As the Lord Jesus now reigns over His spiritual kingdom in an inauguration of the promises He will everlastingly fulfill in the millennial reign and on the new earth, He has sent His authoritative words from heaven to men that they might know what it is to properly surrender to Him as God’s installed, chosen king in the heavenly Zion (Psa. 2:6). The kingdom will one day soon come in its glorious fullness, and so Christians must speak and live as citizens of that grand reality that will fundamentally transform all things. As those who have been redeemed by God and have the promise of being on the right side of history and the judgment, Christians have every unshakeable reason to be filled with true joy regardless of their circumstances on earth.
This week, we looked at Philippians as a unit and overview, before we begin a verse-by-verse study next week.
Scholars are unanimous that this letter was written by the Apostle Paul. Of course, those of us who embrace verbal inspiration and inerrancy knew that simply by reading 1:1! It is likely Paul was converted around the mid-thirties A.D. (c. 34-37), after a lengthy period of opposing the messianic community and doing all he could to destroy it. Within several years of his conversion, Paul arose as a uniquely gifted and authoritative leader, who did more to cause the flourishing and establishment of God’s kingdom than likely anyone else ever has. He is best known for his impressive oeuvre, consisting of at least thirteen inspired letters and likely dozens of others. Well-loved by the early church and having never gotten over the extension of grace to him by the Lord, Paul embarked upon three massive missionary journeys planting churches and strengthening established ones. He was jailed multiple times for his efforts and suffered extensive physical, emotional, and psychological persecution. He was dispatched to glory via an executioner’s sword in about 67 or 68 AD, in Nero’s persecution.
Conservatives have set forth three possible locations of the writing of Philippians. All agree Paul was in prison when he wrote the letter; his references to it in the text make that clear. But which imprisonment? Some aver an Ephesian incarceration, around 53-55 AD; others, a Caesarean, from about 57-59. However, there is no evidence for any incarceration in Ephesus, and Paul’s imprisonment in Caesarea was very different than his house-arrest in Rome (cf. Acts. 23-25). Internal and external evidence best supports a location of Rome—specifically, Paul’s house arrest mentioned in the last chapter of Acts. His relatively unrestricted movements during that two-year period (“unrestricted” compared to his extreme confinement during his writing of 2 Timothy in the late 60s) fit his receiving of visitors (such as Epaphroditus, 2:25; cf. Acts 28:30) and even his ability to host Onesimus, as he mentions in his letter to Philemon. Additionally, given that Philippians in part is a thank-you to the Philippian church for their financial gift (which was a recent one, not their ongoing support of him in the past), it makes more sense to view the letter as written in a house-arrest context: He could use the money to pay for his “rented quarters” (Acts 28:30); what good would money be on death row, or in another prison? Given these factors, it is best to view Philippians as written from Rome during Paul’s first imprisonment.
If Philippians was written during Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, then a date no earlier than AD 60 and no later than AD 62 must be maintained. It is likely that the letter was written closer to the end of the imprisonment than its beginning, so a date of 61-62 is to be preferred.
Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, conquered the city of Krenides in 400 BC. He named it after himself—Philippi. In the second century BC, Philippi was incorporated into the province of Macedonia (what is today northern and central Greece, and which eventually became the fountainhead of Hellenism). Upon the establishment of the Roman Empire in 42 BC, Philippi became an official Roman colony—a piece of Rome on non-Roman soil. Its citizens dressed as Romans, adopted Roman culture and tends, considered themselves Roman citizens, and had all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges thereof. Given their history of being manhandled and passed from one greedy general and political official to another, it is not had to see why the Philippians delighted in their status and security as Roman citizens.
Paul founded the Philippian church—the first one in modern Europe—on his second missionary journey. Divinely hindered from entering Turkey and Bithynia, there was no place to sail but onward to Troas, on the Aegean Sea. While there, Paul received a vision of a Macedonian man begging him to come and share the gospel. After sharing this with his apostolic team and determining that the vision was indeed from God (the Greek word behind “concluding” implies a process of deliberation, weighing, and evaluation), they made the journey to Macedonia. While there, Paul met a group of women who met beside the Gangites River to study the Old Testament, pray, and fellowship. He shared the gospel with these women, teaching that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Scriptures they loved. One woman, Lydia—a wealthy businesswoman who made expensive purple fabric cherished by royalty and the wealthy—was captivated by what Paul said., The Greek text is sweet: she lit. “kept listening and listening” (imperfect tense), and as she did the Lord decisively and instantaneously (aorist tense) opened her heart to respond in repentance and faith.
