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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

- Philippians

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic


Galatians, Ephesians
Philippians, Colossians


I.-II. Thessalonians

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Kings, Psalms (CXXI.–CXXX.), Lamentations, Ezekiel, Timothy, Titus, and Philemon

New York




Church Seasons: Advent, Ephesians 5:13-14; 1 Thessalonians 3:13 b; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:5. Christmas, Galatians 4:4. Lent, Colossians 2:21-23; Colossians 3:5-9. Good Friday, Galatians 1:4; Galatians 6:14-15; Philippians 2:8; Colossians 2:15. St. Mark’s Day, Ephesians 4:7. Ascension Day, Ephesians 4:9-10; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 3:1-2. Whit Sunday, Galatians 5:22-26, Galatians 5:25; Ephesians 1:13; Ephesians 4:30; 2 Thessalonians 2:13. Trinity Sunday, Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 4:4-6.

Holy Communion: Ephesians 2:19; Ephesians 3:15; Colossians 3:17.

Missions to Heathen: Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 2:11-12; Ephesians 3:1-6. Bible Society, Ephesians 6:17.

Evangelistic Services: Ephesians 1:7-8; Ephesians 2:1-9; Colossians 1:13-14; Colossians 2:13-14.

Special: Ordination, Galatians 1:10; Galatians 1:15-19; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 3:7-9; Ephesians 4:11-12; Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 1:25-27; Colossians 1:28-29; Colossians 4:12-13; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-12. Workers, Galatians 1:6; Ephesians 4:11-12; Philippians 4:2-3; 2 Thessalonians 3:13. Baptism, Galatians 3:26-29; Colossians 2:12. Confirmation, Ephesians 2:20-22. Harvest, Galatians 6:7-9. Temperance, Ephesians 5:18. Friendly Society, Galatians 6:2. Death, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. Parents, Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:23-25. Young, Ephesians 6:1-4; Philippians 1:10 b. Worship, Ephesians 5:19-21; Almsgiving, Galatians 2:10; Galatians 6:2; Galatians 6:10; Philippians 4:15-16.


Philippi and the Philippians.—It was a moment fraught with very far-reaching issues when at Alexandria Troas St. Paul seemed to see, in a night-vision, a man standing on the beach over the head of the Ægean Sea eagerly calling for help, as a herald might summon a general to the relief of a hard-pressed garrison.

There may be cold psychological explanations of the vision which leave little scope for any divine call to evangelise them of Macedonia; but the event proved the indication of the will of God in the visionary call. In the prompt and undoubting obedience of St. Paul and his co-workers our own continent first received the glad tidings of great joy. Gliding out of the harbour of Troas, their little vessel ran before the wind as far as the island of Samothracia, and next day, rounding the island of Thasos, dropped anchor at Neapolis, the port of Philippi. But Philippi itself is still three leagues distant, on the other side of a mountain range, over which the great highway between the two continents passes. Following this great road—the Via Egnatia—the colony founded by Cæsar Augustus, and named Colonia Augusta Julia Philippensis, was the first city reached. The place had been recognised by Philip of Macedon as a gateway to be watched and strongly guarded, and when St. Paul visited it he found it bearing all the marks of a strong military centre—a sort of ganglion in the great system of which Rome was the brain. To remember this is to receive light on certain expressions in the epistle; for even though “not many mighty are called,” they may serve to illustrate a service whose weapons are “not carnal but spiritual.”

If we follow the R.V. in Acts 16:13—we suppose there was a place of prayer—the inference is that the Jews were not numerous in Philippi, and that it was only by a knowledge of the ancestral custom which led them to place their oratory by the water-side that St. Paul discovered the obscure company. Even when discovered there is no evidence of that virulent Judaism which so greatly embittered the apostle’s life and frustrated his missionary endeavours; and it may be that its absence explains the cordial relations between the Philippians and St. Paul.

