Introduction to Philippians
Topic: Expository Passage: Philippians 1:1-2
This morning we are going to begin a study of Philippians. I would imagine that for many people in this room Philippians is one your favorite Bible books if not the favorite. It’s such a warm, personal letter. You get to see Paul’s heart in Philippians more than in any other letter. It’s both convicting and encouraging.
There are also many practical helps in Philippians. It teaches us how resolve conflict, how to serve each other, and how to discipline the mind. It also provides vital instruction regarding how to replace anxiety and depression with joy, peace, and contentment.
But what sets Philippians apart from any secular counseling resource is that it grounds all of it in a rich theology of Christ. Philippians 2:5–11 is the foundational NT text on the incarnation and humiliation of Christ, but it’s also filled with practical insight regarding how we can follow Christ’s example. And Philippians 3:1–16 combines a rich exposition of Christ’s imputed righteousness with a pastoral call to live in light of this righteousness.
And remarkably, Philippians does all of this in only 104 verses. You can read the whole book out loud at a comfortable pace in less than 15 minutes. So I want to challenge you as I did when we studied Colossians to read Philippians once a day for 2 weeks. You’ll be amazed at how much of the book will get lodged in your mind and at how that perspective will make it easier to follow our study and benefit from it.
This morning, I want to lay an important foundation for our study by using Philippians 1:1–2 to introduce the book. In particular, I want to tell the story of why Paul wrote Philippians, and give you an overview of its message. Today’s bulletin insert summarizes much of what we will cover. I hope you’ll keep as a reference for our study because the material we will study today is going to be very helpful for understanding each section of Philippians (read). Let’s begin in v. 1 by talking about…
I. The Author: Paul (v. 1)
Verse 1 states that Paul is the author, and even liberal scholars don’t seriously questioned the authenticity of Philippians as Paul’s work. Notice also that v. 1 says…
Timothy was with Paul when he wrote. We might read v. 1 as saying that Timothy was a coauthor of the book. However, Paul writes the remainder of the book as the sole author; therefore, v. 1 is simply sending a greeting from a brother who was a good friend of the Philippians. I’ll add at this point…
Paul wrote Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment (60–61 A.D.). Paul talks about his imprisonment several times (1:7). Paul says he is in prison for preaching the gospel. He is even more specific in 1:12–14.
Notice in particular that Paul’s imprisonment had become well known “to the whole palace (Praetorian) guard.” This is clearly Caesar’s elite imperial guard, which was stationed at Rome. As well, notice what Paul says in 4:22. Paul says that many from “Caesar’s household” had been saved.
That’s pretty incredible isn’t it? Paul was just a lowly prisoner in the world’s greatest city. But he was having a profound gospel impact that reached the highest military officials and the household of the emperor.
Notice also that although was in prison, he believed he would soon be released (1:19). He even says that he hoped to visit Philippi after his release (2:24). As such, pretty much everyone agrees that Paul wrote Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment, which can be dated to roughly 60–61 A.D. 1 and 2 Timothy are pretty clear that Paul was ultimately released and enjoyed a few more years of ministry before he was arrested again by Rome and beheaded.
Therefore, Paul didn’t write Philippians on the deck of a posh, Mediterranean cruise ship. Rather, he was suffering at the hands of the Romans. But notice that he had a master much higher than Rome. Paul describes himself and Timothy in 1:1 as…
Paul and Timothy were bondservants of Christ. The Greek term is doulos, the common term for a slave. Of course, that’s not how most powerful leaders, sadly even “Christian” leaders want to be known.
But Paul starts here, because his identity is in Christ, and his submission to Christ will be a major theme throughout the letter. Christ owned Paul and had absolute dominion over his life. Paul says in Philippians 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Christ was everything to Paul. That’s also apparent in the heartfelt testimony of 3:8–10. Paul’s passion, Paul’s life, Paul’s hope, and Paul’s joy were all centered in Christ.
What a powerful example he is for us. Everyone lives for something, but there is no higher and no more satisfying pursuit than the pursuit of Christ. And if you are a Christian, serving Christ is not merely a good suggestion. No he is my master, and I am his slave. So I must bow in submission ready to follow anywhere and to obey whatever he says. Notice also in 1:1…
II. The Recipients: Philippian Church
You can see on the map that Philippi is located in the province of Macedonia in Northern Greece. Paul also started churches in the Macedonian cities of Thessalonica and Berea, so anytime the NT mentions the Macedonian churches, it’s talking about these 3 churches.
Paul first visited Philippi around A.D. 50, and Acts 16:12 calls it, “the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony.” It gained great significance as a Roman colony in 42 B.C. following the assassination of Julius Caesar. 2 Roman senators—Brutus and Cassius—conspired to kill Julius Caesar. Afterwards they battled against Octavian, Mark Antony, and Lepidus for control of Rome. The final battle occurred at Philippi.
After winning the battle, Octavian made Philippi a Roman colony, and he moved many war veterans into the town. The whole city was given Roman citizenship, and the city enjoyed a number of special privileges as a Roman colony filled with Roman citizens.
