This was the first epistle ever written to a Christian Church in Europe. Paul’s visit to Europe, not ostentatious in character, had tremendous repercussions throughout the whole continent. His going there was the result of what we now know as the “Macedonian Vision,” described for us in Acts 16:9. The context clearly shows that it was God’s will for the Gospel to enter into Europe.
Philippi was a Roman colony. It was named after Philip, father of Alexander the Great (see Acts 16). Very few Jews lived at Philippi, probably because it was a “military colony,” rather than a “mercantile city.” This would account for the fact that the opposition Paul and his companions received was from the Philippians themselves.
The church at Philippi held a unique place in the heart and affections of the apostle. Being a personal letter, he uses terms of endearment profusely, more profuse than in any other epistle he wrote. Some examples of this are found in the following verses:
Philippians 4:10 “Your affectionate considerateness hath flourished again.”
Philippians 4:14 “You communicated with me in my affliction.”
Philippians 4:18 “I have all” and “abound.” “I am full” having received from Epaphroditus your offering.
Philippians 1:7 Paul writes, “I have you in my heart.”
Philippians 1:8 Paul writes, “How greatly I long after you.”
Three times in four chapters, the adjective “beloved” flows from the apostle’s pen. Then the climax is reached in Philippians 4:1 where he addresses them as “dearly beloved,” “longed for,” “his joy and crown,” and again “dearly beloved.” These terms, I believe, are not the mere use of words, or meaningless endearments; they are the expressions of genuine love, conceived and nurtured in the love of Christ.
This epistle, though not one of the most remarkable or deepest, nevertheless is undoubtedly one of the sweetest. The theological teaching is more incidental, than on purpose. Despite this, there are a few gems of truth and doctrine couched in its content. For instance, the components of a true assembly are mentioned Philippians 1:1. These include “saints,” “bishops,” and “deacons.” Then, one must mention Philippians 2:5-11, which is the leading doctrinal passage of the epistle and deals with the “incarnation” and “exaltation” of Christ. This tremendous truth is unveiled when the Christian attribute of humility is being taught. This splendid theological paragraph is unveiled in a background of strife, vain glory, wrong self-esteem, disunity, murmurings, and disputing. The careful reader will not miss the prominent and recurring truths in the epistle.
1. Christian joy and rejoicing (this is mentioned eleven times)
2. Gain in Christ (Philippians 1:21-23, Philippians 3:7-8, and Philippians 4:19)
3. Teaching by example:
A. Christ (Philippians 2:5-11)
B. Timothy (Philippians 2:19-24)
C. Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25-30)
D. Paul (Philippians 3:1-4:9)
This epistle will never grip our heart as it should unless we perceive and appropriate the fourfold presentation of Christ in relation to the believer’s life. Fortunately, the chapters lend themselves to Christ. They also accurately present the four-fold picture of Christ. Furthermore, we find a key verse in each chapter expressing the key idea.
Chapter 1: Christ is the believer’s life
Key verse: “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21)
Chapter 2: Christ is the believer’s mind
Key verse: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5)
Chapter 3: Christ is the believer’s goal
Key verse: “That I may know him” (Philippians 3:10)
Chapter 4: Christ is the believer’s strength
Key verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13)
Christ our life – Christ our mind – Christ our goal – Christ our strength.
Please note also another theme that permeates the letter: “The Gospel.”
- Fellowship in the Gospel (Philippians 1:5)
- Confirmation of the Gospel (Philippians 1:7)
- Progress of the Gospel (Philippians 1:12)
- Defense of the Gospel (Philippians 1:16)
- Worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27)
- Striving for the faith of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27)
- Service in the Gospel (Philippians 2:22)
- Labor in the Gospel (Philippians 4:3)
- Beginning of the Gospel (Philippians 4:15)
Despite its frequent mention, no attempt is made by the apostle to define the term.
Philippians 1: This chapter describes the zenith of Christian living - that Christ may be magnified in my body, in life or death. He says that, “For me to live is Christ.” Paul also describes here the blessedness of being with Christ and that the gain we receive is far better.
Philippians 2: This chapter illustrates precept by example and that the act of self-humbling leads to the exaltation by the Father.
Philippians 3: This chapter contains the Christian’s primary objective, “Suffer the loss of all things that I may win Christ.”
Philippians 4: This chapter describes the abiding presence of Christ, who stands guard over our hearts—removing all anxious thoughts. He grants us peace and gives us strength, supplying all our need.