(last updated 11/17/16)
Philippi was the first European city Paul visited (with Timothy and Luke), following a vision about a man from Macedonia asking him to come there, after God closed the doors to go where he had planned to go (Acts 16). This was on his second missionary journey. There he found, not a man, but Lydia and some other women. This is where Paul cast the evil spirit out of the slave girl, which resulted in Paul and Silas being thrown in jail, where, following a great earthquake, the jailer and his family became believers. Five years later he visited them again on his third journey and again on the return leg of his trip.
Ten years after planting this church, this letter was written from prison--possibly in Ephesus, but probably in Rome on house arrest, in 61 or 62 A.D. It contains little doctrinal or behavioral correction. Paul writes very personally, expressing thanksgiving for them and encouraging them in their Christian walk. A key word seems to be joy/rejoice, mentioned 16 times in this short book.
1-2 This letter is from whom? So Timothy is there in Rome with him. To whom? Along with the saints/believers, he specifically mentions the leaders of the local church. We see Paul's usual greeting of grace and peace, always in that order, as we have seen. Here we do not see something though--something he has always begun with--his identity as a what? Although Paul will bring up the false teachers several times, this church will not be chastised about listening to those who dispute Paul's claim to be a what? It is also possible that the reason he doesn't mention his apostleship and instead references the local leaders is that the time is passing away for the focus to be on the apostles and the foundation they laid; now it is to be on the local leadership. We will see further evidence of this later in the book. Who has he already mentioned three times? Jesus Christ is to be central in the church and all its teachings and activities.
3-5 As usual, Paul also begins with his "virtual" prayer, just as we always begin our teaching and fellowship with prayer. How does he pray, and what do we learn about prayer here? 4, Paul's first mention of joy, a theme in this book. What is his joy about? 5, participation/NASB = fellowship/KJV. This church had contributed financially to his ministry several times.
6 He interjects a little teaching moment into the description of his praying. What three major doctrines does Paul teach here? Eternal security, sanctification (the lifelong process of growing and maturing in Christ), and the rapture (the day of Jesus Christ). Are we responsible for keeping ourselves saved by continually being good enough? Paul always teaches eternal security--salvation by faith alone, not by the works of the Law. Eternal security seems to be specifically for the church; we do not find it explicitly taught in the Old Testament, or even guaranteed after the church age ends (for the tribulation saints). (Salvation was always by faith, but law-keeping was required as evidence of faith.)
7-8 He speaks of his strong feelings for them. Can you imagine how you would feel about a group of people you had brought to the Lord and taught the basics to, then had to leave them, and how they would feel toward you? They are partners/partakers in his endeavors; they have shared their material goods with him. Don't we too have a natural bond with all believers because of what we share?
9-11 He is not satisfied with just knowing they are saved; he prays for their spiritual growth. 9, so once we come to the Lord, we don't need to do anything else? No "sloppy agape." Where does that knowledge come from? Judgment/KJV = discernment/NASB. Christians should not be naive and gullible. 10, approve/prove/test/try, for what purpose? Looking for the rapture should have what effect on our lives? Without offence/KJV = blameless/NASB = not led into sin. 11, whose righteousness are we filled with? Is all this about US--for OUR benefit and glory? Is 9-11 something we can pray for others?
12-14 Was God's will being done in Paul's life? Is God's will all about our comfort and happiness? What Old Testament character, who also suffered imprisonment and other indignities, does this remind us of? Gen. 50:20. What came about because of Paul's imprisonment (and his godly attitude in his trials)? Might our unpleasant circumstances be accomplishing something, in ourselves or others, that we cannot see? Like what? This passage is why commentators believe he was imprisoned in Rome at this time.
15-17 How does this fit with how we see God working in 12-14? God can use the most unlikely circumstances and events. Do some preachers have wrong motives? So do our efforts for God need to be perfect? Many epistles, especially the last few, speak much about false teachers--how they will deceive many in the church because it is hard to tell if they are true believers or simply deceivers. But here Paul talks about believers with sinful motives; do true believers sometimes operate from the old nature? Even preachers? Are all preachers and pastors completely mature spiritually, and have complete victory over the fleshly nature?
