'..I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.' Phil.1:28
A SERIES OF SEVEN STUDIES IN PHILIPPIANS
'For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain'
(This article prints on to 7 sides of A4)
How did the church at Philippi begin? You may remember that while Paul and his companions were in Troas, on the north-west coast of Asia Minor, during his second missionary journey, he had a vision of a man from Macedonia saying ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’. As a result of that
Paul and his companions travelled across the sea to Philippi which was ‘a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia.’
There was no synagogue, but Paul and his friends found a group of women
at a place of prayer near the river. After speaking to them about Christ, Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, became the first believer. Then her family believed Paul too. Luke describes it for us in Acts 16:13-15.
(Note that Luke was there with Paul)
But eventually as a result of opposition from commercial interests in the city Paul and Silas were flogged and imprisoned. During the night there was an earthquake which released all the prisoners’ shackles. The jailer was about to kill himself because he assumed everyone had escaped, when Paul called out to him. The jailer, who may have heard them preaching in the city, then uttered words that have echoed down the centuries ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ to which Paul replied ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved - you and your household’. After explaining about Christ to them the jailer and his family believed and were baptised. Hence began the first church in Europe.
After meeting the believers at Lydia’s house and encouraging them, Paul and his companions left the city and moved on to Thessalonica. The warmth of the Philippian believers towards Paul is illustrated by the fact that ‘again and again’ when he was in need they sent a gift (Phil 4:16). The warmth of this relationship is reflected in Paul’s letter that we are going to study.
What was Philippi like? It was ‘Rome in miniature’ - a reproduction on a small scale of the imperial city. Its grand buildings, customs, local administration and laws were all Roman. It enjoyed many privileges. It was on the Egnatian Way to Rome and was a proud city. Its inhabitants spoke Latin and considered themselves fortunate to be citizens. Hence Paul’s mention in his letter (3:20) of the Christians’ superior heavenly ‘citizenship’. Since Philippi was a military settlement, Paul speaks in 4:7,
of the peace of God guarding or ‘garrisoning’ their hearts and minds.
It is highly likely that there was a strong emperor worship cult in the city and so the Christians, declining to take part, would have come under persecution. Hence Paul’s urging them in 1:27-30 to ‘stand firm’, ‘contending as one man’ for the faith of the gospel in their ‘struggle’. Moreover, with the local tendency to flatter Nero with divine titles and honours, Paul is at pains in 2:5-10, to declare the glory of Christ and His full deity.
Why was the letter written? Paul was in prison, probably in Rome, because he mentions the praetorian guard (1:13) and Caesar’s household (4:22). One day he was visited by Epaphroditus who was a leader in the church at Philippi. He had been sent with a generous gift and must have told Paul the latest news. In gratitude Paul writes this joyful letter to all the Christians in Philippi. It is warm and intimate, but realistic about the conflicts both he and they face. To Paul they were his partners in the gospel (1:3), and his ‘joy and crown’ whom he ‘loved and longed for’- ‘dear friends’ (4:1). Paul writes with his heart (1:7,8), but also addresses their specific needs, from which we can also learn to our benefit.
So what is ahead of us in our studies?
This letter of Paul’s is marked out by four features
(1) It is his most personal. In his opening greeting he does not use the title ‘apostle’ as he does in most of his other letters. Confidently and simply he calls himself a ‘servant of Christ’. And in 3:4-14 there is an intensely open and personal section… ‘I want to know Christ ..’
(2) It reveals the Person of Jesus Christ with, for example, the unique and famous passage in chapter two, which is introduced not for doctrinal teaching but to encourage humility in his readers. Jesus is our joy (4:4) and all we need (4:7).
(3) It has a dominant note of joy. The word is used 5 times, as well as ‘rejoice’ 11 times. Remembering that Paul is languishing in prison makes this truly remarkable. ‘For
to me to live is Christ…’ (1:21)
(4) Paul's main concern and priority
is that the gospel should be preached. Even if some do it for the wrong reasons
(1:18); even if he is in prison. Nothing in the local church must stand in the
way of it: not disagreements (4:2,3), nor lack of harmony or humility (2:1-5) -
There are other themes too. Paul is anxious about unity in the church: that they ‘stand firm’ against attack; and that they remember the return of Christ. There are 6 references to the ‘day’ or personal exaltation or return of Jesus.
