What is the Book of Philippians About?
Read this 3-minute introduction to help you find your bearings in the Bible story, and be inspired to read Philippians!
This overview video illustrates for us the literary design of the book of Philippians using creative animations.
This video is part of the series, The Gospel One Chapter at a Time, where Paul David Tripp summarizes each book of the Bible and shows how it points us to Jesus.
The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Philippi, probably from Rome c. AD 62.
From Bibles.net: Remember that the ultimate author of every book of the Bible is the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). He has written this book to equip you for life, to help you know the true God, and to give you hope (2 Timothy 3:16; Romans 15:4). The Holy Spirit wrote Philippians for your good and to lead you into joy.
Paul had a long history with the Philippian Christians, beginning with the conversion of Lydia’s family, a demon-possessed girl, and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:14–40). Paul returned to Philippi at least twice, but mutual care and communication between the apostle and the Philippian church seem to have been regular. He prayed frequently for them with much thankfulness and affection (Philippians 1:3–11). The Philippians stood with Paul, financially and otherwise, when others did not (Philippians 1:7; 4:14–16). In concern for Paul’s present imprisonment (Philippians 1:12–19), they sent one of their best men, Epaphroditus, to bring financial support and to minister to Paul’s needs (Philippians 2:25).
Philippi was not a big city, no more than 10,000 at the most, and rested on a narrow shoulder of land, crowned by an acropolis guarding the Via Egnatia, the famous highway between Rome and her eastern empire. Philippi had been founded by Greeks in the fourth century BC. Phillip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, had named it after himself.
But now it was a Roman colony because in 42 BC Philippi achieved note as the place where Mark Anthony and Octavian (Augustus) fought the forces of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar, defeating Cassius. Later in 31 BC when Augustus defeated Mark Anthony in the battle of Actium, Augustus renamed the colony after himself—Colonia Iulia Augusta Philippensis. As a Roman town it was governed by Roman law. Roman expatriates made up the citizenry. Latin became the official language, and the citizens wore Roman dress. The public inscriptions in the forum and on all the buildings were exclusively Latin. So the leadership and aristocracy of Philippi were completely Roman and Latin. This naturally created a Greek-speaking underclass that made up the local populace. These were the construction workers and tradesmen and merchants. It is to this social group that Paul initially came.
Paul’s custom when entering a town was to go first to the Jews, to the synagogue (cf. Acts 14:1). But there were so few Jews in the city that the necessary quorum to form a synagogue of ten men did not exist. However, after a few days Paul did discover a Sabbath congregation meeting alongside a river outside the city walls. It was a group of God-fearing Gentile women meeting in “a place of prayer” (Acts 16:13). Today there is a general agreement that the exact site of that “place of prayer” was just outside the southern gate at the bank of the Gangites River, which still flows only fifty meters from the old city wall. That was likely where Paul and Silas made initial contact with Gentile women worshiping the God of Israel—women who would soon become the first Christians of Philippi.
—R. Kent Hughes
Source: Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon: The Fellowship of the Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ © 2013 by R. Kent Hughes. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. (p.17)
While imprisoned in Rome, in roughly AD 62, Paul pens this letter we know as Philippians. He writes to thank the members of the Philippian church for their care for him and support of his ministry. He writes to assure them that despite his present imprisonment, the gospel is spreading (Philippians 1:12–18) and that he is well cared for (Philippians 4:18). He also relays that Epaphroditus, their messenger, is well after having become ill on his journey to Paul (Philippians 2:26–30). Epaphroditus is now returning to the Philippians with Paul’s letter. Timothy, another worthy servant and Paul’s “right-hand man,” may be coming in due course (Philippians 2:19)—and Paul himself is eager to do the same, if the Lord permits (Philippians 1:8, 25–26).
The Setting of Philippians
c. AD 62
Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while in prison, probably in Rome. Philippi was the site of a key military victory by Augustus Caesar, and as a result it was made a Roman colony. Philippi was the first city in present-day Europe where Paul established a church.
