Philippians: Introduction – Philippians 1:1–11

Read the Passage: Philippians 1:1-11

Listen to The Redeemed Mind Podcast: Philippians 1:1-11

Author and Date: The book of Philippians is one of the thirteen New Testament epistles written by the apostle Paul (cf. Phil. 1:1). Unlike some of Paul’s other writings, this letter contains several person references designed to update the church on Paul’s personal situation, which included his incarceration (cf. Phil. 1:12–24; 2:19–24; 3:4–14; 4:10–16). Note that since the city of Philippi was in Macedonia, the church to whom Paul writes was actually the first church planted by Paul in Europe. This church began when Paul shared the gospel with a group of Jewish women, including Lydia, who were praying by the Gangites river outside of Philippi. These events happened toward the beginning of Paul’s second missionary journey (cf. Acts 15:39–18:22), which would have been sometime between 49–52 AD. Note that the establishment of the Philippian church itself is narrated in Acts 16:11–40. This church was composed mostly of Gentiles, as there was no synagogue in Philippi, for few Jews lived in this city (cf. Acts 16:13f). This letter of Philippians was written from Rome during Paul’s first prison term there (cf. Acts 28:17–31; Phil. 4:22), sometime between 60–62 AD. Since Paul wrote this epistle while he was under house arrest in Rome, the book of Philippians has historically been known as one of the prison epistles, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

Theme and Purpose: Scripture records that Paul visited Philippi at least twice during his missionary journeys (cf. Acts 20:6), and perhaps as many as four times; thus, this church was close to Paul’s heart. The Philippians had generously supported Paul (cf. Phil. 4:15–16) and had given money to the offering for the struggling Jerusalem church. Once the church learned about Paul’s imprisonment, they sent help and a contribution to him via the hand of a man named Epaphroditus. Paul then wrote this epistle and sent it back to Philippi along with Epaphroditus. It seems Paul had at least four purposes in writing this letter. First, Paul wanted to update the Philippian church about his circumstances (cf. Phil. 1:12–26). Second, Paul wanted to exhort the believers in Philippi toward unity (cf. Phil. 2:1–2; 4:2). Third, Paul wanted to warn the church about certain false teachers and heresies (cf. Phil. 3:1–21). Fourth, Paul wanted to express his thanksgiving to the church for their financial gift (cf. Phil. 4:10–18). The theme of the book of Philippians can be summarized as: Joy in the Lord. Observe that the terms “joy” and “rejoice” occur sixteen times in this book. Given that Paul wrote this letter while he was in prison, joy is a surprising theme. Note that there are no Old Testament quotations in this entire epistle.

Structure and Outline: Unlike most of Paul’s other letters, Philippians lacks a unified section of doctrinal teaching; thus, it is mostly practical in content. A brief thematic outline of the book is:

  • Greeting and Circumstances (1:1–30)
  • Exhortations and Example (2:1–30)
  • Warnings and Admonitions (3:1–21)
  • Application and Conclusion (4:1–23)

Paul’s Greetings (1:1–2)

Paul generally began all of his epistles in the same manner, identifying himself by name and offering a greeting and a blessing to his recipients. The opening verses of this epistle are fairly standard, yet they contain three unique elements. First, Paul mentions that Timothy was with him. Note the church would have known Timothy, as he was with Paul when the church was planted. Second, Paul refers to the Philippian believers as “saints (or ‘set-apart ones’) in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:1). Of course, Christians have been set apart from their sin and the world, and are reserved for Christ (cf. John 6:39). Third, Paul addresses the “bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1) in the church. The “bishops” were the pastors and are also called “overseers,” “elders,” and “shepherds” in the Bible (cf. Acts 20:28). Paul’s mention of these offices shows that the church in Philippi had a fairly developed leadership structure at the time of his writing.

Paul’s Thanksgiving (1:3–8)

Paul continues his introduction and, as is common in most of his letters, Paul expresses his great thanksgiving for the Philippian believers, noting his joyful prayers for them (cf. Phil. 1:3–5). Next, in Phil. 1:6 Paul writes of his confidence in his readers’ sanctification. Because Jesus is “the author and the finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:2) we can be certain that over time believers will become like Christ (cf. Rom. 8:28–30). One evidence of sanctification is good works (cf. Jas. 2:14–17). In Phil. 1:7 Paul mentions the good work of the church’s care for him while he was in chains and even during his judicial trial. The personal care in view here likely includes the financial offering that was delivered by Epaphroditus (cf. Phil. 2:25–30; 4:10–19). Observe that visiting with Paul during his incarceration would have entailed great personal risk for these Christians, as identifying with a prisoner like Paul may have implicated the individual believes or the church if Paul was found to be guilty.

Paul’s Prayer (1:9–11)

Paul concludes his introductory thoughts with a specific prayer for the church. Here Paul prays that the believers in Philippi would grow in love. Note, though, that in this passage Paul tied the church’s maturing love to knowledge and to discernment. Biblical love is not empty sentimentality; rather, it is rooted in the truth of the Word of God. The concept of discernment speaks of moral perception, insight, and the ability to practically apply Scripture to everyday life. In Phil. 1:10 Paul writes that mature love will enable believers to discern what is excellent and to be sincere and non-offensive as they live before the watching world. Paul notes that mature biblical love will entail Christians “being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11a). The final goal of believers’ sanctification, writes Paul, is “the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:11b).

Application Questions:

  1. Does the concept of believers being “set apart” make the gospel irrelevant or even unattractive to the watching world?
  2. What is the difference between the church offices of pastor, overseer, bishop, shepherd, and deacon?
  3. Do you rejoice in Christian fellowship and in the partnership of the gospel that is shared with other Christians?
  4. What are some differences between how the world describes “love” and the biblical definition of the term?
  5. Do you know of anyone who has the spiritual gift of wisdom or the gift of discernment (cf. 1 Cor. 12:10)?