18-19 Can you hear the truth (and get saved) from a preacher who is sinful, or not even truly saved? Is the power in the preacher or in God's Word? Do all preachers have good motives? What is the most important thing in life to Paul--his personal comfort or God's desire that all would be saved? What gives him such joy that he says it twice? 19, his deliverance (NASB)/salvation (KJV)): is Paul talking about his physical or spiritual life?
20-21 How might God be exalted (NASB)/magnified (KJV) by Paul's life or death (or ours)? 21, is this realistic only for those in full-time service, or does this apply to us also? If people die and go to purgatory for purification of sins, or if they enter "soul sleep," could this statement be true? It is only true if we go straight to heaven.
22-23 Does Paul know which is in his future? Is he OK with either possibility? Which life is better--life on earth, or life eternal with Christ? Knowing this gives us the right perspective on this short life, with all its troubles.
Many people think the Bible teaches that heaven is our eternal abode, and speculate about what that will be like. It appears that heaven is more a temporary abode, since the saved dead in heaven will return to earth with Christ at the beginning of the millenial kingdom, which is spoken of as eternal, following the creation of the new heavens and new earth. The church's abode is the New Jerusalem, which descends out of heaven and apparently hovers near the earth. Heaven is referred to as the abode of God, and where His throne is, but not as the eternal dwelling place of believers. Here Paul speaks not of being in heaven, but of being what? After death, we will be with Christ--for a while in heaven, then on earth. But the focus is being with Christ, not being in heaven.
24-26 Although it is much better to go be with Christ, why is Paul willing to stay here? What should characterize their faith? Do we experience joy in our Christian life? Always? Why or why not?
27-28 Worthy of (NASB)/becometh (KJV) the gospel: what is this talking about? 27, what does Paul want to see in their church? What happens if the truth of the gospel is NOT everyone's priority in the church? Do we, or our church, have opponents? Who is the opponent of all believers? How should we feel about our opponents?
29-30 What was going on with the Christians in Philippi, and many other Christians throughout history? If you are suffering for Christ, is that a sign God is chastising you? What is the difference between suffering, and suffering for Christ's sake? What conflict is he talking about in 30? Are Christians to expect blessing, prosperity, health, success, as many teach?
1-2 What would give Paul great joy? How can Christians (the church) have this? What is it based on?
3-4 What attitude is he talking about here, that should characterize a Christian? Compare Isa. 66:2b. Compare also Eph. 5:21-6:9. Can we be submissive to others if we are not humble and selfless? What does the world say about self-esteem? So how could we have the perfect church? Isn't this attitude the difference between the believer's and the unbeliever's approach to life? Have you ever found that when you do not humble yourself, God will?
5-8 Why should we have that attitude? 6-8 contains a great doctrinal statement about the person of Christ (along with many other passages, like John 1:1, Col. 1:17, 2:9, etc.). One of the reasons there are many churches and denominations is that there are many views on who Christ really was, before and after He came to earth--questions such as: Was He God before? After? Was He a man? Was He partly each? Or fully both? Did He empty Himself of deity or not? Fully or partly? Rom. 8:3, was His body "sinful flesh"? Only in the "likeness." He was always God--fully God and fully man.
9-11 give more facts about His past and future (from our perspective of time). 10, what is the meaning of His name? Lord: sovereign over all--He is God. Jesus: His human name, God in human flesh, fully God and fully man. Christ: the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one, prophesied in the Old Testament starting in Gen. 3:15, prophesied in Isa. 53 to be the substitute in our place to pay the price for our sin, which means we believe we are sinners in need of a Savior. So to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is actually quite a theological statement in a nutshell. Are 10-11 happening yet? When will they? What three groups are mentioned in 10? Is this saying that those in hell will eventually accept Christ, as some teach? Is it possible to acknowledge Him without worshiping Him? They will confess He is Lord; do they confess Him as Savior? What is the difference? 11, what is the ultimate purpose of this?
