St. Paul's Letter To The Philippians


1. The Salutation (1:1-2)
2. Thanksgiving & Prayer (1:3-11)
3. News from Prison (1:12-26)
4. Admonition: A Life Worthy Of The Gospel (1:27-2:18)
  1. The Unity of the Spirit (1:27-30)
  2. Humility & Self-Effacement (2.1-11)
  3. Obedient Servants (2:1-11)
5. Paul's Actions on the Philippians' Behalf (2:19-3:1)
6. Christian "perfection" Warning & Instruction (3:2-4:1)
  1. Warning Against Judaizers (3:2-11)
  2. True Christian Perfection (3:12-16)
  3. Warning Against the Enemies of the Cross (3:17-4:1)
7. The Whole & Healthy Life Of Peace (4:2-9)
8. Thanks For the Philippians' Gift (4:10-20)
9. Conclusion (4:21-23)

Author, Date, Place of the Writing

The early church was unanimous in its testimony that Philippians was written by the apostle Paul. Internally the letter reveals the stamp of genuineness. The many personal references of the author fit what we know of Paul from other New Testament books.

It is evident that Paul wrote the letter from prison [see Philippians 1:13-14] Some have argued that this imprisonment took place in Ephesus, perhaps around the years 53-55 AD. Others put Paul's imprisonment in Caesarea around the years 57-50 AD. A third city for Paul's imprisonment is Rome and the year is 61 AD. This would fit well with the account of Paul's house arrest in Acts 28:14-31. Under this place and time argument Paul is under house arrest in his own rented house, where for two years he was free to impart the gospel to all who came to him.


Paul's primary purpose in writing this letter was to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent him upon learning of his detention (Philippians 1:5; 4:10ff). However, he makes use of this occasion to fulfill several other desires...
  1. To report on his own circumstances (1:12-26; 4:10-10)
  2. To encourage the Philippians to stand firm in the face of persecution and to rejoice regardless of circumstances (1:27-30; 4:4)
  3. To exhort them to humility and unity (2:1-11; 4:2-5)
  4. To commend Timothy and Epaphroditus to the Philippian Church (2:19-30)
  5. To warn the Philippians against the Judaizers (legalists) and antinomians (Libertines) among them (chapter 5)


The city was named after King Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great. It was a prosperous Roman colony, which meant that the citizens of Philippi were also citizens of the city of Rome itself. The citizens of Philippi prided themselves on being Romans (see Acts 18:21). They dressed like Romans and often spoke in Latin. No doubt this was the background for Paul's reference to the believer's heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20-21). Many of the Philippians were retired military men who had been given land in the vicinity and who in turn served as a military presence in this frontier city. That Philippi was a Roman colony may explain why there were not enough Jews there to permit the establishment of a synagogue and why Paul does not quote the Old Testament in the Philippian letter.

The city was located on the Egnatian Way -- the great northern east- west highway. It was occupied by Italian settlers following Octavian's great battles, first against Brutus and Cassius, then against his former ally Antony.

In Philippi, as in the province of Macedonia as a whole, women enjoyed high status. They took an active part in public and business life - a situation that is reflected in the church.

The Church at Philippi

The church at Philippi was founded about 50 AD during Paul's second missionary journey (see Acts 15:12-40). When Paul, Silas and Timothy left, Luke the doctor, stayed on. Philippi was a medical center, and may possibly have been Luke's hometown. He no doubt did much to put the group on Its feet and continue the evangelistic outreach. The letter reveals a church taking its share of suffering (1:29) and in some danger of division (1:27; 2:2)

There may have been some leaning to a doctrine of perfection (Philippians 3:12-13) And the arrival of the Judaizers introduced a new threat (Philippians 3)

Paul loved this church and throughout the letter will rejoice and praise them for their progress.