Unless otherwise indicated, this content is adapted from the ESV Global Study Bible® (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright ©2012 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Philippians by Britt Merrick
Check out this phenomenal 14-part message series by Pastor Britt Merrick on the book of Philippians. Pastor Britt preaches with clarity and passion, and will inspire you to take God’s Word to heart and respond in faith. This series will stoke your love for Jesus and your joy in him.
As you read through Philippians, you might come across words and ideas that are foreign to you. Here are a few definitions you will want to know! Note that this dictionary was created for the New International Version (NIV) Bible.
The family name of Julius Caesar, a famous Roman leader. Later the name Caesar was added to the name of each Roman ruler, so it became a title that meant the same as “emperor” or “king.”
The Greek word that means “God’s Chosen One.” “Messiah” is the Hebrew word meaning the same thing. Jesus was the Christ.
An assembly or gathering. The word church is used to refer both to local groups of believers in Christ (church) as well as to all believers (Church).
A helper or servant in the church. In the New Testament, men and women deacons were chosen to take care of the needs of people in the church. Today churches give their deacons many different jobs to do.
(1) Great beauty, splendor, honor, or magnificence that can be seen or sensed. The Israelites saw the glory of the Lord in the cloud that filled the tabernacle. The shepherds saw the glory of the Lord when the angels told them Jesus had been born. (2) To praise; to be proud or happy; to boast.
(1) All the rules God gave to help people to know and love him and to live happily with each other. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s law. (2) The first five books of the Bible. These five books are often called the Law. (3) The entire Old Testament. Sometimes the Old Testament is referred to as the Law. (4) Any rule that must be obeyed, whether it was decided by God or by people. (5) God’s rules in the Old Testament plus other rules added by Jewish religious leaders. (6) The conscience of an unbeliever who knows he or she has not followed his or her own moral code (see Romans 2:14-16).
A city in Macedonia (today, northern Greece). Philippi was the first European city visited by Paul on his missionary journeys.
(1) To come back to life after being dead. Jesus died, was buried, and after three days he rose from the dead. That event is called the Resurrection. It shows Jesus’ power over sin and death. (2) A future time when everyone who has ever lived will live again in new, spiritual bodies that will never die. Those who do not love God will be separated from him forever.
Thinking and doing what is correct (or right) and holy. God is righteous because he does only what is perfect and holy. A person who has accepted Jesus as Savior is looked at by God as being free from the guilt of sin, so God sees that person as being righteous. People who are members of God’s family show their love for him by doing what is correct and holy, living in righteous ways.
One of God’s people. The New Testament says that all Christians are saints. Paul often addressed his letters “to the saints.”
(1) To be rescued (or delivered) from evil. (2) To be kept from danger or death. In the New Testament, salvation usually means to be rescued from the guilt and power of sin. By his death and resurrection, Jesus brings salvation to people who believe in him.
This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
We have found answers to some tough questions that we anticipate may arise as you read this book of the Bible. We know we can’t answer every question you will have; therefore, we have written this article, so you know how to find answers for your kids: How Do I Answer Tough Questions About the Bible?
The following insights are from pastors and scholars who have spent significant time studying the book of Philippians.
Most of us find comfort in being told that we are going to go on living; [the apostle] Paul was comforted when he was told that he would soon be dying [see Philippians 1:21]! He kept referring to death as that which was “far better.” The fact that we don’t view death with optimism just might be because we think of death as taking us from our home rather than bringing is to our home! Unlike Paul, we have become so attached to our tent that we just don’t want to move.
In [Philippians] chapter three verse eight Paul says, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus.” In other words, for Paul, the greatest happiness resides in seeing, knowing, relating to the greatest person in the universe—Jesus Christ… And that’s what he wants for other people more than he wants his own life.
Source: By John Piper. © Desiring God Foundation. Source: desiringGod.org.
Regardless of where you are, Philippians is a gift. It is a short, compact, rich, full exposition on what it means to be a mature man or a mature woman in Jesus Christ.