12-13 Do these two verses contradict each other? Does 12 mean we need to figure out for ourselves how to get to heaven? There are three phases of salvation: past, present and future; which does 12 refer to? 13, who works? Are we to do nothing? If we do anything, is that "works" in the negative sense? What kind of work is this? What is the wrong kind of works? In Exo. 23:30-31, who does it? Compare Jer. 51:12. Works do not result in salvation or keep us saved. God works salvation into us; we work it out. Is that working "for" our salvation? God gives us the desire and the ability to do the things He desires for us. God does it all, and we do it all!
14-16 Earlier Paul said Christians are to have humility. What else should characterize us? Why--I Pet. 2:12. Murmuring, grumbling, complaining. Compare Num. 14, how does God feel about complaining? Do you like being around a complainer? Do you complain to others or to God? If we complain to God, what are we saying about His will? If His will doesn't "feel" good at the moment, does that mean we should ask Him to change our circumstances? What might He want to change instead? 16, do all Christians hold fast (or hold forth) the Word? What happens if we don't? The day of Christ would be the rapture; what happens after the rapture? The judgment seat of Christ, II Cor. 5:10. How does Paul describe his ministry?
17-18 Now how does he describe his ministry? Helping other Christians grow results in what for both parties? Both are an encouragement to each other.
19-24 Who stands out among the rest of Paul's helpers? Why does he want to send him? Paul himself hopes to be free soon and come to them. Does 20 surprise you? Do 20-21 imply that today the same probably holds true? What does 21 say about Self? Are all pastors and Christian leaders outstanding Christians? Where earlier in this chapter did he mention the issue in 21? What is the danger in letting unproven Christians into positions of leadership? What might "proven" or "unproven" mean?
25-30 Who had come to see Paul and bring their contributions? He was their pastor, and apparently he is delivering this letter from Paul, but he was delayed, by what? What does 27 tell us about the gift of healing? Hadn't Paul healed others? This tells us one of two things: 1) the supernatural spiritual gifts described in I Cor. 12 and 14 were temporary in nature, given to found and establish the church, and by now had passed away; or 2) the gift of healing was a sign gift only, exercised on certain occasions for the purpose of attesting the authority of the apostles and their message, and was not for the purpose of assuring the health of all Christians. Very likely both of those possibilities are true. 30, their service to him was not sub-par; rather, they lacked the opportunity to give their contributions to him personally, so their pastor took this upon himself.
1 Paul has given many reason for rejoicing; what are they to rejoice in here? In the last chapter he talked about not being wrapped up in personal interests--in Self. He will go on here to contrast a focus on Self--the flesh. What would it mean to rejoice "in the Lord"? How might this safeguard them?
2-3 "Dogs" was a term Jews used to talk about Gentiles; this is probably not Paul's meaning; it is also a term to refer to sodomites (homosexuals, perverts). He describes the Judaizers; what does he mean by false or true circumcision? Rom. 2:29. Circumcising the flesh has no value now; neither are we to trust or focus on Self.
4-7 As we saw Paul tell the Corinthians in II Cor. 11, he had as good a reason as anyone to have confidence in his fleshly position in life. If anyone could be saved by works, by keeping the Law, it would be him. As a Jew, he had a sterling resume. 7, how does he choose to look at those things? We don't share his Jewish heritage, but we might have other things we could put on our list. There is nothing wrong with having good qualities or abilities; what is Paul saying about how we should think about those things? Loss: damaged, detrimental.
8 What value does Paul place on his favorable birth, his education and knowledge, his advantages in life, his self-effort, his accomplishments? In his life of ministry, what has happened to things he used to have, or used to value? So he's talking about having the right perspective on our lives. What terminology makes it clear that being a Christian involves a personal relationship with Christ, not just knowledge about Him?
9 We are "in Him," a phrase we saw often in Ephesians. What does he say about righteousness in 9? "Through faith in/of Christ" may be talking about how we receive Christ's righteousness by exercising faith (rather than performing the works of the Law); or it may be talking about righteousness as being one aspect of "the" faith--that which we believe about Christ. It may include both.
