Background

Philippi was the chief city of Macedonia, and was named after the father of Alexander the Great. It required divine intervention in the form of a vision (Acts 16:9) in order for Paul to visit it on his second journey. It is the city where Paul and Silas famously converted Lydia and the Jailor and many others as recorded in Acts 16.

Because of the fear of an inquiry into their treatment of Paul—flogging and imprisoning him even though he was a Roman—the authorities appear to have left the newly formed ecclesia to flourish.

From careful reading of the pronouns in Acts 16 and 17 it seems that Luke (the writer of Acts) may have been left behind to help establish this new ecclesia (eg “we” 16:12; cp “they” 17:1).

As there apparently was no synagogue in Philippi (Lydia was meeting others on the Sabbath “by a river” when Paul first met her—Acts 16:13), there was probably only a very small Jewish population in the city, and we can assume this carried over to the makeup of the ecclesia. It was most likely a very ‘Gentile’ ecclesia.

This can perhaps be seen in the fact that the issues of Judaisers and their influence are not found in the record, other than a warning about them, should any come and tried to subvert the ecclesia (3:2–3).

It seems that the joy of the Gentiles in having the hope of the gospel revealed to them, motivated this ecclesia in positive ways. This joy and enthusiasm was reciprocated by Paul.

He was encouraged and enthused by their excitement and now, as a growing ecclesia, Paul encourages them to maintain their enthusiasm and excitement for the Truth, and to maintain their “first love”, as John terms it in Revelation.

Overview

The Philippian ecclesia was a source of joy and encouragement to Paul. This is clear from his expression, “I have you in my heart”, and his declaration of how greatly he longed after them (1:7–8). Also his statement that he remembered them with joy in prayer to God shows their positive effect on him (1:3–4). Additionally, it seems he was looking forward to visiting them again in the future if circumstances permitted (1:26–27; 2:24).

This letter is also a record of Paul’s grateful thanks for their thoughtfulness, and was being returned by the same hands that brought to Paul a generous gift as a token of the love of the ecclesia in Philippi (2:25–30; 4:10–18).

The visit of Epaphroditus must have been a bright light in Paul’s gloomy imprisonment, and we can imagine the eagerness with which Paul enquired about how everyone was going. Part of his concern and desire to help is borne out in his desire to resolve the issues between two sisters, Euodias and Syntyche (4:2).

Paul was seeking to allay their fears and concerns for his wellbeing, and in so doing revealed his motivation for dealing with hardship. He inspired and encouraged the Philippians to adopt a similar mindset.

The singing of hymns and praises whilst in a very desperate situation was obviously a key event that influenced the Jailor, and all other prisoners who were incarcerated with them (Acts 16:25–30). This attitude of positivity in spite of opposition must have really struck a chord with this ecclesia, and the example of Paul in this regard must have remained strong as he continues this theme in a very personal way.

Philippians presents itself to the reader as a loving and positive letter, having much practical advice to assist the believer living a committed life in Christ.

Outline of the Letter

Paul commences His letter by stressing their importance to him (1:3–8), and encouraging them to continue to grow in love (1:9–11).

Paul also seeks to allay any concerns they may have had for his wellbeing, letting them know he was confident in God’s purpose for him whatever his circumstances, that the Gospel is being spread, either by him directly, or inadvertently by those in opposition to him (1:12–18). Paul also encourages the brothers and sisters to likewise endure any difficult circumstances and to take heart from his example to them and always trust in God (1:19–26).

The key message of Paul to this ecclesia he loved was unity of mind in Christ (1:27; 2:5; 4:2 etc). This forms his central premise. Be one in Christ, follow his example and demonstrate this to each other. Let the mind of Christ be in you.

Ecclesias are places where we grow spiritually and learn to get along with each other. We are not naturally ready for a place in God’s kingdom. Our characters need to be developed, and they are not developed in isolation, but only by interaction with others (2:4,13,14). The letter to Philippians contains no issues of doctrine; rather it is full of practical matters regarding how we should behave in the ecclesia of God and shine as lights in the world. The work of Christ is summarized with the emphasis on his service (2:5–11), and is juxtaposed with the example of the Philippians themselves, who, motivated by the example of Christ and their love for Paul, form a practical example of service for us (2:17). Paul had nothing with which he could respond to their gift other than to send Timothy, another living example of a life of service in Christ, who was of one mind with Paul and would care for them on his behalf (2:19–23). Though he could himself not be with them at present, he considered that sending Timothy was like sending himself. Ephaproditus is also being sent home after recovering. It seems he was so conscientious about delivering the gift from Philippi that he relentlessly carried out this task, despite its personal cost to himself (2:25–30). Here also is another case of one following the example of Christ in putting others before himself.

It seems that the warning Paul gives the Philippians in chapter 3:1–3, he has given before; he does not find it a chore, as it would be a timely reminder of the things that could cause dissention in their ecclesial environment. He reinforces his credentials in case there were any who might discredit him in order to contradict him (3:4–17). Yet he uses this warning, not as a personal boast, but to reveal his personal motivation. Here is one of the most revealing insights into Paul’s character:
“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” He encourages them to live a life of faith as he did in order to overcome opposition. Our citizenship is in heaven and to live life as an inhabitant of God’s kingdom lifts us far above earthly squabbles and opposition, and governs our reaction to others (3:20–21).
Paul concludes his letter on a very encouraging note, with repeated exhortations to be positive:
“Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say Rejoice” (4:4). The fact that this was written from prison adds poignancy and power to this encouragement. The final chapter of Philippians is full of many positive suggestions for a disciple in Christ, including a guide as to the things on which we should feed our minds (things that are “true” and “honest”, 4:8) and to follow the example of Paul who could do all things through Christ (4:11–13).

May we all learn from these very practical lessons so that our efforts may ascend as a sweet savour to God (4:18) in the time that is left to us.

The following analysis is taken form the Philippians notes, written by Bro Jim Luke and published by the CSSS.

1:1–2 Address

1:3–8 Thanksgiving for their fellowship Expression of profound love for them

1:9–11 Paul’s prayer for growth and fruitfulness

1:12–18 Account of how God had used him, though a prisoner, for the progress of the Gospel; the opposition of some, but his own contentment

1:19–26 Though wishing to die at times, their need for him confirms his hopes for immediate deliverance

1:27–30 Exhortation to steadfastness in adversity.

2:1–11 An impassioned call for unity through humility and love, on the basis of Christ’s example

2:12–18 An exhortation to carefully work out their salvation to ensure their future joy

2:19–24 He promises to send Timothy to them immediately and, if possible, to go himself soon

2:25–30 Meanwhile he will send Epaphroditus their tender and faithful messenger

3:1–3 Rejoice in God and put no confidence in the flesh like the Judaisers

3:4–6 Paul’s seven surpassing fleshly credentials

3:7–9 Fleshly righteousness renounced for God’s righteousness: faith in Jesus Christ

3:10–11 Faith in Christ leads to conformity with him in suffering, death and resurrection

3:12–16 Positive pursuit of goals—the way to Perfection

3:17–21 If you mind your Heavenly Citizenship, immortality will come from there—a warning

4:1–3 Persuasive appeal for reconciliation: two sisters named!

4:4–7 The way to peace. Rejoice and pray for the Lord is at hand

4:8–9 Antidote to spiritual distemper

4:10–19 Thanks for the gift—as fruit to their account, but not as the provision of his needs, as he has learned to do without

4:20 Ascription of praise

4:21–23 Salutations.