Characteristics found in the letter

  1. Philippians contains no Old Testament quotations.
  2. It is a missionary thank you letter in which the missionary reports on the progress of his work.
  3. It manifests a particularly vigorous type of Christian living.
  4. a. Self-humbling--Philippians 2:1-4

    b. Pressing toward the goal--Philippians 3:13-14

    c. Lack of anxiety--Philippians 4:6

    d. Ability to do all things-Philippians 4:13

  5. The word "Joy" occurs some sixteen times in this letter of St. Paul.

Bible Study

1. The Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2)
The letter comes from Paul and Timothy -- the young man who was with Paul when the church was founded and who would shortly be coming to Philippi again. (Philippians 2:19)

The slave of Christ Jesus writes to the "saints" not an elite, but all the Christians, as men as women set apart for God's service. The bishops, (overseers) and deacons (administrators) receive special mention.

2. Thanksgiving & Prayer (Philippians 1:3-11)
Paul gives thanks for the Philippians' partnership in the gospel from the first day until now and emphasizes the personal character of the bond that this partnership has established between him and them. (Philippians 1:3-8)

He prays that their love may grow and increase and that their knowledge and discernment may keep pace with their love (Philippians 1:9-11)

In short, Paul's prayer is full of love, joy, (a keynote of the letter) and thankfulness. He longs for them to enjoy progressively richer and deeper spiritual knowledge that will mold their lives to God's pattern.

1.5 "The first day" See Acts 16:12-40

1:7 "My imprisonment" see notes in the introduction.

3. News From Prison (Philippians 1:12-26)
Paul speaks of the past (v.12) the present (vv.13-18) and the future (vv. 19-26) weighing the alternatives of life and death.

The news is good. Paul's trial has made it dear that he is not what his accusers have charged, a seditious disturber of the Roman peace, but what he himself has always claimed, "a prisoner for Christ". Thus the cause of the Gospel has been advanced through his imprisonment and trial (vv.12, 13).

The turn which Paul's case has taken has emboldened his brethren to speak the Word of God without fear; and in this Paul rejoices, even though some of these preachers are motivated by selfish and partisan zeal in their preaching (vv.14-18)

Paul is convinced that whatever may befall him, life or death Christ will be glorified through him. His heart's desire is to depart and be with Christ forever; but the duty which he gladly takes upon himself is that he remain in the service of the Lord on earth, tie looks forward to being released and rejoining his church at Philippi.

1:12 "What has happened to me" If Paul writes from Rome, this includes mob violence, injustice, plots, prison, shipwreck and long detention under constant guard.

1:13 'The whole praetorian guard" The crack imperial force from which Paul's wardens were drawn.

1:19 "Deliverance" if the judgment goes against him, death will deliver him into Christ's presence. If it goes for him, his captors will release him to serve the church.

1:21 "To live is Christ... " Possessing more and more of him, becoming more and more like him, until on his death the process is completed in one glorious moment.

4. Admonition: A Life Worthy of the Gospel (Philippians 1:27-2:18)
If they are partners in the Gospel, their life must correspond to the Gospel. This is what Paul will explain in the verses that follow. There is more than a hint of division in the church however, (see for example Philippians 4:2). Paul urges them all to pocket their pride, and to live and work and think as one. Anything less lets down the gospel and the Lord, whose life on earth is the supreme example of humility. It is because Jesus gave up all that was His by right -- even His life -- that God the Father has given Him the highest place of all.
a. Unity of Spirit (Philippians 1:27-30)
Unity of the Spirit is especially important in the face of the persecution that it is their privilege to endure for Christ. No enemy from without can destroy them. God will destroy their enemies. But they can destroy themselves by disunity.
b. Humility and Self-Effacement (Philippians 2:1-11)
The admonition to humility is closely related to the preceding. The strong and ancient enemies of unity and pride conceit and selfishness; only where humility and self-sacrifice displace them is true unity possible.

This self-effacing and self-giving humility is theirs in Christ Jesus, who went a way that was the divine way, the very opposite of the way willed by Satan (to be "like God", Genesis 3:5) the Servant-Messiah's way of self-giving (Isaiah 52:13--53:12) that took Him to the cross and thus to universal Lordship to the glory of God the Father. It is believed that vv. 5-11 is a quotation from an early hymn of praise to Christ. Possibly one of the first hymns of the early Church!

