The book of Philippians is a powerful letter of encouragement. Paul prays for the church to grow in knowledge and depth of insight so we will be filled with the fruit of righteousness. He then shares several key things on how to do this. The main themes that run through Philippians are imitating Christ’s example and rejoicing in every circumstance.
The Letter to Philippians
Philippians was one of the last letters Paul wrote, having penned it from Roman custody sometime around 61 AD. Paul’s house arrest in Rome is chronicled in Acts 28:14-31, and this seems to be the circumstances in which the Philippians came to Paul’s aid, and the circumstances in which Paul wrote his letter. He wrote it to encourage them in the middle of their suffering. Paul’s primary motivation for writing this letter to the church at Philippi was to thank them for their generous financial gift they had sent to him while he was imprisoned in Rome. Like modern support letters, he includes not only his gratefulness, but also a report on his own condition and greetings to his close friends among them. However, as an apostle in the church, he takes this opportunity to encourage them as they faced persecution, internal struggles, and heretical teachers. To further these hopes, he recommends to them the faithful brothers—Timothy and Epaphroditus—who could ministry to them in a more specific and ongoing fashion.
Paul showed his gratitude to the Philippians for their generous gift to him (1:3-11), and then demonstrated through his own example why the Philippians should be thankful and joyful as well, no matter what their circumstances, because of God’s generosity toward them (2:12-18; 4:4-19).
Importantly, the church at Philippi was not filled with the kind of sin that we see in such places as Corinth or heresy that we see in such places as Galatia. Paul briefly addresses a particular instance of discord within the body: two women, Eudioa and Syntyche, are at odds with each other. Paul emphasizes the importance of reconciliation and agreement among God’s people for the sake of the Gospel. For the most part, the church at Philippi was doing well. In his absence, Paul’s loving and gracious pastoral tone of affection warns them against a possible slide into heresy and is markedly different than his terse tone in some other New Testament letters.
Philippians 1 – The Advancing Gospel
Philippians 1 is a personal and affectionate letter. Paul opens with a prayer of thanksgiving, praying for us to abound in love, knowledge and depth of insight. Encouraging us that through his circumstances the gospel of Christ is continually advancing. He shares intimate thoughts about his desire to be with Christ, and encourages believers to stand firm in the faith until the end.
Philippians 2 – Imitate Christ
Philippians 2 encourages us to be like-minded and one in spirit. Paul exhorts us to follow the example of Christ, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death. He reminds us to have the same attitude as Christ, encouraging us that we shine like stars in the universe.
Thanksgiving for the Philippians’ Gift and a Final Greeting (Philippians 4:10-23)
I have great joy in the Lord because now at last you have again expressed your concern for me (now I know you were concerned before but had no opportunity to do anything). 4:11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content in any circumstance. 4:12 I have experienced times of need and times of abundance. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of contentment, whether I go satisfied or hungry, have plenty or nothing. 4:13 I am able to do all things through the one who strengthens me. 4:14 Nevertheless, you did well to share with me in my trouble. 4:15 And as you Philippians know, at the beginning of my gospel ministry, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in this matter of giving and receiving except you alone. 4:16 For even in Thessalonica on more than one occasion you sent something for my need. 4:17 It is not that I am seeking the gift. Rather, I seek the credit that abounds to your account. 4:18 For I have received all things, and I have plenty. I have all I need because I received from Epaphroditus your gifts—a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, very pleasing to God. 4:19 And my God will supply all that you need according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. 4:20 May glory be given to God our Father forever and ever. Amen.
4:21 Give greetings to all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers with me here send greetings. 4:22 All the saints greet you, especially those from the emperor’s household. 4:23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Thanksgiving for the Philippians’ Gift and a Final Greeting (4:10-23)
A. Paul’s Thanksgiving for Their Gift (4:10-20)
- Paul’s Thanksgiving Proper (4:10)
- Is Not Because He Lacks Contentment (4:11-14)
- Paul’s Various Circumstances (4:11-12)
- Paul’s Secret to Contentment (4:13)
- Is Because He Wants Them To Be Blessed (4:14-20)
- Paul’s Commendation of the Philippians (4:14-16)
- For Their Present Gift (4:14)
- For Their Past Faithfulness (4:15-16)
- The Blessing of the Philippians (4:17)
- Paul’s Plenty Because of Their Gift (4:18-20)
- The Nature of Their Gift (4:18)
- The Promise of Needs Met (4:19)
iii. The Glory to God (4:20)
- Final Greeting (4:21-23)
In 4:10-20 Paul brings to a conclusion the issue of their gift hinted at throughout the letter (1:5-6; 2:25-30) and stresses their friendship in the midst of rejoicing over their generosity.