So this wonderful letter stretches out before us: let’s thoroughly enjoy it, even when it humbles and challenges us. The tone is set, perhaps, by the titles of our seven studies …
1. The joyful servant of Christ
2. The optimistic prisoner
3. The humble Saviour
4. Faithful servants
5. The idealist who won’t give up
6. The tactful and reassuring pastor
7. The grateful encourager
STUDY 1: Phil:1:1-11: The joyful Servant of Christ
(The NIV is used throughout this series)
It will soon become clear in this letter that Paul’s main concern is that the gospel is proclaimed and that the Philippians are able to live for the sake of others’ salvation. This is the major theme we should keep in mind throughout this series. Our task is to relate this to our situation in our generation.
Please read the passage.
1. Try to imagine what it would have been like to be part of the church at Philippi? What particular features of their life as a local group can you think of? What would have differed from, and what would have been the same as, our situation? (Note
who is mentioned in v.1)
2. How do you think they would have responded to it when Lydia or the jailer, for instance, read it out for the first time? Why is Paul so joyful and confident? How do you respond to it?
3. What do you think vs.3-8 say about healthy Christian relationships?
4. Paul’s greetings (vs.1,2) should never be glossed over. What is meant by calling Christians ‘saints‘?
Why are ‘grace and peace’ so important that Paul includes them here?
5. In what ways were the Philippians ‘partners in the gospel’. How can we be partners in the gospel on our day, remembering the Great Commission?
6. What does Paul pray for the Philippians (vs.9-11)?
How would these things contribute to the Philippian Christians' maturity?
Phil.1:12-30: The Optimistic Prisoner
In this passage we learn that Paul is writing from prison, which makes his joy even more remarkable. Moreover, we are going to read about his priority, and his attitude to life and death, which will almost certainly challenge us. So let’s listen carefully to what God is saying.
Please read the passage right through but noting first that it falls into three sections: 12-18a, 18b-26, and 27-30.
Vs.12-18a Paul’s Priority
1. We might reasonably conclude that being in prison would effectively stop anyone from preaching or spreading the gospel, wouldn’t we? But what has happened in Paul’s case? Why?
Why would the brothers have been encouraged (v.14)?
In some parts of the world today Christians are being severely persecuted and yet continue to speak of Christ and stand firm for Him. Are we encouraged by them, or are we too complacent to be moved by their example? In what ways?
2. From vs.12-18a what would you say is Paul’s chief concern? How can we make sure that it is our priority in practice, as it was Paul’s?
Vs.18b-26 Paul’s attitude to life and death
It is important to recognise that Paul is not awaiting a trial, but a verdict: he might be executed.
3. In vs.19,20 what three things will contribute to the outcome that Paul wants, namely that ‘Christ will be exalted in my body’? How can we ensure that Christ is exalted (or honoured) in our bodies (ie our whole being) when faced with trials?
4. What does Paul mean by ’For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’? How may we learn to adopt this attitude?
Vs.27-30 The Resolute Church
5. As well as defending the gospel (v.7) and proclaiming it (vs.13-18), what else are we committed to (v.27)?
How does Paul describe what that means, in vs.27b-30? What does it demand of us as individuals and as a congregation of believers? And how are these linked together?
In what ways do we have to be resolute and strive for the gospel today? And in what contexts or arenas do we have to do it?
STUDY 3: Phil.2:1-18: The humble Saviour
At the end of the previous chapter (1:27) Paul has urged the Philippian Christians to stand firm together against attacks from external opposition. Now he exhorts them to harmony and unity in their own community so that they can continue to both proclaim and live-out the gospel - Christ being their example.
Please read vs.1-11.
1. Although the Philippian church was a delight to Paul, it was not perfect. So in v.1 Paul gives them four reasons for improving their fellowship. Put each of these four reasons in your own words. (by ‘If’ he means ‘If, as is certainly the case ..’). To what extent do you recognise these things in your own experience as a Christian?
