THE EPISTLE OF PAUL TO THE
O U T L I N E
Historical Context. Philippi was a major city in Macedonia in the first century. Acts 16 records how Paul was directed to Macedonia. First, he was “forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia”, and then “they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not”, and finally, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us” (Acts 16:6-7, 9). God was leading Paul to open a new frontier of the gospel in the West, and Paul obeyed. The work began in Philippi which was “the chief city of that part of Macedonia” (Acts 16:12). Paul started by preaching by a river to those who were believing Jews or proselytes in that region. Lydia, a seller of purple cloth, believed the gospel and was baptized. But it was not without opposition from the enemy. Paul then cast out a demon from a possessed woman who was enslaved to a couple of men that were profiting from her abilities. Her masters were furious with Paul and Silas, and dragged them before the magistrates where they were accused, beaten with many stripes, cast into prison, and held in the stocks. Then unfolded the well known story of the Philippian jail, the midnight praises of Paul and Silas, the earthquake, the conversion of the jailor, etc. The house of Lydia and others converted at that time, including the jailor and his family, were the beginning of the work of God in that place. The assemblies of Macedonia were noted in 2 Corinthians as being poor, and yet generous with what they had. This was in contrast with the wealthy Corinthians to the south. Who were the assemblies of Macedonia? Philippi, Amphipolis, Apollonia, Thessalonica, and Berea were all cities of Macedonia, and we know there were assemblies in at least Philippi and Thessalonica, and believers in Berea. If anyone had an excuse not to give it would be the Macedonians, because they were in “a great trial of affliction” and “deep poverty” (2 Cor. 8:2). They gave out of the riches of their liberality, not out of the greatness of their resources. The epistle to the Philippians was written from Rome where Paul was under arrest; therefore it is one of the so called “prison” epistles, along with Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon. In the epistle to the Philippians, Paul thanks the saints in Philippi for their generosity. They were an assembly that that had partnered with Paul in the work of the gospel. Their “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5) was that of supporting the apostle Paul in his missionary labors. This was a work they were engaged in from the moment they were converted up to the time of Paul’s writing the epistle. It was generally a happy assembly, where the brethren were going on well together. The greatest threat to the assembly in Philippi was a lack of unity, the manifestation of which was caused by a disagreement between two sisters, Euodias and Syntyche.
Reasons for Philippians. The epistle to the Philippians was written as a letter of acknowledgment by Paul for the fellowship which the Philippians had sent to him to aid in his missionary efforts (Phil. 1:5; 4:14-17). Secondly, as it often happens with letters of acknowledgment, Paul takes the opportunity to give the Philippians an update on his state, especially regarding his imprisonment at Rome, and how God was using that to further the work of the gospel. Paul reveals his own personal feelings and motives in Philippians more than in any other epistle. He lets them know how he is feeling about his likely martyrdom; i.e. a desire to depart and be with Christ, but at the same time a desire to stay for the blessing of the saints. A third reason for the epistle is to warn the saints of the dangers that faced them. Paul addressed one danger from without, and one from within. He warns the saints in ch.3 to beware of “dogs” and “the concision”. This is a reference to the Judaising teachers that were constant seeking to get the saints onto the ground of the law, or mix Judaism and Christianity. The second danger had to do with disunity in the assembly. Two sisters, Euodias and Syntyche, had a disagreement. In ch.4 Paul exhorts them to be “of the same mind in the Lord”, and in chapter 2 he explains how to do that; “let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, etc.”. A fourth reason for the epistle is to encourage the saints. Joy or rejoicing is mentioned sixteen times in the epistle! The news of Paul’s imprisonment would no doubt naturally tend to discourage the saints, and so Paul writes to encourage them. This shows that, even in the most difficult circumstances, the Christian has every reason to rejoice! To summarize, the epistle was written: (1) to thank the Philippians for fellowship, (2) to update the saints regarding Paul’s state and God’s work in the gospel, (3) to warn the saints of the dangers facing them from without and within, and (4) to encourage their hearts in the face of adversity.
Themes of the epistle. Philippians is a profoundly practical book. There is very little doctrine in Philippians. The closest thing to doctrine is Philippians 3:3. As we already noted, Paul reveals his own personal feelings and motives in Philippians more than in any other epistle. As a result of this, a strong theme throughout the epistle is the normal motivations, desires, and goals of a healthy Christian, as exemplified in the life of the apostle Paul. He even refers to himself as “an example” (Phil. 3:17). We could summarize this by saying that Philippians gives us healthy Christianity in practice. A second theme is that of joy. As we already mentioned, the words joy and rejoicing occur many times in the epistle. Joy is the inevitable result in the life of a healthy Christian. A third theme in Philippians is the centrality of Christ in our practical walk. In the first chapter, we find that Christ is our life, our whole motive for living on earth; “for to me to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). In the second chapter, we find that Christ is our example in perfect humility; “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:5). In the third chapter, we find that Christ is our object or goal in life; “that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8), “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14). In the fourth chapter, we find that Christ is our strength for the pathway; “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13).