2:5 "Have this mind... " 'The attitude you should have is the one which Jesus had" [Good News Bible)

2:6 "The form of God" The actual nature, not just the appearance (as also in verse 7)

2:7 "Emptied Himself" In becoming man the Lord stripped Himself of His glory; He lived a life of humble obedience to the will of the Father. But He cast off none of His essential deity. New English Bible puts it this way "made Himself nothing."

c. Obedient Servants (Philippians 2:12-18)
The admonitions to unity (Philippians 1:27-30) and to humility and serf-effacement (Philippians 2:1-11) lead up to and prepare for (therefore 2:12) the admonition to obedient service. As the culminating statement concerning the Servant Jesus Christ in His humiliation was a statement concerning His utter obedience (Philippians 2:8) so the crowning admonition calls for obedience.

First, Paul stresses the quality of that obedience; the "fear and trembling" (v.12) of the servant totally devoted to his Lord and apprehensive of betraying the trust reposed in him and of frustrating the purpose of he God who works in him (v.13) the complete and unquestioning submission of the servant who is, like Jesus, minded to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. The servant's active and energetic working in dependence on God (work...for God is at work, 12-13; Do...that you may be...children of God, 14-15)

Second, Paul gives an inspiring picture of the effects of obedient ministry: the obedient, active servants become an extension of the Servant who is the Light of the world (v. 15) a light which the opposition and persecution of a "crooked and perverse generation cannot quench;" they shalt appear in the day of the Lord as the crowning glory of the apostle through whom Christ speaks and works. (v. 16)

The life of the obedient servants, their working faith becomes a living sacrifice, a spiritual worship offered to God (v. 17) and so they come to know the whole joy of faith. Jesus' own joy in ministry fulfilled (see also John 15:11)

2:16 "Day of Christ" The day of His return.

2:17 "A libation" Paul's death adds only the finishing touch to the real offering, the faith and life of the church.

5. Paul's Actions on the Philippians' Behalf (Philippians 2:19-3:1)
The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus to help Paul. In sending him home, Paul is anxious to make it clear he has not fallen down on the job. Far from it! Paul is also sending Timothy, the most selfless and dependable of his coworkers, to the

Philippians. He will cheer Paul by a fresh and firsthand report of them and will be genuinely concerned for their welfare. As Paul himself hopes to come to them shortly (Philippians 2:19-24) he is sending the Philippian emissary, Epaphroditus back to Philippi, with thanks to God for sparing his life.

Paul concludes his admonitions with a final call to joy in the Lord Jesus Christ.

6. Christian "perfection" Warning & Instruction (Philippians 3:2-4:1)
Paul warns against two perversions of the Gospel...two false ideas of Christ. The first is "perfection" (Philippians 3:1 2), that of the legalistic Judaizers (Philippians 3:2-11). The second is that of the libertine "enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:17-21) who, as Jude puts it "pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness': This second false idea of Christ is found in the fact that the Gospel gives us license to sin that we might more fully appreciate the forgiveness which comes from the Gospel. St. Paul will say elsewhere in essence "should we continue to sin that grace may abound?" His resounding conclusion is an emphatic "NO!"

Between the two warnings he portrays himself, the man in Christ, as the true example of Christian perfection or maturity. (Philippians 3:15)

Paul has been rounding off his letter (Philippians 3:la) but fresh and alarming news compelled him to take up his pen again. He does not mind repeating former advice, as a safeguard (Philippians 3:lb)

They must beware of those "dogs"; the Judaizers -- that group of Jewish Christians who followed Paul everywhere, insisting that Gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law. This was done despite the official edict of Acts 15:19ff. These Judaizers are in fact alerting the whole basic fabric of salvation, making it "by faith and..." instead of "by faith alone, by faith only!" hence Paul's anger.

a. Warning Against Judaizers (Philippians 3:2-11)
Paul now warns against his old and persistent enemies who had once created such havoc in the churches of Galatia and elsewhere. They are apparently, still at work.

Paul uses himself, an Israelite and former Pharisee, as an example of how all the old Israelite prerogatives and privileges have become meaningless in the presence of Christ and the righteousness which man can find only in Him. In this section Paul gives his hearers and most eloquent definition of the righteousness from

God, a dominant motif of his letter to the Romans.

