Introduction to Philippians

By James M. Rochford

Authorship. 1

Historical Background of Philippi 2

Where was Paul imprisoned?. 3

Date. 5

Canonicity. 5

Commentary on Philippians. 5

Philippians 1 (Prayer and rejoicing). 5

Philippians 2:1-11 (The gospel and unity). 12

Philippians 3 (Paul versus the Legalistic Judaizers). 18

Philippians 4 (Results of Rejoicing). 24


The apostle Paul claims authorship of the letter to the Philippians (Phil. 1:1), and the letter as a whole “is almost universally recognized to come from Paul.”[1] Even among critical scholars, Paul’s authorship is “virtually unquestioned.”[2] Paul came to Philippi on his second missionary journey (Acts 16:12-40), and later, he wrote this letter to the Philippians under house arrest in Rome. While imprisoned, Paul seriously considered the fact that he could die (Phil. 1:21-25; 2:17). However, he was confident that God would bring him through alive (Phil. 1:25).

Historical Background of Philippi

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia. Philippi rested on a major east-west highway (called the Via Egnatia), which crossed northern Greece. Luke records that Philippi was “a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony” (Acts 16:12).[3] In 42 BC, Octavian and Mark Antony defeated Brutus and Cassius (Julius Caesar’s assassins) in Philippi. Fee notes, “Octavian honored Philippi by ‘refounding’ it as a Roman military colony, thus endowing its populace with Roman citizenship… Octavian populated the town and its surrounding agricultural area with discharged veterans from the war.”[4]

Historically, Philippi was a major city of Macedonia, and it was an accessible place where people would rest to hear about news in the Roman Empire. This became a fertile place for the spread of Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness.

Paul started this church on his second missionary journey. Paul was able to lead Lydia to Christ—a business woman who sold expensive, purple fabrics (Acts 16:14). She offered her home to Paul, Luke, and Silas (Acts 16:15). This was also the city where Paul cast out the demon from the young slave-girl, who was blowing his missionary cover (Acts 16:16-18). As a consequence, the people launched false accusations against Paul and Silas (Acts 16:20-21). The two men were beaten (Acts 16:22) and thrown in prison (Acts 16:23). God caused a miracle to have them released (Acts 16:26), and used this as an opportunity to lead their prison guard’s entire family to Christ (Acts 16:30-31). Later Paul used his Roman citizenry as leverage for their release (Acts 16:37).

Paul later revisited this church on his third missionary journey. He came back to visit them for a week in ~AD 56 (Acts 20:6).[5]

Philippi was a very generous church. The Philippian church regularly supported Paul’s ministry (Phil. 4:15-20; 2 Cor. 8:1-5; 11:7-9), and he wrote them to thank them for their most recent gift (Phil. 4:10, 14) delivered by Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25).

The Philippian Christians were enduring opposition from false teachers. Paul tells them to be “in no way alarmed by your opponents” (Phil. 1:28). Primarily, these must have been Jewish false teachers (Phil. 3:2-3), and (or) licentious opponents of Christianity (Phil. 3:18-19). While Paul sits in prison, he says that they are suffering with him (Phil. 1:7). Fee writes,

By the time of our letter, the primary titles for the emperor were Kyrios and Sōtēr (“Lord and Savior”). Not only so, but the cult of the emperor, honoring the emperor in a way approaching deification, had found its most fertile soil in the eastern provinces. In a city like Philippi this would have meant that every public event (the assembly, public performances in the theater, etc.) and much else within its boundaries took place in the context of giving honor to the emperor, with the acknowledgment that (in this case) Nero was “lord and savior.”[6]

This may be precisely why Paul emphasizes the lordship of Jesus, and why he writes that their “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). It also sheds light on Paul’s comment that he is reaching the Praetorian Guard for Christ (Phil. 1:13; 4:22). It must have been encouraging to read these words while they were enduring persecution—at least their suffering wasn’t as bad as Paul’s suffering. If Paul could rejoice in prison, couldn’t they rejoice in the face of their contemporary opposition? Paul is hoping that they will continue to stand for Christ even in his absence (Phil. 2:12).

The Philippian church was suffering from selfishness. Obviously, every church struggles with selfishness! Yet Paul goes out of his way to describe certain people who were using ministry for a selfish agenda (Phil. 1:17). He urges them to seek humility (Phil. 2:1-5), as they had seen in Christ (Phil. 2:6-9) and Timothy (Phil. 2:20-32). This could also be at the root of the conflict between Euodia and Syntche.

Where was Paul imprisoned?

Scholars divide over this subject:

(1) Ephesus?

Ephesus was a very short distance from Philippi. Thus Timothy and Epaphroditus would not have needed to travel very far to bring money (Phil. 4:18). Moreover, Paul had been in Ephesus for three years—plenty of time to write letters like his prison epistles.

However, Ephesus was a “senatorial province” with “no (imperial) praetorium” or Roman guard.[7] Moreover, the book of Acts doesn’t mention Paul being in prison in Ephesus, so scholars need to make a tenuous case from the epistles (e.g. 1 Cor. 15:32; 2 Cor. 1:8-10; 11:23). Based on the lack of evidence, this view isn’t likely.

(2) Caesarea?

Paul lived in Caesarea from 57 to 59 AD, and his enemies tried to kill him during this time (Acts 23:33; 24:27). Advocates of this view believe that Paul’s “defense” of the gospel (Phil. 1:7, 16-17) might refer to standing before Felix, Festus, and Herod Agrippa II. Moreover, the “Roman garrison headquartered in Caesarea was at times called a praetorian guard.”[8]

However, Paul claimed that the gospel would spread “throughout the whole praetorian guard” (Phil. 1:13). Caesarea was only a small subsection of the guard. Furthermore, when Paul was in Caesarea, his goal was to go to Rome—not Philippi (Phil. 2:24). Additionally, Paul doesn’t mention Philip the evangelist or Agabus the prophet, who were with him in Caesarea (Acts 21:8-10). While these are arguments from silence, they may carry some weight. For these reasons, we do not hold this view either.

(3) Rome?

We saved the best for last. All ancient sources believed that Paul wrote his letter from Roman imprisonment sometime in AD 59-61.[9] The ancient Marcionite Prologue comments that the letter came from Rome, rather than Ephesus or Caesarea,[10] and scholars like Craig Blomberg,[11] Gordon Fee,[12] and Homer Kent[13] hold this view.

