Introduction to Philippians
Acts 16:6–40; Philippians 1:1–2
Christian leaders often create ministry strategies, only to discover God’s will is different. The apostle Paul and Silas wanted to revisit churches in Galatia and deliver the decrees established by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:6–29), but God had other plans for them.
In a vision, Paul saw a man plead with him to come to Macedonia. Paul and his coworkers, Silas and Timothy, believed God had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. So they sailed from Troas to Samothrace then to Neapolis and made their way 10 miles inland to Philippi, a colony in Macedonia where they stayed many days (16:9–12).
Because Paul heeded the Macedonian call, the gospel reached Europe, resulting in the evangelization of the Western World.
Setting of Philippi
A mountainous stronghold, Philippi was rich in gold, silver, timber, and minerals. It also housed a medical academy where Luke, a physician and the author of Acts, might have studied.
For centuries the area was ruled by petty kings; but in 360 BC, colonists asked Philip II of Macedon (father of Alexander the Great) to take control of the city. Philip garrisoned the area with his troops and named it Philippi. In time it became the capital of the Greek Empire.
In 168 BC, Philippi was passed to Rome’s control and designated a Roman colony in 31 BC. Given the power to govern itself, Philippi was exempt from poll and property taxes. Although Latin was the city’s official language, most Philippians spoke Greek. Philippi’s nationalities included Thracians, Greeks, Romans, Asians, and a small number of Jews.
Salvation in Philippi
Upon entering a city, Paul always went to the synagogue first, hoping to present the gospel to the Jewish people. But Philippi had so few Jews it could not muster the 10 men required to hold a synagogue service. Paul eventually found a small service of Jewish people worshiping God by the riverside.
In the service was Lydia from Thyatira. She was a Gentile convert to Judaism and a seller of expensive purple dye or fabric, whose work kept her in Philippi. The Holy Spirit opened her heart to receive Jesus as her Savior; and she and her household were baptized, becoming the first Christians in Europe. Lydia persuaded Paul and the missionary team to stay in her home, which she opened as a house church (vv. 12–15).
While Paul and Silas ministered in Philippi, a demon-possessed slave girl, who brought her masters much financial profit by fortune-telling, followed them for days. She continually screamed, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (v. 17). Greatly annoyed, Paul cast out the demon in the name of Jesus Christ; and she was delivered (v. 18).
Angered because their profits disappeared, the girl’s owners seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the magistrates, who disparaged their Jewish heritage and claimed they taught unlawful practices. Paul and Silas were stripped, beaten, put in stocks, and imprisoned (vv. 19–24).
Despite their brutal treatment, they prayed and sang hymns. Suddenly, an earthquake shook the prison’s foundation. Doors sprung open, and the prisoners’ chains were loosed. The jailer, awaking from sleep and fearing the prisoners had escaped, prepared to commit suicide. But Paul shouted, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (v. 28).
The jailer fell at Paul’s feet and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” (v. 30).
They replied, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (v. 31). The jailer and his household obeyed. He took Paul and Silas home, fed them, washed their wounds, and was baptized with his family.
When the magistrates sent officers to release Paul and Silas, Paul refused because they were Roman citizens who had been beaten openly without a trial and thrown in prison. If Rome learned of these actions, the magistrates could be removed from office and Philippi stripped of its privileges as a Roman colony. The magistrates promptly released Paul and Silas, who went to Lydia’s house, encouraged the new church, and then left the city. Luke remained behind to guide the church (vv. 35–40).
Specifics on Philippians
The following details provide important insight into the letter:
Authorship. Based on biblical and extrabiblical evidence, most commentators agree Paul penned Philippians during his first Roman imprisonment, when he led several Romans to the Lord, including some in Caesar’s household (Phil. 4:22).
Place and Date. Most commentators believe Paul wrote the epistle in either Caesarea, Ephesus, or Rome near the end of his first imprisonment in AD 61 or 62 (Acts 28:30–31). Some think he wrote it in AD 63, shortly before he was released from prison.
Purpose. Paul wrote to the Philippian church to (1) express his love and joy over learning of their Christian growth (Phil. 1:3–11); (2) update them on his imprisonment, opportunities to proclaim the gospel, and hope to join them upon his release (vv. 12–26); (3) challenge them to uphold their Christian testimony and witness boldly to the unbelieving world (1:27—2:18); (4) tell them he would send Timothy and Epaphroditus with an update on his situation (2:19–30); (5) warn them about Judaizers and Antinomianism and exhort them to live the Christian life (3:1–21); (6) encourage them to be united in joy, prayer, and peace (4:1–9); (7) praise and thank them for their generosity toward him (vv. 1–20); and (8) offer a concluding greeting and blessing (vv. 21–23).
Pattern. The letter’s major theme is to call the Philippians and all Christians to rejoice in Christ. Although severely persecuted for his faith, Paul continually rejoiced in what he possessed in Christ his Savior (1:4; 2:2, 17–18, 28; 3:1; 4:4, 10). Thus, joy and rejoice are the key words in this epistle. Christians should rejoice because of what they possess in Jesus Christ their Savior.
Salutation in the Letter
The letter begins, “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” (1:1–2).
This was a standard salutation in Paul’s day. Paul included Timothy in his greeting because the Philippian church knew him well. Although he did not mention Silas and Luke, they were with Paul when he founded the church.
Paul called Timothy and himself “bondservants [slaves] of Jesus Christ” (v. 1). Christ was Paul’s Master, both of body and soul. Paul followed Christ’s example, who humbled Himself as a servant to God during His earthly ministry (cf. 2:5–8).
He addressed “all the saints . . . in Philippi” (1:1). The word saint means “set-apart one.” Scripture teaches that every believer in Christ is a saint.
The church officers are called “bishops [overseers] and deacons” (v. 1). The word bishop is used interchangeably with elder [Greek, presbuteros] and speaks of the same position. Bishops were responsible for overseeing work in the local church (1 Pet. 5:1–4).
Deacon [Greek, diakonos] means “servant,” and the position originated in the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:1–6). Deacons helped the bishops care for people in the church. Paul provided qualifications for bishops and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1–13.
As was his custom, Paul began his epistle with a greeting: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:2). He used the word grace rather than greetings and included peace. Notice, grace always precedes peace, for without God’s grace one cannot possess His peace. God’s grace cannot be earned or bought. Here the word grace does not refer to saving grace because the addressees are already saved. Rather, it refers to the favor and blessings the Lord bestows daily on believers.
Peace refers to the inner peace people possess as believers in Christ, trusting Him daily for all their needs. The source of all grace and peace is “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 2). The original Greek text shows Jesus is equal to God the Father in essence and being (cf. Jn. 10:30; Ti. 1:4). Thus, both God the Father and Jesus Christ bestow grace and peace to the redeemed.
As we explore this epistle, I pray your heart will be encouraged as you face life’s difficulties, and that Philippians will bring you joy and cause you to rejoice greatly in what you possess in Christ.