2. We have often heard about the value of fellowship. What qualities does Paul want to see in the Philippian fellowship (vs.2,3 and 4)? In what ways is our self-centredness the enemy of these qualities? Which of them do you feel you need to give particular attention to?
3. Paul now turns to the supreme example of humility - Jesus Christ. Please re-read vs.6-11.
Why did Jesus do what is described in vs.6-8? So what does that say to us?
4. How does God respond to what Christ did? What great encouragement to believers and warning to unbelievers are incorporated into this description?
5. Here comes a big ‘Therefore’ - please read vs.12,13 - working out what God has worked in.
How are we to be different from our ‘crooked and depraved generation’ (vs.14-16)? Why does Paul select the problems of v.14 as particularly important for the Christian fellowship and how do they connect with vs.2-4? How do we both protect our fellowship from these faults and encourage one another to ‘shine like stars’ (live-forth the gospel) especially when we are separated from one another, as we are most of the time - at home or work for example?
6. How does Paul vividly express his devotion to the Philippian Christians in vs.16-18? What sacrifice may God be asking us at our church to make for Him so that we can ‘hold out the word of life’ (v.16a) to those who are not yet Christians in our neighbourhood?
STUDY 4: Phil.2:19-30: ‘Faithful Servants’
From 1:1 we know that Timothy was with Paul. This young man was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother - who by now was also a Christian. He was held in high regard by everyone; often accompanied Paul and was frequently sent to churches to find out how they were getting on and to encourage them. Epaphroditus was a leader of the church in Philippi who had been sent to Paul with a gift.
Please read the passage through.
1. What special features of Timothy’s ‘work of the gospel’ does Paul mention here?
What can we say about the spiritual state of Timothy’s heart?
2. But in v.21, almost as a echo of v.4, Paul reveals that not every Christian was as supportive as Timothy. Why are people like Timothy so rare, do you think?
3. Suppose Timothy was being sent to visit your group or our church fellowship: what would you like him to do for you?
4. From vs.25-30 describe the relationships between Paul, Epaphroditus and the Philippians. How do they illustrate Christ’s attitude (vs.5,7)?
5. What does it mean to have a servant heart and how could each of us make sure we have such a heart in all we do, in the church or elsewhere?
6. What is the significance of each of the three whole-hearted ways in which Paul describes Epaphroditus’ ministry (v.25)?
Are we close enough to each other in our fellowship to be able to feel the same about any other Christians we know? If not what can we do about it?
STUDY 5: Phil. 3:1-21: The Idealist who won’t give up
In this chapter, which is largely autobiographical, Paul reveals what his goals have become through knowing Christ and thereby challenges us to overhaul our own. Paul begins by dealing with a problem that has arisen in the church at Philippi.
Please read vs.1-11
1. Judaizers are teaching that in addition to faith in Christ, Gentile Christians must be circumcised (as in Acts 15:1). Paul is adamant that faith in Christ is all that is needed for salvation. Why is it misleading, even dangerous, to allow anything to be added to faith?
Who does Paul say are the (truly) circumcised? How does he describe them?
Putting ‘confidence in the flesh’ means anything we do or is done to us, even if it is of a religious nature. What might we be tempted to add to faith in Christ to somehow make ourselves more acceptable to God?
2. How does Paul regard all the supposed qualifications (in the flesh) he might claim for acceptance?
How can we become more conscious of regarding ‘the greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ as surpassing everything else (v.8)?
3. In v.9a Paul acknowledges that all his supposed credentials count for nothing - and by implication, neither do ours. So what righteousness does meet the requirements of God and how is it obtained (v.9 and Rom.4:22-24)?
Please read vs. 10-21
What does Paul want to know more than anything (vs.10-12)? What do you think he means? Do you feel any of this? How can we do the same?
4. In vs.12-14 Paul seems to liken himself to an athlete running a race. How is this image appropriate to the Christian life?
In some ways we are all in the same race, but in other ways our track may be very different from other people’s. So how best can each of us ‘press on’?
