Paul Writes the Philippians

Paul Writes the Philippians

Paul Writes the Philippians

Read – Philippians 1:1-11

Key Verse –  Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:1-2 NKJV)

Key Thought – Paul’s introductory thoughts to his letter to the Philippians.


I received a text recently containing a question. “Can you recommend a book for someone who has lost their joy?” My first reaction to that was to pray for the sender, for that is a place I’ve been, and it’s not a good place. Have you ever been there? Maybe once you rejoiced in your salvation, but you find it hard to work that joy up anymore. Maybe your walk with God feels increasingly mundane, and serving God feels more like a chore than a joy. That’s where I assumed this person was, based on their question. And as I pondered my response to the text, I didn’t have to ponder long. “Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians,” I wrote back.

For nowhere in the Bible do you find such a joyful letter as here. Nowhere is the topic of joy more fully seen than here.

Boice wrote, “The letter to the Philippians is one of the most joyous books in the Bible. All the way through the letter Paul speaks of inner joy, of inner happiness—sixteen times in four brief chapters.”^[James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 12.]

Warren Wiersbe, one of my favorite Bible writers, and a believer who just went home to the Lord a couple months back, wrote a beloved set of commentaries which are called the “Be” series. They are called that because he gave each of his commentaries a two word title starting with the word “Be.” His commentary on Isaiah is entitled “Be Comforted”. His commentary on Nehemiah is “Be Determined” and on Job, it’s “Be Patient.” When he chose the title for his commentary on Philippians, he chose “Be Joyful.”

For the next few weeks I’d like to spend some time in this most joyful of New Testament books. I pray it helps us all, especially when we, like the dear one who texted me recently, find our joy in Christ waning a bit.

As is always true when starting a study of a new book in the Bible, we should think about some background.

Consider first, the city of Philippi.

The city of Philippi was named after Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. After the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century, the Biblical city of Philippi was abandoned and today lies in ruins. The modern city of Filippoi exists near those ruins and is part of the region of East Macedonia and Thrace in Kavala, Greece. Philippi was a Roman colony (Acts 16:12), so residents were Roman citizens, giving them all the privileges of such citizenship.

Secondly, consider the church at Philippi.

Paul visited the city on his second missionary journey, approximately 51 A.D. You can read about that visit, and the beginnings of the church, in (Acts 16:11-34).

While in Philippi, Paul shared the gospel with Lydia, and she and her family were saved and baptized. Later, Paul was tossed in prison for his preaching, a result of which was that both his jailor and his entire family were saved. From these initial conversions, shortly thereafter a church was born.

Paul visited again more than once (Acts 20:1,3,6).

We know a few things about the church that had grown up at Philippi.

– The people in the church at Philippi were poor but generous (2 Corinthians 8:1-2).
– They were suffering persecution (Philippians 1:28-30).
– Women figure prominently in this church – it started with a woman, Lydia, and a couple women (Eudoia and Synteche) were singled out (4:2), which may indicate they were somehow prominent.
– This church was generous in their support for and care of Paul. They sent monetary support to him on several occasions*(4:15-17)*. This letter was actually, in part, Paul’s means of thanking them for their most recent financial gift, brought by Epaphroditus(4:18). One of the primary reasons for this letter was to acknowledge Paul’s gratitude for this (these) gifts.

Often when Paul wrote to a church, there were problems that he was writing to address. But in the case of this church, he didn’t hammer them about any serious issues. This letter is almost entirely positive, with no serious problems or criticisms raised. Paul did warn about a few areas where problems were beginning to get a foothold:

  1. Rivalries, personal ambition, lack of unity (2:3-4; 4:2).
    2. Judaizers / legalism (3:1-3). There were very few Jews in Philippi, but apparently those who made trouble elsewhere were at least beginning to make inroads here.
    3. Antinomianism (3:18-19) was apparently beginning to be seen. Webster defines and antinomian as “One who holds that under the gospel dispensation of grace the moral law is of no use or obligation because faith alone is necessary for salvation… one who rejects a socially established morality.” (WOW – Sure fits the church today!!!)

