St Paul’s Letter to the Philippians
Paul wrote this letter from prison and the purpose of the letter was to thank the Philippians for the gift they had sent him on learning of his imprisonment. (and to make sure they did not send another one, creating a cycle of gift and return gift according to the conventions of the day.) He also takes the opportunity to report on his circumstances, encourage them to stand firm in the face of persecution, and to exhort them to humility and unity. Like the First Letter to the Thessalonians, it approaches the character of a private letter.
The Philippians were the only congregation from which Paul had accepted pecuniary help and that more than once. He was deeply attached to them as his ‘joy and crown’. They contributed not only to his support, but to the relief of the poor Christians in Judea – a charitable work which St Paul had very much at heart.
1. The letter comes from Paul ‘and ’Timothy’, the young man who had accompanied Paul when the Church in Philippi was founded and who would shortly be coming there again. The ‘slaves of Christ Jesus’ (Paul and Timothy) write to the ‘saints’ (all God’s people in Philippi, men and women). The ‘overseers’ (church leaders) and ‘helpers’ (deacons) receive special mention. Philippians 1:1-2.
Thanksgiving and Prayer.
2. Paul’s prayer for the church. His prayer is full of love, joy (a keynote of the whole letter) and thankfulness. He longs for them to enjoy progressively richer and deeper spiritual knowledge which will mould their lives to God’s pattern. Philippians 1:3:11.
Paul’s Own Circumstances.
3. Personal News. Paul speaks of the past, present and future, weighing the alternatives of life or death. Living or dying, Christ is everything to Paul,
and he is hard put to choose. Only the need of the Philippian Christians
tips the balance in favour of life. Philippians 1:12-26.
Plea for a United Stand.
4. There is more than a hint of division in the church. Paul urges them all to pocket their pride, and to live and work and think as one. Anything less is unworthy of the One 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 has given him the highest place of all. So his followers need to ‘work out’ their salvation, by living out the new life God has given them. Philippians 1:27‑30 & 2:1-18.
The Mission of Timothy and Epaphroditus.
5. Paul commends his Fellow Workers. Timothy will soon be coming to the Philippians but also Epaphroditus will be returning. He had been sent by the Philippians to help Paul and had been very ill, ‘close to death’. Paul is anxious that the Philippians know that Epaphroditus’ return is not that he has fallen down on his job. Far from it. Philippians 2:19-30.
The True Way of Christian Salvation.
6. Paul does not mind repeating former advice, as a safeguard. They must beware of those ‘dogs’ (a term of abuse used by Jews about gentiles) the Judaizers – that group of Jewish Christians who followed Paul everywhere, insisting that gentile converts must be circumcised and keep the law. They are in fact altering the whole basis of salvation, making it ‘by faith and……….’ instead of ‘by faith only’: hence Paul’s anger.
7. Following a general appeal Paul refers to the case of two women, Euodia and Syntyche, who have quarrelled. Since Paul deals with this in a public letter. it seems to have been more than a private squabble. It suggests that they were two of the church’s leaders. Philippians 4:1-3.
Peace and Joy in the Lord,.
8. ‘Rejoice – rejoice!’ The advice comes from a man in chains, facing death; a man who has been stoned and beaten and hounded by the mob. Yet experiences which leave others sour and bitter leave Paul overflowing with joy! How does he do it? The key lies in verses 6-7 ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 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.’ Paul knows how to off-load all his cares – and to fill his mind with good and positive things. Philippians 4:4-7.
‘Let Your Minds be Filled with Everything that is True.’
9. Paul understood the influence of one’s thoughts on one’s life. What a person allows to occupy his mind will, sooner of later, determine his speech and his action. Paul’s exhortation to ‘think about such things’ is followed by a second exhortation to ‘put into practice.’ The combination is sure to result in a life of moral and spiritual excellence. Philippians 4:8-9.
Thanks for Help Received. Greetings and Final Wish.
10. Paul writes of his appreciation of the Philippian Church’s gifts. From the very first they have supported him with a generosity that extends to all in need. At a real cost they have given themselves and all they possess. No wonder Paul loves them: a group of faithful, loyal, thoughtful, generous outgoing men and women. Philippians 4:10-23.