5. It is sometimes said that Christians are ‘people with a future’.
‘Being found in Christ’ (v.9a)
with ‘a righteousness that comes from God’ (v.9b)
and pressing on ‘towards the goal to win the prize’ (v.14)
leads to what wonderful expectations for the Christian (vs.20,21)?
STUDY 6: Phil.4:1-9: The Tactful and Reassuring Pastor
In this letter we have seen a great deal of Paul’s heart and in this chapter we see even more. He so yearns that the church at Philippi will stand firm in their gospelling, but for this to happen they must get on well together (relationships), have peace in Christ (circumstances) and discipline their minds (thoughts).
Please read the passage
1. In v.1 after a wonderful expression of his love for the Philippian Christians, Paul says ‘that is how you should stand firm in the Lord’. Looking back into chapter 3, what does he mean by ‘that’? Try to be specific.
2. Yet Paul is obviously grieved that division and disharmony has arisen in the fellowship (vs.2,3). Why does Paul mention the women’s past involvement with him?
What do disunity and disharmony in any church fellowship do to the proclamation of the gospel?
What are the fundamental reasons for disharmony and how can it be avoided?
What should be your response to disagreements in the church or your small group?
3. Vs.4 to 7 begin with rejoicing and end with the peace of God. Explore the conditions that this rejoicing leads to and which result in peace.
Anxiety is a common human experience. How do (v.6) prayer, supplication (petition), and thanksgiving help in practice? What does it really mean to trust God in difficult times?
4. Paul speaks of a peace which ‘transcends all understanding’. What makes it superior to anything worldly ideas can produce?
Philippi was a military settlement. So Paul speaks of this peace guarding or ‘garrisoning’ their hearts and minds.
For what areas of your life at the moment is it particularly important that God is garrisoning your heart and mind?
5. How would heeding v.8 change our lives? What does Paul say will be the reward for doing what he says? - not only 'the peace of God' but …………………..….. will be with us. Now there’s a promise!
STUDY 7: Phil. 4:10-23: The Grateful Encourager
Paul is a man of unshakeable contentment. At the end of this warm letter he thanks the Philippian Christians for their gift conveyed by Epaphroditus - but is careful to avoid any criticism that he is out to gain from his gospel ministry. In the end he gives all the glory to God.
Please read the passage
1. What does Paul mean by being ‘content’?
In 1 Tim.4:10 he says ‘for this we labour and strive’ and in 1 Cor.15:10 ‘No, I worked harder than all of them’. So he cannot mean ‘enjoying quiet ease’, can he? (If we are in any doubt about that we need only look at 2 Cor.11:23-33)
Was this a character trait in Paul or what (see vs.11,12)? How can we do the same?
So how do we combine zeal for God’s work with contentment?
2. How did the Philippians generous giving affect Paul (vs.10, 14-18)?
How does God react to generous giving (vs18-20)?
Are there any general principles, whatever our financial situation or standard of living, by which we can set our financial goals so that we can be generous in our giving?
3. Most Christians strongly agree that missionaries should be sent to people who have not heard about Jesus Christ. Yet it always seems a struggle for many of them to raise their financial support. How can we explain this paradox?
4. In v.13 Paul says ‘I can do all things through him who gives me strength’ and in v.19 he says ‘God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.’
Do you really believe these things? How might we expect them to apply to us in our Christian experience?
5. Paul has covered a great deal of ground in his letter. As the closing act in this series would you like to look back across our seven studies and pick out, either individually or by common consent, three issues which you think were particularly helpful or challenging, and make a note of them here?
2 ……………………………….......... .....................
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.’
Philippians - Jesus our Joy by Donald Baker; Lifebuilder Bible Study pub. by Scripture Union.
The Message of Philippians by Alec Motyer, The Bible Speaks Today, pub. by IVP.
Philippians, New Testament Commentary, by Henriksen, pub. by Banner of Truth
Philippians, in One2One, by Andrew Cornes, The Good Book co.
The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick warren, pub. by Zondervan.
Notes by Steve Price.
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