Thanksgiving for the Philippians’ Gift and a Final Greeting (4:10-23)
Paul’s Thanksgiving for Their Gift (4:10-20)
1. Paul’s Thanksgiving Proper (4:10)
Paul says he has great joy (ecarhn) in the Lord because now at last the Philippians have again expressed their concern for him. But it wasn’t that the Philippians didn’t care and only recently decided to do something about Paul’s needs. On the contrary, Paul acknowledges their desire, but understands that they had had no opportunity to do anything.
Paul’s great rejoicing (ecarhn…megalws) could be taken (wrongly) as his eager desire to get money from the church. But this is not the case, as he goes on to make clear in the rest of the paragraph, especially in 4:11 and 4:17-18. Thus he is walking a thin line between expressing his gratitude for the gift sent by Epaphroditus (4:18) and having the church misunderstand his intentions. Paul was simply overjoyed due to their generous response to him. But he was so, more because of what such a response demonstrated spiritually about them, than he was because of any benefit he might have received (see v. 17).
One cannot miss the imagery here implied in the use of the verb again expressed …concern (aneqalete). It is a rare term meaning “grow up again,” “bloom again” as used with plants. Paul is therefore saying that like the new bloom of flowers in the spring so is the Philippians’ blossoming interest in his welfare.237 The imagery is picturesque and connotes a deep and growing friendship.
The most famous phrase in the Declaration of Independence is “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Happiness is not guaranteed, but the pursuit of it is. And we are all on the hunt for joy and happiness. Psalm 16:11 says: “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are eternal pleasures.” But rather than look to God, we tend to look in a few others places (Rom 3:10-18). Our contemporary culture and some religious types tell us that joy can be found in processes or principles. We are told that we can find joy if we follow “5 Steps to Being a Better Lover” or “7 Principles to Perfect Parenting” or “10 Rules for a Happy Retirement.” Some of these processes and principles come in religious packaging. Pop-spirituality encourages you to “Figure out what your heart wants” and to “Find some inspiration” and to “Give yourself permission to be enjoy life.” But be sure you “Don’t confuse joy and fun with
irresponsibility.” These are 4 of Paris Hilton’s “7 Spiritual Lessons.” Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now offers “7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential.” To achieve joy you must 1) enlarge your visions, 2) develop a healthy self-image, 3) discover the power of your thoughts and words, 4) let go of the past, 5) find strength in adversity, 6) live to give, and 7) choose to be happy. Where we rely on processes and principles, Paul offers thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is passive, not active. It responds to a gift. Thanksgiving reacts to grace; it doesn’t proactively procure it.
In his final word the apostle commands that greetings be given to all the saints. By the term saints he means God’s holy people as set apart by Him to be a new covenanted community—a new commonwealth as it were (cf. Eph 2:11-22).
The reference to saints from Caesar’s household in v. 22 is important and somewhat ironic. The very Romans who were persecuting the church in Philippi (cf. 1:27-30) had within their ranks, back home in Nero’s house, Christians to whom Paul refers as saints! This stands as an encouragement to the Philippians concerning the power of the gospel to change lives. After all, probably much to the surprise of many of them, the gospel had penetrated into the very heart of their “opponents!”
Philippians is a letter which stresses joy, humility, and unity. Paul provided many living examples of these qualities in order to flesh out what “the concepts looked like in action.” He talks about his own life, as well as that of Timothy, Epaphroditus, and the example par excellence of Jesus Christ himself. It is fitting, therefore, since Christ in his condescension is at the heart of the letter (2:6-11), to conclude with: The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. For Paul, everything was focused in Christ as God’s plan for the universe (3:20-21).
Cf. BAGD, s.v., anaqallw.
The rapidly emerging post-modern culture of the 20th and 21st centuries will have serious implications for the profile of the corporate person.
So Martin, Philippians, 181.
Cf. O’Brien, Philippians, 534.
O’Brien, Philippians, 539.
O’Brien, Philippians, 545; cf. Fee, Philippians, 452; Hawthorne, Philippians, 207.
Kent, “Philippians,” 157.