17: Joy in Christ (Introduction to
The apostle Paul
(1:1). Paul also mentions Timothy in the opening of the epistle because Timothy
was with him at that time.
Believers in Philippi (1:1), most of whom were Greeks. The church in
Philippi was the first church God established in Europe
during Paul’s second missionary journey (A.D. 49-52). After seeing the vision
of the Macedonian man’s plea, Paul realized that the Lord had called them to
preach the gospel in that region (Acts 16:6-12). The first converts in this
city were Lydia,
a seller of purple cloth, and the keeper of the prison, as well as their
families (Acts 16:13-40). The church probably met at Lydia’s house during its early days.
It is evident
that Paul was in prison when he wrote the epistle. But the place of his
imprisonment is unknown, although three possibilities have been suggested—Rome, Ephesus, and Caesarea.
The Philippian church had sent a gift with Epaphroditus
(one of their members) to be delivered to Paul (4:18). In response to the love
of the believers, he wrote this letter to thank them for their gift. He also
made use of this occasion to 1) report to them about his situation and express
his longing for them, 2) encourage them to endure persecution and rejoice in
all circumstances, 3) exhort them to be humble and live in unity, 4) and warn
them against those who preached and practiced false doctrines.
1. Paul wrote with a deeply personal tone
about his relationship with the believers and his relationship with Christ.
2. The letter is full of commendation for the
3. The theme of joy is prominent.
“Rejoice in the
Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!” (4:4).
Survey of Philippians
Read through the
entire epistle and record section headings in chart D.
section divisions that begins with the phrase “…brethren” or “…my beloved.”
Paul first mentions
his joy as a preacher of the gospel. He rejoices every time he remembers the Philippian believers because of their participation in the
gospel (1:3,7). He urges them to fulfill his joy by
being like-minded (2:2), and he exhorts them to live blameless lives so that he
may rejoice in the day of Christ that he has not run in vain (2:16). If the
believers could offer their faith as a pleasing sacrifice to God, Paul would
rejoice even if he is the drink offering that is poured on this sacrifice
invites the believers to share his joy (2:18). In fact, he commands them to
rejoice in the Lord (3:1; 4:4). According to Paul, Christ is the source of
spiritual joy, and the joy of believers is rooted in Christ (1:26; 3:3). By
living in Christ, believers can rejoice always and not be anxious about
joy is founded on Christ, he is able to rejoice in any circumstance (4:11-13).
His joy transcends personal happiness and finds its fulfillment in Christ
alone. Some preach out of envy and with an intention to add to Paul’s
affliction. But Paul still rejoices because Christ is preached. This selfless
and Christ-centered attitude is the ultimate expression of Christian joy.
The Philippian church has brought Paul great joy because they
are one in heart and mind with God’s worker. They have participated in the
preaching of the gospel from the first day and have joined Paul in his
ministry, whether he is in chains or in the defense and confirmation of the
the Philippians to fulfill his joy by applying this same-mindedness to the
fellowship of believers (2:1-2). Such unity comes about when believers have the
mind of Christ Jesus, who humbled Himself and became obedient unto death
(2:5-11). Christ’s humility teaches us to esteem others better than ourselves
(2:3). Christ’s sacrifice reminds us to look out not only for our own
interests, but also for the interest of others (2:4).
Towards the end
of the epistle Paul implores his fellow workers, Euodia
and Syntyche, to be of the same mind in the Lord
(4:2) and asks the believers to help these women as well as all of Paul’s
Salvation is the
ultimate concern for all Christians. Thus Paul teaches the Philippians to work
out their salvation with fear and trembling (2:12). He reminds them of their
heavenly citizenship and that we as believers eagerly wait for the Savior, who
will transform our bodies to be like His glorious body (3:20-21). To this end
Paul has suffered the loss of all things (3:7-11). He also forgets what is
behind and presses on toward the goal (3:12-14).
salvation is not by human effort. In the same breath that Paul teaches the
believers to work out their salvation, he attributes their salvation to the
work of God (2:13). Paul stresses that our righteousness does not come from
observing the law but through faith in Christ Jesus alone (3:1-9). Even all the
effort that Paul puts into pressing on towards the goal is possible only
because Christ has laid hold of him and because God has called him through
Christ (3:12,14). Therefore, the grace of God and His
work in our lives is the basis of our salvation.
Concern for the
gospel is central to Philippians. For Paul, preaching the gospel is of utmost
importance, and it was for the sake of the gospel that he willingly suffered.
Therefore, he rejoices when Christ is preached and when believers take part in
the ministry (1:5, 18). A special characteristic of the Philippian
church is its active involvement in preaching the gospel. Their sending of Epaphroditus to Paul and their generous gift all
demonstrate their eager participation in the ministry. Their fellowship in the
work of the gospel consequently fosters the close relationship that they have
Many of the
exhortations in this epistle center on the gospel. It is Paul’s earnest desire
to see the believers live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ and strive
together for the gospel with one mind and spirit (1:27). He asks the believers
to receive Timothy and Epaphroditus because they are
fellow workers for the gospel (2:19-30). He also appeals to the believers to be
united and to support those who are in the ministry (4:2,3).
Thus, in many ways, the church as a whole may have a share in the work of
preaching the gospel.
like-minded, love, gospel, day of Christ, longing.
In this epistle,
we can learn much from Paul’s discussion of his Christ-centered outlook on
life. Because of his knowledge of Jesus Christ and his deep relationship with
Him, Paul is able to live a victorious and dynamic Christian life. His personal
experience in Christ demonstrates to us the meaning of faith in Christ and the
power that we can derive from Christ. As such, studying Philippians helps us
re-evaluate our own relationship with Christ and find the key to a successful
Philippians reminds the church today the importance of unity as we advance the
work of the gospel. Not only does unity make our ministry effective, unity is
also a necessary requirement if we want our service to be acceptable to the
Lord. The epistle gives practical guidelines on achieving unity with the
example of Jesus Christ Himself as our model. While unity is often difficult to
achieve, the church today, in particular, the fellow workers of the church, must place this Christian virtue as priority so that
we may please the Lord and carry out His work to His glory.