Source: “Philippians Session 1.” YouTube Video. Posted by “The Hub,” November 25, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BsY78kwQgpk
So here emerges in the book of Philippians this New Testament concept that pain and joy go together in the economy of God, that they need not be mutually exclusive, that the Christian can experience tremendous, real, profound, lasting joy in the midst of real true pain and suffering. We see these two paired all the time together in the New Testament, and maybe most clearly here in the book of Philippians. And so joy from a place of pain then becomes a critical concept in Philippians. The Greek word for joy or rejoice appears 19 times in this book. It’s been called the epistle or the letter of joy.
And so, for that reason and because that theme is so strong here in this book and comes from such an authentic place with Paul, many would say, when you read commentaries and try to get a grasp on what the book is all about, most commentators would say that the theme verse is Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice” (ESV). They would say that that’s the theme verse of the book of Philippians.
And I would agree that that is a key verse, but it’s not the key to the book of Philippians. Because if Paul is merely saying to them a standalone statement, “Hey, rejoice! And again, I say rejoice!” then the message is failing, because that is never a standalone statement in the Word of God. That can’t be within Christianity a standalone statement. If we’re merely saying to each other, “Hey rejoice,” then we’ve got nothing to say that the world isn’t already saying. Because the world is already saying, “Hey, lift your head up! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. Have a positive attitude. Put a smile on your face. Come on, we’ll get through it.” Paul is not saying that in the way the world says that.
You see, there’s something that undergirds that, that means [Rejoice!] simply can’t be the key to this book. There’s something deeper. Something has to undergird the joy. There has to be something real and tangible and eternally true that enables us to have true and better joy in the midst of pain, disappointment, suffering, and hurt. There has to be a bedrock upon which that statement stands. It’s never a stand-alone statement. And that bedrock is the Person of Jesus Christ himself…
So then the key to the book of Philippians is Philippians 1:21, which is where Paul says, “as for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That becomes the key to the book… the only reason that we can have joy in the midst of pain is because of who Christ is and what he has done for us—what he is currently doing and what he will accomplish. So the book is actually all about Jesus. And though joy and rejoice appear in the Greek about 19 times, there’s about 50 times that a title or a name for Jesus appears—that’s one every two verses! Every chapter starts with Jesus. The first two chapters say “in Christ” at the beginning. The last two chapters say, “in the Lord” in the beginning. So then the critical concept—which is joy from a place of pain—is only a possibility because of who Christ is and what he has accomplished on the cross in our place. So the big picture of Philippians, if you want to grasp that, is best understood as wanting to convey to us the ultimate value of Christ. It’s altogether Christocentric (we love that word, don’t we). Big silly word to say it’s Christ-centered. It’s all about him. And listen, that’s the way that we need to read the Bible. See we often read the Bible with us at the center. What does this have to say about me? My drama? My difficulties? My situation? What does this have to say to me for today? We are ego-centric in our Bible reading. But it’s supposed to be all about Jesus. The whole of the book is about him. And when we begin to read the Bible Christocentrically—trying to see Jesus as the center and the reason and the cause and the purpose and the end goal, you see that is when we are getting somewhere, and that’s what’s going on in Philippians.
Source: Britt Merrick, quoted from his message, “The Big Picture of Philippians,” from the series, Philippians on Philippians, preached at Reality Carpinteria on October 10, 2010. Used by permission of Britt Merrick.
Hardship, loss, longing, and grief—who among us hasn’t experienced some, if not all, of these pains? Those of us who have walked long with the Lord know that following him doesn’t shield us from pain. In fact, being his disciple actually intensifies some of our difficulties. The apostle Paul knew this firsthand. Serving Jesus cost him dearly, and he suffered a lot for his faith. As we consider the challenges he faced, we might be a bit puzzled when we first read his letter to the Philippians and notice how often he writes about joy. Paul suffered more than most for the cause of the gospel, yet he was one of the most joyful people the world has ever known. How was this possible? That’s what we’re going to find out as we study this letter, and we’ll learn that the joy he lived is meant for us too. No matter what we’re dealing with—past pain, present trouble, or dread of something future—joy is possible. Actually, it’s more than possible—it’s guaranteed if we’ve been united to Christ by faith. Through that union, we have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, and the fruit of the Spirit includes joy. It’s true of everyone united to Christ by faith. That being said, our experience of joy is diminished sometimes because we’re so easily sidetracked. That’s where Paul can help us. The Lord is eager that we find what Paul found and experience the joy he had—not just on one of those exceptionally good days, but all the time, even in painful seasons.