As a result, in Paul’s day, Philippi was a major political center with a proud and loyal citizenship. Paul uses this patriotism several times in the letter as a backdrop to emphasize that our ultimate citizenship is in heaven and our ultimate loyalty is to Christ.
Again, Acts 16 tells us that Paul first visited Philippi during his second missionary journey A.D. 50. Typically, Paul would begin his evangelistic work by visiting the synagogue. However, the Jewish population in Philippi was so small that there wasn’t a synagogue, so Acts 16:13 states, “On the…” These women were mostly Gentile converts to Judaism, and they responded to Paul’s message. A wealthy lady named Lydia got saved among others.
But then things turned south when a demon possessed slave girl started harassing Paul. Paul cast out the demon, and the girl’s master was furious. He was making a lot of money off this girl’s power, so he had Paul and Silas beaten and put in jail. That night God sent a massive earthquake, which destroyed the prison. God used Paul’s testimony to save the jailer and his family. However, the next day, the city magistrates forced Paul out of town. However…
Paul maintained a close relationship with the Philippian Church. In fact, it’s probably fair to say that he was closer to this church than to any of his other church plants. This is probably in part because the Philippian church seems to have been an especially godly and mature.
They had challenges like any church, but Philippians has an especially warm There are no sharp warnings about heresy like Galatians or any harsh rebukes like 1 and 2 Corinthians.
So Paul had a special bond with this church. He visited them twice on his 3rd missionary journey. And Paul mentions several times how generously this church had ministered to him (4:14–18). This church was invested in Paul’s ministry. And what’s incredible about this generosity is that…
The Philippian church modeled generosity despite hardship (2 Cor 8:1–5). The context of this text is that during Paul’s 3rd missionary journey, he collected an offering from the Gentile churches to assist the believers in Jerusalem who were suffering under tremendous hardship.
However, Paul didn’t ask the Philippians to participate in the collection because of how poor they were. However, notice what he says about their generosity (read). The Macedonian churches begged to be included and gave sacrificially. That tells you something of this church’s character. They weren’t wealthy brats like many at Corinth. The Philippian believers were blue collar, humble But they loved Christ, they loved Paul, and they were committed to generously supporting God’s people and the spread of the gospel. Returning to 1:1 notice how Paul describes them…
The Philippians were “saints in Christ Jesus.” Paul also calls the Corinthian church saints, despite their carnality, so this is not an evaluation of their maturity. Neither is saint a special designation for elite Christians. Rather, this is a rich statement of gospel grace rooted in Christ.
The Greek term literally means “holy ones.” The idea goes back to Exodus 19:6, where God calls Israel a “holy nation.” In other words they belonged to God, because he had set them apart from all the other peoples of the world. That’s exactly what God has done for us through Christ. As he says here, we are “in Christ.” We have been joined to his righteousness and his power. As a result, God accepts us, and we belong to him.
It’s very easy for us just to skip over this phrase, because Paul repeats it in the introduction to several epistles, but we shouldn’t miss its significance. If you are a Christian, you are in Christ. You possess all the blessings of his perfection and power. You are secure, no matter how you may struggle or fail. Christ is the fountainhead of your entire existence. As a result, 1:21 says again, “to live is Christ.” I must live for him, and there is no significance outside him. Finally, since I’m a Baptist, I have to emphasize that…
Paul greets the overseers and deacons. I’ll just say that the only reason the KJV and NKJV say bishops is because the translators were Anglicans. The literal meaning is overseer, and it refers to a pastor.
Paul also mentions deacons, which is significant, because this is the first mention of the office in the NT. It demonstrates that from the beginning, the churches were established with two offices of leadership—pastors and deacons, not 3 or 4. And all the Baptists said, “Amen.” Next, let’s talk about…
III. The Occasion: 2:25–30 reference the fact that…
The Philippians sent Paul a gift in the hands of Epaphroditus. When the Philippians heard that Paul was in prison, they wanted to encourage him, so they collected an offering and one of their members, Epaphroditus, brought the offering to Paul. Not only that, they planned for Epaphroditus to stay with Paul for an extended time to help Paul with whatever he needed. That’s some sacrificial, and thoughtful Once Epaphroditus reached Rome…
Epaphroditus updated Paul on the Philippian situation. We can gather from the content of the letter that Epaphroditus relayed several challenges the church was facing. First…
The local government was persecuting the church (1:28–30). Paul says that the Philippians were enduring “the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” Of course, they had seen Paul be beaten and imprisoned when he first visited Philippi, and he was currently in prison. Therefore, the Philippians must have been enduring something similar.
