The NT comprises a total of 27 books. Five of them are historical narratives (the four Gospels and the book of Acts), one of them is apocalyptic (Revelation), Hebrews is sermonic, but the rest of the books, 20 of them, are letters. The letters are written by a variety of writers – mostly by Paul, some by Peter, James, John, and Jude.
One might think that God would have used a different format than letters to convey his Word to the saints than so many letters, but not so. There aren’t any books in the NT that are written in the form of a confession, catechism, or systematic theology. Instead, there are 20 personal letters, written either to individuals or to a church or group of churches.
Philippians is a letter. We sometimes call it an epistle, which is but a more formal way of speaking of a composition that is a letter. Philippians is a letter written by one of the Lord’s apostles to a church he had founded while on a missionary journey.
Personally, Philippians has been one of my favorite books in the Bible. It contains verses that I prize among all the wonderful texts in Holy Writ. “Philippians contains more memorable sentences than most of Paul’s letters, and as a result we often know it in bits and pieces” (Thielman).
•“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” •“For to me, to live is Christ; and to die is gain.” •“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus. Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men.” •“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” •“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” •“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” •“And be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith.” •“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death.” •“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” •“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, rejoice.” •“Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” •“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” •“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” •“But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
I pray that our study of this magnificent letter will enhance our love for Christ and cause us to grow in our knowledge of the will and purpose of God.
We will look at the first two verses of chapter one this evening. Typical of 1st Century letters, the author identified himself and his readers, and then extended a greeting.
I. The Author – or Who the Letter is From (1a)
We begin our study of Philippians by looking at the author. The epistle begins with the name of the one who wrote it – Paul. He also includes Timothy in the salutation though it is clear that Paul, not Timothy, wrote the letter. F.F. Bruce thinks that perhaps Timothy recorded the letter as Paul transcribed it to him.
Timothy was one of Paul’s co-laborers when the church was established. His name is mentioned again in 2:19, where Paul commends his ministry to them. Timothy was much beloved by the Philippians so his name was included in the salutation.
Letters in ancient times differ from modern letters in the placement of the author’s name. The first thing to appear in an ancient letter was the name of the writer; we do not insert our name in letters we write until the end. When we receive a letter, if the name and address isn’t on the envelope, we have to flip the pages to the end to see who wrote it.
So Paul is the human author of the letter to the Philippians. However, we believe that he wrote it under the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is a letter with in-formation that Christ wanted his followers in Philippi, and Christians in every age, to know.
How does Paul describe himself in the introduction to the letter? He calls himself and Timothy, “bondservants of Jesus Christ.” He did not write as “Saint Paul to the slaves of Christ at Philippi,” but as “Slave Paul to the saints at Philippi.”
Paul felt no need to state his apostleship to the Philippians. In most of his letters, he began by saying something like, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (see Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:1; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:1). But he didn’t need to defend his apostleship to the Philippians. That tells us what a good relationship he had with them. They were sure to listen to him and obey any directive he would communicate to them from the Lord, without the reminder that he was writing with authority as an apostle of Christ.
Paul introduced himself as a “bondservant.” Some translations render this simply “servant” (KJV, ESV), but that is weak. The word Paul used is doulous (plural) which means slaves, or bondservants. In the Greco-Roman culture, a slave was someone who had no rights or privileges. Paul uses this word in order to express the idea that “both he and Timothy were totally at the disposal of their Master” (O’Brien).
They were “bondservants of Jesus Christ.” Being a slave in the world has never been a title of honor, but it is so in the Christian faith. Hendricksen says Paul accomplished two things by adding the words “of Jesus Christ.”
1.He directed the attention to his Lord and away from himself and from Timothy. Paul and Timothy are not the important ones; Christ Jesus is. Hendricksen adds that Philippians is really Christ’s letter to the church, not Paul’s, and so it is. 2.He focused the light upon his heavenly Master rather than upon Rome which considered itself to be the master of the earth. But the Roman emperor was not his or their master, Christ was!