Paul’s two years in house arrest gave plenty of time for visitors to travel to see him (Acts 28:16), and his comments about the “praetorian guard” and “Caesar’s household” (Phil. 1:13; 4:22) fit best with Roman imprisonment, as well. We hold to this view throughout the rest of our commentary.


If we are correct on Paul’s Roman imprisonment, this would date the letter sometime around AD 61.[14]


The letter to the Philippians has not come under scrutiny with regard to its canonicity (i.e. its belonging in the New Testament). Kent writes, “Evidence for the early acceptance of this Epistle by the leaders of the church is plentiful and raises no questions… No suspicion regarding the canonicity of Philippians is to be found in early external testimony.”[15] Kent points out that some of the earliest church fathers implicitly reference this letter (e.g. Clement of Rome, AD 95; Ignatius, AD 110). Others, like Polycarp, explicitly references the letter (To the Philippians, chapters 3, 9, 12). The Muratorian Fragment (AD 170) contains Philippians in its list, and even the heretic Marcion contains the letter in his canon. Later church fathers like Tertullian (AD 200), Irenaeus (AD 200), Eusebius (AD 350), and Athanasius (AD 367) considered the letter to be inspired Scripture.

Commentary on Philippians

Unless otherwise stated, all citations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB).

Philippians 1 (Prayer and rejoicing)

Paul really loves this church!

(1:1) “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons.” Timothy helped plant the church in Philippi (Acts 16:1-12), and he also helped oversee this church (Acts 19:22; 20:3-6).

Paul doesn’t mention himself as an apostle, but rather as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus. This could be intentional, because he wants to emphasize a serving mindset. Later, he notes that Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” (Phil. 2:7).

This letter is addressed to the people in the Church—first and foremost. Paul adds that in addition it is addressed to the leaders in the Church (“including the overseers and deacons…”). This shows that Scripture should be read by everyday lay people—not just leaders.

(1:2) “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

(1:3) “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you.” Paul must’ve developed a habit or reflex for giving thanks. Whenever this group would come to mind, he would give thanks for them. Leading people can become frustrating and discouraging if we’re not careful, but Paul had learned to give thanks for the good things in this church.

(1:4) “always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all…” Paul’s thanksgiving for the church (v.3) led him to want to pray for them more. His prayers for them were filled with “joy.” How different Paul’s prayer life is from most Christian leaders, who complain about their own people in conversation and even in prayer!

(1:5) “in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now…” The term “participation” is koinonia or “sharing.” This probably refers to their generosity which was extraordinary. The Philippians were some of the Christians who gave to the giving fund for Paul’s mission, as well as for the church in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 8:1-5). This group had financially supported him in Thessalonica (Phil. 4:16) and Corinth (2 Cor. 11:9).

They had only been a church for about a decade, but they were already known for their generosity.

(1:6)For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” Paul doesn’t focus on their generosity but on God’s faithfulness and power in their lives. Paul reflects on the fact that God started this church—not him. If God has started a good work, he will finish it.

Of course, this refers to the collective church—not individual Christians—because the “you” here is plural (i.e., “you guys” or “y’all”). Paul saw Christians as having a corporate identity, as well as an individual identity. This promise might be conditional in view of their “participation in the gospel” (v.5).

(1:7) “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart…” If this message was being written to a woman, you’d be saying, “Wow, get a room!” Paul’s feelings were obviously not romantic. But he did have deep affection for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul was a very tough Christian leader, but he was able to show affection like this. This was probably developed from his discipline of praying and giving thanks for them. After a long bout of giving thanks, it’s amazing how your emotions will change toward a person.

“…since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel…” The terms “defense” (apologia) and “confirmation” (bebaiōsis) are legal terms (Acts 22:1; 25:16; 2 Tim. 4:16; Heb. 6:16). Paul is not thinking about his own defense with Nero, but about how he can defend and confirm the gospel.

“…you all are partakers of grace with me.” If one of your Christian leaders was thrown in prison, it would be a good time to abandon him or disassociate with him (e.g. Peter’s denial at Jesus’ trial). But instead of fleeing from Paul during such a difficult time, the Philippians identified with him all the more!

(1:8) “For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.” Paul didn’t generate his own affection for them. He believed this came from Jesus. Paul’s “affection” is only a fraction of the “affection” that Jesus has for all believers.

(1:9) “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment…” Truth and love are connected together. Kent writes, “Love must be intelligent and morally discerning… if it would be truly agapē.”[16]

We agree with the NASB rendering of “discernment” (aisthēsis). This term refers to a “capacity to understand” (BDAG). Kent writes, “The joining of the expression ‘depth of insight’ to ‘knowledge’ stresses moral perception and the practical application of knowledge to the myriad circumstances of life.”[17]

(1:10) “so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ…” Discernment extends beyond the black and white teaching of Scripture. As we develop wisdom on grey issues, we develop discernment. This is why the NIV translates “approve the things that are excellent” with “discern what is best.” Kent writes, “Some things are clearly good or bad. In others the demarcation is not so readily visible. In Christian conduct and the exercise of love, such factors as one’s influence on others, as well as the effect on oneself, must be considered (1 Cor 10:32). The question should not only be ‘Is it harmful?’ but ‘Is it helpful?’ (1 Cor 10:23).”[18] So true! Christian maturity focuses on what is best for others—not merely what is permissible for ourselves (1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23).

(1:11) “having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” In view of the “day of Christ” (v.10), Paul wants these believers to see fruit in their lives. This sort of fruit is what will “glorify” and “praise” God.

Paul rejoices in prison

(1:12) “Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel…” Paul was a brilliant, charismatic, scholarly, and gifted leader. He had a restless drive to plant churches throughout the ancient world. He was doubtless the most gifted man in the Christian church at this time… And yet, he was languishing in prison! Imagine how this would work to psychologically destroy a man like this: You’re driven, gifted, and effective; yet you’re locked in jail. It would be easy to imagine Paul becoming frustrated, depressed, or maybe even bitter with God…

Yet we find Paul having a different perspective. Instead of complaining about his “circumstances,” he was able to look at his situation through the eyes of faith. If God had him in prison, it must’ve been for an important reason—to further the gospel in the Praetorian Guard. Paul didn’t believe that his suffering was accidental: If he was locked up, it must be because Christ wanted him there. Kent writes, “The term ‘to advance’ (prokopēn) originally denoted making headway in spite of blows and so depicted progress amid difficulties.”[19]

(1:13) “so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else…” Imagine being a Roman guard chained to Paul. The last time Paul was in prison, he sat with Silas singing praises to God (Acts 16:25). And this was after he took a savage beating! What must Paul have been talking about with these Roman guards?

