Today we will consider Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome. The letter speaks of Paul’s joy regardless of his circumstances, and points to Christ as the supreme example of humility. Paul and Timothy begin by addressing the church, the elders, and the deacons in Philippi (1:1-2). Paul is grateful for the Philippian partnership with him (vv. 4-5). This is a reference to their financial support of his ministry (see 4:14-18). This makes his ministry, their ministry (v. 7). Paul desires to come see them (v. 8) and prays for them to grow in the knowledge of Christ and in holiness (vv. 9-11).
Paul now tells them not to be concerned over his imprisonment. It has happened for the advancement of the Gospel (v. 12). He has shared the Gospel with the Roman guards (v. 13), and his willingness to go to prison has served to give boldness to other Christians in preaching (v. 14). Even though there are those who are preaching the Gospel only to hurt Paul because they are envious of his ministry, Paul is glad that the Gospel is being preached (vv. 15-18).
Paul also rejoices knowing that God will work this for his good (v. 19), even if he is headed for death (v. 20). He is Christ’s in life, and his death would be a welcomed end as he would be with the Lord (vv. 21-23), though he knows he will be a benefit to others by continuing to suffer in this life for the Gospel (vv. 24-25). This gives Paul confidence that he will come to them again (v. 26). Paul then calls them to live lives worthy of their calling (v. 27 – see Eph 4:1, Col 1:10). Paul wants to know that they are united in living out the Gospel. Their manner of living, if according to the Gospel, is a sign of their election (v. 28), as is their suffering for the sake of Christ (v. 29) just as Paul was currently suffering (v. 30).
Paul then points to Christ as an example. Paul says “if there is any encouragement in Christ,” knowing that there is (2:1). He also knows that there is, in fact, comfort in love, participation in the Spirit, and affection and sympathy in the church in Philippi. Paul tells them to be unified because of this (v. 2). They are to live humbly and for the sake of each other (vv. 3-4). They are to be united by having the mind of Christ (v. 5). This is the mind of Christ that led to His willing humiliation. He gave up His divine rights (v. 6), took on humanity (v. 7), and died on the cross for our sake (v. 8). And through His humility, He has been exalted in this age (v. 9) and will be in the age to come (vv. 10-11). So Paul exhorts the Philippians to follow this example and be obedient to Christ for the sake of their sanctification (v. 12) even as the Spirit works in them to make them holy – and to make them want to be holy – according to God’s will (v. 13).
Paul then offers some practical application. Work for the kingdom without complaining or fighting (v. 14). This will set them apart from the world (v. 15). Obey the Word of God (v. 16). This will make Paul rejoice even if he is headed for death (v. 17). Paul will send Timothy to them to find out how they are doing (v. 19), because he, too, has genuine concern for them (v. 20) for the sake of Christ (v. 21). As soon as Paul is sentenced or released, Timothy will come (v. 23). Paul is confident that he will come, too (v. 24). In the meantime, Paul is sending Epaphroditus, likely with the letter (v. 25). It appears Epaphroditus was a Philippian that came to Paul on their behalf, and then fell very ill (vv. 25-27). Paul will send him back to them so that they can receive him with joy (vv. 28-29). In fact, Paul encourages them to always rejoice (3:1).
Paul then warns the Philippians about the Judaizers (v. 2). Those who mutilate the flesh are those who observe circumcision as an exclusively outward act. The true circumcision is spiritual, and the truly circumcised are the spiritual people of God (v. 3). And this is a physical Jew that believes this (v. 4)! If the Judaizers have a reason to be confident in the flesh (both circumcision and their physical heritage), Paul has even more! He was physically circumcised according to the Law (v. 5). He is physically descended from Israel. He was a Pharisee who was so zealous he persecuted those who broke from the Law and followed the Law blamelessly (v. 6). But that all means nothing in Christ.
Paul willingly gave up his former life for the sake of Christ, because knowing Christ is worth more than everything else he ever had (v. 8). Compared to knowing Christ, those other things are “rubbish” (a crude word for excrement), because it is only in Christ – and not by the Law – that Paul has been made righteous. It is only through faith alone (v. 9) that Paul knows Christ and is able to live out the Gospel even though it means suffering (v. 10). No matter what living for Christ means, Paul will do it, that he may know he will attain (literally: “arrive at”) the resurrection from the dead (v. 11). Paul is telling the Philippians that he practices what he preaches.
But Paul has not yet reached the goal (v. 12). So he has left all of what he was in the past, and values nothing but Christ, and moves only forward for the sake of Christ (vv. 13-14). If the Philippians are to be mature in their faith, they will do the same (v. 15). They should imitate Paul and other mature believers (v. 17), not those who walk contrary to Christ and are his enemies (like the Judaizers – v. 18). The Judaizers are of the world (v. 19), but we are not of the world (v. 20). And we can walk according to Christ’s example knowing what our end is (v. 21). Paul calls on them to stand firm in this (4:1).
Paul then addresses a dispute between two women and calls on them to be united with the mind of Christ (v. 2 – see 2:2-8). Paul calls on his “true companion” (this may actually be a proper name: Syzygus) to come alongside these women to help them work out their differences (v. 3). This is what the church does. Paul then once again encourages the Philippians to always rejoice (v. 4 – see 3:1). The “reasonableness” in verse 5 is better translated as “tolerance” or “lenience.” There should be tolerance within the church (if only…). Paul ties in their joy and tolerance with a lack of anxiety. Give it all to God in prayer (v. 6), and He will give peace instead of anxiety (v. 7). Paul then tells them to focus on the good things (v. 8). This will increase their joy and their tolerance.
In verse 10, Paul tells the Philippians that he is joyful that they are concerned for him (probably a reference to them sending Epaphroditus to him). He assures them that, because he has Christ, he is in need of nothing (v. 11 – see 3:8). Whether high on a mountaintop or deep in a valley – no matter what may come in this life – Paul has learned to be content and without need (v. 12). He does this through Christ (v. 13). In verse 13, Paul is specifically speaking about being able to be content and even joyous in all circumstances. This verse is so often taken out of context (perhaps more than any other). Paul is not saying that he can “accomplish anything he puts his mind to” in Christ. This verse is not about throwing a better fastball, finishing a marathon, or achieving life goals. It is about not being negatively affected by life’s circumstances because we have all we need in Christ.
Paul the thanks them for their concern and their participation in his ministry (vv. 14-16). Paul tells them that God counts what he has accomplished through their partnership as their ministry, too (v. 17). And God is pleased with their willingness to give (v. 18). He will provide for them as He has provided for Paul (v. 19). In other words, God will teach them the secret of being content in all circumstances. Paul ends by telling those who hear this letter to greet all the brothers and sisters for him (v. 21). He also sends greetings from all who are with him (see Col 4:10-14), and from all the believers in Rome, including those of Caesar’s household (v. 22).