3:2 "True Circumcision" The true Israel, the true people of God.

3:7-8 "Gain...loss" God does not operate a credit and debit account. The finest human achievement is garbage compared with the standard of life He demands, and provides for us, in Christ.

b. True Christian Perfection (Philippians 3:12-16)
Paul sees Christian perfection and Christian maturity not as these Judaizers do but found in the grace and the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

3:12 "I press on..." Like the athlete or charioteer, who does not waste time looking back but strains every nerve and concentrates every effort to cross the line or pass the post. Paul counters the idea that perfection can he reached here and now.

Even today the idea of "progressive Sanctification" that being that we can achieve or at least reach a point of moral perfection is an idea that has been floated across many a Christian congregation. Our perfection is not found based on our own work or merit. It must center completely on the merits and the work of Jesus Christ.

c. Warning Against The Enemies of the Cross (Philippians 3:17-4:1)
Since Paul describes this group only enough to condemn them, we cannot be absolutely sure of their identity. He has spoken of them to the Philippians often (Philippians 3:18) and they could readily identify them.

Paul is probably pointing to men of the kind whom he had had to deal with at Corinth -- the loud, proud, secular, super spiritual men of knowledge who said 'We belong to Christ' and yet, emptied the cross of its content, who on the basis of their higher "knowledge" came to terms with sin and made the church a home in the world by conforming it to the world.

3:19 "Their god is the belly" Whatever they want; reveling in things they should be ashamed

3:20 "Our commonwealth" "State" of citizenship. The official name of the state to the south of us is "The Commonwealth of Kentucky": The readers of Paul are to regard themselves as a colony of heaven. The Philippians, being intensely proud of their status as Romans and a Roman colony, would be quick to grasp all that that meant

7. The Whole And Healthy Life Of Peace (Philippians 4:2-9)
The hope for the return of the Lord and the glory of the world to come does not make the Christian indifferent toward this life and its problems and duties. Rather, the return of the Lord gives life now, with its problems and decisions, its full significance; the light of His coming falls upon the present and fills it, for all its dangers and difficulties, with joy and peace.

Euodia and Syntyche, who had fallen out, are to settle their differences, "in the Lord" whom they have proclaimed together, whose coming will judge all violators of His peace; one whom Paul addresses as yoke fellow is to help them find their way back to one another. Their quarrel is not their individual concern only but concerns the whole church, all whose names are inscribed in God's book of life.

Rejoice, rejoice. The advice comes from a man in prison, facing death; a man who had been stoned and beaten and hounded by the mob. Yet experiences which leave others sour and bitter leave Paul overflowing with joy!

The secret is found in verse 6-7. Learning how to off -load all our cares on the One who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Nothing is beyond Him. Having emptied our minds of worry, the next step is to fill them with the sort of things that will shape a truly Christian character. (v. 8)

8. Thanks For The Philippians Gift (Philippians 4:10-20)
Paul expresses his joy at this fresh token of their concern for him; it has supplied, not so much his physical need as his need of their love - they have shared his trouble (Philippians 4:10-14)

He appreciates their gift as one more example of their partnership in the Gospel and as a "fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God" whom they serve in serving him who is apostle by the will of God and servant of His Son.

He promises them that His god, the rich and generous Rewarder of all who seek Him with no thought of reward will supply their every need; their giving will not make them poor but rich. To Him belongs all glory! No wonder Paul loves these Christians; a group of faithful loyal thoughtful, generous, outgoing men and women.

9. Conclusion (Philippians 4:21-23)
Paul sends greetings as in the beginning to every saint all members of the church at Philippi from the brethren who are with him and from all the saints (probably the members of the church at Rome) and concludes with the benediction of grace.

4:21 "Caesar's household" Christian members of the imperial staff (the palace staff) gives just one more hint that Paul is by all indications writing this letter from Rome.

Thus concludes our study of the Epistle of St. Paul to the Christians in Philippi.


Concordia Self Study Bible New International Version, Robert G. Hoerber Editor Concordia Publishing House St. Louis, MO. 1986 pp.1814-1815

Concordia Self Study Commentary Martin H. Franzmann, Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1979 pp.192-198