Surely, it isn’t hard to imagine that he frequently (perhaps incessantly) talked to them about the love and forgiveness of Jesus. We would bet that most people in Paul’s situation would be depressed or scared, but Paul had a different attitude. As a result, the guards would see something different in Paul. Kent writes, “As the guards were assigned in succession to Paul, it soon became clear to them that he was no ordinary captive.”[20]

Paul viewed his situation literally as “my bonds in Christ” (see NASB footnote). The chains weren’t from Satan, from Nero, or from the religious leaders. Again, in Paul’s mind, if he was incarcerated, it was because Jesus wanted him there (cf. Eph. 3:1; 4:1).

Paul didn’t just share his faith with the guards but with “everyone else.” This would include the Jewish religious leaders (Acts 28:17ff) and Onesimus (Phile. 10).

(1:14) “Most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” Paul continues to choose and focus on the good effects of his imprisonment. His imprisonment had the effect of instilling courage in other believers to share their faith in Christ. Instead of causing other believers’ fear, it galvanized their courage and faith.

(1:15) “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will…” Paul wasn’t ignoring the problems and negative issues around him. He was a realist. In all churches, we see the good with the bad, and so did Paul. And yet, he chose to view these negative realities through the eyes of faith. He chose to see that even the envy and rivalry of some Christians was resulting in the gospel reaching lost people, so he chose to rejoice.

(1:16) “The latter do it out of love…” Preaching Christ (v.15) should be done out of “love.” When we have the love of Christ, the most natural response is to give it away.

“…knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel…” The term “defense” (apologia) is the root word for “apologetics” (or the intellectual defense of our faith). Paul viewed his ministry as being focused on defending the gospel of Jesus Christ.

(1:17) “The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” It’s possible to “preach Christ” out of “selfish ambition.” What a scary thought! While Paul is inhumanly gracious with this group of preachers, we should pause to consider how spiritually insane this is. This passage doesn’t give us license to pursue ministry as an ego trip. Instead, it urges us to be patient with believers who have impure motives.

These believers must have been jealous of Paul’s influence. We can imagine them building a ministry while Paul was locked in prison. They may have even been thinking, “Now we can build a bigger ministry than Paul, because he’s locked up!” They thought that Paul would be “distressed” by this. Far from it! Instead of falling into the trap of ego and pride, Paul was grateful that Jesus was being preached. Instead of seeing which of them would “win” in this “ministry competition,” Paul took the vertical perspective and saw that, in the end, God would “win” from their preaching.

(1:18) “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.” Paul took his mind off of the “competition” with these fellow believers. Instead, he focused on the more important issue: the spread of the gospel. No, their “motives” were not good (v.17), but Paul still gave thanks for the fact that Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness was being spread. He says that he continued to “rejoice,” only to add, “Yes, and I will rejoice.” It’s as if Paul was saying, “Did I stutter?”

(1:19) “For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ…” This “deliverance” (sōtērian) could refer to his deliverance from prison, because he goes on to discuss this. However, when looking at the preceding verses, Paul is referring to the strife with the ego-driven preachers. Under this view, Paul is saying that his ability to “rejoice” (v.18) is what will deliver him during this time. If this latter reading is right, then the key to dealing with egotism with others is to rejoice for others.

(1:20) “According to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.” Paul’s “eager expectation” (apokaradokia) comes from the root words apo (“away”) and kara (“head”) and dechomai (“to take”). Kent understands this word to mean “stretching the head forward.”[21] Picture a wide receiver stretching out to catch a ball; he is giving it everything he has to reach for it.

Paul’s hope was not in the fact that he would be rescued from death. Instead, his hope was grounded in the fact that Christ would be glorified in him “whether by life or by death.”

(1:21) “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” What does it mean “to live is Christ”? This refers to the “fruitful service” mentioned later (v.22).

What is the “gain” Paul was referring to here? In context, it was the “gain” that God would use Paul’s martyrdom to exalt Jesus (v.20), and it was also “gain” that he would go to be with Christ (v.23).

(1:22) “But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” Paul knows that heaven will be “better by far” (v.23 NIV), but he also knows that God has incredible work for him to accomplish.

(Phil. 1:22) Was Paul considering suicide?

(1:23) “But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;” This is so counter-intuitive for a man on death row. Paul doesn’t feel “hard-pressed” by the walls or the shackles, but by two good outcomes! If he continues to live, he’s happy because it will result in many meeting Christ; and if he dies, he’s happy because it will result in meeting Christ himself.

Notice that Paul did not believe in “soul sleep” (cf. 2 Cor. 5:8; 1 Thess. 4:13). If he died, he would be in the presence of Christ.

(1:24) “Yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.” Paul knows that his martyrdom would glorify Christ. Yet he is still thinking about the work he could do in the lives of these believers.

(1:25) “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith…” When Paul says that he “knows” (oida) that he will be released, this does not imply certainty. After all, Paul uses the same term in Acts 20:25 to say that he “knew” he would never see the Ephesians again (which he most likely did, according to 1 Timothy 1:3). Instead, Paul somehow knew that he would get out of prison (cf. 2:24). He must have somehow reasoned that his ministry wasn’t finished yet (v.24).

(1:26) “So that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.” Perhaps, Paul thought that his death may have had a devastating effect on their faith.

(1:27) “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.” Regardless of whether he lives or dies, Paul urges them to keep a strong faith. Good leaders do not want people to depend on them for their faith. They want them to learn to pursue God regardless.

“Conduct yourselves” (politeuomai) is a word used for citizenship in a country: literally “to be a citizen” (BDAG). Incidentally, Paul used his Roman citizenship to leverage legal power when he was in Philippi.

We have an objective unity through the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3), but “standing firm in one spirit” probably refers to the subjective unity of mind and mission based on the subsequent terms (“with one mind striving together”). We don’t strive to defend our faith separately, but together.

(1:28) “In no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God.” Really, we aren’t sure what the nature of the persecution in Philippi was. While Philippi had a small Jewish population, these “opponents” could be Jewish persecutors (Phil. 3:2).

Our courage in the face of persecution communicates to our persecutors that they are in the wrong. They see that God is empowering us to stand up for Christ, and this serves as a “sign” that they are going to face judgment, unless they turn to Christ.

(1:29) “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…” The term “granted” (charizomai) means “to give freely as a favor, give graciously” (BDAG). Suffering for Christ is a privilege.

(1:30) “Experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me.” The Philippians had witnessed the suffering Paul endured while he was in Philippi, including his public beating and wrongful imprisonment (Acts 16:19-24). Now they were hearing about his reports from prison.

