Holman Bible Dictionary
In spite of the negative circumstances from which Paul wrote, Philippians is a warm, personal, positive letter (except for Acts 3:1 ). Paul wrote to thank the church for a gift it had recently sent to Paul in prison and to inform them of his circumstances and of Timothy's and Epaphroditus' travel plans. The underlying theme which holds the letter together is a call for unity in the church.
The date of the letter depends on which imprisonment Paul was enduring. The traditional date and place of writing is A.D. 61/62 from Rome. If Philippians was written from Caesarea, we would assign a date in the late 50s; if from Ephesus, the mid-50s. See below.
Origin of Philippians Where was Paul when he wrote Philippians? The letter itself reveals only that he was in prison. Acts records Pauline imprisonments in Caesarea and in Rome. Some evidence indicates that Paul was also in prison in Ephesus (Acts 19:1; 2 Corinthians 11:23; 1 Corinthians 15:30-32 ).
Philippians is traditionally assigned to Rome. Reference to Caesar's household (Philippians 4:22 ), the praetorium or palace guard (Philippians 1:13 NIV), as well as the ability to receive visitors ( Acts 28:16 ,Acts 28:16,28:30-31 ) like Epaphroditus and the possibility of execution (Philippians 1:20-26 ) seem to mesh well with the imprisonment described in the closing verses of Acts.
An Ephesian origin for Philippians also has much in its favor. Ephesus was the capitol of Asia. A provincial governor's guard occupied a “praetorium,” and the governor's residence was termed “Caesar's household.” An Ephesian imprisonment and origin for Philippians makes sense of Paul's stated intent to visit Philippi upon his release (Philippians 2:24; from Rome Paul intended to go to Spain, Romans 15:23-24 ). In addition, Philippians 2:25-30 implies that several trips, bearing news, had been made between Paul's locale and Philippi. A trip from Rome to Philippi took several weeks; from Ephesus to Philippi required only several days. The large number of trips implied in Philippians is difficult to fit into a two-year Roman imprisonment, but is less problematic even in a much shorter Ephesian imprisonment.
A Caesarean origin for Philippians has had fewer supporters over the years. Its detractors point out Paul's intent to go to Rome (not visit Philippi) upon his release and doubt that Paul ever feared execution in Caesarea, as Philippians implies, since he always had the option of appealing to Caesar.
Content of the Letter Philippians is structured much like a typical personal letter of that day. The introduction identifies the sender(s): Paul and Timothy, and the recipients: the saints, overseers, and deacons.
This typical letter form, however, is filled with Christian content. The usual secular greeting and wish for good health is transformed into a blessing (Philippians 2:2 ), a thanksgiving for the Philippian church's faithful participation in the work of the gospel (Philippians 1:3-8 ), and a prayer that they may be blessed with an ever growing, enlightened, Christian love (Philippians 1:9-11 ). See Letter .
The body of the letter begins with Paul explaining his current situation (Philippians 1:12-26 ). In Philippians 1:12-18 , Paul revealed that his primary concern (the proclamation of the gospel) was being accomplished in spite of his difficult circumstances. His captors were being evangelized (Philippians 1:12-13 ). His compatriots have gained confidence through his bold example (Philippians 1:14 ). Even the brethren who were working with wrong motives were sharing the good news actively. (There is no hint that these were preaching a false gospel; Paul rejoiced in their work, Philippians 1:15-18 ). The severity of Paul's imprisonment is reflected in Philippians 1:19-26 . His death appears to be a real possibility. Death would unite him with Christ. Life would give him the joys of continued productive ministry. He found cause for genuine rejoicing in both. Paul seemed confident, however, that he would eventually be released and reunited with the Philippians.
When Paul returned to Philippi, he hoped to find a church united in Christ. Philippians 1:27-4:9 is a multifaceted call for unity in the church. The great cause of the proclamation of the gospel calls for them to be united in spirit, in task, and in confidence ( Philippians 1:27-30 ). Their common Christian experience (Philippians 2:1 ) and purpose (Philippians 2:2 ) should also rule out a self-centered, self-serving attitude (Philippians 2:3-4 ). Those who follow Christ must follow him in selfless service to others (Philippians 2:5-11 ).
Philippians 2:6-11 is known as the kenosis passage (from the Greek word translated “emptied” in Philippians 2:7 RSV). The language and structure of the passage have convinced most commentators that Paul was quoting a hymn which was already in use in the church. The purpose of the pre-Pauline
hymn was probably to teach the believer about the nature and work of Christ. Prehyexhyishytence, incarnation, passion, resurrection, and exhyhaltation are all summarized in a masterful fashion. In the context of Philippians, however, the kenosis passage is used to highlight the humility and selfless service demonstrated by Jesus, whose example the Christian is to follow. See Kenosis .