10 Because of the resurrection, we have what? That power is through the indwelling Holy Spirit--something Old Testament believers did not have. As a believer, doesn't Paul already know Christ? So he wants to know Him in another way, a deeper way, to know Him more; does that relationship grow and deepen? How does that happen? Might that NOT happen? He is even willing to personally know Christ's suffering and death. 11, "in order that" (NASB) or "if by any means" (KJV): Paul is not doubting the possibility of his resurrection from the dead. Perhaps he is speculating on the possibility of his death, perhaps even looking forward to that event, or perhaps he is referring to the rapture and hoping for that outcome. Some commentators think the term for "resurrection" in 11 specifically implies the rapture. Attain = arrive at. It's hard to grasp exactly what he is saying in these two verses; it's almost like he is struggling for words to try to explain deep concepts that are almost beyond explaining--being conformed to Christ in every aspect and all that implies.
12 What is he talking about obtaining, what is he wanting to lay hold of...for what he was laid hold of by Christ? Being perfected, conformed to Christ? Is that why Christ took hold of us--in order to conform us to His image? Rom. 8:29, 12:1-2. Is Paul there yet? He doesn't want this church to think he considered himself to be there yet; should our failures keep us from pressing on? Press on, press toward, follow after, pursue. So is just making it to heaven our main goal in being a Christian? Do we just get saved, then tread water till we get to heaven? If not, what should be our real goal in this life? Knowing Christ. This is to be our most important thing in life--not just one compartment of our life along with our other goals or interests.
13 Again he emphasizes to them that he does not consider himself to be "there" yet; does anyone ever get "there" in this life? But don't we sometimes look at others who seem to be so much farther along than us, and get discouraged that we aren't there and that it seems like we are not getting anywhere, kind of floundering and wallowing in our failures and setbacks? So what does he say to do about that, 13? People talk about trying to "forgive themselves" for things in their past--this concept is not in the Bible. Getting over past guilt is not what we are told to do; why is guilt there? But instead of letting that guilt drag us back into the past, what does the Bible say to do instead? If we have repented and confessed, has God forgiven that sin? If we still feel guilty, does that mean He hasn't forgiven us yet? So do we keep confessing it until we no longer feel bad? Here is God's "psychology": confess, repent, put it behind you, go on, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don't get trapped by your feelings/emotions. The Bible says our enemy sets snares to keep us from believing and obeying God; can our feelings sometimes be snares?
14 Again Paul stresses that we need to take what action? Toward what? Goal (NASB) = mark (KJV). The Greek is "skopos"--to peer about, to watch for, as a sentry or scout--from which we get our word "scope"--we "scope out" something. Might the goal we are looking for be Christlikeness? being conformed to His image? We already have salvation, so it can't be that. And the Bible teaches us that there is indeed a prize--a crown, I Cor. 9:24, Col. 3:1, II Tim. 4:8. Or might the high calling/upward call (Greek: invitation) be the rapture? High/upward implies "up," as when we are caught up, Rev. 4:1.
15-16 Those Christians who are mature in the faith should have the attitude he just talked about in the last few verses--being willing to set aside all that we value for what purpose? To know Christ, to press on toward Christlikeness. But will all have this attitude? What will happen to those Christians? We can't play Holy Spirit in other people's lives; we can pray and be an influence, but only God can reveal to them what they really need. If we don't completely get it, but we desire to get it, will God honor that desire? 16, are we sometimes tempted to slack off, to quit working at it? The KJV makes it sound like perhaps he is encouraging the church to all continue on in the same manner of walking and the same mindset, not going off in a bunch of different directions or getting off the track on rabbit-trails.
17 The early church did not have the written New Testament, just the Old Testament Scriptures and the letters that circulated among the churches. They had not been around Jesus in His earthly days. Paul and others were showing them what the Christian life should look like, just as they themselves were following after Christlikeness. Are young people and less mature Christians observing our lives? Are we following the pattern Paul has laid out--are we good role models?
18-19 Now he contrasts the walk of what type of people? Are these true believers, or were they ever? Compare I John 2:19. Do we see this same thing today, in Christians in the public eye who go off into self-promotion, political power, greed, and watered-down and questionable teachings? Does "appetite" ("belly," KJV) just refer to food? Or might it refer to Self and all its desires?