Lydia became the core of the Philippian church., Evidently, she was a passionate and effective witness as her whole household and eventually others (cf. Acts 16:40) came to know Christ.
Occasion of Writing
Why did Paul write Philippians? The text reveals several reasons.
To teach the imperative of joy
Philippians is known as the epistle of joy. “Joy” or “rejoicing” are mentioned some sixteen times in the book, and is really the heart of why Paul wrote it. Because Christ rules over an unshakeable kingdom; because the fulfillment of His promises is certain; because our sins have been forgiven; because the holy God who spoke the universe into existence has welcomed us as His children and heirs; because we have an integral part to play in the execution of God’s eternal program; because we have the hope of restoration and overflowing blessing in this life and in eternity—because of all of that, and more, Christians are to be dominated by, controlled by, overflowing with joy.
What is joy? Some wrongly teach that joy (like other affectional words in the Scripture, like love or hope) is not an emotion, in that it is something independent of how we feel. While there is a legitimate an necessary distinction between “affections” and the modern category of “emotions,” to teach that joy is unrelated to the longings, desires, and feelings of the inner person is incorrect. Joy is the delight and satisfaction that comes from a distinct personal and conscious sense and conviction that God sovereignly controls the details of life for believers’ good and His glory, and is available to all who obey Him. This is ultimately a Spirit-wrought gift by virtue of His sanctifying and indwelling presence (Gal. 5:22). That Paul could model this joy while in prison is a sterling testimony to the Spirit’s power and the durability of God’s promises.
To thank them for their sacrificial giving
The Philippians had graciously and persistently supported Paul as he preached the gospel, ministered in churches, counseled, wrote, taught, and discipled. This was not a one-time thing but an ongoing, decisive and joyful partnership (cf. 1:4; 4:15-20). Paul writes to commend them for their enabling of his ministry, and to use their sacrifice to make important theological points at some length in chapter four.
To warn against disunity
It is somewhat remarkable that, given the tendency of the early churches to have difficulty extricating themselves from bondage to the surrounding culture and embrace all kinds of theological error and moral sloppiness, Paul has nary a word to say to them in rebuke over bad doctrine or disorderly behavior. But, he does notice seeds of contention between people in the church—seeds that, if left unchecked, would grow into full-fledged divisive carnality and would destroy any credible testimony they have to a watching world. Paul hints at this idea in 1:27-2:4, 2:14-16 and becomes more direct in 4:2-3.
An Outline of Philippians
Chapter One: Christ, Our Life (theme verse: 1:21)
Paul sees his life as existing for Christ and His glory and purposes. He is filled with Him and if he dies, then death will only be the diadem which crowns a life given completely to Him—because in eternity Paul will worship and serve Him fully and unhindered.
Chapter Two: Christ, Our Example (theme verse: 2:5)
Liberal scoundrels often delight in eviscerating the Lord Jesus into little more than a rarefied example of how to live, conveniently ignoring His deity, sovereignty, demand for holiness and discipleship, and pesky things like His proclamation of a coming conquering kingdom and eternal hell for all who refuse to submit to Him. But, this abuse should not deter believers from genuinely embracing and worshipping Christ as the perfect model of life. Paul does this in one of the greatest theological expositions in all of Holy Scripture—but he does so to then exhort us to, by grace, be like the One he has so exalted.
Chapter Three: Christ, Our Confidence (theme verse: 3:8)
How can we stand before a holy God as welcomed and beloved friends, not as rebels on the cusp of fiery conflagration? And how, given our ongoing struggle with rebellious tendencies, can we be assured of a permanent welcome by this thrice-holy One? Paul’s answer is to exalt Christ as our confidence—His perfect righteousness is ours as a free gift that both declares us acquitted and practically transforms us from sinners to saints.
Chapter Four: Christ, Our Strength (theme verse: 4:13)
Though one of the most misquoted verses in the Bible, 4:13 is a revel in the power, authority, and enablement Christ gives to believers as they devote themselves to His program. When our resources are depleted, our strength gone, our hope waning—our ability to minister, live, and have joy depleted by the harsh realities of a fallen world and Satanic opposition, Christ, Christ Himself, is our strength.
A life wrapped up in and wholly consecrated to Christ is the only way to joy. I trust that our study of this precious part of New Covenant revelation will be a refreshing, sanctifying look into the birthright of all Christians: indomitable, strengthening, irreplaceable joy in Christ, His glory, His ways, and His coming kingdom. May God help us to press on to all that He has for us by faith!