Finally, a few words about this letter that Paul wrote to the Philippians.

The author of the letter was Paul (1:1). Timothy’s mention there is not to say that he co-authored the letter, but rather that he was a companion of Paul at the time it was written. Nobody really disputes Paul’s authorship of the book. His history is described perfectly in (3:4-6), and all the early church fathers attested to his authorship.

Paul was in prison, most likely in Rome, when he wrote this. Several of Paul’s letters in the New Testament are called “prison epistles” because he wrote them while in prison.

Actually, scripture describes at least two different times when Paul was imprisoned. The book of Acts ends with Paul imprisoned in Rome. He was basically on house arrest. Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him (Acts 28:30). In that first imprisonment he was able to preach and minister… he had access ot others and others had access to him. There was a second imprisonment, though, during which he wrote the book of 2 Timothy, and during that imprisonment he was truly incarcerated, and near the end of his life. He told Timothy that he expected to be martyred, and that came to be shortly thereafter.

This letter was written during his first imprisonment in Rome, sometime between 60-64 A.D. That would have been about 10 years after the founding of the church, and after the last time he had seen the Philippian believers.

As mentioned earlier, the most prominent theme of this letter is joy. The word “joy” (CHARA) is mentioned 4 times (1:4,25; 2:2; 4:1). “Rejoice” (CHAIRO) is mentioned 8 times (1:18 twice, 2:17-18; 3:1; 4:4 twice, 4:10), and “glad” is mentioned 3 times (2:17-18,28).

This also might be Paul’s most affectionate letter. A.R. Faussett wrote, “In no Epistle does he use so warm expressions of love.”^[Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, “vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 360.] Paul loved the Philippians, and they loved him.

Let’s notice how Paul got started with this letter:

He identified himself.

Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ (vs. 1).

If you read the New Testament much you’ll notice that this was common in Paul’s letters… he often referred to himself as a bondservant… or as a slave.

Now, setting aside the obvious fact that Jesus, Himself, excelled Paul in every area, it would be pretty easy to demonstrate that Paul was as giant of a man as has ever lived. He was among the world’s most educated of men. He was among the world’s most accomplished of men, doing more than any man living or dead… before or after him, in spreading the gospel to every corner of the world that then was. He was among the world’s most famous of men, with a name and reputation known all over the world, and even outside the world. This truth is seen in the story of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts. Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” (Acts 19:11-15 NKJV) Paul was so famous that even the demons knew him by name! He was among the bravest men the world has ever known, going toe to toe and eyeball to eyeball with kings and the most powerful of the world’s men. By any measure, Paul was a giant, and could have referred to himself as such.

But none of these accolades or accomplishments changed the fact that, in his mind, he was what he was because of Jesus… the fact that he owed everything to Jesus… the fact that he was indebted forever to Jesus. Paul never let the thought drift from his mind that he was a slave of the One who saved him. It was that realization, actually, that energized so much of what Paul did accomplish.

Imagine what you or I could do for the Lord if we really got hold of that truth. I am His… I belong to Him… my every word… my every activity – HIS. Think how different the entries would look on your calendar… Think about how your travel itinerary would change… your daily routine… your priorities in life, if you, like Paul, really got hold of this truth – a bondservant of Jesus Christ.

So Paul identified himself, and then:

He identified his audience.

Paul wrote to the saints and bishops and deacons (vss. 1-2) who were in Philippi.

It might be tempting to skip over the latter half of vs. 1, but we ought not. It is an important verse describing what the first century church looked like… how it was organized. Three words are used to describe it – saints, bishops, and deacons.

Those who have been saved out of a Catholic background have probably been taught an incorrect meaning for the word “saint.” In that tradition, the word has come to describe an elevated and special level of believer – one who is holier… one who is to be venerated and even prayed to. But that is not the teaching of the Bible. The Catholics teach that sainthood is something bestowed after a person has already died and gone to heaven. But Paul was here writing to the saints IN PHILIPPI. When he wrote to the Christians in Rome he wrote to all who were IN ROME, beloved of God, called to be saints (Romans 1:7).

