| Back to Home Page | Back to Book Index |


Introduction to the Epistle to the Philippians                            


I. Writer


The apostle Paul (Phil. 1:1); for the rest part, please refer to the “Introduction to the Galatians;


II. The Recipients


To the saints, overseers and ministers in Philippi (Phil. 1:1);

The city of Philippi in the times of Paul was originally a small city in the eastern part of the Province of Macedonia, the west bank of Aegean Sea. It was located in the pass connecting the mountain chains of Europe and Asia, and such geographic location made it an important military spot, which was once the colony of Roman Empire (Acts 16:12). Moreover, this city was also the vital business communications hub linking Asia Minor and Roman Empire as well as a trade center at that time. Later, it gradually declined and turned to a heap of ruins now. The archeologists inferred that the local people there were zealous of idolatry according to the marks of the temples and inscriptions.


The History and Special Points of the Church in Philippi:

1)    She was the first church in Europe. In the second preaching journey of Paul, he went to Philippi through Neapolis after hearing the beseeching of Macedonia in the visions in Troas (Acts 16:9-12);

2)    The first believer of this church was a woman ---- Lydia, a seller of purple (Acts 16:14-15). And there were especially many female believers in this church.

3)    She was a church of abundant love. The house of Lydia and that of the jailor had received Paul (Acts 16:15, 34). They also sent once and again to Thessalonica unto Paul’s necessity (Phil. 4:6). Paul also received their gift when he was in Corinth (2Cor. 11:9). Besides, they sent Epaphroditus to Roman to supply the need of Paul (Phil. 2:25; 4:18-20). Paul trusted in the motive of their gift and knew that they did it out of the love of the Lord and the knowledge of the true meaning of devotion (Rom. 15:26). Moreover, they actively took part in the money collection to the saints in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26).

4)    There were few Jewish believers, and most of them were gentiles. And this church was almost a church completely comprised of gentiles.

5)    Since there were few Jews, the church in Philippi had scarcely been troubled by the sect of circumcision.

6)    They always kept good fellowship with Paul, and their relationship had never been disturbed.

7)    They had good fellowship with the gospel and worked with Paul in the preachment of the gospel.

8)    It was a well-established church ---- there were overseers and ministers. The churches in which there are ministers mentioned in the New Testament are only the churches in Jerusalem and Philippi.

9)    The church in Philippi was one of the local churches that carry the least fault. However, there were women who were not of the same mind, and Paul did not rebuke them severely.


III. The Time and Location the Book was Written


According to many records of this book, it was written by Paul in prison in Rome during 61AD to 62AD, e.g.:

1)    The prison in which Paul was imprisoned was near “all the praetorium” (Phil. 1:13). And he had been bound to stay in the prison long so that “all the praetorium” had heard the gospel.

2)    He knew that his case would be judged (Phil. 1:19; 2:23-24);

3)    He mentioned in this book “the household of Caesar” (Phil. 4:22), which obviously referred to the members in the church in Roman.


IV. The Background

  There were generally the following four purposes of Paul’s writing this book:

1)    When Paul was imprisoned, the church in Philippi had sent Epaphroditus to visit Paul with the gift of the church and take care of him. However, the faithful Epaphroditus was even sick close to death because of this work. And the message spread to Philippi, the church was rather troubled. Later, Epaphroditus was recovered by the mercy of God. Therefore, Paul earnestly desired to send Epaphroditus back to eliminate the sorrow of the church in Philippi and asked him to take this epistle to the church in Philippi.

2)    The Philippians were rather concerned about Paul’s condition after knowing that Paul was imprisoned and thought that the imprisonment of Paul had severely hindered the preachment of the gospel (Phil. 1:12-14). Therefore, Paul told them his condition in the prison to eliminate their worries and let them know that his imprisonment had turned out rather to the furtherance of the glad tidings.

3)    Paul expressed his gratitude through this epistle to the church in Philippi for their gift.

4)    Paul found some faults in both spirit and knowledge in the church in Philippi (e.g. the inclination of being not of the same mind; the crisis of heresy and etc.). Therefore, he corrected them by this opportunity.


