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The Epistle to the Philippians

Arend Remmers

Overview of the New Testament

4 chapters

1. Recipients, Author, and Time of Origin of the Epistle 

Philippi was a Roman colony in New Testament times and the centre of eastern Macedonia. The city had already been founded by the great king Philip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, to whom its name also goes back. 

The apostle Paul visited Philippi on his second missionary journey (around 51 - 54 AD) for the first time (Acts 16:12-40). 

Through the preaching of the gospel, the purple merchant Lydia and her household first came to believe in the Lord Jesus. When Paul then cast out a demonic spirit of divination from a woman, an uproar arose; Paul and his companion Silas were flogged and put in prison. 

In a miraculous way, the prison guard came to faith along with his whole household. This is how the first assembly on European soil came into being through the missionary work of the apostle Paul (there may already have been an assembly already existing in Rome at that time). 

After a short stay in Philippi, Paul moved on. He left Luke behind in Philippi (cf. the "we" section to Acts 16:16 with the "they" section from Acts 17:1). Later, Paul came again on his third missionary journey (around 54 - 58 AD) from Ephesus to Macedonia and probably also to Philippi (Acts 20:1; 2 Cor. 2:13). He then went on to Greece and on the way back he stopped in Philippi, from where Luke accompanied him again (Acts 20:6). 

From the beginning there was a close, loving relationship between the assembly in Philippi and the apostle Paul. He reminds himself and them in his epistle that in the beginning he received material support from the Philippians only (Phil. 4:15,16). 

Now again Paul had received a gift from the Philippians.  Paul instructed Epaphroditus, the bearer of the gift, to take this epistle to Philippi, after he had overcome a serious illness with God's help (Phil. 2:25 - 27; 4:18).  The fact that it was Paul who wrote this letter has never been seriously called into question. However, in more recent times various presumptions have been made as to the place of writing the epistle (e.g., Ephesus or Caesarea).  But the traditional view that Paul wrote this epistle from his imprisonment in Rome (as well as the epistles to the Ephesians, the Colossians and to Philemon) carries the greater weight. Paulus speaks only in this letter of the praetorium (Phil. 1:13), which appears to designate the imperial bodyguard, and of the believers of the emperor's house (Phil. 4:22). He also expresses the hope that he would soon regain his freedom (Phil. 1:25.26; 2:24). The epistle was therefore probably written towards the end of his two-year imprisonment in Rome, i.e., around the year 63. Polycarp (around 70 - 155), Irenaeus (around 140 - 202) and Clement of Alexandria (around 150 - 215) cite this epistle as being written by Paul. 

2. Subject and Purpose of the Epistle

The Epistle to the Philippians is one of the most personal and warmest epistles of the NT. It does not contain detailed doctrinal expositions of Christian truth. The short sections on the humiliation and exaltation of the Lord Jesus (Phil. 2:5 - 11) and the transformation of the believers at the coming of the Lord (Phil. 3:20,21) only serve to clarify and support the thought of the apostle. However, they contain messages that we do not find anywhere else in this form and are therefore particularly valuable. 

The epistle to the Philippians is a very practical letter. It shows us that "the doctrine of Christ" is not a mere theory but is to be put into practice in all circumstances of life in the power of the Lord. From the certainly not pleasant imprisonment in Rome Paul wrote an epistle in which his (and our) Lord Jesus Christ occupies the central place and in which, more than in any other epistle he speaks of a profound joy (the words "joy" and "rejoice" occur several times in each chapter). The joy of the imprisoned apostle, however, was not occasioned by earthly or even worldly things.  His joy had its origin in the Lord Jesus. This is what made the imprisoned apostle so happy and free. 

The epistle can therefore be called an epistle of experiences. These experiences, however, are not those of a weak Christian who often fails in his life, but of a Christian who has matured in faith, a "father in Christ" (cf. 1 John 2:13, 14) who has come to rest in Christ, his Lord, and has enough in Him alone. The word "sin" does not appear at all in this epistle, but the names of the Lord Jesus Christ are mentioned 50 times, that is, relatively more often than in the other epistles.

The apostle's gaze is directed forward, into the future. This reminds us of the people of Israel in the Old Testament, of which we read in the Deuteronomy that they had left behind all the difficulties of the forty years of wandering in the desert but had not yet arrived in the promised land of Canaan. 

Moses now takes a brief look back at the past and directs the gaze of the people of Israel to the land of Canaan, from which it was still separated by the Jordan. 

In the same way, Paul in Philippians looks at the destination ahead of him, while he was still on earth, i.e., figuratively - speaking - in the desert. Even salvation is still future (Phil 1:19; 3:20). - In contrast to this the believers in Colossians are seen as if they had already passed through the Jordan and are about to enter the promised land, the spiritual blessings (Col. 3:1 - 3). The Jordan is a picture of death and resurrection with Christ. 

The epistle to the Ephesians goes even further: 
There the believers are not only seen as being raised with Christ, but as being seated in Him in the heavenly places, that is, in full possession and enjoyment of all the spiritual Christian blessings (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). 