20-21 He contrasts those whose "end is destruction" to those who are citizens of what? Who is coming again from there? "Look" implies eager expectation; yes, we look forward to the second coming, but that event must be preceded by great tribulation. Paul does not warn them to prepare for the tribulation, but for what event? The rapture comes next. The church--the body of Christ--will be transformed at the rapture, whether we are alive and remain, or whether we have already died, I Thes. 4:13-18. At that time, our humble earthly bodies will become like His glorified body.
1 How does Paul feel about this church? When are crowns given? Why might he consider this church to be his crown?
2-3 Yet Paul has heard that there is a problem in this church--two women (possibly leaders) who are not getting along. What do we learn about them, and this church? True companion/NASB = yokefellow/KJV: perhaps a leader (one of the overseers or deacons, 1:1), perhaps a loving nickname for a close friend, or perhaps this is the translation of the person's name. What terminology does Paul use for "believer"? We read of this book only here and in a handful of verses in Revelation; it contains the names of believers.
As we come to these next few verses, we find a crash-course in God's "psychology." Actually God's prescription for life is found throughout the Bible, and is summarized in II Pet. 1:3, II Tim. 3:16-17. Many Christians believe the Bible is not enough, that psychotherapy and prescription drugs are also needed to be well adjusted. Before you go down that road, be sure you have first spent plenty of time in these verses, meditating on, praying about and applying God's psychology. Compare the principles of God's Word with those of psychotherapy.
Psychology begins with the premise that man is good, not sinful, and that all the answers are already within you, that lack of self-esteem (not sin) or a faulty childhood is the source of most of our problems; even many Christian counselors teach this. Many claim the Bible "doesn't work," when what they really mean is that they didn't read it, study it, understand it, apply it, obey it. Twelve-step programs are not Christian as many claim, but based on a belief in an inclusive "higher power" in which Jesus or the God of the Bible are merely a choice in a menu of other "powers."
Let's review what we've already seen in chapter 3. 1, rejoice. 3, regarding Self--have no confidence in the flesh (the old nature, the old worldly-minded Self). 7-8, get your priorities straight. 9, our right living is supplied by God through faith, we are not responsible for producing it by self-effort. 10, the centrality of KNOWING GOD. 12-14, focus on the future, not the past; the future is in God's hands. 15, confidence that God will reveal to us what we need to know in order to change. 16-19, the importance of right living. 20, knowledge of our future hope. 21, God's overwhelming power.
Chapter 2 on God's psychology: Especially 1-15, humility, unselfishness, don't focus on Self ("self esteem" can just be pride by another name). Psychology puts the microscope on Self, making the pursuit of Self the focus of your life. Chapter 1: Seemingly negative circumstances are actually God's tool to bring about His purposes. Isn't this one of the Christian's big problems--how to cope with difficulties, questioning why God let "this" happen?
4 Joy and rejoicing are one of the themes of this book. How is it possible to rejoice all the time? What are we to rejoice in--our circumstances, or the Lord? This must be important; he says it twice. Why is this so important? Don't people tend to focus on circumstances, and draw conclusions based on what they SEE rather than by what He SAYS? He goes on in the next few verses to explain how we can rejoice in the Lord.
5 People are observing us--our message and our lives; we are to be known, not for depression or anger over what God has allowed in our lives, but for what? Moderation/KJV, gentle spirit/NASB, patience, mild/appropriate. Do you think Paul is reminding them to be looking for the rapture, or that, because of the indwelling Holy Spirit, the Lord is never far from us? The Bible teaches that the rapture can happen at any time; no prophecies must be fulfilled, no events must take place, before it can happen. The tribulation will not begin before the rapture; the antichrist/beast will not be revealed before the rapture. This is called the doctrine of "imminence"--the rapture is an imminent event. That doesn't mean it must happen immediately, just that it is likely to occur at any moment, ready to take place. What bearing does the Lord coming soon have on our anxiety?