How did I get here? We sometimes wonder how we got where we are, usually during a difficult season with no end in sight. During those difficult times, we might do a mental scan through our past, remembering what used to be, and then fantasizing the what-ifs: “What if I’d married that man rather than this one?” “What if I had waited rather than acting on impulse?” “What if I’d reached out for help when I was tempted?” The what-ifs are fruitless because we can’t change the past; there’s no “undo” key for life. And the what-ifs for each life are unique. For Paul, it was all the years he wasted believing he could earn his way to heaven. Yet he didn’t linger there. He didn’t waste more time lamenting those lost years. Instead, having discovered that Christ is everything—his life, his salvation, and his joy—he fixed his gaze forward. He wanted to live his life in Christ to the fullest extent possible.
The trajectory of the Christian life is meant to be forward. Paul makes that point here with his determination to direct his gaze away from the past. When Paul talks about forgetting what lies behind him, most likely he isn’t thinking at this point of his pre-Christian life—either the sins he committed or the shallow, superficial things that he’d formerly relied on for right standing with God. He’s moved along to focus now on spiritual growth. So in that context, Paul is saying that yesterday’s progress is all fine and good, but it doesn’t help with going forward today. In other words, Christians—including Paul himself—can’t look back on last year’s spiritual progress, or even last week’s, and use that as an excuse to take a break from the pursuit of holiness. How true it is that we are at all times either going forward in the Christian life or going backward! There’s simply no neutral, no coasting. If we think there is, we’re going to wind up in spiritual trouble.
We must always bear in our thoughts the example of Jesus Christ (see Philippians 2:5-11). Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” which is self-forgetting love. Although Jesus was God, he humbled himself. Christ took on not only the form of a man but also the form of a servant. Then he humbled himself even more: he who was author of life became obedient to death. But even more than this, he faced death on a cross, a degrading way to die. This must be our spirit (see Matthew 16:25).
Source: This content is from What the Bible Is All About, written by Henrietta Mears. Copyright © 1953, 2011 by Gospel Light. Copyright assigned to Tyndale House Publishers, 2015. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Surely none of us can decide to make him Lord. Jesus is Lord regardless of what you or I decide. The Bible is clear that one day “every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue [will] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10, 11 NIV). The question is not whether we will make Jesus Lord. The real question is whether you or I will submit to his lordship, and this is the essence of conversion.
Source: Some content taken from Follow Me: A Call to Die. A Call to Live. by David Platt. Copyright © 2013. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved. Quote retrieved from Grace Quotes at gracequotes.org.
Both from Paul’s example and from that of the Philippians, then, we must learn this first point: the fellowship of the gospel, the partnership of the gospel, must be put at the center of our relationships with other believers. That is the burden of these opening verses…What lies at the center of all his ties with them, doubtless including meals and discussion, is this passion for the gospel, this partnership in the gospel.
What ties us together? What do we talk about when we meet, even after a church service? Mere civilities? The weather? Sports? Our careers and our children? Our aches and pains?
None of these topics should be excluded from the conversation of Christians, of course. In sharing all of life, these things will inevitably come up. But what must tie us together as Christians is the passion for the gospel.
On the face of it, nothing else is strong enough to hold together the extraordinary diversity of people who constitute many churches: men and women, young and old, blue collar and white, healthy and ill, fit and flabby, different races, different incomes, different levels of education, different personalities.
What holds us together? It is the gospel, the good news that in Jesus, God himself has reconciled us to himself. This brings about a precious God-centeredness that we share with other believers.
Source: Carson, D.A. Basics for Believers: The Core of Christian Faith and Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018. Quote retrieved from Grace Quotes at gracequotes.org.
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