V. Special Points

The special points of this book are as follows:

1)    The apostle mentions his own testimony many times in this book, and often exhorts and encourages believers by his own experience and his own feeling. He mentions how he gives thanks and prays for the Philippians in the words of gratitude in the beginning. Later, he tells how he testifies the gospel of Christ in prison. When he disproves the heresy of the sect of circumcision, he sets his own experience of his knowledge about Christ as the proof. All of them show that Paul keeps close relationship with believers in Philippi and he speaks to them openly without considering whether they will doubt. Therefore, it is just like the conversation between intimate friends.

2)    This book mentions the model of Christ’s being humbled and being raised in chapter two (v.5-11), which is one of the most renowned teachings in the whole Bible. Paul raises the active example of how to lead the body life humbly with the same mind ---- exhort believers to let this mind be in us which also in Christ Jesus.

3)    “Joy” (or “rejoice”) is often mentioned in this book, which is obviously one of the important messages in this book. There are more than seventeen times mentioning “joy” (“rejoice”, or its synonyms). Therefore, some Bible scholars call this book “an epistle of joy”. There is also some who think “the conclusion of this book is ---- I am joyful! Are you joyful?”

4)    The word “gospel” is mentioned nine times in this book, which fully manifests Paul’s attention to the preachment of the gospel.

5)    None of the verses in the Old Testament are quoted in this epistle.


VI. General Description

Christ is our all in all. This is the focal revelation of this book. He is our life (Phil. Chap.1), model (Phil. Chap.2), goal (Phil. Chap.3) and strength (Phil. Chap. 4).

Through this epistle, Paul points that the victory of his spiritual life is due to his possession of the spiritual secret, namely, Christ. Christ is the root of all his motives inside as well as the source of all his outside manifestations. Therefore, Paul hopes that believers in Philippi shall also pursue the transcend goal like him, that is, Christ.


VII. Key Verses 


“According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. (Phil. 1:20-21)”.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:5)”.

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8)”

“I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:12-13)”


VIII. Key Words


“Joy”, “rejoice”, “gladness” (Phil. 1:4, 18, 25; 2:2, 17, 18, 28, 29; 3:1; 4:1, 4, 10);

“Fellowship” (Phil.1:5; 2:1; 3:10; 4:14, 15);

“The same” (spirit, mind) (Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 4:2);

“Be partakers with”, “fellow…”, “…with”, “fellowship”, “together” (Phil. 1:7; 2:17-18, 25; 3:10, 17; 4:3); all of them share the same etymon ---- (“sun” in the original), which means “fellow” or “co-” or “with…together”;


IX. Outlines of the Book


A.   Introduction (Phil.1:1-2);

B.   Live “for” Christ ---- Christ Will Be Magnified in My Body:

1.    Be concerned about the gospel even in chains (Phil.1:3-18);

2.    Bear the fruit of the labor of the gospel when living in the flesh (Phil.1:19-26);

3.    Conduct oneself worthily of the gospel of Christ (Phil.1:27-30);

C.   Live to “Learn” Christ ---- Let This Mind Be in You Which is Also in Christ Jesus:

1.    The mind of Christ is the humble mind that cares for others (Phil.2:1-11);

2.    Obey the working of God in us and hold fast the word of life (Phil.2:12-18);

3.    The example of the mind of Christ Jesus manifested in Timothy  (Phil.2:19-24);

4.    The example of the mind of Christ Jesus manifested in Epaphroditus (Phil.2:25-30);

D.   Live to “Gain” Christ ---- Count All Things Loss for the Excellence of the Knowledge of Christ Jesus My Lord:

1.    Suffer the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish in order to gain Christ (Phil.3:1-8);

2.    Press toward the goal and not satisfy with what one has obtained (Phil.3:9-16);

3.    Set not mind on earthly things and eagerly wait for the Savior the Lord Jesus Christ who comes from the heaven (Phil.3:17-21);

E.   Live “by” Christ ---- I Can Do All Things Through Christ Who Strengthens Me

1.    Stand fast in the Lord (Phil.4:1);

2.    Be of the same mind and be fellow workers in the Lord (Phil.4:2-3);

3.    Rejoice in the Lord always (Phil.4:4-7);

4.    Mind and walk in the Lord (Phil.4:8-13);

5.    Give and receive in the Lord (Phil.4:14-20);

F.    The Epilogue (Phil.4:21-23);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

    Translated by Mary Zhou