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March 6, 2011


Background Passage: Philippians 1:1-11

Lesson Passage: Philippians 1:1-11


Brief introduction to the Epistle to the Philippians


Authorship and Date: There is near universal agreement that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter.  Scholars, however, have minor disagreements about the imprisonment mentioned by the apostle.  The traditional view assigns the writing to Paul’s Roman incarceration, about 61 or 62 A.D.  However, some believe Paul wrote Philippians during an earlier imprisonment, perhaps in Ephesus or Caesarea, during the mid-fifties. Whatever the case, it seems certain Paul wrote from prison, very early in the Christian era.


Recipients: According to the Book of Acts, Paul and Silas established a church in Philippi, probably during the early fifties.  Philip of Macedonia founded the city more than three hundred years before the birth of Jesus (Philip rebuild the city on ancient ruins).  In 167 B.C. Philippi came under Roman control, and Octavian (Caesar Augustus) made the city a center of his Macedonian military power, after the Battle of Actium (31 B.C.).  The city was located a few miles inland, near the northern shores of the Aegean, a short distance from the important port city of Neopolis.  A major highway, the Via Egnatia, passed through the region, making Philippi an important trade center.  Acts tells us that the apostle came to Macedonia by the direct guidance of the Lord (See 16:6-10). Paul appealed to the racial and ethnic diversity of the region, and Acts records the conversion stories of three early Philippian believers: Lydia, a slave girl, and a Roman jailor.  Civil magistrates arrested and whipped Paul and Silas, violating the laws against corporal punishment for Roman citizens, and the apostle held these men responsible for their unlawful actions.


Occasion: The Philippian church, aware of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, sent financial support to help their friend, and Paul wrote this letter to express his appreciation for their generosity.  A man named Epaphroditus brought the gift from Philippi, to the site of Paul’s incarceration. Along with the Book of Philemon, this is Paul’s most tender and personal epistle.  He had also learned some theological and social problems in the church, and, with great tenderness, he addresses these difficulties.  The theological problems seem to relate to a form of legalism (See 3:2-7), and the social difficulties centered on the relationship between two women, Euodia and Syntyche (See 4:2-3).  Paul did not mention the exact nature of these problems, perhaps indicating only minor disturbances in the fellowship of these believers.


Lesson Outline:


I.        Salutation (vv. 1-2)

A.    Authorship (v. 1): Timothy accompanied Paul during the apostle’s imprisonment, and, as was his practice, Paul included his young protégé in the letter’s introduction.

B.     Recipients: “The saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi” (v. 2): “Saints” describes people who, by the grace of God, have been set aside for a divine purpose.

C.     “with the overseers and deacons” ( v. 2b) Paul includes a special reference to the church officers, and this is a bit of an unusual feature of this letter.  Perhaps these men played an important role in sending the offering to Paul. 


II.    Paul’s Appreciation for the Philippians (vv. 3-8)

A.    The unfailing prayer of the apostle (vv. 3-4): Every time he thought of the Philippians, Paul thanked God for his friends.  They were a source of great joy, encouragement, and blessing to Paul, and their kindness invigorated the apostle’s prayer life. 

B.     The special focus of Paul’s gratitude (v. 5): In addition to a general thanksgiving for his friends, Paul, in particular, rejoiced in their consistent fellowship in the gospel.  For Baptists, the word “fellowship” may conjure images of pot-luck dinners, happy social occasions; however, Paul used the word differently. In this context he referred to generous, consistent participation in the work of the Kingdom. Time and circumstances had proven their genuine concern for the advancement of the gospel, and Paul was deeply grateful for their faithfulness.

C.     Paul’s confidence (vv. 6-7): While Paul had great confidence in the Philippians, his ultimate trust centered on God’s persistent, unchanging work, in their lives.  He believed the Lord had begun this good work, and God would remain faithful to his great, sovereign plan of grace.  “The day of Jesus Christ”, I think, refers to the culmination of the Kingdom of God at the end of the age. It seemed fitting that Paul should feel this way, given the Philippian faithful friendship, no matter what his circumstances—even in chains.

D.    Paul’s love for the Philippians (v. 8): This verse denotes a measure of loneliness Paul felt during his incarceration, a loneliness mitigated by his love for the Philippians.  He longs for them with the affection of the Lord.  “Affection” translates the word “splanchnos”, the Greek word for “bowels.”  Modern Americans may find this word choice odd, but the term denoted, in the ancient world, the deepest passions and emotions.  Paul loved the Philippians as Christ loves the church, with the deepest yearning. 


III. The Special Emphases of Paul’s Prayer (vv. 9-11): After the expression of gratitude, Paul prayed, in particular, for two issues related to the Philippians.

A.    “that your love may abound more and more” (v. 9): Clearly Paul meant no slight to the Philippian reputation for love; rather, he simply prayed that their love might continue to deepen and mature. 

1.      “in knowledge”: For Paul, Christian love was never confused with silly infatuation; instead, he called his readers to maturity, wisdom, and understanding.

2.      “discernment”: This word connotes moral judgment, judiciousness, or insight.

B.     “that you may approve what is excellent” (vv. 10-11): “Approve” means “to test”, “to distinguish”, or “to assay.”  Passion may draw Christians into unwise patterns of conduct, but wise love will lead to moral excellence, moral excellence characterized by purity, blamelessness, and righteousness.  Furthermore, true Christian love will issue in the glory of God.