Discussion Questions

Based on verse 13, what is the difference between being content in suffering versus being fatalistic? In other words, do you think Paul’s attitude could result in passively accepting poor circumstances without seeking to change them?

Based on verses 17-18, what might be the dangers of judging people’s motives?

Paul chose to focus on the good consequences of his imprisonment, rather than focus on the negative circumstances. What are helpful ways to develop a mindset like this? What barriers might prevent us from developing such a mindset?

Philippians 2:1-11 (The gospel and unity)

(2:1) “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,” Paul is assuming each of these clauses. Kent writes, “All are stated as ‘if’ clauses (with the verb understood), but the condition is assumed to be true.”[22]

“Any encouragement in Christ.” This “encouragement” (paraklēsis) means an “act of emboldening another in belief or course of action, encouragement, exhortation” (BDAG). By being “in Christ,” we have access to this encouragement.

“Any consolation of love.” The term “consolation” (paramytheomai) means to “comfort someone… [by] instinctively draw[ing] close to him in a friendly way” (TDNT). It can also mean “to exhort” (TDNT).

“Any fellowship of the Spirit.” Since we are all baptized into Christ (1 Cor. 12:13), we have “fellowship” (koinonia) with the same Spirit. We are all identified together in the Body of Christ.

“Any affection.” The term “affection” (splanchna) refers to the “inward parts of a body, including especially the viscera, inward parts, entrails” (BDAG). We usually say that we love people from the heart, but ancient people would love people deep in their gut.

“Any compassion.” The term “compassion” (oiktirmoi) means a “display of concern over another’s misfortune” (BDAG). Compassion isn’t simply feeling a certain way, but showing our feelings for them.

(2:2) “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” What would make Paul happy while he languished in prison? Paul’s great joy was to hear that this church was healthy! Based on the indicatives of verse 1, here are all of the imperatives:

“Being of the same mind.” This doesn’t refer to “group think.” Instead, it means that we are all united by the same truth. As Kent observes, this passage assumes that “‘the same thing’ is also ‘the right thing.’”[23]

“Maintaining the same love.” Truth without love is dead.

“United in spirit.” When truth and love are present, unity follows closely behind. This sort of unity is not phony, but an actual closeness with others.

“Intent on one purpose.” When we have truth, love, and unity, our mission (or “purpose”) becomes important. Christian community doesn’t exist for itself, but for a lost and dying world. How is it possible to be unified at this level? Paul tells us in the next verse: we need humility.

(2:3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.” Paul speaks against the “selfish ambition” of the competitive preachers in 1:17. The solution to humility begins in the “mind,” and the way we think about God, others, and ourselves. Kent writes, “The Greek concept of a free man led to contempt for any sort of subjection, whereas the Bible proposes that we should be controlled by God and thus assumes that to subject ourselves to God is praiseworthy.”[24] See our earlier article “Humility.”

(2:4) “Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” We have basic needs that need met. However, beyond these, we should keep our focus on others. How do we develop an others-centered focus like this? Paul tells us in the next verse.

(2:5) “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.” This section (vv.5-11) is one of the clearest descriptions of the incarnation and deity of Jesus in the Bible. But notice that Paul almost seems to make this as a side point. His main point is to direct these believers toward humility, and he assumes that they agree about the incarnation and deity of Jesus.

“Have this attitude” (phroneō) literally means “to think” or “to have an opinion with regard to something, think, form/hold an opinion, judge” (BDAG). The key to humility is a transformation in our thinking.

To become selfless, we need to get our focus off of ourselves and onto Christ. Paul views the abstract concepts of the incarnation and the kenosis as intensely practical.

(2:6-7) “Although [Jesus] existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”

Notice the progression: First, Jesus existed in the “form of God.” This means that he had the same nature as God.

(Phil. 2:6) Does God have an embodied “form”?

Second, he did “not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.” Instead of clinging on to his rightful status, he loosened his grip. Jesus was “rich” in his divine attributes, but became “poor” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Third, he “emptied himself” (ekenōsen). He didn’t give up his divine attributes, but he laid aside the use or utility of these attributes.

(Phil. 2:7) Did Jesus cease to be God on Earth?

Fourth, he “took the form of a bond-servant.” Just as he had the very “form” or nature of God, he now took on the “form” of man. He didn’t subtract deity from his nature, but added a second (human) nature in the hypostatic union.

This level of humility defies human conception or even imagination. Consider being a healthy young athlete who gets into a car accident—being blinded, deafened, and paralyzed from the neck down. This would be infinitesimally less than what Jesus did by condescending to humanity! But Jesus went even further…

(2:8) “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus not only became human, but he died in his human nature. He not only died, but he died an incredibly painful and humiliating death.

Imagine a rich CEO who had a younger brother on death row. To save his brother, he undergoes plastic surgery to look like him, and he uses his money and influence to enter the prison and switch places with his brother. He goes to his death to save his brother, substituting for him.

(2:9) “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.” Why does he open this verse with, “For this reason…”? This passage really exemplifies God’s economy versus our economy. Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Mt. 23:12). Peter writes, “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Pet. 5:6). Jesus repeatedly said, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.” The way “up” is “down” in God’s view of things. The words “highly exalted” (hyperypsōsen) can be translated “superexalted.”[25]

It isn’t that Jesus’ “name” was changed. In verse 10, he still has the “name” Jesus. This is referring to his name being glorified and exalted. It also implies that people will call him “Lord” (v.11).

(2:10) “So that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” Paul cites Isaiah 45:23. In that passage, it is the name of Yahweh that “every knee will bow.” Here it is the name of Jesus. Paul is applying the divine nature to Jesus.

Created beings (e.g. humans, angels, demons, etc.) will either bow to Jesus as their Savior or as their Judge. C.S. Lewis observed,

I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side… God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing: it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.[26]

At the Second Coming of Jesus, every person will bow to King Jesus.

(Phil. 2:10) Does this passage imply universalism?

(2:11) “Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” In the end, all people will become perfect theologians.

The effects of rejoicing on a lost world

(Phil. 2:12) Does this mean that we earn our salvation?

(2:12) “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” The goal of discipleship is that people would still follow Christ, even when their spiritual leaders and mentors are not present (“much more in my absence”).

(2:13) “For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” This is a good passage for understanding God’s role versus our role. Our job is to work out (v.12) what God has worked in (v.13). Our role is to “work out” and “obey” what God wants us to do (v.12), which is to trust him. Then, we read that “God is at work in you.” God’s role is to supply both the direction (“will”) and the power (“work”). This brings “pleasure” to God to see us transformed spiritually.

