Introduction to Philippians

I am excited to begin a new study with you all this morning. We are going to the book of Philippians together and I am really looking forward to getting into this book with you all. The book of Philippians. This is a fascinating book written by Paul, a small book, but one with an incredible amount of truth, practical teaching, encouragement, and needed warning. My hope is that we will all grow together as we camp out in this book over the next year or so.


I don’t know if you have spent much time in Philippians or not. There are passages in it that you may already be familiar with, many oft-quoted passages. We will be looking at verses such as:

1:6 “and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
1:21 “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
2:3 “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
2:4 “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others.”
2:5-7 “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”
2:13 “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
2:14 “Do all things without grumbling or disputing,”
3:8 “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ”
3:12-16 “12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.”
4:4-7 “4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
4:8-9 “8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
4:12-13 “12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
4:19-20 “19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Good stuff, passages to look forward to together, some of the most quoted passages in the New Testament are found here in this book.

This book was written by Paul, to the Christian church in Philippi, a province of Macedonia and a colony of Rome. This church had been founded by Paul in the early 50s of the first century. At the time of this writing, in the late 50s or early 60s, Paul was in prison in Rome. How did all this come about?

In AD 51 Paul made a momentous decision to leave the middle eastern setting of Asia Minor with other men – Silas, Timothy, and Luke – and set sail for what we now call Europe. His first stop was the Roman colony of Philippi. There he met a faithful group of Jewish women, preached the gospel, and established his first Christian congregation in Europe. We can read of this in Acts 16:1-15. Timothy had a significant role in the church there. Paul’s experience in the city was not pleasant, and filled with conflict including imprisonment. His jailer was converted and presumably joined the congregation. Paul eventually left when asked by the authorities to leave, he continued his travels to various cities, and several times received financial support from this faithful church in Philippi.

During his third missionary journey Paul set out to raise money from Gentile churches to help the poor and struggling Jewish church in Jerusalem and Judea. Paul completed his project and eventually brought the offering to Jerusalem. His Jewish opponents managed to get him arrested and imprisoned, and for two years he awaited his fate in Caesarea. Paul appealed to the Emperor and in the year 59 or 60 under guard he sailed for Rome. In Rome, it may have seemed that his ministry was over. He had been traveling the known world, usually under great persecution and opposition, but nevertheless had quite a ministry going. Sharing the gospel, starting churches, meeting with church leaders, encouraging the faithful, being light in a dark world. Paul was effective, he was a key player in God’s work. Paul was getting things done for God, right? And look what happens: he is in a Roman prison.

Now Paul could have thought, “So, this is what I get. Why me? I have given everything, for you God, and it looks to me you have taken it all away! I have served you relentlessly, faced danger every day, spoken boldly of your grace, of your coming wrath, of the gospel that redeems. And now what? Now this, it comes down to this?!”

I’m saying Paul could have thought, reacted this way. How would we react, how would we think, if we had done what all Paul had done and ended up the way he ended up imprisoned in Rome, having seemingly lost everything? What if you lost everything related to your comfort, ease, and desire of relationships? And another thing is he is where he is because of what he had done for Christ, for the spread of the gospel. No evangelism, no church planting, no boldness in doing the work of God, and guess what? He would still be a free man. There is definitely a correlation here: faithful Christian ministry, and imprisonment for Paul.

Paul is seemingly, from a human perspective, at the end of his road, in a sad place, with life closing in on him. And he writes a letter. He writes a letter to the Philippian church.

How would we respond if we were where Paul was? I don’t know about you but I enjoyed my plush sleeping arrangement last night, soft bed, comfortable pillow, sometimes I lay in bed, especially on cold nights, and think of what it would be like to sleep on a hard, cold, concrete floor in a damp prison. I read stories of many who have because of their faithfulness to the gospel and I think, “This bed is really nice.” I enjoyed my hot shower this morning and having clothes to put on my back and shoes on my feet, I had a good breakfast, drove to church in comfort, have gathered with all of you this morning, a body of faith. I have enjoyed comfort, just today, comfort, freedom, fellowship, all without much thought to danger, persecution, or death. 

What if it is all gone? Then what? For Paul, most of those things were stripped away. And he is left in a jail, in Rome, under guard and separated from much of what he had before. Not only was Paul in trouble at the writing of this letter, but so was the church in Philippi to whom he was writing.

The church at Philippi was dealing with at least three problems: they were struggling with disunity, suffering, and harsh opponents.