6 Careful/KJV = anxious/NASB. Anxiety--worry--is a huge problem for most people; many resort to drink, drugs (prescription or otherwise), or psychotherapy. If you are worrying, can you rejoice in the Lord? What is God's simple, cheap, effective remedy for anxiety? What do you suppose might be the difference between prayer and supplication? Why "with thanksgiving"? What might be the difference if you pray with thankfulness or without? So, worry about nothing, pray about everything. If we pray about everything, what is left to worry about? Even when we pray about our worries, do we sometimes continue to worry about them? Why? How can we combat this problem? So which is more effective when dealing with anxiety: prayer and trusting God, or deep breathing/positive thinking/burning incense/self-effort?
7 What is the opposite of worry? So doing what takes care of our anxiety? Perhaps Paul is saying God's peace can't be humanly understood; perhaps he is saying it is superior to human intellect (which we think is the highest thing). Hearts = feelings/emotions. Minds = thoughts. Are these things the source of anxiety, or are circumstances? Our hearts and minds need guarded; God's peace is like a sentry standing guard over us. God's peace comes through whom? Many people who do not know Jesus think they have a relationship with God; they are self-deceived.
8 Can God guard our minds if we don't put any effort into self-control? What is the action here we need to take? Dwell on what kinds of things? Instead of dwelling on what? Is it possible to control our thoughts? The Bible says "yes"! Would God tell us to do this if it was not possible? What is first on the list? What if you have trouble thinking of anything that fits this description? Who and what does this describe? Jesus, God's Word.
9 What is the last part of Paul's prescription--what action do we need to take? Don't we learn and know many things that we just don't put into practice? Why? What will definitely result if we do what Paul says? Apply yourself to serious Bible study, or find a biblical counselor, before you decide the Bible is not enough. (For more information on the Bible and psychology: psychoheresy-aware.org)
10-14 Paul now does what, 10 (again)? Why--what are they doing? 11, is Paul in need? He explains in 12; what does this say about the health/wealth gospel, the belief that God always desires all of us to always have abundance, and that any lack is due to sin or lack of faith? Why does God allow us to sometimes be in need? What is the secret he has learned, 13? Does Paul see himself as strong? Don't we often wish to be stronger and worry that we are not strong enough? Here's the answer for "weak" people. Why would God allow us to feel weak, or to be in a position of weakness? How might this passage be important for someone considering psychotherapy?
13 is often taken out of context and applied to just about anything you would like to do; what is the context? Some "positive thinking" book suggests daily looking in the mirror and repeating this verse "X" number of times, brainwashing yourself that you can do whatever it is you wish to do; does this apply to everything that anyone wants to do? What if you are not a Christian? What if you are not following the Bible, dealing with sin, or examining your Christian life? What things DOES it apply to?
15-18 What do we learn about this church? What is Paul saying in 17? Profit/NASB = fruit/KJKV. Paul is reminding them that there will be rewards for believers; generosity in caring for the needs of fellow believers, or those in ministry, will be rewarded. Epaphroditus is their pastor, who delivered the gift; how does Paul describe their gift in 18? Giving to others is likened to a sacrifice to God; the Old Testament speaks of the odor of the burning sacrifice being a pleasing odor to God, not because He likes that smell, but because of what it represents.
19 Here is another verse often quoted out of context, but it is connected to the verses before it. In context, why is Paul sure that God will do this for these particular people? The Philippians were pleasing God by their giving, and trusting God to provide their needs. They will reap what they have sown, as the Bible often teaches; can we expect to reap blessings from God if we have not sown obedience? Compare Mat. 6:33.
20-23 How does Paul sum things up in 20? 21, saints = believers. The glory is not for Paul or for the Philippians. Some of these people may know each other, or we may just see that fellowship that all believers have with one another whether they've ever met before or not. Why does he especially mention those of Caesar's household? We see the influence and opportunity Paul has had in his imprisonment, as mentioned in 1:12-13. His closing remark brings the focus firmly to Jesus Christ, the source of grace: salvation, God's favor or gift.
Why do you suppose Paul emphasizes rejoicing so much in this letter? How does this speak to us?
Copyright 2013 Jan Young
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