- Background: Philippi was seized as valuable mining territory by Philip II of Macedon a little after 400 B.C. By 200 B.C. it had passed under Roman control. In 42 B.C. Philippi was the site of a battle between the forces of Octavian (later Augustus Caesar) and Antony, who defeated the armies of Brutus and Cassius. After Octavian defeated the forces of Antony at Actium, he settled some of his defeated opponents in Philippi and made the city into a Roman colony. Descendents of these individuals were recipients of Paul’s missionary journeys. It was Paul’s second missionary journey when he first visited the city. This is where the first known European convert accepted Christ, Lydia (Acts 16:12-15). Paul also freed a slave girl from demonic possession, which caused quite a stir in the city (Acts 16:21). Paul and Silas spent some time in prison there before God sent an earthquake to release them and miraculously save the jailor and his household (Acts 16:21-34). It was at Philippi, one of several times this happened, that Paul asserted his rights as a Roman citizen to make things more conducive to spreading the gospel (Acts 16:38-40).
Authorship: This is a letter of Paul in its classic form demonstrating his personality and character.
Date: It is reasonably assumed Paul wrote this letter near the end of his two year house imprisonment in Rome. A date near the mid 60s then is the likely time of this writing. However, there are some who have suggested that he wrote this letter from his incarceration in Caesarea Maritima.
Purpose of the Letter: Paul wanted to ease the anxieties and concerns the church felt for him in his imprisonment. He assures the believers that the Lord was at work in the midst of his persecution (Phil. 1:12-14). Paul urges unity to stem a tide of contentiousness in Philippi with his passionate plea in Philippians 2:1-11. He encouraged them to practice a true faith in humility in their relationships with one another in following the example of Christ. This passage at the beginning of chapter 2 gives us the kenosis of Christ, in other words the “emptying” of His divine rights, to become our payment for sin. It is an important theological passage into the nature of the Son of God. Paul challenges the Judaizers (legalists) who diluted or added to the requirements for salvation (Phil. 3:1-6). He also rebukes with severe language a group of perfectionists in the city (Phil. 3:12-16). Paul then issued strong warnings to another group reflecting tendencies toward sensuality and materialistic greed for the purpose of awaking the church to deal with such issues (Phil. 3:18-19). Paul ends the letter with another appeal for unity, prayer, and proper thinking (Phil. 4:1-9). He is gracious with gratitude for the gifts he has received and knows that the Lord will bless their sincere generosity (Phil. 4:10-20).
Questions for Thought:
-In what ways can we seek unity with the same mind and purpose as Christ in the church today?
-What does Paul’s strong affirmation of contentment in this book mean for us in the midst of life’s severe trials and tribulations?
*Notes from this overview were aided by:
Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd edition, Broadman and Holman Publishers, Nashville, TN: 2003, pgs. 363-376.
-Paul is writing along with Timothy on this message to the saints in Philippi and in particular the overseers (episkopoi, bishops) and deacons (servants). He grants his trademark grace and peace upon them in the Name of the Father and the Son before thanking God for all his remembrances of them and making mention of his earnest and joyful prayers for them. They had partnered together with him in the gospel from the very beginning, and Paul was sure that He who began a good work in them would undeniably bring it to completion (epiteleo, to finish) at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1-6). This “Day of Jesus Christ” becomes a recurring theme as Paul looks forward to the completion of his own life and seeing his faith become sight (Philippians 1:10; 2:16). Paul loves these people with all his heart and acknowledges how that they had become partakers with him in the grace of God (Philippians 1:7-8). Paul prayed for them to abound more and more in this love of Christ with knowledge and all discernment so that they could approve of what was excellent and be pure and blameless for their eventual meeting with Christ in His day filled with the fruit of righteousness that only comes through Jesus Christ to His praise and glory (Philippians 1:9-11). *Application* Paul truly loved this flock and points out how we should love those around us with warmth and affection. We should always keep the end in mind because one day we will meet our Creator face to face and give account for this life. This is the Day of Christ and we’d better be prepared for it by placing our faith in Him who can save. This is the essence of the gospel. Become a partaker in His grace!
-Paul begins to encourage them in their distress over his imprisonment. Paul actually states that his incarceration was for the good because of the lives that were being changed and the boldness that was coming from his stand in Christ by many (Philippians 1:12-14). He promotes the sharing of Christ even in pretense by some who had envy, rivalry, selfish ambition, and desiring his affliction (Philippians 1:15-18). *Application* Think about the heart of Paul for a moment and how he didn’t even care about his own well-being compared the unsurpassing glory of Jesus Christ being known. How much do we want Jesus talked about around us. Are we willing to suffer and be rejected just so His Holy Name can be mentioned. Do your best to get Jesus discussions started. Be bold and unashamed (Romans 1:16).
-For Paul to live was Christ and to die was gain because of his unyielding faith and determination for the gospel. He was asking for prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit for deliverance, but he was torn. His departure would mean being with Christ, but his staying would mean fruitful labor in the Lord and that could absolutely benefit the Philippians account (Philippians 1:19-26). The author then exhorts his readers to live in a manner of life pleasing to the Lord and worthy of the gospel of Christ by standing firm in one Spirit with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel truth not being frightened in anything by their opponents. This would be a clear sign for their destruction, but for them salvation. Suffering is included in this challenge for them just as it was for the apostle (Philippians 1:27-30). *Application* When was the last time you counted up the cost of being a true disciple of Christ? Here we see that life in Christ is never easy, but O so rewarding. There is a peace and rejoicing that defies logic with the Lord and His presence is strong even in the face of conflict and certain natural doom. His Light shines brightest in the darkness. Be encouraged our faith is not in vain and God will rescue His saints, the beloved.
Verses to Memorize- Philippians 1:6, 21