(2:14) “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” What were the Philippians “grumbling or disputing” about? It could be the disunity in their church (Phil. 2:2; 4:2), or perhaps it was the persecution they were facing (Phil. 1:28-30).

Incidentally, many Christians can “do all things” by serving hard, but they are unwilling to do this God without “grumbling or disputing.” Our attitude matters in serving God.

(2:15) “So that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent…” In this passage, being “blameless and innocent” relates to our attitude—namely, grumbling or complaining (v.14).

“children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world…” Jesus called himself the “light of the world” (Jn. 8:12), and because of our identity with Jesus, we reflect God’s “light” to the world (Mt. 5:14).

(2:16) “holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I will have reason to glory because I did not run in vain nor toil in vain.” Should we understand this to mean “holding fast the word” or “holding out the word”? Either translation is acceptable.[27] Yet, because the context refers to lights shining in the dark sky, we would take the latter reading. Moreover, the “glory” probably relates to eternal rewards as well (cf. 1 Thess. 2:19-20). Thus “holding out the word of life” refers to evangelism.

“Run in vain or toil in vain” implies that his efforts amounted to nothing substantive. If this church didn’t grow spiritually, it wouldn’t have an impact on eternity.

(2:17) “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” The drink offering was a way in the OT to express your thanks to God (Num. 15:10). In this context, Paul picks up this symbolism as a metaphor for his life. That is, Paul viewed his ministry as an act of worship (cf. 2 Tim. 4:6).

(2:18) “You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.” Instead of grumbling and complaining (v.14), Paul urges the Philippians to rejoice. After all, if Paul could rejoice in prison, how could the Philippians grumble as free people?

Two examples of selfless men: Timothy and Epaphroditus

Paul puts forward two examples of Christian workers who have the joy and humility of Christ: Timothy and Epaphroditus. Sacrificial love and humility are abstract concepts, so Paul offers two people as concrete examples.


(2:19) “But I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, so that I also may be encouraged when I learn of your condition.” Since Paul wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive, he had a contingency plan. He was sending his best guy: Timothy. He planned on sending Timothy once he found out what was going to happen with the trial (2:23).

(2:20) “For I have no one else of kindred spirit who will genuinely be concerned for your welfare.” Paul knows that the Philippians want to see him. This might be why he builds up Timothy so much through public encouragement. He is showing that Timothy is a remarkable worker, and they should receive him as they would Paul.

(2:21) “For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus.” The ego-driven preachers in Philippi were obsessed with their own interests (Phil. 1:17). Not so with Timothy! Paul compares him to Jesus Christ (Phil. 2:3-5).

(2:22) “But you know of his proven worth, that he served with me in the furtherance of the gospel like a child serving his father.” Character is something that is proven over time (“proven worth”). Timothy was a man of character, and Paul loved him like a son.

(2:23) “Therefore I hope to send him immediately, as soon as I see how things go with me.” When Timothy does come to Philippi, he will bring news updates about Paul’s trial.

(2:24) “And I trust in the Lord that I myself also will be coming shortly.” This doesn’t imply certainty. Instead, if Paul has any hope of getting out of prison, that hope is “in the Lord.” Most scholars believe that Paul did actually make it out of prison after Acts 28, because of the events mentioned in the Pastoral Epistles and because of early church history which mentions a fourth missionary journey.[28]


This is the only mention of Epaphroditus in the NT, yet Paul speaks of this man with glowing praise. Specifically, he mentions this man’s service and character.

(2:25) “But I thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger and minister to my need.” Paul gives encouraging words for Epaphroditus: “my brother,” “my fellow worker,” and “my fellow soldier.” This man was relationally close to Paul, and they served side-by-side.

(2:26) “[Epaphroditus] was longing for you all and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.” Epaphroditus was terminally ill (v.27), but instead of feeling “distressed” for himself, he was “distressed” for the Philippians!

(2:27) “For indeed he was sick to the point of death, but God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, so that I would not have sorrow upon sorrow.” Paul viewed this as an act of divine “mercy” that Epaphroditus made it through. The sickness must’ve been quite serious. If Epaphroditus had died from this illness, Paul would’ve been snowballed under an avalanche of sorrow. Again, Paul was a realist. He shared about his sorrows, but this didn’t rob him of his joy.

(2:28) “Therefore I have sent him all the more eagerly so that when you see him again you may rejoice and I may be less concerned about you.” Paul deeply cared about this man, but he was willing to send him (along with Timothy) so that he could care for this group.

(2:29) “Receive him then in the Lord with all joy, and hold men like him in high regard.” Why should they hold a man like this in “high regard”? It is because of the following verse…

(2:30) “because he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was deficient in your service to me.” Epaphroditus had come close to death to see Paul and take care of him face to face. Epaphroditus met the needs that the Philippians couldn’t. The term “deficient” (husterēma) sounds strong—almost as though the Philippians had failed in helping Paul. But the term simply means “the lack of what is needed or desirable, frequently in contrast to abundance” (BDAG).

Discussion Questions

Based on verse 2, what are some differences between being “like-minded” and participating in “group think”? What are some similarities between these two concepts?

Based on verses 12 and 13, compare and contrast what it would look like if a believer placed too much of a focus on our role versus God’s role in spiritual growth. What might you observe in either extreme?

Philippians 3 (Paul versus the Legalistic Judaizers)

(3:1) “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” Do you ever get tired of the same old truths about the love of God and rejoicing in the grace that Jesus gives us? If so, that’s a red flag. Paul had “no trouble” writing about these “same things” again and again and again, because he had made these truths the foundation of his life.

“Safeguard” (asphalēs) comes from the root word sphallō, which means “to trip up” (NASB Dictionaries), and the alpha privative in front of this word means “no” or “not.” Literally, by repeating these same things, this will help us from tripping.

Paul uses the term “finally,” but then 40% of his letter is still ahead of him. It could be he thought he would wrap it up, but kept adding more and more as he wrote. On the other hand, the term “finally” (to loipon) can also be understood as “furthermore” or “in addition.”[29]

(Phil. 3:1-2) Was this section added on from another letter?

(3:2) “Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” The Judaizers usually called the Gentiles “dogs.” Here Paul turns this around on them. Paul doesn’t base this critique on who they are, but rather what they do (“the evil workers).