Their disunity is evident because of Paul’s appeal in chapter 4 verse 2 when he said, “be of the same mind.” Selfish ambition and self-interest was creeping into the body there. So Paul deals with that as he encourages them against grumbling, arguing. Because of this he appeals to them several times to be united, of the same mind. We don’t know the cause of disunity, we can only speculate, but we can be sure that this issue was high on Paul’s priority list as he addresses the church. Paul’s main concern about disunity seems to be a concern about the gospel itself when he speaks of the necessity of “defending and confirming the gospel”. The integrity of the gospel is negated by disunity in the church. And Paul was single-minded in the work of the advancement of the gospel. So he urges them to be of one mind.

The church at Philippi was also suffering. Suffering is a major theme in this book. He describes his experience in chains, facing execution. He explains that Christians are called to suffer for Christ in 1:29, he relates suffering to that of Christ Himself in chapter 2. He speaks of himself as one being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice of service. He talks of Epaphroditus suffering in the course of service on behalf of the Philippians, he discusses his loss of all things to gain Christ and of his being in need at times. The church was suffering as they learned of Paul’s suffering, suffering discouragement and suffering themselves for the gospel.

The church at Philippi was also dealing with harsh opponents. Paul expresses his awareness of these opponents who were threatening to destroy the faith of Christians there. He urges them to stand firm in the one Spirit, without being frightened in any way by those who would oppose them. He mentions that these Christians were living in the midst of a warped and crooked generation He warns them to watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh and are enemies of the cross. 

So Paul was not the only one dealing with difficulties in life, the Christians to whom he was writing were also dealing with significant problems. So not only could Paul have complained about life, about where he was in life after giving Himself to Christ and to Christian ministry, but these believers in Philippi could be discouraged as well. They too were ministers of the gospel, followers of Christ and yet they are facing significant problems, problems that have seemingly come to them for really one reason: their faith and commitment to Christ.

So you’ve got a guy in trouble writing to a church in trouble. And when I say trouble I mean real suffering. With that, where will Paul go in this letter? What is his theme? What does he most want to communicate to a troubled church? Several things come to mind.

One thing that is very obvious is the emphasis on joy. With all this trouble surrounding the author and original audience of this book, this happens to be one of the most joy-filled books in the Bible. I love that about this book! We are going to learn together more about this joy that Paul had. My hope is that we too will begin to experience an unspeakable, almost unexplainable joy, the kind Paul had, as we study through Philippians together.

Paul learned not only in whatever state he was in to be content; he had learned to rejoice in whatever state he was. He overflowed with rejoicing. I think this is fascinating. I don’t know about you, but I want to know more about this, this kind of joy that Paul experienced even while suffering great loss of material things and fellowship of those he loved. He had a joy that no one, that nothing could take away. How about that?

He uses the word joy or rejoice over and over again in this brief letter. But even with an emphasis on joy we will also notice that, and get the impression that, Paul is not writing to tell the Philippians how to have joy. He doesn’t explain how to have joy. It is not a three step plan to joy or a manual to follow for joy. Joy is not the main theme, I don’t think, joy is a fruit, a result of thinking rightly, living obediently, loving Christ as he outlines in this book for us. 

So if joy is not the main theme what is? The theme, I believe, of this letter is living life with a Christ-centered, Christ-saturated, Christ-controlled mind. The joy discussed flows from that. I get the impression, and I think you will too, that Paul did not seek happiness, primarily. He sought to live for the Lord, and happiness found him. I think one thing he wants us to see and to learn is that happiness is a by-product and it comes to us as we occupy ourselves with serving the Lord.

This letter contains 104 verses. In those verses we find some form of the name of Christ Jesus or a pronoun referring to Him a total of sixty-one times. Sixty-one times! We also see an emphasis on the mind as it is mentioned in some form at least eleven times.

To be filled, our minds filled with Christ, in everything, filled with Christ Jesus, occupied with Him, is the secret of real, vibrant, consistent, Christian living; it is the secret too of true happiness. Paul was suffering, the Philippians were suffering. Paul’s suffering could not overshadow his joy because his mind was filled with Christ, and Paul knew that it could be so as well for this suffering church.

Do you, are you, struggling to be happy, to be joyful in life? I mean, right now are you struggling with that? Are you pursuing happiness and you just can’t seem to take hold of it, you get it and it doesn’t last, it is fleeting, comes and goes? Maybe the solution is to stop pursuing that and instead, start with all of our hearts to pursue and fill our minds with Christ Jesus. And trust Him with what joy, what happiness will come.

I hope you are as excited about studying this book as I am. God has us here, He has us here for a purpose. Follow along as I read the first chapter and then next week, Lord willing we will get to the first verses of Philippians together.

1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. 12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. 15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again. 27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. (Philippians 1:1-30)