: 18). The demon brought her masters profit and seeing the profit potential lost, the masters dragged Paul and Silas to authorities in the marketplace (Acts 16:19). Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown into prison (Acts 16:23-24), where they prayed and sang hymns at midnight (Acts 16:25).

God sent an earthquake and the jailer got baptized (Acts 16:30-34). Word came that Paul and Silas were to be freed, but Paul did not want to be released secretly, for they were Romans who were beaten in public (Acts 16:37). The magistrates were afraid and went to Paul and Silas in person, begging them to leave (16: 38-39). They went back to Lydia’s house before departing Philippi (16:40).

According to Daniel Wallace, New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Paul may have left Luke in charge of the work in Philippi because the “we” changes to “they” in the original language once Paul heads to Thessalonica (17:1). Timothy may have also been left briefly with Luke before heading to Thessalonica (from a reconstruction of 1,2 Thess.).
While in Thessalonica, the Philippians sent Paul funds (Phi: 4-15-16). Paul eventually ended up in Corinth, and the Philippians sent him aid (2 Cor. 11:7-9).

By the time of Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he had stirred the pot a bit and began to draw detractors, the Judaizers. Galatians Ch 2 is a good example.

Paul spent three years in Ephesus (52-55 AD or so) and began raising funds for his trip to Jerusalem. 2 Cor 8:1-4 discusses the liberal giving of the churches in Macedonia – almost certainly inclusive of the church at Philippi – despite their deep poverty.

Paul made it to Jerusalem (Acts 21: 17-19), but was arrested and sent to jail in Caesarea. The Philippians didn’t seem to know what became of him, but there are indications that they wanted to help out (Phil. 4:10). The churches may have learned of Paul’s fate when he appealed to Caesar and sailed to Rome for trial (Acts 25: 10-12; 27:1), because the Philippians sent Epaphroditus to Rome with gifts (Phil. 4:18).

It is thought that Epaphroditus brought more than gifts. He may have brought word of the condition of the church and questions about how best to handle various situations. They also may have asked for Timothy by name (Phil. 2:19) and Paul may have sensed that they would be disappointed with his decision to return Epaphroditus (Pg. 418 of the Message).

It is with this context that Paul drafts his letter to Philippians.


Why did Paul write the letter?

Paul's letter to the Philippians is an outburst of love bundled with words of comfort, joy, rebuke, encouragement, exhortation – and a bit of doctrine thrown in for kicks.


Although the letter reads like a “thank you” letter, it is much more. We discussed five major themes of the text: Self Sacrifice, Humility, Unity, Christian Living, and Joy. Everyone feel free to interrupt when you encounter something in the text that relates to these themes.

The letter begins with Paul’s customary greetings (Phil. 1:1-2), but note that the church seems to be well established by this time as he mentions bishops and elders. Paul quickly moves to thanking the church (Phil. 1:3-8). Paul also prays that their love will be full with discernment. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ…”(Phil. 1:9-10). So we get a glimpse of Paul’s exhortation to persevere and embrace a discerning love.

Beginning in Phil. 1:12, Paul turns his focus to his circumstances. The Philippians, may have inquired through Epaphroditus as to Paul’s condition. Paul takes the opportunity to share how Christ has used his chains for the furtherance of the gospel (Phil. 1:12-14). He even mentions that some have been emboldened to preach Christ, but with the wrong motives (Phil. 4:15). Regardless, Paul rejoices that the gospel is preached irrespective of motive (Phil. 4:18) and he intends to plug along because he knows the outcome. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 4:21). He struggles with the desire to be with Christ and remaining to continue his ministry to the body (Phil. 4:22-24).

Paul expresses confidence though that God wills that he remain for a while longer and that he will eventually return to the Philippians (Phil. 1:25-26). However, he doesn’t know for sure and he exhorts the church to unity and sanctification through suffering.

(READ Phil. 1:27-2:30)

Okay, what did we see there? Exhortations to live boldly, humbly, and obediently.

Paul encourages the Philippians to live boldly and in unity, expecting suffering for Christ (Phil. 1:27-30). Second, Paul exhorts the church to live humbly as servants (Phil. 2:1-11. Phil. 2:5-11 is often referred to as the Carmen Christi, or the Kenosis passage. (READ again). The mind that is supposed to indwell the Christians in Philippi is a mind of humility and obedience and self-denial. The Kenosis is the emptying of self. If Christ could do it, what right do we have to refuse? Through this emptying, God exalted Christ. Paul seems to be implying that God will exalt believers exalt Him (not in the same way of course).