As a Roman colony, life in Philippi would have centered on emperor worship. However, Christians could not participate in good conscience, and very likely this cost the believers dearly at the hands of the government, employers, slave masters, and even spouses. This is a probably a big reason for the church’s extreme poverty. As such Paul wanted to encourage them to endure, knowing “our citizenship is in heaven” (3:20), something much better than Roman citizenship. Second, Epaphroditus probably told Paul…
Judaizers were pushing legalism (3:2–3). Paul is clearly concerned about some kind of Judaism, because he mentions circumcision and he goes on to describe the vanity of his former life as a Pharisee. So it’s safe to assume that some Jewish legalists were trying to gain a foothold in the church. However, based on the warm tone of Philippians, we can also assume that so far the church had resisted them. Third, Epaphroditus probably told Paul that…
The church was battling disunity. Philippians frequently urges the church to remain unified, so they probably were having some challenges. Paul even calls out 2 ladies in 4:2–3. Again, it must not have been too bad, since Paul considers Euodia and Syntyche to be friends, but something was going on. Then…
Epaphroditus became severely ill (2:26–28). Apparently the Philippians heard about his severe illness, and they were deeply troubled. Therefore, Paul decided it was best to send Epaphroditus home and…
Paul sent Philippians with Epaphroditus to update the Philippians on his situation and to encourage them to endure. In the process of all this stuff, God provided the church for all time with the precious treasure of Philippians. Finally, let’s discuss what Paul emphasized through this letter.
IV. The Message
It’s pretty incredible how much Paul says in such a short book, but there are 4 main themes he develops in Philippians. The first and primary theme is…
New Life in Christ: Again, there are no urgent problems at Philippi, but life in this world is always challenging. The Philippians were facing significant pressure from the unbelieving world for their exclusive commitment to Christ, which was also creating economic hardship.
They were facing theological pressure from the Judaizers, and then there was some bickering inside the church. It’s the stuff of life, and so people were struggling with anxiety and despair, just like we often do.
And Philippians offers practical help for all these things, and I’m really looking forward to discussing a number of common emotional and practical struggles. But we must not miss the fact that the ultimate solution for every struggle they had and that we have is Christ. Philippians 3 will say that Christ is the answer for our salvation. He is our righteousness, and he is our hope for eternity.
And he is our only hope for life today. Christ is changing us, and he is the answer to every sin struggle. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Christ is the only power for genuine spiritual change.
Not only that, Christ knows what it’s like to suffer in this world, and he has provided a wonderful example of how to endure. So Philippians calls us to look to Christ as our example and power.
And then it calls us to live out the new life we have received. Again, there is a lot of hope and comfort in Philippians, but this book also has a sharp edge. Notice how Paul pursued godliness (3:14). There was no loafing with Paul. He was zealous in his pursuit of sanctification.
And he approached ministry with the same zeal (1:20–21). Paul was more committed to the spread of the gospel than he was to his own life. As he says in v. 21 so eloquently, “To live is Christ.” Everything begins with him, everything advances in him and for him, and everything will end in him when we see him someday. So I pray that the Lord will use this series to drive us to Christ as the solution to our every need and as the goal for all of life.
Joy in the Lord (4:4): This is a popular verse, and it articulates a high ideal. However, it often seems so elusive. We lack true joy, and it seems impossible to grasp. If you struggle with depression, or if you just get grouchy and low (as we all do), Philippians gives a roadmap to change. Christians can have joy, and as you would expect it is rooted in Christ.
Unity among Believers: The fact is that anytime sinners get together, there is bound to be conflict. We are all proud. We want to be appreciated. And we are all selfish. We want to be first and to have what we want.
But we have to fight for unity, because Jesus said that unity and love would be one of the distinguishing marks of his disciples. Philippians calls us to pursue the kind of unity that glorifies the Lord and advances the gospel (1:27). That’s a high goal.
And not surprisingly, it uses the example of Christ as a roadmap to how we can enjoy close fellowship by practicing the humility of Christ. So if you are burdened with broken relationships in the church, at home, or in your marriage, you’ll want to see what Philippians has to say.
Partnership in Gospel Ministry: One of the things that stands out about Philippians is Paul’s passion for the spread of the gospel. And one of the unique features of Philippians is how it describes the Philippians’ partnership in Paul’s mission. Philippians has so much to say about how we can work together to fulfill the Great Commission. I’m excited about everything we will learn about our role in missions about how we can better serve gospel partners.
So there’s so much for us to gain from this little book. Again, let’s remember that it all comes back to Christ. “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” So Christian, the central call of Philippians is to see Christ as the highest goal, the highest good, and the highest joy. So don’t get bogged down by the cares and pleasures of this world. Throw them off and run with endurance toward Christ.
And if you have never received Christ as your Savior, understand that you are missing the hub from which everything is intended to turn. Imagine what would happen to our solar system if the sun disappeared. Without the sun’s gravitational pull, the planets would go spinning away, and we would freeze immediately. The sun keeps everything together.
Similarly, we are made in the image of God, and life only works with Christ at the center. There is no hope of salvation, no meaning, no purpose, no joy, and no love outside Christ. So if you have never received Christ as your Savior and Lord, I’d love to speak with you today about how Christ died for your sins and about how you can enjoy a personal relationship with him, so that Christ can be your center and so that you can view death, not as dreadful but as gain, because you know you will be with him.