In Philippians the key verse of the first chapter is verse 21: "For me, to live is Christ", that is, Christ is the contents and purpose of life. 

The central verse of the second chapter is verse 5. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus", that is, Christ in His humiliation is the model of the Christian life. 

The most important passage in chapter 3 is formed by verses 7 - 14 where Christ is presented as the goal of life. 

Finally, chapter 4:13, "I can do all things in Him who strengthens me," shows that Christ is also the power and strength of the believer. 

The only negative thing in the assembly at Philippi seems to have been a certain tendency to disagreement. The apostle lovingly addresses this in Philippians 1:27; 2:2ff and 4:2. 


3. Peculiarities  

Overseer and servants (Phil. 1:1) 

The letter to the Philippians is the only letter of the NT in which the overseers (or elders, cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and servants are mentioned in the address. 

In contrast to the spiritual gifts which the glorified Lord bestows on His own for the whole body, without local and temporal restrictions (Eph. 4:11ff.), the overseers (or elders) and servants in the early days of the assembly held offices that were restricted to their locality and to which they were appointed by the apostles or their representatives (Acts 6:3-6; 14:23).

In the time of the NT there were, probably in all assemblies, such overseers/elders and servants/deacons who were responsible for the divine order in the assemblies (cf. on this Acts 14:23; 15:6; 20:17; 1 Tim. 3; Tit. 1:5; Jas. 5:14). The fact that elders and servants are not mentioned in an epistle does not imply that they did not exist in that place. In the epistle to the Ephesians, for example, the elders there are not mentioned, but we find them in Acts 20:17ff. 

Within a relatively short time, an ecclesiastical hierarchy of offices evolved – due to the confusion between such local offices and gifts (like evangelists, and teachers), which, however, had always been given by the Lord without restriction (to a particular locality), for His whole body. 

This (ecclesiasticl hierarchy), however, has no basis in the in the NT. Whereas the Lord Jesus still and everywhere gives spiritual gifts for the building up and edification of His assembly, no one today has the authority to officially appoint elders or overseers, even though the tasks of elders are carried out by competent men in the various localities. 

4. Table of contents 

I. Philippians 1:1 - 11: Introduction: Greeting, Thanksgiving and Supplication 

Verses 1 - 2                  Greeting

Verses 3 – 8                 the Joy of the Apostle

Verses 9 – 11               His Wish (v. 10: "that you may consider what is more excellent") 


II. Philippians 1:12 - 26: Paul's personal Circumstances (Christ, the Purpose of Life) 

Verses 12 – 14        His imprisonment promotes the gospel

Verses 15 – 20       Joy at the spread of the of the Gospel, whether "out of quarrelsomeness" or "out of good will". 

Verses 21 – 26        "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" 


III. Philippians 1:27 - 2:18: Call to Unity and Faithfulness (Christ, the Example) 

Verses 27 – 30             "Only walk worthy of the gospel of the Christ" 

Verses 2: 1 – 4             Affectionate Exhortation to Unanimity and Humility 

 Verses 5 – 8                 The Example of Christ (v. 5: "For this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus") 

Verses 9 – 11               The Exaltation and Glorification of Christ

Verses 12 – 13             Exhortation to Obedience

Verses 14 – 16         Exhortation to Purity (v. 15: "you shine like lights in the world,         representing the word of life") 

Verses 17 – 18             Paul's Joy 


IV. Philippians 2:19 - 30: Timothy and Epaphroditus 

Verses 19 – 24              The intended Mission of Timothy 

Verses 25 – 30             the Mission of Epaphroditus, who had recovered from great Sickness


V. Philippians 3:1 - 21: Warning and Example (Christ, the Goal of Life)

Verses 1 – 3                 Christ or the Law (v.3: "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh”)

Verses 4 – 6                 the Career of Paul

Verses 7 – 8                 Excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus

 Verse 9                         Not Law-justice but Righteousness from God

Verses 10 – 11             To be Conformed to Christ

Verses 12 – 14             Christ the goal 

Verses 15 – 17             Appeal for Spiritual Growth

Verses 18 – 19             Warning against Enemies of the Cross of the Christ

Verses 20 – 21         Heavenly Position and Hope of the Believers (v. 20: "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ") 


VI. Philippians 4:1 - 9: Call to Unity and Dependence 

Verse 1                         Standing firm

Verses 2 – 3                 Evodia and Syntyche are admonished to Unity 

Verse 4                         Joy in the Lord 

Verse 5                         Gentleness 

Verses 6 – 7                 Prayer and its Consequence (v. 7: "the peace of God") 

Verses 8 – 9                 Pondering and Doing (v. 9: "the God of peace”) 


VII. Philippians 4:10 - 23: Joy and Thanksgiving (Christ, the Force of Life) 

Verse 10                  Joy over the Gift received 

Verses 11 – 13         Paul's Sufficiency (v. 13: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me")

Verses 14 – 18         Praise for the Philippians 

Verses 19 – 20         Praise to God

Verses 21 – 23         Greetings and Blessing