This is one of Paul’s shortest letters and one of the smallest books in the New Testament but there are such powerful teachings in this little dynamo. What was Paul’s purpose in writing the book of Philippians? He wanted to thank this church for their gift of love. How amazing that he wanted to thank them while he was sitting in a dirty, dark, rat-infested Roman prison. Many of Paul’s letters, including this one, are called prison epistles (letters). Paul’s intestinal fortitude is obvious since he is always grateful and praying for the churches while he sits in prison not knowing if he would live or die. Ironically, if Paul had not been in prison so many times and for so long, we might not have but two or three of his letters. How interesting that the enemy wanted to lock him up to silence him, yet his letters in the New Testament have done more good for the Kingdom of God than he could have ever done by his being free.
Paul encouraged the Philippians to pray whenever they became anxious, so prayer is said to be a powerful enabler to live the Christian life. With petitions to God in thanksgiving and in trust in God’s ability to answer our prayers, a believer can have peace and assurance. The peace that God gives Christians goes well beyond human understanding. This peace actually guards and protects a believer’s heart and mind. Dwelling on wholesome attributes is to be coupled with serving others. This is an effect when Christians serve others; they learn to be content in all circumstance. Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that their strength was in Jesus Christ and was not going to be found in themselves.
The Philippians had special privileges in Philippi, which was a Roman Colony. This included Roman citizenry which gave them the full rights of Rome and of Roman citizens. They could support Paul more readily when he was imprisoned because they had tax-exempt status. Being governed by Italian Law, Philippi had the highest privilege attainable by a Roman Province. Philippi was the first European Christian community founded around A.D. 50. Philippi citizens had various sanctuaries to gods which were highly popular and even a Jewish synagogue which was located just beyond the city’s walls.
Paul mentions some of the problems that the church had like personal ambitions and rivalries that were flaring up in Philippi. As in most churches in Paul’s day, and to some extent today, legalists were trying to insert the requirements of the law or works into the gospel. Even the tendencies of antinomianism were enough to persuade Paul to include this concern in this letter. Antinomianism referred to the idea that Christians were free from civil, moral, and even scriptural laws. Nothing could be further from the truth (see Romans 13). Paul actually cried at the knowledge that some of the members would think that they were so free as to not feel that God would expect them to live as if there were no moral laws even though God is the Moral Lawgiver. This tendency was alive and well even until the time that Jude was written in the middle-to-late 60’s. Paul also had concerns about unity in the church.
Paul also concerned over the Philippians persecution (1:27-30), over their being exposed to false teachings (3:2-21), and internal conflicts which would threaten their witnessing to those outside of the church (1:27-2:18, 4:2, 3).
Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was about their love shown in the gift of financial support to him. He assured them that he was praying for them regularly. He prayed that their love would be overflowing like a cup runs over when it is overfilled. He prayed that they would have spiritual discernment and that they would be living holy, sanctified lives until the day that they were received unto Christ. This prayer was for them to have right relationships with God and with one another and that this righteousness would bear fruit from the Holy Spirit. This would lead to God’s being glorified and praise for God’s work in them and through them.
In Philippians, Paul displays Jesus as the supreme example for every believer in that He was in unity as One with the Father. They should live with tenderness and compassion for others which is a result produced by the Holy Spirit. Christ left His glory to dwell as a human in humility and treated others with their best interests in mind. Jesus allowed Himself to be humiliated for our sakes and had no selfish ambition at all. When He emptied Himself out of His deity and full glory, He became a servant even though He is our Lord, Savior, and Master. Like Christ condescending to His own creation (us), believers ought to esteem others better than themselves and have a selfless, giving life for the sake of others.
The only possible way believers are enabled to live a godly life is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Unless Christ is at the center of believer’s lives they can not live like Christ lived. The inner joy can allow the believer to take courage in unhappy circumstances. They can live without animosity, anxiety, and with gentleness. Paul was interested in Jesus’ deity and he wanted believers in Philippi to grow in their spiritual maturity and move beyond “elementary teaching”. There is no doubt that Paul was also soliciting the Philippian’s prayers on his behalf with the understanding that he was in prison and uncertain of his fate. He wanted them to grow in the knowledge of God but still sought prayerful support from them for his enduring trials.
In summary, Paul obviously wanted the Philippians to know that Jesus Christ was not created and that He was fully God probably because of the false teachings that were saying otherwise. Paul also answered questions about the sufficiency in Christ due to false teaching that emphasized asceticism and angel worship. A deeper life in Christ was one of thanksgiving to God for growing in His grace and knowledge. A strong faith and love emulates from the hope that believers have; a hope in our heavenly destination.
The will of God and having a deeper life in Christ is to be living a life worthy of the Lord and to exalt Christ above all things created; that Jesus reigns over all His creation and those Whom He redeemed. A deeper life in Christ means striving toward perfection and moving beyond the rudimentary teachings of the gospel. Like an athlete trains for their sport, so Christians ought to strive by great effort to be more and more like Christ.
Paul’s summary of the deeper life in Christ is contained in Chapter 2:6-7: That Christ is divine and exalted; that believers are reconciled to God through Christ; Christians are being perfected, and that the mystery has been revealed to his church as well as His wisdom. Since these things are true Christians should continue to live daily in Him.
The focus should now be on the heavenly things and not on things from below. The old man has died and a new life in Christ exists inside of us and is absolutely secure. This should produce an inner tranquility and peace should be foremost in the believers mind. The old man was full of evil inside like lust, greed, immorality, slander, foul language, anger, revenge, and hatred. The new self should be a total makeover and be fully renewed to reflect Jesus Christ. This includes the inner attitudes and actions reflecting kindness, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and unity with love being at the center of all of these Christ-like virtues.
I think an important insight that I gained from studying Philippians was that of living like a Christian. This includes the call to be servants. Being a servant requires humility and Paul exhorts believers to live with selfless humility as an attitude. There is no greater example of humility than that which is found in Jesus Christ Who being God emptied Himself of His glory with the Father to associate with lowly, carnal creatures. Even though He is above all and Creator of all, He came down as a servant and willingly laid down His life for imperfect creatures that were enemies before they came to believe in Him. He entered into the world on the humblest of settings and died the most painful and humiliating death that any human has ever endured.
Philippians Key Verses
Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:21 “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:29 “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.”
Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.”
Philippians 2:5-8 “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
Philippians 2:9-11 “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Philippians 3:9-10 “and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
Philippians 3:13-14 “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Philippians 4:11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
What is your favorite Bible verse from the book of Philippians? Share it in the comments!
The Holy Bible, New International Version
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