Interestingly, when Paul wrote this letter he was in prison. He wrote several letters while he was a prisoner awaiting trial, and perhaps execution. He was incarcerated, of course, because of the gospel. One of the remarkable features of Philippians is that it is so full of joy despite the trying circumstances. John Phillips captures this well:
“As we read the exultant stanzas of the Epistle to the Philippians, we might think that Paul was in a palace, not in prison. He mentioned his chains again and again, but we do not hear them clanging dismally. We hear them chiming like Christmas bells. The apostle had converted his chains, just as he had converted some of the guards. His chains had been transformed into the bonds of Christ…”
What prison was Paul in when he wrote Philippians? This is disputed by scholars but the mention of the “place guard” (1:13) and “Caesar’s household” (4:22) makes it almost certain that he was imprisoned in Rome. Some say he wrote it while imprisoned in Caesarea or Ephesus, but such theories are implausible and not compelling (Silva).
So Paul was in a prison in Rome when he wrote the Philippian letter. The time of writing was probably sometime between the years 60-62 A.D.
II. The Recipients – or Who the Letter is For – (1b)
Paul wrote the letter “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” Its destination was a church in the city of Philippi, in the province of Macedonia.
Philippi was located in what is now Greece, near the modern countries of Macedonia, Bulgaria (very close to the Bulgarian border), and Turkey. One can visit the area today and see many of the ancient ruins.
We first read about Philippi in Acts 16 (not to be confused with Caesarea Philippi, the town Jesus ministered in, Matt.16:13). Paul went there on his second missionary journey. Silas, Timothy, and Luke accompanied him on his mission. He went there again on his third missionary journey, according to Acts 20:6.
Luke, in Acts 16:12, referred to Philippi as “the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony.” It was a very important city! Philippi was the first major city where Paul preached the gospel in Europe. The city had a long and illustrious history before he arrived. Peter O’Brien gives all the relevant information in his introduction to his commentary on Philippians.
•It was named after Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. •Philippi remained relatively insignificant until the Roman conquest of Macedonia in 168-167 B.C. A major battle was fought which resulted in Philippi being included in the first of four districts into which Macedon was divided for Roman administration. •In 42 B.C. Philippi became famous as the place where Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the Roman Republican forces of Brutus and Cassius, the assassins of Julius Caesar. A number of veteran soldiers settled there and established Philippi as a Roman colony. Paul preached to their great-grandchildren. •As a Roman colony, Philippi was settled by a large number of Romans and it was governed by Roman law. It was a military city not a commercial center. That is why few Jews resided there (no synagogue; only women meeting for prayer). •Philippi was modeled on the mother city of Rome. Its layout, language (Latin), and culture was Roman. •The Via Egnatia, an important road that led to Italy, went through Philippi.
Philippi was a leading city. Frank Thielman describes it as “a strategically located city with a rich heritage and distinctive culture.” Paul came to preach the gospel in Philippi by a very unusual circumstance. He had not planned to go to Philippi but was directed to go there by the Holy Spirit in a vision (Acts 16:6-10).
Paul had intended to go to Bithynia, a town in the northern part of Asia Minor. He had already preached the gospel and established churches in Galatia, the southern part of Asia Minor, so he planned to reach out further in the same country. But he and his party “were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word” in other parts of Asia Minor. Instead, God called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. “That he went to Macedonia… was not a matter of his own choice” (FT).
The call came in a vision where a man of Macedonia appeared to Paul and “pleaded with him saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (Acts 16:9). Paul was not dis-obedient to the heavenly vision. He and his mission party went to Philippi, and thus began the westward thrust of the gospel of Christ. This was a momentous turning point in history (Phillips). The year of their entrance into Macedonia was probably 50-51 A.D.
Now years later, Paul writes this beloved congregation a letter. He calls them “the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi.” We don’t generally refer to one another as “saints,” but this designation of Christians was often on the lips of Paul. He called the Roman Christians, the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Colossians, and the Thessalonians saints.
The word “saint” is derived from the root word for “holy.” A saint is someone who entered in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. They have been set apart for holy service in the kingdom of Christ.
Geographically, these saints lived in Philippi, but theologically they were “in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s favorite description of a Christian is the expression “in Christ.” It is found repeatedly throughout his letters. Here he has the double form, “in Christ Jesus.” It signifies union with Christ (spiritual, not physical); believers are united to Christ in his death and in his resurrection. He is “the sphere in which the Christian lives and moves” (O’Brien).