Paul was concerned that the Philippians demonstrate the reality of their Christian profession in action. Neither the grumbling so characteristic of Israel in the wilderness nor the perversity of a world that does not know God should characterize the church. Paul had sacrificed himself to engender true faith in the Philippians. His desire, for them and for himself, was that he be able to rejoice that his sacrifice was not in vain (Philippians 2:12-18 ).
Philippians 2:25-30 explained to the church why Epaphroditus was returning to Philippi. The church has sent him to take a gift to Paul (see Philippians 4:10-20 ) and minister to him in his imprisonment. Paul probably feared that some would criticize Epaphroditus for returning earlier than planned.
The tone of the letter changes in Philippians 3:1 . The encouragement to rejoice (Philippians 3:1 ) unexpectedly becomes a stern warning (Philippians 3:2 ). (The change is so marked that some scholars think Philippians 3:1 is a later addition to the letter.) A problem was threatening the church at Philippi which had the potential of destroying the foundation of unity and the basis of joy.
The exact nature of the problem is unclear. Jewish legalism (Philippians 3:2-11 ), Christian or gnostic perfectionism (Philippians 3:12-16 ), and pagan libertinism (Philippians 3:17-21 ) are all attacked. Was one heretical system blending all three together? Can one of the above be used to explain the entirety of Philippians 3:1 ? Were there, in fact, three different threats to the church? Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to answer these questions with confidence. What is clear, however, is that Paul countered the heretical teachings with Christian truths: Jesus Christ is the only avenue to righteousness (Philippians 3:2-11 ); the stature of Christ is the goal of Christian maturity (Philippians 3:12-16 ); and the nature of Christ and His kingdom is the standard by which the Christian must live (Philippians 3:17-21 ).
Philippians 4:1 returns to a more positive instruction and affirmation of the church. Two women, Euodias and Syntyche ( Philippians 4:2-3 ), were exhorted to end their conflict, for personal disagreements may be as damaging to the unity of the church as false doctrine.
General exhortations to rejoice and to remain faithful (Philippians 4:4-9 ) led to Paul's expression of gratitude for the Philippian's faithful support of him and of the ministry (Philippians 4:10-20 ). The letter closes in typical Pauline fashion, with an exchange of greetings and a prayer for grace.
I. Salutation (Philippians 1:1-2 )
II. Introduction (Philippians 1:3-26 )
A. Thanksgiving prayer (Philippians 1:3-11 )
B. Adverse personal circumstances may advance the gospel (Philippians 1:12-26 )
III. Pastoral Admonitions (Philippians 1:27-2:18 )
A. Admonition to consistency (Philippians 1:27 )
B. Admonition to courage (Philippians 1:28-30 )
C. Admonition to unity (Philippians 2:1-11 )
D. Admonition to responsibility and obedience (Philippians 2:12-13 )
E. Admonition to a blameless life of rejoicing (Philippians 2:14-18 )
IV. Pastoral Concerns (Philippians 2:19-30 )
A. Pastoral concern for the church's welfare (Philippians 2:19-24 )
B. Pastoral concern for a distressed minister (Philippians 2:25-30 )
V. Pastoral Warning and Encouragement (Philippians 3:1-4:1 )
A. Warning against legalistic zealots: Glory only in Christ (Philippians 3:1-3 )
B. Warning against confidence in the flesh: Place confidence only in Christ and the resurrection hope (Philippians 3:4-11 )
C. Warning against satisfaction with the past: Press onward to the heavenly prize (Philippians 3:12-16 )
D. Warning against enemies of the cross: Stand firm as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:17-4:1 )
VI. Final Exhortation (Philippians 4:2-9 )
A. To personal reconciliation (Philippians 4:2-3 )
B. To joy and gentleness (Philippians 4:4-5 )
C. To peace of mind (Philippians 4:6-7 )
D. To noble thoughts (Philippians 4:8-9 )
VII. Conclusion (Philippians 4:10-23 )
A. The apostle's contentment in Christ's strength (Philippians 4:10-13 )
B. The apostle's appreciation for the church's stewardship (Philippians 4:14-20 )
C. The apostle's final greetings and benediction (Philippians 4:21-23 )
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Philippians'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/p/philippians.html. 1991.