Introductory Notes The Church At Philippi By Arno C. Gaebelein

First Edition, 1922 Revised Edition, 1997

© 1997 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.
Baltimore, Maryland

Unless otherwise indicated,
Scripture quotations are taken from the King James version of the Bible.

Introductory notes taken from
Gaebelein’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible © 1970, 1985 by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc.

Introductory Notes The Church At Philippi By Arno C. Gaebelein

The city of Philippi was originally a military post built by Philip the Great to keep in check the wild Thracians, who were neighbors of the Macedonians. Later Augustus made it a Roman colony to memorialize his victory there over Brutus and Cassius. In Acts 16:12 Philippi is called “the chief city of that part of Macedonia.” This does not mean that Philippi was the chief city of all Macedonia—Thessalonica was. It simply means that Philippi was the chief city of that district.

The historical record of the apostle Paul’s visit to Philippi, where the gospel was preached for the first time on European soil, is found in Acts 16. The apostle probably visited the city twice after this (Acts 20:1-6), though the details of these visits are not reported in Scripture.

The conversion of Lydia, her hospitality to the servants of Christ, the deliverance of the demon-possessed girl, the suffering of Paul and Silas on account of it, their prayer and praise in the prison, the earthquake, and the conversion of the jailer and his household are the interesting and blessed incidents connected with the beginning of the church in Philippi.

The Philippian believers were greatly attached to the apostle Paul. In their presence he felt no need to defend his apostleship and authority, for the Philippians had not yet been affected by the false Judaizing teachers who had wrought such havoc in Galatia and Corinth. This must have been due to the fact that there were very few Jews in Philippi—the city did not even have a synagogue. But we learn from the warning in Philippians 3:2 that the apostle evidently feared an invasion by these false teachers.

The church at Philippi was struggling with trial and affliction; yet they gave out of their “deep poverty” to other needy saints (2 Corinthians 8:1-2). The Philippians ministered liberally to the apostle twice shortly after he had left them; the third time that they remembered him, Epaphroditus was their messenger who brought the love-gift to the prisoner of the Lord (Philippians 4:15-18). In return the apostle sent his beloved Philippians another gift: this beautiful Epistle, dictated by the Spirit of God.

The Genuineness of the Epistle

That the Epistle to the Philippians was written by Paul seems almost impossible to doubt. Alford wrote, “Considering its peculiarly Pauline psychological character, the total absence from it of all assignable motive for falsification, the spontaneity and fervor of its effusions of feeling—he must be a bold man who would call its authorship in question.”

Yet the critics
are bold, and some have even questioned the genuineness of this document. Needless to say the Epistle has not suffered from such foolish criticism. The ancient testimony of Polycarp, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and others mentions this Epistle as being Pauline and as being written by him in Rome during his imprisonment, of which we read in Acts 28:30-31.

The Date of the Epistle

The question arises as to when in his prison life Paul wrote this letter. It was not in the very beginning; it must have been toward the end. The Philippians had heard of his imprisonment and had made up a sum of money, which Epaphroditus had carried to Rome. Epaphroditus had then fallen sick, his sickness had been reported to the Philippians (Philippians 2:26), and Paul had heard how they had been grieved on account of it. All of this necessitated a number of journeys from Rome to Philippi and back, and took a good many months.

Furthermore in the beginning of Paul’s stay in Rome he “dwelt for two whole years in his own hired house” and seemed to have perfect liberty (Acts 28:30), but in Philippians 1:12-13 he indicated that he was in the praetorium and no longer in his own house. The praetorium was the place where the praetorian guards were stationed, next to the palace of the emperor Nero. Paul was in stricter confinement and feeling his bonds more severely. The Epistle must therefore have been written by him after the Epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians, and Philemon—that is, about the middle of the year A.D. 63.

The Content of the Epistle

The book of Philippians speaks of Christ, but not in a doctrinal way. It describes the walk and the life of the believer who has apprehended his position in Christ. Paul shows what manner of lives should be lived by those who are saved by grace and who are waiting for glory.

The Epistle assumes that the reader knows what the salvation of God is. Thus we find nothing said about justification, peace with God, or assurance of salvation. The word “salvation” as used in Philippians has nowhere the meaning of salvation by grace in the sense of deliverance from guilt and condemnation. The words “sins” and “sin” are not found at all. The true believer knows that his sins are put away and that the “old man” was crucified with Christ. Now he walks in the power of the Holy Spirit and manifests Christ in that walk.

This true Christian experience, the Epistle reveals from beginning to end. The name of our Lord is used over fifty times in its four chapters. He is the believer’s life; the believer must follow Him as the pattern and look to Him as the goal.

The words “joy” and “rejoicing” are used eighteen times in Philippians. The whole atmosphere of this Epistle is that of joy; and the believer, in whatever earthly circumstances he may be placed, should manifest the joy of the Lord. Paul sends forth from the Roman prison a triumphant song of faith and holy joy, just as he did years before in the Philippian prison. There is not a word of murmur or complaint. He counts it all joy and glories in tribulation. He has Christ; he knows Christ; Christ is his all; he knows himself to be in His hands and the glorious goal is ever before him; and the Holy Spirit therefore fills him with joy. Such should be the experience of every believer.

This Epistle also describes the Christian experience as a race (see especially chapter 3). The Philippians, whose name means “those who love horses,” knew that the racehorse in fullest energy stretches its neck to reach the goal. So Paul, in depicting the energy of the new life and its holy ambition to attain and reach the goal—that is, to “win Christ” (3:8)—speaks of “reaching forth” and says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (3:13-14). Let us follow his example.