Bishop Lightfoot notes the heterogeneous character of the first converts at Philippi. As to race, an Asiatic, a Greek, and a Roman. As to everyday life, the first is engaged in an important and lucrative branch of traffic; the second is employed to trade on the credulity of the ignorant; the third is an under-official of the government. As to religious training, one represents the speculative mystic temper of Oriental devotion; the second a low form of an artistic and imaginative religion; whilst the third represents a type of worship essentially political in tone.
It is noteworthy and prophetic that women should be so closely connected with the introduction of the gospel to Europe; and this may account for the fact that in Philippi whole families were gathered into the fold of the Church.
Thus humbly began the work of the evangelisation of a new continent, amidst brutal bodily assaults and indignities heaped upon its heralds. Here commenced, some ten years before the date of our epistle, a friendship, unbroken through those years, with Timothy, a youth of exemplary ability and piety.

Place and time of writing the epistle.—Though Cæsarea has found favour with some scholars as the place from which the epistle originated, by far the greater number accept Rome. Indeed, we may almost say we are shut up to this by ancient and modern opinions. Even though we may admit that the subscription of the epistle in the A.V., as in general, is not worthy of any special consideration as being authoritative, yet it agrees in this case with the preponderant opinion.

It is the most natural interpretation of the expression in Philippians 4:22, “they of Cæsar’s household,” which is decisive of Rome. The phrase in Philippians 1:13, “throughout the whole prætorian guard” (R.V.), is not absolutely conclusive for Rome, for the word “prætorium” is used of Herod’s palace at Cæsarea, and “is the standing appellation for the palaces of the chief governors of provinces” (Meyer). Still, as Lightfoot argues, to apply it to Cæsarea in this case does not suit the context.

As to the time of writing, there is nothing like the same consent of opinion. But the difference of opinion is limited to the confinement of the apostle at Rome (on which see Acts 28:30). The discussion is as to whether it was early or late in that two years’ captivity that the letter was written.

For the later date the arguments are:

1. That it must have taken some considerable time before St. Paul’s religion could be so widely known as this letter indicates it was.
2. That Luke and Aristarchus are not mentioned here, as in Colossians and Philemon, the inference being that they had left the apostle.
3. That the communications between Rome and Philippi would necessitate a considerable interval after St. Paul’s arrival in Rome.
4. That the tone of the apostle agrees better with a prolonged captivity.

Amongst English scholars, Ellicott, Alford, and others favour the later date On the other side are Lightfoot and Beet.

Occasion and contents of the epistle.—Godet remarks that, as Philemon shows us the apostle’s way of requesting a favour, Philippians is a specimen of how he returned thanks. The Church which was the “crown and joy” of the apostle had sent into his captivity a token of their loving remembrance by the hand of Epaphroditus. The messenger had been overtaken by alarming illness, and after hearing that his friends in Philippi were anxious about him, he was despatched homewards bearing the apostle’s expressions of gratitude—not so much for the money gift as the genuine attachment which prompted it.

No epistle is so truly a letter, of all we have from St. Paul’s pen, as this to the Philippians. The arrangement is less formal; we miss the chains of reasoning and quotation from the Old Testament. As Meyer says: “Not one [of his epistles] is so eminently an epistle of the feelings, an outburst of the moment, springing from the deepest inward need of loving fellowship amidst outward abandonment and tribulation; a model, withal, of the union of tender love and at times an almost elegiac impress of courageous resignation in the prospect of death, with high apostolic dignity and unbroken holy joy, hope, and victory over the world.”
A brief synopsis of the letter may be shown thus:—

Philippians 1:1-11.

Greeting of, thanksgiving, and prayer for the Philippians.

Philippians 1:12-26.

Personal affairs of the apostle (so Philippians 2:19-30).



Exhortation to humility after the supreme Example.

Philippians 3:1-21.

Warning against the vain work-righteousness of Judaism.

Philippians 4:1-9.

Exhortations to unity, to Christian joy, and Christian graces.

Philippians 4:10-19.

Renewed thanksgiving for the generosity shown.

Philippians 4:20-23.

Doxology and salutations.

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