No, the word “saint” simply means one who is set apart… set apart from the world and set apart to God. It is simply another way of describing a Christian. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ… if you have been born again, converted, saved… then you are a saint.

“An illustration of this truth comes from the life of the late Harry Ironside of Chicago. During the early days of his ministry before there were airplanes, Dr. Ironside used to travel many miles by train. On one of these trips, a four-day ride from the West Coast to his home in Chicago, the Bible teacher found himself in the company of a party of nuns. They liked him because of his kind manner and his interesting reading and exposition of the Bible. One day Dr. Ironside began a discussion by asking the nuns if any of them had ever seen a saint. They all said that they had never seen one. He then asked if they would like to see one. They all said that they would like to see one. Then he surprised them greatly by saying, “I am a saint; I am Saint Harry.” He took them to verses of the Bible such as this one to show that it was so.”^[James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary”, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 21.]

So Paul wrote to the saints… the believers in Philippi. He also wrote to the bishops. This is another word that has taken on different meanings in different Christian traditions, but the word “bishop” is really synonymous with the word “elder” in the New Testament. Actually there are several words used to describe the same role or office in the church – elder, overseer, pastor, bishop, ruler. These words all describe what we, in our church, call the pastors and elders. Such are responsible for shepherding or pastoring the flock. From Miletus he (Paul) sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. … “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:17, 28 NKJV). Notice the various words (elders, overseers, shepherd all used of the same group of men.)

Finally, Paul wrote to the “deacons”. The deacons were that group of men (and women), who had been set apart and given special service responsibilities in the church. They were first mentioned in Acts 6.

Now I’ve spent a bit of time on these three words because it’s important to see how the church was organized from a very early time in its history. The Philippian church was founded about 51 AD and this letter was written about 10 years later. At that extremely early point in its history, there was already a clear organization structure. The church consisted of its members – the saints, and its leaders – the elders and deacons. If you ever wonder why FBC is organized the way it is, led by elders (plural – notice that “bishops” is plural in vs. 1) and served by deacon(esse)s, then you only need to look at this verse.

So Paul began by identifying himself, and his audience, and then:

He began the letter with a greeting.

Paul began his letter with grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 2). Here was a greeting common to Paul and common amongst believers in the early church. If you were to write a letter to someone today, you would probably begin it with the word “Dear” followed by the recipient’s name. That’s a common greeting in our culture. It was and is common for those in the Jewish culture to greet someone with the word “shalom”, or peace. Paul commonly used the twin greeting of “grace and peace” when writing, and he did so here.

Grace is defined as the unmerited favor of God toward us. John Newton immortally sang of grace:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
> That saved a wretch like me!
> I once was lost, but now am found;
> Was blind, but now I see.^[Newton, John, “Amazing Grace”]

There is nothing you or I could ever do to earn the grace of God. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV). By it’s very definition it is a gift… something freely bestowed for no reason other than that God wants to do it. His grace is free and unmerited… free and unearnable.

Boice points out that everything is a result of God’s grace. “It was by grace that the worlds were hung in space and the earth was disposed for human life. It was by grace that the mountains were created and the world was filled with life. By grace humans are made in God’s image with every capacity for fellowship with him. By grace humans received the biblical revelation after the fall. By grace God chose Israel for a special purpose in history. It was grace that sent the Lord Jesus—to live a life that revealed the Father and to die for human sin. Grace leads us to trust in Christ. Grace sent the Holy Spirit to be our teacher and our guide. Grace has preserved the church through the centuries. Grace will bring forth the final resurrection. Grace will sustain us throughout eternity as we live in unbroken fellowship with God and grow in the knowledge of him.”^{James Montgomery Boice, “Philippians: An Expositional Commentary” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 26.]

And grace is the gift that keeps on giving. God never runs out of grace, and He never stops pouring His grace into your life! Paul wrote to the Roman believers that where sin abounded, grace abounded much more (Romans 5:20 NKJV). There is no end to God’s grace.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
> Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt,
> Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace,
> Grace that is greater than all our sin.^[Words by Julia H. Johnston (1911). Music by Daniel B. Towner (1910). Public Domain.]

