The account of the labors and sufferings of the apostle Paul and his companions in Philippi is given in Acts 16. They went to Macedonia in response to a vision Paul had seen at Troas: a vision of a man of that country calling for help. But apparently when they reached the capital, no such man was waiting for them. Instead they came in touch with a few women who were accustomed to gather for prayer in a quiet place by the riverside outside the city. There the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to listen to the words of Paul. Others also were reached, among them some brethren (Acts 16:40). But it was when Paul was cast into prison that the greatest work was done. The jailer and his household were won for Christ before the messengers of God’s grace departed for Thessalonica.
The infant church was very dear to the heart of the apostle, and he was very dear to the Philippian believers. After he left them, they showed their love and care at various times and probably for a number of years. But at last they lost touch with him, apparently during his imprisonment at Caesarea. When he was in Rome they again communicated with him. Fearing he might be in need, they sent him an expression of their love with a trusted and beloved brother named Epaphroditus. Having fulfilled his ministry, this faithful man became sick, and his illness was of sufficient duration for word of it to reach Philippi and cause anxiety among the saints there. News of their concern reached Rome about the time that Epaphroditus became convalescent. He decided to return at once, and Paul entrusted him with his letter to the Philippians. Apparently the letter was dictated to him by the apostle.
The book of Philippians is an epistle of joy, a letter of cheer. It also contains needed exhortation for a wilderness people, liable to fall by the way. Epaphroditus, it seems, had communicated to Paul a concern that was weighing on his heart regarding a misunderstanding or quarrel between two women in Philippi, both of whom were much esteemed by the saints there and by the apostle himself. If the squabble was not checked and healed, it was likely to prove a source of sadness and possibly even division in the church in days to come.
With this misunderstanding evidently much on his mind as he wrote, the apostle sought to present Christ so that the hearts of all would be enraptured with Him, all selfish aims would disappear, and all that was of the flesh would be judged in His presence. The message of the book of Philippians is needed whenever the flesh is at work among believers. That is why this portion of the Word of God has such importance in the present hour of the church’s history.
The theme of the Epistle can be expressed in the three words, “Christ is all” (Colossians 3:11). Philippians is the Epistle of Christ; it occupies us with Himself. The book falls naturally into four divisions, which are indicated by the four chapters, and each division presents Christ in a different way. Each chapter also indicates the results that should be seen in the lives of believers as they meditate on the aspect of Christ presented in that particular passage.
Chapter 1 sets forth Christ as our life—and the evangelistic spirit or gospel mind that believers should cultivate.
Chapter 2 sets forth Christ as our example—and the lowly mind or humble spirit of those who follow Him.
Chapter 3 sets forth Christ as our object—and the steadfast spirit or determined mind of those whose hearts and thoughts are centered on Himself.
Chapter 4 sets forth Christ as our strength and supply—and the confident mind or spirit of trust that should characterize all who know the resources that are in Him.
This Epistle is practical. It has to do with our state rather than our standing, with responsibility rather than privilege, with communion rather than union. In other words, this Epistle is suited to our wilderness journey, written to guide our feet while going through this world. Paul’s letter to the Philippians is a pastoral ministry of a very precious kind.
Others have written fully and helpfully on this part of the Word of God. It is not my intention to attempt a labored exposition of the Epistle, but simply to jot down some notes that embody the results of my own study. My hope is that these notes may be used by the Holy Spirit for the edification and comfort of fellow saints, particularly those who are discouraged. I have gleaned much from what others have taught and I make no pretension of originality. If Christ Himself becomes a little more appreciated by a few of His own, I will have accomplished my goal.