Thrive: Understanding Real Joy. A Study of Philippians
How do you live as a Christian in a non-Christian world? How do you respond when those around you are hostile to your faith? Paul wrote this poignant letter to encourage the persecuted Christians of the church in Philippi and to strengthen them in the difficulties they faced. Paul wrote while in prison—he, too, was suffering for his faith—but he wrote with joy, demonstrating that a Christian can be passionate for Christ regardless of the circumstances.
Philippi was a small Roman colony in the province of Macedonia in northeastern Greece. Located about ten miles inland from the Aegean Sea, Philippi was important because of its strategic position on the Via Egnatia, the major east-west Roman route through Macedonia.
Philippi was the first town of Greece to hear the Good News of Christ from Paul on his second missionary journey (about AD 50; see Acts 16:11–40). From the beginning, there was opposition to Paul’s preaching. During his brief stay there, he was thrown into prison and then asked to leave town, but not before a group of new believers had been established (Acts 16:35–40).
Perhaps six years later (AD 56~57) on his third missionary trip, Paul visited Philippi again (see Acts 20:1–6). After that, it is possible that he never saw the Philippian Christians again (but see 1 Tim 1:3, about AD 63).
Paul later wrote Philippians while in prison. Epaphroditus had brought a monetary gift to Paul from the Philippians and was returning to Philippi, so Paul sent this warm letter of encouragement along for the church. Aware that the Philippians were being persecuted, he wanted to support and strengthen them, in part by sharing with them his experience as a prisoner for Christ’s sake.
The Setting of Philippians. PHILIPPI was located on the EGNATIAN WAY, a major Roman trade road through MACEDONIA. Paul founded the church there on his second missionary journey (AD 50–52; Acts 15:36–18:22) and visited again during his third missionary journey (about AD 56; see Acts 20:1–2). When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he was in prison, but it is uncertain when or where.
This letter addresses no major theological or moral problems. It is a warm letter of encouragement sent to a church suffering for its faith.
After a brief introduction (1:1–2), Paul affirms his gratitude to God for the Philippians and prays for their spiritual growth (1:3–11). He then talks about his own experience of imprisonment and the way it has resulted in the spread of the Good News (1:12–19). Paul’s greatest desire is to live and die for Christ, whatever his situation (1:20–26). The Philippians, too, must be strong in their faith as they suffer for Christ (1:27–30). They should warmly support one another, remembering the example of Christ, who gave up everything in sacrificing his life for theirs (2:1–18). Paul, too, is willing to do this.
Eager to know how the Philippians are doing and to tell them how he is, Paul will soon be sending Epaphroditus and Timothy to them, both of whom have proven their willingness to suffer for Christ (2:19–30).
Paul next warns the Philippians about Jewish-Christian propaganda requiring adherence to the law of Moses (3:1–3). He recounts his own conversion from Judaism and the Mosaic law. The only important thing now is Christ—knowing Christ and his righteousness, sharing in his suffering and death, and experiencing his resurrection power both now and in the future (3:4–11). All believers are to be single-minded in pursuing full life in Christ (3:12–4:1).
In closing, Paul encourages the Philippians to fill their lives with joy, prayer, and thanksgiving, and to focus their minds on God’s good gifts, even in their persecution (4:2–9). He thanks them for the gift they have sent. He tells them that he has learned to be content regardless of his circumstances, and implies that they, too, should learn to live this way (4:1–20). As usual, Paul ends his letter with praise to God, greetings to the believers, and an invocation of the Lord’s grace (4:21–23).
New Living Translation Study Bible (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2008), Php.