We are not saints because we are holy; we become saints in order to be holy. Sainthood isn’t because of our works but because of Christ’s work.
Note that Paul addresses his letter “to all the saints in Christ Jesus…” Hendricksen says, “He is not merely interested in certain prominent individuals, ‘the pillars of the church,’ for instance… He prays for all (Phil. 1:4), loves all (1:7), yearns for all (1:8), hopes to continue with them all (1:25), and greets all (4:21).”
Who were these saints? Four people are mentioned by name in the letter that was part of the church – Epaphroditus, Euodia, Syntyche, and Clement. Also, several conversions are recounted in the narrative of Acts, namely, Lydia and the members of her household, a demon-possessed slave girl, and a jailer and his family.
The church at Philippi was a diverse group. Let’s look briefly at the make-up of the congregation in the three conversions that Luke recounts in Acts 16.
1.Lydia was gathered on the Sabbath by the river outside Philippi for a prayer meeting when Paul and his co-laborers joined their group. Evidently, there wasn’t a synagogue in Philippi, which meant there were few Jews living there. But Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira in Asia Minor, probably a God-fearing Gentile, gathered with other women to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Paul spoke to them of Christ and the Lord God opened the heart of Lydia “to heed the things spoken by Paul” (Acts 16:14). That means she was given the grace to believe on Christ and be saved. Her home became living quarter for the missionary team. Others in her household believed in Christ and were baptized.
2.The demon-possessed slave girl met Paul and his companions on several occasions as they went from place to place in Philippi. She followed them around and annoyed them by declaring that they were servants of the Most High God. What she said was true, but they didn’t need or want the recommendation of someone “possessed with a spirit of divination” who made “her masters much profit by fortune-telling” (Acts 16:16).
Being supernaturally enabled by the Spirit of God, Paul spoke directly to the demon that possessed her and cast him out. He said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her,” and Luke says, “He came out that very hour” (Acts 16:18). This caused trouble for Paul. The men who owned this girl lost revenue because her power to tell the future was gone. They brought them before the magistrates of the city, who had them beaten and put into the inner prison, even fastening their feet in the stocks.
It is safe to assume that this slave-girl became a member of the newly established church at Philippi.
3.The last converts mentioned in the book of Acts at Philippi are the jailer and his family. The magistrates handed Paul and Silas over to the jailer for secure keeping.
A marvelous thing took place that night. At midnight, a worship service was taking place in the prison cell. “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (Acts 16:25). They counted it joy to suffer for Christ’s sake and lifted up their voices together in praise to God. We are told that “the prisoners were listening to them.” Perhaps the jailer listened in for awhile, too!
That night God sent an earthquake. The prison was shaken, the doors were opened and the chains of the prisoners were loosed. The jailer, assuming the prisoners had escaped, was about to kill himself, for his superior officers would certainly have put him to death for allowing the prisoners to getaway on his watch. But they did not escape, like most prisoners would have. Paul called out to him, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (16:28).
Then came one of the most amazing conversion recorded in the Scriptures. The jailer fell down in great fear, trembling before the servants of Christ and asked the most important question that can be asked: “What must I do to be saved?” Without hesitation and without any reservations, Paul answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:31).
The jailer and his household believed that night and were baptized. Only believers are to be baptized and this is what Paul did.
These were the kind of people that constituted the membership of the church at Philippi—a wealthy business woman (a foreigner from Asia), a demon-possessed slave girl now delivered of her evil captors (both man and demon), and a jailer (probably a Roman soldier). Thielman say, “This was certainly not a homogeneous social unit, but God had called each believer from her or his sphere to be part of his people…” Paul addressed them all as “saints in Christ Jesus.”
Paul also mentioned the leadership of the church in the salutation of his letter. He said, “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.” We will come back to this next week (d.v.) as we examine the government of the church at Philippi.