This principle of self-emptying then becomes the backdrop of the rest of Chapter 2. In Phil. 2:12-18 Paul exhorts the believers at Philippi to live obediently and to serve with joy.

Then comes the “shocker.” Some commentators believe that the Philippians sent Epaphroditus and requested that Paul return Timothy. But Paul informs the Philippians that Timothy will not be coming just yet, but in the meantime, Epaphroditus will return (2:19-30). That makes the section on obedience a bit more interesting, and especially the part on grumbling and complaining (Phil. 2:14). Paul seems to have discerned that the church would be disappointed to see Epaphroditus and not Timothy. One commentator wrote: “Thus Paul concludes the section on sanctification with the offer of Epaphroditus even though they had hoped for Timothy, hoping that his audience will not be selfish, nor grumble, but will instead exalt and honor Epaphroditus.”

Having lavished them with thanks and encouraged them toward santification, Paul turns to a bit of doctrine. He starts Chapter 3 by lashing out against the Judaizers. Maybe Epaphroditus brought word that the Judaizers were making headway into the church, or maybe Paul, having encountered them or heard of them in other churches wrote this section of the letter as a warning. He began by calling the Judaizers names. (Phil. 3:2 - “dogs” and “evil doers”)

The Judaizers emphasized the works of the flesh and Paul sets the record straight. Phil. 3:3 says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.”

He presents himself as an example “circumsized on the 8th day” “tribe of Benjamin” “Hebrew of Hebrews” “Pharisee” “blameless in the law” etc (Phil. 3:4-6). Why does Paul not boast in these works of the flesh?

(READ: Phil. 3:7-11.)

Instead of boasting, Paul turns his focus on the prize. “I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). He reminds them of them of their heavenly citizenship and to look forward to the coming transformation of our earthly bodies to heavenly bodies (Phil. 3:20-21).

I read in places that the Philippians were leaning towards a hybrid between the teachings of Paul and the Judaizers. That, they could be saved by faith, but sanctified by works. Paul is credited to have, with Phil. 3:1-16, effectively condemned both the Judaizers’ view of salvation and their doctrine of sanctification. Not clear on all of this. Don, care to comment?

It seems that Paul tries to end the letter on a few occasions, but gets side tracked. He calls out a feud between Euodia and Syntuche to encourage the body to suffer each other, get along, and be gentle (Phil. 4:2-3).

(READ Phil. 4-9)

With those words, Paul exhorts them to rejoice and be gentle (Phil. 4:4-5), not be anxious (Phil. 4:6-7), and to think and act purely (Phil. 4:8-9). Then he spends 11 verses closing the way he began; with thanksgiving (Phil. 4:10-20). He expresses joy in his contentment with God’s provision (4:10-13). The clue to his contentment and joy during such trying times? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Paul then acknowledges gratefully the role their church played in this provision (4:14-18), and prays for them that God would in turn supply their needs (4:19-20).

The book ends with final greetings and a benediction (4:21-23).

Concluding SUMMARY quoted from

This is Paul’s happiest letter. And the happiness is infectious. Before we’ve read a dozen lines, we begin to feel the joy ourselves – the dance of words and the exclamations of delight have a way of getting inside us…Paul doesn't tell us that we can be happy, or how to be happy. He simply and unmistakably is happy. None of his circumstances contribute to his joy: He wrote from a jail cell, his work was under attack by competitors, and after twenty years or so of hard traveling in the service of Jesus, he was tired and would have welcomed some relief. But circumstances are incidental compared to the life of Jesus, the Messiah, that Paul experiences from the inside. For it is a life that not only happened at a certain point in history, but continues to happen, spilling out into the lives of those who receive Him, and then continues to spill out all over the place. Christ is, among much else, the revelation that God cannot be contained or hoarded. It is this “spilling out” quality of Christ’s life (the Kenosis) that accounts for the happiness of Christians, for joy is life in excess, the overflow of what cannot be contained within any one person.

Posted by Rick at June 16, 2005 11:33 AM

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