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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

- Philippians

by Thomas Constable



The name of the city of Philippi was originally Krinides (lit. springs). It stood about 10 miles inland from the Aegean Sea in the Roman province of Macedonia. In 356 B.C. Philip II, King of Macedonia and father of Alexander the Great, renamed the town after himself and enlarged it.

In 42 B.C. the Romans Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus defeated Brutus and Cassius in a battle fought just west of Philippi. After that battle Philippi became a military colony. Subsequent battles in 42 and 31 B.C. resulted in Philippi receiving even higher status. The citizens enjoyed autonomous government, immunity from taxes, and treatment as if they lived in Italy. [Note: F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, eds., The Beginnings of Christianity. Part I: The Acts of the Apostles, 4:187-90.] Some commentators have seen indications of the pride the Philippians took in their city in Act_16:20-21 and Php_1:27; Php_3:20. Luke’s description of Philippi as a "leading city of the district of Macedonia" (Act_16:12) probably refers to its colonial status since it was the only Roman colony in the area. Amphipolis was the capital of the district, and Thessalonica was the capital of the province.

The Via Egnatia, the main highway from Rome to the east, ran through Philippi and brought much commerce and many travelers to Philippi. Also the nearby Gangites (modern Angitis) River was another natural advantage since it constituted another ancient thoroughfare (cf. Act_16:13).

The story of the founding of the church in Philippi appears in Acts 16. Philippi was the first town in which Paul preached after he crossed the Aegean Sea from Troas and entered what we now call Europe. Then, in A.D. 50, the city had few Jewish residents and the first converts were Lydia, a Gentile businesswoman from Thyatira in the province of Asia Minor, and the Philippian jailer. The church evidently met in Lydia’s home at first (Act_16:15). Paul’s companions on his first visit to Philippi included Silas, Timothy, and Luke. Luke may have stayed in Philippi to establish the new converts when the other members of Paul’s missionary team moved on to Thessalonica. Luke dropped the use of "we" from Act_17:1 through Act_20:4. The Philippian Christians sent financial support to Paul in Thessalonica more than once (Php_4:15-16).

Probably Paul visited Philippi again during his third missionary journey in A.D. 57. He traveled from Ephesus to Corinth by land and then from Corinth back to Miletus, mostly by land. From there he took a ship to Jerusalem. The land route he took on both occasions would have led him through Philippi.

No serious question about the Pauline authorship of this epistle arose until the nineteenth century. Paul claimed to have written it (Php_1:1), and the references to his acquaintances, events in his life, and his way of thinking all point to him as the writer.

The apostle was a prisoner when he penned this letter (Php_1:7; Php_1:13; Php_1:16). References to the palace guard (Php_1:13) and Caesar’s household (Php_4:22) have led most interpreters to conclude that Paul wrote from Rome (cf. Php_1:19-24; Php_2:24), though some writers have defended a Caesarean origin for this epistle. [Note: E.g., Gerald F. Hawthorne, Philippians, pp. xxxvi-xliv.] A few have also argued for Ephesus as being the place of origin. [Note: E.g., G. S. Duncan, "A New Setting for Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians," Expository Times 43 (1931-32):7-11. For a good discussion of these options, see Ralph P. Martin, The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, pp. 18-36; or Donald A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp. 503-6.] The Marcionite Prologue (ca. A.D. 170) refers to Paul writing Philippians from Rome. Evidently he did so during his first Roman imprisonment (A.D. 60-62) during which time he also wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon, the other Prison Epistles. Gordon Fee believed the internal evidence of Philippians puts its writing toward the end of this period. [Note: Gordon D. Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, p. 37.]

The primary purpose Paul had in mind in writing this epistle seems to have been pastoral: to reassure and encourage the Philippians. Epaphroditus, whom they had sent with a gift for Paul and to minister to his needs in prison, had recovered from a serious illness and was about to return to Philippi. Paul built up Epaphroditus in the eyes of his readers (Php_2:25-30), which suggests that they may not have appreciated him adequately for some reason. Secondary reasons for sending this letter include explaining Paul’s present circumstances (Php_1:12-26), announcing Timothy’s anticipated visit (Php_2:19), and expressing thanks for the Philippians’ gift to Paul in prison (Php_4:10-14). Robert Lightner suggested that the book "might be called a thank-you note to saints in Philippi for their generous gifts." [Note: Robert P. Lightner, "Philippians," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 647.] Paul also wanted to explain his desire to revisit his readers (Php_2:24) and to deal with the problem of the two women in the church who needed to reconcile (Php_4:2). One commentator identified the genre of this epistle as a letter of friendship and moral exhortation. [Note: Fee, p. 2.]

Of all Paul’s epistles, Philippians is the most consistently positive and personal. It reflects a joyful spirit. One popular exposition of Philippians stresses the importance of living joyfully in spite of circumstances. [Note: See Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again.] Paul did not rebuke this church sharply nor did he refer to any major problems in it. His warnings are of a precautionary nature. His occupation with Jesus Christ also stands out. In 104 verses there are 51 references to the Lord Jesus by name. There are also many references to the gospel (Php_1:5; Php_1:7; Php_1:12; Php_1:27; Php_2:22; Php_4:3; Php_4:15) and the fellowship that Paul and the Philippians shared in the gospel ministry (Php_1:5; Php_1:7; Php_2:1; Php_3:10; Php_4:14; Php_4:16).

". . . what is most noticeable in this letter is the general paucity of Paul’s more specialized theological vocabulary and the infrequency of the explanatory ’for,’ which is always a dead giveaway that Paul is involved in heavy argumentation." [Note: Fee, p. 20.]


I.    Salutation Php_1:1-2

II.    Prologue Php_1:3-26

A.    Thanksgiving Php_1:3-8

B.    Prayer Php_1:9-11

C.    Progress report Php_1:12-26

1.    Paul’s present imprisonment Php_1:12-18

2.    Paul’s anticipated deliverance Php_1:19-26

III.    Partnership in the gospel Php_1:27 to Php_4:9

A.    A worthy walk Php_1:27-30

B.    Unity and steadfastness Php_2:1 to Php_4:1

1.    Walking in unity ch. 2

2.    Walking in steadfastness Php_3:1 to Php_4:1

C.    Specific duties Php_4:2-9

1.    Restoring unity Php_4:2-3

2.    Maintaining tranquillity Php_4:4-9

IV.    Epilogue Php_4:10-20

A.    The recent gift Php_4:10-14

B.    The previous gifts Php_4:15-20

V.    Greetings and benediction Php_4:21-23


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