Before looking at the next verse, let me try to briefly answer the question, “Why did Paul write this letter to them?” Philippians is essentially “a thank-you note to the Philippians for their generous gift” (Thielman) – see 4:14, 18. They sent one of their members, Epaphroditus, with a gift to help Paul. Paul sent this thank-you note to the church when his friend returned home. It shows that Paul had deep affection for this congregation. “The Philippian church appears to have been Paul’s favorite church” (Thielman).
But while Philippians is a thank-you note, it is also an exhortation to the church to go on for the Lord. It is a letter by a friend that is full of tenderness and love but it also a letter which contains doctrinal and moral exhortations. Some have called it “a hortatory letter of friendship” (G. Fee).
It appears that 1:27-30 states the main proposition of the letter (O’Brien). If so, then standing fast and being united are Paul’s two primary exhortations. There are warnings in this letter against false doctrine and false teachers; there is the message of joy in the midst of suffering; but this letter “places great weight on the need to stand fast and persevere” (M. Silva).
Yet in the midst of this letter Paul makes much of Christ and the gospel. G. Fee says, “In Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel.” He adds, “Philippians… is intensely Christian.” Christ and the gospel are first and foremost. Melick says the letter is “theology in street clothes.”
The goal of everything in this letter is to know Christ more fully. “Let this mind be in you…” “That I may know him…” “I can do all things through Christ…” 38 times the name Christ appears in Philippians! 22 times the name Jesus appears!
III. The Salutation – or How the Recipients are Greeted (2)
The rest of the salutation is, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” This part of the greeting can be referred to as a blessing. What Paul longs for the Philippians to know is grace and peace.
This greeting/blessing is found in this exact form in six of Paul’s other letters.
•Rom. 1:7 – “To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” •1 Cor. 1:3 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” •2 Cor. 1:2 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” •Gal. 1:3 – “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.” •Eph. 1:2 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” •2 Thess. 1:1 (TR) – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (one word left out in eclectic text). •Philemon 1:3 – “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
In these greetings Paul always has the same order. Grace always precedes peace. Both words must be interpreted in the Christian context.
•Grace is God’s unmerited favor, freely and sovereignly bestowed upon sinners. Paul begins and ends (4:23) this letter with the mention of grace. He mentions grace one other time in 1:7…
O’Brien says, “Grace is a central theological notion that clearly expresses Paul’s understanding of Christ’s work of salvation (cf. Rom. 3:23–24). His message was ‘the gospel of the grace of God’ (Acts 20:24); it stood opposed to any idea of work or merit—indeed, the idea of gift (free and unearned) was at the heart of this word (cf. Eph. 2:8–9).”
•Grace results in peace. Grace provides for and secures peace (Melick). Jews used this greeting (and still do). Saying shalom is like saying, “How are you.” But Paul means more than that! In the Christian context peace is the result of our being reconciled with God through the cross of Christ. Paul speaks about “the peace of God” and “the God of peace” in 4:7, 9.
“Grace and peace both come jointly from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Melick). We know that God bestows his favor and extends peace through the Lord Jesus Christ. But Paul words it another way here. He speaks of grace and peace coming from, having there source in, both the Father and the Son. In wording it this way, Paul under-lined “his deep conviction about the deity of Jesus. Jesus does what God the Father does.” (Melick). Peter O’Brien says:
“These two wideranging blessings are said to flow from the twin source of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The close linking of Christ with God in such expressions bears witness to the exalted place Christ occupied in Paul’s thought. As the risen and exalted one he has received the name that is above all others, the title ‘Lord’ (cf. Phil. 2:9–11 and comments). ‘God and Christ are entirely at one in the procuring and bestowal of salvation’.
In using these words, “grace” and “peace,” Paul is uttering a petition as well as sending his greetings. The element of intercession is present in the salutation.
I can imagine the congregation at Philippi gathering to hear this letter first read. Clement, Epaphroditus, and the jailer are present; the women, Lydia, the redeemed slave girl, and Euodia and Syntyche (who are about to hear their names mentioned), were present. They are all anxiously waiting to hear what their friend and fellow-servant, Paul, had to say to them, but more, what Christ their Lord had to say to them through him.
Nearly twenty centuries have passed since the Philippians first received this letter. But the message it conveys is just as needy today as it was then. May the Lord help us to learn its truths and to live for Christ who is our life.