There is a play on words in the Greek. The Judaizers are the “false circumcision” (katatome), but we are the “true circumcision” (peritome, v.3). Kata means “through,” while peri means “around,” as in perimeter (cf. Gal. 5:12). This is why some translations render this as the “mutilators” (NIV, NLT) or “those who mutilate the flesh” (NET).

(Phil. 3:2) Was Paul anti-Semitic, calling the Jews “dogs?”

(3:3) “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” This could also read, “[We are those] who boast in Christ Jesus.” Instead of boasting in ourselves, we boast in Christ.

The term for “putting confidence” (pepoithetes) can mean “on which he had relied” (Lk. 11:22), “being convinced” (Acts 18:4; 28:23), or “trust” (Phil. 1:14). As believers, we don’t trust in our own moral effort (vv.4-8), but in the power of Christ.

(Phil. 3:3) Does the church replace the promises of Israel?

(3:4) “Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” Paul didn’t choose grace because he had failed at the Law. He chose grace because he succeeded at following the Law, but still came up short. Paul was more proficient in the way of the Law than anyone, including the false teachers mentioned earlier (v.2).

To illustrate, this is like when celebrities say that money, success, and sex aren’t fulfilling. Since they have the height of these things, it packs more of a punch.

(3:5) “Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee…” All of Paul’s legalistic credentials were superb:

“…circumcised on the eighth day…” Some Jews were circumcised in adulthood (Acts 16:3), but not Paul. His parents followed the command given to Abraham (Gen. 17:12) and Moses (Lev. 12:3).

“…of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin…” Benjamin was a very loyal tribe in Israel, and Paul was born into this tribe (cf. Rom. 11:1). This was the tribe of the first king, Saul (1 Sam. 9), and they were faithful to the Davidic throne during the division (1 Kings 1).

“…a Hebrew of Hebrews…” This expression means that Paul was not mixed. He had pure Jewish blood.[30]

“…in regard to the law, a Pharisee…” These previous credentials were based on Paul’s birth. This credential is based on Paul’s choice.

The Pharisees were an elite sect of Jews (see “Judaism in Jesus’ Day”). Paul doesn’t mention his discipleship by Gamaliel, but he could have (Acts 22:3). He may have left this off of the list, because he disagreed with Gamaliel’s laissez-faire attitude toward Christianity. In fact, Paul was a persecutor of the early Christian movement, as he says in the subsequent verse.

(3:6) “As to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul didn’t just follow the necessities. If Christianity was false, then he thought he should persecute those who believed in a false Messiah.

We like NIV’s rendering legalistic righteousness.” It wasn’t that Paul was righteous, but he felt righteous, according to the Law. Many religious people are this way.

(3:7) “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” These “gains” were in reality “losses.” Bruce writes, “From the credit side of the ledger they have been transferred to the debit side; they are not merely seen to be valueless and irrelevant, but he would be better off without them. Perhaps the very recollection of such attainments could now be harmful if it carried with it the temptation to put some confidence in them again.”[31]

(3:8) “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Now that he has Christ, Paul views these credentials as a loss. The Greek word translated “rubbish” is really a filthy cuss word (see comments on 1 Corinthians 4:13). In thinking about what he’s given up for Christ, he realizes that these things are really rubbish by comparison to knowing Jesus.

“I have suffered the loss of all things…” Do you consider what you’ve sacrificed for Christ to be good for you? It wasn’t that Paul gave these things up to come to Christ. Kent writes, “It was not limited to the past (as v. 10 shows), but was a growing relationship in which there was blessed enjoyment in the present and the challenge and excitement of increasing comprehension of Christ in personal fellowship.”[32]

(3:9) “[That I] may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” We don’t give up anything in life to be made righteous. Instead, we gain righteousness based on faith.

(3:10) “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” Paul had already met Christ. When he says that he wants to “know” him, it must be referring to further knowledge and sanctification.

Jesus’ body was dead in the grave when God raised him. We are the same way: We’re dead in our sins and can’t do anything to please God. It’s only as we trust in the “power of the resurrection” that we can have power from God to grow. When we become like Christ’s “death,” this means that we completely surrender to God, so he can work through us.

(3:11) “In order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Is Paul not sure if he’s going to be resurrected? The verb is in the subjunctive mood (which is the realm of possibility, rather than certainty). But there are a number of ways of understanding this:

(1) Paul is thinking in terms of expectation. By pointing to the NIV translation (“and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead”), Kent argues, “It is also possible to regard the clause as expressing expectation rather than doubt.”[33]

(2) Paul was thinking about the rapture of believers. Some Dispensational authors speculate that Paul’s uncertainty is whether he will be raptured in his lifetime, or whether he will die and be raised later. Though, this alternative doesn’t seem plausible to us.

(3) Paul is referring to sanctification—not the final resurrection of the dead. In context, Paul has been referring to “resurrection power” for spiritual growth. We hold to this final view.

(3:12) “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Paul could be countering the Judaizers who claimed that they had become “perfect.” Paul, who was “blameless” and “righteous” in regard to legalistic righteousness (v.6), doesn’t even claim this for himself! While he was righteous positionally (v.9), he was still well aware of his current unrighteousness conditionally (v.12).

The prize here isn’t forgiveness. It’s spiritual growth. Paul now will “press on” (dioko) towards Christ (v.14). Before he came to Christ, Paul used to “persecute” (dioko) the Church (Gal. 1:23), but now he will “press on” (dioko) for Christ’s cause.

(3:13) “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead…” In spiritual growth, we look forward to Christ—not backward to our own mistakes and sins. This should be qualified by noting that we can learn from the past and sometimes need to reflect on the past. After all, Paul just finished recounting his pre-Christian life (vv.4-8). However, when we do look at our past, this should be done through the lens of God’s grace.

(3:14) “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Many commentators see a competitive and/or athletic race in mind here. Notice, however, that Paul isn’t racing against others competitively; he’s racing with his eyes fixed on the “goal” and “prize.” That is, he isn’t looking at others; he is looking toward Christ.

(3:15) “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude…” Being “perfect” (teleioi) here refers to “maturity” (NIV). Paul uses this term five other times, and each time it can and should be rendered “mature” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Eph. 4:13; Col. 1:28; 4:12). Paul already told us that he himself wasn’t perfect (v.12). Kent adds, “Paul must be using teleioi (‘mature’) in a different sense from his use of the verb teteleiōmai (‘made perfect’) in v. 12.”[34]

“…and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you…” The context here refers to an attitudinal change in the heart. God will reveal our motives.

(3:16) “However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.” We shouldn’t wait around until our attitudes are perfect (v.15). In the meantime, keep moving toward Christ.