Oh my friend, have you experienced God’s grace?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 2). The peace Paul spoke of here is not merely the cessation of conflict, as we would perhaps think of when hearing the word. When a ceasefire is called and a war ends, a truce is signed, and there is peace. But as used here by Paul the meaning goes beyond that. He was describing the peace of God. Peace from God… peace given by God… peace available to us solely because of what Jesus Christ accomplished on the cross.

– Peace was promised by angels when they announced Jesus’ birth – Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men (Luke 2:14 NKJV)!
– Jesus promised this peace in some of His last words to the disciples before the cross – Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27 NKJV).
– Jesus reiterated that promise, and poured out that peace, after the resurrection when He appeared to His disciples – Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19 NKJV).

We’ve learned before that there are two aspects to peace as described in the Bible. It is referred to as “peace WITH God”, and it is referred to as the “peace OF God”.

When we trust Christ and are saved, we immediately have peace WITH God- Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1 NKJV). We are no longer enemies… there is no longer enmity or adversity of any kind in our relationship with Him.

This is a state that, once entered into, never changes. Once you have peace WITH God, you will never lose it. The man, woman, boy or girl who has peace WITH God will never stand before Him to be judged for sin… for that whole broken relationship thing… that whole enmity that existed between God and you because of sin… is GONE. The truce was signed with the blood of Jesus and can never be revoked. The Christian lives in a state of peace WITH God forever. Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have (PRESENT POSSESSION… NOW AND FOREVER) peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (Romans 5:1 NKJV).

The peace OF God is not quite the same. Later in this letter Paul wrote, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV). This peace OF God is the feeling of peace that accompanies the reality of peace. We HAVE peace WITH God, always, but sometimes we don’t feel like we do… sometimes other things lead us to feel the exact opposite of peace. Things like unconfessed sin… worry… trials of life… can interfere with our EXPERIENCING the peace that we possess, and so Paul told the Philippians in to pray and seek God constantly in prayer, so that they would continue to experience the peace OF God. We’ll discuss this more fully when we work through chapter 4.

Listen, if you are a Christian, my friend, you have peace WITH God. Mark it down. Believe it. Don’t doubt it. But you may not always feel the peace OF God. Flip ahead a couple pages and mark Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-7 if you struggle in this area. God wants you to have both peace WITH God, through the salvation bought on Calvary by our Savior, and the peace OF God to carry you through each day.

There is one last thought concerning these two words that we dare not miss. The order is vital. Paul spoke of grace and peace, in that order. Only in that order. There is no peace without grace. Until you’ve experienced God’s grace, you will not and cannot experience His peace.


Let me conclude with a few questions. First, for the saints – Christians:

You are a bondservant of Christ – are you acting like it? Does that knowledge energize and define you? Who of your acquaintances would describe you as such? What in your daily and weekly agenda would demonstrate that you are a bondservant of Jesus Christ? Oh that more would live like Paul in this area. Oh that I could get my heart around it and really live that way. Just as Paul did, we would reach our world for Jesus.

You are a saint. Saints are DIFFERENT from the world… so different that they stand out. Saints are God’s people. Saints are godly not worldly. They don’t go places the world approves of, but rather places God approves of. They don’t base their choices and lifestyle on what the world says is ok… culture says is ok… but rather on what God says is ok. And they DRAW BACK FROM, separate from, those things God says are NOT ok. Saints are people who are set apart from the world and set apart to God. Would anybody look at you and see that?

You are the recipient of God’s grace – when’s the last time you knelt and truly thanked God for it. What an amazing gift!

You have peace with God – are you experiencing the peace of God? When we get tochapter 4 we’ll see Paul telling these saints that prayer is key to having the peace of God in our lives. But you don’t have to wait until we get to chapter 4 – if you’re lacking that peace, seek it today. Ask Him for it today.

Finally, just one more question, and this one for the unbelievers who might be here:

Forgiveness can be yours… salvation… eternal life… and PEACE… can be yours, but only AFTER you’ve first accepted the grace He wants to pour into your life. Will you not accept the gift of God’s grace before it’s too late? Will you not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved (Acts 16:31) as the Philippian jailor did?


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