Who wrote it?
Philippians 1:1 identifies the author of Philippians as the apostle Paul, likely along with the help of Timothy.
When(ish) was it written?
Philippians was written in approximately AD 61.
Why was it written?
Philippians, one of Paul’s prison letters, was written in Rome. It was at Philippi, which Paul visited on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12), that Lydia and the Philippian jailer and his family were converted to Christ. Now, a few years later, the church was well established, as may be inferred from its address which includes “overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).
The occasion of the letter was to acknowledge a gift of money from the church at Philippi, brought to Paul by Epaphroditus, one of its members (Philippians 4:10-18). This is a tender letter to a group of Christians who were especially close to the heart of Paul (2 Corinthians 8:1-6), and comparatively little is said about doctrinal error.
Some Key Verses
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
– Philippians 1:21
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
– Philippians 3:7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.
– Philippians 4:4
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
– Philippians 4:6-7
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
– Philippians 4:13
A Quick Summary
Philippians may be divided as follows:
Christ the Christian’s Life: Rejoicing in Spite of Suffering, 1:8-30
Christ the Christian’s Pattern: Rejoicing in Lowly Service, 2:1-30
Christ the Object of the Christian’s Faith, Desire, and Expectation, 3:1-21
Christ the Christian’s Strength: Rejoicing Through Anxiety, 4:1-9
Philippians could also be called “Resources Through Suffering.” The book is about Christ in our life, Christ in our mind, Christ as our goal, Christ as our strength, and joy through suffering. It was written during Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, about thirty years after Christ’s ascension and about ten years after Paul first preached at Philippi.
Paul was Nero’s prisoner, yet the letter shouts with triumph as the words “joy” and “rejoice” appear frequently (Philippians 1:4, 18, 25, 26; 2:2, 28; Philippians 3:1, 4:1, 4, 10). Right Christian experience is the outworking, whatever our circumstances may be, of the life, nature, and mind of Christ living in us (Philippians 1:6, 11; 2:5, 13). Philippians reaches its pinnacle at 2:5-11 with the glorious and profound declaration regarding the humiliation and exaltation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Old Testament Ties
As with many of his letters, Paul warned the new believers in the church of Philippi to beware of the tendency toward legalism, which continually cropped up in the early churches. So tied to the Old Testament law were the Jews that there was a constant effort on the part of the Judaizers to return to the teaching of salvation by works. But Paul reiterated that salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone and branded the Judaizers as “dogs” and “evildoers” (Philippians 3:2). In particular, the legalists were insisting that the new believers in Christ should continue to be circumcised according to the requirements of the Old Covenant (Genesis 17:10-12; Leviticus 12:3). In this way, they attempted to please God by their own efforts and elevate themselves above the gentile Christians who did not participate in the ritual. Paul explained that those who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb were no longer to perform the ritual that symbolized the need for a clean heart.
What does this mean?
Philippians is one of Paul’s most personal letters, and as such it has several personal applications to believers. Written during his imprisonment in Rome, Paul exhorts the Philippians to follow his example and be “confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear” (Philippians 1:14) during times of persecution. All Christians have experienced, at one time or another, the animosity of unbelievers against the Gospel of Christ. This is to be expected. Jesus said that the world hated Him and it will hate His followers as well (John 5:18). Paul exhorts us to persevere in the face of persecution, to be “firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
Another application of Philippians is the need for Christians to be united in humility. We are united with Christ, and we need to strive to be united to one another in the same way. Paul reminds us to be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” and to put away conceit and selfishness, “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” looking out for the interest of others and caring for one another (Philippians 2:2-4). There would be far less conflict in churches today if we all took to heart Paul’s advice.
Another application of Philippians is that of the joy and rejoicing which are found throughout his letter. He rejoices that Christ is being proclaimed (Philippians 1:8); he rejoices in his persecution (Philippians 2:18); he exhorts others to rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:1); and he refers to the Philippian brothers as his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). He sums up with this exhortation to believers: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4-7). As believers, we can rejoice and experience the peace of God by casting all our cares on Him, if “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let [our] requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Paul’s joy, in spite of persecution and imprisonment, comes shining through this letter, and the same joy he experienced can be found in us when we center our thoughts on the Lord (Philippians 4:8).
Take a few minutes to read aloud the Scripture from Acts 19:23-30, Ephesians 1:1-14, 2:8-10, 4:1-3, 4:17-24, 5:22-26, 2 Corinthians 11:21-28, Philippians 1:1-8, 1:12-14, 3:7-9, 4:10-13, 4:19, 2:12-16. What verses or ideas stand out to you from these passages? What questions do you have? What “next step” are you considering as a result of your interaction with God’s Word?
How are you doing in this current season of your life? What about your life is encouraging to you or discouraging to you in this current season?
Through Paul’s boldness with the Gospel message, other Christ-followers around him were emboldened to share their faith. Is there anyone in your life that has encouraged you by how they have lived out their faith?
What does it mean for you to be content in Christ? In what areas do you find it is most challenging for you to be satisfied with who you are, what you have, and where you are going?
How does being content in our lives as Christ-followers show others the truth of the Gospel?