(3:17) “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” It’s appropriate to follow the example of fellow Christians insofar as they are following the example of Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1). Notice that Paul doesn’t only point to himself as an example, but to “us” (i.e. Paul’s entire apostolic group). Remember, Paul earlier gave two other examples of spiritual role models in chapter 2 (e.g. Timothy and Epaphroditus).

(3:18) “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ.” Not all “examples” are created equal! There are some teachers who are actually “enemies of the Cross.” Some argue that this is a separate group of false teachers from verse 2, because of the licentious behaviors listed in verse 19.[35] However, legalists often hypocritically hide their sins (“their god is their stomach”), or it’s possible to take this to referring to their “emptiness” (see comments on verse 19). The reference to their “glory” being their “shame” could refer to legalistic boasting (see NLT).

Notice that Paul’s attitude toward his enemies was not anger or wrath; it was sorrow. Thinking of these people broke his heart.

(3:19) “Whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.” Whoever these people were, they were certainly not believers, because their “end is destruction.”

The term “god” (theos) is the same word for the true God in the Bible. They are worshipping something besides the true God: their stomach. This Greek term (koilia) is literally translated as “stomach,” but like the English word “heart,” it can have a non-literal meaning. For instance, when we say, “Your words broke my heart,” we don’t mean the physical organ.

Similarly, the term “stomach” (koilia) can also be translated as the “seat of inward life, of feelings and desires, belly” (BDAG). Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will fill our “innermost being” (koilia), which has a non-literal connotation (Jn. 7:38). This being said, Paul might be saying that these people are broken and empty. They try to fill this emptiness apart from God. He’s saying that their “god” is their feelings, desires, and appetites.

Glory is their shame” could also be rendered to brag about shameful things” (NLT).

(3:20) “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” In contrast to the false teachers who are focused on “earthly things” (v.19), the true believer should have his focus on our citizenship in “heaven.”

(3:21) “[Jesus] will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.” At the resurrection, believers will have bodies similar to Jesus’ resurrected body (1 Jn. 3:2). Since Jesus has the power to put everything under his control, why would we doubt that he could transform us as well? This is true perfection, which the legalists knew nothing about.

Discussion question

Based on verse 13: What does it look like to forget about the past? Does this mean we can never reflect on our mistakes or sins? How can we look at our past without becoming boastful or becoming overcome with guilt?

Based on verse 15: How might we identify God revealing our sinful motives to us? Remember, Paul himself didn’t even judge his own motives (1 Cor. 4:5).

Based on verse 20: What is the difference between someone whose mind is set on “earthly things” and someone whose mind is set on being a “citizen of heaven”?

Why does Paul use this metaphor of citizenship to describe our new identity in Christ?

Philippians 4 (Results of Rejoicing)

(4:1) “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown…” Paul viewed these believers as his “joy and crown” (cf. 1 Thess. 2:19-20). In Paul’s mind, people were the locus of value—not things.

“…in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” We don’t take our stand in ourselves or on our own merits. Instead, we stand firm “in the Lord.” That is, on our identity that we are “citizens of heaven” (Phil. 3:20).

(4:2) “I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to live in harmony in the Lord.” Women were the first people Paul reached in Philippi (Acts 16:13). These could’ve been some of them. Euodia and Syntyche were two women in the church who were fighting with each other. (HUMOR: They were probably fighting over which one of them had a worse name!)

 (4:3) “Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” Paul doesn’t take sides in the conflict. Instead, he addresses an individual person to mediate. Notice the singular pronoun (“I ask you).

Were these two women horrible Christians for being in conflict? Not at all. They were coworkers with Paul (“shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel”). Even strong walking Christians have problems with conflict, and they need help from others to mediate from time to time.

Paul knows that these people are believers (“[their] names are in the book of life”). We don’t have to wonder if we’re going to heaven. God wants us to know this in advance.

Some scholars (like Origen) believe that this is Clement of Rome (see our earlier article, “Clement of Rome”

(4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” Notice that the word “rejoice” (Greek chairo) is a verb—not an adjective or a noun. It is an action—not a feeling. Paul writes that believers are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). If rejoicing is a feeling, then how could believers feel sorrowful when doing it?

(4:5) “Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” The word for “gentle” (Greek epiekes) literally means “not insisting on every right of letter of law or custom” (BDAG). Much of our anxiety comes from dwelling on what we feel that we deserve. When we have high expectations for what we deserve, we constantly feel disappointed or out of control.

Instead of focusing on irritating aspects of life, we are to focus on the coming of Christ (cf. Jas. 5:8). Kent writes, “The statement is a reminder that at his arrival the Judge will settle all differences and will bring the consummation that will make most of our human differences seem trifling.”[36]

This gentleness is directed to all men,” not just fellow believers.

(4:6) “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” How can we be “anxious for nothing”? Many believers mistakenly believe that Paul is calling for inactivity. As they try to follow Paul’s wisdom, the believer might sit still, trying not to think about their problems. But very quickly, we find that this only worsens the anxiety!

No, Paul isn’t calling for inactivity. Instead, he is calling on us to be active in the right activity: prayer. Similarly, Peter counsels, “Cast all your anxiety (merimnaō) on God because he cares (melei) for you” (1 Pet. 5:7). Did you notice the play on words in the Greek? The same word is used for our “anxiety” and God’s “care” for the anxious. Literally, this passage reads: “Give your anxiety to God, because he is anxious for you.” It’s God’s job to worry about our needs and problems—not ours. Our job is to trust that he is worrying about us.

We often think of this only in terms of major problems. We wait until something terrible happens to begin this sort of prayer. But notice that Paul says pray for “everything.” The anxiety-ridden believer needs to learn this discipline. We can’t wait to pray until we are overwhelmed with anxiety. Instead, prayer is the way to replace and release our anxiety day by day—hour by hour—minute by minute.

“Supplication” (Greek densei) is a specific form of prayer that literally means an “urgent request to meet a need” (BDAG). Here we actively trust God for his provision.

But it would be a mistake to overlook the central component to this discipline. Paul writes that we should pray “with thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving guards our prayer session from turning into an anxiety fest, where we wind up worrying even more. Biblically, we haven’t really dealt with our anxiety, until we have learned to give thanks.

This must have been a key to Paul’s ability to finding joy in the midst of suffering. He says that he was “always giving thanks” (Eph. 5:20), and we should give thanks “in everything” (1 Thess. 5:18). He tells us that this isn’t just an action, but we should develop “an attitude of thanksgiving” in prayer (Col. 4:2). Even after just five or ten minutes of giving thanks, our entire demeanor has changed, and our spirit is lifted. (For more on this important topic, see “The Lost Virtue of Gratitude”).

