Philippians is Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, a region of modern-day Greece, written while Paul was in prison in Rome.

Paul originally visited Philippi several years earlier (see Acts 16), and it was the site of one of the first churches Paul planted. It was also where Paul and his coworker Silas were miraculously liberated from a Philippian prison by an earthquake after worshiping God throughout the night.

Philippi was a Roman colony known for its devout loyalty to Rome, but the believers there remained faithful to Christ, despite opposition and persecution.

Paul wrote Philippians to thank the church for the generous gift they had sent him while he was in prison and to encourage them to remain faithful to Christ, no matter their circumstances.

The structure of Philippians is unique to Paul’s other letters. There are several short descriptive passages that revolve around a poem about Jesus in Philippians 2:6-11.

Each of the other passages take a word or phrase from the “Messiah Poem” in chapter 2, which is like the Gospel message condensed into six verses, and expand on it to show how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection inform our own lives.

Paul opens the letter with a message of gratitude to the Philippians and confidence in the transformation that God has already begun in them (Philippians 1:1-11).

Paul then encourages the Philippians, who are concerned about his imprisonment, that his suffering is purposeful. Being in prison has allowed him the opportunity to share the Gospel with the prison guards.

In prison, Paul faces the threat of execution. He explains that although dying for Christ would be honorable and beneficial for him (because he would be in paradise with Jesus), being released would allow him to continue working for God on earth, sharing the Good News with others. He encourages the Philippians to have the same sacrificial, others-focused, willing-to-suffer-for-the-Gospel attitude, just as Christ did (Philippians 1:21-2:18).

Paul uses his coworkers Timothy and Epaphroditus as examples of people whose lives reflect the attitude of Christ (Philippians 2:19-30).

Paul goes on to explain that all of his past religiosity, zealous rule-keeping and self-righteousness is like garbage when compared to “the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). He encourages the Philippians to follow these examples and remain faithful to the end, confident that one day, Jesus will return to reign forever.

Paul ends his with a command to remain unified in the Lord, to rejoice in Him and to bring all anxieties and fear before the God of incomprehensible peace, choosing to see God’s goodness and grace in all circumstances (Philippians 4:1-9).

Paul explains that his hardships have taught him that no matter what life brings—poverty and hunger or wealth and satisfaction—contentment can be found in depending fully on the One who can fully strengthen (Philippians 4:10-13).

THEMES

Joy in all circumstances: Despite being written from a prison cell, Paul uses the words “joy” and “rejoice” 14 times throughout this short letter. Philippians emphasizes the deep, lasting joy and peace that comes from having an intimate relationship with Jesus, which is not shaken when trials come.

Imitating Christ’s humility: Philippians centers around just six verses (Philippians 2:5-11), in which Paul gives a condensed version of the overarching Gospel story, which is marked by love, humility and sacrifice. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us, followers of Jesus should humble themselves and imitate that same sacrificial love in every part of their lives.

KEY PASSAGES

Philippians 1:20-2:18

Philippians 3:12-21

Philippians 4:4-20

HOW DOES THIS FIT INTO GOD’S STORY?

Philippians offers a deeper look into Paul’s relationship with Christ. In spite of his circumstances, which include hardships many of us cannot begin to imagine, Paul continues to rejoice in the Lord and faithfully do the work God has called him to do. His life ultimately reflects the life of Jesus and serves as an example all Christians should follow.

Paul reminds us that an intimate, personal relationship with the risen Jesus, who obediently suffered so much for us, transforms us inside and out.