Introduction to Philippians
Like Ephesians and Colossians, Philippians was one of Paul’s “prison epistles” (note Philippians 1:7,13-14,16), though it was probably written some time later than the others. Tychicus carried the Colossian, Ephesian and Philemon epistles to Asia, whereas Philippians was taken to Philippi by Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25). The prison from which Paul wrote these epistles has been taken by some as being at Ephesus, on the strength of such Scriptures as I Corinthians 15:32 and II Corinthians 1:8-10, even though the accounts of Paul’s several visits to Ephesus and the two years and more which he spent there (e.g., Acts 19:10) make no mention of any imprisonment at Ephesus.
It seems more likely that Paul wrote Philippians during his house arrest at Rome (Acts 28:30). Note the references, for example, to “the palace” and “Caesar’s household” (Philippians 1:13; 4:22).
As is well known, Philippi was the site of Paul’s first missionary activity in Europe. He entered Macedonia through this city, which was an official Roman colony, prosperous because of its location on a key overland trade route between Rome and Asia. The church he established there began with Lydia and certain other women, and shortly afterwards included the Philippian jailer and his family (Acts 16). It soon became the church that gave the Apostle Paul more personal satisfaction than any of the others, and his epistle reflects his deep love for them. Note, for example, Philippians 1:3-8; 4:1,15-19, as well as his testimony concerning them in II Corinthians 8:1-5.
The letter to the Philippians does not reveal any serious problems in the church, in contrast to the problems that had developed in Corinth and Galatia, although there was a certain amount of disharmony that Paul sought to correct before it could develop into something serious (e.g., Philippians 2:2-3; 4:1-3). He also warned them of any potential false teachers from outside, and tried to encourage them in relation to the persecutions which were confronting them (e.g., Philippians 3:2; 1:29).
There are many classic passages in this short epistle, especially the marvelous section on the incarnation and future exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:5-11). One great theme is that of joy, even in suffering. The words “joy” and “rejoicing” occur some seventeen times in its four chapters.
Apparently, few if any have ever questioned the authenticity of Philippians, Paul being universally accepted by liberals and conservatives alike as its author. It is probably the most personal of all his church epistles. He does not mention his office as an apostle in his salutation, as he had done in all his other church epistles except those to Thessalonica. It is only in Philippians that he greets “the bishops and deacons” of the church (Philippians 1:1). The entire letter reflects close friendship and affection for the church, some ten years after its founding.
Finally, it is interesting to note that the “marketplace” (or agora) where Paul and Silas were judged by the Philippian “magistrates” (Acts 16:19-20), has been excavated by archaeologists. Also the small stream where Paul first met Lydia and her friends has been identified.
1:1 Timotheus. Paul associated his young disciple Timothy with him in his letter to the church at Philippi probably because Timothy was with him when he first came to Philippi (Acts 16:1,3,11-12). Paul was in prison at Rome when he wrote Philippians (1:12-13), and Timothy apparently had been able to visit him there.
1:1 the servants. Paul did not, in this case, assert his authority as an apostle, as he did when addressing a church with serious problems (e.g., I Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1), perhaps because he had nothing but commendation for the Philippian church. He and Timothy merely called themselves “bondslaves” of Christ.
1:1 Philippi. Philippi was the first city in Europe to hear the gospel and establish a Christian church. See Acts 16:9ff for the account. Paul had made at least one visit there later (Acts 20:1-6). His divine call to Greece was the initial reason why the gospel spread in Europe and not Asia.
1:6 will perform it. It is neither our responsibility nor within our capability to maintain ourselves in a state of salvation. God began this work in us (Ephesians 2:8), and He will assure its continuance.
1:6 day of Jesus Christ. The “day of Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; II Corinthians 1:14; Philippians 1:10; 2:16; II Thessalonians 2:2) is the day when Christ returns for His people (John 14:2-3).
1:7 defence. “Defence” is the Greek apologia, a legal term referring to a formal defense as in a courtroom. Many modern evangelicals think the gospel does not need to be defended—just preached. Paul and Timothy knew better. The gospel was under attack in their day, and is even more so now, and it does need a sound defense. See also Philippians 1:17.
1:12 furtherance of the gospel. The Apostle Paul had the spiritual insight to realize that what seemed like great problems and difficulties such as being unjustly imprisoned, could—and would—be used by God to the “advancement” of the gospel. Rather than complaining or even quitting when the Christian life gets hard, the Christian should remember that God can make even “the wrath of man” to bring praise to Him (Psalm 76:10).
1:17 defence of the gospel. This could read, literally, “an apologetic for the gospel” (see note on Philippians 1:7, above). The apostle Peter enjoined us to be ready always to “give an answer” (same Greek word, apologia), to anyone questioning why we believe the gospel (I Peter 3:15).
1:18 rejoice. Paul could rejoice when Christ was preached, even when those so preaching were jealous of Paul’s reputation and authority and were trying to undermine them. In this respect, he has set a remarkable example for modern preachers, evangelists and Bible teachers. See note on Philippians 4:4.
1:27 conversation. See note on Philippians 3:20. It is a different word from that translated “conversation” in II Corinthians 1:12 (q.v.).
1:27 becometh. A more modern way of saying this is: “Let your civic behavior be becomingly appropriate to your allegiance to the gospel.” One who professes salvation from sin and has received imputed righteousness should live in a victoriously godly life style.
1:29 given. This normal Christian experience of being persecuted in some way or other for our Christian testimony has actually been granted (literally “graced”) to us as a privilege! “We suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him” (II Timothy 2:12). “Rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also, with exceeding joy” (I Peter 4:13).