(4:7) “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Do you have the peace of God? This peace is available to all believers. The key to finding it—the “secret” as Paul calls it later—is learning the discipline of gratitude. Paul tells us that we should keep our focus on really anything that is positive—not just spiritual things…

(4:8) “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise…” It is our natural inclination to be negative. We can be blessed over and over again by God, but without a thankful posture, we only whine for what we do not have. Believers often miss opportunities to give thanks for the blessings in their lives. They’ll even say things like, “I’m just a lucky guy.” But nothing could be further from the truth! As Christians, we should never call ourselves lucky. Atheists are lucky. Christians are blessed.

“…dwell on these things.” The word “dwell” (logizomai) was an accounting term, referring to a “mathematical process” (BDAG). In other words, Paul is telling us to move away from how we feel to what we think. The term can mean “to give careful thought to a matter, think (about), consider, ponder, let one’s mind dwell on” (BDAG). Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of our circumstance, Paul chose to “dwell” on the very real, positive things that God was doing.

(4:9) “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Paul closes this section by emphasizing our role in battling anxiety. Many people like to talk about their anxiety, but they never reach the point of doing anything about it. Our role is not to needlessly worry about all of the particulars of life. Instead, it is to practice prayer, give thanks, and develop a conscious mindset that is focused on our blessings. Only then will we experience the “peace of God” (v.7).

Notice that it isn’t enough to “learn” and “hear” these truths, we need to “practice” them (cf. Jas. 1:22; Jn. 13:17). We won’t understand these deep truths until we act on them.

Discussion questions

Read through Philippians 4:4-9: What do we learn about how to handle anxiety from these verses?

Grace-motivated generosity

(4:10) “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity.” Had the Philippians lost their concern for Paul at some point? It seems that they had concern, but didn’t have the opportunity to help him.

(4:11) “Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content…” This “contentment” didn’t come to Paul immediately. This is something that he needed to “learn.” God teaches us about this over time. This won’t come naturally or immediately to us either.

“…in whatever circumstances I am.” Contentment is separate from our circumstances. Since we have a transcendent reality secured in our position in Christ, we can be content despite our condition or circumstances.

(4:12) “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.” The joy of God is independent of our circumstances. We can have the joy of the Lord in bad circumstances, but not have God’s joy even in good circumstances.

(4:13) “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Paul is thanking them for their financial gift. But before he does, he wants them to know that he’ll be fine without it. Because he gets his contentment from Christ, he has no need of their money.

(4:14) “Nevertheless, you have done well to share with me in my affliction.” Even though Paul would’ve been content without their financial gift, he was still thankful for their contribution.

(4:15) “You yourselves also know, Philippians, that at the first preaching of the gospel, after I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you alone.” These believers had only been a church for roughly a decade. “The first preaching of the gospel” was in Acts 16. At this point, Paul received this gift while in Corinth: “When the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you” (2 Cor. 11:9). Not all churches choose to participate in powerful giving like this.

(4:16) “Even in Thessalonica you sent a gift more than once for my needs.” After Paul left Philippi, he went to Thessalonica (Acts 17:1). Apparently, they were sending money on ahead to support him on his journey. Paul also worked in Thessalonica to supplement his income (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Thess. 3:7-8).

We give because others are in “need.” We also should have disciplined and repeated giving (“again and again”) to meet these needs, rather than just one time gifts.

(4:17) “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account.” When we give to the cause of Christ, our money gets “wired” into a bank account in eternity.

(4:18) “But I have received everything in full and have an abundance; I am amply supplied, having received from Epaphroditus what you have sent, a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” The expression “everything in full” (apechō) was a term that “appears regularly in business papyri and ostraca in the sense of receiving in full. It was a technical expression in drawing up receipts.”[37]

Paul uses the language of worship to describe their giving (see our earlier article, “What is Worship?”). One of the ways to worship God is to open up our financial life to him, giving to the cause of Christ.

(4:19) “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Paul can’t repay these believers for their financial gift, but he does one better. He promises that God himself will repay them. As we give to the needs of others, we realize that God will meet our needs as well. Christ is ultimately wealthy (“glorious riches in Jesus Christ” NIV), and he can take care of our needs as we give.

Notice that God will meet our need—not our greed.

(4:20) “Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Instead of concluding by glorifying the Philippians for their generosity, Paul concludes by pointing the glory to God.

(4:21) “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.” Paul had people with him in house arrest. Likely, Luke was there with him.

(4:22) “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” This probably refers back to Paul’s evangelism of the Praetorian Guard (Phil. 1:13). From this small comment, we wonder if Paul had been reaching many people while in prison.

(4:23) “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Discussion questions

Read through Philippians 4:10-20: What do we learn about financial giving from these verses?

[1] Carson, D. A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament. Second ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005. 499.

[2] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 96). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Luke uses the term prōtē (“first”) to describe Philippi. This does not mean that Philippi was the capital of Macedonia, because Thessalonica held this title. Instead, because this word lacks the article, Luke simply means that Philippi was a “leading” city (NASB). See Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 95). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[4] Fee, Gordon. Philippians (Vol. 11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1999. 25.

[5] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 96). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[6] Fee, Gordon. Philippians (Vol. 11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1999. 30.

[7] Fee, Gordon. Philippians (Vol. 11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1999. 33.

[8] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 326.

[9] Blomberg writes, “All the ancient testimony agrees that Philippians was penned from Rome.” Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 326.

[10] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 97). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[11] Blomberg, Craig. From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation. Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006. 326.

[12] Fee, Gordon. Philippians (Vol. 11). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1999. 12.

[13] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 97). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[14] Many scholars hold this view, including

Homer Kent, Philippians (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 98.

Craig Blomberg, From Pentecost to Patmos: an Introduction to Acts through Revelation (Nashville, TN: B & H Academic, 2006), 327.

Gordon Fee, Philippians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 35.

[15] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 100). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[16] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 108). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[17] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 108). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[18] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 108). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[19] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 110). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[20] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 110). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[21] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 114). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[22] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 121). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[23] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[24] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[25] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 124). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[26] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 66.

[27] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 129). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[28] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 133). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[29] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 138). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[30] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 139). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[31] Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (p. 112). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.

[32] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 141). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[33] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 142). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[34] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[35] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 147). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[36] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, p. 151). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[37] Kent, H. A., Jr. (1981). Philippians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon (Vol. 11, pp. 156–157). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.