The last of four Prison Epistles, Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians as he anticipated his release from prison (AD 61 or 62). Epaphroditus, who had visited Paul in Rome (Philippians 2:25; 4:18), was to deliver the letter to the Philippians. Unfortunately, Epaphroditus took ill during his stay in Rome, delaying his return home and delivery of the letter (Philippians 2:26–27). As a result, this letter was not delivered at the same time as the other three prison letters.
While Paul’s letters to the Galatians and to the Colossians addressed issues they were struggling with, he wrote to the Philippians to express his appreciation and affection for these believers. More than any other church, Apostle Paul felt a very deep connection with the Philippians, with his affection clearly evident throughout the letter.
In this letter, Paul confirms the faith of this community, encouraging them to continue to be a living example of Christ; cautioning them against Judaizing teachers; and expressing gratitude for their Christian bounty. This letter specifically portrays Jesus Christ as a humble servant (Philippians 2:5–11), teaching this community that believers can only live in harmony by modeling the humility of Jesus Christ with one another. Offering his own life to Christ as an example, Paul expressed that he had found great joy and contentment in serving Christ in the wake of suffering. By centering their lives on Christ rather than on their struggles, Paul said that they, too, would experience true joy in their life.
This loving message, while written to the Phillipians, is intended for all believers ….today and back then. Like many, I often get caught up in the daily pace and pressures of life and find myself overlooking the many blessings God has provided me. I have a loving husband, a beautiful home, meaningful work, and a bounty of love from family and friends. Yet at times desperate to find that ever elusive joy, I seek solace in other people, other places, and at times in material possessions only to discover that none of these provide lasting joy. Taking a closer look at my life, I realize I need to shift my focus. By dwelling on life’s challenges rather than on my blessings, I am allowing those challenges steal the very joy I seek. Upon shifting my focus, I discover joy all around me in the form of God’s many blessings.
Both Apostle Paul and the Philippians knew this, saying that true joy only comes through humble faith in Jesus Christ; in fellowship with other believers; and in serving others in the name of Jesus Christ. It was a life Philippian believers came to know and is a life that remains available to all of us today.
This letter consists of four chapters:
- Chapter 1, Paul offers up thanksgiving and prayers for the good work of grace in the Philippians; expresses his affection and prayers for them; and fortifies them against being cast down at his sufferings. Encouraging them to stay strong in spite of the suffering they may face, Paul expressed that he offered his life to Christ and stood prepared to glorify Christ whether with his life or his death. He begins this loving letter encouraging the Philippians to continue to profess and spread the gospel .
- Chapter 2, Paul cites the benefits of believers who share the “mind of Christ”, modeling his kindness and humility of spirit and behavior. Teaching this community about the humanity of Jesus Christ. Paul cites that He laid down His glory and became a perfect human man in order to rescue and restore mankind back to a relationship with God. Paul exhorts Philippians to be living examples of Christ to the world and concludes this chapter by citing the purpose for his visit to Philippi.
- Chapter 3, Paul cautions the Philippians against false teachers. Renouncing his own past , Paul expresses the great joy he has found in offering up his life to Christ. He encourages the church to press forward with the spreading the Gospel, citing himself as an example to other believers.
- Chapter 4, Paul again exhorts Philippians to stand fast and to rejoice in the Lord. Instructing believers the importance of being well-grounded in prayer and thanksgiving, Paul offers praise and thanksgiving to God thanks for the many provisions they are blessed with, “my God shall supply all your needs.”
Where do you find joy in the midst of a trying circumstance?